Thursday, December 30, 2021

JACKSON of Stansted House: Baronial Arms

 He always broke his thoughts into three distinct channels of logic: the things he knew, the things he could assume, and the things he wanted to know. The last channel was always the widest.  Detective Hieronomous Bosch in The Crossing by Michael Connelly. p. 232 


Ermine on a pile azure between two fountains in base proper a Sheldrake or.

CREST: Upon a fountain proper a Sheldrake or.
MOTTO Aut Mors aut Vitoria (Either death or victory).

SOURCE: Burke’s genealogical and Heraldic History of the Peerage Baronetage and Knightage. 99th edition. 1949. Burke’s Peerage Ltd. London. p 1079. 

FOOTNOTE (in Burke’s): The ancestor of this family in Ireland came from co. York in Oliver Cromwell’s Army and was granted lands in Co. Carlow for his services. The estate, called Mt. Leinster, was sold in 1745 by his descendant GEORGE JACKSON (1728-1782) who settled at Urker, Crossmaglen, co. Armagh.

NOTE: Information for both the pedigree and the footnote was based on material submitted by the family. This was not an unusual approach. I am still working on verifying some of it.

Although Stansted was Sir Thomas’ residence when he died, it was Urker, Co. Armagh – where he grew up - that was his true heart’s home. 

I spent a weekend at his home in Stansted & said to him “What a lovely place this is!” He said, “I’d rather have Urker” “Really, Uncle,” I said, “how could you compare the two? Urker is a small house with many inconveniences” He said, “Its not the size that matters, its where one’s roots are.” Kathleen Major (1879-1973): Her recollections of her uncle.

In 2015, Peter O’Donaghue, the York Herald, shared some useful facts for us to stick a pin in - aka the things we can assume:

  • For Sir Thomas’ arms, there is no surviving paperwork or correspondence.
  • For families that share a surname, the designs of their arms are often similar .
  • There may not be any genealogical link to JACKSONs with similar arms.

 Dear Ms Brown,
Thank you for your e-mail of 17 May regarding the Arms of Sir Thomas Jackson of Stansted House, Stansted Mountfitchet, co. Essex, Baronet. I note that a grant of Arms was made to him by Letters Patent dated 23 September 1902, as he had been informed that he was to be created a baronet and it was necessary for baronets to be entitled to Arms.
No other paperwork or correspondence survives from this case and so we have no information from the College archives as to why the design was selected. However it is common at this period to find that designs are reminiscent of older coats of Arms belonging to other families with the same name. One reason for this was that members of rising families during the 18th and 19th centuries had to have Arms to give the right impression of gentility: where no right to Arms by descent existed, they could either seek a grant of new Arms or as often happened, assume the Arms of unrelated families who happened to have the same name. When such assumptions were tested, for example when a dignity was being conferred as in this case; or if the family decided to regularise the position, they then sought a proper grant. But they might be reluctant to abandon the design that they had been using perhaps for many years, even though it did not belong to them. So new designs were developed which resembled the older designs.
Similarity of design between the Arms of different families of the same name does not necessarily indicate any genealogical connection. Rather, it shows that later families were keen to appear established and gentle, and assumed Arms they had no particular right to, before regularising the position with a grant.
I hope that this is helpful.
Yours sincerely,
Peter O'Donoghue
York Herald
College of Arms
Queen Victoria Street
London EC4V 4BT
020 7332 0776


1) THE MOTTO: Aut Mors Aut Victoria

This motto translates as: Either death or victory and is not found in any other Irish or English family crests (that I know of). More facts and speculations to pin to our current “evidence board” include:

  1. Only two men from Creggan parish in Co. Armagh have ever been knighted. Both had held leases to Urker, Parish of Creggan, Co. Armagh. Urker Lodge is where Sir Thomas spent his childhood years. SEE: The Tale of a Townland:
a.       Sir Henry O’Neile [aka O’Neill] inherited the title after the death of his father in 1640. Even though Sir Henry had sided with the English Crown in the Rebellion of 1641, his sons and brothers had played a prominent role in the rising. He paid for that. Much of his land was confiscated and in the next go-round – Cromwell’s conquest - his property was transferred to several Cromwellian settlers. The chief beneficiary of much of his land was Lt. Thomas Ball (abt 1642-1674). His descendants became the landlords of Sir Thomas’ parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. SEE: ONEIL BALL JACKSON leases and connections – Notes towards a TIMELINE

b.      Sir Thomas Jackson (1841-1915) was knighted in 1899 and made a baronet in 1903. He had grown up on his family farm at Urker near Crossmaglen. His parents had frequently struggled to pay the rent. On one occasion, their cows were seized by the bailiff because of arrears. At age 22, Thomas left Ireland to work as a banker in Hong Kong. He became a key figure in building what had merely been a small agency bank into the international institution now known as HSBC. His great-grandson, Sir Thomas St. Felix is the current holder of the title.

2. Sir Thomas’ motto echoes the one used by the JACKSONs from nearby Forkhill, Co. Armagh. Their motto: Malo mori quam foedari translates as: Death rather than dishonour. The Forkhill JACKSONs descended from the JACKSONs of Kirkby Lonsdale, Westmorland and Coleraine, Londonderry. In 1912, when Sir Thomas had donated funds to the Forkhill Charity to build a local schoolhouse, he claimed to be their “kin”. NOTE: Although the Forkhill JACKSON’s arms included shovellers, not sheldrakes, these two birds were interchangeable. Several families associated with both kinds of these birds will be explored in a future post.

3. During Sir Thomas’ lifetime it was believed that the Scottish descendants of Clan MacNEIL were related to the Niall of the nine hostages and that in turn would have meant that they would have shared ancestors with Sir Henry O’Neile. DNA has since disproven this link [SOURCE: Macneil clan shocked as DNA checks force rewrite of history. ]  Even so, there is an echo of Sir Thomas’ motto in the English translation of the Clan MacNEIL motto: Buaidh no bas which translates as: Victory or Death.

4.   This next bit is much too speculative to be included in any detective’s column of what can be assumed, but it is tantalizing enough to put a pin in. Before Shane’s Castle in Co. Antrim burned to the ground in 1816, it had been the home of the descendants of a Shane O’Neill – also known as John O’Neill. In 1765, John’s granddaughter, Anne O'NEIL (1738-1781), married Sir Richard Jackson (1729-1789) of Coleraine - a descendant of the JACKSONs of Kirkby Lonsdale, Westmorland and Coleraine, Londonderry. One of the witnesses to Richard and Anne’s marriage was Clotworthy Neil of Shane’s Castle. Given the fact of Shane's Castle, it is possible that one of the soldiers who served under Lieut.-colonel Walter Stewart in the mid-1600s, is the missing link between the families of Sir Thomas of Stansted and Sir Richard of Coleraine. The smoking gun here is that in the Names of Presbyterian landholders and others proposed to be removed from Ulster into Leinster and Munster, in 1653, the list includes a Captain JACKSON (no forename was included)  as being of Shanes Castle, Largy & Toome Quarters. SEE: 1653 Presbyterian removals. SEE also: An earlier blog post: The Jacksons of Steeple.

There is an even wilder speculation than the previous ones that may also be worth entertaining. In the mid-1770s, there were banknotes from South Carolina and Georgia - backed by Spanish silver - which were engraved with the same motto as we find in Sir Thomas’ arms: Aut Mors Aut Victoria. They are the only other place where I have found this motto in use - except for a few instances where it is used by 20th Century American military units, and in recent video games and rap songs (who knew?). 

The note is denominated as both twenty Spanish milled dollars as at £32 10s0d. The front contains four border cuts with cornucopias at the top and a seal. The 29mm seal depicts a bull with the motto: "AUT.  MORS. AUT. VICTORIA" (Either death or victory). The reverse contains typeset borders and four Hebrew letters in the corners of the center block as anti counterfeiting devices. Note the top border contains a skull with cross bones flanked by an hourglass on either side followed by a design and then a harp. Provenance: Purchased through the Robert H. Gore, Jr. Numismatic Endowment from the EANA mail bid auction of 5/23/98, lot 455, graded as choice extremely fine. SOURCE: South Carolina Currency.

ANOTHER BILL FROM THIS ERA:  Georgia May 4, 1778 $30 PMG Choice Very Fine 35. This bright note with nice margins also has bold signatures. One of the signers, William Few, was to become a signer of the United States Constitution in 1787. The lower two-thirds of the boar vignette is strong. The phrase on the back, AUT MORS, AUT VICTORIA LAETA, means "Either death or victory is pleasing." SOURCE: Heritage Auctions. Sold in 2010.

 The reason that these particular bank notes might be connected to Sir Thomas’ choice of motto is because of his reputation as a silver trader. When China’s currency was still on the silver standard, most banks in the region failed when the value of silver plummeted, but thanks to Thomas the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation made it through the 1890s. Going against conventional wisdom, he had ensured that his bank had maintained large deposits of silver during the currency crisis. This enabled his bank to accept contracts and to advance loans which other banks couldn’t handle because they didn’t have the reserves to back them. Since this was risky, he became known as Lucky JACKSON.

Even as a child, it is likely that Thomas would have learned about the power of silver-backed currency. Although one of his near-relations, a Thomas Coulter (1793-1843) of Carnbeg Co, Louth was better known as a botanist (the poppy Romneya coulteri was named for him), Coulter had also managed silver mines in Mexico for ten years, and in April 1838 had delivered a paper on the use of the Spanish silver dollar as a universal unit of currency. [SOURCE: A Man Who Can Speak of Plants. E. Charles Nelson and Alan Probert p.128.] I would not put it past Thomas' mother not only to have read this paper, but then much later to have told her son about it. It was his mother – not his father – who was reputed to be the brains in the family. She often offered her unsolicited advice to him about when to take risks, when to be cautious, and how to play the long game. Even after Thomas had become a world renowned banker, her advice to him about money never ceased.

We get a hint of the future Sir Thomas' sympathies to the Confederate cause – at least to their financial and political interests - in an 1863 letter.  He wrote it when he was 22 years old and working as a low paid clerk at a bank in Belfast. The American Civil War (1861 –1865) was at its halfway mark.

For so far there appears to be no prospect of peace in America both Federals and Confederates are still determined to fight it out the tremendous loss of life does not appear to alter their purposes, the question is getting more and more complicated every day. The South has suffered a number of reverses lately and perhaps ‘ere this has suffered another in the destruction of Charlestown the very heart of rebellion. Yet with all this the spirits of the Leaders of Political and Military are still buoyant. I think every person must admit that the North if let alone would conquer the South in fact annihilate them. But in all probability interventions will come; the governments of both England and France I am sure wish a separation of North and South. America if united would be far too formidable a power for any European nation to cope with. A very important Pamphlet has appeared in Paris written it is thought by the Emperor. The title is “France Mexico and the Confederate States of America” the Pamphlet is very favorable to the Confederate cause. The writer urges France and Mexico to recognize the Confederates; rumor asserts confidently that the New Empire of Mexico will not only recognize the South but form an offensive and defensive alliance with them this would be virtually a recognition by France as France is the guardian of the New Empire – United States would most undoubtedly declare war against any power recognizing the South at present. If I remember right our opinions on the American question were a little different but I'm sure our Opinions on the main question the Abolition of Slavery are agreed the course events have taken lately bids fair for the accomplishing of this most desirable end; at the same time I would like to see the Confederates succeeding in obtaining their independence the break has come too wide to heal and considering the animosity that exists between them I think it was to be better for both parties to have a separation. 1863 September 23. Letter from Thomas JACKSON to his Aunt Barbara BRADFORD. NOTE: In spite of some sympathies towards the cause of the South, he remained consistant in his opposition to slavery.

Barbara BRADFORD (1783-1865), the recipient of this letter, was a significant mentor to young Sir Thomas and had likely bankrolled his education at Morgan's School in Castleknock, Dublin. An activist and deep thinker, she was also the widow of William Donaldson (1768-1815) of Freeduff, the leader of the United Irishmen in Co. Armagh in the late 1790s. Several of his fellow United Irishmen, those who had come from counties Armagh, Monaghan, and Down, had fled to the Southern states after the failed Irish Rebellion that they had backed. Some of their letters from the early 1800s were saved by his mother and his aunt, and were likely also read by Thomas.  SEE: 1811 February 27 William Donaldson to Oswald Lawson and 1812 February 18 William Donaldson to Oswald Lawson.

The fact that the motto on Sir Thomas’ arms had also been on American bank notes at the time of the American Revolution may be no more than a fluke. After all, it was a few generations before Sir Thomas was even born. Also, President Andrew JACKSON (1767-1845), who governed after the Revolution, had no known close family or business connections with Thomas' family. Although President JACKSON had died when Thomas was a child, Thomas would likely have learned about his politics (for good or ill), including his opinions about banking (See: Jackson and Distrust of the National Bank. President Andrew’s father,  Andrew JACKSON (1730-1767) had been one of the linen-draper Jacksons of Co. Down who had left Ireland for America, and his parents would have heard of this connection. It may be significant that Andrew JACKSON sr. had settled and died at Waxhaws, South Carolina. This state was not only one of the ones whose motto on their bank notes was the same as Sir Thomas’, it was also home to many Protestant emigrants from Ulster. 

 This crest is connected to the JACKSONs of Doncaster. Both the motto and the birds are also present in other JACKSON crests. It is the same bird that we find on Thomas' arms.

2) THE BIRD: Sheldrakes and Shovellers don’t show up much in British Baronial Arms. According to Arthur Charles Davies, The Sheldrake appears occasionally under another name i.e. that of the Shoveller. [SOURCE: p246 A complete Guide to Heraldry. 2008.] The sheldrake is very similar to the common duck, but of more varied colour, and is often distinguished by a long tuft on the breast and another on the head. [SOURCE: A grammar of British heraldry, consisting of blazon and marshalling; with an introduction on the rise and progress of symbols and ensigns. William Sloane Sloane-Evans. Edition: 2. J.R. Smith, 1854]

Why choose a duck for baronial arms? Compared to eagles and bears and such, it does not sound too impressive, but after all ducks can elude their enemies in many ways - by flying, running, swimming or diving for cover. Perhaps ducks are the perfect image for members of the merchant class. After all, they didn’t always enjoy the support of the political powers of their day, and sometimes sailed into the grey zone of illegality (or worse).

Three such birds can be found in the family crests of many JACKSONs who were in Ireland's and England's merchant class. Many had originally come from Northamptonshire, Derbyshire, Westmorland, and Yorkshire etc. and recent research is revealing that many were related to one another, although some of these ties can be challenging to prove. These inter-relationships between different JACKSON lineages may have been the result of the practice of fathers placing their sons in various maritime ports, financial centres, or else in places where raw materials such as flax, wool, wood, and coal could be acquired. Often, that included Ireland.

SEE: Wiki: Red Hand of Ulster.

3) RED HAND OF ULSTER: (In the upper left hand corner of the shield.) Since 1922, the year that a single Ireland was split into two Irelands – North and South - the arms of all new and reconfigured Baronets from Northern Ireland included the Red Hand of the O'Neills. Sir Thomas’ version of the red hand is the left-hand version, the one used in Irish baronetcies after 1835 which was the same version used in British baronetcies after 1922. The O’Neil crest, like the older baronetcies in Ireland, includes the right-hand version.  


4) THREE FOUNTAINS. There are three in Thomas' arms. 
In heraldry, there are two categories of fountains:  

An heraldic fountain does not resemble a real fountain but is put in the form of roundel wavy argent and azure (a silver and blue circlet of wavy lines), unless it is expressly stated that the fountain is proper—i.e., a natural fountain. [SOURCE: The nature and origins of heraldic terminology. Britannica.] 




The description of Thomas’ arms includes the words a fountain proper, and yet the image has a silver and blue circlet of wavy lines. I have no clue about this discrepancy. Did someone mess up when checking that the description and the image matched or did I mess up? I cannot be sure, but here is what can be safely assumed: In heraldry, fountains suggest a connection to water: lakes, oceans, headwaters of rivers, or wells. 

In Sir Thomas’ case, the fountains might indicate the global reach of his banking success. When he had been hired by the Hongkong Shanghai Banking Corporation as a young man, the bank had fewer than a dozen employees. By the time he retired they had branches all around the world, all connected by telegraph cables stretched beneath two oceans. The bank had become a robust international power, now better known to most of us as HSBC. Thomas’ contribution to this success would have been the main reason for the granting of baronial honours.

Regardless of what we might think of the British Empire these days - and a range of perspectives pro or con are totally legitimate - Sir Thomas’ work was vital to its success, and Queen Victoria had noticed.

NOTE: In 2011, I did a series of blog posts relating to crests and coats of arms. As always, such posts are limitd by what I knew at the time:

A more in-depth exploration of the range of connections between the Jacksons of Urker and other Irish JACKSONs with family crests that shared these elements will be in a future post.