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Never leaving Bath, but relations made a fortune from Guano in Peru, spent time in Dorchester gaol and took part in the Labourers’ Revolt

Michael Davis
Family Archive
Mostly Movies

Septimus Drew


Eccentric Bachelor and House Agent

A Family of Contrasting Fortunes
written by Michael Davis


- A portrait of turbulent life in rural 19th century England -


Septimus Drew, my great uncle, was born in 1867, died in 1950 at the age of 83 and is buried in Smallcombe Cemetery.  I was 12 years old when he died but I had never met him; indeed, do not know much about him.  Apart from –


He bought Number 1 Sydney Buildings in 1918 and lived in it for the remaining 32 years of his life.  I own it now, and it has not been sold outside the family since 1918; we are approaching our Centenary!


He never married, and lived a bachelor existence at Number 1.  Some say he was somewhat eccentric but he was certainly a member of an ‘interesting’ local family.


Septimus’s mother was Jane Shute from a farming family in Stour Provost, in North Dorset, the Blackmoor Vale, Thomas Hardy’s “Land of the little Dairies”.  Her father George Shute was a substantial farmer but in 1849 there was a disaster;  George was made bankrupt and spent the remaining ten years of his life in the workhouse in Shaftesbury.  This was nothing to do with bad farming; it was typical and reflected the fundamental changes in society and the economy, with industrialisation replacing agriculture, after thousands of years of rural life, urbanisation, mechanisation and concentration of agriculture into larger farms.


The family was split up, with Jane’s mother Sarah going into service with another farmer in the east of the County, on the Cranbourne Chase.  Jane was 16 years old and moved to Bath, serving in a shop in Cheap Street.  She married Edwin Drew, of a local family, who was a Painter and Decorator; his father was a Stonemason.  They had eight children, six boys, of whom Septimus was the last, and then two girls.  Why he was called Septimus, as the sixth child, is a mystery; maybe there had been an infant death?


Jane’s brother Thomas Shute, Septimus’s uncle, 14 years old at the time of the disaster, walked from Dorset to Liverpool to find work; and never returned home (he had no home to go to).  He got a job as a Docker and was soon running his own Stevedoring business; a tough proposition in those days.  He flourished and moved to Guernsey in the Channel Islands, a hotbed of smuggling in the latter days of state-sponsored piracy.  He married a rich Guernsey French merchant’s daughter.  He then took a Guano contract on the Chincha Islands, off the coast of Peru, and moved from there to Callao, the port of Lima, the heart of the Spanish Main, where he took Peruvian nationality.  He set up another  Stevedoring business which flourished, and he developed from that into Shipping.  He returned to Liverpool in his final years, his business having become so big, where he retook British nationality. When he died in 1908, aged 73, he was one of the leading Shipowners of the age, a multi-millionaire in today’s terms. 


Jane and Thomas’s grandfather, and next-door farmer in Stour Provost, was a famous man in Dorset, John Dore.  George Shute married his daughter.  He was the only farmer in Dorset who joined up with the farm labourers in the Labourers’ Revolt; also known as the Captain Swing Riots. 


This is a largely forgotten incident in British History, but it swept through the Nation, from the South-east through the Midlands to the North-west, in the winter of 1829/30.  It brought down the Duke of Wellington’s government; the authorities had no idea how to deal with it, having largely disbanded the armed forces following the end of the Napoleonic Wars.


People generally have heard of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, but that was a minor incident four years later, involving six people.  It attracted a lot of publicity and was one of the first signs of public opinion emerging in the body politic.  The Labourers’ Revolt had been the big one.


It was spontaneous, and poorly planned and led, and eventually fizzled out.  William Cobbett, in his Rural Rides, had been haranguing the Farmers in his public speeches to side with the Labourers in their genuine grievances.  But, when the Revolt came, the Farmers stood aside; the Labourers were generally led by the Craftsmen; John Dore was the exception.


The authorities came down on it fiercely; they were still worried by the French Revolution.  Men were hanged in Wiltshire and Hampshire, but not in Dorset.  There were massive transportations to Australia, which destroyed communities.  The magistrate in Dorset was a humane and efficient man; he dealt with it in a couple of days.  John Dore got away with it; he was bound over to keep the peace.  I have the record of him having been held in Dorchester gaol in January 1830.


John died in 1847, two years before the family disaster.  Thomas was then 12 years old and this must have made an impression on him, his grandfather and hero departing this life.  Maybe it stiffened him and helped to make him what he later turned out to be.


Jane and Edwin Drew’s children made their separate ways in life.  My grandfather Joseph, the third of the boys and Septimus’s brother, had joined his uncle Thomas Shute in Peru and became a rich man too.  He retired to Bath in 1910, aged 51, where he lived until his death in 1935.


Septimus however never left Bath.  As his father’s business had prospered, the later children were better educated than the earlier.  He had associations with Prior Park College, and is listed in the Bath Directories as a House Agent. His memorial in Smallcombe may be modest, but not his family.’

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