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

MAYORALTY:- November 9th 1852-1853. 1853-1854. 1855-1856
PROFESSION:- Solicitor.
FIRST ELECTED TO COUNCIL:- July 1843 replacing ClIr D. Miall deceased
WARD:- St John
FIRST ELECTED ALDERMAN:- 22nd December 1851
POLITICS:- Conservative
OTHER CIVIC POSITIONS HELD:- Magistrate 1859 Portsea Commissioner
RESIDENCE:- 2 Portland Place.
DECEASED:- Friday 29th January 1875 aged 75
BURIED:- Highland Road cemetery.
Portsmouth born solicitor, George Cornelius Stigant, was at the time of his death the longest and oldest serving member of the legal profession having been admitted at the Trinity term of 1821. He was also the first avowed Conservative to hold the mayoral chair. Stigant was a controversial figure not noted for his progressive thinking nor philanthropy. In its obituary notice the Portsmouth Times (1) euphemistically commented of him that his career was hallmarked by the desire to protect the pockets of the poor ratepayers. A leading 'muckabite' he was strong opponent of the acceptance of the Public Health Act 1848 (PHA). For this, and other perceived devious moves, he was deeply unpopular in some quarters.
Cllr Stigant's elevation to the Aldermanic bench came by way of compensation for his narrowly loosing the mayoral contest in November 1851 [to Benjamin Bramble] and his election to the mayoralty in 1852 was as much a reaction to Bramble's third term as acknowledgement of Stigant's abilities. Indeed included among his supporters for civic reader were a number of 'sanitisers' i.e. men who would normally be expect to oppose him because of his obdurate stance on the PHA. He was proposed by Cllr Henry Ford who said that Stigant was a fit person to hold the chair even though he was a paid agent of the Conservative Party.
Despite its adversity to Stigant's views on the PHA the Portsmouth Times (2) wrote that he was, "A gentleman of courteous and urbane bearing and a criminal lawyer of twelve years' experience." Alderman Scale, very much pro PHA, was more outspoken. He said he would oppose Stigant with all his might. He agreed that as a man he could shake his hand but was opposed on principle. Referring to the recent upsurge in cholera he continued, "Dozens of persons are now prostrated on their beds by sickness and are on the point of death, parents watching over their children, wives over their husbands. All this is caused by men such as Mr Stigant who are opposed to the PHA." (Great uproar and hissing) Nevertheless, Stigant was elected.
The 1853 mayoral election was tinged with sarcasm. Cllr Jolliffe rose to thank Stigant for the creditable way in which he had served during the previous year. He said, "I rise to propose the health of a gentleman (great laughter). I made a slight mistake, I mean I wish to propose the health of a gentleman (roars of laughter). Dear me. I keep thinking I am dining with the mayor." Jolliffe then nominated Andrew Nance. Cllr Miall proposed Stigant saying that he had been calumniated in the press. Cllr Emanuel was strongly opposed to Stigant not just because he had opposed Jewish emancipation but also his stance over other projects such as a new commercial docks. Indeed Stigant was always adverse to the Camber Docks development on the grounds that a single dock of that kind could never prove remunerative therefore any such initiative should be left to a private company rather than the borough council. Nevertheless, on the division Stigant was elected by 37 votes to 14.
At the conclusion of his term the council proposed the customary civic vote of thanks to Stigant for his services in the past year. This did not suit Cllr Rolph MD who strongly condemned Stigant for perpetuating vile living conditions by opposing the PHA. He rose saying, "Looking as I do on your election as one of the greatest misfortunes to befall this Borough I cannot but oppose the motion." Nevertheless Stigant's vote of thanks was carried by 34 votes to 3 with 5 neuters.
Throughout the early months of Stigant's tenure the PHA continued to dominate. Matters came to a head on the 14th March 1853 when a special meeting of the council, daubed in the press, 'The Muckabite Meeting Extraordinary' was convened. (3) Here the council voted not to apply for the acceptance of the PHA. For this Stigant was perceived as the villain of the piece.
The closure of Stigant's mayoral duties in November 1854 was tinged with acrimony. At the council meeting of 9th November 1854 old enmities were aroused. Cllr Moses Solomon proposed the customary vote of thanks to the out going mayor. Cllr. Emanuel rose to say that he had not reason to change his views from the previous year. He still condemned Stigant for his opposition to the PHA and for not supporting the acceptance of the Public Libraries Act or the Commercial Docks project. Emanuel opined that he had done nothing to benefit the Borough. Cllr Levy supported Stigant in opposing the PHA saying that he had listened to the will of the people. Cllr George Sheppard called upon Emanuel to withdraw his remarks. Cllr Henry Ford commented that it appeared that the PHA was still spreading its baneful influence over everything in the Borough.
On the 1850 Public Libraries Act Stigant defended himself saying that the Act had been rejected by an overwhelming majority of the inhabitants. As for a Commercial Docks to rival that being built in Southampton he had received no formal motions on this topic. The vote of thanks was carried by 41 votes to ONE. (4)
In 1854 there was no contest for mayor, Andrew Nance being elected unopposed. In 1855 Nance declined to stand again. On the 'Ninth' Alderman Crassweller proposed Stigant for a third term. This was seconded by Alderman Orange. Cllr Sheppard stood saying that notwithstanding personal animosity toward Stigant he would oppose the nomination on the grounds it was bad to re-elect when there were others ready to stand. He further deplored an alleged statement that 'tradesmen' were unfit to fill the office. He went on to say that surely out of fifty-six council members there must be one qualified to fit the post. However, none could be induced to come forward. Jewish Cllr Moses Solomon, another arch opponent of the PHA, added that the office required a gentleman with some talent, stamina and legal knowledge. This view prevailed and Stigant won his third term.
The chief event was the ending of the Crimean War in March and Portsmouth was the focal point of many celebrations. The subsequent great Naval Review of the Fleet at Spithead by Her Majesty on the 23rd April was the high spot. However, this was purely a Regal and Naval occasion. The Council was not invited to participate in any official capacity. Indeed they were further snubbed in the matter of the official Peace Proclamation. The town was required to wait until Friday 2nd May before the document was despatched. Next day the Proclamation was duly read first from the Saluting Platform, then the Market House and finally from the Dockyard gates. Between each station the mayor and Corporation solemnly marched, in slow time, behind a military band. This caused one old lady to ask, "Why doesn't the band play a quicker tune?" Her companion replied, "There's a good many old gentlemen in the Corporation and it won't do to make them walk too fast." To close the proceedings a banquet had been arranged but again the Corporation was snubbed when both the military and naval authorities declined to attend - despite invitations being issued.
Without the support of Stigant in 1856 ex mayor Benjamin Bramble together with future mayor R.W. Ford and Dr W.C. Engledue, petitioned for a Portsmouth Waterworks Act. This was granted in 1857 and in 1858 they bought out the old United Coy (two principal directors being ex mayors:- E Casher and Andrew Nance) setting up the Borough of Portsmouth Waterworks Coy. This led to a much improved supply albeit it was still basically private company rather than a borough enterprise. Nevertheless, at the close of this mayoral year he was accorded the vote of thanks - this time unanimously and without debate.
Stigant was, like many other councillors, a rentier but the properties he owned were notorious as being among the among the most wretched in the Borough. They included the ill famed Hampton Court, Havant Street. In this Court were to be found thirteen houses with just one privy between them. The Portsmouth Times (5) noted that by comparison, the inmates of the work house were better cared for. Stigant was married with issue. He is buried in the family plot with his wife who predeceased him on the 24th March 1864.
Norman Gordon
1. Obituary Portsmouth Times 2nd February 1875.
2. Portsmouth Times 13th November 1852.
3. Portsmouth Times 19th March 183.
4. Portsmouth Times 11th November 1854.
5. Portsmouth Times 19th March 1853.
See also Portsmouth's Water Supply 1800-1860 Portsmouth Papers No 12.