Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Inching Towards Kildare

Last fall, two retired military officers of the King’s Own Royal Regiment met at a regimental dinner somewhere in England. Weeks later my brain went into total overdrive. The connection was somewhat akin to how a butterfly can flap its wings and halfway around the world, a major shift in consciousness results. 

Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite on that scale, but it did feel akin to that.

One of these men was retired Major Pat Roberts, a grandson of Amy Oliver Jackson, and hence a great-grandson of Sir Thomas Jackson. The other was retired Major John Jackson. One of his ancestors, a man who may have been related to Sir Thomas, was a Thomas Jackson of Co. Kildare, one of King Billy’s men, who supposedly met his end by falling off his horse in 1690 at the Battle of the Boyne.

My link with these two retired army men is my obsession with Jackson research and more recently with Co. Kildare. Unfortunately, what I know about Co. Kildare could be poured into a thimble without any risk of its ever overflowing. This is too bad because Co. Kildare is also the epicentre of one of the remaining unanswered questions that I have concerning Sir Thomas: Did he have a farm in Co. Kildare, and if he did, where was it?

This is not just an idle question. We do know that Sir Thomas (1841-1915) hired Patrick Lynch (1832-1913) to be his farm manager at Cavananore in the early 1890s. We also know that this Patrick Lynch, who was born in Co. Kildare, was a widower, and arrived to work the Cavananore farm with his son, also named Patrick. The story goes one step further and that’s the part that I can’t yet prove: Patrick Lynch had been running a farm belonging to Sir Thomas which was down in Co. Kildare.

There are many lines of Jacksons in Ireland. Some of these Jacksons were Quaker farmers; some were members of the upper crust and were known to be landlords, legislators and such; while others were known to have been shipped out of the country as a consequence of their seditious acts in the late 1790s. Some individuals with the surname of Jackson were guilty of all three of the above. It seems pretty clear from the surviving family letters written to Sir Thomas that his mother knew a whole lot more about which line of Jacksons was theirs than I do.

Depending on how the family history shakes down, it is possible that Sir Thomas’s rise from being the son of a marginal, gentleman farmer to becoming a baronet was regarded as a redressing of past misfortunes. On the other hand, if his Jacksons had never been anything more than modestly successful farmers, his knighting may have been regarded as a stroke of either blind luck, or divine intervention.

A few days after the two retired majors had chewed over their family connections, I received an email with ten generations of the Kildare Jackson’s family tree included. It had been assembled by Archdeacon James Marcus Neville Jackson of Toronto, who was an uncle of Major John Jackson. This tree was a darned good start.  It made me scrutinize all the locations where these Kildare Jacksons had either lived or held leases in the hope that one of them would lead to Sir Thomas’ farm.

I used our pool table to lay out all the maps I needed to make sense of this.
Since the mid 1600s, Jacksons have had roots in townlands such as Ballynagussane, in baronies with names such as Narragh and Reban East. These names do not trip lightly off the tongue of people like myself, a Canadian living on the west coast. Then again, we are quite at home with names such as Skookumchuck, so there you go. The Irish townland names have a rich complex history that goes back and forth between the two languages: Irish and English, much of which can be explored at the Placenames Database of Ireland .

The lands of Athgarvan and Kennagh are two of the townlands that these Kildare Jacksons were supposedly granted for services under William III. Sometime afterwards, they built the Stone House of Monistrevan aka Monastereven.  Not that I know anything about The Stone House, but just because this is merely a story, doesn’t mean that it either is or isn’t true.

Here is a Stone House in Monastereven - maybe the Jackson's Stone House looked something like this
 As you can see, this kind of research is not exactly straightforward. It was reasonably easy to track down the townland of Athgarvan, now known as Blackrath and Athgarvan. It is in the Parish of Greatconnell, Barony of Connell, Co. Kildare. When it came to tracking some of the other townlands, computer searches were not much help. The spelling of many names has shifted over time, and, for example, the townland of Kennagh morphed into Kineagh. It can now be found in the parish of Kilcullen, and the barony of Kilcullen, Co. Kildare.

It was only by tracking these townlands that I could learn that the barony of Kilcullen is in fact on the Northern border of Narragh & Reban East. This makes it more likely that the story of these two townlands being granted together to the late 1600s Jacksons will hold up. Form here, it is worth noting that some townlands that are now in Co. Kildare were once included in Co. Wicklow, and vice versa. This is only one of many reasons that a farmer could easily farm lands in several counties.

One other complication to bear in mind when trying to solve this kind of puzzle is that: Just because two Jacksons are living beside each other, and their families have done so for centuries, doesn’t mean that they are related. It is not impossible to find two entirely different Thomas Jacksons living side by each in the same townland, and to find that both of them have fathers called William, and then to find out that they are not even remotely related.  It doesn’t even take a cuckold in the sack to make this happen.

So where am I now? I still haven’t found Sir Thomas’ farm, but perhaps other readers of this post might be able to lend a hand. As part of my research, I have produced a number of documents that are likely to be helpful to those pursuing quite different Jackson-related quests. It is also possible that in their hands, we may even stumble upon the truth. Blind luck is best assisted by continually keeping one’s eyes and mind open. Good luck to all.

NOTE: These links beneath to data on my website will contain updates as I learn more. I still have much more Jackson-related deeds research to transcribe.

This page on Wicklow & Wexford also includes some sightings in Kildare – particularly the mention of the townland of Bull Hill. It is on the southern border of the townland of Davidstown.

Family tree s of JACKSONs of Kildare – Outline version and Detailed version (with sources).

Jacksons of Ballygibbon, two pages including their Co. Kildare family trees as well as snippets that connect many of them to New Zealand.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Nepotism: Yea or Nay

Nepotism, particularly in business and government, is regarded as a dodgy practice. Fair enough, but in the days before the invention and installation of telegraph lines, it was one of the more reliable ways to stay connected. Without the feedback loop of today’s communication networks, businessmen needed the trust of both kith and kin to grease the wheels of commerce.The idea, let alone the reality, of a digital village wasn’t even a twinkle in the eyes of our great-great-grandparents.

Thomas Jackson, manager of HSBC in the mid to late 1800s, had nepotism down to a fine art. He brought in more than a dozen relations and neighbours from Southern Armagh to work in the bank in Hong Kong. Some stayed, while others moved on to other ventures in the region. Even after they had moved on, they still remained part of his information network, and contributed to the bank’s success.

Thomas’ most brilliant move, although it was clearly also done for love, was to marry the daughter of a Singaporean sea Captain, and to thereby marry into her brothers’ entrepreneurial activities. These were all useful men to have within the family tent in the nascent days of HSBC.

Last October, my seat mate on a flight from Dublin to Boston looked like an interesting guy to chat with. He had one of those classy leather satchels, ennobled by the patina of use, and even better, he reached into it and pulled out a history book. The title, I can’t remember. We introduced ourselves, and it turned out that Jim Livesey was the Head of History at the Universityof Sussex with a specialty in the 18th Century. I wish now that I had peppered him with even more questions. In response to me asking about the early days of banking, he recommended - amongst other suggestions - that I read a book called Citizens of the World.

Citizens of The World: London Merchants and the Integration of the British Atlantic community 1735-1785. David Hancock. Harvard University. Cambridge University Press. 1995.

This turned out to be a great suggestion. Unlike many academic books that tend to be dull - they teach us how to write like that, Jim said - this one turned out to be a riveting picture of a handful of men who had their fingers in just about every commercial enterprise that sustained the reach of the British Empire. It made me think about Thomas Jackson in a new light, and what he brought to the table when he set about making a success of HSBC.

Reading this book, I also gained a new appreciation of what the word merchant meant in the 1700s. The word didn’t refer to a mere seller of saddles, or feed, or pewter. It referred to someone “who trafficks to remote countries”. In short, the word merchant referred to what we would call an importer/exporter.

Not surprisingly, it took more money to enter the global game than it did to stay local. For example, if you were an apothecary, retail cheesemonger, or a upholsterer you only needed start-up cash of about £100. You could conceivably raise this from your extended family, including grandparents, granduncles and grandaunts, godparents, and cousins and so on. There were other occupations that had pricier start-up costs. If you were a retail linen-draper, pawnbroker, or pewterer, then you needed £1,000 or so to get started. Becoming a merchant required £3,000-£4,000. I am not sure how that amount stacks up against the cost of buying a military commission, but it was certainly much more than chump change.

Still, if you weren’t born with a silver spoon in your mouth, but had the requisite social and commercial skills to succeed, it was well worth the candle. Compared to choosing one of the more usual options for men of this class: agriculture, it was a total no-brainer. As Hancock points out, historians have recently calculated the scanty returns that would be expected from land, no more than 3 1/4% per year. Far greater rewards, perhaps 20%, could be made in commerce.

Even though Thomas Jackson emigrated to Hong Kong in 1863, close to a century after the men profiled in Hancock’s book were commercially active on the international scene, he fits their profile of coming from the periphery, physically, commercially, and socially. In his case, he was a farmer’s son from South Armagh, and never had any formal university-level education. He learned the basics of banking as a clerk in Belfast, earning so little that he had to bunk in with relatives. Hancock describes the personality profile of such men as:

... “opportunistic”,  restless men who actively adapted their decisions and actions to the commercial expediency of the moment. They were relentless, even experimental in seeking opportunities to invest; they maintained more than one product or activity at once; they entered new enterprises, often profitably; and in general they were flexible in their responses to change. Their opportunism stood in contrast to peers who thought and acted more traditionally. ...  their fields of action were primarily neither local nor national. Their reach started early in life with their migrations, they drew on their far-flung experiences and contacts throughout their careers.

 When Jackson was a lad in knee pants, his relations earned their living through inter-dependent enterprises which in their case included: farming, being a chandler (literally making candles from the fat of the land), working in the leather trades, or as a maltster, butcher, or grocer. The linen industry that his uncles were involved in relied on a mix of agricultural skills needed for growing the flax, mechanical skills needed to run the flax mills, and marketing skills to sell the finished product. Today, we would call this approach: vertical integration,. This is naturally a useful concept for a banker to have already internalized when it comes to being able to turn a minor local bank into an international success story.

As a child, Thomas had accompanied his father to the local markets where cows and horses were bought and sold, crops were exported, and where the trading was always direct and oral. The skills of the marketplace, frequently underrated, were as much social as anything. Learning how to size up prospective buyers, as well as when to step up to the plate, and when to step back. Taking the measure of a man., and knowing full well that loyalty was earned, not purchased.

Just as successful  merchants had always done, Jackson nurtured commercial linkages to men with established skills. These men were culled and cultivated from a collection of blood, ethnic, and neighborhood connections. Like earlier men on the global scene, he also took care of his staff, and amongst other things, set up a lunch room for junior clerks – not a common practice in the days of Victorian banking. Aside from the obvious benefits, it also kept Jackson connected to cutting edge thoughts and approaches:

I have tried always, and I have succeeded, I think in making my principal friends among the junior members of the staff. Rubbing the old file against the young flint brings out the best qualities of both and produces a fire of intellect which has been grateful to us all.

Some of this was a no-brainer to Jackson. Like most of the global merchants who preceded him, he had grown up with no dramatic separation between public and private zones, no significant division of working spaces. As a child, he ate, played with and grew up alongside the children of the families who worked in his family’s fields, and in his parent’s home.He was at ease with a range of social classes.

Once married and living in Hong Kong, he had such an open door to his home, that his mother back in Armagh was a bit ticked off with him (on behalf of his over-worked wife): In my simplicity, she said, I thought that Tom was a Bank Manager, but it seems he is also a hotel keeper. Fortunately, Thomas' wife Amelia knew how to swing with this. After all, her family had not only run shipping interests, but also hotels. In fact, the present day Raffles Hotel is built on the same plot of land where they once lived, and as a sideline, once ran a rooming house.

I could go on, but I’ll stop for now, content with returning to my opening thought on nepotism. Yea or Nay? It does seem that it had its place.

NOTE: My next book to enjoy – which is on order: Civil Society and Empire: Ireland andScotland in the Eighteenth Century Atlantic World, James Livesey. Yale University Press. 2009.
2nd NOTE: I have italicized quotes from Citizens of the World, as well as quotes from my Jackson letters.