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

MAYORALTY:- November 9th 1861-1862.
PROFESSION:- Bootmaker
WARD:- St George
FIRST ELECTED ALDERMAN:- 27th November 1857.
RESIDENCE:- Kensington House Elm Grove.
DECEASED:- Sunday 13th December 1868. Age 63.
BURIED:- Kingston cemetery.
Replacing Charles Smithers on his elevation to alderman William Humby was first elected to the council via a bye-election in March 1852 and was returned unopposed in 1854. He was elected alderman in 1857 on the death of Benjamin Bramble. (1)
Alderman Crassweller stood proposing the Portsmouth born Alderman Humby as the most suitable person to be the next mayor. Brought up in St George's Ward - which he now represented - he was a regular attendee at council meetings and paid diligent attention to his civic duties. As a business man Humby was noted for his honesty and integrity. Cllr Mark Frost (St Mary) then nominated another life long Portsmouth resident Cllr Edwin Galt. But no one rose to second this proposal. This slight for Galt may have soured relationships between himself and Humby - as was reflected later. Cllr Robert Jolliffe (St Mary) then nominated Alderman Owen, this was seconded by Cllr George Rodgers (St Paul). Owen himself made known that he did not really want the position but would accept if voted in. Cllr John Baker then commented that Owen was a very busy man and that Humby was better suited as he had more time to devote to the mayor's duties. The resolution was then put that Humby was a suitable person to be mayor - carried unanimously.
These were still relatively quiet periods for local authority enterprise. In April 1862, at the invitation of the Lord Mayor of London, Humby was entertained, with other mayors, at the Mansion House to plan a proposed International Exhibition to rival that of 1851. This apart things did not go well for Humby and he did not perhaps enjoy the best of years. The Camber Docks project continued to absorb the council. In February (3) it was reported that the ground on which the engine house (to pump the dry-dock) was to be erected had been given up by the Government and Mr Light, the constructor, had commenced building. Also a large portion of the materials required for the construction of a caisson had arrived and arrangements were being made to put it together. However, the project went horribly wrong. (4) The graving dock (dry-dock) and caisson had been completed but on Saturday 20th September 1862, when it was due for trials, water rushed in under the seal of the caisson lifting it and carrying away some of the structure with the result that the caisson ended up in the dock - where it remained until the tide went out. The mayor was of course ex officio chairman of the Camber Docks committee. The committee would have to consider costly rebuilding.
There were other humiliations for the mayor. In 1861 HRH Prince Albert died. Following a period of national mourning it was suggested that local boroughs might like to subscribe for a memorial to the late Prince Consort. The edifice might be sited either locally or moneys collectively donated for a London memorial on the site of the Great Exhibition of 1851. At the behest of the council, on the 12th February, Humby convened a public meeting with aim of collecting subscriptions. The event was very poorly supported, indeed only six councillors attended - despite it being the council's suggestion. Cllr Galt spoke saying that if less than 300.00 was collected the sum should be given to the national fund. But if more, then a local tribute should be built. A committee was formed and a subscription list was started which the mayor opened by donating ten guineas. (5) But other support was very poor indeed.
In March the mayor had to go back to the council and announce that the project had not met with the acclaim which might have been anticipated from the nation's premier naval port. Humby now looked to the councillors for help. Alderman Ford suggested the reason for the apathy might be that there was ro interest in a national memorial but there might be support a local one. Humby made his sentiments known saying, "Gentlemen, I am placed in an awkward position. It was the unanimous feeling of the council that a public meeting should be called and I would ask if you have not now placed me in a pretty position as representative of an important town. I do say, I feel it, and I feel it most keenly. The council required me to convene the meeting and they have now left me in the lurch. There were only six members of the council present. I hope the reporters will take this down. I feel most hurt." Finally the matter was referred to the General Purposes' Committee. On the 15th March the Portsmouth Times reported that funds remained in a very languished condition only a few Pounds having paid into the banks. 'We blush for the fair shame of the town where there is apparently a want of respect to the memory of the late Prince." Correspondence appeared in the press. On the 5th of April the Portsmouth Times published a letter from 'A Humble Individual.' (Humby ?) which said, inter alia, "A shilling or sixpence subscription for this purpose would suffice. Cannot 25 or 30,000 such subscribers be found among a population of 100,000. Is there no one who will collect subscriptions or form a committee. Finally will all classes of Portsmouth allow that a naval and military arsenal of this size shall be one of the meanest in the country?"
On the 26th April the Hampshire Telegraph reported that the total sum collected amounted to less than 100.00. By contrast many smaller towns had collected more. Making excuses for the public's parsimony the paper suggested the apathy was not the result of disrespect rather that the nature of the tribute had not been clearly defined. It was finally reported (6) that the whole idea had been abandoned. Perhaps this was all too much for Humby for the Portsmouth Times reported (7) that over the Easter period His Worship was very ill and unable to attend the Easter Sunday service at St Thomas's.
Humby had other difficulties, not least with members of his council. At the May quarterly meeting of the council Humby was keen to expedite the business without due delay. (8) His anxiety led to some ugly exchanges with members. The subject under discussion concerned the Gas Company. Correspondence was to hand concerning the business which some members wanted read The mayor desired to press on and amid cries of 'read read' he took a motion from Cllr Vandenburgh re settlement of invoices.
Cllr Kent stood saying, 'With all due deference to our worthy mayor .."
Humby interjected, 'We will proceed with our next business."
Cllr Kent, "It was distinctly understood Mr Mayor that the letters would be read."
Mayor, "They were taken as read." The proceedings then became very disorderly.
Cllr R.W. Ford. "Mr Mayor will you allow me on a point of order to say that I think the council is entitled to have the letters read."
Cllr Galt rose to say, "If ClIr Kent proposes the letters be read I shall second it."
The Mayor, "I have ruled that the letters shall not be read."
Cllr Galt. "Am I to understand Sir that if the majority of the Town Council decide that the letters be read. their decision does not overrule your decision." (great confusion)
The Mayor, "Gentlemen there is a resolution proposed."
Cllr Galt. "Permit me to give notice of a motion."
There ensued commotion during which Cllr Vandenburgh's resolution was passed. The mayor still wanted to press on with the business in hand.
Cllr Galt rose again. "Mayor, ought not the amendment put by Cllr Kent have been taken?"
The mayor replied, "It is a great pity you were not here to your time when the matter first came on." Galt tersely replied. 'That's my business Sir."
The mayor retorted. "I consider you have insulted me."
Galt replied. "I hope not. I should be very sorry to insult you Mr Mayor."
Cllr Emanuel then stood to make a point in reference to Cllr Galt's remarks.
Galt was on his feet again and glaring at Emanuel said. "I am not speaking to you Sir. I am addressing the mayor. I thought he was chairman of the borough and not . . . ." Cries of 'chair chair.' Eventually tempers cooled and Galt offered an apology to His Worship.
Despite the foregoing at the end of his term Humby was accorded the customary vote of thanks for the able way in which he had conducted council affairs throughout his tenure.
In business Humby was also a director of the Portsmouth Gas Coy and noted for his general integrity and socially for his hospitality. Prior to the council he was overseer for the Parish of Partsea and carried out his duties with diligence. In private life he was married with four sons.
Norman Gordon
1. Obituaries Portsmouth Times 19th December 1868 page 4. Hampshire Telegraph 19th December 1868.
2. Supp to Portsmouth Times 9th November 1861 & Portsmouth Times 16th November 1861.
3. Portsmouth Times 8th February 1862.
4. Portsmouth Times September 27th 1862.
5. Portsmouth Times 15th February 1862.
6. Portsmouth Times 19th April 1862.
7. Portsmouth Times ibid.
8. Portsmouth Times 10th May 1862