The Milner-Gibsons

3 March 2019

The Milner-Gibsons

Thomas Milner Gibson was born Thomas Gibson on 3 September 1806 in Trinidad. His father, also Thomas Gibson, had sugar plantations there[1] and was serving as a major in the 37th Foot. The family returned to England almost immediately after the younger Thomas’s birth, but the father died in May 1807 leaving his wife and son comfortably off and living in Theberton House[2]. Thomas’s education was excellent. He went first to a Unitarian school at Highnam Hill where Benjamin Disraeli, a future prime minister, was one of his contemporaries, then to Charterhouse (1819-24) and finally to Trinity College, Cambridge (1824-30) from which he graduated with a degree in Mathematics. In 1823 the Milner Gibson family made a big investment when they leased some land in Islington from William Tufnell, whose son Henry Tufnell was later to serve as Milner Gibson’s fellow MP for Ipswich[3]. Over the next 16 years they developed this plot to form Theberton Street and two neighbouring squares, Milner Square and Gibson Square. The three streets were linked by Milner Place, this name perhaps commemorating Robert Milner for whom Thomas Gibson changed his name to Thomas Milner Gibson in 1839. In February 1832 he made a good marriage, to Arethusa Cullum, the only child of a baronet with a proud heritage. His wealth was an influence on his political career, in as much as it enabled him to have one, and it funded the cost of being elected in 1837 as one of the two Conservative MPs for Ipswich. The other influence on his political career was the strong radical principles which he formed early in his career.

He was only a Conservative for two years: exposure to the distress of the people who worked the land he held in Suffolk convinced him of the case for cheaper bread which would follow the abolition of the Corn Laws[4]. Having voted for their abolition in March 1839[5], four months later he became a Whig and resigned his seat to refight it as such. He lost by six votes, and went on to lose another by-election a month later for the city of Cambridge. Some thought he changed parties from political opportunism because the Whigs were then in government. If so, it was a poor choice, and in later life his political career was to suffer because of the forceful way he put forward his Radical principles. The check to his political career in 1839 started the only dark period in his life. It was during this time he began the affair with his servant Susan Bowles that produced his illegitimate son Thomas Gibson Bowles. Arethusa accepted Thomas Gibson Bowles into her family and proved to be a strong influence upon him, but may have begun an affair with Sir George Womberell, Bt (1792-1855) at about the time he was born. Thomas and Arethusa Milner Gibson had seven children (4 sons, 3 daughters) during and after this period, but they spent long periods apart, with Milner Gibson on his sea-going yacht and Arethusa more and more in Paris. Milner Gibson supported Susan Bowles for the rest of her life, leaving her an annuity of £52 10s per year in his will.  In 1851 she was living in Camberwell close to where her son was at school and after that she spent most of life in Ramsgate where she died in 1898 from head injuries sustained when she fell whilst hanging clothes[6]. Susan had two more children after Thomas Gibson Bowles, Jane (b. 1846) and William (b. 1859) whose fathers I cannot identify. When Jane married in 1883 she said her father was Thomas Bowles deceased, but such a person does not appear in the family’s census records for 1851, 1861, 1871, and 1881. In each of these no husband is present and the first name is that of Susan, described as a wife, not the head of the household. Milner Gibson left a second annuity of £52 10s to a Harriet Allen of 135 Marylebone Road, London of whom I can find no other record or evidence that she was a second mistress.

Changing party in 1839 allowed Milner Gibson more opportunity to express his sympathy for the cause of Corn Law reform and the Anti-Corn Law League which promoted it. The League sought to benefit poor people, and the industrialists who employed them, by removing the tariff that kept the price of wheat and bread high. The poor people got cheaper bread; the industrialists cheaper labour and increased sales since cheaper bread allowed them to reduce both wages and the prices of the goods they sold. The measure was not at all in the interest of landowners, and they opposed it stoutly. The Anti-Corn Law League was not just against the corn tariff but against all tariffs and restrictions on trade. It believed that the more trade there was, the more prosperous everyone would be. It also believed free trade would make nations too dependent on each other to fight each other, and so put an end to war. It opposed aggressive foreign policies because wars prevented nations forming such trade relations.  Milner Gibson thrust himself forward as a speaker for the movement, only to find his wealth prejudiced its leaders against him. Their distaste soon yielded to the grace and oratorical power he displayed at a great free trade demonstration at the Manchester Pavilion in 1840 and to the moral force he presented as a landowner acting against the interest of his class[7]. To the disgust of Richard Cobden, one of the two national leaders of the movement, he was chosen as one of its two parliamentary candidates for Manchester and duly elected in 1841. The League ultimately caused the Conservative government to lift the tariff on imported wheat in 1846 and when this government fell later that year it was replaced by a Liberal government, in which Milner Gibson served as Vice-President of the Board of Trade until 1848. Whilst in this office he prepared the ground for the repeal of the Navigation Acts which decreed that only British ships could carry goods into and out of Britain. Other members of the Anti-Corn Law League pursued other aspects of its free trade and anti-war agenda, but at first they had little impact because governments did not need them to form a majority.  This changed in 1857 when Lord Palmerston became Prime Minister. One of his foreign policies was to compel China to accept imports of opium, and Chinese attempts to stop this led to one skirmish after another. When British authorities bombarded Canton because its governor seized a pirate vessel flying the British flag, the radical Anti-Corn Law League deserted the government, and Thomas Milner Gibson seconded the no confidence motion that brought Palmerston down in March 1857. A general election followed in which both Thomas and John Bright lost their Manchester seats because they had opposed the Crimean War, the export of opium to China, and indeed any effort to use military force to expand British trade. They were both out of the House of Commons until returned in by-elections in December 1857. Although Palmerston won the general election he was still vulnerable should an issue arise that united both conservatives and radicals against him. This happened in February 1858 when he brought in a bill to increase the penalties for planning in Britain murders that were to be committed abroad. He did this because the French government had protested about plots made in Britain to murder Napoleon III, a sovereign of whom radicals disapproved. He had taken power through a coup d’état that ended the Second Republic and he prosecuted a foreign policy every bit as bellicose as Palmerston’s. Milner Gibson again seconded a motion of no confidence in the government and Palmerston attacked him savagely when it was his turn to speak. It did him no good: the Conservatives voted with the Radicals to defeat Palmerston and turn him out of office. Their government lasted until Palmerston composed his differences with the Radicals on foreign policy in June 1859. Milner Gibson took a leading part in the negotiations that brought this about, and the Radical faction met in his house to compose its negotiating position. Within days of Palmerston being reconciled to the Radicals, the conservative government lost a confidence vote and Palmerston was back in office. To stay there he had to offer at least one Radical leader a seat in the cabinet.  Milner Gibson accepted his offer and was made President of the Board of Trade when Cobden declined this position. Unlike Milner Gibson, Cobden could not so far overcome his disapproval of Palmerston’s policies as to support them, and he would not serve unless John Bright also joined the cabinet. This was impossible, partly because John Bright was also unable to overcome his distaste for Palmerston’s policies, and partly because Queen Victoria would not accept him as one of her ministers. Thomas thus became the only Radical in the cabinet, and from 1859 to 1866 he was responsible for tariffs and empowered to abolish them. His wealthy background and radical beliefs made him a natural bridge between Palmerston’s government and the Radicals, but Palmerston could not trust a man who had brought down his government twice within a year.  Even though Milner Gibson’s speeches became less inflammatory, Palmerston created a commercial department within the Foreign Office and it was this, not the Board of Trade that led the negotiations with France over a commercial treaty reducing tariffs between the two nations. This was the most important free trade measure enacted in these years, but Milner Gibson nonetheless did some work on the treaty and concluded other commercial treaties with other nations.

As well as working on the commercial treaties, Milner Gibson campaigned for the removal of taxes on newspapers and newspaper advertising, and this was the cause with which contemporaries most associated him. The first Parliamentary reform act in 1832 had created constituencies reflecting the distribution of population and had given the vote to all males owning a significant amount of property. It was a radical cause to extend the vote to a wider segment of the male population, and this was achieved by the Second Reform Act of 1867. Thomas was speaking in favour of this extension as early as 1854, but it only made sense if the new voters, many not at all rich, had the knowledge to use their vote prudently. Taxes on newspapers and newspaper advertising raised the price of newspapers beyond their reach, and so Thomas had become president of the Association for the Repeal of Taxes on Knowledge in 1850. He led the campaign for the abolition of these taxes and in 1853 defeated a government motion on advertising duties. In government he concluded an alliance with Gladstone, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had to make good the revenue lost once these taxes were abolished. Gladstone had a strong Radical streak and was anyway sympathetic, but Thomas strongly supported the defence cuts Gladstone imposed, and as a result Gladstone had abolished all taxes on newspapers by October 1861. Mass circulation newspapers became a commercial possibility opening the way for the tabloid press. This was the last significant act of Thomas’s political career: he lost his seat in the General Election of 1868 and then declined an invitation to stand at Norwich in 1869. He was offered the governorship of Mauritius and a knighthood but declined both, accepting a pension of £2000 p.a. instead. Thereafter he devoted himself to being a public works loan commissioner, to Theberton House, and to his yacht Resolute. He was a noted amateur yachtsman throughout his life, being an elder brother of Trinity House, obtaining a merchant marine master’s certificate in 1835, and, in 1830, a free pass from the Bey of Algiers. He died at Algiers on board Resolute on 25 February 1884 and his body was brought back to Theberton for burial. The funeral was attended by John Bright, one of the two national leaders of the Anti-Corn Law League in which Thomas’s political career had begun. His life was significant enough to merit an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography which describes all those who have contributed to British life.

Arethusa Cullum (1814-85)[8]

Arethusa was born in 1814, the only daughter of Thomas, the 8th baronet Cullum, and Mary Anne Eggers who died in 1830. Thomas was a clergyman who succeeded to the baronetcy in 1831 at the age of 54 whereupon he resigned his living and remarried. His new wife was a woman (Anne Hanford-Flood 1811-75) 34 years younger than himself from a wealthy and prominent Irish Ascendancy family. He may have hoped for a son to continue the line but if so this hope was disappointed. Nonetheless he added significantly to the family art collection, to Hardwick House (the ancestral home), and to that house’s grounds. The house itself was a Jacobean gem built in 1612 and acquired for the family by the first baronet in 1656. They had lived there ever since, creating two libraries for their books and using the corridors and several rooms to display the large collection of portraits, statues, and antiquities they acquired over eight generations. The grounds were largely created by the third baronet, Sir Dudley Cullum, with the help of John Evelyn and contained a conservatory, an orangery, a palm house, a peach house and a vinery.[9]

When Arethusa married she used her social position, intelligence, wit and energy to attract and entertain the most significant artistic, political, and diplomatic figures of her time. She was a close friend of Charles Dickens who wrote his last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood at the family’s London house. Dickens used this house as a base from which to undertake the final reading tour whose demands overtaxed and killed him. Arethusa shared her husband’s radical outlook although on some issues the two differed. She knew Thackeray, Richard Cobden, and Disraeli. Victor Hugo, Louis Napoleon (before he became Napoleon III), and Mazzini, the founder of Young Italy, were amongst the foreign dissidents she entertained. As a child and a young woman Arethusa spent several years in Italy, so Italy and Mazzini, whom she met in 1844, were particular interests. She raised funds for Mazzini and advocated the cause of a united Italy to her many influential friends. In 1857 she caused a scandal by wearing the Italian tricolour to the opera in Genoa, a sensitive place for such a display, as it was the capital of Piedmont whose involvement with Italian unification led it into war with Austria two years later. Later in life Arethusa became a Roman Catholic, despite describing her new born son Oliver to Disraeli as “this new enemy of the Pope”. In the 1850s she took up mesmerism and spiritualism, holding a famous séance for David Dunglas Hume in 1860 in which this man appeared to levitate[10]. Her love of France was transmitted to her son Jasper who spent a lot of time in Paris and was even passed onto his step-son, William Archer Milner-Gibson, who also spent time in Paris, married a French woman, and lived in France for a few years before World War II.

Some years before her own death, and whilst Thomas was still alive, Arethusa moved to a house in the Avenue de Bois de Boulogne in Paris and began to entertain there, with such success that when she died the Times mourned the loss of her parties as well as Arethusa herself. She was proud of her father’s family and had her body buried, not at Theberton, but in the Cullum family vault at Hawstead church. Her contribution in encouraging artists and in introducing them to each other was so significant that she has an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography.

Dynastic ambitions

Thomas and Arethusa had seven children of whom two died as children: Florence Arethusa (1839-42) and Oliver Francis (1850-9). Thomas Dudley, born in 1845, died in September 1863 just before reaching Hong Kong where he was to serve as a soldier. A daughter Alice (b. 1843) died and was buried at Gosberton in Lincolnshire in 1879. Another daughter Sydney, born in 1848, died unmarried of typhoid in 1880. She made a strong impression on her family She was godmother to Alice Milner Gibson’s eldest daughter who was named Sydney after her[11].  Thomas Gibson Bowles also gave the name Sydney to one of his daughters. A niece, Arethusa Robertson, asked in her will to be buried as close as possible to Sydney when she died 25 years later in 1905: she had been 14 years old when her aunt died. Another niece, Sydney Catherine Milner Robertson who had been 18 when the older Sydney died, had three of her Aunt Sydney’s pall-bearers carry her coffin when she died 18 years later in 1898[12]. Her brother Gery Milner-Gibson-Cullum left to Thomas’s Sydney a name bracelet he had given to his sister on her last birthday, two days before she died[13]. The only children to survive Thomas and Arethusa were the illegitimate Thomas Gibson Bowles, who proved well able to carve his own path in the world, and two sons, Jasper, born 1852 and Gery, born 1857. It was as well that two legitimate sons survived as there were two dynasties to perpetuate.

Arethusa’s step-mother Anne Hanford Flood settled Hardwick House on Gery when she died in 1875 and he then changed his name to Gery Milner-Gibson-Cullum. Arethusa probably had the principal Milner-Gibson memorial erected at Theberton church as her death is the latest death mentioned on it. It records the deaths of Arethusa, Thomas (1845-63), Sydney (1848-80), Alice (1843-79), and Jasper’s daughter May Bessie Isabella (b and d 1876), her granddaughter. The memorial does not mention her husband Thomas, and she did not attend his funeral[14].

Thomas left Theberton House and his London house to his son Jasper and his other assets to a trust whose income went first to Arethusa and on her death to Jasper. On Jasper’s death this trust was to be broken up and the assets divided between his children and Alice’s children. He left nothing to Gery other than £25 to buy a memento of him because he was destined to receive the substantial Cullum inheritance.

Thomas Gibson Bowles (1841-1922)[15]

Although he was not her son, Arethusa Cullum accepted Thomas Gibson Bowles into the family and he returned their loyalty. He contributed to Glow Worm the magazine started by his half-sister Alice and her husband William Wybrow Robertson.[16] He attended the wedding of Alice’s daughter Maud to Reginald Gurney in October 1889[17] and the funeral of Jasper’s wife Elizabeth in December 1889[18]. When Arethusa Cullum died he defended her reputation by publishing an article in Vanity Fair distancing her from spiritualism.[19] Gery Milner Gibson left him a portrait of the father they shared in his will in 1921.

He made the deepest mark of the three children who survived Thomas, being influenced by both by the artistic interests of his mother and the political interests of his father. Educated in London and France, he left his university education at King’s College London for a third class clerkship in the Legacy and Succession Department of the Inland Revenue. He held this post from 1861 to 1866 and used the income from it, supplemented by financial assistance from his father, to fund a hectic social life in which he was noted for his unusual clothes. At this time he was an enthusiastic theatregoer who wrote verse and plays that were all rejected by the theatres to which they were offered. One of these plays, Marriage by Command, was performed by an amateur company in Bristol and favourably reviewed by the Western Morning News whilst his performance in Romeo and Juliet was reviewed in The Era[20].

The notice all this social activity attracted led to a career as a journalist after he was introduced by his step-mother Arethusa to the editor of the Morning Post[21]. From 1866 he wrote leaders for the paper that drew comment from Disraeli and other leading figures. His reputation as a journalist was conclusively established by a series of reports sent by pigeon from Paris when it was besieged by the Prussian army 1870-1, reports later published in book form as The Defence of Paris. As an editor Bowles made a still more lasting impression, revealing the engaging and pugnacious character that was to mark his political career and which caused him to attack both those who had claims on his loyalty and others who might have advanced his career. In 1868 he founded Vanity Fair which soon acquired a significant and profitable circulation through its political caricatures and accompanying cartoons by Carlo Pellegrini, James Tissot, and Alfred Thompson.  In a feature entitled John Truman’s diary Bowles ran campaigns against corruption, and the magazine championed – without effect – the cause of people whom Bowles thought unjustly overlooked[22]. Two such were General Gordon and Lord Charles Beresford, a conservative admiral who was later such a strong opponent of Fisher’s naval reforms that the government prevented him succeeding Fisher as First Sea Lord by deferring Fisher’s retirement[23]. This friendship with Beresford began when Beresford defied orders forbidding him to write to the press and canvassed Vanity Fair to support action he was contemplating against Arabi Pasha in Egypt in 1882. It did not prevent Bowles from criticising Beresford’s brother, Lord Marcus Beresford, in October 1884 for his part in reducing the estranged wife of a friend to poverty. Lord Marcus was so outraged by this article that he assaulted Bowles outside the Vanity Fair office, exposing himself to still greater publicity when Bowles had him tried for assault, of which charge he was acquitted. In 1877 Bowles welcomed the foundation of the magazine Truth by Henry Labouchère, although The Examiner considered his purpose was to humiliate his enemies[24] and one of his early victims was Bowles’s brother-in-law, William Wybrow Robertson. Lastly, The Prince of Wales was so offended by the gossip Vanity Fair published about him that he told his friends they were not to supply Bowles with this material. Bowles responded with an unsuccessful attempt to engage the Prince in an exchange of open letters. Nonetheless despite, or perhaps because of, such quixotic tendencies Vanity Fair became very successful and in its way influential. Lord Roberts, the Commander in Chief of the Indian Army, wrote to it in October 1887 to seek its help in persuading cavalry officers to make their men wear their rifles on their body and attach their swords to their saddles rather than the other way round which made them much less effective in action. Roberts knew Bowles was interested in such matters and that Vanity Fair carried weight with his junior cavalry officers[25]. Many years later when Bowles visited Istanbul in 1896 he was received by Sultan Abdul Hamid II, a mark of how far and how deeply his journalism had reached. Bowles sold Vanity Fair in 1887 but two years earlier in February 1885 he founded The Lady which still publishes and is still owned by his family[26].  He had noticed that there was then only one women’s magazine and his editorial experience on Vanity Fair equipped him to reach this new market, though from the very beginning he placed great weight on the advice of Rita Stewart, his children’s governess, who subsequently edited The Lady from 1894 to 1925.

The money Bowles made from these magazines allowed him to buy his yacht Hoyden and to become an expert amateur yachtsman who wrote books about his voyages and acquired a master mariner’s certificate in 1874. It also enabled him to enter politics. After standing for parliament unsuccessfully at Darlington in 1874 he assisted the Duke of Sutherland’s efforts to aid Turkish refugees displaced by the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-8. In 1880 Bowles again stood unsuccessfully for parliament at Banbury. He stated frankly that although he had Conservative sympathies he would vote against his party when he felt this to be in the national interest and  he then found none of the party’s leading figures would come to Banbury to speak for him. On 1 December 1880 he wrote in Vanity Fair that his party “of late years…has found no bold or active leaders…(only) worn-up old relics whose only notion of leading the Party is to prevent anybody else from leading it”.  He attributed his defeat at Banbury to the fact that his German-Jewish Liberal opponent was a major employer in Banbury who had been offered – but refused – money by the Russian government. In Bowles’s view Russia stood to gain from Liberal foreign policy. In 1884 Bowles was selected by the local party to contest the second seat at Salford in the next General Election but in that year he also alienated Randolph Churchill, the one friend he had among leading conservatives.  Churchill was offended by a story in Vanity Fair about his recently renewed relationship with the Prince of Wales and wrote him a letter beginning “I thought you were my friend. I find you are my enemy”. In July 1885 Bowles gave further cause for offence when he published in Vanity Fair a derogatory account of the marriage of Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter Beatrice to Prince Henry of Battenberg. Queen Victoria was greatly grieved by this marriage and had only reluctantly consented to it after persuasion from the Prince of Wales and from her daughter the Crown Princess of Germany[27]. When the General Election took place in November 1885, Bowles was defeated at Salford.

He finally succeeded in entering parliament in 1892 when he was returned as the Conservative MP for King’s Lynn in 1892 with a majority of 11, a majority he increased to 69 in 1895. By then he had become expert in financial and naval matters and proved to have a tremendous grasp of detail and of procedure. This, when combined with the presentational skills he had acquired as a successful journalist, allowed him to make some devastatingly effective speeches criticising Liberal Ministers. When the Liberal government fell in 1894 the new Conservative Prime Minister Salisbury seriously considered appointing him as a finance minister but in the end decided not to do so, no doubt because Bowles was so independent and so outspoken. The disappointment moved Bowles to use his financial and naval knowledge to become a troublesome and sometimes effective critic of the government. In 1900 he pointed out that a new dry dock at Gibraltar would be within range of any guns placed on surrounding hills. The government appointed him to the committee it set up to investigate the matter but despite agreeing with its main findings he resigned from the committee over differences in detail. Bowles was a vocal and effective member of the Public Accounts Committee from 1894 until 1903 when he was dropped following his attack on his own Chancellor’s Appropriation Bill in August 1902. This attack was praised by the Daily News which considered “the country should be grateful to this fearless and biting tongue which cuts through the impostures of the hour, the miserable, fawning favouritism that will spoil this government as it spoiled the last.” The decision to drop Bowles from the Public Accounts Committee caused such a scandal that he was reinstated in 1904 but he resigned in 1905 because the committee’s report was not debated on the floor of the House in accordance with a promise made to him. Bowles combined yachting and political activity for more than ten years from 1892 until the Conservative party divided over whether to continue with the Free Trade policy Thomas Milner Gibson had helped to inaugurate in the 1850s or whether to turn the British Empire into a customs union imposing tariffs on goods exported to it by Germany, USA, and other nations. These had begun to challenge and even overthrow the industrial supremacy enjoyed by Britain throughout the 19th century. Bowles was for continuing Free Trade and lost first the Conservative whip and then, at the election of 1906, his seat. He thereupon left the Conservative party and was heavily defeated when he stood as a Free Trade candidate against the Conservative party leader AJ Balfour in a by-election for the City of London. He then joined the Liberal Party which remained committed to Free Trade. He failed to win Glasgow Central for the Liberals at a by-election in February 1909, but he did win his old seat of Kings Lynn for them in the first general election of 1910, rejoining parliament at the election at which his son GFS Bowles (MP for Lambeth and Norwood 1906-10), left it. He was not a Liberal by conviction and found the Social Security measures of Lloyd George very hard to accept. Asked to address a Liberal election meeting at Salisbury he attacked the financial policies of his new party with such vigour that he delighted the Conservative supporters present[28]. After losing his seat in the second general election of 1910 he went into retirement, sailing his yacht and writing letters to the Times. In 1914 he started Candid Quarterly, an anti-corruption review and in March 1916 he stood unsuccessfully for Parliament at Harborough. In 1912 he had a notable success when he secured a judgement that the government did not have the authority to deduct income tax from dividend payments at source, but the government promptly passed an act of parliament to rectify this. When war broke out he argued unsuccessfully for unrestricted naval warfare, pressed for the expulsion of foreign men from the Privy Council, and criticised the pre-war conduct of Asquith, Grey, and Haldane. He died at Algeciras in January 1922, abroad as his father had, and was buried at Gibraltar. The Times wrote in his obituary that “his temperamental dislike of compromise was the chief reason why he never held office despite his profound knowledge of finance, constitutional procedure, and all things pertaining to sea power”. One of his daughters, Sydney, married Lord Redesdale whose children were the Mitford sisters Unity, Jessica, Diana, Deborah, and Nancy. His literary and political achievements earned him an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography and a biography, The Irrepressible Victorian by Leonard Naylor (Macdonald, 1965).

George Gery Milner-Gibson-Cullum (1857-1921)[29]

Gery at one time had a house in Yorkshire where the Cullums had property, but spent most of his life in houses in London and Suffolk. He took up the literary interests of his mother but his political activity, such as it was, was wholely confined to Suffolk. A locally prominent man, he served as High Sheriff of Suffolk in 1888 (a largely ceremonial post), as Lord Mayor of Bury St Edmunds in 1913, and in January 1884 was selected to be the Liberal Party’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Bury St Edmunds[30] but he did not stand at the General Election held later that year. In 1892 he proposed that Lord Chelsea be the Liberal Unionist candidate for Bury St Edmunds. He was a connoisseur who knew a great deal about art. He was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries[31], President of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History[32], and  the honorary curator of Bury St Edmund’s Art Gallery[33]. As an author he published books on archaeology and genealogy, transcribed the gravestones in the Old British cemetery at Leghorn, and contributed to the Dictionary of National Biography as GMGC. Gery valued the Cullum inheritance of his mother and he was granted the tenancy of Hardwick House, the Cullum family home, by his grandfather’s second wife Anne Hanford Flood when she died in 1875. When Gery came of age in November 1878 he took over Hardwick House and the occasion was marked by a lavish celebration. This was organised by his mother and showed off the horticultural heritage created over two generations by the 7th and 8th baronets. Immediately afterwards Gery changed his name to Milner-Gibson-Cullum and received the grant of the Cullum arms. He had borne the Cullum family name of Gery from birth, three of his godsons had Gery as a middle name, and three of his goddaughters were named Arethusa, another Cullum family name. He knew the history of many Cullum heirlooms in his possession and for much of the time wore an Elizabethan ring and a pelican ring once worn by both the 7th and 8th baronets. However he never married and this omission led to the destruction of Hardwick House. His step-mother left it not to him but to an entail of which Gery was the tenant. As a tenant he could not sell or dispose of Hardwick House but only pass the tenancy to his own male children or to a male descendant of his stepmother’s two nephews Robert Thomas Hanford Hanford and John Compton Hanford Flood. These two also never married and when the last of them (Gery) died in 1921, Hardwick became nobody’s property and as such passed to the Crown. Their agents sold it to developers who demolished it, a grave artistic loss. Gery lamented this legal tragedy in his will and exhorted Maud, his principal heir and the only one of Alice Milner Gibson’s daughters to survive him, to pursue every legal avenue to save Hardwick. Had she found a way to convey Hardwick to either a descendant of Thomas Milner Gibson or of William Hanford Flood (1809-92), Gery’s will decreed that all Hardwick’s furniture, pictures and portraits not otherwise bequeathed, all its books, kitchen equipment, and almost all its statues would pass to its next owner.

The contents of Hardwick were at least Gery’s to bequeath as he chose. His will shows that he stewarded and added to a large collection of personal jewellery, furniture, antiques, and curiosities built up over eight generations. He bestowed the heirlooms on relatives and close friends he hoped would care for them, telling the stories of the most precious. He had a strong attachment to his niece Maud, Alice’s daughter and his principal heir to whom he would have left Hardwick House if he could. He valued his Milner Gibson heritage as well as his Cullum heritage. He referred to his half-brother Thomas Gibson Bowles as his friend and ordered that a portrait of their father Thomas Milner Gibson be copied for him. He left Milner-Gibson objects to Maud and to Thomas Gibson Bowles’s two daughters (although not his two sons) to remind them of their Milner Gibson origins. He took care to preserve the papers of both his father and his mother.

It seems that Gery did not consider William Archer Milner-Gibson to be part of the family. The stipulation in his will that the furniture and other significant contents of Hardwick House would pass to its next owner had that owner been a direct descendant of Thomas Milner Gibson or William Hanford Flood excluded him as he was not a direct descendant of either. Gery used his will to return gifts he had received from others but he did not give to William the silver mustard pot he had had from Jasper, nor did he leave him Jasper’s gold repeater watch. In fact his will made no mention whatsoever either of him or his two children and it left none of them any memento of Thomas Milner Gibson.

Gery left Hardwick’s curiosities, papers, and many of the portraits and statues to the borough of Bury St Edmunds and to other institutions. His old college, Trinity College Cambridge received Dr Dee’s divining crystal, two books signed by Mme de Pompadour, some hair of Charlotte Brontë, and an autograph collection including 39 popes, 12 US presidents, Shelley, Browning, and Bret Harte. Christ’s College, Cambridge received his John Milton autographs as Milton had been a student of that college. The Old Parish Church at Bexhill-on-Sea was given back a stained glass window the family had somehow acquired. The Napoleon museum in Paris was given a silver gilt tray, two boxes, a knife, and candlesticks that had been taken from Napoleon’s carriage after Waterloo. The officers of the Suffolk Regiment received all Gery’s military prints and pictures to decorate their mess. Other objects and pictures went to the National Portrait Gallery, the Tate Gallery, and the Fitzwilliam museum in Cambridge.

By far the greater part of these things went to the corporation of Bury St Edmunds which was given £800, with £1000 to follow on the death of Maud Gurney, to appoint a librarian and take other steps to look after them.  The objects received by the corporation included Gery’s collections of coins, swords, daggers, toby jugs, snuff boxes, old shoes, old waistcoats, and tickets to coronations and royal funerals. It also got the 7th baronet’s collection of armorial china and books in armorial bindings, the collection of cameo ornaments made by Gery’s Cullum grandmother, the family collection of Etruscan statues, and the family collection of celebrity relics. This included some hair of Isaac Newton, some hair of the Duke of Wellington, some hair of Napoleon III, a tartan that had belonged to the Young Pretender, a handkerchief once belonging to Daniel O’Connell, the campaigner for Catholic Emancipation, some hair of Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter (a major commander in the Hundred Years’ War), a gold watch once the property of the novelist Ouida, and some hair of Agnes Strickland, a 19th century historian. The books and papers left to the corporation included bound volumes of the family’s letters, the family’s heraldic and botanical manuscripts, a letter Thomas Milner Gibson received from Prince Albert, and a letter the Prince of Wales sent him when one of his daughters died. There was also an ivory portrait of Queen Elizabeth I carved by Grinling Gibbons and a bracelet Arethusa Milner-Gibson received from the wives and daughters of the working men of Ashton-under-Lyne when Thomas stood down as their MP in 1868.

The will shows that Gery had a large circle of friends. It returned gifts they had given him and left each a memento of him, usually an item of personal jewellery. The closest ones received the items of greatest sentimental value and were often given more than one item. Amongst the many items left to Maud Gurney were a china bowl in which all the Cullums had been christened, ten family busts and portraits, miniatures of his brothers Jasper and Oliver, and a miniature of his sister Sydney. Her husband Reginald received the ruby pin the 4th baronet had bought himself to celebrate winning a law suit in 1722. His distant cousin Robert Merlin was given two tabards and a Bath coat of arms acquired by the 7th baronet in the late 18th century when he was Bath King of Arms, an Elizabethan ring worn by both Gery and the 7th Baronet, watercolours of Hardwick House and Hawstead Place, and prints of Cullum family members. Robert’s son Robert received 21 pieces of Cullum family plate and his daughter Emilie got a bracelet containing a lock of Thomas Milner Gibson’s hair. Arethusa had worn this a remembrance in the year between his death and her own. His daughter Jeanne received a ring that Arethusa’s mother gave to Arethusa when on her deathbed. Another cousin of Gery’s, Anne Arethusa Belugon received a chain Arethusa had received from her mother.  A daughter of his closest Leghorn friend received the Shakespeare Arethusa had given him when he went to school, Arethusa’s garnets, and his Cullum grandmother’s dressing case. The Leghorn friend herself received £2000 and one third of Hardwick’s household linen. Another close friend (William Elliot) received the cupboard Arethusa had given Gery for his rooms at Cambridge, his brother Jasper’s gold repeater watch, and the 8th baronet’s travelling clock. Elliot’s son received a crutch stick Arethusa had given Gery just before she died. A college friend received back a small silver ash tray he had given Gery bearing the dates of an illness the friend had suffered when the two were students together. Sydney Bowles received the name bracelet given to her aunt Sydney and a miniature of Thomas Milner Gibson as a boy flying a kite. Her sister Dorothy received a portrait of Thomas Milner-Gibson’s mother. A cousin Annie Hanford Flood received a cameo of the 8th baronet that had once belonged to the baronet’s second wife, her aunt, and a silver paper cutter that Gery’s mother Arethusa had given to her aunt.

Jasper Joseph Alexander Milner-Gibson (1852-98)[34]

Jasper was educated at Eton[35] but seems to have received no further education and to have followed no profession.  In 1874 he married an American woman from Columbus, Ohio, Elizabeth Isidore Parsons (1847-89). The couple had met in Paris, where Elizabeth’s sister, Amelia, met her husband the Prince de Lynar at the court of Napoleon III. Paris was also where Jasper’s mother Arethusa spent much of her later life. Apparently neither family approved of the match.[36] When Elizabeth’s sister, Amelia, had married Prince de Lynar in 1871 the marriage had occurred in Columbus, Ohio where the Parsons lived.[37] Elizabeth married in the London church where Jasper’s sister Alice had got married in 1861, but neither the Parsons nor the Milner Gibson family provided a witness[38]: Alice’s marriage had been witnessed by Jasper’s father Thomas.[39]

The Parsons family were distinguished citizens of Columbus. Elizabeth’s father George was an eminent lawyer and politician. As a politician he was a member of the Ohio House of Representatives by 1856 and in 1859 he became chairman of the Central Committee of the Ohio Republican Party. In that capacity he obtained Abraham Lincoln’s consent to publish 50,000 copies of the debate he conducted with Stephen Douglas in 1858, introduced Abraham Lincoln when he spoke to the citizens of Columbus in 1859[40], and chaired the state convention that chose the candidate Ohio Republicans wished to contest the 1860 Presidential election[41]. In 1861 he attempted unsuccessfully to become the Republican candidate for the US Senate[42]. In 1865 he presided over Columbus’s victory celebrations when the Civil War ended[43], he declined to become Ohio State Treasurer when the incumbent was arrested for embezzling the state’s money[44], and he was one of the committee of Columbus city councillors who invited General Grant to visit Columbus. As a lawyer he was eminent enough by 1858 to appear for a group of canal contractors against the Ohio’s Attorney General when the state sought to break their contracts. Having inherited his father’s interest in railways and a share of his real estate fortune he was a successful businessman who wrote pamphlets advocating the adoption of the gold standard[45] and who was consulted by the governor of Ohio when the state considered refinancing its debt in 1886[46].  His wealth had exceeded $500,000 by 1870[47] and he was remembered as Ohio’s first millionaire[48].  George’s father Samuel had been one of the first physicians to practise in Columbus and was elected to the Ohio General Assembly in 1843. His father in law, Gustavus Swan, had been one of the city’s first lawyers and was five times elected to Ohio’s House of Representatives. He became a judge who presided over Ohio’s Court of Common Pleas and served briefly on the bench of the Ohio Supreme Court. He was also active in the construction of Ohio’s first railroads and became the first president of the State Bank of Ohio in 1845.[49]

Jasper and Elizabeth had one child, a daughter May Bessie Isabella who was born on the Isle of Wight in May 1876 and died in Paris in November 1876[50]. For much of his life Jasper suffered from gout and his health was generally poor. He spent 7-8 months of every year abroad[51] and the witnesses to the will he made in February 1894 were a doctor and a nurse, the nurse being the same man who had attended his father. In consequence he spent little time at Theberton[52], but he erected in Theberton church a memorial to his first wife Elizabeth who had died at Theberton House from a head injury incurred when she was thrown from a carriage.[53] He was at Theberton House on census night in 1891, but within two months he had let it to Lord Knutsford[54]. He was intending to return to it for a month in 1898 after wintering in Egypt when he suddenly became ill and died at Monte Carlo on 2 April 1898[55].  He had become the second husband of Annie Stocken, a widow whose husband had committed suicide, whom he married in Algiers on 23 December 1893[56] and by whom he had no children. He shared the political views of his father Thomas, supported the Liberal MP for Eye, was like his father a Suffolk JP and a churchwarden at Theberton, but he took no significant part in local affairs[57]. He made little impact in Theberton or anywhere else and his will directed that his body be cremated at Woking, that the ashes be scattered there without any prayer or service, and that no memorial should be erected. The cremation was performed as he had directed and announced in The Times only once on 6 April 1898 just three days in advance, despite the suddenness of his death. He left his entire estate to his widow Annie.

Jasper was greatly overshadowed not just by his half-brother and brother, but by a member of Theberton’s other eminent family, the Doughtys of Theberton Hall. Charles Doughty was a famous traveller in Arabia who saw the holy places in Mecca. His account of his adventures, Travels in Arabia Deserta, published in 1888, is still in print.

Alice Mary Milner-Gibson (1843-79) and William Wybrow Robertson (1831-1908)

Alice was born on 1 June 1843. She married William Wybrow Robertson, an Indian civil servant 12 years older than herself on 20 July 1861 in Marylebone Parish church, close to the family’s London home. Robertson had previously married a general’s daughter, Caroline Jane Farrell, in Belgaum, India on 28 April 1859, but she was killed in a riding accident in India on 5 February 1860, after which Robertson had returned to England on leave. The couple started a literary magazine, the Glow Worm[58], one of whose contributors was Thomas Gibson Bowles, an amateur affair which did not publish when the couple were not in London[59]. They may have lived with Robertson’s mother in the first year or two of their marriage. The two eldest daughters Sydney (b. 1862) and Maud (b. 1863) were living at their grandmother’s house when they were baptised. A third daughter Arethusa followed in May 1866, but by then the marriage was in trouble. Robertson lost a great deal of money in the Indian Bank collapse of 1865-6 and then lost more money gambling on racehorses and in clubs. He paid a gambling debt of £15,000 at one club, then failed to honour further gambling debts amounting to £3,000 and failed to pay debts at his bookmakers[60]. During this period he also began an affair with an actress, Mary Jessie Lowe (stage name Marie Litton), by whom he had a son in 1865 and a daughter Constance in 1866.  Alice turned to drink and her husband gave this as the reason he separated from her in 1868, the year her father left Parliament[61].  By 1871 he was living with Marie Litton and their two children and he represented Marie as his wife to the census enumerator, although he was in fact still married to Alice. He placed his three daughters by Alice with his own family, Sydney and Arethusa with his mother, Emily Giovanna Robertson, and Maud with his aunt, Caroline Matilda Murray, who lived in the same street as her sister. In 1881 Arethusa was with her father in Kensington, but I cannot locate her two sisters. He committed Alice to the care of a doctor, Henry James Calthrop, of Gosberton, Lincolnshire who was paid £200 p.a. to look after her. He visited her from time to time until early 1873 but not thereafter until Dr Calthrop died on 27 March 1875. When he came in 1875 he found Alice pregnant by an unknown man.  The child, a boy christened Dudley, was born on 10 May 1875 and died of convulsions two days later, his death being registered by Frances Calthrop, Henry’s widow, but not being certified by a doctor. Later that month, on 31 May 1875, Robertson petitioned for divorce, pleading that Alice had committed adultery some time before June 1874, but saying nothing of his own longstanding relationship with Marie Litton. Alice died at Gosberton from cirrhosis of the liver on 20 August 1879 and her death was registered by an E Booth. This person was present at the death but did not record its location and got Alice’s age and sex wrong[62]. Robertson married Marie Litton in London on 1 September 1879, twelve days after Alice’s death.

Neither of Alice’s parents repudiated their troubled daughter, although her body was not brought back to Suffolk for burial. Her father corrected the errors in her death certificate by a statutory declaration made 8 days after her death and left her daughters a share in his assets when he died. Her mother used her will to divide her marriage settlement and the furniture in her Paris house among Alice’s daughters and Alice was recorded on the family memorial in Theberton Church.

Despite his gambling and investment losses, Robertson remained a wealthy man and in 1874 he bought some land in the Strand for £50,000, and formed a company to build on it a theatre and an aquarium which were to be known as the Westminster Aquarium. By adopting articles of association that did not require Directors to put money into the company, he acquired a distinguished Board of Directors, including Arthur Sullivan who was Musical Director. Robertson sold the company his freehold for £80,000, became its manager, and acquired a controlling interest in it because he took most of his profit in the form of its shares. Whilst the theatre was under construction Robertson lost his civil service job as Registrar of Designs when the Patent Office took over this duty from the Board of Trade and he took steps to extract money from the Aquarium. In December 1874 he got the company to pay him £575 interest on the ordinary shares he held in the Company. In May 1875 he applied for £2,000 of Life Nomination shares which he could expect to sell at a profit but he did not pay for them, although he claimed that in July 1875 he lodged security of £3,000 in the form of the company’s ordinary shares and some bonds. This claim could not afterwards be substantiated because someone stole the company’s records from its offices. The other Directors discovered his dealings in their company just before the Aquarium was due to open, and on 3 January 1876 resolved that he was not entitled to either the interest of £575 or the Life Nominations shares. Robertson repaid the £575 interest but pressed his claim for the life nomination shares, pointing out that the company’s auditor believed he was entitled to them. The Directors responded by removing him from the company. They did this by passing a resolution on 25 January 1876 that no Director should hold a Company office. Robertson duly resigned as both Manager and Director, his resignation to take effect in March 1876 so that he could supervise the early operations of the Aquarium after it opened on 22 January 1876. However he still retained his controlling block of shares and he undermined the Board by instigating a series of pamphlets attacking it in May 1876. The Directors attempted to nullify his influence by threatening on 1 July 1876 to publish his gambling past if he did not thereafter use his votes as they should direct. Robertson responded by using his shares to vote a motion of censure against the Board at a meeting of shareholders on 12 July 1876, upon which all the Directors resigned. The new Board reappointed Robertson as Manager on 26 July 1876 and he resumed direction of the Aquarium’s affairs[63]. Nonetheless he seems to have emerged from this affair short of money, as he commuted his Indian Civil Service pension for £3,000 at the beginning of 1877, and in December 1875 he joined the board of a company that proposed to build a light railway from Bideford to Westward Ho.

Robertson had his old job back but had incurred the enmity of his former chairman, Henry Labouchère, a man who bore grudges. In 1877 Labouchère founded a magazine called Truth in which he published stories damaging to those who had crossed him. In September 1877 this magazine revealed the unpaid gambling debts which Robertson had incurred ten years before. The following February Robertson was prosecuted for employing six children under ten and two over ten in the Christmas pantomime at the Aquarium in a case which attracted a good deal of attention. Labouchère seized the opportunity to publish a further damaging story in which he related Robertson’s dealings in the Aquarium’s shares of the Aquarium and alleged that he had been dismissed as Manager for dishonesty. Robertson responded by suing Labouchère for libel in November 1878 but lost. Very soon afterwards Lord Londesborough, another of the directors he had displaced in July 1876, also sued him, alleging that he had failed to care for some armour lent to him as a stage property and that he had unilaterally altered his copy of the loan agreement so that he paid for the whole hire period the sum he was meant to pay for each week of the hire. Once again a jury found he had been dishonest and he was obliged to pay the weekly rent stipulated in the original agreement, as well as compensation for letting the armour rust while it was in his care. Robertson lost this second case on 23 January 1879 and resigned as the Aquarium’s manager the next day. It was impossible for him to continue after two juries had upheld allegations of dishonesty against him, and he took no further part in its affairs.

In October 1878, just before the legal cases which led to his departure from the Aquarium, Robertson named the theatre attached to the Aquarium the Imperial Theatre and appointed Marie Litton as its manager[64]. She was the daughter of Caroline Mary Gordon and a Scottish Baronet, Sir Frederick William Dunbar[65]. Within a year of Marie’s birth her mother had remarried a Staffordshire clergyman, Thomas Lowe whose name Marie afterwards bore[66]. This marriage also did not last and sometime before 1861 Caroline Gordon was living with a colliery and landowner, Francis Little, declaring herself to be his wife[67].Both Frederick Dunbar (1851[68]) and Thomas Lowe (1861[69]) died before Marie Litton began her theatrical career, but Francis Little lived until 1880[70]. There is however no record of any contact between Marie and Francis Little. Marie had left this fluid home background and found her way to London where she became a chorus girl before she met Robertson[71]. After the birth of their two children she made her first appearance in a London theatre in March 1868[72] and was taken into a London repertory company the following December[73]. She then managed a theatre in Brighton before becoming the first lessee of the Royal Court Theatre in 1871[74], a lease she held for three years[75]. It is possible that Robertson contributed to the cost of this, but Marie was a talented actress who later made a national reputation during her time as manager of the Imperial Theatre[76]. She began with a production of She Stoops to Conquer that ran for 137 performances[77] and another of the Vicar of Wakefield[78]. She continued in the autumn of 1879 with The Beaux Stratagem[79] and followed this up with As You Like It in which she took the part of Rosalind. This was a still greater success running at the Imperial for more than 100 performances before transferring to Drury Lane[80]. By May 1880 Marie had become the legal owner of the Imperial Theatre[81] and in August 1880 she decided to extend her range of operations by taking on the lease of the Theatre Royal in Glasgow which was then undergoing an extensive renovation[82]. Her plan was that the company she led at the Imperial would perform the plays which had been so well received in London[83]. At the end of 1880 she exploited her writing talent when she contributed some pieces to the theatrical annual published by Routledge[84].

Whilst the building works proceeded in Glasgow Marie took her company on tour in the North of England, although she had to resort to the courts to oblige her male lead, Kyrle Bellew, to follow her as his contract required him to do[85]. Robertson acted as the manager of her company whilst on tour, provoking a scandal at Bradford when he bought up the best seats at all the company’s performances and gave them back to the box office with instructions to sell them at 5/- instead of the face price of 3/-.  When protests and letters to the local press exposed his stratagem he went back on it and refunded the 2/- difference[86]. Theatrically the tour saw Marie score a new success with The Country Girl at Sheffield in January 1881[87], a success repeated when she took that play and others in the same repertory to London that summer[88]. Meanwhile something had gone wrong in Glasgow. The Theatre Royal was on the verge of reopening in October 1880, but it appears not to have done so, as in November 1881 Marie secured a reduction in its rates because it was not trading[89]. She fell behind with its rent and in August 1881 its London creditors applied to liquidate it[90]. Legal action followed in Scotland when the owner, Andrew Yuill sued for unpaid rent of £600 in September 1881[91], and again in January 1882 when a sawyer, Brownlee, sued for £95 owing on wood supplied to the theatre[92]. Yuill’s claim was settled in December 1881 after bailiffs had seized and auctioned effects from the theatre[93] whilst Brownlee dropped his action in May 1882[94]. Robertson appears to have had a hand in this failure. The writ the London creditors issued was made out against him and showed that he had an address in Glasgow[95]. Both Yuill and Brownlee named him in the writs they issued against Marie Litton. Once the debts were settled Marie gave up her interest in the Theatre Royal which was sold at auction in August 1882[96].

Although Marie received a check as a manager her success as an actress continued.  She extended her range when she took a part in Youth, a melodrama presented at Drury Lane in August 1881, in which she had another success[97]. In October 1881 she began another successful winter tour of the North of England on which she performed the Country Girl and the Bachelor of Arts[98]. She had returned to London by February 1882 to perform the female lead in Son of the Soil, a play about the French Revolution[99]. Later that month she opened in a melodrama, Mankind, where both she and Kyrle Bellew were injured on the opening night when a boat suspended above the stage fell to the ground whilst they were in it[100]. The next month she presented an ultimately very successful adaptation of Ouida’s novel Moths which initially attracted controversy because she had exploited a weakness in copyright law to avoid paying royalties to the author[101]. Ill health then interrupted the recovery of her career. In May 1882 she had to withdraw from a play at the Olympic[102] when she felt the first effects of the cancer that eventually killed her on 1 April 1884 and which severely restricted her activities in her last two years. She was able to fulfil a directing commitment at Crystal Palace in June 1882[103], but she did no other work in the second half of 1882, and in December 1882 her friends feared for her life[104]. She rallied and was well enough to attend a performance of La Dame aux Camellias in March 1883[105] but had to take to her bed again in June 1883[106]. She was able to direct a successful run of Moths in Halifax in September 1883[107] and actually performed in it on 3 October 1883[108], which seems to have been the last time she worked before her death. One week later she was reported to be so ill her friends were worried about her[109] and she died on 1 April 1884[110].

Her stage career was such a success that she gained an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography and long obituaries in the theatrical pages of provincial newspapers throughout Britain.

After her death Robertson met another young actress, Maria St John, who pursued a career similar to Marie Litton’s but with only some of the same success. She took the stage name Marie St John and in June 1886 took parts in two plays in which Marie Litton had performed, Moths and School for Scandal. On 30 April 1887 she married Robertson, who was 25 years older than herself, and in the following October she attracted good reviews for her part in Jane Eyre presented at New Cross public hall. In April 1888 she was advertising herself as a disengaged juvenile lead in The Era, a theatrical paper, but in August 1888 she was playing in Manchester in a sell-out run of Grip of Iron. From December 1888 she spent four months playing the title role in Sophie Blanchard, a play about the first female professional balloonist who performed for Napoleon on state occasions and died when the fireworks she launched from her hydrogen balloon set fire to it. Eight years later in the autumn of 1897 she acted on a Shakespeare tour with a company that included Tyrone Power taking parts in The Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night, The Taming of the Shrew, and As You Like It. After that she performed at Leicester in August 1899, which is the last record of her acting. As for Robertson, he had taken to farming cattle near Reading by October 1900 when a copper used to water cattle was stolen from one of his fields. He died on 10 December 1908 in Teddington, Middlesex. On 14 February 1910 Maria married Sir William Patrick Byrne, a senior official in the Home Office, before dying herself in March 1915.

When Alice’s three girls grew up they each demonstrated a preference for their maternal grandmother’s family, despite being brought up by their father’s family. The eldest Sydney Catherine was living with Maud in 1891, was married at Hawstead church in 1897, had her baby son buried in Hawstead churchyard in July 1898, and was buried there herself in September 1898 even though she died in Germany. Her funeral was attended by all branches of her family, there being present her husband William Horncastle, her uncle Gery Milner-Gibson-Cullum, her sister Maud, the stepson of her late uncle Jasper, William Stocken, and her father William Wybrow Robertson. Wreaths were sent by the two nieces of Anne Hanford Flood (the widow of the last Cullum baronet), her old governess Elise Galeer, her uncle Jasper’s widow Annie Milner-Gibson, and Rachel Kent a servant of the Robertson family also remembered by Arethusa Robertson[111]. One of her executors was her uncle Gery Milner Gibson, and another, George Braikenridge, the Milner-Gibson family solicitor.

The youngest daughter, Arethusa Mary, was living at Theberton House with her uncle Jasper in 1891, and when she died in 1905 she divided her estate between her uncle Gery and her sister Maud. Her will made no mention of her father who was then still alive and showed that she shared a close friend, Renée Cortazzo, with her uncle Gery. She left her house in Hurstmonceux, Sussex to her old governess, Elise Galeer who had been living with her for some years and had once been her grandmother Arethusa’s companion. The second daughter, Margaret Alice Maud married Reginald Gurney at Hawstead Church on 31 October 1889, when she was given away not by her father, but by her uncle Gery. Thomas Gibson Bowles was one of the guests but her father was not present and neither was her uncle Jasper. Her husband owned a bank in Bury St Edmunds and came from a wealthy banking family who had once been Quakers and whose members included Elizabeth Fry, the prison reformer. He himself was a grandson of the 16th Earl of Errol. Both husband and wife remained close to Gery Milner-Gibson: Reginald Gurney was present at his death and was one of his executors whilst Maud was his principal heir. She died in Bury St Edmunds in 1948, by which time she had converted much of her assets into annuities, been compelled by lack of means to reduce the size of one bequest, and she had sold the marital home at Spixworth Park[112]. Nonetheless she was not poor as she owned four houses in the street where she lived, and she was still enjoying at her death the income from the trusts passed to her by her younger sister Arethusa. Her household consisted of a butler, a nurse, a cook, a housemaid and a companion, Constance Morgan. Constance was the daughter of her father William Wybrow Robertson and the actress, Marie Litton, for whom he left Maud’s mother, and they had been living together since at least 1939[113]. I do not know how they came to form such a close relationship or if they had to overcome any embarrassment or resentment of the father they shared. Maud left about £40,000 and disposed of her assets to her servants, her friends, one of her brothers, and to her step-sister and companion Constance Morgan neé Robertson, to whom she left the income of the trusts bequeathed to her by her sister Arethusa. Although she left her house to her nephew, Hay Gurney, Constance was still living in it when she died, comfortably off, in April 1954.  Its contents, which included items Gery had left to her, were sold at auction in June 1954.[114] Maud’s death brought to an end the direct line of the Milner Gibsons.

William Archer Milner-Gibson (1879-1961)

William was born William Archer Stocken, the only son of Annie Dixon and her first husband William Stocken, a solicitor who committed suicide in July  1881[115], when William Archer was just three years old. Somehow Annie overcame a tragedy which might have condemned her son and herself to poverty and married Jasper in Algiers in December 1893. Jasper then made William his heir, and when William inherited in 1898, he changed his name to William Archer Milner-Gibson. William was educated at Trinity Hall College, Cambridge and joined the Artillery as a Lieutenant in 1900 when the Boer War was underway and left it when that war finished in 1902. Despite being a soldier, he was listed as being at Theberton House on census night in 1901. In July 1900 he married Anna Noirtin, the daughter of a career cavalry officer, François-Gustave Noirtin, who in 1873 had married Agnes Dumesnil, the widow of Joseph Dawson, a very wealthy heir to an iron fortune. Lt-Col Noirtin was stationed in 1870-1 near Tours where Agnes lived, at which time the Prussian army was fighting nearby and which city they occupied for a few hours on 20-21 December 1870.

William seems to have spent the first years of his marriage at Theberton House but to have moved to La Chambrerie, his wife’s family home in Tours after he suddenly withdrew his candidacy for the Windsor parliamentary constituency in 1905.  His two oldest children, Evelyn and Jasper, were born at Theberton in 1902 and 1903 but the third child, Anne-Marie, was born at La Chambrerie in 1908[116], spent her life in France and Switzerland[117] and left no trace in English records. The family do not feature in the 1911 English census but are recorded at La Chambrerie in the French census of 1911, and Jasper grew up speaking French fluently. . William probably met Anna Noirtin through her half-sister Agnes: the Milner Gibsons knew the Eastons, the family Agnes Dawson married into. Her brother-in-law Herbert attended Thomas Milner Gibson’s funeral in March 1884[118]. Either she and her husband Charles or her father-in-law, another Charles, gave Maud Robertson a silver salver on her marriage in October 1889. Agnes Dawson lived until 1909 at Holton Hall, only 10 miles from Theberton House, and her mother’s draft will implies Anna was on good terms with her half-brothers and sisters[119].

Politics had played an important part in the Milner Gibson family into which William’s mother had married. Not only had Thomas Milner Gibson served in the Cabinet for seven years, but William’s uncle by adoption, Thomas Gibson Bowles, was an MP for 14 years and such an effective member of the Public Accounts Committee that the government excluded from it in 1903, a move so resented they had had to reinstate him the next year. Thomas’s son George was MP for Norwood between 1906 and 1910 and his brother-in-law, Sir William Evans Gordon was elected MP for Stepney in 1900 on an anti-immigration platform and steered an Aliens Act through parliament in 1905. William followed in these footsteps when the Liberal Party adopted him as their parliamentary candidate for Windsor in October 1903, and in his adoption speech he proclaimed his commitment to the family cause of free trade. Windsor was then a Conservative seat, but the sitting member had decided to stand down at the next general election and the Conservative party was disintegrating over Tariff Reform. In consequence the Liberals won a majority of 400 seats in the general election of 1906, but William was not one of their MPs. At the beginning of April 1905 he pulled out of an important constituency event that Lloyd George was to attend, stating his wife was ill. Six weeks later he suddenly withdrew his candidacy, citing private and personal reasons on which he did not elaborate, but his wife’s father, Lt-Col Noirtin, died six months later in October 1905. William’s withdrawal startled and distressed his constituency association which was obliged to find another candidate very quickly before the election was held on 12 January 1906, a candidate who was defeated by his conservative opponent. The association could not understand why William had withdrawn, since both he and his wife were popular in the constituency and his campaign had been going well. It was an act that brought William’s political career to an end before it had begun, but it did not break his social connections even though he seems to have left the country as a result. In World War I he served as an ADC to the General Staff in 1915, having joined the Service Corps as a Major in 1914, a title he continued to use until at least 1946, although he was demobilised on 24 September 1919. His service seems to have taken him away from Theberton House and in 1915 he was posted to Egypt. A directory for Theberton lists his mother and her third husband, Antonio Lavy-Charré, a Frenchman, as Theberton’s principal occupants in 1916.. This directory shows he had returned to Theberton House – not La Chambrerie – by 1925.

William’s marriage to Anna ended in divorce in July 1920 and in June 1925 she married a retired cavalry Colonel, Louis Hauchecorne, holder of the Croix de Guerre and a chevalier in the Legion d’Honneur, and a former French Military Attaché to Romania[120]. These two, plus the youngest daughter Anne-Marie, continued to live at La Chambrerie in Tours. Colonel Hauchecorne died in a Poitiers hospital in June 1940 having been injured in some way by the invading German army or air force.[121]  La Chambrerie was occupied by the German Air Force but Anna and her daughter remained there until it was overrun by refugees displaced when Allied Air forces bombed central Tours in May 1944. Three months later Anna died at Chateau Renault, a town about 20 miles from Tours.[122] The refugees did a great deal of damage to La Chambrerie, although its outbuildings were being used as social housing by the local authority as late as 1957.[123] La Chambrerie and its outbuildings were ultimately demolished and the grounds turned into a public park. At some point after the sack of La Chambrerie Evelyn Milner-Gibson visited it to take to Switzerland what could be salvaged and to sell the estate.  Anne-Marie trained as a children’s nurse and divided her time between Basel, where her sister Evelyn’s family lived, and Paris where she died in about 1999.[124]

Once he had obtained a Vatican dispensation William was able to marry another devout Catholic, Mary Forvé, an American woman 16 years younger than himself. He married her in Paris on 8 May 1926 and their first child, a daughter Mary Anne, known in later life as Molly, was born in London in July 1927. They were visited by Mary’s brother Philip and his wife in the spring of 1927, shortly before the birth. William’s second marriage led to great changes in his life, but he remained wealthy. At various times between November 1926 and his death in May 1961 he described his profession as landowner, farmer, financier, director, no occupation, of independent means, and retired. He had a London house as well as Theberton House between 1928 and 1930. Whenever he sailed to and from the United States, he travelled first class. He visited Switzerland to ski at Lenk in January 1930, played in a curling match at St Moritz in December 1937, and was part of a team that won the Kulm jugs there in February 1938. A Miss M Milner-Gibson was then part of a team that came second in the race for the Syonsby cup on the Suvretta slopes: his daughter Molly was then ten years old. He celebrated the New Year in 1939 at St Moritz with the Prime Minister of Yugoslavia and Rose Kennedy, the mother of President John Kennedy. In the last quarter of 1937 he attended two society weddings of serving officers in London, styling himself Major Milner-Gibson, and he was still styled thus when his youngest daughter, Clare, died in August 1946. In August 1938 he attended the Cowes regatta.

The biggest changes produced by his second marriage were that he began to travel frequently to the United States and he became a director in the Stegmaier brewery of Wilkes-Barré, PA, a concern partly owned by the family of his new wife. Sometime between April 1929 and June 1933 he left Theberton for Cellettes in France where he and his new wife had a second child, a daughter Clare Louise in 1931. Sometime between November 1933 and 1936 he moved from Cellettes to Slogarie in Kirkcudbrightshire. He visited the USA nine times between November 1926 and April 1939 when, with war looming, the family moved to Bear Creek, a housing development just outside Wilkes-Barré, Pennsylvania, his wife’s birthplace. William and Mary may have been thinking seriously of moving to Wilkes-Barré as early as 1937. Their visit that March was covered prominently in the social pages of the Wilkes-Barré Record which reintroduced Mary to its readers. Soon after William had made a final brief visit to Britain in July 1939, the two daughters were placed in a convent school in Philadelphia, and the family set about establishing themselves in Wilkes-Barré. In November 1939 Mary and her widowed sister Louise paid a visit to Philadelphia to see how the girls were settling into their new school. In December 1939 William and Mary threw a New Year party. In March 1940 they were among the many sponsors of Wilkes-Barré’s five day Bach festival, and by July 1940 Mary had joined a large committee that organised a benefit picnic for two of Wilkes-Barré’s Catholic churches. However one or both of the couple seem to have found the Pennsylvania winters uncongenial. Before their first winter was over they left Wilkes-Barré in February 1940 to spend seven weeks with Mary’s sister Louise in California. During their second they left in January 1941 to spend three months at Sea Island, Georgia. Just before their departure for Sea Island they moved into a cottage in the Resident’s colony in Bear Creek and in August 1941 they bought a large property in Colraine near Selden, Virginia, to which they moved in September 1941 and which was where their youngest daughter Clare Louise died on 4 August 1946 During 1942 William became a US citizen, being naturalised at Wilkes-Barré. Mary seems to have retained her fondness for Wilkes-Barré. The couple had an apartment at West Northampton Drive where Mary spent a weekend in April 1943 and which they had exchanged for another in Riverside Drive by April 1946. William remained or became a member of the city’s Westmoreland Club, and the couple stayed at Riverside Drive for periods of between one week and one month in April 1946, April 1947, August 1947, November 1947, March 1949, May 1949, September 1949, and October 1949. William remained on good terms with his daughter Evelyn: her son Anthony made several visits to Colraine where he got to know both Molly and Clare and he ultimately married one of their school friends.[125] He is still remembered by surviving members of the Forvé family.[126] William and his wife made their first post war visit to Slogarie shortly before March 1949 when they left it to return to the USA, and may have visited it as early as December 1948 after arriving at Southampton from New York. Thereafter the family spent at least the summers of 1951, 1952, 1954, and 1955 at Slogarie, and this seems to have brought to an end the couple’s frequent visits to Wilkes-Barré. In October 1957 they moved permanently to Slogarie and remained there until  William l died at Barcaple House a property about 10 miles from Slogarie on 13 May 1961. The first record of the family’s presence at Barcaple House is a telephone directory entry for Molly in 1960. The last record of the family’s presence at Slogarie a telephone entry for the Milner-Gibson trustees in 1959. William’s widow Mary Forvé seems to have returned to the USA shortly afterwards since she obtained a social security number in Missouri in 1962. She died in Santa Clara, California, where the Forvé family lived, on 23 March 1986. Their daughter Molly stayed on for a while in Barcaple House but died in Newport News, VA on 27 September 1974. Newport News is about 25 miles from Colraine. Molly was buried in Cedar Grove cemetery in Williamsburg.

Evelyn Noirtin Milner-Gibson (1902-80)

I have found only two documents relating to Evelyn: her birth certificate which shows her middle name was Noirtin, her mother’s maiden name, and her marriage certificate which shows that she married Peter Vischer on 8 December 1922 at the Brompton Oratory, a very important London Catholic church. This event was not reported in the local Suffolk newspaper, perhaps because the family by then played no part in Theberton life. Evelyn was living in Schloss Wildenstein near Basel as late as May 1961 and it seems she met Peter Vischer whilst on holiday in France. It seems likely that she remained in contact with her brother’s widow Kathleen Dalby for some years after Jasper was killed, and after Kathleen had remarried. When Evelyn and her husband sailed from New York to Southampton in July 1950 they gave as their UK address the home address of Kathleen and her new husband, Carlton Troop. At least some Milner Gibson memorabilia came down to her and through her passed into the hands of Thomas Milner Gibson’s Swiss descendants.[127]

Jasper William Francis Milner-Gibson (1903-42)[128]

Jasper had the same birthday, 3 September, as Thomas Milner Gibson, but for much of his life he was not comfortably off as his father and his sister. In 1917, when shortages caused by the U-boat campaign made life in Britain very hard, he joined the navy as a boy cadet. He spent four years in training, before being posted to HMS Royal Oak as a midshipman in September 1921. HMS Royal Oak was a battleship of 30,000 tons carrying a crew of 1,000, and it was refitting for two of the three years Jasper served on it. In December 1922 his captain on HMS Royal Oak assessed him as average but immature and lazy, adding in December 1923 that he lacked the ability to command. The latter assessment was firmly contradicted by a Vice-Admiral who knew Jasper well and considered him promising and capable of command. Jasper’s subsequent captains tended to agree with the captain rather than the Vice Admiral. Several remarked that he was inclined to be lazy and lacked the ability to command or influence others. They all agreed that he was socially adept, capable if kept up to the mark, and a fluent French speaker. One captain agreed with the Admiral that Jasper had talents which he was not using in his early naval service.

Jasper’s service on HMS Royal Oak ended in October 1923 when he injured his knee so badly he was unable to walk and he went to hospital at first in Bermuda and then in Plymouth. He also suffered from a severe jaw infection which is not reflected in his naval record and which only disappeared when all his teeth were extracted. This operation seems also to have cured his knee problem and once he recovered from it Jasper visited his sister Evelyn in Switzerland.[129] He was off sick for nine months, three of these being granted at the request of his father. Whilst sick he was promoted to Sub-Lieutenant in January 1924 and in April 1924 posted to HMS Valiant, a battleship very similar to HMS Royal Oak. When passed fit for duty in July 1924 he joined HMS Valiant but spent only six weeks there. At the start of September 1924 he was sent to Greenwich Naval College for training in seamanship, gunnery, navigation, and torpedoes, all of which courses he passed. He left Greenwich in November 1925 for the battleship HMS Resolution before being posted after a few months to the training ship HMS Iron Duke whence he was almost at once again posted on 22 April 1926 to HMS Wolfhound, a destroyer of 1,100 tons carrying a crew of 110. There he gained a watch keeping certificate in August 1926 qualifying him to sail the ship unsupervised and the next month he was promoted to Lieutenant. This flowering of his naval career was abruptly cut short when he attempted suicide on 4 January 1927. A month later he was assessed as mentally unstable and unfit for service and on 7 April 1927 he left England for New Zealand where he intended to remain.

This was a sharp contrast to the military career of his grandfather, François-Gustave Noirtin[130]. Noirtin left home the day after his 18th birthday to join the cavalry as a trooper in the baggage train but through twenty years of steady campaigning in Algeria he became a senior cavalry officer. In this time he had only one period of combat duty outside Algeria, in 1859, when his regiment formed part of the French army fighting in Italy against Austria. This took him to the Battle of Solferino where he had his horse severely wounded under him. He was then promoted to Captain and promptly returned to Algeria. He left Algeria in April 1866 for France where he was promoted to Major in December 1868, but it was the Franco-Prussian war (1870-1) that provided the climax to his career. He was captured in the defeat at Sédan on 2 September 1870 but escaped 13 days later and returned to combat duties. By the winter he had been promoted to Lt-Colonel and was in command of a detachment ordered to maintain contact with the Prussians north of Tours, and to provide intelligence to two mobile columns on either side of him. In December 1870 he was sent to retrieve 12 artillery pieces which eluded him but his search took him on a march of 55 miles behind Prussian lines during which he gathered a great deal of intelligence. In early January 1871 the Prussians advanced to sweep both Noirtin and the columns he supported out of their positions and westwards to Laval. During the first days of the French retreat Noirtin did the most valuable service of his career when he intercepted a divisional baggage train of 550 wagons that was heading straight towards the advancing Prussians. The general whose baggage he had saved requested his immediate promotion to Colonel, a request that was not granted. Noirtin then went on to take a distinguished part in the suppression of an insurrection at Marseilles in April 1871 and for this he was mentioned in despatches. After this his career drifted to a close. He had two six month periods of sick leave in the winters of 1871-2 and 1872-3. During the second of these he married Agnes Dawson on 20 February 1873 and joined her in her home in Tours. On 10 June 1873 he was granted indefinite sick leave, but was recalled to service on 27 October 1873. He finally retired to Tours on 13 April 1876 where he remained until his death on 22 October 1905.

I have found nothing to indicate why Jasper attempted to take his own life, but he did so just after the first Christmas subsequent to his father’s second marriage to Mary Forvé when his stepmother was pregnant with the first child of that marriage. By 1928 Jasper had become a farm labourer in Huiarua, Tokomaru Bay, New Zealand[131], but he returned to England some time before June 1933 when he married a divorced woman, Kathleen Dalby, a doctor’s daughter. At the time of his marriage he was a vacuum cleaner salesman living in a house occupied by several families in Hammersmith, but once married he moved to a more comfortable flat in Chelsea, occupied only by his wife and himself. In September 1934 the navy gave up all hope that he would return to active duty, promoted him to Lieutenant-Commander and retired him. They did not however give up all claim to him. Jasper had to obtain their permission to take a job as a civilian storekeeper for the RAF in 1936, and the next year he moved to Boar’s Hill outside Oxford. When the navy allowed him to take his RAF job they also granted him exemption from conscription, an exemption confirmed in 1938. He was still working as a storekeeper when the approach of war made him keen for active service and in early 1939 he offered his services to the navy, which declined his offer. In May 1939 he obtained a commission as a Flight Lieutenant in the equipment branch of the RAF enabling him to assume some responsibility for managing its stores. The navy consented to this in November 1939, but withdrew their consent almost at once and on 9 December 1939 accepted Jasper for active service. It is difficult to account for this sudden change of mind or for the decision it then took to assign him to secret and dangerous duties, although his perfect French suddenly became an asset when France fell into German hands.

On 23 June 1940 Jasper was the naval commander responsible for landing the troops who carried out Operation Collar, the first British commando landing of World War II. A force of 200 men was assembled but on the day only four fast craft carrying 120 men were able to set out. These landed at four points chosen by Jasper after he had visited the French coast nine times on his own. One party found some seaplanes at its landing site at Berck near Boulogne and withdrew when sighted by them.  A second landed at Hardelot, gathered the intelligence it sought, and departed without being detected. A third clashed with some German soldiers at Stella Plage but withdrew safely. A fourth found a deserted hotel at Merlimont which it had thought to be a German barracks. They returned to their beach but had to abandon their weapons and swim to safety when detected by a German patrol whilst waiting to be taken off. On 19 July 1940 Jasper was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his gallant and skilful leadership[132] [133] on this operation. The officer commanding the soldiers, Major Ronnie Tod, continued to serve with the commandos, being three times decorated for his part in the Italian campaign 1943-5[134].

Jasper’s record for bravery and his command of French were to influence his later career. It is not clear what he did after the coastal raid but he joined HMS Fidelity as its liaison officer on 3 April 1941. HMS Fidelity was a former French merchantman, Le Rhin[135] brought over to the Royal Navy in Gibraltar by its senior naval officer, Lt Costa (real name Claude André Michel Péri[136]), on 20 June 1940. Almost at once the bulk of its crew declined to serve the Royal Navy and on 4 July 1940, 44 of the 50 crew departed for France. They were replaced by French and Belgian refugees who wished to fight and Le Rhin left Gibraltar in convoy for Barry. En route some more of its crew changed their minds and these were released when the ship reached Barry at the end of August. On 24 September Le Rhin was commissioned into the Royal Navy as HMS Fidelity and Lt Costa appointed as its commander with effect from 1 July 1940 and with the alias of Lt Cdr Jack Langlais. His pay and that of his crew was backdated to 1 July 1940.

HMS Fidelity sailed for Liverpool at the end of December 1940 where it was refitted to serve as a small landing craft, receiving more powerful guns and camouflage equipment whilst its crew were given basic army training. It was attached to the Naval Intelligence Directorate (C) headed by Capt Frank Slocum[137]. In March 1941 it sailed for Gibraltar to conduct an infiltration and exfiltration operation where Jasper joined it on 3 April 1941 just before it set out. In this operation  it disguised itself as a merchantman, landed two agents on the Mediterranean coast of France, and then failed to pick up 15 men because it went aground and arrived a day late at the rendezvous point. HMS Fidelity thereupon returned to Liverpool for a further refit that gave it a fast launch and a sea-plane taken from a French naval vessel. On 23 August 1941 it left Liverpool with orders to land 3 Free French agents, to pick up two parties of Free French agents and escaping servicemen, and to capture or sink enemy merchant ships trading with Spain[138] but Jasper left it for HMS Cairo before it sailed. This second operation was almost entirely unsuccessful and incurred the wrath of Vice Admiral Commanding North Atlantic (VCNA)[139]. Only one of the agents was landed, a second refused to disembark, and a third, Major Violet, shot himself on 3 September 1941[140], even before Fidelity reached Gibraltar. As in April, HMS Fidelity missed the rendezvous with both escape parties and took off no-one, largely because Langlais overestimated the speed it could make in the Mediterranean[141].  Although supplied with the locations of enemy merchantmen trading with Spain it intercepted none of them. The ship further angered VCNA on its return on 24 September by fouling the departure of an escort for a Malta convoy and obstructing the transit of the Strait by Operation Halberd before anchoring in the entrance of the Northern Harbour where it could be observed by enemy agents. Whilst on operation it had sent all its signals at immediate precedence diverting staff from really urgent traffic, and when it had left Gibraltar for its operation on 10 September it had done so without picking up the codes Gibraltar needed to communicate with it securely. Most seriously – and of more concern than even the suicide of Major Violet – Langlais had beaten a senior rating who had become drunk and abusive[142]. VCNA concluded his report by declaring that he would not accept the return of HMS Fidelity to his jurisdiction unless he was given the power to court martial its commander.

Langlais frequently enforced discipline by beating his men and the Admiralty discovered this very soon after he and Fidelity joined the Royal Navy. On the voyage from Gibraltar to Barry in the summer of 1940 he had beaten an overworked cook who had refused an order. On landing at Barry the cook deserted, reported the incident, and was reassigned to another ship without charge. This incident led to Langlais been warned by Flag Officer Cardiff that such methods of maintaining discipline were unacceptable. An enquiry was considered but not held because of the secrecy of the work Fidelity was to carry out. Whilst Fidelity was fitting out at Liverpool a further incident came to the attention of the Flag Officer Liverpool but was not further investigated[143]. Shortly before HMS Fidelity sailed on its second covert operation its surgeon lieutenant obtained an interview with Slocum himself in which he asked what he should do if he saw inhumane methods of discipline being applied[144].

After VCNA’s damning report an enquiry was inevitable, especially when General de Gaulle announced he would hold an inquiry into the death of Major Violet[145], an enquiry the navy frustrated by refusing to allow Langlais to appear before it[146]. It held its own enquiry on 5 January 1942 at which Jasper gave evidence in which he defended Langlais. The enquiry upheld VCNA’s allegation that Langlais employed violent and unacceptable methods of enforcing discipline but dismissed his other complaints. It recommended that a carefully selected officer (Lt Cdr L B Whetstone) be attached to HMS Fidelity as its executive officer to ensure Langlais followed naval practises in future. HMS Fidelity itself was assigned to provide anti-aircraft protection to convoys in the Western Approaches, with the possibility of returning to covert work if its commander’s behaviour became acceptable. Langlais escaped dismissal from the navy because most of his men were deeply loyal to him (Jasper was one of those who testified to this) and because the Admiralty feared the trouble such a turbulent man might make[147]. He escaped the Western Approaches by appealing to Admiral Somerville who had taken him into the Royal Navy when he took Fidelity into Gibraltar in June 1940[148]. Somerville had gone on to command the Eastern Fleet, and he accepted Fidelity for what was to be its final tour of duty, on which Jasper rather than Whetstone served as liaison officer. Even before the enquiry reported Capt Slocum’s freedom of action was severely curtailed as a result of the disastrous operation he had authorised. He was ordered not to undertake any covert operations on any station without the full knowledge and support of the Flag Officer or Commander in Chief of that station, support which he had to obtain well in advance. He was further ordered not to deploy HMS Fidelity to the Mediterranean again and to consider releasing HMS Fidelity from covert operations, a suggestion with which he complied[149].  On 28 August 1941 after leaving HMS Fidelity, Jasper joined an anti-aircraft carrier, HMS Cairo, as its second in command. These ships coordinated the air defence of convoys and naval formations.  When Jasper joined HMS Cairo it was part of the Irish Sea Force in Belfast which escorted in-bound and out-bound convoys through the eastern part of the North Atlantic. During Jasper’s time on this station HMS Cairo escorted two convoys through these waters without incident, underwent two refits lasting a month each, and ferried a trade delegation to Murmansk.   On 13 April 1942 it was sent to Gibraltar to escort USS Wasp to a point from which it flew off a formation of Spitfires for Malta, after which it immediately returned to Belfast.[150] On 3 June 1942 it sailed back to Gibraltar to take part in very dangerous operations to resupply Malta, a base from which British aircraft and submarines attacked ships supplying German and Italian forces in the Western desert. HMS Cairo’s first operation was HARPOON, a convoy containing five freighters and an oil tanker proceeding from Gibraltar to Malta. This convoy was strongly opposed by Italian aircraft, submarines and surface ships which sank the oil tanker and three freighters. Of the two freighters which got through, one lost some of its cargo when it ran onto a mine just outside the Grand Harbour. HMS Cairo was hit by two six inch shells and two of its crew were killed. She, and the rest of the escort, might have suffered further had the Italian commander not withdrawn because he wrongly believed his force to be overmatched. Although HARPOON was unsuccessful, it fared better than VIGOROUS, a convoy that proceeded from Alexandria to Malta at the same time. This was forced to turn back by Italian and German resistance and got no ships through to Malta. Malta’s civil population remained short of food and AOC Malta declared that he had only seven weeks of aviation fuel left. The Admiralty decided that a second more determined attempt (Operation PEDESTAL) would have to made, and HMS Cairo was assigned to this once the damage it suffered in HARPOON had been repaired. PEDESTAL set out from Gibraltar on 10 August 1942 and started to come under attack the next day. Whilst it was redeploying from 4 columns to 2 on the evening of 12 August an Italian submarine fired four torpedoes at it, one of which blew the stern off HMS Cairo and killed 24 of its 340 crew. The remainder, including Jasper, were taken onto HMS Wilton and took no further part in the operation. The hulk of HMS Cairo did not go down and had to be sunk by gunfire from HMS Derwent. The rest of the escort got four of the convoy’s thirteen merchant craft through to Malta, and one of these was an oil tanker. Its oil, the 37 Spitfires flown in on 11 August, and 29,000 tons of stores unloaded from the three freighters enabled Malta to fight on.[151]

During this time HMS Fidelity languished without a mission and with declining status[152] until Lt Costa made contact with Admiral James Somerville, the commander of the Eastern Fleet. Admiral Somerville had been the commander of Force H in Gibraltar when Lt Costa and his ship were waiting to go to England in June 1940. Somerville was noted for his ability to get on well with foreign, especially French, officers and Lt Costa had experience of Asian waters. He persuaded Somerville that HMS Fidelity could contribute to commando operations against the Japanese in Burma, and HMS Fidelity was consequently recommissioned into the Royal Navy on 23 March 1942, given a draft of English sailors, a complement of marines, and fitted with anti-aircraft and anti-submarine weapons. This refit finished on 16 September 1942.

Jasper’s posting to HMS Cairo ended when it sank and he returned to his old post of liaison officer and watch keeper on HMS Fidelity in time to take part in the work-up trials following its refit. During one of these Jasper ran HMS Fidelity aground on 30 September 1942 and received an expression of displeasure from a commission of enquiry on 6 October 1942. This left him in post and in November 1942 he went with its crew for commando training at Inverary and learned to sail small amphibious craft[153]. On 19 December 1942 HMS Fidelity set out from Belfast Lough for Ceylon as part of convoy ONS 154 bound for North America. The convoy contained 18 ships that were to leave the convoy for other destinations once it was out of reach of U Boats. One of these was HMS Fidelity which carried 53 marines of T Company, 40 Commando, the force it was to land on its Far East mission.

The escort for ONS 154 was five inadequately trained and inadequately equipped Canadian ships and the convoy was sailing at the time German U-boats were enjoying their period of greatest success. Worse still the German navy knew the route that the convoy was taking before it set out.  It was found off the Azores on 26 December by a wolf pack of 19 U-boats shortly after it had entered the central Atlantic where there was no air cover and U-Boats could operate freely. On 27 December the wolf pack began a series of attacks which sank 15 of the convoy’s 45 ships over three days. HMS Fidelity was one of the ships sent to the rear to pick up survivors and its landing craft took up 44 from the Empire Shackleton including the convoy’s commodore, a retired admiral. Whilst doing this, Fidelity’s engines failed on 28 December, leaving it unable to rejoin the main convoy. It got its engines going at 0500 on 29 December, but when they broke down again five hours later, HMS Fidelity decided to make for the Azores, 250 miles away.[154] During the night it was attacked by U-225 which launched one torpedo that missed and then an hour later by U-615[155] which launched four torpedoes, all caught by HMS Fidelity’s torpedo nets. During the night of 29-30 December HMS Fidelity sent out a launch and an aircraft to engage the U boats, but without success. On 30 December US, Canadian, and RN ships were sent to assist ONS 154 and the U-Boats were ordered to break contact. Nonetheless HMS Fidelity was in a desperate situation, alone and unaware help was on the way. As one of the watch keepers, Jasper had to deal with the fears of the marines and the distress of the survivors who had already been sunk once. A third U-boat, U-435, found HMS Fidelity before the allies did, and sank it with two torpedoes at 1630 on 30 December 1942.  When its commander surfaced to survey the results of his action, he was surprised to see 300-400 people in the water.  He gave them no chance of survival in the rough winter seas and indeed the navy declared all 317 to be missing presumed drowned on 1 January 1943. HMS Fidelity was the last of ONS 154’s ships to be sunk. As a result of the heavy losses, all the escort vessels in the Canadian navy were withdrawn for retraining and the commander of ONS 154’s escort group never sailed again.[156] Even if HMS Fidelity had escaped U-435 and reached Colombo, landing commandos behind Japanese lines was such hazardous work it is unlikely Jasper would have survived the war.

His wife Kathleen served in the WRNS between at least 1943 and 1946. She was promoted to Second Officer on 3 August 1943[157] and was at HMS Tana, a shore establishment serving the Eastern Fleet at Kilindini near Mombasa, from February 1944 to October 1945. She was promoted to First Officer on 1 January 1946 and at some point transferred to HMS Pembroke, a shore establishment at Chatham, where she served until at least July 1946. She then married Carlton Troop in New Delhi in May 1947, her new husband being a Group Captain at Air HQ India. Group Captain Troop remained in the RAF after India became independent and was posted to Montgomery, Alabama between 1953 and 1954. The couple had a home at Middle Wallop, Hampshire from 1950 to at least 1960 and then lived in Hailsham, Sussex from 1962 to at least 1966. Kathleen died in Hastings in July 1991 where Carlton also died in June 1992.


[2] Ipswich Journal, 15 March 1884. Funeral of the Rt Hon Thomas Milner Gibson

[3] Wikipedia entry on Tufnell Park and

[4] Daily News 26 February 1884. Death of Mr Milner Gibson

[5] Ipswich Journal 23 March 1839. Editorial.

[6] Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald 23 July 1898. Aged Woman’s Fatal Fall

[7] Daily News 26 February 1884. Death of Mr Milner Gibson

[8] Dictionary for National Biography

[9] Wikipedia entry on Hardwick House


[11] Bury and Norfolk Post and Suffolk Standard 4 October 1898

[12] Bury and Norfolk Post and Suffolk Standard 4 October 1898

[13] Will of Gery Milner Gibson Cullum 3 October 1921 proved at Bury St Edmunds 6 March 1922

[14] Ipswich Journal, 15 March 1884. Funeral of the Rt Hon Thomas Milner Gibson

[15] Dictionary for National Biography


[17] Ipswich Journal and Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex, and Cambridgeshire Advertiser 1 Nov 1889 p5

[18] Bury and Norwich Post 17 December 1889

[19] The Bury  Free Press 7 March 1885

[20] The Irrepressible Victorian Leonard E Naylor, 1965


[22] The Irrepressible Victorian Leonard E Naylor, 1965


[24] The Examiner 28 December 1878

[25] The Irrepressible Victorian Leonard E Naylor, 1965



[28] Western Gazette 9 January 1922. Death of Mr Gibson Bowles

[29]  Will of Gery Milner Gibson Cullum 3 October 1921 proved at Bury St Edmunds 6 March 1922

[30] Morning Post 3 January 1884 p4

[31]  Cambridge University Alumni 1261-1900

[32] Cambridge University Alumni 1261-1900

[33] Bath Chronicle 4 Oct 1919

[34] Obituary for Jasper Joseph Alexander Milner-Gibson, Bury and Norwich Post and Suffolk Standard 5 April 1898

[35] caption to portrait of Jasper Milner Gibson 1852-98

[36] The Weekly Commonwealth (Topeka, Kansas) 11 Feb 1875


[38] Marriage certificate Jasper Milner Gibson and Elizabeth Isadore Parsons

[39] Marriage certificate Alice Milner Gibson and William Wybrow Robertson


[41] Belmont Chronicle 15 Mar 1860 p2

[42] Zanesville Daily Courier 12 Mar 1861 p2


[44] Coshocton Democrat 19 Sep 1865 p2

[45] Cincinnati Enquirer 19 Sep 1895 p1

[46] Springfield Daily Republic 28 Oct 1886

[47] US Federal Census 1870

[48] Liverpool Evening Review 8 Apr 1936


[50] Milner-Gibson monument in Theberton Church

[51] Bury and Norwich Post 5 April 1898 p8 Death of Mr Jasper J A Milner-Gibson

[52] Bury and Norwich Post 5 April 1898 p8 Death of Mr Jasper J A Milner-Gibson

[53] Cincinnati Enquirer 19 Sep 1895 p1

[54] The Times 20 April 1891 p9 Court Circular

[55] Bury and Norwich Post 5 April 1898 p8 Death of Mr Jasper J A Milner-Gibson

[56] Bury Free Press 30 December 1893 p8 Marriages and Deaths

[57] Bury and Norwich Post 5 April 1898 p8 Death of Mr Jasper J A Milner-Gibson


[59] The Irrepressible Victorian Leonard E Naylor, 1965

[60] Standard 28 November 1878. The Action against Truth

[61] UK, Civil Divorce Records, 1858-1911

[62] Death certificate of Alice Mary Robertson

[63] Standard 28 November 1878. The Action against Truth

[64] The Era 5 April 1884 Death of Miss Marie Litton

[65] Scotland Select Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950, FHL Film 1041404, accessed through

[66] England and Wales Free BMD Index, 1837-1915, accessed through

[67] 1861 England census,  accessed through


[69] Cambridge University Alumni, 1261-1900, accessed through

[70] England and Wales Free BMD Death Index1837-1915, accessed through

[71] Edinburgh Evening News 2 April 1884 Death of Marie Litton

[72] The Era 5 April 1884 Death of Miss Marie Litton

[73] Edinburgh Evening News 2 April 1884 Death of Marie Litton

[74] The Era 5 April 1884 Death of Miss Marie Litton

[75] DNB vol 11 entry for Marie Litton ed Leslie Stephen 1921-2

[76] Edinburgh Evening News 2 April 1884 Death of Marie Litton

[77] The Era 5 April 1884 Death of Miss Marie Litton

[78] The Era 12 January 1879 p4 Dramatic and Musical Chronology for 1878

[79] The Era 31 August 1879 p6 Theatrical Gossip

[80] The Era 5 April 1884 Death of Miss Marie Litton

[81] The Era 23 May 1880 p7 The Philothespian Club

[82] Derby Daily Telegraph 5 August 1880 p2 From Our London Correspondent

[83] The Era 24 October 1880 p14 The New Theatre Royal Glasgow

[84] The Northern Whig 26 November 1880 p5

[85] Aris’s Birmingham Gazette 18 September 1880 p8 A Theatrical Dispute

[86] The Era 25 July 1880. As You Like It at Bradford

[87] Sheffield Daily Telegraph 4 January 1881

[88] London Standard 6 June 1881

[89] Glasgow Herald 30 November 1881

[90] Dundee Courier and Argus 12 August 1881. Failure of Miss Litton’s husband

[91] Dundee Courier and Argus 23 December 1881: Petition against Miss Litton

[92] Edinburgh Evening News 31 January 1882 p3 Miss Litton in the Court of Session

[93] Dundee Courier and Argus 23 December 1881: Petition against Miss Litton

[94] Manchester Evening News 13 May 1882

[95] Dundee Courier and Argus 12 August 1881. Failure of Miss Litton’s husband

[96] Dundee Courier and Argus 24 June 1882. Sale of the Glasgow Theatre Royal

[97] DNB vol 11 entry for Marie Litton ed Leslie Stephen 1921-2

[98] The Referee 18 September 1881 p3 col 3

[99] Morning Post 9 February 1882

[100] Manchester Evening Times 25 February 1882  p8 Singular Accident in a Theatre

[101] The Star Guernsey 28 March 1882 Author’s Protection

[102] Morning Post 5 June 1882 p2Theatrical and Musical Intelligence

[103] Morning Post 9 June 1882

[104] Sheffield Independent 30 December 1882

[105] Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle 8 March 1883 Referee Extracts

[106] The Era 27 June 1883

[107] The Era 22 September 1883

[108] The York Herald 3 October 1883 p4 Events of the Day

[109] Derby Mercury 10 October 1883 p6 Dramatic and Musical

[110] England and Wales National Probate Calendar 1861-1941 accessed through

[111] Bury and Norwich Post 4 October 1898. Death and Funeral of Mrs William Horncastle

[112] Will of Margaret Alice Maud Gurney 11 April 1947 proved London 25 January 1949

[113] 1939 Register

[114] Bury Free Press 25 June 1954

[115] Death certificate of William Stocken issued by the Middlesex coroner on 6 July 1881

[116] Information from French researcher

[117] Milner-Gibson family memory

[118] Ipswich Journal, 15 March 1884. Funeral of the Rt Hon Thomas Milner Gibson

[119] Will of Agnes Hernelinde Dawson 10 March 1906 proved London 19 June 1906

[120] Milner-Gibson family memory and information from a French researcher

[121] Information from a French researcher

[122] National Probate Calendar for England and Wales 1858-1966, 1946 entry for Anna Hauchecorne

[123] Information from a French researcher

[124] Milner-Gibson family memory

[125] Brooklyn Eagle 14 February 1950

[126] Forvé family memory

[127] Milner-Gibson family memory

[128] Pre-war naval career from RN service record

[129] Milner-Gibson family memory

[130] Career of Lt-Col Noirtin from

[131] Tokomaru Bay, New Zealand Electoral Register

[132] Combined Operations: The Official Story of the Commandos by Hilary Saunders cited in The Harrisburg Telegraph, May 1943

[133] Wikipedia entry for Operation Collar (Commando Raid)

[134] Wikipedia entry for Ronnie Tod

[135] HMS Fidelity by Marcel Jullian


[137] NL 1904/41 of 26 January 1941 in ADM 178/224 held at The National Archives

[138] G.3/24.0.2 in ADM 178/224 held at The National Archives

[139] VCNA’s report on HMS Fidelity’s September 1941 operation held in ADM 178/224

[140] Captain’s log of HMS Fidelity’s September 1941 operation held in ADM 178/224

[141] Capt Slocum (NID(C))’s response to VCNA’s report on HMS Fidelity’s September 1941 operation held in ADM 178/224

[142] VCNA’s report on HMS Fidelity’s September 1941 operation held in ADM 178/224

[143] Summary of Langlais’s unorthodox disciplinary methods in NL 050132/41 of 8 November 1941 held in ADM 178/224

[144] Captain Slocum’s minute of 7 September 1941 held in ADM 178/224

[145] Annex to Capt Slocum’s response to VCNA’s report of HMS Fidelity held in ADM 178/224

[146] Annex to Capt Slocum’s response to VCNA’s report of HMS Fidelity held in ADM 178/224

[147] Report of enquiry into VCNA’s report held on ADM 178/224

[148] CinC Western Approaches 1127A of 22 February 1942 held in ADM 178/224

[149] DOD(F) of 31 October 1941 held in ADM 178/224


[151] Wikipedia entries on Operations HARPOON, PEDESTAL and VIGOROUS

[152] HMS Fidelity by Marcel Jullian

[153] RN service record for Jasper Milner-Gibson

[154] Battle for Convoy ONS-154, 26-31 December 1942 by David Syrett at


[156] The Battle for Convoy ONS-154, 26-31 December 1942 by David Syrett at

[157] Navy list

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21 Responses to The Milner-Gibsons

  1. Mark says:

    My grandmother is now 94 and was a house maid at Slogarie in the 1930’s. Remembers the family well and Percy the butler. Small world….

  2. anthomy peter vischer says:

    who wrote about my family am the grandson of william archer milner gibson

  3. Anne O'Leary says:

    My mother Helen (“Tibby”) Forve O’Leary is a niece of Mary Forve Milner-Gibson, the second wife of William Archer Milner-Gibson (1879-1961). Tibby remained close to her aunt Mary after “Uncle Gibby” and our cousin Molly died and Mary relocated to California where a few other family members (no longer carrying the name Forve) were living. Tibby is in possession of various photo albums that may be of interest to descendants of William Archer Milner-Gibson (1879-1961). She was very close to Molly and Claire, and was talking about the family with me today while sorting out family photos. I have forwarded her a link to this blog and will be happy to try to facilitate introductions.

    • djcrellin67 says:

      Hello Anne,

      It is good to know that photos exist of the several Milner-Gibsons. I myself have never seen any pictures of the people I have studied for some years. William Archer’s descendants are scattered across Great Britain and Switzerland so sharing any of such important images is perhaps an impossible problem. I would though be most interested to know some of the names of the people in your mother’s pictures. Do they include Evelyn Milner-Gibson (1902-80), Jasper Milner-Gibson (1903-42), Anna Noirtin Milner-Gibson (b. 1878), Jasper Milner Gibson (1852-98), as well as William Archer Milner-Gibson, Mary Forve Milner-Gibson and Molly Milner-Gibson?

      I ought to mention that there are five Forve family trees on


  4. anthomy peter vischer says:

    those pics would certainly not include my family A.P.V.

  5. Anne O'Leary says:

    Daniel, thank you for your kind reply. I am no longer in California with my parents, but I will return for another visit with them before long. When I do so, I can scan some of photographs and send them to you via e-mail, if you would like to contact me and send me your e-mail address. I simply do not know if any of the photos show Evelyn Milner-Gibson (1902-80), Jasper Milner-Gibson (1903-42), Anna Noirtin Milner-Gibson (b. 1878), or Jasper Milner Gibson (1852-98). Some of the albums definitely include photos that predate my great-aunt Mary’s marriage to William Archer Milner-Gibson. Thank you for the tip about the Forve family trees. I hope to make a visit to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania next month for an event celebrating the legacy of Charles Stegmaier (father of Louise Stegmaier Forve, Mary Forve Milner-Gibson’s mother) and the still-functioning brewery he founded.

    Anthony, some of the photos my mother has may indeed include your family. Of course we have photographs of your grandfather. Perhaps you would recognize others in the photos; a great many are of people my mother cannot identify. There is one album entitled “Theberton” and I am quite sure some of the photos in that album were assembled by your grandfather and not by my aunt or cousins Molly and Claire Incidentally, my mother remembers hearing Molly (who was her age) and Claire speak of “Tony” though she never met you. She will eventually post her own comments to this blog. I will be glad to help her get appropriate photos into the hands of direct descendants if you, your children, or your grandchildren would like them. The photos in question are currently in San Rafael, California, just north of San Francisco.

    Best wishes, Anne O’Leary

    • djcrellin67 says:


      I would be most interested in any images you are able to scan and will send my email address to you separately. I’ll do what I can to identify any unidentified people in them, but can’t make any promises. I wonder if you will meet any of the owners of the Forvé trees at the Stegmaier family event.

      Theberton was the Milner-Gibson family home in Suffolk, England. Were you aware of that?

      I associate Theberton with Thomas Milner Gibson (1806-84) a prominent British Radical politician in the mid-19th century who became a Cabinet minister and whose most remarkable achievement was to repeal the tax on newspapers, an important step towards the creation of mass circulation newspapers in Great Britain. Theberton was his country home throughout his life and William Archer Milner-Gibson inherited it in 1898 on the death of his step-father Jasper Milner Gibson. I am sure you are right to think that the Theberton album was put together by William Milner-Gibson and not by Molly or Claire. If it contains pictures of the Victorian Milner Gibsons it would be very interesting, and not just to me.

      Many thanks for sharing all this information,


  6. Anne O'Leary says:

    Daniel, we were somewhat aware of Theberton’s place in Milner Gibson/Milner-Gibson history — but more so now, thanks to your fine work shared on this blog. This is why I feel some responsibility to ensure that photos and what they hint of family history reach descendents of my Great Uncle Gibby (William Milner-Gibson) through his first marriage. As you know, there are no living heirs through his second marriage. My mother and her sister are the last of her generation with any direct connection to William Milner-Gibson. Some of my older second cousins on the Forve side may remember him, but I was 8 years old when he died and only remember my Great Aunt Mary (Mary Forve Milner-Gibson) and first cousin once-removed Molly.

    Please send me a private message to my e-mail address: so we can establish a connection for me to e-mail the scanned photographs to. Anthony Peter Vischer and any of his children or grandchildren who have an interest in receiving these are welcome to do the same. We have more sorting to do to disentangle photos that would only be of interest to Forve relatives from photos that might be important to descendants of the first marriage, but we can and will do this if contacted by any of them.

    Best wishes, Anne

    • anthomy peter vischer says:

      Ann you are most thoughtful about the photos as i have very few on theberton since my grandmother Gibbies first wife had much of her house bombed .My mother Evelyn fetched what wass left to switzerland and sold the estate.I am Tony married to a school friend of Claires and Molly whom I knew very well my e mail is kind regards tony ps Aunt Mary was a charming kind lady and had a fun sister Louise I knew at Colrain Va.

  7. Catherine N says:

    I am doing some research into the local history of Waterloo in Lambeth, London. It would appear that the Milner Gibsons held land on copyhold from the Mannor of Kennington (Duchy of Cornwall) and were instrumental in developing many of the streets in the early 1820’s. My research is still ongoing but it would appear that the will of Major Thomas Milner Gibson (note that he was using the middle name ‘Milner’) proved in the PCC (Prerogative Court of Canterbury) in July 1807 was contested or at least, a case went to the court of Chancery, as the trustees of the will had to put an act through Parliament in 1812-13 to develop lands in Lambeth and Islington. I am also trying to find proof of the link to ‘sugar plantation money’ that seems to be quoted everywhere. The family certainly seems to have held copyhold and freehold land in Essex and Suffolk. The will of Rev Thomas Gibson of Ipswich, also proved through the PCC in 1797, makes Thomas Milner Gibson his executor and this will mentions property in Harwich. There is another Rev Thomas Gibson, of Harwich whose will was also proved through the PCC in 1780 who makes his son Thomas Gibson, clerk (a vicar in other words) of Ramsey in Essex his executor and this will mentions property in Thorpe in the Soken (Thorpe le Soken, Essex?), Debenham in Suffolk, Swilland in Suffolk and Monewdon, Cretingham and Brandeston, also in Suffolk. I am working on the theory that this earlier Thomas Gibson is the father of the second Rev Thomas and the grandfather of Major Thomas Milner Gibson. As I said, my research is ongoing, but if anyone can give me a source for the story about the family being heirs to a sugar plantation in Trinidad, I can investigate further.

    • djcrellin67 says:

      Hello Catherine,

      I will go over my source notes to pick out every reference I have seen to the sugar plantation story. It will take a couple of weeks and I may end by telling you what you already know, but I’d like to be sure. Like you I have seen no primary source which identifies the plantation and proves it existed. I rather think it did exist though: Thomas Milner Gibson (1806-84) was born in Trinidad.

      His father is something of an enigma about whom I know nothing save his approximate date of death and his wife’s name. He was clearly a wealthy enigma given the start Thomas had in life and I have always wanted to know more about his landholdings. I will be very interested to see what you discover.


  8. Catherine N says:

    Thanks for your reply. I would be interested to know anything you can find out about land holdings in Trinidad. Of course any estate that the family were heirs to might have come from a relative with a different name. At the moment, the only other surname I have is the wife of Major Thomas Mlner Gibson, she was Isabella Glover. They were married in Piccadilly in 1798. The wives of the 2 Reverends I will be investigating further. I also have to check the Chancery records for the land dispute and the regimental records for the history of Major Thomas. I don’t know if you are aware of this, but before 1871, army officers purchased thier commissions. There are many records of these transactions at the National Archives at Kew, giving (hopefully) baptism details, parents names etc. I will keep you updated on whatever I find.

    • djcrellin67 says:

      Hello Catherine,

      I didn’t know that it was possible to consult records for C18/C19 officers in The National Archives. That gives me one more reason to go – thanks for the tip. As to sources which might identify the sugar plantation, this is what I can offer:

      I have only one explicit source asserting that the Milner Gibson family had a plantation in Trinidad. It is: which states:

      It [Milner Square] is a counterpart to Gibson Square (q.v.) to the south and was the second of the two squares built as part of the Milner-Gibson Estate laid out from 1823 by Francis Edwards, a pupil of Sir John Soane. The Lord of Barnsbury Manor William Tufnell owned the land here and in 1823 Thomas Milner Gibson of Theberton Hall in Suffolk obtained a licence to build here from Tufnell’s executors. He had inherited a fortune from plantations in Trinidad and became President of the Board of Trade.

      The sources they used for this are Mary Cosh, The Squares of Islington Part II: Islington Parish (London, 1993); Elain Harwood & Andrew Saint, Exploring England’s Heritage (London, 1991); Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 4: North (Penguin, 1998); Mary Cosh, Barnsbury, (London 1981); Michael Whitaker lecture; Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, ‘The London Encyclopaedia’ (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993)

      Thomas Milner Gibson’s entry in the Dictionary of National Biography states that the family returned to Suffolk from Trinidad very soon after his birth. I didn’t record its sources when taking this note and I can’t check them now because I don’t have access to it at home. As I recall the entry’s author drew on various collections of letters that contained letters from Thomas Milner Gibson. However the Ipswich Journal and Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire Advertiser of 15 March 1884 in its report of his funeral stated that: “on the arrival of the cortege at the entrance to Theberton House – where the deceased gentleman had passed his boyhood’s days, but at which no stay was made, the house being let but at present unoccupied – it was headed by about 30 of the tenantry of the estate”. Thomas Milner Gibson’s DNB entry also states that his grandfather was Rev Thomas Gibson who came from the Ipswich area.

      There seems no doubt that Thomas Milner Gibson was born in Trinidad. The sources I have for this are:

      The 1851, 1861, and 1871 census

      His master’s certificate issued on 3 May 1871 and signed by him. This is held in UK and Ireland Master’s and Mate’s certificates, 1850-1927, and an image can be consulted on

      Cambridge University Alumni 1261-1900 which gives his birthplace as Port of Spain, Trinidad. Its sources are WD Parish, Carthusian Worthies; H Francis – Orators of the Age; Burke’s Peerage and baronetage.

      I was interested to see that Thomas Milner Gibson’s father was also called Thomas Milner Gibson. In the sources I have consulted he (the son born in 1806) started life as plain Thomas Gibson, and only added Milner to his surname on 7 February 1839, stating that he did so out of respect for the memory of Robert Milner of Ipswich, about whom I know nothing.

      Hope this helps and would be very interested in anything you find out about the sugar plantation.


  9. Michael Schuster says:


    I have in the past communicated with Daniel about the life of William Archer Milner-Gibson. My interest lays in William’s ownership of the Glouscster County Virginia home “Colraine” which my parents later purchased in the 1970’s. I am compliling a history of Colraine and it’s families. Any scaned photos of the Milner-Gibson and his family would be great and even better would be family reconcillations or remininsences

    Some questions I have that you might be able to shed light on are:

    Why did they choose Glousceter County Virginia to live part of year since during their time there in the 1940’s this was an isolated rural county with the nearest cities would be several hours away by car or boat?
    Did Milner-Gibson’s buy Colaine after viewing real estate listings in the Washington Post since their daughter was attending a Catholic prep school in Georgetown, Washington DC (which was associated with Georgetown University)?
    Did William have alterations done to the home during their tenure?
    Did Willam own a yacht and moored it to deep water pier in front of Colarine as had the previous owner 60 ft power vessel?
    Did the Milner-Gibson have a servant staff travel with them or had a full time caretaker (Note the home had a caretaker’s house and had a rear two story servant’s wing)?
    When traveling between Pennsylvania and Glouscester Virginia did they travel by train (closet train station would have been 40 miles or take steam packet boat ship down the Chesapeake Bay (closetest warf was 3 miles)?

    Note if any of you are interested of the time The Milner- Gibson’s resided in Virgina I will gladly share what information and photos I have complied

    Thanks for sharing

    Michael Schuster

    • olearyah says:

      Dear Michael,
      I’ve been helping my mother (Helen Forve O’Leary) sort out family history, which brought me to this blog. I’ve also been in touch with Daniel, who has been very patient with my slow progress in sharing information about this part of my family. William Archer Milner-Gibson’s second wife Mary Forve Milner-Gibson was my mother’s paternal aunt, and my mother visited her aunt, uncle and cousins at Colraine. I’ll forward this message to my mother, who is now living outside San Francisco in San Rafael, California. I’m mostly in Arlington, Virginia and not planning to be back in California to help her further for a few more months. We’ll be happy to share information with you as we can. I’m quite sure that photos of Colraine are included in the photographs that came to my mother after her aunt died. My great aunt Mary outlived not only her husband, but also both her daughters; there are no descendants. You can send me an e-mail to with your contact information and telephone number. I’m glad to know Colraine is in the hands of someone who values its history, and I know my mother will be, too.
      Best wishes and Happy New Year, Anne O’Leary

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