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

MAYORALTY:- November 9th 1839-1840.
FIRST ELECTED TO COUNCIL:- December 26th 1835
WARD:- St. John
RESIDENCE:- 164 Queen Street.
DECEASED:- January 18th 1841.
Portsmouth born surgeon John Williams was one of the original members of the new council and was also one of the fifty burgess created in February 1833 in a panic move by the old ruling group lest the borough be regarded as 'rotten' and abolished. (see William Jones) He was elected magistrate in January 1836 and was also the first Portsmouth Borough mayor to be honoured with a Knighthood.
At the meeting of the 'Ninth' (1) Cllr Stigant stood to ask if Cllr (now major) Travers was prepared to stand. Travers' reply was again in the negative. He then went on to nominate Alderman John Williams noting that St John's Ward had yet to supply a mayor. This was seconded by Alderman Carter who added that he hoped the nomination would receive unanimous support. When the motion was put every member of the council stood.
Throughout his tenure Williams was never fully fit suffering from chronic chest problems. Nevertheless, he discharged the mayoral duties admirably. In 1836 the Borough assumed responsibility for the maintenance of law and order. As required a Watch Committee, composed of councillors and magistrates, had been established to supervise local policing. In December 1839 a move was made to reform the new constabulary. The proposed force was to consisted of one Superintendent, three Inspectors with 24 Constables. The council flinched, due to the pauperised state of the Borough, at the prospect of appointing a Superintendent with a salary of 100.00 p.a. but, albeit grudgingly, they accepted it. The police obviously justified their existence for by February the gaol was quite full. One of the mayors first tasks to was to advise the council that no chaplain had been appointed to this gaol - as was obligatory. The local clergy had been offered the job (but had) declined to take it on. Also, the council was loathe to vote a further 100.0 p.a. necessary for the prospective incumbent - but they bowed to the will of the mayor in the end. Nationally the move to abolish the Corn Laws was the hot political topic of the year. The Portsmouth borough supported this and petitioned Parliament so to do. (2) The mayor was thus duly packed off to London to make the Borough's views known.
On the 25th March 1840 the United Portsmouth, Portsea and Farlington Waterworks Coy was formed with two future mayors - Edward Casher and Andrew Nance - as principal shareholders. However, the supply, covering only one third of the Island, proved to be unreliable and of poor quality.
A high spot of the year was the marriage of the young Queen Victoria to Prince Albert. Portsmouth celebrated with a general holiday. The Council in turn sent an address extending cordial congratulations to their sovereign on her marriage. The mayor took the address to London. (3) By contrast the low spot was the abortive attempt to assassinate the Queen and her Consort on June 11th 1840. The Council resolved to make a further address to Her Majesty and Prince Albert expressing joy at their escape. During the Council meeting of 21st July 1840 Williams made known that he had attended a levee on the 1st July and presented the loyal and dutiful address. In recognition of the sentiments therein expressed a Knighthood was conferred on the him. (4) Williams added he would take as his role model Sir John Carter who had occupied the chair with public integrity and private worth. Cllr Hoskins moved that this Council considers that the honour bestowed on the mayor by her most gracious Majesty also reflects honour on the Borough of Portsmouth and he congratulated Sir John on this auspicious event. Motion carried with applause.
The contentious issue was the proposed Floating Bridge to ply between Portsmouth and Gosport. There were those, especially Cllr. Stigant, who argued that its construction would jeopardise the livelihoods of watermen. At one stage he was at odds with the mayor feeling that he had not been given sufficient opportunity to express his feelings on the matter. Nevertheless, the floating-bridge commenced running between Portsmouth and Gosport on May 4th. The irritant topic was the Free Mart Fair. Williams was of the opinion that the time had arrived when it should be abolished. It had outlived its usefulness and was no more than an excuse for public debauchery. He lamented that as mayor he could not introduce a motion himself but urged the council to consider the matter. Nothing was done for a few more years.
At the close of Sir John's mayoralty Cllr Travers moved a vote of thanks to the out going mayor for the exemplary manner in which he had discharged his duties during the previous year. (5) He had been a model of kindness and urbanity. His knighthood had brought honour to the Borough. Carried unanimously. Sir John replied saying that he had passed through the office with evil and good report - and he had been much spattered with the former. But when any doubt had arisen he had always looked to his conscience for guidance.
He died at his Portsea home in January 1841 from a long standing pulmonary infection leaving a widow but no issue. His obituary noted that his benevolent and caring mind always led him to be foremost in well doing - especially in disseminating useful knowledge among his less educated neighbours. He was both a sincere Christian and a Liberal. No one had filled the office of mayor better commented Major Travers during the ensuing Council tribute. (6)
Norman Gordon
Obituary Hampshire Telegraph January 18th 1841.
1. Hampshire Telegraph November 11th 1839.
2. Hampshire Telegraph 10-2-1840.
3. Hampshire Telegraph 17-2-1840.
4. Hampshire Telegraph 27-7-1840.
5. Hampshire Telegraph 16-11-1840.
6. Hampshire Telegraph 1-2-1841.