Williams, John (1753-1841) (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search


WILLIAMS, JOHN (1753–1841), banker and mine-adventurer, born at Lower Cusgarne in Cornwall on 23 Sept. 1753, was the eldest son of Michael Williams (d. 1775), mine-adventurer, by his wife Susanna; she was granddaughter of John Harris of Higher Cusgarne, who married Elizabeth, only daughter of John Beauchamp of Trevince, head of an ancient Cornish family. The father, Michael, was the son of John Williams (d. 1761), who came to Burncoose in Cornwall from Wales to seek his fortune in mining. He left a sum of 10,000l., of which the greater part was bequeathed to Michael.

The son John was educated at the old grammar school of Truro, and on his father's death in 1775 he inherited little more than 1,000l., the rest of his father's property passing to the younger children. He at once embarked in mining, and in March 1775 was appointed purser, manager, and bookkeeper of a mine called Wheal Maiden. His interest in mining rapidly extended, and in 1783 the duties of superintending a large number of mines induced him to remove from Burncoose, where he lived at first, to the village of Scorrier, at the other end of the parish of Gwennap, where he built Scorrier House. Among other undertakings towards the close of the century, he leased and worked some valuable sulphur mines in the county of Wicklow, and also engaged in business as a metal smelter. He became the greatest living authority on matters connected with mining, and strangers visiting Cornwall and anxious to see the mines were usually furnished with letters of introduction to him. Between 1795 and 1800 he received a visit from the Bourbon princes (afterwards Louis XVIII and Charles X). In 1806, having purchased the manor of Calstock in East Cornwall, he developed the manganese industry of that neighbourhood. In 1810 he became partner in the Cornish bank at Truro, and in 1812 he contracted with government, in conjunction with the Messrs. Fox of Falmouth, to build the breakwater at Plymouth, employing John Rennie [q. v.] in its construction. In this work his local knowledge, aided by prolonged observations of the tides and currents, was of great value. In 1828 he retired from business, and resided for the rest of his life at Sandhill, a house on his estate at Calstock.

One of the most remarkable occurrences in Williams's life was his dream of the assassination of Perceval. On 2 or 3 May 1812, eight or nine days before the catastrophe, he dreamt three times in the same night that he saw a man shot in the lobby of the House of Commons, a place with which he was familiar, and that on inquiry he was informed that it was Perceval. The impression made was so deep that on the next day he consulted his brother William and his partner, Robert Were Fox, on the propriety of communicating with Perceval, but suffered them to dissuade him. Apart from the importance of the event foreshadowed, this dream is interesting as one of the best authenticated instances of prevision or second sight. The first account of the dream appeared in the ‘Times’ on 16 Aug. 1828. The date of the vision was there erroneously assigned to the night of the assassination. The earliest correct account appeared about 1834 in Abercrombie's ‘Inquiries concerning the Intellectual Powers.’ An account by Williams appeared in Walpole's ‘Life of Perceval’ (cf. Notes and Queries, 7th ser. xi. 47, 121, 232, 297, 416, xii. 437, 516; Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. p. 305; Carlyon, Early Years and Late Reflections, 1836, i. 219; Walpole, Life of Perceval, ii. 329).

Williams died at Sandhill on 17 April 1841, and was buried at Calstock, where there is a monument in the church to his memory. He married, on 23 Jan. 1776, Catherine (1757–1826), daughter of Martin Harvey of Kenwyn, Cornwall. By her he had several daughters and three surviving sons—John (1777–1849), a member of the Society of Friends, who was elected fellow of the Linnean Society on 21 Jan. 1806 and fellow of the Royal Society 6 March 1828; Michael (1784–1858), who was M.P. for the western division of Cornwall from 1853 to 1858; and William (1791–1870), who was created a baronet in August 1866. In conjunction with his eldest son, Williams accumulated at Scorrier a remarkably fine collection of Cornish minerals.

[Information and materials kindly furnished by Mr. Michael Williams; Lysons's Cornwall, 1814; C. S. Gilbert's Hist. Survey of Cornwall, 1820; Hitchin's Cornwall, 1824; D. Gilbert's Cornwall, 1838, ii. 134; West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser, 23 April 1841; Royal Cornwall Gazette, 23 April 1841; Sowerby's Mineralogy, vols. iii. and iv.; Duke of Rutland's Journal, 1805, i. 184.]

E. I. C.