George Parsons has been described as a flamboyant Victorian entrepeneur. He was a farmer and land agent, but also an inventor and a businessman.
George Parsons was born in Kington Magna or in West Stour, which are neigbouring villages near Shaftesbury in Dorset, either late in the year 1806 or early in 1807. He was baptised in West Stour on the 27th of March 1807. His father, George Parsons, was a son of William Parsons, who owned land in Kington Magna and lived for most of his life in Holton, near Wincanton, in an inn which he owned. George’s mother, Jane Peters, was the sister of John Weston Peters, a wealthy land owner. John Weston Peters had no male heirs, and when he died much of his fortune passed to his sister Jane’s sons, George and his brothers.
George was his parents’ eldest son and he spent his early years on his father’s farm in Kington Magna. But when George was a teenager his parents moved about eight miles west to Charlton Horethorne in Somerset. George had five brothers who survived to become adults — John, Charles, Henry, Uriah, and William — and one sister who was called Jane. They all grew up in Charlton Horethorne which became their spiritual home for several generations — a descendant of theirs still lives there, in the Manor House.
On the 27th of March 1839, George Parsons married Elizabeth Ann Gale in Glastonbury, Somerset. Elizabeth’s family were the Gales of Malmesbury, who were well known in that area, and one of her Gale ancestors had married a girl from the aristocratic Estcourt family. Elizabeth’s brother, Frederick Gale, was a surgeon (trained at St.Thomas’s in London) who had previously married Julia Peters who was a daughter of George’s uncle, John Weston Peters, who was a wealthy land-owner.
For clarity this diagram omits George’s brothers and sisters.
As a young adult George’s life was that of a gentleman farmer. He lived for a while at New Cross Farm near West Lambrook, in Somerset which is about 5 miles north of Crewkerne. In 1835 he became a steward to Lord Portman as was his uncle, John Western Peters. George’s younger brothers Henry and Uriah also became stewards to Lord Portman some years later. George’s job took him to Blandford Forum in Dorset for a year or two where he lived in the Steward’s House near to Lord Portman’s home at Bryanstone Park. After a few years George returned to his farm at West Lambrook. The Steward’s House is now known as Home Farmhouse.
In 1844, George represented Lord Portman, who was the Lord Lieutenant of Somerset, at the annual meeting and cattle show of the Yeovil Agricultural Society. At the same show he also won prizes for exhibiting the best sample of Mangel Wurzels and the second best fat cow.
George became interested in the application of science and technology to agriculture and he was one of the early members of the English Agricultural Society, which later became the Royal Agricultural Society of England. Lord Portman became president of the society.
George briefly went into business with Edward Budge, a brewer and maltster, but their partnership was soon dissolved. He began to invent things and soon had a number of patents to his name. For example, in 1843 he patented “a portable roof for various agricultural and for other purposes” and, together with a Mr. Clyburn, “improvements in machinery for beating, cleaning, and crushing various animal and vegetable materials or substances”. In the next few years there were several more patents.
It was not long before George started an manufacturing business based on the ideas which he had patented. He also took steps to mechanise the flax-processing which was traditionally associated with his farm. (Flax, from which linen and canvas are made, was an important crop in that part of Somerset.) He built up a thriving business which employed 80 men and was especially well known for manufacturing agricultural steam engines. But in 1854 disaster struck; there was a large fire. Several newspapers reported the incident. The following is a typical example, published on the 22nd of February, in the Taunton Courier:
“FIRE AT LAMBROOK, NEAR SOUTH PETHERTON.
At six o’clock on Wednesday evening last, a fire broke out on the premises of Mr.George Parsons, at East Lambrook, and made such a rapid progress before an engine could be got to the spot, as threatened the destruction of the whole premises, which are very extensive. However, by the judicious management of the South Petherton fire engine, the dwellinghouse was preserved, although the whole of the attached outbuildings were destroyed. Had the wind, very high at the time, but slightly varied, valuable ricks, closely adjacent, must have been lost. The scene was truly distressing. The poor cattle, which were unavoidably burnt to death, consisted of 31 dairy cows with their calves. The amount of damage has not yet been ascertained, but we should conjecture it not less than from £4000 to £5000. Large quantities of flax, corn and other agricultural produce were entirely destroyed, besides a vast amount of machinery and workmen’s tools. Such a fire has not been known in this neighbourhood for many years. The conflagration broke out at 10 minutes after six in the evening. It was first seen by one of the men belonging to the establishment, and had then made but little progress, but within about 20 minutes had spread over almost the whole building. The premises, a double range of buildings, consisted of granaries, carpenter’s and wheelright’s shops, paint and colour rooms, plank and store rooms, stalls for cattle, stables, coach houses, and a large barn containing a quantity of mangel wurzel, swedes, and potatoes in the cellar, and in the upper floor thrashing, winnowing and blowing machines, as well as a whole range of shaftings with pulleys and bolts. In the centre of the building, at the north end, stood an engine of 20 horse power, which worked the extensive machinery, by means of which the engineering business is carried on. Seven steam engines on the premises were nearly completed; and amongst others there for repair was an immense locomotive belonging to Messrs Hutchinson and Ritson, which escaped the fire. The whole besides was completely destroyed. By this disastrous affair, 80 hands are thrown out of employ.”
The premises and goods which were destoyed were insured, but not sufficiently to cover the loss.
George had already been looking for other premises to expand his business and in 1853 he had bought Cary’s Mill, a disused corn mill on the River Parrett between South Petherton and Martock. (The mill had also been used to produce snuff for a while). It was well situated. A branch railway from Yeovil to Taunton passed nearby and the large mill-wheels could provide power for some of the machinery. George proceeded to build new premises on the site. He intended to continue his business as before — a mixture of, on the one hand, traditional flax processing and the manufacture of associated products, and on the other hand, the manufacture of engines and machines for use in agriculture and mining. In order to develop the business he obtained a mortgage for £3,500 from his wife’s brother the Revd William Wilkins Gale.
George took care to make sure that his new premises at Carey’s Mill were as fire-proof as possible. Cast iron was used for many aspects of the structure. The complex included areas to manufacture woven cloth, sacking, ropes and twine as well as a large engineering workshop in which the agricultural implements and engines were made.
The following excerpts from newspaper reports give a flavour of the kinds of machines that were made at the Parrett Works:
“AGRICULTURAL IMPLEMENTS - Mr George Parsons, of the Parrett Works, exhibited a number of agricultural implements at the Royal Agricultural Society’s Shown at Plymouth. Mr Parsons was successful in securing a silver medal for a combined flax-breaking and scotching machine of exquisite manufacture.”
And at the Royal Agricultural Meeting at Worcester — “Stand, No. 226, Mr. George Parsons of Parrett Works, Martock, Somersetshire. An eight horse-power portable steam engine, suitable for driving, threshing, sowing, corn-grinding, chaff-cutting, pumping, &c., fitted with spring balance safety-valve, water and steam gauges, blow-off cocks, whistle and ash-pan. Cylinder 9 inches in diameter, 14 inch stroke, with steam jacket to prevent loss of heat by radiation.”
In 1865, George was able to launch a limited company, the West of England Engineering & Coker Canvas Co. Ltd. In doing so it seems that he took advantage of recent legislation which had established the modern concept of a limited liability company. This encouraged investment in new companies by limiting each shareholder’s liability to the sum they had originally invested. They could not be held liable for any additional debts incurred.
The objectives of the company were laid down in its articles of association — “The purchasing and selling or otherwise disposing of Flax, Hemp, Jute, Tow and all other Materials, Articles and things used in the manufacture of Ropes, Yarns, Twine, Thread, Canvas, Sail-Cloth, Sails, Sacks, Bags, Tents and Tarpaulins and of every other description of Cloth or Covering, whether linen, woollen, or cotton, or any other material; and also the spinning, bleaching, manufacturing, purchasing, selling, exporting, or otherwise disposing of Ropes, Yarns, Twine, Thread, Canvas, Sail-Cloth, Sails, Sacks, Bags, Tents and Tarpaulins and also the construction, building, manufacturing, repairing, purchasing, selling, exporting, lending on hire or otherwise disposing of other Engines, Machines, Implements, Tools etc.”.
George Parsons was the Managing Director of the new company and its largest shareholder, but he did not have a controlling stake.
It seems that the company did not deliver the profits that the shareholders were hoping for because in 1868, at an Extraordinary General Meeting, they decided to wind the company up.
There was a closing-down sale in November 1869.
Carey’s mill is known today as the Parrett Works. It stands in a peaceful country setting between Martock and the village of East Lambrook.
This photograph was taken from the south west, from a footpath which forms part of the River Parrett Trail.
Several businesses today use the buildings that George Parsons built, mainly for storage.
George and Elizabeth Parsons had three children, all boys. George Estcourt Parsons was born in 1841 at Lambrook. Henry William Parsons was born in 1846, also at Lambrook. And John Athelstone Parsons was born in 1850 at Bryanstone in Dorset while his father was living there as Lord Portman’s steward. All three boys emigrated to New Zealand and years later one of them, John, moved from there to live in Australia.
In 1873, a few years after George’s company in Martock had been wound up, George and Elizabeth joined their sons in New Zealand. They lived in Kaikoura which is in South Island about 110 miles north of Christchurch. It has a beautiful seaside setting with a peninsula backed by mountains. European settlers first arrived there in 1843 when a whaling station was established. But declining numbers of whales and high export costs meant that whaling soon became uneconomic and so the settlers turned to farming. Two years after George arrived in Kaikoura his nephew Freeborn Parsons also came to live there.
George Parsons died in Kaikoura on the 30th of November 1876. He left a will which named his three sons as executors. His wife Elizabeth continued to live in Kaikoura until she died there twelve years later in 1888.
The pictures below show George Parsons and his wife Elizabeth Ann Parsons née Gale.
Children of George and Elizabeth Parsons
George and Elizabeth had three children all of whom were boys.
• George Estcourt Parsons was George’s first child. He was born in Lambrook in Somerset on the 29th of May 1841 and baptised in Kingsbury Episcopi exactly one month later. Kingsbury Episcopi is about a mile north of East Lambrook. His second name, Estcourt, had also been the second name of his mother’s deceased father Dr. Edmund Estcourt Gale and was given in honour of the family’s matrimonial link with the aristorcatic Estcourt family.
Estcourt, as he was usually known, was educated at Somerton Grammar School, in Somerset where he seemed to have been a good scholar because in 1855 he won a prize for classics. However there were rumours of financial mismanagement at the school and neither of his younger brothers were sent there. He probably also studied in France for a while. After finishing his education he lived for a while with his parents at Carey’s mill near Martock.
On the 20th of April 1865 Estcourt married his cousin Sarah Parsons. She was a daughter of his uncle Charles Peters Parsons and she had been born in South Petherton in Somerset. The ceremony was performed at the church of St. Peter & St. Paul in Charlton Horethorne which is next door to the manor house that had been the childhood home of both the bride’s and the groom’s fathers, and which was now the home of their uncle Uriah Parsons.
Estcourt and Sarah travelled to North America. According to his biography in the ‘Cyclopedia of New Zealand - 1906’ he visited British Columbia in Canada where he studied stock-raising on cattle stations. Their first child, a girl called Sarah Anne, was born in San Francisco. She was baptised in Charlton Horethorne in 1866 after their return to England. Their second child was also a girl. They called her Florence and she was baptised in Martock in 1867.
Estcourt lived in Martock for a while at Madey Mills, just off East Street. He became a freemason and joined a lodge in Yeovil in 1868 and he maintained his membership for the rest of his life, even after he and his family moved to New Zealand.
It was in 1869 that Estcourt decided to emigrate to New Zealand and in March of that year he auctioned off his household effects and a quantity of mill equipment. His younger brother Henry, who was single, also emigrated at about the same time and they may well have travelled together. They eventually settled at Kaikoura on the east coast of South Island where they farmed. Kaikoura consists of a coastal plain backed by mountains. Most of the settlers had avoided the boggy plain and taken up land on the stony high ground. Estcourt, however, embarked on a programme of tree planting and draining by which he managed to transform the swampy ground into fine paddocks. Progress was slow though; one newspaper reported that “Time and time again Estcourt had the mixed pleasure of taking a spare horse to haul visitors’ buggies out of the slough that was his front drive”. It is interesting to note that Estcourt’s farm was called Swinley, the same name as the farm in England, that his four times great-grandfather, The Reverend Dr. George Estcourt, had bought more than two hundred years earlier.
In 1889 Estcourt became a Justice of the Peace in Kaikoura.
Estcourt and his wife Sarah had five more children in New Zealand — George Edmund (b.1869), Emily Gertrude (b.1871), Ella Jane (b.1876), Louisa Fanny (b.1878) and Mabel Estcourt (b.1883).
The picture of George Estcourt Parsons on the left was taken in the early years of the 20th century.
He and his wife Sarah celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1915 at their home in the Kincaid Downs. She died in 1919 and he died in Blenheim in January 1925 at the home of his daughter Florence.
Estcourt and Sarah’s eldest daughters, Annie (Elizabeth Anne) and Florence, became the first European women to reach the summit of Mount Tapuae-o-Uenuku which, at 2885 metres, is New Zealand’s tallest peak outside the Southern Alps. They were part of a February 1890 expedition led by George McRae who was the son of the first European to climb it. The party included Annie and Florence’s second cousin Frederick William Gale from Cheriton in Somerset. Frederick was a great-grandson of the surgeon and apothecary Edmund Estcourt Gale.
In 1890 Estcourt and Sarah’s daughter Annie married Frederick William Gale. Soon afterwards they returned to England where Frederick studied medicine at Barts before returning to Kaikoura to practice medicine. Frederick died in London in 1902 aged only 34. One of his and Annie’s sons, John Frederick Estcourt Gale (Jack), was killed in action in German East Africa in 1915.
• Henry William Parsons, George & Elizabeth’s second child, was born in Lambrook on the 23rd of April 1846. He was educated at a boarding school in the village of Chardstock which is on the border between Devon and Dorset.
As a young man Henry emigrated to New Zealand, he probably travelled there with his elder brother, and in November 1872 he married Gertude Knyvett in Nelson. Gertrude had been born in England, in Harrow, but her parents had moved to New Zealand in 1850 when she was about four years old. Henry and Gertrude lived in Kaikoura for a while and their first two children, Henry Norman and George Alfred, were born there, but then they moved south to Ashburton near Christchurch.
Henry and Gertude had three more children — Estcourt Athelstan (b.1879) and then twin boys John and William Arthur who were born in 1881, but sadly John lived only for a few days.
Henry William Parsons died at sea in December 1830 while he was on the way to visit his younger brother in Melbourne.
Henry’s sons Henry Norman Parsons and George Alfred Parsons both volunteered to fight in the South African war. They enlisted as privates in the 4th New Zealand Contingent and served in the Cape Colony, Transvaal and Rhodesia.
• John Athelstan Parsons was George and Elizabeth’s youngest child. He was born in Bryanston in Dorset while his parents were living there on Lord Portman’s estate in the Steward’s House. Like his elder brother Henry he was educated at Chardstock School.
He too emigrated to New Zealand living at first in Cheviot (which is about 40 miles south of Kaikoura) and then in Kaikoura where he farmed. He had joined the freemasons before leaving England and he and his brother Estcourt became members of a lodge in Kaikoura.
On the 26th of May 1881 John married Louisa Simpson. They had three children — a boy called Forrest Gale born in 1882, another boy called Edward Athelstan born in 1886, and a girl called Joan Nancy who was born in 1895.
In April 1900 John and his son Forrest both joined the New Zealand Volunteer Force to fight as private soldiers in the South African war. They travelled to Cape Town and the Orange Free State and were assigned to a Hotchkiss machine-gun detachment. However they both fell ill with enteric fever and were hospitalised in Bloemfontein, but the bouts of dysentery continued and they were discharged and returned to New Zealand at the end of July.
The army records show that Forrest was 5 feet 5 inches tall with blue eyes, brown hair and a fair complexion. His father John was 5 feet 6¾ inches tall, also with blue eyes, and with grey-brown hair and a fair complexion.
Some time after his return to new Zealand, Forrest decided to move to Umfulozi in Zululand in South Africa where he became a sugar planter but in 1916, during the Great War, he travelled to England and, at his own expense, trained and qualified as a pilot at Hendon. He then joined the Royal Flying Corps as a Second Lieutenant in the 7th squadron and was posted to France. On the 26th of October he and his observer, Second Lieutenant George Alexander Palfreyman, took off in a B.E.2d for a reconnaissance mission over Courcelette on the Somme but they never returned and were presumed dead.
John’s son Edward Athelstan Parsons moved to South Africa where, in 1916, he was involved in a legal case in Natal or Zululand. But other than that, nothing is known of him.
John moved to Australia where he settled in Malvern, a suburb of Melbourne. He died there in a private hospital on the 16th of November 1943 and was cremated. His wife, Louisa, had died some time before him.
Ancestors of George Parsons
Grandfather — William Parsons, a farmer and inn-keeper who lived most of his life in Holton, near Wincanton, in Somerset.
Grandmother — Mary West, William’s wife, who came from Stowell in Somerset
Grandfather — John Peters
Grandmother — Jane Gatehouse from Kington Magna in Dorset
Great-grandfather — Moses Parsons of Kington Magna in Dorset
Great-grandmother — Martha Turl
Great-gandfather — William West who was born in Stalbridge in Dorset but spent most of his life in Stowell in Somerset
Great-grandmother — Mary Tulk who was also born in Stalbridge
You are free to make use of the information in these web pages in any way that you wish but please be aware that the author, Mike Parsons, is unable to accept respsonsibility for any errors or omissions.
Mike can be contacted at email@example.com
The information in these web pages comes from a number of sources including: Hampshire County Records Office, Somerset Heritage Centre; Dorset County Records Office; Southampton City Archives; the General Register Office; several on-line newspaper archives; several on-line transcriptions of Parish Register Entries; and several on-line indexes of births, marriages and deaths. The research has also been guided at times by the published work of others, both on-line and in the form of printed books, and by information from personal correspondence with other researchers, for all of which thanks are given. However, all of the information in these web pages has been independently verified by the author from original sources, facimile copies, or, in the case of a few parish register entries, transcriptions published by on-line genealogy sites. The author is aware that some other researchers have in some cases drawn different conclusions and have published information which is at variance from that shown in these web pages.
Copyright © 2013 Mike Parsons. All rights reserved.