I was back at work this week – always a pleasure – busy trying to unravel the Wigrams. And they needed a bit of unravelling.
The Wigram Dynasty started with Sir Robert Wigram (1744-1830). He was clearly someone who wanted to create a family of influence. Starting in Wexford, he first became a surgeon, sailing aboard the Admiral Watson as the ship’s surgeon. He quit this quite soon and decided to become a very rich merchant and shipowner. Eventually he became one of the biggest drug importers into England.
Entering Parliament as a Tory, he stood for and gained the seat of Fowey in 1802, spending a lot of time supporting William Pitt (which becomes obvious in the naming of his last son). This wasn’t all he did, mind you. He was heavily involved in setting up a volunteer army fearing a threat from across the Channel during the French Revolution. Of course, he dabbled in shipping (otherwise, why would I be researching him?) and spent some time securing an Act to improve the Port of London.
He was made a Baron in 1805 and, in the same year, bought into the Thames shipbuilding business of Perry, Wells and Green…which he eventually took over. He was a pretty canny businessman. As well as the shipbuilding, he also sat on the board of a brewery and a ropemaking company.
There is, it would seem, only one area in which Robert Wigram stands out as a bit odd: His children. For starters, he had a LOT! In fact, his first wife died after six, leaving his second wife to continue with the long list of little Wigrams. The numbers vary, depending on your research source but it was somewhere between 18 and 23.
The first six (Robert, Catherine, John, William, Maria and an unamed infant that died very young) all seem normal enough and were quite successful…in that way that a child of a very well-to-do and connected Victorian Baron, can be. Robert (jnr) became a director of the Bank of England in what seems to be a heriditary post, John and William became directors of the East India Company and William was the Member for Wexford.
It was in the second lot of kids that things go a bit awry. The list of names throws up some highly original choices: Eleanor, Money, Henry Loftus, Harriet, James, Octavius, Anne, Charles-Laird, Rev Joseph-Cotton, Richard, Ely-Duodecimus, Edward, Loftus Tottenham, George-Vicesimus and William Pitt.
Octavius means 8th, Duodecimus means 12th and Vicesimus means 20th but the numbers don’t work so well. Octavius was the 12th child, Duodeimus was the 20th and poor old Vicesimus was 24th. Perhaps Sir Robert wasn’t very good at Latin. Those strange names aside (and I do wonder how much bullying they underwent) I’m not sure what the explanation for ‘Money’ is. Though my favourite has to be Loftus Tottenham. Fancy being named after a football team…
But, of all Sir Robert’s kids, easily the most successful was the (as it turned out) appropriately named Money. He was a shipbuilder (as well as many other things that made him wealthy) with the variously named Wigram and Green firms. And it was Money’s boringly named son, Clifford, that I researched today.
Clifford was a director then Deputy Governor of the Bank of England as well as being a partner in the shipbuilding firm of Money Wigram and Sons. He donated a load of corroded copper to the museum. It was from the bottom of ships and showed the effect of saltwater on the metal. Boring but true.