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

MAYORALTY:- November 9th 1869-1870.
PROFESSION:- Boot and shoe maker. In 1851 employed 12 men.
WARD:- St Thomas
FIRST ELECTED ALDERMAN:- November 10th 1856.
OTHER CIVIC POSITIONS HELD:- Magistrate February 1870. Chairman Portsmouth Commissioners.
RESIDENCE:- Ashford House, Mile End. Havant,
DECEASED:- 1888. Aged 73
BURIED:- Not Known

Born at Fordingbridge, Hants in 1815 Alderman George Sheppard has a long history of public service. His elevation to mayoral office at the age of 54 was a recognition of this devotion.
This was a non controversial affair. Sheppard was proposed by Cllr B.C. Miller (St Thos) to cries of 'Hear Hear.' The nomination was seconded by Cllr William Dore (All Saints) and Alderman R.W. Ford spoke in support. There were no other candidates so Alderman Sheppard was elected unanimously. (1)
Internationally the year witnessed the start of the Franco-Prussian War. Locally subsequent to the death of Alderman Crassweller JP a magisterial vacancy occurred. Sheppard was nominated to the Lord Chancellor as a replacement. No formal legal training was required it was merely stipulated that a JP should live within seven miles of the borough. Sheppard was duly appointed.
Nationally on the 9th August 1870 the Forster-Ripon English Elementary Education Act was passed. School Boards were to be set up by statute where the local authority failed to provide suitable facilities. Attendance could be required but was not mandatory until 1880, and fees were payable until 1891. In truth little or no action was taken in respect of this Act by the council during Sheppard's mayoralty - this had to wait for the next man.
As ex-officio chairman of all committees Sheppard was finding the work load a little intolerable. Indeed at a meeting of the Local Government Board in February 1870 (2) the mayor complained, viz the drainage works, that engineers kept disturbing him at home requesting his signature each time a new doormat or oil cloth was required. He proposed that he be relieved of the responsibility of approving and counter signing for each item - however small. It was agreed that other members of the committee should share this task.
Drainage work was making good progress and to show borough appreciation it was agreed that a dinner be hosted for the key workers. The event was to be held at John Pound's Ragged School in February. (3) Such soirees were common place in Victorian Britain. Following the repast there always ensued much toasting. On this occasion, after the mayor had proposed the fourth toast, His Worship stood and made known that he could proceed no further without a pipe. (cheers & laughter) He intimated that he was prepared temporarily to vacate the chair and retire for a 'whiff'. This was not necessary. The assembled, following the mayor's example, whereupon 'lit up.' In May the mayor again summoned a public meeting re the Public Libraries Act. Its acceptance was again rejected by a large majority of those attending.
On June 7th 1870 the new drainage outfall was completed but the question of linkage to the main drainage system remained open. (4) However, it was pointed out that a stipulation of the 70,000 loon from HM Treasury was that the money was only to be used for the purpose of building a comprehensive system of drainage only. Private dwellings and streets were not to be linked free of charge. Owners would have to apply and pay to be linked and the work could only be done by the Corporation's contractors. Nevertheless, there were press suggestions that the siting of the route of the drainage arteries just happened always to pass adjacent to council members' residencies.
On June 9th the death of Charles Dickens was announced and there were proposals that a statue be erected to him in the People's Park (Victoria Park) - nothing happened.
Mayor Sheppard had to manage his council. At the July meeting the Roads & Works Committee present a report proposing a new pier for Portsea. Cllr Miller rose to say he had never heard such unmitigated bosh as had been spoken about the proposed pier. He said it was a pointless exercise as the adjacent wharf had been allowed to go into ruin which rendered the exercise valueless. Upon this Alderman Emanuel stood to say, "I must raise a point or order."
The Mayor replied, "Cllr Miller is not out of order."
Emanuel retorted, " He has said that which is not correct."
"I can't help that." responded the Mayor (laughter) (5)
On the 9th August the Tramways' Act was passed. The idea was to facilitate the construction of tramways by local authorities or other bodies.
By far the most tragic event of the year was the foundering of the innovative HMS Captain (Captain H.S. Burgoyne. VC) which capsized in the Bay of Biscay on September 7th with the loss of many lives. The mayor launched a charitable appeal.
Sheppard was a known Liberal supporter but did not allow party politics to enter the council chamber. At the close of his mayoralty the customary vote of thanks was proposed. There was but one dissenting voice that of Cllr B.C. Miller - who had nominated Sheppard the previous year. Miller did not think Sheppard had done all he could to secure for Portsmouth the annual Volunteers' Review. This military parade would have attracted many money spending visitors to the town, instead the event was lost to Brighton. (6)
In March 1874 Sheppard opted to resign from the council. In his letter to the mayor he explained that as he no longer resided in the borough he could not fulfil the duties expected from him. (7) On the death of his father Sheppard's son Donald continued the business from 89 High Street.
Norman Gordon
1. Portsmouth Times November 13th 1869.
2. Portsmouth Times February 5th 1870.
3. Portsmouth Times ibid.
4. Portsmouth Times 11th June 1870.
5. Portsmouth Times July 9th 1870.
6. Portsmouth Times November 12th 1870.
7. Portsmouth Times 31 March 1874.
See also Portsmouth Paper No 34 'The Battle of Southsea'