PAPER ON BERMUDA'S SILVERSMITHS READ
St. George's Historical Society Meeting
"Bermuda's Silver and Silversmiths" was the title of a paper read by the Rev, C. B. Sinden at a meeting of the St. George's Historical Society on Tuesday night, the speaker being introduced by the President of the Society,Canon A. T. Tucker.
Mr. Sinden's paper follows:
In this paper I do not expect to be able to add much to what is already known about Bermuda silverware and silversmiths. There is perhaps not very much to be discovered for reasons that are quire apparent. Perhaps, however, I can enlarge on some incidents in the lives of the Silversmiths that may be of interest.
As it was my good fortune to marry a descendant of the Silversmith George Rankin. some references may be somewhat personal which I trust may be pardoned. They are quoted solely as matters of fact.
I have also some specimens of silverware from our own personal collection, perhaps no different from what some of you may have, but brought as exhibits together with a few old photographs.
With these few words by way of explanation and introduction I will proceed:-
The history of Silversmiths and their work goes back to very early days, for all through the ages men have wrought in silver, and left examples of varying beauty, according to the age that produced them and the taste of their times. Egypt, Greece, Rome, Europe, all have made their contribution, and specimens of their wares are to be found in the world's great museums.
Silver, like gold, was a very early medium of exchange. In the book of Genesis, Chapter 23, we read of Abraham bargaining with Ephron for the sale of land in which to bury his deceased wife Sarah; and the purchase price was finally weighed out "four hundred shekels of silver, current money" or it might read, "current silver." We also have mention in the New Testament of the Guild of the Silversmiths in Ephesus who made and sold silver images of the goddess Diana and who feared the introduction of Christianity would ruin their business. They accordingly and literally, "raised a riot."
Coming closer home and exploring our own Bermuda field, we find a goodly list of skilled workers in silver, It is not the purpose of the writer to cover the whole field but rather to touch here and there among the history that we have, for it is doubtful if one can add much to what is already known and recorded.
As a general rule the method of identification of Bermuda silver is by the hall mark, which usually consists of the initials of the craftsman or the last name. By the combined acts of 1700 and 1739 of England, all gold and silverware must, before being sold or exported, be marked with (1) the Initials of the maker, (2) the assay mark of the town of manufacture, (3) a letter in Roman figures to mark the rear of reign in which the article was made. Whether Bermuda Silversmiths marked because of legal necessity or because of pride in their work is of no matter-we are only glad that they left this means of identification.
Then of course all their work was hand-work, which gives it greater value and adds greatly to its attractiveness. A machine can turn out an indefinite number of the same article, but a workman quite naturally has an individual touch even though following the same pattern, (This is particularly noticeable in old Bermuda cedar chairs. I have seen many of similar pattern yet each bears the mark of the workman- a slight irregularity, two curves not equally balanced or some such detail.)
I believe that the majority of Bermuda silver is comprised of flat silver, although I know there are tankards. pepper pots, pitchers and such. My friend, Mr. Will Zuill, advances the not unlikely theory that with changing fashions larger pieces were melted down into flat ware which everybody needed and used. As tankards and such pieces were put aside and merely kept as relics they were in time used for more practical purposes. That theory means that in any case the old Bermuda silver is still with us but in another form.
A word now as to the location of our Silversmiths. Naturally St. George's was the home of most of these workers in silver, for this was the capital for so many years. In the Gazette of March 15, 1788, we find advertisement of: "Thomas Blatchley: Clock and Watch maker, Silversmith and engraver from London begs leave to acquaint the ladies and gentlemen and others in Bermuda that he has opened a shop in St. George's where he means to carry on the above business. Those who please to employ him may depend on the strictest attention being paid to merit their favours. Most money given for old gold and silver." From the same newspaper but of the date of November 1, 1788, we learn that "Samuel Lockward, gold and silversmith (near the Courthouse) acquaints the Gentlemen and Ladies of these islands that he makes all kinds of gold and silver work in the newest and elegant taste. Spoons, shoes and knee buckles , etc. much better then they can be imported."
However, we must be kind to Hamilton and remember that Peter Pallais had his shop there and with him worked William Adams. Salt Kettle was the advertised place of business of Samuel Lockwood as the announcements of August 7, 1780, will prove; at the same time we find him dong business in St. George's. To quote the announcement: "The subscriber intends to depart these Islands shortly, begs those he may be indebted to bring their accounts for settlement and those indebted to him to make immediate payment." Dated at Salt Kettle, James Perot did business in Port Royal. Zachariel Bolitho was living in Paget in 1781.
Then there was Thomas Bennett who carried on business at Heron Bay and advertises in the Gazette of February 16, 1788---"Thomas Bennett, Jeweler, Gold and Silversmith begs leave to acquaint Gents and Ladies that he carries on the above branches at his house in Heron Bay (near Meeting House) where these who employ him may depend on their commands being executed in the best manner and on the most reasonable terms. Hair work for rings and lockets in the neatest manner."
William Stennett advertises in July 24, 1813, as a watch end clock maker from London doing business in St. George's.
George Rankin did business in his shop on Market Square.
Very probably some of our Silversmiths listed were not really Bermudians, certa1nly not within the meaning or the Acts of today which attempt to define natives, foreigners, domiciled and sundry other varieties of residents. Some were Bermuda born and perhaps can be justly called Bermudians. Some of the other craftsmen probably came here during troubled periods on the North American continent and then departed, leaving no very distinct record beyond a few samples of their wares.
There are some incidents in the lives of these Silversmiths that make interesting reading, and I am recording a few of these. As you perhaps know, as long ago as the Assizes of October, 1618, one, Thomas Fosbrooke, the first in our list of Silversmiths is before the majesty of the law. The extract reads, "We present Thomas Fosbrooke, Goldsmith of Smith's Tribe, for that he doth not forbear to melt the King's Majesty coyne of Gold and Silver into Bodkin cases, wires and such like unprofitable and unnecessary commodities, contrary to His Majesty's Lawes and the evil and unprofitable consequence of these Islands." Although he was the first to melt the coin of the realm in order to make "unprofitable and unnecessary commodities" I strongly suspect that he was not the last.
There is also the tale of Peter Nice (1741) who was killed in a duel With Captain Robert Hill. Peter Nice had learned his trade with Stephen Outerbridge and also married his sister. A quarrel had arisen between Nice and H1ll and, meeting one night at a ball at the Flatts, a sword fight resulted and Nice died of his wounds that night. Hill was tried, convicted of murder and sentenced to death, but through the interest of Governor Popple was pardoned. Captain Hill's sword is in the Hamilton Historical Society.
The story of Joseph Gwynne (a killer spoon) also ends in a death - his own. His date is in the early part of the last century end the latter part of the former. It seems that he had a son who was brought before the magistrate, who was Dr. Hunter, the Medical Officer of the 62nd Regiment stationed in St. George's. The matter weighed heavily on Gwynne's mind and he started out to "get" Dr. Hunter, who was warned in time and was not found. On his way home Gwynne fell in with a Mr. Folger, who was a brother-in-law of Dr. Hunter. Evidently having worked himself up into a frenzy, possibly bordering on insanity, he abused and finally attacked and killed him. For some time he could not be found, when officers sought to arrest him.
Each time they went to his home, which is that small cottage right in front of "MelIose," Mrs. Gwynne was rocking in her chair and their search proved fruitless. One night, soldiers in Fort George looking down on the cottage saw Mrs. Gwynne lifting a trap-door and apparently taking supplies down to someone below. Information was laid and Gwynne was found sheltering beneath that trapdoor on which his wife so conveniently placed her rocking-chair. He paid the supreme penalty on a gallows erected in Kent Street, only a few yards from where we are now meeting. The records say that the executioner muffed his job by coming dressed in woman's clothes, so that it took half an hour for poor Gwynne to die.
This may sound gruesome--but such is history. Another view of the same family may brighten the story. Gwynne's sister, Eliza, married Christopher Hyland, Lieutenant in the 62nd Regiment of Foot, and to them a son was born, William Christopher John, on September 6, 1817, who afterward became Mayor of St. George's from 1800-1891. Mayor Hyland'S mother was left a widow and afterwards married .James D. Thomas, who was a widower, on May 13, 1821. They had a daughter, Ann Pindar, who married George Boyle who in his day was an Alderman. They had among other sons, W. J. Boyle, who afterwards became Mayor from 1914-1931. Another son, George Douglas, married Jeannette Clements, who was the granddaughter of George Rank1n, the Silversmith. George Douglas Boyle was also an Alderman. The brother,Joseph Gwynne, made a bad record but the line through the sister Eliza bears a record of fine public service.
Another Silversmith who made honourable history was Peter Pallais, and his story is worth recounting. When John Stephenson, the first Methodist Missionary, was persecuted for preaching to coloured people, and an Act passed to make his actions a crime, be had among his early converts to Methodism, Peter Pallais, a Silversmith of Hamilton. It was in the home of Pallais that Stephenson preached, not feeling bound to obey a law so hostUe to the spirit of toleration, on Sunday, June 15,1800. Information was laid and a warrant was issued for the apprehension of John Stephenson and Peter Pallais. Later they were removed to a close and unhealthy prison In St. George's.
On the 9th day after imprisonment Mr. Pallais accepted bail and left the prison. Stephenson was found guilty of "holding a prayer book in his hands and of reading prayers to a congregation" and sentenced to six months in jail and fined £50.
Peter Pallais was arraigned for the crime of opening his home for preaching and his trial postponed until the next Assizes. Bodily illness led his enemies to defer his prosecution but they continued to punish him by bolding him under bail and keeping him in a state of alarm by the secret operation of suspended law. His trade as well as his health suffered.
Eight years later when Joshua Marsden, the second Methodist Missionary, landed in St. George's, and after delivering his letter of introduction to Governor Beckwith paid "four dollars for a boat" to carry him to Hamilton to Mr. PaIIais, "the only Methodist" in the Island. He found at Hamilton "a sickly old man, worn with affliction and harassed with persecution." To quote his historian "Among the martyrs and confessors of the Lord Jesus, Peter Pallais of Hamilton, Silversmith, may claim an humble place."
Now a few words regarding George Rankin. His father was Capt. Rankin of Birkenbead. Liverpool, who came here as a sea captain. Evidently he brought his son here on one of his trips, for George learned his trade in England. The home of Capt. Rankin was, according to the "Gazette," known as "Rankin Manor" and situated on Turkey Hill. It was not so large a house as the name might imply, but rather a small house just west of the house known as "Windsor." George Rankin lived there and Samuel Croffs his son was born there and afterwards owned the house. The silversmith's shop was on Market Square right on the north-eastern corner.
Of his work there is a good deal in existence, partIcularly flat silver although there are larger pieces. His dates are 1704-1876 and his hall mark is his initials G.R. He has also left some good specimens of work in gold-which I have on exhibition this evening. I do not know of any other specimens outside of the family.
In order to illustrate this talk I have a number of samples of the work of Bermuda silversmiths and also a few old daguerreotypes of George Rankin and some of his family. These are for your inspection.
And now may I make grateful acknowledgment to Lefroy's History, Smith's History of Methodism, C. F. Spostroni's article in the "Bermudian," quotations from the "Gazette" and to Miss Lillian Hayward, our Curator?
At the conclusion of his talk, Mr. Sinden exhibited some examples of the Bermuda silversmith's art. He was thanked on the motion of Canon Tucker.