Acton Smee Ayrton

Acton Smee Ayrton

b: 5 AUG 1816
d: 30 NOV 1886
1 Courtfield Gardens
South Kensington
England From 'The Chaplin and Skinner Families' pages 30 to 33:

>> (3) The Rt. Hon. Acton Smee Ayrton, the third son of Mr. Frederick Ayrton, was born on 5th August, 1816, and baptised on 24th October, 1816, at the parish church of Kew.

In the year 1837. when twenty-one years of age, he went to India, where in a comparatively short time he acquired one of the chief legal practices in Bombay, and with it a very fair fortune. He was associated with the formation and construction of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway and other railways in India; from December, 1839, to December, 1841, he acted as Solicitor to the East India Company at Bombay, then a very important office. After thirteen years of Indian life he returned to England at the early age of thirty-four, and after a short time devoted himself to politics, being an ardent supporter of Mr. Gladstone and the Liberal party as it then was.
In 1853 he was called to the Bar as a member of the Middle Temple, and joined the Home Circuit. In 1857 be entered the House of Commons as member for the Tower Hamlets, which constituency he continued to represent until 1874 He soon took a prominent part in the discussions on Mr. Disraeli's Reform Bill. When Mr. Gladstone's first ministry was formed at the end of 1868, he became Financial Secretary to the Treasury - a post which his genius for economy enabled him to fill with such conspicuous success, that in November, 1869, he was appointed Chief Commissioner of Public Works. He was thereupon made a member of the Privy Council, and on the 11th November, 1869, was sworn in at Windsor and took his seat. His office gave him a seat on the Treasury bench, though he was never a Cabinet minister - a dignity to which he would inevitably have attained had circumstances been more favourable.
He held the office of Chief Commissioner until I873, when he was appointed Judge Advocate General. The letters patent of his appointment under the Great Seal, dated the 22nd August in the 37th year of Queen Victoria, are now in my possession.

At the general election of 1874 he again stood for the Tower Hamlets, but was not elected, and although he made several attempts to re-enter the House, he did not succeed in doing so. At a later date he was a candidate at Northampton, and fairly secure of his seat, when he was laid up by a fall from his horse, and loyalty to his party compelled him to retire, lest, being unable to attend to the canvassing, the seat should be lost to the Gladstonians.
With Mr. Gladstone,and Robert Lowe (afterwards Lord Sherbrooke) he was caricatured in the trio of " Right Honourables " in a burlesque called " The Happy Land," produced at the Court Theatre. Under pressure from the Lord Chamberlain the make-up of the actors was modified, and the piece ran for a short time. Mr. Ayrton had been much amused at the whole matter, and particularly the personal imitation of himself.
He died an the 3oth November, 1886, at the age of seventy, at the Mont Doré Hotel, Bournemouth, where he was staying for the sake of his health. For many years he had lived at No 1, Courtfield Gardens, South Kensington, and was a well-known member of the Reform Club.
The following article appeared in 'The Spectator' of the 4th December, 1886:--


"We smile at Americans for dwelling on the 'magnetic' qualities of their candidate for office (Mr. Blaine, for example, is described as the most 'magnetic' man in America), but we fear that, in future, personal attractiveness and the appearance of 'sympathy' will help politicians in England more than is at all expedient. Take the career of Mr. A. S. Ayrton, who died on Tuesday, which was completely spoiled - or, rather, snapped short - by his want of magnetism. There never, perhaps, was a man of the second rank who could have been more useful to the country than Mr. Ayrton. The son of an officer in Bombay, he betook himself thither, after a first attempt in England. to practise as a Lawyer; and in a short time so forced himself to the front, that he obtained a great business, and made himself in especial a terror to courts-martial, tribunals which, from the very structure of his mind, he detested. He really improved their procedure by his audacity and caustic criticisms; and, returning to England with a competence, he entered Parliament as a sincere Radical of the old school, the school which still believed in arithmetic and political science His remarkable powers were soon perceived, and Mr. Gladstone made him, first, Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury. and afterwards, Chief Commissioner of Public Works, the latter an office which made him a Privy Councillor. His road to the Cabinet was, in 1868, perfectly open, and but for his want of 'magnetism.' he would have reached it; but he displeased the House of Commons, he was removed in 1874 to the office of Judge-Advocate-General, which he probably understood better than any man in the world, and then - then he dropped out of political life. There was a dissolution, and it was found that no constituency would have him. He tried hard during the following eleven years to secure one, but it was useless; on his last attempt he obtained less than five hundred votes in a constituency of 5,800: and before his death, he had acknowledged to himself that he was politically a dead man
"The extraordinary thing about his failure was that, excepting one, he had every capacity for Parliamentary success. Unlike Anglo-Indians in general, he really understood English politics; he had intense popular conviction, and he could express them in speeches which, though they lacked glow, were often of unusual force, and always excited a certain enthusiasm on one side, and an eager desire that he shonld be answered on the other: His final defence in the Kew Gardens affair was a masterpiece of dignified pleading, and we have ourselves seen Cabinet Ministers writhe visibly on their seats, while on an Indian subject he slowly, and without the slightest disturbance of his languid manner, dropped oratorical vitriol on their heads. He was an excellent administrator, a master of detail, and with a capacity for making himself feared by corrupt persons which was of the highest advantage to the State. Moreover, he knew almost everything, and when not provoked by business opposition, he sometimes showed himself a most interesting and attractive master of conversation. A Whig by nature, though a Radical in opinions, he might have been Chancellor of the Exchequer in any Whig Cabinet, and would have probably saved us millions, but he lacked the one quality of to-day, 'magnetism; he could not get along with men in actual affairs. His interlocutors thought he despised them, and if he suspected them of personal motives or personal interests, so he did; but contempt was not the secret of the dislike he roused. It was rather that he never sympathised, and that he was from first to last in the habit of
regarding himself as the attorney for his oppressed client, the State, bound to compel the opposite party to fulfil his contract, and accustomed to tell him so without compunction or consideration. Mr. Stevens, the sculptor, or Sir J. Hooker were to him simply 'the opposite parties,' and he treated them accordingly, in a way which roused his opponents, who thought of the great sculptor and the great botanist as exceptionally gifted human beings, to a perfectly reasonable fury. His threat to make Mr. Stevens hand over his unfinished statue of Wellington to another sculptor to complete, was worthy of the Consul who told his soldiers that if they broke the Greek statues he had stolen, they should make others; while his idea of Sir Joseph Hooker as a 'head gardener' was not only farcical, but actually spread abroad a notion that the speaker was himself an ignorant bully. He did not want to bully except on behalf of his client, the State, and he was one of the best-instructed men in the world, with a mind full of rare and accurate information, certainly able to judge a statue, and probably able, though we do not know that particular fact, to deliver a good lecture on the Himalayan forests. Absolutely honest, and determined to prevent waste, he used to provoke the departments he attacked till they ceased to be reasonable, and regarded him, we believe, as a man brimful of insolence, who cut down expenses merely to enjoy his mastery. He really cut them down in the spirit of a good agent intent on economising for his client during a long minority; but he never succeeded in leaving that impression. Brusque in manner in business - for in private he could be languidly gracious - absurdly impatient of prolixity, and thoroughly aware of his own intellectual powers, he frightened or irritated all official interlocutors, till he left himself without an official friend, and once out of the coach, could never regain a footing, even on the steps. Every hand of those inside would have given him a push. We believe the man, whom we once carefully studied, to have been a capable and useful, though second-rate, administrator, disguised under a mask which made every one who encountered him on State affairs take him for an acrid attorney pretending to be a statesman. There was place in our system once for such a man, and in the old days a strong Premier would have given Mr. Ayrton a Government borough, put him in the Cabinet, and trusted him as Inspector-General of Departments, to be used when one of them fell into disorder or extravagant ways. That is a most useful, and even great part to play; but there is no room in a Government for such a man now, for there is no Government strong enough to sustain him against ever accumulating personal dislikes. The German Emperor would have delighted in Mr. Ayrton, have carefully avoided him, and have made him Supervisor of the Military Chest, or something of the kind, where the business, like that of an Auditor-General, is to be inquisitive, efficient, and disagreeable to all men presenting bills. We do not think the present inability to use such men is a source of strength, and regret, though we understand, the tendency to believe that a brusque man must be a bad representative, and to compel all who seek public favour to be smooth of tongue, insinuating in manner, and safe ' as regards opinions. It is quite true that the great civilians deserve all respect, for they keep the machine going; but there never were horses yet that were best when they knew the whip was always left at home."

"To the Editor of 'The Spectator.'
" Sir. - Will you allow me, as a nephew of the late Mr. Ayrton, to correct one or two trifling errors of fact in your appreciative notice of him? Mr. Ayrton was the son, not of an officer, but of a lawyer who had practised with much success at Bombay. His father died during his minority, and Mr. Ayrton, who had been born and educated in England, went to India immediately on attaining twenty-one. He returned with a moderate fortune at the age of thirty-four.
" Whilst Mr Ayrton's mastery of detail was most remarkable, those who were brought into close contact with him were even more struck by the unerring way in which he seized the vital principles of all subjects that he took up; so that no amount of detail confused his mind or clouded his judgment. This was notably the case in reference to his professional knowledge, and was exemplifed in almost the last public work that he did. He had, by Act of Parliament, been appointed arbitrator (with all the powers of a Judge of the High Court of Justice) to unravel the complicated ditficulties cansed by overissues of stock of the Milford Haven Dock Company, and decide all questions arising directly or indirectly out of the confusion into which that Company had fallen. I believe the barristers and solicitors practising before him will bear me out in saying that in dealing with difficult questions of law and fact, he showed great mastery of all legal principles involved.
" It was this power of adhering firmly to the central idea of a subject that brought him into conflict with artists and men of science. Whilst very appreciative of true beauty in the arts, and full of knowledge derived from travel, observation, and study, he never lost sight of the fact that the primary object of a building is that it should be the most useful and best fitted that can be constructed for the purpose for which it is to be used, and he was very intolerant of any mere ornament which interfered with or did not promote that purpose. 1 believe I am not misinterpreting the teaching of Mr Ruskin when I say that in this intolerance he was at one with that great critic, and that all noblest art-work has ever exemplified this principle in the highest degree.
" The character of Mr. Ayrton is not completely sketched unless mention is made of his clear and strong religious views, in which the same adherence to central principles and disregard of the mere fringe of a subject were apparent. He lost no opportunity of expressing his belief in the spirituality of religion, and advocating simplicity of form of Protestant worship: and he abhorred any approacb to materialism or Agnosticism. - I am, Sir, &c,

'29 Pa!ace Gardens Terrace, 11th Dec , 1886.

"Holroyd Chaplin" <<

Morley's Life of Gladstone, vol ii page 419

Changes among subordinate members on the government came early. Of one of these ministers, Mr Gladstone writes to Lord Granville (August 18, 1869): "He has great talent, is a most pertinacious worker, with a good deal of experience and widely dispersed knowledge of public affairs. But he seems to be somewhat angular, better adapted to doing business in a defined province of his own, than in common stock or partnership with others." Unfortunately that somewhat angular man shared his work with a chief who had intellectual angularities of his own, not very smoothly concealed. As it happened, there was another minister of secondary rank who did not come up to the expected mark.......... So the transgressor accepted a diplomatic mission, and this made room to plant his angular colleague in what seemed a "province of his own." But few provinces are definite enough to be independent of the Treasury, and the quarrels between this minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer became something of a scandal, and a weakness to the government. One of the fiercest battles of the time (1872) broke out in respect of Kew Gardens between the minister with a definite province of his own and a distinguished member of the scientific fraternity, which, valuable as it is, has been unduly pampered of late from a variety of causes into a somewhat overweening idea of its own importance. The Premier's pacifying resources were taxed by this tremendous feud to the uttermost; he holds a stiffish tow to the minister, and tries (?) for the savant. But science is touchy, and wounds are sometimes too deep to be sealed by words................. he (W. E. G.) writes to the vexatious colleague (July 24, 1872): "the Cabinet have come to their conclusion and directed me to make it known to you ........ If you think proper to make the announcement of these intentions of the government, they are quite willing you should do so. If otherwise Mr Bruce will do it as home minister. Thus far as to making known what will be done. As to the doing of it, the rules will have to be cancelled at once by you."
The reader of an of authoritarian or arbitrary cast of mind may ask why he did not throw a handful of dust upon the angry combatants. "It is easy," he wrote to Cardwell (November 20, 1871) "to talk of uprooting X, but even if it were just, it will as Glyn (party whip) would tell you, be very difficult. But Y perhaps proceeds more like Moloch, and X in the manner of Belial. Why cannot they follow the good examples of those worthies, who co-operated in pandemonium? If you thought you could manage Y, I would try to tackle X. I commend this subject to your meditation."

D & D vol ii p460

An inquiry into certain irregularities at the general post office led to the discovery that a sum of £800,000 had been detained on its way to the exchequer, and applied to the service of the telegraphs. The persons concerned in the gross and unexcused irregularities were Mr Monsell, Mr Ayrton and the C of E....... Mr Ayrton advanced doctrines of ministerial responsibility that could not for a moment be maintained (July 30, Hansard 217 p1265). WEG says: (p464). He (Mr Ayrton) is as towards the nation an upright, assiduous and able functionary.

Morley's Life of Gladstone, vol ii page 651

Mr Gladstone to Lowe: Hawarden Jan 9, 1869: "4. The remaining conveyancing duties, apart from railways, I always considered marked for exticnction. On this subject Mr Ayrton has rather decided antecedents."

From Fifty years of Fleet St, or Life of Sir John R Robinson, by Frederick M Thomas, 1906

Mr Ayrton was almost equally disliked (as Mr Robert Lowe), but the outrage (against) him was largely due to the fact that he reolutely refused, when Chief Commisioner of Works, to let artistic fanatics make raids upon the public purse.

From the Siliad: Becton's humorous books: Ward, Locke & Co, London

Remember how the genial Bairton growled
Who never learned the art of bowing low;
He put up posts and tumbled pillars down,
Kicked up a bobbery throughout the town,
And made himself disliked by all the world,
The object at which gibes and jests were hurled
Bairton mistook his mandate, read it wrongA
And those he thought were weak, he found were strong

From The Western Daily Press, Bristol 27 February 1905

In notice of 'Bygones worth Remembering' by George Jacob Holyoake, Mr Holyoake claims to have originated the placing of the light in the clock tower at Westminster to signify that the House was sitting. The old plan of lights fixed to ordinary lamp posts he viewed as inefficient and the lime light having just been perfected, it ocurred to him, if an effective light were placed in the clock tower it would be conspicuous for miles round. A letter was written to the Commissioner of Works and Mr A S Ayrton, when he came into office, had the suggestion acted upon.

From "The Autobiography of Duke of Argyll," vol ii chap xxxii p117

"PS (Letter from Lord Palmerston to Duke of Argyll, 6 April 1858) I believe Ayrton will move the rejection of the Government's Bill (The India Bill on the dissolution of the East India Company). But the Government will not go out merely because their Bill is thrown out."

Mrs John Clarke Chaplin told her son Colonel Allan Chaplin that her mother Juliana Ayrton knew at school a Miss Chaplin from Devonshire who had a brother Acton Chaplin and she asked leave of her friend to give her brother's name to her own son - Acton Smee Ayrton. NB: In the army list the name occurs of Acton Chaplin Havelock (see Chaplin & Skinner family book p46, where Acton Ayrton is described as a godson of Acton Chaplin of Aylesbury).

From The Times, 10 October 1906: With the death of Eveline Countess of Portsmouth a striking personality of the mid-Victorian age has passed away..... During long years Hurstbourne must have seemed the ideal English home to its numerous English guests. It was a gathering place for all the distinguished men of the day. Charles Kingsley openly proclaimed his worship of its hostess. Robert Browning, Mathew Arnold, ... the Master of Balliol, Mr Lowe and Mr Ayrton loved to pace the sunny, sidewalked garden in her company.

My Dear Edith ..... Perhaps you may have read of the Dowager Lady Portsmouth's death. It was very sudden and peaceful, but I am grieved to lose her, she was a real kind friend. Please do not lose the cutting from the Times. It gives you a little idea of what an exceptional woman she was......... she knew Bob Lowe and Uncle Acton well...... Yours ever, Julia Nugent Charles, 69 Palace Court W. 18 Oct 1906

From 'A short history of our own times' by Justin McCarthy Nr 8 (1886) ch xxix p371

Another member of the Administration, Mr Ayrton, a man of much ability but still more self-confidence, was constantly bringing himself and his Government into quarrels. He was blessed with a gift of offence. If a thing could be done either civilly or rudely, Mr Ayrton was pretty sure to do it rudely. He was impatient with dull people, and did not always remember that those unhappy persons not only have their feelings but sometimes have their votes. He quarrelled with officials; he quarrelled with the newspapers; he seemed to think a civil tongue gave evidence of a feeble intellect. He pushed his way along, trampling on peoples' prejudices with about as much consideration as a steam-roller shows for the gravel it crushes. Even when Mr Ayrton was in the right, he had a wrong way of showing it.

From "The Life of Marlborough" by Edward Thomas, Chapman and Hall, London 1915

(Page 90) He would have smiled when Mr Ayrton, in The Happy Land, decribes a treaty as "that useful instrument which enables the man of honour to promise, when taken at a disadvantage, that which (under happier circumstances) he has not the remotest intention of performing" - when Selene exclaims "Oh! horrible! and that is earthly morality" Mr A corrects her: "No, that's not earthly morality, that's earthly diplomacy!"

A skit (taken from This Happy Land) of Gladstone, Acton Ayrton and Lowe in top hats and frock coats doing a pas de trois was introduced into a pantomime I was taken to as a child, I believe at Margate, and I caused some sensation by exclaiming in clear tones "Oh Mama. There's Uncle Acton." ...... J A C Skinner

Life of Sir Charles Dilkes, 1917 vol I, p166 note 31.1.18

One cause of the Government's unpopularity (1873) was the attempt of Mr Ayrton (First Commisioner of Public Works) to limit (right of) public to meet in Hyde Park, to which there is this allusion: "In July I was greatly occupied in House of Commons in fighting against Ayrton's Parks Bill. It was at a dinner at my house one night that in his dry quiet way old Kinglake chirped out "For so insignificant a personage Mr A is quite the most pompous individual that I know." Mr A's unpopularity was a powerful cause of Mr Gladstone's downfall in 1874. Feb 16, 1874 (vol i p171): Mr Ayrton, against whom Sir Ch Dilke and his fellow Radicals had fought fiercely, was ejected from Tower Hamlets and never returned to public life...... On Friday 18 Jan 1878 I dined at Lady Waldegrave's to meet the old Strawberry Hill set -
Duke of Argyll, Duchess, Manchester,..... Harcourt, James, Ayrton, Ld William Hay and Mr & Mrs Tom Hughes (p240)

"The Nation" 1917

In private conversation, Brooke was almost a fierce politician, and a hearty hater. I had forgotten for so long all about Mr Ayrton, who was once upon a time Chief Commissioner of Works, that it was refershing to be reminded of him thus:

"So Ayrton is out. Hurrah! I do hate and abhor a man like Ayrton with every drop of blood in my body." (Vol II, 218)

This poor fellow was only an Economist; but to an Irishman an economical Englishman is abhorrent. Mr Brooke was an admirer of Parnell, and would have stuck to him through thick and thin............

Report of The Select Committee on Ventilation IV (Reprinted from "Building News" Jan 29, 1904

"The value of natural ventilation has been eloquently testified to by the distinguished doyen of scientists, Lord Kelvin, in a report to Mr Robert Boyle, who is probably the highest living authority on the subject, and whose inventions have solved so many problems in sanitary science, particularly those perfected in collaboration with the Right Honourable Acton Smee Ayrton, when First Commissioner of Works, Sir Charles Siemens F R S, and Sir John Marshall, late President of the Royal College of Surgeons, these eminent savants being earnest workers in the cause of pure air and natural ventilation.........

[A twenty-page printed document "The Address of the Right Hon. Acton S. Ayrton, to the Liberal Council of Mile End Old Town East, on Thursday March 20, 1885," is at address.doc. It gives his own account of his activities in government. A report of a political meeting is given in Ayrton, Acton_hustings.doc.]

END Letters from school

Letter from school at Ealing, 1826, aged 10:

Dear Mamma,

I am very sorry to see that letter you wrote. I hop you will be so kind as to let us come home on the 16th because Harrison has promised to treat me to two roles and a bason of milk on the 16th he his going home on the 16th. John has got some very bad chilblains and bad eyes. I expect you will let us come home on the 16th he has sarve put to his eyes every night. I have got a good strong pr of shoes they are bluchers iron heels they are as thick as this [two lines drawn].

I remain
Dear Mamma
Your affete son
A S Ayrton

[To Mrs Ayrton, Priory, Hampton Wick, Kingston – postmarked 16 Oct 1826]

My dear Mamma

I hope you're very well

Johnny does nothing from morning till night but cry at coming back from home and think of the parcel if you please will you send me a knife at the same time as you send the parcel it is to be exactly like the one you sent me before you had better buy it at the same place as you bought the other one if you please will you be so kind as to have a lock put on the box as Turnbull has given it to us. Johnny has had a lock put on his desk and it is to be put down to the bill as you said and will you send the three crumps for John. You had better send a small cake for Edward and a larger one for us. Johnny says you are the greatest pig that was ever seen on earth and you must write to us very often, our money is all gone. Johnny says school is a very nasty place and he says he is very unhappy with crying you must not let anybody see this letter or else I shall be very angry mind now do mind you recollect all our requests or else I shall be very angry. Give our love to Grandmamma and you must not let anybody see this letter. Goodbye my dear Mamma, Johnny's kind love to you and you must wright soon. Mind you recollect our requests.

I remain
Dear Mama
Your affectionate son
A and J. Ayrton

Dear Mama

As the German is in a hurry you must excuse all this. I think we had better come on Saturday, because I shall keep them from rehearsing on Tuesday, and Mr Frank does not like that. We are much obliged to you before the need ful. But I suppose there is a reason for this mystery some very knowing surprise no doubt. Shall I bring home the Coleman's Terrence if I can?

I remain
Dear Mamma
Your dut
A Ayrton

[To Mrs Ayrton, 48 Manchester St., Manchester Square, London, postmarked 23 May, year illegible ]


Dear Mama

I do not quite understand your second letter. I don't much care whether I am at the party or not but if it is more convenient for me not to be there I had better be away. If I do not come home I cannot get my clothes without I’m to have them here. Next Saturday will be the most convenient day for me.

I would rather have a black cloth waistcoat but if you think I had better have light one I will. Tell Edward Mr White refused to make the Latin to Mr Slury’s English Epilogue. John would send his letter although I told him not so that's not my fault. I hope Vanhem’s will make the clothes well and not like he generally does. Is Mrs Stewart staying with you? Mr. J. has given me a little pork occasionally which is better than his (?) mutton.

Hope all are well, give my love to Matilda and when you write also GP……..

Believe me
Your affectionate son
A Ayrton

[To Mrs Ayrton, 48 Manchester St., Manchester Square, London]

Ealing, November 4th 1829

Dear Mamma

We had the Hare cooked on Tuesday. It was cooked very well, stuffed etc., for which we are very much obliged to you, also for the money. The cloak looks very well and is much admired, it does great credit to Mr Vanhems. John's socks fit very well, also his greatcoat, both of which please him very much. The Hare would have gone down much better if there had been some currant jelly, but I suppose it was owing to some of Matilda's bad housekeeping, it was just enough for four of us, besides a good serve to Edward. As the ships have come in, and it is near the middle of the quarter, I suppose we shall soon have promised --

I hope Grandmamma -- papa, Matilda and yourself are quite well. As I have answered all your questions, and have no more time I will conclude.

I remain
Dear Mamma
Your affectionate son
A Ayrton

Ealing, le 4 Juin 1831

Ma chère mere

Les vacances commenceront le 21 de ce mois.

Les 15 et 16 l’Eunuque de Science sera représenté à 8 heures; le 16, à une heure, on récitera des discours anglois, ensuite des débats qui ont eu lieu récemment à la Chambre des Députés.

M. M Nicholas vous invitent à assister à nos divertissements ainsi qu’à la collation que sera offerte.

Votre fils obeissant,

Acton Ayrton

[No date or address]

Dear Mamma

When I arrived at the coach-office, I found out that the coach did not start till 11, and when it came it was quite full, so I trotted away and soon came to Ealing, where I arrived in good time. Rawlinson is going to do a very pretty pair of pictures (paintings) as he could not find a good frontispiece, he says he should like very much to read one of the volumes of the gymnasium, ask Edward to send him one. Mind, lest you should forget any of my things, look at the list the last thing; I suppose Vanhems will take a walk in the country with them?

Love to all not accepting yourself. I hope Grandmamma is better

I remain
Dear Mama
Your affectionate son
Acton Ayrton

[To Mrs Ayrton, 48 Manchester St., Manchester Square, London]

Ealing, May 5th

Dear Mamma

I received the parcel quite safe, I forgot to send the piece of the (?).

My best trousers are so worn out that I was ashamed to go to church in them and therefore I would be much obliged to you if you would send me two pairs of trousers. John would not let me write on half of his sheet of paper therefore I was obliged to get one other sheet. I shall expect you to send me the trousers by next Sunday. The post is just on the point of going therefore I must conclude by saying love to everybody and I hope they are all quite well

I remain
A Ayrton

[To Mrs Ayrton, 48 Manchester St., Manchester Square, London]


Dear Mamma

In my opinion my eyes are fast improving and are much stronger, as the light does not hurt them. I have just finished reading the Caesar and am ready to construe any part of it. As Thursday is a convenient day for packing up it being our holiday we shall prefer Friday for our visit to the capital.

When you write tell me something about my going to Addiscombe? You will receive the holy day letter on Tuesday night. John eyes are in a very bad state. I wonder (?) is so very consistent. I thought she had forgotten all about us. Mrs Slury is I believe in a very bad way. Tell Edward Mrs White had another child yesterday. Give my love to him when you write.

The Duke of Buckingham must be very much liked at Averton for the (?) to defend him so nobly. I have looked over all Mr Blake’s books and cannot find anything of that description a gentlemen from Uxbridge bought most part of the Greek books I have enclosed the 18 pence. I should have sent this letter long ago but Mrs Blake could not leave the shop to accompany me to the storeroom.

I remain
A Ayrton

[Letter written in copperplate handwriting]
Ealing School, December 7th 1830

Dear Mamma

According to the regulations of our School, it is now becomes my duty to announce the 21st instant, as the day appointed for the commencement of our Christmas vocation. This is indeed an agreeable duty and you shall have no reason to accuse me of negligence in discharging it.

I trust that my general improvement will merit your approbation, and that I shall have the pleasure which I fully anticipate of meeting you and all my friends in perfect health. The Messrs Nicholas desire me to present their respectful compliments, and to wish you many happy returns of the approaching season.

I remain
Dear Mamma
Your affectionate Son
Acton Smee Ayrton

[Letter below undated but postmark is December 1830 addressed to Acton Ayrton Esqr, Mess Nicholas’, Ealing School, near London. Acton was then 14 years old. Forgive my attempts to transcribe Rawlinson’s illegible dog Latin without knowing enough of the language to tell where he has abused it or how. Some expressions are probably private Ealing School jokes. ARJ]

My dear Acton

I would have answered your long expected epistle before this, had I not been detained by the necessary preparations for my journey northward -- by the obligation I was under of dispatching sundry, and various, and manifold, and divers specimens of my epistolatory style, (not stile, as a certain learned engineer and nabob in embryo spells it) also also and by all the accumulated horrors of travelling viz: packing, cording, ordering etc. etc. et hoc genus (?). My journey hath at length been brought unto a conclusion, and I am enabled to seat myself in peace and quiet for the purposes, the double purpose, of discharging a not very long owed debt, and of plunging the inexplicable lance alias I write - into an Elysinum of beatitude and delectability. For I doubt not but that the receipt of a letter from one so highly honoured, as I have been, by a late Ex-Captain of Ealing School, will be esteemed both as a favour, and as an advantage, by the fraternal relative of him to whom I have just acknowledged myself indebted. Having thus wrought up your feelings to the required degree of attention and curiosity, let the catastrophe be hastened, the plot be unravelled, the argument explained.

The fact is that I received an epistle from the Right Honourable Edward Lord -- no! from Edward Nugent Ayrton Esquire -- at no very distinct period of time -- and as the somewhat indolently inclined individual in question, appears by your account not to be the very speediest of all correspondents, or the very most communicative of all brothers, I thought you would not be displeased to hear some tidings of him, even through such an unworthy medium as myself. Edward is as you said, with a clergyman, at Staverton near Daventry in Northamptonshire. "My superior knowledge," as you were pleased to express yourself, would scarcely have informed me as to the exact situation of a village so destitute of celebrity (tho’ doubtless the future theme of many a poet lay, of which it will in all probability be sung by some apostrophizing bard Page, vigilis secondrorem Di sortem tibi Mantna dederunt” (Rawls Hem! what metre? eh? ask Edward)) but certainly the information that I received from your brother, that the afore-mentioned as it were citadel of learning happens to be nigh unto a borough denominated by the profane vulgus Daventry trees (optional) was sufficient to point out even to my geographically and topographically ignorant ear, that Northamptonshire is the county which has the honour of at present containing within its precincts the future Lord High Chancellor of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. (?) this personage is well contented with his tutor and with his tutor’s Establishment altho’ unfortunately not peculiarly energetic in the praises of his companions who appear to be backward in their knowledge of literature; and not to have many redeeming qualities in any other respect; inasmuch as the noble Ex-Captain condescends to remember and to regret his Ealing more intellectual associates.

I have returned an answer to his epistle and have reminded him how ill he has used you in not favouring you with a single , much less a double letter all this half, but as the holidays and all that instant, I will venture to predict that my remonstrance will be unavailing. The only excuse that I can dare to advance for his tardiness (we will not say laziness although some, with Mr Horace, are apt to give illi tardo cognome pingui) is, that he must have been jugging so hard he had no time or as some others, had sprained his thumb perhaps or had nothing to say. Nothing to say! Why really do you mean to affirm that if you were to meet me by chance, we will say in the streets of London, you would have nothing to say to me? The idea of having nothing to say! And why should you, or could you, not write what you would speak? Dicere quel fudnit ?bere pulpit (?) says (?) or the Latin Grammar, or both as if it were easier to write than to speak! And can the renowned shil(?). Oh! I should have forgotten that - can the (try (?)wick dubbed) Indian chief condescend to stoop to declare that he delayed because he had “nothing to say?” Rather shouldest thou, oh slothful of slothful. Rather shouldest thou have acknowledged the infirmity and have entreated pardon, or claimed oblivion, for thy downright shirking laziness. Thou, whom I compelled to write thine own thine own themes – that thou shouldest dare to make so utterly false an assertion, as that. But you see, I am not to be so easily humbugged. Jam entis est Ohe! Desine! Etc.

Eh bien. I am here in Lancashire you know the direction from Arthur Henry and expect me to have some excellent sport. Today I went out for the first time here and after coursing and killing 5 or 6 hares betook myself to rabbit shooting and before I left off had bagged two couple and a half and killed I don’t know how many more for the place in which I shoot is a strip of land lying along the seashore, thickly covered with a species of rush called star. I vouch not for the orthography, but that is the sound - a thing that grows most luxuriantly in sand, and binds it together -- there are some myriads of rabbits and some millions of holes so that if you do not shoot sur l’instant the animal is down the hole and many that are wounded and die, have just strength enough to roll down an angle of 70 degrees inclined plane, to the bottom of their retreats, from which it is impossible to extricate them. But five bagged rabbits before I know anything of the place and with no guide, is no bad commencement, and augurs good for the future. I mean to wage most destructive war against the whole race of quadrupeds and bipeds that are comprehended under the general appellation ‘game,’ nor shall I suffer the gulls, plovers, larks, etc. etc. etc. to escape from the influence of my all levelling sway.

The barnings etc. (?) we have left behind us in the south -- here all is quiet, except at Preston, where the Man of matchless (?) has started against the Hon Mr Stanley, newly appointed Secretary for Ireland. The former gentleman is at present one 400 ahead -- and if he presses on, he will most certainly have Prest-on. However, Stanley determined to make a stand, and having got higher land (Ireland?) says he won't be hunted down. I don't pretend to understand all this, but some authors say it's very witty, while others on the contrary assert that the puns are most miserable. I confess myself induced to hope (so it is with all, id quod nolunt, sperant, (?)) that you will enrol your name among the former. And now with many thanks for the very amusing and delectable epistle to which this is a reply, believe me

Dear Acton
Ever yours truly
George R Rawlinson


[Letter dated 1832, addressed to Mrs Ayrton, 38 Beaumont Street, Marylebone]

8 Portland Street

My dear Mother,

I hope this will convince you of my safe arrival, if not you will soon see me in person, that is Wednesday morning as I shall go by the Mail on Tuesday night I called on Mr Miles the Sunday after my arrival and presented your letter, also dined with him the next Tuesday pretty good dinner though the people very stuffed and stiff went to the promenade where the (?) old deaf and blind master of the (?) you may guess how lively (?) were.

We have had wet weather all this week, which has prevented me from seeing much of the country. Young Ally is going to take Edward’s place at Mr W’s. I am afraid they won’t agree from what I have seen of him. It is quite dark I am writing more from feeling than seeing and as the bellman will soon be here I must conclude this very short letter hoping to communicate so soon in person what little there is to say - sorry to hear about Mrs Bowerbank, hope all the family are well and believe me

Your affec Son
Acton Smee Ayrton

Saratoga, Sunday 16th August [1874]

My dear Matilda

I arrived at New York last Wednesday and found it oppressively hot. The people for whom I had letters of introduction were very civil but I determined to escape at once (?).

I postponed visiting (?) NewYork till the last. I therefore came up the Hudson by boat, - one of the most charming water trips I have ever done. The American river boats are a triumph of ingenuity and add greatly to the enjoyment. Unfortunately the extreme heat of New York my thirst and the (?) water which is everywhere at hand were too much for my delicate system and I was overtaken with a violent diarrhoea which has compelled me to remain here in the utmost tranquility in the midst of all the (?) of the most exciting watering place (?). grandest hotels musical (?) of every kind (?) about (?) -- of all kinds continually going and coming, people all gay and amusing themselves if not refined and graceful yet solid comfortable and apparently respectable (?) for the most part having the look of them who make money by hard work.

The women all sallow in complexion well dressed without taste or elegance. I was agreeably impressed at the hotel system. Such is the (?) the place that the Congress Hotel which holds about 1000 guests was full of (?). I turned myself into a small hotel I should think one of the first built here from its primitive look and (?) holding about 200 where I am very comfortable. I (?) ready (?) for my (?) done in the (?) before each meal (?) it while I (?) perfectly (?) and I hope to resume my journey tomorrow (?).

I intend to go to Quebec and back to New York via Boston and Newport, which is the most fashionable watering place. Then I shall start for Niagara and the far west. As I shall be at Montreal too early for my letters I shall have then forwarded to Chicago. Kindly send any further letters after receipt of this to Omaha, Nebraska until further notice. It is rather difficult to forecast one's journey in such country as this. Hotels are extremely cheaper and (?) everything is nearly twice the price in London.

You will find on my study table a list of the (?) Club. Will you kindly tear out the leaf containing the names of honorary members (?).

Believe me yours very affectionately

Acton Ayrton


New York, 31st August 1874

My dear Matilda

I have made my first tour round by the Hudson to Ottawa and back to New York. I now have booked through to San Francisco stopping at Niagara, Chicago and other points of interest hoping to be back here in about six weeks.

I have been taught the great fact of the United States that everybody must take care of himself and learn for himself what is to be done, by leaving my baggage behind me at the (?) which led to the usual trouble and expense of telegraphing and a day’s delay, and telegraphing is costly in the city, 3/6 for a message which in England would go for a shilling. The only thing cheaper than in England is a ride for 2/2 in a car from the end of the town to the offices.

I have been agreeably undeceived about the general character of the people for (?) from this democratic point of view they are as a whole greatly superior to the people of England and I have not yet seen any of their extravagance of conduct which we are led to suppose exists, from the English papers (?) sensational paragraphs.

Please send letters after (?) this to St Louis Missouri through which I shall return from San Francisco. (?) like this paper does not admit of (?). I got to Montreal after (?) and have not therefore yet received any letters if you have sent.

Yours affectionately

Acton Ayrton

Salt Lake City, Sept? 74

My dear Matilda

Going to a succession of accidents I have not yet received any letters if you have send them, but they will come to hand in due course. I was unable to visit the (?) Post Office, not having stopped as I had intended. Send any more letters after the receipt of this (?) the dispatch from England of the 2nd of October to Washington post office, after that until the 20th to New York.

I made a great detour to Lake Superior to see the mining district, passing through the scene of the great conflagration of the forest which excited so much interest a few years ago.

The journey here has been most fatiguing. The Pullman car somewhat alleviates the (?) but sleeping in a recumbent position though it affords relief shakes up one's (?) to that degree that I had a return of the attack of (?) with slight fever.

This city of the Mormons has become a great central place of business and supply for the surrounding mining operations of which the (?) G(?) Mining Company (?) is best known in England. This is however a large production of silver estimated at more than £2,000,000 value in the year - the greater part no doubt finds its way into the pockets of (?) and (?) for the (?) has been overrun by the latter who in the end will extinguish (?).

Brigham Young has escaped from the legal consequences of his (?) by boldly asserting that he has the only one legal wife and that the others are Mormon or spiritual wives (?) with him in the (?) of the Saints (?) beyond the pale of legal cognizance to be dealt with only in heaven. Young (?) visitors yesterday dressed in a fur-trimmed dressing gown said he was unwell asked (?) shook hands said he was happy to see them and retired. As it was not easy to determine how I should go I did not join the party -- there is no great interest in seeing an impostor and one is not disposed to contribute to his assumed importance.

In two days I shall reach San Francisco then look at the big trees and other objects of interest and return by Colorado on a (?)

Yours affectionately
Acton Ayrton

St. Louis, 9th October 1874

My dear Matilda

I have at length received your two last letters but the first has not come to hand. If it was directed to the (?)less City of Quebec it will no doubt remain there until the day for returning it arrives.

I made the great journey to California but the shaking of the celebrated Pullman Car at night and the alkaline water combined brought on another attack with fever. A boy however selling fruit told me that if I did not eat plenty of fruit I should certainly have fever - perhaps there was wisdom in his words then I thought as the acidity of the fruit would act as an antidote to the alkali, which is said to be in all the water. On my return I provided myself with a basket of the best fruit eat it regularly and had no fever. At the same time I had abstained from one of the three meals which are provided at stopping places morning noon and evening.

California is the most remarkable country in the world for the creation of 30 years. (?) it was useless in the hands of the natives and Spaniards whilst nature had blessed it with unusual advantages - soil and climate to produce grain and fruits of all kinds from apples to oranges in the greatest abundance and perfection - minerals of all kinds from gold to sulphur with such an amount of labour as admits of very high wages. The time has passed when each man washed out gold on his own account. Mining is now carried on by companies with paid workmen -- such is the high standard that the lowest current coin is a dime (?) or a bit 12 ½ cents 6 ¼ the retail profits are such that little account is taken whether it is a dime or a bit no change is given either way but you may have more of the commodity for the larger sum.

I made a small tour for about eight days to see some of the natural wonders -- the petrified forest - that is the trees embedded prostrate and broken in time (?) with silica crystals in the hollows, the geysers or springs of all kinds of mineral waters which come out of a stratum which appears to have flowed from a volcano. Some hot others cold, alkaline, acid, salt, iron, (?) white and black within a very small compass. I also saw the big trees -- the shell of one old prostrate trunk can be ridden through. The hollow part of another standing and growing can also be ridden through but the whole growth of the forest is so magnificent that you cannot (?) the lofty hills (?) the height of 320 feet -- the great trees have passed their prime and are all in a state of decay. At the root of one comes out a fine spring of clear water and I attribute their great growth to the soil being retentive of water and a flow of it through the subsoil.

It is one of the happy characteristics of California that the snow sinks gradually into and thoroughly (?) the soil so as to sustain the trees during the dry weather of autumn. There was however an unusual thunderstorm with drenching rain and hails while I was in the mountains -- not enough to make the rivers run as they do in spring. I was therefore compelled to imagine what some of the scenery would be if the waterfalls were flowing over the rocks being now only represented by a thin stream.

The Americans generally discovered that I was English and almost uniformly behaved in the most civil manner indeed I only met with one attempt at ill behaviour in the mountains, when I simply explained to the man that he was conducting himself improperly and brought him to his senses. His employer re-funded an overcharge he had made, which was the subject of contention. I seem fated not to meet the President at Washington for he has just come here, partly on domestic affairs, and I suspect partly to encourage his friends who are putting him forward for re-election. I had an introduction to the mayor of this place who, as there is no greater man is the greatest for the time, and I am going with him to visit the President.

He is a Democrat and has (?) an official (?) in showing any particular honor to the Republican president. At Cincinnati where I intend to stop a day they took no notice of the President's arrival, though his coming had being telegraphed, but they are Democrats also and the feeling of that party is very intense and bitter, and they are determined to make every effort to win at the next election. They will no doubt greatly improve their position and to become an effective minority in Congress but I doubt if they can win a majority or elect a president. Their position and line of action is much like that of the Tories at the last election in England. They abuse their opponents without having any definite policy of their own. They are made up of all the elements of discontent and of the alarmed interests of corporate bodies and monied people.

I have fallen into the great annual fair week -- the hotel is so crowded that people have to wait for rooms. I am in a sky-room. The best drawing rooms are filled with half a dozen beds of which I was offered one if I did not like going up so high. As we had a steam lift always at work the height is profitable. It is a house of 400 rooms well kept with the scanty attendance usual on account of the high wages. The servants throughout may be graduated or graded as they say here. American men - girls, Chinese, Irish men – girls, Negroes -- I am not sure that the China man is not (?) when he knows enough English.

A Californian observed to me -- I think we shall have to enfranchise the Chinese as a set off against the Irish who are too numerous. From the disinclination of the commercial men in good business to take part in municipal affairs there is always a danger of men of no character creating a ring to plunder the public.

I shall work my way back to Washington Baltimore and (?) to New York by the 20th inst to reach London by the first of November or thereabouts.

With kind regards to all the family believe me
Yours very affectionately
Acton S. Ayrton



My dear Matilda

You will find that I have made my will as regards 5/6ths of my property in favour of your children and have for that reason as well as the fact that you have property enough for yourself, and that you will be relieved of any necessity to aid them as far as my property extends.

If you wish any specific articles as a keep-sake they can have no difficulty in giving them to you. I heartily wish you continued life with such happiness is as the world affords, and more hereafter in the blessing of God by your living and dying in Christ.

Your affectionate brother

(Signed) Acton S. Ayrton

  • 5 AUG 1816 - Birth - ; Richmond, London
  • 30 NOV 1886 - Death - ; Mont Doré Hotel, Bournemouth
  • 1874 - Retirement - ; Tower Hamlets, London
  • DEC 1839 - Fact -
  • ABT 1850 - Fact -
  • 1853 - Fact -
  • 1857 - Fact -
  • 1868 - Fact -
  • NOV 1869 - Fact -
  • 11 NOV 1869 - Fact -
  • 11 NOV 1869 - Appointments - ; first Commissioner of Works
  • 22 AUG 1873 - Appointments - ; Judge Advocate General
  • FROM 1875 - Clubs - ; Reform Club, London, daily.
  • ABT 1826 - Education - Ealing School
  • ABT 1837 - Occupation - Solicitor ; Bombay
  • 30 APR 1853 - Occupation - Barrister and Politician
  • FROM 1857 TO 1874 - Occupation - MP ; Tower Hamlets, London
  • Nobility Title - Rt Hon
Thomas Ayrton
1744 - 1811
Frederick Ayrton
1780 - 24 NOV 1824
Ann Hodges
30 OCT 1754 -
Acton Smee Ayrton
5 AUG 1816 - 30 NOV 1886
Edward Nugent , Col.
24 JUL 1755 - 23 MAR 1836
Adriana Spencer
- 6 AUG 1839
Family Group Sheet - Child
PARENT (M) Frederick Ayrton
Birth1780London. Christened 6 April 1780 at Saint Andrew, Holborn.
Death24 NOV 1824 Bombay, India
Marriage1 JUN 1811to Juliana Caroline Rebecca Adriana Nugent at St. Lukes Church, Chelsea, London
FatherThomas Ayrton
MotherAnn Hodges
PARENT (F) Juliana Caroline Rebecca Adriana Nugent
BirthAFT 1787
Death10 MAR 1833
Marriage1 JUN 1811to Frederick Ayrton at St. Lukes Church, Chelsea, London
FatherEdward Nugent , Col.
MotherAdriana Spencer
FMatilda Adriana Ayrton
Birth1 JUN 1813Chelsea, London (baptised Richmond according to Andi Smith)
Death26 JAN 189998 Palace Gardens Terrace, Kensington, London.
Marriage6 APR 1835to John Clarke Chaplin at Marylebone, London (New Church)
MEdward Nugent Ayrton
Birth13 MAR 1815Richmond, Surrey, christened Saint Mary Magdalen, Richmond 23 April 1815
Death28 NOV 1873Buried at Bexhill, Sussex, west of St Leonard's, NOT Box Hill.
Marriage28 AUG 1866to Emma Sophie Althof at Parish Church, Freshwater, Isle of Wight
MFrederick Ayrton
Birth20 MAR 1812Chelsea, London
Death20 JUN 1873Arundel Gardens, London
Marriage13 AUG 1833to Margaret Hicks at St Paul's, Walden, Hertfordshire. Witnesses were J C Chaplin and his two sisters, M A Ayrton and her brother Edward Nuge
MActon Smee Ayrton
Birth5 AUG 1816Richmond, London
Death30 NOV 1886Mont Doré Hotel, Bournemouth
MJohn Hyde Ayrton
Birth4 JAN 1818Kew, London
Death1845Sawent Warree, India
[S12758] Ann Gregory (Mendell)'s copy of 'A short account of the Families of Chaplin and Skinner........' with annotations by Ayrton Chaplin & others
[S15775] 'Dictionary of National Biography'