Edward John’s Family
Much information about Edward John Wollstonecraft and his family can be found in the biographies of Mary Wollstonecraft. Edward John was married to Elizabeth, daughter of Henry Dixon, on 13th April 1755 in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, Ireland. Their eldest son, Edward, was born there two years later on 11th March 1757.1 Mary, the second of Edward John’s children, was baptised in St Botolph, Bishopsgate, on 20th May 1759.
In 1765, the same year that his father died, Edward John was granted an Achievement of Arms. With his addresses given as both Mark's Gate, Essex, and London, his armorial bearings are recorded in Sir Bernard Burke’s General Armory of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. A green shield was to be charged with three mermaids. Each was to hold, in her right hand, a mirror and, in her left, a golden comb. On the crest, a half-mermaid, similarly holding a mirror and comb, was to rise out of a naval crown of gold. As an armiger, or person entitled to bear arms, he and his male descendants could now quite correctly be termed, "gentlemen".
Two generations of his family tree seem to be as follows:
My particular interest at this point, however, was Mary’s eldest brother’s name.
When examining the records of articles of apprenticeship, or clerkship, to the Court of Common Pleas, I found that Edward, son of Edward John Wollstonecraft, was articled to Richard Rutson, an attorney of His Majesty’s Court of King’s Bench at Westminster. The articles were signed on 1st May 1771 and the clerkship was to last five years. The original legal documents can be seen at the Public Record Office, under their reference CP 5/85, item 15.2 They are all duly signed and witnessed; Edward’s signature can be seen quite clearly.
After serving his period of clerkship, on 9th May 1776 Edward was admitted to his Majesty’s Court of King’s Bench at Westminster to practise as an attorney, as can be seen from his sworn affidavit.
Soon after becoming an attorney, Edward married Elizabeth Munday. On 11th November 1781, their first child, Elizabeth, was christened at the parish church of St Katherine by the Tower, when just thirty-one days old. Two years later, her brother Edward was christened in the same church, when he was forty-four days old.3
On 21st May 1787, articles of clerkship were sworn between Edward John’s youngest son, Charles, and Charles’ eldest brother, Edward, for a period of five years. Edward was then practising at King Street, Tower Hill.4
The following year, on the 15th September 1788, Charles’ clerkship was assigned over to William Briggs of Weavers’ Hall, London, an attorney of His Majesty’s Court of King’s Bench.5
Charles Wollstonecraft did not stay in this country but emigrated to the United States of America. His career in the army there is recorded in Francis B Heitman’s Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army. On 4th June 1798, he was made a second lieutenant in the artillery and engineers. Seven years later, on 15th March 1805, he was promoted to the rank of captain in the artillery. After ten years faithful service in one grade, on 15th March 1815, he became a brevet major. Charles died on 28th September 1817.
Edward John’s will was proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury on 17th June 1803. He wrote his will on 1st June 1791, when he was residing at Laugharne, Carmarthen, South Wales and bequeathed his household goods and other articles to his second wife, Lydia. A sum of £100, he left to his daughter, Mary, with instructions that she should clear his debts, "as far as it will go", and pay the residue to his wife. The will was witnessed by his daughter Eliza Bishop, Thomas Woods and C Wollstonecraft.6
Mary Wollstonecraft died before her father and the administration of Edward John’s estate was passed to his son, James.
James died a few years later and his will was proved on 24th September 1807. He gave instructions that all his estate should be divided equally between his surviving sisters:
"Elizabeth Bishop wife of Meredith Bishop of Blackheath in the County of Surrey, Gentleman, and Everina Wollstonecraft of Dublin Spinster ".
He appointed Mary Wollstonecraft’s publisher, Joseph Johnson of Saint Paul’s Church Yard, London, as his executor.7
Edward was living in the parish of St Botolph, Aldgate, when he died, the year following the death of his brother, James. Edward did not leave a will and, in August 1808, administration was granted to his widow, Elizabeth, with the estate amounting to less than £100.8
Because of any confusion that there might be regarding Mary Wollstonecraft’s brother’s name, I have been particularly careful to check all the records to see whether at any time he was called "Edward Bland Wollstonecraft". Nowhere have I found him referred to in this way; in all the records I have traced and wherever he has signed his name, he appears as "Edward Wollstonecraft", with no middle name.
An account of the lives of Edward and Elizabeth’s children has been published by the Australian National University of Canberra in their Australian Dictionary of Biography. The author of the article is M D Stephen.
Edward and Elizabeth’s son, Edward, then aged 28, made the acquaintance of Alexander Berry, in June 1812, whilst on a voyage from Lisbon to Cadiz. Berry was a merchant and Edward became his agent, returning to London to look into trading matters on Berry’s behalf.
For four years, from 1815 to 1819, Edward, his sister, Elizabeth, and Berry shared accommodation in London. Edward and Berry formed a business partnership together to set up a trading outlet in Australia and set sail for Sydney. Edward, aboard the ‘Canada’, reached their destination in September 1819. Berry returned to London soon afterwards, to take charge of the side of the concern in this country. Two thousand acres of land in New South Wales were granted to them by Governor Macquarie. Edward located five hundred acres of his share to the north of Sydney Harbour. The busy centre of their trading enterprise was a warehouse built in George Street, Sydney, bearing the name of "Berry and Wollstonecraft".
In 1821, Berry returned to Australia. On the condition that they took responsibility for a hundred convicts, the partnership was granted a further ten thousand acres of land, which they took on the Shoalhaven River. The first task was to cut a canal to make access to the sea. Then, they set about using convict labour and employing other men to make the area suitable for agriculture. Sawyers felled the trees of cedar and blue gum that would be needed in the developing colony or could be exported at a good profit. Edward Wollstonecraft possessed excellent business ability which he used to make the undertaking thrive, especially when they expanded into the production of other crops, in particular, tobacco.
Edward became considerably influential in the life of the early settlement in Sydney, using his expertise in finance to advise the new government on economic affairs. He was a magistrate, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and director of both the Banks of New South Wales and of Australia.
In September 1827, Alexander Berry married Edward’s sister, Elizabeth.
Edward did not enjoy good health and died on 7th December 1832 when he was just forty-nine years old. He was initially buried in the Sydney Burial Ground, but, when his sister, Elizabeth, died on 11th April 1845, his remains were exhumed and placed alongside hers at St Thomas’s Church of England, North Sydney.
To the north-west of Sydney, near Willoughby, is the district of Wollstonecraft, named after Edward. Nearby is Crow’s Nest, named after his cottage on North Shore.
The next record I wanted to study was Edward John’s father’s will. I hoped it would confirm the family relationships I had drawn and tell me more about the different members of the family. Wills can be very informative, naming not only children and grandchildren, but also various other kinsfolk and friends as well. This was a particularly long will, seven pages, and I was eager to see what information it held.
1 College of Arms, Grants 11.114, MS 5D14.223
2 PRO: Court of Common Pleas: Articles of Clerkship and Affidavits of Execution (CP 5)
3 The Guildhall Library, Corporation of London, Baptismal Register of St Katherine by the Tower, Ms 9668
4 PRO: CP 5/110, Item 95
5 PRO: Court of King's Bench: Plea Side: Affidavits of Due Execution of Clerkship, Series 1 (KB 105): KB 105/4/6958
6 PRO: PROB 11/1395, quire 261
7 PRO: PROB 11/1468, quire 34
8 PRO: Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Administration Act Books (PROB 6): PROB 6/183
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