George Goldsmith Kirby a mystery?

Quite recently my father produced the photo below of my great great grandfather Alfred Octavius Kirby, and some artefacts which suggested he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, England.

So my eldest brother contacted the Keeper of Archives at the Cambridge University Library, who kindly dug out information on Alfred Octavius from their biographical register. This also included entries for his brother Augustus George and his son George Henry (see below). What was even more interesting was the entry also mentioned that his father was George Goldsmith (Kirby), of Little Marble Hill, Twickenham.

Related Kirbys at Trinity College
Related Kirbys at Trinity College

None of us had ever heard any mention of George Goldsmith Kirby before, and the Goldsmith connection was a complete mystery. We are still none the wiser, but at least now know, thanks to George H. Graham, that he was born around 1806 possibly in Holburn, Middlesex, and that he married Harriet Sarah (?) who was born about 1805, in Stratford, Essex. We also know that he had at least 11 children, possibly 12, including our great great grandfather Alfred Octavius.

Alfred Octavius Kirby (1843-1919)
Alfred Octavius Kirby (1843-1919)

What’s mystifying us is that George Goldsmith Kirby seems to have appeared out of nowhere. Suddenly he’s managing director of the Albert Life Assurance Company, living in Little Marble Hall, Twickenham, and sending his children to schools likes Rugby at about the time that Thomas Hughes of Tom Brown’s Schooldays fame was there. At least two sons also go on to Trinity College, Cambridge, and most of his children that survived marry into what would then be considered to be respectable families.

Maybe his sudden appearance is just a part of the changing social landscape in Victorian Britain, not unlike our great great great grandfather Lloyd Baxendale (the father of Alfred Octavius’ wife Alice), who bought his way into the landed gentry through a fortune made from the Pickfords removal firm (see more here). George Goldsmith Kirby would have been one of the first fund managers in a totally unregulated and emerging market selling to the rapidly growing middle classes. In fact, the principle behind the Assurance Companies Act of 1909 is based on the an Act from 1870, passed as a direct result of the spectacular failure of the Albert Life Assurance Company he ran.

George Goldsmith Kirby certainly lived in London’s more salubrious areas (mostly ‘North of the River and South of the Park’ or is that they other way round?), including: Saint Clement Danes, Westminster; 5 Kensington Park Villas; 57 Queen’s Gate; 7 Waterloo Place; 3. Kensington-park-gardens East; and Little Marble Hill, Twickenham (mentioned above), which is a little further west along the Thames.

However, we are completely clueless about his ancestry. There could be a connection with Kirby Turners from Lancashire. The marriage of my great grreat grandfather Alfred Octavius to Alice Baxendale was assisted by the Rev J Kirby Turner. Her family were originally from Lancashire and her mother Ellen was a Turner (see more here).

There could also be a connection with the painter Joshua Kirby (1716-74). He’s buried alongside the artist Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88) at St Anne’s Church, which is close to Little Marble Hill in Twickenham where George Goldsmith Kirby lived among other places. Apparently, Joshua Kirby moved to Kew when he became drawing master to the royal family. Gainsborough, who was also favoured by George III, often visited his friend at Kew and stayed near the church (see more here).

These connections are tenuous at best, and I’m not sure how I would research them further. There’s also so many other leads to follow-up and it’s getting late, so I’ll try and blog about some them soon.

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