Political shocks ruin the inventing business Glass and electrical innovator crushed by patriotic efforts


It’s not often that you find records concerning a (distant) relative that have been locked away by the state for a hundred years. And even more notable when the story that is uncovered includes political intrigue, Ireland’s fight for independence and a major change in circumstances for said relation.

The story is a little tricky to tell, requiring some political background and a careful selection from the pages of material available, while not losing sight of the family history in the flood of details.

Success in America, but a return to Britain

Theophilus Davies (or Davis) Farrall started out as a railway clerk in Staffordshire but became a successful inventor, making the most of opportunities in America. He was establishing a family in the States in the 1880s, with his first seven children born there {4}. So why did he return to Britain in the mid-1890s? We hear from more closely related members that they thought this was down to illness (he was the grandfather to our uncle Charles O’Brien – middle name Theophilus). However a rather more startling reason has emerged.

The sources

The main source document is ‘Petition to the King’ from Theophilus Davies Farrall, dated 5th July 1906, with 52 pages. Held at the National Archives under reference HO 144/533, it was officially ‘Closed until 2007’. See note 2 at the bottom of this article.

The supporting documents to the petition include a newspaper article (New York Herald) which differs in various details to Theo’s presentation, but supports it in other ways. This Cutlock & Co piece works from the basis of his narrative being essentially correct but tries to take into account problems and pointers from elsewhere.

As Theophilus styles himself Theo D Farrall in the petition, we will use Theo or TDF here for brevity. The page numbers shown are those of the petition’s supporting documents – the three pages of the actual Petition to the King are not numbered.

The first few lines of the Petition

The article also draws on passenger lists, birth records, online copies of the book, background material from Wikipedia, Hansard etc.

Getting caught up in events

Theo got entangled in facilitating the production of a book ‘The Irish Invincibles and Their Times’, authored by PJP Tynan. This was on the instigation of “a very old friend”, Major Henry Arthur Herbert, who just happened to be the nephew of Lord Salisbury and cousin of Balfour politicians {5, Connections}. TDF put up his own money for the work, having been promised £5,000 and expenses “when all was through”. Note: although the book wasn’t published until 1894, activity around it started as early as 1888 (see ‘Timeline’ below).

Tynan was a key figure in the part of the Irish independence movement which believed in armed struggle, in contrast to the Parnellites, who engaged in the political process. The sub-title of the American edition, which was more under Tynan’s control, was ‘Three decades of struggle against the foreign conspirators in Dublin Castle’. It highlighted his own involvement, in particular in the notorious Phoenix Park murders. Exposing the latter appears to have been the ultimate purpose of the funding that was promised from England, which may or may not have been due to be provided by the Conservative Party or prominent members of it.

(At the time a splinter group of MPs, the anti-home rule Liberal Unionists, allied with the Conservatives. This is reflected in the use of the ‘Conservative and Liberal Unionist Party’ title in the petition, rather confusingly in places shortened to just Liberal Unionist.)

Chapter 37

How the Phoenix Park murders of May 1882 (in Dublin) were planned and carried out is part of the chapter ‘Inner History of the Organisation of the Irish National Invincibles’. The spiriting away of the manuscript of this chapter over the 1893 Christmas period from the American printers, by Edward Canfield Houston who was arranging the English edition, was a serious problem in TDF’s eyes. It was then only a matter of time before Tynan discovered this and became suspicious about what Theo was up to. (TDF had been expecting to hand over the whole manuscript to Houston after publication – chapter 37 could be seen to be Tynan’s confession to murder, written in his own hand.)

Extract from the second page of Theo’s petition to the King, on the heart of the matter

It seems, despite the extract in the image above, that the matter only really came to a head on the publication of the English edition, which differed in various aspects to the American version – see note 6. Tynan had been kept in the dark about production of this edition, while TDF had handed over the rights to it for a nominal sum and had no knowledge of what had been changed, left out or added as commentary.

HA Herbert, who had been in New York, had “packed up and sailed away to England” at about this time (June 1894 if the timeline below is right), in response to the events.

Subsequently Tynan asked Farrall to “meet some gentlemen on the subject of the information they had received from their friends in London”. This was “evidently some Council of Clan Na Gael”. He was questioned on why he had got involved with publishing the book, and then quizzed about the English edition. He hadn’t seen this version of the book until one of those present produced a copy. At this point he was told that the copyright had been assigned to Richard Rogers, who was seen as a villain by the Irish nationalists.

There was no hope for a good outcome from this, and Theo made his exit “walk(ing) backward down the passage (with … two revolvers in my hands – one in each coat pocket)”.

The fall-out for the Farralls

The exact timing of this meeting is not clear, although it would have taken at least 8 days for a copy of the English edition to reach New York by sea. On the Friday after the event, according to page 3 of the petition documents, “at noon, a man (alive now), a member of the Clan Na Gael – a man whom I had greatly befriended – came to me with tears in his eyes, and told me that the “Clan Na Gael” had condemned me to death”.

“I gathered up what money I could, I was an electrical engineer, in business in New York, and the next morning, Saturday, I sailed from New York to Glasgow, and at any rate, I was ruined.”

He would have been unable to supervise his business concerns in the USA from England. He goes on to state “Farrall Electric Heat and Light Trust of America … went completely to ruin through my enforced absence from the United States, and I have never been able to regain the footing in England I had in America, and I have only within the last few months placed my “Farrall Incandescent Electric Lamp,” on the market here, and with only a few years of the patent to run.” (Reminder: this was written in 1906, looking back at 1894.)

And it gets worse. From page 21, in connection with later correspondence with Herbert:

“While Tynan was under arrest in Boulogne, an article appeared in the New York Herald, September 16th, 1896, with a document in facsimile showing my name and Tynan’s in conjunction. The sensation it caused brought about the utter collapse of what was left of my business projects in America.

“I was completely ruined.”

Theophilus clearly endeavours to pick up his inventing reins on his return to London. He is shown as an inventor on the 1896 school register for his children, and at 1901 as an “Electrical Engineer Inventor”. At some point he became partially blind due to an experiment which went wrong.

The accumulative impact is great and at the time of constructing his petition he is in much reduced circumstances – see under ‘Family history learnt’ below. The Petition was a last-ditch attempt to put his large family in a better position.

Some two years later, in early 1908, he died aged 64 without getting any redress as far as can be ascertained. Someone who “knew nothing of the vagaries of diplomacy and political intrigue” (page 26), his best intentions seemingly sucked him in and pulled him down. His surviving children did well enough in life, though, which surely would have pleased him if he had lived longer.

One son and seven daughters made it to adulthood. Of these, two of the women married engineers (Victoria, Dorothy), and son Theophilus was an electrician at 1914. Grandson Wilfred Edwin Pearce was an aircraft design engineer at Sep. 1939, who worked for BAC and then for Douglas Aircraft Corporation in California.

Family history learnt

The family stayed in the US for about 3 months after Theo ‘flew’ to England. This probably isn’t the only time that they were apart – when TDF met Tynan in New York in 1889 the family was probably in Tennessee. Did his patenting or other work take him to New York for short periods perhaps? Page 12 of the petition does show he moves around:

“I saw Henry A. Herbert for three days in New York, May 23rd to May 26th, 1890, on my way to Boston, also saw Tynan “re Book.” Tynan wrote me to Boston, Mass., to Quincy House, but I had left the hotel, and did not receive the letter.”

The birth places of the various children beg the question of why the family kept moving around in the south: Indiana, Tennessee, perhaps Georgia. Is TDF moving between different glass factories? NYH refers to him “having gone South [from New York] to take charge of a large glass plant.”

From the petition, page 27, letter to Sir James Heath, Baronet, MP:

I was once the sweetheart of your cousin, Emma Blanche Baldwin, your mother’s sister’s daughter. I knew your mother quite well. Your mother bought Emma her wedding dress, etc., for our wedding, but we quarrelled, and the event was not to be. I went to business in London, and never saw her again.

See ‘Connections’ section below.

Reduced circumstances – Farrall’s fardels

From page 1 of the petition: “By an accident in an electrical experiment, I have had the great misfortune to become partially blind.” How will this have impacted on his inventing work? He doesn’t make clear whether this occurred in America or Britain, but perhaps the latter.

More on his eye problems on page 30: “… a manufacturer in the Staffordshire Potteries a very old and dear friend of mine (a Liberal Unionist), who undertook, on account of the accident to my eyesight, to copy out the statements; …”

Page 27, letter dated December 1904: “This year my furniture, library, instruments, and effects have been sold, I have seven children, between the age of four and fourteen, entirely depending upon me for a home, clothing, and bread. I am now living in four rooms, and my income for the last six months has been less than 17s. a week, and rent to pay out of that.” See note 4.

And further: “Do send some one privately to see me, for I am in despair. We pay our rent, and live on dry bread. I have one child at home sick – minus medical attendance – minus proper nourishment. We are void of bed-clothing – they are gone. Oh, the wretchedness of it all. I would rather end it, than bear these fardels much longer.”

17 Aug 1904 letter says “I have been compelled to leave Sirdar Villa, Lakefield Road, where I have lived for years”. Lakefield Road is in Noel Park, Harringay.

Learnt from elsewhere

Six of his children were baptised ‘back home’ on 6th October 1909, after Theo died (excluding Mary b 1888, Florence b 1891). Why? The baptism of probably their first born (also named Theophilus Davis Farrall) was in New York 1882, but he was likely buried the same year in Green-wood cemetery, New York.

Unanswered questions

TDF cites that a purpose of getting the book produced was to scupper Gladstone’s Home Rule Bill.

“to get Tynan to write this political book, to include a description of the murders in Phoenix Park, and an adverse chapter on Gladstone’s Home Rule Bill, which could be used politically to show what the extreme party in Irish politics thought of Mr. Gladstone’s Home Rule Bill.” (petition p. 11)

He also says, page 32:

In a political intrigue I was induced to do that which no one else could do – it being fully set forth to me that it would be a big spoke in the wheel to destroy Gladstone’s “Home Rule Bill” and thus assist in preventing the beginning of the disruption of the British Empire.

This does not really appear to fit with the timeline (detailed below), as the book comes out 2 years after the (second) Home Rule Bill reaches Parliament, and wasn’t yet in the works at the time of TDF and Tynan’s initial encounter. Clearly however the book had a significant political impact on publication in 1894 – perhaps May in Britain, and June in USA.

Risk taking

What motivated him to go to the 1894 meeting in 3rd Avenue when he clearly knew the risks (seeing as he had 2 revolvers with him)? What was he hoping to achieve – convince them that he had no ulterior motives? And were the revolvers his own – why would he need them otherwise?

Fake news

TDF believes that the book only nominally appeared in Britain, as stated on page 38:

one of them Produced the English Edition of Tynan’s Book. It was the first time I had seen it and, in fact, the last time also, for I have not seen the English edition since, and I was informed when I arrived in England that it was only a “fake” publication by “fake” publishers; that the book had done its work, and had been suppressed. The book was in a dark brown cover, I think, and little more than half the thickness of the American edition.

A quick Google search for the book turns up one copy of the English edition for sale at about £150 via Abebooks.com, at September 2018 – although the seller is in Washington DC, USA. Also see note 6.

Title page of book

So in reality, how widely was the English version distributed?

Other anomalies

Sirdar Villa, Lakefield Road, Harringay isn’t noted in the 1901 census (taken 31st March). At that time the Farrall family is still in St Pancras district (near where the British Library is now). So how at 1904 can they have lived at Sirdar Villa “for many years”?

Career progression

As mentioned in Theophilus Farrall shipping agent and electrical inventor, it seems quite a leap for TDF to go from railway clerk to glass manufacturer in just a couple of years, if both his marriage record in June 1879 and the April 1881 census are to be believed.

Moving to the electrical inventing, perhaps he was involved in the development of the glass for light bulbs as part of the glass manufacturing he was involved with in the States? Known patents are listed in that Cutlock article, as well as more on his glass works, which seem to be more about decorative creations.

There is an intriguing passage in the New York Herald article, where Tynan talks about Farrall:

“He said that he was perfecting some electrical patents which would bring him in a large fortune, and that he would undertake the publication of the book. Farrall is a glass manufacturer by trade, and a native of Staffordshire. He claims to be a Rugby man and is very well educated.”

The last sentence is puzzling, but then it is third hand reporting. While TDF probably had a reasonable level of schooling, attendance at Rugby School – “one of the oldest independent schools in Britain” – is unlikely. An enterprising person such as himself would almost certainly have undertaken further study while working as a railway clerk etc.

Well connected?

How did Theophilus become a “very old friend of … Henry Arthur Herbert”, nephew of Lord Salisbury and cousin to Mr Arthur and Mr Gerald Balfour (also formerly a Captain in the Coldstream Guards and MP for Kerry)? He seemingly knows other well-connected people of high rank, too.

His father, occupation described as ‘gentleman’ in 1879 marriage record, was in reality a coal merchant; his sister Louisa a ladies school governess – of probably a small local school; his brother Augustus worked his way up to become a ‘works manager limestone quarries’ in Shropshire by 1901.

Perhaps socially better placed than your average worker, this is hardly spectacularly so. Did his (cancelled) engagement to Emma Blanche Baldwin help? See ‘Family history learnt’ and ‘Connections’ elsewhere on this page. Or was it through entrepreneurial circles or fellow inventing types, perhaps?

Government response to the Petition

The government’s covering document summarising the claims and action required.

In a word: none. As the money promised to TDF was said to have been promised by politicians for services to the Conservative Party, it was not a concern of the government. Other claims, not covered in this article, for a reward for information on the whereabouts of Tynan, had been considered baseless. “…no reason for taking any action” is the conclusion.

– – o 0 O 0 o – –

Timeline

The first section of TDF’s ‘Memorandum and Particulars of Claim’ is short on specifics around timing. However, he gives more detail in copies of, and comments on, letters, and there are some dates in the New York Herald (NYH) piece. Along with other sources, this enables a rough timeline to be compiled. Events not directly linked to Farrall are indented.

4 March 1843 (railway employment records/census): born Woodshutts, Staffordshire (Newcastle under Lyme).

1871 census: shipping and commission agent, Chesterton, Staffs.

June 1879 TDF marriage: railway clerk, Kentish Town, Middlesex.

1881 census: In St Pancras, London – now a glass manufacturer.

Early 1882 (from baptism): in New York.

From offspring’s births (TDF may be elsewhere) June 1885: Indiana;  July 1888: Chattanooga, Tennessee; August 1889: Georgia (or possibly Tennessee).

Ditto July 1891 to Feb 1895: in New York.

Introduction to ‘The Irish Invincibles and Their Times’ {6} aka ‘the book’ states: “This work was written in the winter of 1887-88”.

About Feb. 1889: The Times issues apology to Parnell {7}. Legal case at about this time, when Farrall says he initially contacted Tynan.

US Patents Office ‘Apparatus for producing steam, heat and light by electricity’ application filed 5 Oct 1889, granted 18 Mar 1890.

May 1890 in New York, on way to Boston, and sees Tynan “re Book”.

“Some time” after May 1890 “completed my electrical work in Chattanooga” (petition p.12/13).

Gladstone becomes Prime Minister, August 1892, promising a second Home Rule Bill (first attempt was defeated in June 1886). This is introduced to parliament in February 1893. Source: Parliament website.

April 1893: Home Rule Bill passes 2nd reading in the Commons. Defeated in the Lords September 1893.

“not until 1893 that Mr. Henry A. Herbert … thought matters sufficiently ripe to go personally to England and see to the promised £5000, and arrange for £1000 at once.”

Late December 1893: Houston travels to England with chapter 37 of the book (petition p.15).

20 Apr 1894: Tynan writes to TDF re missing manuscript of chapter 37.

Summer 1894: publication of the book {6}. Earlier in Britain than America? Announced in The Irish Republic (political publication) 28th April, synopsis appears 3rd June in American newspapers (per New York Herald).

29th June 1894: Henry A Albert arrives in Liverpool, aboard The Germanic (White Star Line) – departure from New York about 20th June (based on coal refueling turn round from earlier NY arrival of Germanic, 15th June, and approx. 8 to 9 day journey).

About Sept. 1895 according to New York Herald: TDF returns to England. TDF implies more like summer 1894 – see page 17 “and a very short time after [Herbert’s departure] (at less than twenty-four hours notice) I sailed to Glasgow to save my life”. Either timing could work re Rowena being born in New York, February 1895. There doesn’t appear to be an 1895 New York State census to check.

Late 1895 (NYH): possible timing for family joining him.

May 1896 (per school registers): family back in London. The register for Manchester Street School, Camden, has them at 82 Judd St.

1901 (census): 2 Ossulston Street, St Pancras.

1906 (petition): living at 52 Harringay Road.

1908: Theophilus dies, recorded age 59, but actually 64 (he had also lost 5 years in the 1901 census).

Connections

Henry Arthur Albert, 1840 – 1901, of Muckross Abbey, Killarney, an estate of some 47,000 acres. Mother Mary Balfour. Wikipedia entry. A “very old friend” of TDF.

Sir James Heath JP MP, born 1852 Kidsgrove, Staffordshire, died 1942 London. Father Robert Heath JP MP (1816 – 1893), mother Ann Beech (1823 – 1894). Sourced from Cobbold Family History Trust.

TDF says he knows Sir James’ mother quite well, aunt to his old sweetheart Emma Blanche Baldwin. Ann and Robert marry 30th November 1843 Tunstall – her father is James Beech, and 1851/61 census gives place of birth as Tunstall. Ann’s FindAGrave entry. It is possible that Emma is aged 25 in 1871 census (born Wolstanton) with mother Eliza, now Mainway or Mannowey or some such (unclear writing), in Cheshire – her step-father a colliery agent, as was Robert Heath in 1851. (By 1871 Robert was a coal and ironmaster employing 5000 people. Robert is worth over £300,000 on his death in 1893.)

Notes

  1. See Theophilus Farrall shipping agent and electrical inventor for more background on his life, family background, the patents he filed and a little on his glass manufacturing. Article updated as part of producing the above.
  2. Thanks to historian Shane Lynn for uncovering material held at the National Archives as part of his research and letting Cutlock & Co see it. The petition is not currently online – a search on TNA Discovery for ‘Davies Farrall‘ only brings up his son’s appeal for exemption from military duty in 1916. We have transcribed key sections from the supporting documents (with the assistance of Google Drive/Docs OCR) – download petition file, pdf 466KB (22 pages, over 13,000 words).
  3. Thanks also to descendants of Theophilus, Wendy Loxley and Janie Martin, for their assistance.
  4. Six children voyaged to Britain, having been born in the States. The first child, also named Theophilus, was baptised in New York in May 1882 (born January 1882) and seems to have died that year too, buried Green-Wood cemetery, Brooklyn (based on limited info on FindAGrave). Two more children were born later in London. The April 1911 census shows one further child had died by that date – this perhaps accounts for the 7 dependent children (aged 4 to 14) at Dec. 1904 mentioned on page 27 of the documents, as the two eldest would have been 19 and 16.
  5. Lord Salisbury became leader of the Conservatives in 1881, and was Prime Minister three times. Wikipedia entry.
  6. English 1894 edition of ‘The Irish Invincibles and Their Times’, published by Chatham and Co, Covent Garden, 650 pages, can be found on The Internet Archive. Note that the chapter numbering is entirely different to that referred to by Farrall, and leaves out sections of content which is in the American edition. See Chapters II and III of part II, p. 470 ff, for the equivalent of Chapter 37. The American edition under the imprint of ‘Irish National Invincible Publishing Co’, and produced by The Mershon Company Press, 760 pages and with the original chapter numbering, is again available via The Internet Archive (chapter 37 from page 522). If you are searching for printed copies, note that those we found listed at abebooks.com at Sept. 2018 were almost all modern reprint/print on demand versions – check the number of pages for an idea of which edition they are sourcing from.
  7. From pdf on ‘I just love it’. There must be a better source somewhere! Also see Old Bailey PATRICK MOLLOY, Deception: perjury, 8th April 1889.

One thought on “Political shocks ruin the inventing business Glass and electrical innovator crushed by patriotic efforts

  1. Thank you for all this information, Theophilus was my great, great grandfather (Wilfred Pearce my grandfather)

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