There has been much debate amongst members of the teaching profession in recent months about the government’s education policy and how it will affect both staff and pupils. During the course of researching my family history, I have uncovered several members of my family who were teachers and have, recently, discovered one ancestor who was affected a great deal by changes in education. Before I get to that, some background on the ancestor in question is necessary.
John Cookson Ewan was born in Hest Bank, near Morecambe, in 1833 and was baptised at Holy Trinity, Bolton Le Sands on February 4th of that year. By 1841, the family had relocated to Bootle cum Linacre where his father, Richard, continued to work as a labourer. By the time of the 1851 Census, Richard had become a postmaster, an occupation he would continue for many years. The idea of compulsory education did not come about until 1870 yet Richard ensured that his children received schooling and John Cookson Ewan was soon able to read and write and began working as a clerk.
At some point in the 1850s, as part of his duties, John began to collect subscriptions for the newly-built Bootle Dispensary. In December 1857, however, he was dismissed from his post for becoming a defaulter in his accounts. His dismissal did not deter him from continuing his ‘work’ however and he still continued to collect money for the dispensary – the only difference was, he was keeping the money for himself. He was caught out by a Mr Gradwell from Waterloo who gave John 10s 6d, believing it to be for the charity. After discovering he had been dismissed, he reported John to the police and soon he was taken into custody by Sergeant Richmond. Hoping that the bench would be lenient, John admitted the charge and was committed for trial at the next county sessions where he was sentenced to two months in gaol.
After being released from prison, John found it difficult to get work and he soon found himself at the West Derby Workhouse. By the end of 1861, he had fallen on the wrong side of the tracks again, facing another charge of fraud. In about November 1861, John became acquainted with James Frederick Millington, a beer house keeper from St. Anne Street. He informed Millington that he was an out of work clerk but was in receipt of 25s per week from a Mr Moult, agent to Lord Derby. After hearing this, Millington invited John to lodge and board at his house at a cost of 14s per week.
After his account had ran up to £4 or £5, Millington asked John to settle his bill. Knowing that he had no income, John gave Mrs Millington a written order: 54 Leigh Street, Liverpool, 26th October 1861 – Please pay the bearer, on sight, the sum of ten pounds sterling on my account, William Moult, by procuration, Derby. Mrs Millington gave the ‘order’ to her husband but, somehow, John got hold of it again, put a stamp on it and changed Moult’s name to his own. To convince Millington that the order was genuine, John took the beer house keeper to Leigh Street to meet Mr Moult, knowing full well that Moult would not be there. The fact that John was prepared to take him, however, was enough for Millington and he continued to allow him to lodge at his house.
To provide further ‘evidence,’ a few days later, John produced a letter purporting to be from a Mr Spence, a clerk in Moult’s office, apologising for Moult not being able to keep the appointment. On November 2nd, John produced another letter, also allegedly from Spence. John Cookson Ewan remained at the house and was now also borrowing money from Millington.
Soon, Millington began to realise that he was probably not going to get the money owed to him and began to make inquiries. When they were not satisfactory, he visited the detective office for advice. On production of the ‘order,’ it was ascertained that it was a forgery and John was apprehended. The letters from Spence were also produced and discovered that they, too, were in John Cookson Ewan’s own handwriting. This was confirmed by William Moult who, despite admitting that he did know the accused (he had collected Lord Derby’s Bootle Dispensary subscription), he stated that his signature had been forged. Ewan was, again, committed for trial at the assizes, saying, “All I have to say is, I’m guilty.” He was once again sentenced, this time for six months.
This lengthier prison sentence did not deter Ewan as, in August 1863, he was charged with obtaining £1 17s by false pretences from Mr Capper of the firm of Thompson & Capper, homoeopathic chemists of Bold Street. After leaving gaol, he had found work in the service of Mr Lovelady, a fishmonger and game dealer, of Waterloo, where he would occasionally collect accounts. On 13th August, he had been dismissed for an offence but a few days later, called at the house of Dr Drysdale for £1 17s. Mr Capper was in the habit of paying small amounts on behalf of the doctor and so gave John the money he had asked for. This money was, once again, appropriated for his own use and was remanded so that an investigation of Capper’s books could be made.
By now, John Cookson Ewan had developed a conscience and had decided that he wanted to make a living on the right side of the law. As he was an educated man, he put his skills to good use by becoming a teacher. At this time, the only children who received schooling were generally those from rich families so John established his own school where he could receive payment for educating young children. All was going well until, in 1870, the Education Act made it possible for all children under 10 to attend ‘free’ schools. This severely damaged John’s income as three free schools opened in Bootle, in the area where he had been working, meaning that he lost the pupils he had been teaching.
As a result, at 11.30am on 4th March 1871, Police Constable 680, whilst on duty in Breeze Hill, Walton, saw John go to the house of a Mr. King and stay there for about ten minutes. As he left, the officer asked what he had been doing. First, John stated that he had been making an enquiry but, when pressed, said he had been begging for a subscription to bury his father who had died in an Everton hospital the previous day. The officer, having seen his father alive at Walton Workhouse that morning, took John into custody. In his possession, he found a petition asking for subscriptions to enable him to bury his father along with the names of several people who had already contributed. When sent for trial, his previous convictions were brought up and he was sentenced to three months with hard labour.
Little is known about the rest of John Cookson Ewan’s life other than that things
obviously didn’t improve as on the 1881 Census, he was back in West Derby Workhouse having being diagnosed with epilepsy. He died three years later.