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

MAYORALTY:- November 9th 1838-1839.
PROFESSION:- Staymaker. 2 St George's Square. Portsea.
FIRST ELECTED TO COUNCIL:- December 26th 1835
WARD:- All Saints
RESIDENCE:- Kingston Crescent.
DECEASED:- 26th May 1857 aged 71.
An original member of the post 1835 Corporation, Jackson was the first of the new blood to be elected mayor. As a 'Staymaker' (a common trade in C19th Portsmouth) he was also the first artisan to be chosen. He nevertheless found time for civic affairs. He was one of the group of twelve newly elected magistrates in 1836 and also one of the original Aldermen of the new Borough - yet he remains a little known figure. In May 1837 he was appointed Visiting Justice to the local prison. It was reported that the prison currently housed 61 inmates - three of whom were children awaiting deportation. It was also the only prison of its size not to have a chapel or chaplain. (1)
At the electoral meeting (2) fellow ward member, Cllr G.W. Law proposed Jackson as candidate for mayor saying he had been an outstanding magistrate and would make an equally good mayor. This was seconded by future mayor Cllr W. Jones (St George) who noted there was a feeling in the Out-wards that it was their year to supply the mayor: Jones considered this justified as the two of the previous three mayors had been representatives from the intra mural wards. Cllr J. Hoskins (St Thomas) spoke against this policy arguing that the notion of alternately electing 'inside' 'outside' year by year was a nonsense. It could keep real talent at bay. He then nominated Alderman John Wesley Williams St John's Ward - as mayoral candidate. This was seconded by Cllr William Pierce. Cllr Caught then stood proposing Cllr. Captain Joseph Oats Travers - who had also been proposed the previous year. Travers himself then rose noting this was the second time his name had been put forward and once again he was a reluctant candidate. But this time he could not use the excuse that he was chairman of the Board of Governors. Now the reason behind his refusal was that a malicious rumour had been circulated about him to the effect that he had paid diligent attention to his duties as magistrate in the hope of being nominated for mayor. To give the lie to this calumny he would decline the honour once again. Cllr Williams rose to say that though he felt himself inadequate if chosen he would do his very best to discharge the duties of mayor. The vote was then taken which recorded:- for Jackson 33, for Williams 21. So Thomas Jackson became mayor.
Nationally this was the year of the Chartists' Riots. Locally, on January 1st 1839, founder of the 'ragged schools' John Pounds died. The Camber development programme continued to absorb the attention of the Corporation. At the 4th February meeting Jackson advised the council that he had hoped to enlist the support of local MP Francis Baring, in obtaining Parliamentary approval for a loan to develop the Camber. (3) In July the Camber Docks Improvement Bill received the Royal assent. In September the Council accepted a tender of 16,105 from local builder, Mr Geo Absalom, for the construction work.
The borough also had ambitions to become a major passenger port. In July the new steamship 'British Queen' sailed on her maiden voyage leaving London bound for New York via Spithead to embark passengers. It was a gala occasion. Crowds gathered to see the vessel. The stay was all too short but mayor Jackson wrote to the ship's master (Lt Roberts) wishing him well and inviting him and his officers to a 'Civic Entertainment' on their return. With an eye to commerce Jackson also expressed a hope that a successful voyage would help to establish a regular steam navigation service between London and the US - via Portsmouth. (4) However, by this time it was too late - the railway had already come to Southampton.
June & July witnessed a severe rupture in the relations between the civil and military powers in the borough. In the early hours of the 19th June, in furtherance of their duties, two local constables (Barton & Baxter) remonstrated with a group of rowdies near the barracks. They were consequently jeered and manhandled by soldiers of the 84th who imprisoned Barton and threatened Baxter with their bayonets. Sgt of the Guard, McCormick, did nothing to release the constable and declined to summon the officer. The Sgt plus the officer (Lt Blackwood) and a corporal subsequently appeared before local magistrates on charges of false imprisonment whereupon Recorder Bingham jailed each for a week.
At this point Home Secretary, Lord John Russell, became involved and exercising the Royal Prerogative mitigated the officer's sentence. The Watch Committee was outraged. A letter was sent to Russell, bearing the mayor's signature, accusing him of subverting the Civic Power and of an unwarranted interference in local affairs. His Lordship replied to the mayor that this missive was unfounded and indiscreet. Mayor Jackson countered by saying that though he had signed the letter, as he was required to do, it was really the work of the council. It was not transmitted by his order and he could not be held responsible. The council supported Recorder Bingham and passed a vote of thanks praising his independent stance. There matters rested.
At the close of his year Jackson was accorded the usual vote of thanks. Thereafter, perhaps due to ill health, Jackson devoted less time to civic affairs. From 1850 he hardly ever attended council meetings and in 1853 did not seek re-election to the Aldermanic bench.
He died at his home in Kingston Crescent on the 26th May 1857. (5)
Norman Gordon
1. Hampshire Telegraph 8th May 1837.
2. Hampshire Telegraph 14th November 1838.
3. Hampshire Telegraph 11th February 1839.
4. Hampshire Telegraph June 24th, July 1st, July 22nd, August 12th 1839.
5. Portsmouth Times 30th May 1857