29 July 2013

James Ball, bookbinder AND carpenter

The Ball family in England is one of the parts of my family that I have found frustratingly little about. But every now and then I try all my usual searches on them to see if any new information has been loaded onto Ancestry, Findmypast and FamilySearch.

Yesterday I was looking up James Ball, my great great great grandfather, and discovered something new. Even though I knew he died in Sydney, after emigrating from England in 1857, I was looking under the British parish records collection for burials. For some reason they have details of some Sydney burials in there (I don't quite understand why), and I happened upon the burial records for James and his wife Susannah. I've looked for them before out at Rookwood Cemetery, but had not been able to locate the graves, as the Anglican section of the cemetery at that time was completely unmapped.

However, I discovered yesterday that with the graves for James and Susannah is also a memorial for four of their children "who died in the City of London": Thomas John, aged 3, Emma, aged 2, Mary Ann, aged 2, and Arthur Henry, aged 1. Although it didn't note the children's dates of death, this was a starting point as I previously had no knowledge of their existence, apart from Thomas John!

I already knew that Thomas John had been buried in the Middle Ground of the New Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, Islington, on May 2, 1844 - this was known from the London Non-conformist registers. I then managed to find that Mary Ann was buried at St Gregory by St Paul, aged 15 months, on 28 March 1850, her abode given as 20 Little Carter Street. I still cannot find anything in relation to Emma and Arthur Henry, but at least I'm aware of their existence now!

Thomas John and Mary Ann were buried in different graveyards, under different Christian denominations (St Gregory by St Paul is Church of England, non-conformist churches were other protestant churches, such as Methodist, Baptist etc) and I wondered why this was. Checking the known baptisms for all the Ball children, I found some previously undiscovered ones: Susannah, Louisa and Eliza (Eliza Jane) were baptised together at St Jude's, Bethnal Green (Church of England) on 11 May 1856, with their actual birthdates noted (Susannah: 27 May 1843, Louisa: 22 August 1845, Eliza Jane: 30 July 1847). When they emigrated to Australia, their religion was noted as Independent, however James and Susannah were buried in the Church of England (now Anglican) section of Rookwood Cemetery when they died. When their children married in Australia, they were married by Presbyterian and Wesleyan Methodist ministers. I tend to think that they gravitated to the nearest church wherever they were, but perhaps had a soft spot for non-conformist denominations.

The baptism records for the three girls also noted their father James was a carpenter, and that they lived at 1 Johns Place, Essex Street. I have puzzled before over James as a carpenter - the only reference I had previously found was in the immigration records when they arrived in Australia, despite the fact that I know he worked as a bookbinder in Little Carter Lane, London, and also in Redfern, Sydney. So it made me wonder what it might be that made him change profession before leaving for Australia. I wondered if his bookbinding business might have gone bankrupt. After some searching, I found that's exactly what did happen.

The first I can find of it is a notice in the London Gazette that he was to appear at the Court for Relief of Insolvent Debtors on 7 January 1854: "James Ball, late of No. 23 Lambeth-hill, Thames Street, London, Stationer and Bookbinder - in the Debtors' Prison for London and Middlesex." Another notice stated that he was formerly of 20 Little Carter-lane, then and late of 23 Lambeth-hill, Thames St.

He was imprisoned because of his debts. What happened to his family while he was in prison? If he was unable to pay his debts, I'm sure he wouldn't have been able to afford the rest on the house they were living in, so where did they live? According to immigration records, James' wife Susannah was a house servant, and possibly her meagre income was what they lived off during this time.

The Morning Post of 27 February 1854 contained a small article about the case:

This insolvent, a bookbinder, &c., applied under the Protection Act. Mr Sargood opposed. The case created some laughter. The insolvent attributed his insolvency to the removal of his business from Carter-lane in consequence of the City improvements. He got 200l., having asked for 400l. He heard it was usual to get half of what was asked. (A laugh.) He then went to Lambeth-hill, hoping another line of improvement might be made, so that he might make a speculation, but he had been disappointed (laughter). The case adjourned to serve a creditor."
It rather suggests that James was slightly naive in his business dealings...

On March 24 1854 the Morning Post reported:

I don't understand half of that article, nor really what the outcome was, but it apparently left James in the position of no longer having a bookbinding business, so he clearly took up carpentry instead, and worked as a carpenter until the family emigrated to Australia. At some stage he then was able to buy some more bookbinding equipment and he took up bookbinding again in Redfern, Sydney.


  1. I read this post with interest as my husband's Ball ancestors are sprinkled with James. Your comprehensive post tells me that yours is a different Ball family.

    Thanks for sharing your research.

    1. Pleased to be able to clear that up for you Jill!