Neal relations at Cuckoos Cup, The Wrekin

Theophilus Farrall shipping agent and electrical inventor

One family connection I hadn’t previously pursued very far was that of my cousin Geoffrey and aunt Irene (Watkins). Their father/husband was Charles O’Brien, revealed to have a middle name of Theophilus on his wife’s death certificate – I have a feeling he hated this name.

I had only got a little info on place of birth and parents for Charles. It was likely that a birth registered in 1912, mother Farrell, was his but that was not enough data to go on in amongst a large number of O’Briens. Having been prompted by a brother that it was rather unfair of me not to dig further, I ordered the wedding certificate (1948) to confirm the birth year and get a name for his dad. Thumbs up to to GRO (General Records Office) – ordered Monday evening online, arrived Saturday post.

So with the additional piece of information that his father was Charles Frederick O’Brien, printer, plus an address in Enfield, hey presto – I can discover loads about his mother’s family. And sod all on the O’Briens, although perhaps the 1911 census will help, once I have a sub for it.

The first step was to find the elder Charles’ wedding, eventually found as 1910 Edmonton to Mary Aseneth L Farrall (not Farrell, note). Oh joy, a distinctive middle name. Easily found in the 1901 census in St Pancras district {2}: parents Theophilus D Farrall (born Audley, Staffs 1843) and Mary E S – who proved to be Mary Ellen Sophia Chapman (born 1859 St Pancras district). That’s a cheat as in 1901 Theophilus (do I recognise that name?) claimed to be 5 years younger, which was repeated on his death registration in 1908. Possibly not the only cheat from him, but I mustn’t jump ahead.

Theophilus gave his occupation in 1901 as Electrical Engineer Inventor, and  a quick Google was in order. The result was provided by Google too – a page from Electrical Engineer publication for 1890 mentioning a provisional patent dated 18th March “Improvements in method and mechanism for generating heat, steam, and light by electricity. Theophilus Davies Farrall 52 Chancery Lane.” The address would be for his patent agent. At the time Theo is highly likely to have been in America – his children were born 1885 Indiana (Theo junior), 1889/90 in Chattanooga (Mary and Amy), 1892/93/95 New York (Florence, Victoria, Rowena). Then 1898/1900 in St Pancras, London (Ruby, Dorothy). No English 1891 census located {1}.

Briefly going back to the O’Brien line, the only census entry found for a Charles Frederick O’Brien in 1901 also states that he was born in America. No more precise than that – if this is the right person he was an attendant in the lunatic asylum in Banstead at the time of the census.

Theophilus was born in Staffordshire to a colliery clerk, and other occupations shown for him on census returns are shipping and commission agent (1871, Staffs), glass manufacturer (1881, London St Pancras {2}). On his marriage certificate in 1879 it says ‘railway clerk’, living at Leighton Road, Kentish Town. So the most interesting leap is between 1879 and 1881 – no obvious connection between making glass and paperwork springs to mind.

One of Theo’s sisters was Asenath Farrall, the likely source of that distinctive middle name for Mary. The middle D for all of Theo’s children is probably for Davis (or Davies), his mother being Mary Davis (maiden name as shown by a number of family trees). See Footnote {3} for more.

There’s also a possible criminal register entry for 5 April 1872 (found not guilty of embezzlement and fraud) in Somerset. The entry is for Theophilus Davis McDermot Farrall. As a Staffordshire shipping agent in 1871 I would guess it was possible he’d have business in Somerset, but where would the McDermot name have come from? {7}

Electrical Patents

Section promoted from Notes, October 2018, with additional material.

An article on Patent Records in Who Do You Think You Are? magazine gives info on the European Patent Office online database. A search on ‘Theophilus Farrall’ brings up 3 patents:

  1. Method of and Apparatus for Heating by Electricity, applied for 29th April 1896.
  2. An Improvement in Incandescent Electric Lamps, applied for 28th July 1897.
  3. And a Swiss one, dated 27 January 1898, ‘Verbesserte elektrische Glühlampe’ – perhaps a translation of number 2.
  4. Update September 2019: two Spanish patents have now been added, one for the lamp but the other in 1890 for “generación del vapor y alumbrado” (steam and lighting?) from electricity, presumably matching the Electrical Engineer entry.

Only number 2 has any further details showing online.

A further Ancestry search unearths two more patent listings: in New South Wales, Australia, for ‘An improvement in incandescent light bulbs’ applied for 3 Dec 1898; and US Patents Office ‘Apparatus for producing steam, heat and light by electricity’ application filed 5 Oct 1889, granted 18 Mar 1890 (also available via Google’s Patent directory).

Working with glass

Theo also took out patents on glass manufacturing processes. Google’s Patents directory has an American one for ‘Manufacture of ornamental glass and glassware‘, August 1882.

Some passing references via Google Books:

  • From The Glass Industry in South Boston: Farrall’s 1881 and 1882 patents describe “crackled” glass and glass with inclusions of metallic dust, or aventurine.
  • The Farrall Venetian Art Glass Manufacturing Company in New York 1882 “exhibited specimens of vasa murrhina, which they claimed reproduced examples in the collections of the British Museum. The glittering, colorful glass became so much in demand in America that makers hastened to put it into production. … The Farrall company recommended its version of vasa-murrhina glass for ceiling and wall panels “in the old Roman fashion”. ” From page 240, In Pursuit of Beauty: Americans and the Aesthetic Movement which references Crockery and Glass Journal 16 (July 6, 1882), page 22.

The Corning Museum of Glass‘ Rakow Library comes up with 4 items on a search for Farrall (thanks to Jane Martin for suggesting this source). One is ‘Materials and correspondence related to Theo D. Farrall of Phoenix Art Glass Works, London’ – NE13, New England Glass Company, Theo D. Farrall. (1880). From the associated logo, this was based in Artillery Street, Horselydown (near Tower Bridge on south side of the river).

It is believed that at one time the family owned factories in London, USA and Germany.

A newspaper article from The Morning Oregonian, but authored by Boston Herald, August 1882, discusses the process developed by Theo:


1. Little of the 1890 US census has survived.

2. St Pancras district includes Kentish Town.

3. Tree so far:

Richard Farrall b 1814 Bunbury, Cheshire, m Mary Davis (b 1816 Shropshire). Offspring all born Staffordshire – Theophilus Davis b 1843, Asenath b 1845 (died 1894), Louisa D b 1846, Augustus D b 1850.

Theophilus (R A) Davis Farrall (died 1908 Edmonton) m Mary Ellen Sophia Chapman 18 June 1879 Kentish Town, St Luke parish church. Offspring as above.

Mary Aseneth L Farrall b 22 July 1889 Chattanooga, Tennessee, died 1st Jun 1976 Woodford Bridge, Essex. Married Charles Frederick O’Brien 1910 Edmonton district.

4. See Patents section above.

5. UPDATE More on the Farrall family. His father, described on Theophilus’ marriage register entry as ‘Gentleman’, is a coal merchant on the 1881 and 1891 censuses. Sister Louisa is a governess at a Ladies School on the same records. Brother Augustus born 1851 is an assistant at an iron works in 1871, appearing in Kellys directory 1876 to 1884 as a ‘general agent’, but by 1901 he is a works manager at limestone quarries. Neither Augustus or Louisa have been found beyond the 1901 census. Augustus’ wife seems to have deserted him by 1891 – he married Elizabeth Boston in 1872.

6. Added October 2018: There is a rather astounding story about Theophilus in ‘Political shocks ruin the inventing business‘.

7. There are more documents of a criminal nature which clearly relate to Theo but with slightly different names.

Firstly a ‘Calendar of Prisoners’ gives the charge made January 1872 against T.D.M.D. Farrell, age 28, clerk, “Did feloniously embezzle the following monies on the dates specified, at Bath, received by him on account of the Great Western Railway Company, his masters, viz – Nov 9th 1871 £1 5s 0d, Nov 11th 1871 £1 2s 7d, Dec 9th 1871 £2 6s 5d.” “Also obtaining by false pretences from TC Barker, at Bath, on 16th Dec 1871, a check value £3 5s 0d, his property, with intent to defraid.” Acquitted both counts April 1872.

In June 1872, T.D. McD Farrell, age 29, clerk, “Did feloniously steal a book, value 10s, the property of Henry Chaffin, at bath, on 3rd June 1872.” Not guilty of larceny.

Charged December 1875, Theophilus Davis Farrell age 29 writing clerk, “Fraudulently converting to his own use, on 9th Nov 1875, at the parish of Wolstanton, the sum of seventy-three pounds seven shillings, being entrusted as an agent by Florentine Besson and others, with the said money, with a certain direction in writing to apply the said sum of money for a certain purpose mentioned therein.” Not guilty, 21 Mar 1876 (not given bail?). This appears to connect with a press cutting from April 1876 where a perjury charge is levelled at his accusers – he had been acting as the secretary of the Chesterton Brass Band.


6 responses to “Theophilus Farrall shipping agent and electrical inventor”

  1. wendy loxley avatar
    wendy loxley

    This man is my great grandfather. I am sitting next to his grandaughter, daughter of Florence who was born in New York. We have her birth certificate. Please contact re further information

    1. ahcutlock avatar

      Brilliant. I’ll send you a message shortly to the email address you gave.

  2. Shane avatar


    I am a historian with information on Theophilus Davies Farrall I came across in National Archives (Kew) file HO 144/533. It’s a rather sad story I’m afraid. Feel free to contact me if you would like to know more.


    1. Jane Martin avatar
      Jane Martin

      Hi Shane, Theophilus Farrell was my great grandfather and I would really appreciate it if you would let me know the info you have found. I have a little knowledge. Look forward to hearing from you. Best Wishes. Jane Martin

  3. Jeremy Longdon avatar
    Jeremy Longdon


    I just discovered through my Dad that Theophilus was my great grandfather as well. We are still in the process of trying to learn about him. I would love to get a link to the info you have!

    1. Cutlock & Co avatar

      Hi Jeremy, and thanks for the messsage. The rather long Cutlock article ‘Political shocks ruin the inventing business’ is based on the information that Shane discovered. Do ask if you want even more!

Have something to add?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.