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20th Century Pursers,

 The arrival of the Duffins.

At the dawn of the 20th Century prospects must have looked good for George Thomas Purser. He was a 50% partner in a successful building firm that was winning ever bigger contracts. He owned his own home and together with his wife Ellenor Sandey had six children all alive and healthy ranging in age from 4 to 17, life was good, m what could possibly go wrong !!

Little did he know about the shitstorm that was to engulf him a few years later, however that was still eleven years in the future, in the meantime there were children to bring up and money to be made.

As was described in the previous chapter, in 1911 disaster struck and poor working practices caused the collapse of part of Westminster Cathedral and the death of a night watchman. George was going to be liable financially, and more to the  point would be investigated for criminal negligence and / or Manslaughter. George's defence was to skip the country!!  If my Grandma was to be believed he quite literally arrived home one evening, with tickets in hand for the entire family to emigrate to Australia the following day. The fact that his family went along with this perhaps underlines the gravity of the situation.

What actually seems to have happened is a little different, I believe that this happened in 1911. At this time Their eldest child Elenor Eliza was 28 and had been married to Joseph David Duffin since 1906, this was not her problem and she was going nowhere. Arrangements were made for Emily and George to stay with Elenor & Joe until more permanent arrangements ( ie marriage) could happen. Emily was engaged to Stephen Hall and they married in October of that year, George never did marry.

Click the image.

1891 Census

GTP & Family

1901 Census

GTP & Family

George Purser arrival Sydney.

George & Ellenor together with Hilma, James & Albert next surface in April 1911, when they arrive in Sydney, or at least George Thomas does., He arrives on SS Omrah on April 11th 1911. It may be that his wife and family were with him and just he was recorded as head of the household, or it may be that he went first and they followed on later. From a practicality point of view, I would have thought that the latter would be more likely. However much the authorities may have wanted George, they would have no legal power to detain his family, who would have had nothing to do with his his business affairs. His partner in the building firm and possibly his father would have been another matter.


 It was his father William Purser who first moved the family to London and set up as more than a jobbing bricky. I would have thought that it is highly likely that he would have retained some interest in the business even though we was officially retired,  he may still have been a so called sleeping partner, retaining some degree of control and a share of the profits. If this was the case, then whilst enjoying a profit share he would also have joint and probably "several" liabilities for the firm's debts and any misdeeds it should commit. To put it simply, William would have been well screwed !!  In the absence of the other partners he would have copped for damages and compensation to the owners of the cathedral, ( ie The Pope) and would face criminal prosecution for negligence and/or manslaughter.


In such a business partnership today, the partners would all share what is called joint & several liability, meaning that in a situation where only one partner can be found, that partner is liable for all of the debt, not a one third share of it. It is up to him to sort this out with the other partners and recover a one third share of the debt from each of them. ( Like that its ever going to happen).  Later on, in October 1911 William died.  He had done very well for himself in his working life and whilst not being wealthy, he should have enjoyed some years of comfortable retirement. Instead he in fact died in Bedford Union Workhouse, the last refuge for the destitute and bankrupt. With no family to take him in, or too much pride to ask his daughters to help, there was nowhere else for him to go. One can only assume that whilst George Thomas and the other partner skipped the country, to evade the consequences of their negligence, at 74 William was not up for a flit and basically was hung out to dry !!

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