Political Biographies of the Mayors of Portsmouth (1836-1900)

MAYORALTY:- November 9th 1888-1889.
PROFESSION:- Boot manufacturer.
WARD:- Originally St John changed St Simon.
RESIDENCE:- Landguard, 11 Eastern Villas Rd S/sea.
DECEASED:- 27th July 1909. Aged 62.
BURIED:- Christ Church Portsdown Hill.
Ellis warrants the epithet of Portsmouth's 'Mr Electric Light.' for this is the development by which he his best remembered. As such Gates describes him as, "One of the pioneers of municipal enterprise in Portsmouth." (1) Towards the end of his mayoral tenure in 1889 he was invited to become a director of an Electric Light Coy continues Gates. He declined as he was of the opinion that such utilities should be controlled by the council. Gates adds, "He might thus have become a well paid director of the Portsmouth Electric Light Coy but instead he chose the thorny path of pro municipaliser, getting abuse instead of thanks for urging the town to run its own electric light works." Subsequently for many years he was chairman of the Electric Light Committee and his policy of municipalistion proved wise and was acted upon at a later date. The success of the enterprise inspired later councils to municipalise other ventures such as the trams, the telephone and South Parade Pier.
One year was enough for Albert Addison. The council had to find a new candidate. Mayoral selection was by now made in committee well prior to November the 9th - as almost the last act of the outgoing council. George Ellis had intimated he was prepared to stand but would willingly withdraw if another more suitable candidate came forward. His acceptance was a little risky in as much as he had to face the burgesses of St Simon on the 1st November. The first mayor elect so to do. He was however returned successfully so the council could proceed as planned on the 'Ninth'.
At the official electoral meeting George Ellis was proposed by ex mayor Cllr Moody who noted they had both been originally elected to the council on the same day in 1876. Future mayor, Cllr Thomas Scott Foster, (St Barnabas) was the seconder reflecting that he had also joined the council on that November '76 date. The council observed the formality of standing en bloc to elect the mayor and the proceedings were closed. In his banquet speech Ellis asked the assembled not to expect too much of him adding that if he failed it would be from want of ability not want of trying.
Nationally 1889 was the year of the Whitechapel (Jack the Ripper) murders. Locally one of the social highlights was the banquet given in the Victoria Hall by the mayor in honour of General Sir George & Lady Willis the retiring Lt-governor of the garrison. Sir George, who had previously served in Portsmouth in 1861, was the most popular garrison commander since Lord Fitzclarence and had co-operated with the council in securing ground for open spaces. A novel feature of this event was that the ladies were invited to attend and the menu card was designed by the mayor's daughter. (3)
On the 28th May the mayor turned the first sod of the recreation ground at Stamshaw. To mark the event the mayor hosted a reception held at the Milton Lunatic Asylum - it being the largest and most convenient building available. During the course of his speech Ellis said that he hoped in the not too distant future Portsmouth would be accorded City status. (4)
ELECTRIC LIGHTINGBy now gas lighting was standard but many other boroughs e.g. Eastbourne and Bristol were turning to the more efficient electric light. Portsmouth, seldom in the van of progress, had yet to make a decision. Council sanction would be needed by any enterprise because of the need to run cables - either over-head or to dig up streets to lay underground lines. The South Hants Electric Supply Coy gave demonstrations along the Clarence Esplanade in August. In September a company was set up to build a generating station. (5) Ellis declined his support.
The big show piece event took place on August 5th the Emperor of Germany inspected the British Fleet at Spithead. However, relationships between the council and the naval Commander-in-Chief - Admiral Sir John Commerell VC GCB - were then not of the best. This resulted in the mayor being snubbed by not being invited to attend when the Kaiser arrived in Portsmouth - and this despite the mayor writing personally to the Admiral. Commerell's excuse was that initially he had over looked the letter but the arrangements were the responsibility of the Prince of Wales in any case. (6)
In private life Ellis was married to Rebecca Elizabeth (deceased 6th November 1915) having two sons and a daughter.
Norman Gordon
Obituaries:- Hant's Post, July 30th 1909. Hampshire Telegraph, 31st July 1909.
1. Gates ibid. page 237
2. Portsmouth Times 10th November 1888.
3. Portsmouth Times 27th April 1889.
4. Portsmouth Times 1st June 1889.
5. Portsmouth Times June 29th & 28th September 1889.
6. Evening News 14th August 1889