William Foster Geach, stepson of and solicitor to John Frost, the Chartist Leader
David Mills (2015) ISBN: 9780957042636
David Mills explores the life and times of the solicitor and, with well referenced sources, reveals much previously unknown about Frost’s stepson. He also raises the so far unanswered question… what became of William Foster Geach after his conditional pardon in 1848?
Copies of the book can be obtained directly from the author by sending a cheque for £9 (which includes p&p) made out to David Mills to: David Mills, 153, Electra House, Celestia, Falcon Drive, Cardiff CF10 4RD
A Note from the Author (2017) William Foster Geach Revisted
Since publication of my book, in September 2015, further details about John Frost’s stepson, William Foster Geach, have been discovered from archival sources in Wales, Tasmania and Australia. In writing this note, it has now become necessary to refer to him as Geach (Snr.)
Thanks to unerring work by Nigel Young, most of these new findings are recorded on the web site www.newportpast in the section headed What became of William Foster Geach? Don’t neglect reading this fascinating biography, which unravels the life of William Foster Geach, junior (1859 – 1940) and his likely relationship with the subject of my book, William Foster Geach, born in Monmouthshire c1804.
Geach (Jnr) became a wealthy and well-known stock broker in Melbourne, Australia. His obituary mentions he had a difficult start in life, stating that his father had died before he was born. This sounds like a convenient story told by Geach (Jnr) over the years to distance himself from a recidivist forger and fraudster, who practised his art using the name William Foster. Although the evidence is not complete,, Nigel Young concludes that it “seems most likely that William Foster Geach (Jnr) was the son of William Foster Geach (Snr). Geach (Jnr) became a clerk in a law office. Later he became something of an expert in handwriting and, in 1896 gave evidence on the authenticity of a signature on a will by comparing two signatures. This was highly ironic given that Geach, (Snr.), was an undoubted forger of signatures.
Copies of documents obtained from the Tasmanian Archives reveal interesting comments about Geach (Snr), who, by dint of loyalty, gained favour with the authorities in Van Diemen’s Land. He arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in early 1841, just over six months after his stepfather, Frost. The authorities were very aware of the family relationship between the two men. However, John Frost was a “marked man” and singled out to receive some unfair treatment. Geach (Snr) worked in a gang before becoming a clerk circa 1842 at Richmond prison, where he became a Javelin man with duties similar to a guard. Within the Tasmanian Archive are two letters (February and March 1844) from George Weston Gunning who was a visiting magistrate at Richmond prison. Gunning was supportive of Geach (Snr) getting a pardon. His first letter to the Comptroller of Prisoners mentioned Geach’s exemplary conduct as a Javelin man. With that letter, he enclosed a statement from Geach in which Geach set out his meritorious actions. James Pringle, Superintendent at Salt Water Prison Camp, confirmed the facts relating to Geach’s involvement in the prevention of the seizure of a Government ship The Fusileer by convicts. He also confirmed that on a separate occasion, Geach (Snr.) had been responsible for the recapture of two escaped prisoners. In Geach’s statement he named the leaders of the plot to highjack the ship as Edward Thompson and Robert O’Toole. Gunning was not happy about inaction by the authorities and wrote another letter, in March 1844, critically remarking that the promise publically made by Sir John Franklin that Geach’s services should be rewarded, “like many other of Sir John’s promises remain unnoticed”.
Gunning also mentioned that Geach’s wife was an amiable and accomplished woman keeping a boarding school at Richmond. His wife remains a mystery. Geach had married Elizabeth Williams of Abergavenny in 1830, at Trevethin, Pontypool. The 1841 census records Elizabeth Geach, with her son Herbert residing at Skirrid Cottages, Abergavenny. The 1851 census records Elizabeth Geach residing with her cousin, Rachel Herbert, at Little Hill Abergavenny. However, was she the lady who is described as Geach’s wife by the magistrate George Weston Gunning? Importantly, Gunning did not refer to her as Mrs Geach, but simply as ‘Geach’s wife’.
The Monmouthshire Merlin of 7th August 1847 contained details of a letter received from Hobart Town. Part of that letter claimed Frost was believed to be in Bagdad some miles from Hobart with Geach and his wife, who was said to have kept a good boarding school in the name of Mrs Foster. However, in The Hobart Guardian of 17th March 1849, Mrs Foster announced her intention of closing her school at short notice. She attributed this to recent communications from England together with earnestly expressed desire of her friends have rendered this unavoidable. She also said she was seeking a young lady, to complete the education of her little girl at a salary of £60 per year. Geach, ever the master of massaging the truth, had informed the authorities when he landed at Van Diemen ’s Land that his wife was named Louisa who was living with her aunt Mrs Herbert Frost, an aunt to my mother.
Elizabeth Geach died at Abergavenny on 27th February 1885; her personal estate was valued at £10,385-5-1. She is buried at St Mary’s Church Abergavenny, a very short distance from her cousin Rachel Herbert. The 1851 census records William Henry Geach age 18 born at Abergavenny living at 107, Camden Street Birmingham; his occupation shown as clerk. Regrettably, he died in 1855. Elizabeth Geach’s will makes no mention of a daughter. So, who was the little girl mentioned by Mrs Foster when she closed her school in Van Diemen’s’ Land? It seems highly unlikely that Mrs Foster of Bagdad and Mrs Elizabeth Geach of Abergavenny were one and the same person. Where and when William Foster Geach died also remains unanswered.
Finally, a tantalising reference to Geach (Snr) can be found in The Auckland Observer of 14th January 1882. It refers to a story, which happened in old times when Colonel Gore Browne was Governor of New Zealand. In this story, it mentions a vessel arrived in Auckland, on board was a well-dressed gentleman who called himself FOSTER, his wife and daughter. Foster had a letter of credit on the Union Bank in a large sum of money and an introduction to Mr F. Merrimen, a solicitor in Auckland. The bank in Auckland, with some prudence, asked Mr Foster for a name as security and Mr F. Merriman foolishly agreed. Mr Foster took the best house he could find, gave parties, and lived in a grand style. However, after a little while, a ship arrived from England and as one of the passengers walked up a street, he recognised Foster and they stood face to face. The last time he had seen Foster was in the dock at Monmouth being sentenced as William Foster Geach. Foster Geach turned on his heels and walked quickly away. Within days Geach, sold off everything and boarded a ship bound for Honolulu, in doing so he managed to escape the clutches of a law officer who arrived in Auckland, from Sydney, three days after Geach had departed. The officer had with him a warrant for Geach’s arrest. Mr Merriman remained responsible for the debts incurred by William Foster Geach.
What happened to Geach when he got to Honolulu is still a mystery. Despite the newspaper report, appearing many years after the event Nigel Young reveals, on the site newportpast, that some details of the people mentioned in the report can be verified. The excellent detective work undertaken by Nigel Young does not come up with all the answers, in fact he poses even more questions, his efforts are to be commended and a visit to newportpast will prove to be an interesting experience.