Incidents in the Lives of Robert Cartwright and James Boardman Cartwright

Kenneth Baker

(First published in 1989 in volume 4, pp. 39-43, of the third series of The Bradford Antiquary, the journal of the Bradford Historical and Antiquarian Society.)


This sketch of the different careers of two men, father and son who each served for a short period at a Bradford church early in the 19th century, demonstrates the extent of movement which occurred at this time both within Britain and further afield. Even more important it reveals some of the joys and tragedies which then, as now, formed part of human life.

Robert Cartwright was born on 5 July 1771 at Wellington, Salop, and on 2 August was baptised at Christ Church. There are indications that he travelled in Eastern Europe before ordination as deacon in 1794, and, while living in Manchester, he married Mary Boardman of Salford on 16 May 1796 at the former Parish Church, now Manchester Cathedral. During the early years of the marriage, when the family lived at addresses in Manchester or nearby six children were born, two of them at Shadow Moss, Cheshire in 1802 and 1804, their baptisms taking place at Ringway Chapel, Hale, close to the site of the present Manchester airport. In 1802 Cartwright matriculated at the university of Oxford and registered at St Edmund Hall, but he did not take a degree.

In 1806 Cartwright took up a curacy at the Parish Church of St. Peter, Bradford, arriving with his wife and young family, James Boardman, Robert, Anne, Elizabeth and Richard Cornelius, Mary van Zuylen having died in infancy. While in Bradford there were two additions to the family, Thomas and John, but Robert died on Christmas Eve, 1807, at the age of nine. There is a detailed account of his death in a remarkable letter written on 25 February 1809 by his brother James, at that time eleven years old. The letter appears in a pamphlet printed in 1809, which also contains an extract from the sermon preached by Mr Cartwright after the death of his son.1

Hymn sheeet for Bradford church, 16th April 1809

There is little information about the activities of Robert Cartwright during his short stay in Bradford as an assistant to the Reverend John Crosse, under whose vicarship the Church was a vigorous evangelical centre. The registers indicate that he conducted more than 40 marriages, but this was only a small proportion of those at which his vicar officiated during the same period. In April 1809 Cartwright preached his last sermon in Bradford.2

An invitation to go to New South Wales came from the Reverend Samuel Marsden, who, with his wife, arrived at Port Jackson, Sydney Bay, on 10 March 1794. Six years earlier Captain Arthur Phillip had disembarked in the same bay with the first ship-load of convicts shortly after their arrival on 20 January 1788 in the nearby Botany Bay. Born at Farsley, in the parish of Calverley and baptised on 21 July 1765 at Calverley Church, Marsden looked in the direction of his home district when, during a visit to England in 1807-9 he sought to recruit two additional chaplains for the colony.3 He secured the Reverend William Cowper, a curate in the parish of Rawdon, and the Reverend Robert Cartwright. The latter accepted the invitation apparently with some reluctance, understandably so, since the assignment was far from easy, given the origins of the colony. In the early stages the depressing and pitiable scene was dominated by prisons and barracks, and the problems related to the appalling social conditions continued well into the 19th century.

Having accepted the invitation at the end of 1808, Cartwright made preparations for his departure. On 8 January 1809, he received from King George III a commission appointing him at an annual salary of £240 as the third colonial chaplain in New South Wales. On 12 March, at Exeter, he was ordained priest. Then in April came the farewell service at Bradford Parish Church and finally departure with Marsden and his family from Cowes Road Docks on 28 August. According to a letter written by Marsden to Under-Secretary Cooke, Cartwright was to be accompanied by his wife, six children and two servants, and his baggage might amount to two or three tons. In fact only five children went out to Australia, James remaining in England. Fellow passengers on the Transport ship Ann included 198 convicts and a small contingent of soldiers due to serve in New South Wales. Voyaging via Rio de Janeiro, the ship reached Port Jackson on 27 February 1810, almost six months to the day after setting sail.


On arrival in Australia the Governor, Lachlan Macquarie, placed Cartwright as chaplain in the widely ranging Hawkesbury district focused on Windsor, where he remained until, at his own request, he was transferred at the end of 1819 to a newly constructed church in Liverpool. It was there that the family heard the tragic news of the arrest on Christmas Eve 1835 of Richard Cornelius Cartwright, who was charged with receiving on his farm at Windellama, near Goulburn, 102 stolen sheep. On being found guilty he was sentenced, on 22 February 1836, to fourteen years transportation to Van Diemen's Land, now named Tasmania. The shock of this crime, for which his brother Thomas appears to have had, at the very least, a measure of responsibility, had disastrous consequences for the family. It appears to have hastened the mother's death, on 14 September 1837, at the age of 60, and it provided a setback to the father's career. After a period of uncertainty and serious ill-health, during which steps were actually taken for a return to the United Kingdom, Robert Cartwright finally went to the remoter rural areas in the southern part of the state. There, in an extended and sparsely populated region, he pursued the task for which, with his evangelistic talents, he was well equipped. Despite the earlier problems, he lived actively until his 86th year when, on 14 December 1856, he died at Goulburn. He was buried at Liverpool where his first wife, Mary, was buried in 1837. His second wife, Isabella (nee Waddell), outlived him.

People spoke well of Cartwright. Unlike Samuel Marsden, he showed a constructive concern for the well-being of the aborigines of Australia, whereas Marsden's missionary interests were confined to the Maori of New Zealand. W.J. Cable, at the end of his contribution on Cartwright to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol I, 1788-1850, A.H., 1966, sums up his subject's characteristics:
"He retained a simple Evangelical faith, with a strong humanitarian and missionary sense. Since he avoided secular commitments, and ecclesiastical controversies, he played little part in public affairs. To him there seemed more important work to be done."


We return now to the eldest son, James Boardman Cartwright, whom the family left in England. Born on 27 March 1797 at Dickinson Street, Manchester, he was baptised at St Peter's, Moseley Street, a church which has now disappeared, but its name remains in the centrally placed St Peter's Square. While the family was in Bradford, James wrote the revealing account of his brother's death in a letter to an uncle living in London. It described life at the beginning of the 19th century in an evangelical family where frequent references to sin and hell, as well as heaven, entered into conversation and into prayer and it showed James himself to be a seriously minded boy with a very good command of English. Apparently William Wilberforce helped to persuade Robert of the educational advantages to be derived from leaving his son for schooling in England, and he continued to take an interest in the career of the young man. James was placed as a boarder in a Manchester school, and one cannot help but speculate whether the interest in the Jewish community, which absorbed more than half his life, arose from connections with a city in which there was already a strong Jewish element. It is evident that during his period at school, he kept in touch with the Bradford parish church in which his father had been a curate, for we find him acting as a witness at a marriage ceremony performed on 14 March 1813 by John Crosse.

University of Cambridge records disclose that James Bordman (sic) Cartwright was admitted as a sizar, i.e. an undergraduate receiving a maintenance allowance from his college, at Queens' on 17 June 1816, and matriculation followed in the Michaelmas Term 1816. During his undergraduate career he had contact with the ministry of the Reverend Charles Simeon who, early in the 19th century, purchased the patronage of the living of the Parish Church of St Peter, Bradford, with the result that the Simeon Trustees remain as patrons of the Cathedral. In 1821 James Cartwright obtained the BA degree, followed by the award of the MA in 1824. He was ordained deacon in 1820 and priest in 1821, in both cases in the diocese of Lincoln, and early curacies occurred in Butterwick and Fleet, both in Lincolnshire.

In 1823 came Cartwright's appointment as the minister of Bierley (earlier Byerley) chapel, which had been erected in 1766 by Dr Richard Richardson, of Bierley Hall, and opened for worship in the same year on St John's Day, 27 December. This private chapel remained unconsecrated until 30 August 1824, when the ceremony was performed by the Most Reverend Ed. Vernon Harcourt, DD, Archbishop of York. James Cartwright thus became the first minister in the newly consecrated church, but it was not until 1866 that the private chapel became the Parish Church of St John, Bierley. On 21 October 1825 James Cartwright married his cousin, Sophia Cartwright, at Christ Church, Wellington, Salop, returning for the ceremony to the birthplace of his father. While at Bierley he would be in natural contact with the Parish Church of St Peter, Bradford, since the chapel was at that time in the parish of Bradford. On one occasion we find that he was officiating minister for a marriage at the church, and on 24 May 1825, he conducted 15 baptisms there. In view of the next stage in his career, it is significant that he started at Bierley an ancillary association of the Society for Promoting Christianity among Jews.

In 1826 James Cartwright was invited to become Secretary of the above-mentioned Society, so he resigned from Bierley in August 1826 to go to London, where he spent the rest of his life. He held the position in the society until 1841. From 1832 until his death on 8 February 1861, he was Minister of the Jewish Episcopalian Chapel at Bethnal Green, living at 1 Palestine Place, and from 1853 to 1859 he was Chaplain and Principal of the Hebrew College. While in London he paid at least two visits to Bradford Parish Church for we find his name twice in the Book for the names of strange preachers to be entered in. In each case, conforming to pattern, the entry is made by Cartwright himself, on 6 August 1843, when his licence to preach came from the Bishop of Lincoln, and on 12 August 1849, when he was licensed by the Bishop of London.

There is evidence that, at his succession of London homes, James Cartwright kept in touch with at least a few of his increasingly numerous relations in Australia. In 1826, when the mother brought Mary, Robert Marsden and Jane Catherine to school in Britain, the two sisters went to the School for Clergymen's Daughters at Cowan Bridge, near Kirkby Lonsdale, Lancashire, and James, along with the elder sister Anne, was named as their next of kin. The Church Missionary Society, which had made the arrangements for places at the school, paid the £14 per annum required for the education and accommodation of each girl. Cowan Bridge, of course, is the notorious school to which four of the Bronte children were admitted during the opening year, 1824. In 1825, when they were all removed, a note in the register says that three children, including Maria and Elizabeth, 'left school in ill-health and died in a decline'.4 There were many references to ill-health, and conditions do not seem to have improved much by the time Mary and Jane Cartwright were enrolled, for when Anne went to collect them in May 1828, after a stay of less than two years, both were affected by illness. Subsequently the two girls spent several months in London with James and Sophia while Anne arranged to resign from her post as governess with a Dutch family in Amsterdam. It was not until the beginning of January 1829 that Anne set out with her sisters on their return voyage to Australia.

In 1842 Jane Catherine and her husband, Captain William Fowler, brought their seven-year-old daughter, Anne, who was a deaf mute, to London for possible treatment, making the home of James and Sophia the centre of activities. Unfortunately there were no hopes of a change in the child's physical condition, so Ann was enrolled as a day-pupil in a School for Deaf and Dumb Children, with 1 Palestine Place as her home. She responded well to this educational opportunity and proved to be 'a highly intelligent young lady' as shown by the letters to her parents during her years at school. A further source of joy during the visit to Britain was the birth of Jane Catherine's son, William, who was baptised in his uncle's chapel before the Fowler family set out for Australia on 10 June 1843, leaving 'their brave daughter' in London.


1. An account of the death of Master Cartwright etc, 1809, is available in the Reference Section, Bradford Central Library (back)

2. The hymn sheet for the service on 9 April 1809 is kept in the muniments room at Bradford Cathedral. It is reprinted on p. 16 of the above pamphlet, although the service is dated, perhaps more accurately, a week later. and there is a more correct statement of the work to which Cartwright was going. (back)

3. Samuel Marsden had other interests of a more material nature, and it was on this visit that he brought home to Farsley what was probably the first consignment of Australian wool to be processed commercially in this country. The achievement is recorded on one of the tablets in the small memorial garden in Old Road. The other tablet pays tribute to Marsden's missionary work among the Maori of New Zealand. The garden is on the site of his birthplace, where the warehouse was built in which the wool was stored (back)

4. Margaret Lane, The Bronte Story, 1953, 7th ed. 1973, devotes Chapter III to Cowan Bridge. The phrase quoted in on p. 68. (back)


The first two parts of this paper contain the thoroughly revised and somewhat extended material of a short contribution From Bradford to New South Wales in 1809-10 which appeared in the June 1982 issue of Cathedral News, Bradford. In this revision and in the preparation of the third part of the paper, I am much indebted to information provided by Mr. Edward W. Northwood, of New South Wales, author of Defend the Fold which is focused on Robert Cartwright, and of the Malua-Fowler family history, which has references to James Boardman Cartwright. Help has come, too, from Mrs Kathleen Lenthall and other Australian descendants of Robert Cartwright. In the United Kingdom, Mrs Dorothy Owen, Keeper of the Archives, University of Cambridge put me on the track of the references to James Cartwright in J.A. Venn, Alumni Cantabrigiensis, Part II, Volume I, Abbey-Challis, Cambridge University Press, 1940. The registers of Bradford Cathedral have been thoroughly searched and for James Cartwright the investigation has been extended to Bierley Chapel registers deposited at the Bradford District Archives. Other sources include - Australian dictionary of biography, containing articles on Robert Cartwright, William Cowper, and Samuel Marsden; J.R. Elder, The letters and journals of Samuel Marsden 1765-1838, Dunedin, 1932; W.J. Gunther, The Church of England in Australia from 1788 to 1829, Parramatta 1888; W. Hiles A history of the parish of St John, Bierley: centenary celebration 1824-1924, 1924.

© 1989, Kenneth Baker and The Bradford Antiquary