Monday, 9 March 2015

A tale of a lost family fortune

When I was growing up, I recall a family story about my great-grandfather (Amos Parker BANNISTER, b. 1868 - d. 1954) where it was claimed that he emigrated to Australia as a young boy and was supposed to be in receipt of an annuity of a guinea a week. A guinea was equal to one pound and one shilling, or 21 shillings - an odd amount to be sure, but Wikipedia has an interesting discussion of how this odd amount came to be in the entry for Guinea (British Coin). For some unexplained reason, Amos Parker never collected this money and tales sprang up that there was some vast, untouched reserve of money just waiting for someone to claim it. The story of how, or why, he came to Australia in the first place was rarely discussed and those who did talk about it assumed that he came here to start up a branch of the family business. And what was the family business? Well, no-one ever seemed quite sure. Nor did anyone question why a young boy would be sent so far away to start up a business...

When my cousin started researching our family tree, he discovered some of the accepted "truth" of our family tales was not exactly supported by the available evidence. For starters, he discovered that Amos Parker was born in Melbourne and that it was his father, George Amos BANNISTER (b. 1834, d. 1882) who emigrated to Australia. The reasons for George Amos coming here were not revealed in my cousin's research and I still haven't found a satisfactory answer myself, but I know he arrived in Melbourne in 1856 on board the Morning Light and his father was a timber merchant and wheelwright in Stretford, Lancashire, England.

So if Amos Parker did not come to Australia as a young boy to establish an outpost of the family business, what of the guinea a week he was supposedly receiving? Could it be that this too was just a made up story and there was no such annuity? Well here we come across an interesting wrinkle. My father's oldest brother (who we all call Banny) has a lot of memories of his grandparents, Amos Parker and Elizabeth HUNTER, and one tale he recounts is quite interesting. One evening Elizabeth came home and presented Amos with some documents and told him that she had been speaking with a solicitor. The solicitor had told her that Amos was entitled to a sum of money and all he had to do was sign the documents and the solicitor would take care of the rest. Amos demanded to know how much the solicitor was going to take and when Elizabeth told him (IIRC it was 25%) Amos got furious and threw the documents in the friend decreed that no solicitor was going to get rich at his expense!

Some retellings of this story indicate that one or more pages were rescued from the fire, but this was the end of the matter as far as Amos was concerned and it was never raised again. So could this be the "guinea a week" of the family tales, or some other inheritance from across the pond? Was there any truth in the family tales?  This is where the wills my father asked to to obtain recently come into play. While we know that any claims to inheritances are long gone, we are still interested in piecing together what may have happened here. The wills of Amos BANNISTER (d1861) and Matilda BANNISTER (d1879) do make provisions for George Amos. Interestingly, the will of Stephen RAINGILL (d1874) (the brother of Matilda) also makes provisions for George Amos (amongst others in the BANNISTER clan) which could prove relevant. Even more interesting is the fact that Steven RAINGILL left £50 a year to George Amos, which is pretty close to a guinea a week...

I haven't got to the bottom of this yet, but there are some interesting signs. I think the next step is to try and obtain any other probate papers for these three wills to determine how the estates were divided.

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