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

MAYORALTY:- November 9th1875-1876. 1876-1877. 1880-1881. 1882-1883. 1890-1891.
WARD:- St. Paul's
RESIDENCE:- Shrover Hall, Cosham.
DECEASED:- January 10th 1906 aged 77
BURIED:- Catherington cemetery.
In six of the eight years between 1875 and 1883 the mayoralty was shared by just two men William Pink and William King. Between them they occupied the chair no less than nine times throughout the century. The first was, five times mayor, Sir William Pink (see end note) who enjoyed a brilliant public career comments W.G. Gates which culminated by him being made a Freeman of the Borough in October 1905. (1)
Born on December 15th 1829 at Durley, near Botley, Hants, William Pink was a farmer's son. The Pinks were a notable Hampshire family having their family seat, for over 300 years, at Kempshott Park near Basingstoke. On leaving school he was apprenticed to a greengrocer at Winchester. During the Crimean War period he worked in London for the prestigious grocery firm of Fortnum & Mason thereby gaining extra experience of the retail trade. Returning to Portsmouth in 1858 he opened his first shop at the corner of Surrey Street and Commercial Road. He stood for the Council in 1868 and, with but a two year hiatus, served his borough for thirty-six years.
By this time mayoral elections had generally become innocuous affairs. There were few contests and little debate. So it was in November 1875. At the council meeting Pink was proposed by Cllr W.D. King who noted Pink was a good businessman and just the right material for mayor of the Borough. The nomination was seconded by Andrew Nance jnr and Pink was elected unanimously. (2)
By the time of the 1876 election it was obvious to all that the degree of self sacrifice involved in being mayor meant that many members of the council thought twice or even thrice before taking it on. At the 1876 election Pink was proposed by Alderman Robert Davies who himself declined to stand again. Davies commented that Pink had enjoyed a good year being noted for his profuse hospitality especially in the matter of the reception accorded to HRH the Prince of Wales on his return from India. Indeed throughout his mayoralty he had always been ready to support by his presence and his purse any worthy cause. When the motion was put there was but one dissenting voice - that of Cllr Cunningham for some obscure reason of his own. (3)
Abroad 1875 saw the establishment of the Third Republic in France which eventually led to improved relations with Britain and visits by the French Fleet to Portsmouth. However Pink's mayoral career got off to an indifferent start which ended in him making an appearance in the Queens Bench division of the High Court. The cause of the confusion was the Free Library Act of 1850. If accepted this Act would allow a local authority to raise a rate in order to provide free libraries.
The original stipulation was that acceptance would ire the support of one third of the Burgesses as expressed at an open meeting. Like his predecessors Pink duly convened at meeting on the 14th December 1875. At this rowdy and ill tempered gathering objections were mainly about cost. However, there was clearly a simple majority in favour of accepting the Act - but not the two thirds as required by the original Act. Pink declared the Act not be accepted. In fact Pink was in error here. He had failed to realise that the Act had been amended (29th 30th Vic. Cap 114) such that only a simple majority was now required - which was clearly the case. Andrew Nance jnr whereupon went to the High Court seeking a writ of mandamus - (i.e. a Court order) requiring the mayor to reverse the vote of the 14th December. Pink appeared in Court and acknowledged his mistake. The decision was reversed and no real blame was attached to the Mayor. But it was some years before Portsmouth got its first Free Library.
In 1876 Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India. Locally July 1876 was marked by the commencement of the building Lunatic Asylum in Asylum (Locksway) Road. On the 14th of the same month a tragic boiler explosion on HMS Thunderer - sister ship to HMS Devastation - cost the lives of 45 men. The mayor set up a relief fund and fund raising was to become an important part of the mayor's activities in subsequent years. (4)
The most memorable event, of which people spoke for years to come, was the welcome extended by the mayor to HRH the Prince of Wales (later King Edward 7th) on his return from his tour of India. The reception accorded to the Heir Apparent on his landing from HMS Serapis and passing through the streets was unsurpassed and worthy of the first naval port. Gates writes that the chief municipal event of 1877 was the so called 'Great Foreshore Case' wherein the Corporation found itself on the wrong end of litigation with the Admiralty concerning the rights to land between the high a low water marks.
However, despite all the good works and diligent application to duty Pink was inclined to be indiscreet on occasion. This cost him his council seat in 1877. (5) In October of that year, just prior to the November 1st council elections, Pink attended at dinner at the Southsea Rowing Club. During the course of his speech he made certain injudicious remarks about Dockyard workers to which they took exception. He was reported as saying:- "In Portsmouth it is not unusual to express pleasure when men were discharged from the Dockyard. He nevertheless sympathised with the men discharged for he believed that those engaged in the Dockyard were well paid and not worked too hard. This was a situation men did not like to give up."
When subsequently he attended a function at the Portland Hotel on the 29th October he was verbally abused and pelted with a variety of missiles. At the ensuing election he stood in two wards, St Paul's and St Mary's - and was defeated in both. It was the first time a sitting mayor had ever lost his seat. Though legally entitled he declined to chair the 1877 Mayoral election. In a letter to the council he said his absence was due to personal feelings and self respect. He thanked the council for their support in the past year commenting, "I may have erred but I have always acted honourably." Alderman Davies deputised for him. The general feeling of the Council was that he had been harshly treated by the electors.
Inevitably Cllr Howell rose to note that all power flowed from the people ('you'll feel it yet Jack', commented a voice). The electorate had rejected him, continued Howell, knowing that he had made his fortune from their hard earnings. Howell concluded by saying that one day he hoped to becorne Mayor himself - 'Never' cried Andrew Nance. The votes of thanks was taken and only Howell remained seated. Nevertheless, Pink was not long absent from the council. In the interim he changed his political allegiance from Liberal to Tory. Though not standing as a party candidate, in June 1879 Pink was elected for St Paul's in a bye election following the elevation of Arthur Cudlipp to alderman. In July, within a month of his return, he was elected alderman and in eighteen months was mayor again.
The Town Hall in the High Street was packed for this meeting and it was noted that a number of women were included in the gathering. Alderman Chambers rose to nominate Pink. In a long panegyric he said that Pink had twice filled the chair with both dignity and efficiency. Pink was a known quantity and he promised to keep party politics out of the Council Chamber. Indeed in his acceptance speech he quoted the National Anthem saying, 'Confound their politics.' The result was a foregone conclusion. Pink was returned unopposed -albeit three councillors (Howell, Carrot, & Andrews.) remained seated holding reservations that Pink had been dictatorial and had curtailed democratic discussion on occasion in the past. The Portsmouth Times commented that Pink had displayed commendable public spirit in accepting the nomination for a third time.
The annual mayoral banquet was held at the Pier Hotel where ninety guests were entertained. Replying to the Toast of 'Bishop and Clergy' the Rev. E.P. Grant spoke with satisfaction on the progress of education in the Town. There were now 7,000 pupils in church schools, with a further 11,000 attending Board Schools and 200 at the Grammar School.
The mayor appears to have had his hands full with the new council which on the 10th December 1880 the Evening News described as an 'Untameable assembly.' Given mayor Pink seemed unsure how to control unruly members the paper advised they, 'Should be bundled out.' (7)
For Portsmouth the year opened with an unprecedented snowstorm on January 20th. In April the census recorded the population of Portsmouth as 127,989. On May 14th 1881 the Borough Wards were restructured and divided into fourteen wards in place of the six formerly existing. Locally by this time there were eleven Council Committees. The work load for the mayor was becoming impossible.
At the close of the mayoral year the council proposed the usual vote of thanks. There was but one dissenting voice - that of Cllr Moorshead who claimed Pink lacked dignity (hissing and cries of withdraw). Moorshead was also of the opinion that Pink had neglected certain duties such as support for the new drainage system. (8)
The Council met at their usual venue in the High Street - though a new building was envisaged. Alderman King took the chair due to the absence of mayor Joseph Whitecombe. Alderman Murell proposed Pink saying he was a man of experience. Cllr Moorshead rose to say he did not want to disturb the harmony of the occasion (Cllr Kimber interjected, "It will be a strange thing if you don't.") and offered his support saying he wanted to let bye gones be bye gones. Pink was returned unanimously.
This was a notable year for the mayor. On the 9th May widower Pink married Mrs Jane Flora Clevland widow of Commander Clevland RN at the church of St Nicholas at Rochester, Kent. The groom was accompanied by his son Victor Pink, who acted as best man. (9)
The 1880's was a decade in which there was a further marked expansion of civic enterprise. Sitting as the Urban Sanitary Authority the council inaugurated a Public Baths and Wash-house facility. With increasing population the drainage system was overloaded and often blocked up. In May 1883 Pink reported to the council, as the Urban Sanitary Authority, that the system had now been thoroughly cleaned and repaired. Also he imparted that leading Civil Engineer, Sir Frederick Bramwell, had been engaged to plan the construction of two massive storage tanks and the installation of a new and more powerful pumping machinery at Eastney. However, in answer to a question from Alderman G.E. Kent, Pink revealed that at present it was not planned to link Stamshaw to the existing network. (10)
Pink continued to support free Public Libraries and saw the opening of a public library in Commercial Road in April 1883. But already the Libraries and Museums committee was complaining about a shortage of money to buy books. In discussion Cllr Moorshead jokingly suggested that it would be nice to see the mayor provide gratuitous coffee for the readers and, he concluded, ". . it would be a public injury if they were not also given pipes and tobacco." (11) The plan to build a new Town Hall, (Guildhall) on land which was formerly the residence of the Commanding Officer of Artillery, took a step forward. The site was acquired and in 1883 an Act of Parliament was passed authorising the expenditure of 120,000 for the proposed building.
On petition by a requisite number of ratepayers mayors were also obliged to convene public meetings to debate the specified topic. Such an event occurred in May 1883 when a public meeting was called to protest at the abolition compulsory powers contained in the so called CD Act (Contagious Diseases). This little known Act came into force in 1866. Its aim was to restrict the spread of such disease - especially in garrison and port towns where venereal disease was rife. The Act required the registration of brothels and prostitutes and provided for medical examination. The vicar of Portsmouth the Rev E.P. Grant reported that the Act was working well locally. In 1866 Portsmouth had, he said, 253 registered brothels and 789 registered prostitutes. Now, he continued, the figures were 253 brothels and 536 prostitutes. Morally Portsmouth was becoming a better place. Moreover the incidence of death from venereal disease had dropped from 70 in 1866 to 3 in the last year. Parliament was to be petitioned.
This was the fifth and final election for William Pink taking place on (Monday) the 10th of the month. The nomination was made by Alderman James Moody and seconded by Alderman Tom Scott Foster. There was little of note except that it was disclosed that Cllr Leon Emanuel's name had initially been put forward. But the gallant councillor withdrew from the contest in the interests of unanimity saying in a speech of support that it was twenty-two years since there had been a mayoral contest and he would be loathe to disrupt the harmony of the proceedings. Motion carried unanimously. Pink thanked the council adding that the mayoress would host receptions on the first Tuesday of every month - women were beginning to play a part in civic activities. Of this fifth term the Hant's Post (13) commented that Pink had surpassed the achievements of Whittington who owed his success to a cat. By contrast Pink was a self made man.
Never was there a more brilliant year for a mayor. During the visit by Queen Victoria to Portsmouth on the 26th February, to launch HMS Royal Arthur and to float HMS Royal Sovereign, Mayor Pink attended Her Majesty at Admiralty House. A few days later he received the honour of Knighthood as a mark of Royal appreciation.
Nationally relationships with France had continued to improve. Portsmouth played its part. In 1891 Pink, on behalf of the Municipality, had the honour of welcoming the French Fleet under Admiral Gervais and so handsomely were they entertained that the President of the French Republic conferred on Pink the distinction of a Knight of the Legion of Honour. Charity work, as ever, formed part of the activities and 1,000 was raised for the dependants of those lost when the Torpedo Cruiser HMS Serpent was wrecked at Corcubion Bay, northern Spain, in November 1890. The mayoress had also played a part in supporting this charity and her work was acknowledged in the customary end of year vote of thanks.
Between mayoralties Pink, like other members of the council, served on various committees. His special interests included St Luke's school and free Public Libraries. The poor always found him a friend and his most treasured testimonial was a clock subscribed for by the public donations and presented to him on the 8th December 1891. He was taken ill in late 1905 and was removed to London for a stomach operation. Though initially he responded well to treatment his constitution weakened and he died within a few days.
Norman Gordon
Obituaries:- Portsmouth Times, 13th Jan 1906. Hants Post, 18th Jan. Evening News 12th Jan. Hampshire Telegraph, 12th Jan 1906.
1. W.G. Gates ibid.
2. Portsmouth Times 13th November 1875.
3. Portsmouth Times 4th November 1876 & 11th November 1876.
4. Portsmouth Times January 15th 1876
5. Portsmouth Times October 30th 1877 & Portsmouth Times November 10th 1877.
6. Portsmouth Times November 10th 1880.
7. 'Portsmouth in 1880' A scrap book by H.G. Ames.
8. Portsmouth Times November 12th 1881.
9. Portsmouth Times May 12th 1883.
10. Portsmouth Times May 2nd 1883
11. Portsmouth Times May 9th 1883.
12. Portsmouth Times 15th November 1890.
13. Hants Post 14th November 1890.