John Summers 1837-1885 Convict No. 4942

The story of John Summers is a classic case of a convicted offender turning over a new leaf. By the time he died at 49 years of age, he had become a wealthy property owner and much respected citizen of the Western Australian colony, holding positions of great trust within the community.

John Summers was born in Flixton, North Yorkshire in 1837.1 This was also the birthplace of his sister Sarah, (1839 – 1889) and mother Christiana Newton (1819 – 1878). According to the 1841 Census, the family was living in Falsgrave in the parish of Scarborough. The 1851 Census had 15 year old John working as a joiner with his father William Summers (1816 – 1871) also in the same parish.2

John’s father William, was one of 12 children who, like his 6 surviving brothers, all became proficient joiners, wheelwrights, builders, cabinetmakers and machine makers. Their father John (1789 – 1866) was also a joiner, so it seems appropriate that the John Summers of this story had inherited the same skills as his forefathers.

In 1865, John was sentenced to 6 Years Penal Servitude for having a “Jemmy” with the intent of breaking into the shop of Henry Terry.3 He was sent to Wakefield Prison for 12 months before being moved to Portsmouth to await transportation.

In March 1858 he boarded the ship Lord Raglan which left Portsmouth that month and arrived in Fremantle, Western Australia on 1st June 1858.4

John was described as 5’43/4” with brown hair, hazel eyes, sharp face, sallow skin, middle stout, 5 dots back of left hand, pock marked. He was semi literate and single with no children. His convict number was 4942.5

John gained his Ticket of Leave in December 1860, having spent time at the Fremantle, Clarence and Mt Eliza Depots and obtained his Certificate of Freedom in 1863.6 However an article written about him and his successes some 20 years later, says he was employed as a machinist at the Geraldine Mine near Northampton.7 This might not be correct. The article never mentioned he was an ex convict and this fact seems to have been conveniently forgotten from the time he took over the wheelwright and coach building business from his employer Charles King in Perth in 1863. An advertisement notifying of the takeover stated that Summers had been working for Charles King as his manager 3 years prior.8

There was indeed a John Summers who arrived in Port Gregory in 1859, but the ship he arrived on came directly from England, carrying the Bray traction engine destined for the Geraldine Mine.9

John had married Elizabeth Howlett in 1861 in Perth.10 She was the daughter of Charles Howlett, a brick maker and market gardener. In 1867 a daughter named Elizabeth was born, but sadly didn’t survive. The couple had no other children.

John’s parents William and Christiana and sister Sarah came to Western Australia as immigrants on the ship Fitzroy, which arrived in October 1866.11 It’s likely that his father William (a master craftsman) worked in John’s business. Sadly in 1871, William died after falling from his horse when returning from the races. He had become well known and respected among his acquaintances.12

In 1868 John became a member of the Oddfellows Lodge.

His business thrived. Many of the men he employed started as an apprentice under Summers. There were also 13 Ticket of Leave men employed on occasions between 1864 and 1874. By 1882 he was employing 40 – 50 hands as wheelwrights, coach builders,  upholsterers, saddlers and harness makers, along with monument cutters and inscribers. He was also the city undertaker, accredited with building Perth’s first funeral hearse.

In 1874 He was appointed to the Board of Education.

In 1879 he was appointed Treasurer of the City Council and councilor of the West Ward.

John Summers photo
Cr John Summers. Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), Sunday 10 July 1921, page 13

In 1881, Summers erected the first Hansom Cab stand in Western Australia, opposite his business in Hay Street.

In 1883, in conjunction with his coach building, funeral services and hiring out his horses and traps, John built the first omnibus which ran to all parts of the city.

John Summers died of a suspected heart attack one morning in 1885. According to the newspaper article, he had been suffering from heart disease for some time.13 At his death, he owned land in Perth and Albany, houses in William St and 100 Gas shares. Together with the value of his stock in trade, collected debts and money held in the AMP Society, this amounted to nearly £8000.14 The 2018 equivalent is close to AUD$1,000,000. 15 The beneficiaries of his estate were his wife Elizabeth and spinster sister Sarah. ©MaggieSpeak 2019

I have volunteered to write this biography for East Perth Cemeteries https://www.eastperthcemeteries.com.au


End Notes:

1 & 2.  1851 England Census Class: HO107; Piece: 2368; Folio: 521; Page: 16; GSU roll: 87646-87649; John Summers. https://search.ancestry.com.au/cgibin/sse.dll?indiv=1&db=uki1851&h=11111492

3.  Newspaper: Leeds Intelligencier 25 October 1856: https://search.findmypast.com.au/bna/viewarticle?id=bl%2f0000193%2f18561025%2f096&stringtohighlight=john%20summers

4 & 5.   SROWA: Convict Department: Reel No. FCN39: Reference No. ACC 128/1-32 John Summers: https://search.ancestry.com.au/cgibin/sse.dll?indiv=1&db=WAusConvicts&h=22122

6.  SROWA: Convict Department Registers: Reel No. 9: Reference No. ACC 1156/R8 John Summers: https://search.ancestry.com.au/cgibin/sse.dll?indiv=1&db=WAusConvicts&h=210896

7.  Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth, WA : 1855 – 1901), Wednesday 15 February 1882, page 7: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/65935771

8.  West Australian Times (Perth, WA : 1863 – 1864), Thursday 8 October 1863, page 2: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/3366853

9.  Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth, WA : 1855 – 1901), Wednesday 29 June 1859, page 2: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66008254

10.  https://bdm.justice.wa.gov.au/_apps/pioneersindex/default.aspx

11.  Shipping Intelligence: Perth Gazette and WA Times, 9 Oct 1866: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/3753155

12.  Perth Gazette and West Australian Times (WA : 1864 – 1874), Friday 14 April 1871, page 3 : https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/3748673

13.  West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), Tuesday 18 August 1885, page 3: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/3001376

14.  SROWA: AU WA S34: Cons 3403 1885/762 Probate Files John Summers. https://archive.sro.wa.gov.au/index.php/john-summers-1885-762

15.  https://www.measuringworth.com/calculators/australiacompare/relativevalue.php

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