Sir Felix Booth, 1st Baronet, FRS (1775 Roydon, Essex – 24 January 1850 Brighton, Sussex) was a wealthy UK gin distiller, and promoter of Arctic exploration, with various places in Nunavut, Canada being named after him.
Life and family
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Sir Felix Booth's ancestry can be traced back to the marriage of William de Booth in abt 1250 in Branston Lancashire. Five generations later, Sir John Booth b abt 1350 wed twice, firstly to Lady Joan Trafford in abt 1378 at Barton upon Inwell and secondly to Lady Maude Savage in abt 1412 at Barton upon Inwell Lancashire, collectively producing thirteen children. There was a parting of the ways with their children when their son Thomas Booth (1395-1482) (later knighted) moved from Lancashire to Lincolnshire and married Isabella Carrington in 1431 at Killingholme,and their other son named Robert Booth (b 1384) (later knighted) married Dulcia Venabales on 3 May 1409 at Eccles Lancashire and became the start of the "Booths of Dunham Massey" dynasty in Cheshire.
Sir Thomas and Isabella Booth nee Carrington, now living in Lincolnshire, had seven offspring in Killingholme from which two Booth streams eventuated with their son Thomas Booth marrying Ann Ashton in abt 1456 at Goxhill Lincolnshire and starting the "Booths of Goxhill" dynasty, whilst their son Henry Booth married Elizabeth Gascaryk in 1460 at Killingholme Lincolnshire and started the "Booths of Killingholme" dynasty. Sir Felix Booth's ancestry has derived from the "Booths of Killingholme" dynasty.
Five generations later, John Booth of Killingholme born abt 1555 married Martha Butler in abt 1573 at Goxhill and they had four offspring, from which their son George Booth b 1582 married Elizabeth Monkton in abt 1605 at Killingholme. Their son William Booth b 1608 married Elizabeth Wright on 13 June 1631 at Market Rasen. William and Elizabeth Booth's marriage produced ten offspring, from which their son Thomas Booth b 1637 (who would become Sir Felix Booth's 2x great-grandfather) married Elizabeth Middlemore on 23 Nov 1670 at Market Rasen, producing four sons and four daughters: their first son John Booth b 1672 (who would become Sir Felix Booth's 1x great-grandfather) marrying Elizabeth Sanderson on 20 Jun 1700 at Ulceby, their third son Robert Booth b 1677 marrying Katherine Clinton, daughter of Francis Clinton 6th Earl of Lincoln and their fourth son Peniston Booth marrying Katherine Jones, daughter of Reverend Canon Dr Edward Jones.
From the marriage of John Booth and Elizabeth Sanderson on 20 Jun 1700 at Ulceby, their second son William Booth b 1703 married Alice Green on 25 July 1729 at Ulceby and they would have eight children comprising six boys and two girls. It would be their first son Richard Booth b 22 Jul 1730 who would be Sir Felix Booth's first cousin once removed. Richard married Ann Hill in 1753 at Irby upon Humber near Caistor and lived permanently in the village of Caistor. Richard and Ann had nine children comprising six sons and three daughters and their last born son Samuel Booth b 1773 married Ann (maiden name not known)in abt 1803 and had a son named Felix Booth b 1805. Richard Booth died in 1800 aged 70. It was reported in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1840 that "the late Richard Booth's daughter Miss Elizabeth Booth of Caistor Lincolnshire died on 22nd April 1840 in her 82nd year. She was a cousin to Sir Felix Booth".
From the marriage of John Booth and Elizabeth Sanderson on 20 Jun 1700 at Ulceby, their third son John Booth b 1711(who would become Sir Felix Booth's grandfather) made his way to London and became involved in the distillery business, from which a major British company would evolve. John Booth married a Mary (maiden name may possibly be Watts and the marriage date may possibly be 3 Jan 1739 at Westminster London, but not substantiated) and by 1740, John Booth was aged 29 years and Booth's Gin was very popular. John and Mary produced at least four offspring including their son Philip Booth who was born during 1745 (substantiated by his obituary saying he died on 5 May 1818 aged 73). A second son John Booth was born abt 1750 and reference to him was reported in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1804 when it said "John Booth's youngest daughter Jane died in her seventeenth year at Caistor Lincolnshire". She was presumably visiting or staying with her Uncle Richard Booth and Aunt Ann Booth. Nothing is known about the remaining offspring.
Around 1760, Philip Booth joined his father John in the family business and in abt 1772, he married Elisabeth Wallis, whose father lived - as did Philip - in the new and fashionable Russell Square on the Bedford Estate in Bloomsbury London. Philip and Elisabeth produced seven children, comprising four sons and three daughters, Elizabeth abt 1773 + William b 25 Jul 1774 + John Gillyat b 17 Mar 1776 + Mary b 15 Aug 1777 + Philip b 1778 + Felix b 16 Jul 1780 + Alice b 4 Aug 1782. In the Directory of Merchants for 1778, when Philip was aged 33, there is the entry of the firm Philip Booth and Company, Distillers, of 55 Turnmill Street in Clerkenwell London. Philip's three sons William, John Gillyat and Felix would join the family business and be groomed as successors. However shortly before Philip's death in 1818, the original family partnership was dissolved and a new one established between the brothers John Gillyat aged 40 and Felix aged 36. Together they had - to a great extent - rebuilt the Turnmill Street premises and it would be Felix who subsequently obtained sole control of the business.
With energy and drive, Felix expanded the business by building a second distillery at Brentwood on the river Thames just six miles from Hyde Park Corner and purchasing the neighbouring brewery of Hazard and Company, which he renamed as the Red Lion Brewery. By establishing a distillery in Edinburgh Scotland, Felix Booth could then boast that he was the owner of the biggest distilling business in England. In 1828, now aged 48, he was elected a Sheriff of the City of London and the County of Middlesex. Felix had now accumulated considerable wealth and decided to use his money to privately fund a voyage of exploration to the Artic Seas, financing Captain Ross and his twenty two companions, equipped with stores and supplies to last several years, on a voyage on the paddle-steamer "Victory". They departed Woolwich Reach on 23 May 1829 and returned to Hull Yorkshire on 18 October 1833, having survived many exploratory experiences. Whilst Captain Ross had failed to open up a North-West passage, he had dramatically narrowed the field for future expeditions by mapping an area of over half-million square miles. For Felix Booth's financial contribution to such an effort, he was knighted by the King and had a baronetcy bestowed upon him 'as a reward for his patriotism in fitting out at his sole cost an expedition in the endeavour to discover a North-West Passage'.
In 1832, Sir Felix Booth bought the site of the old Ophthalmic Hospital in Albany Street, Regent's Park as a site for his distillery. In 1840, he went into partnership with William Grimble to experiment with producing vinegar from the spirits left over from the manufacturing process. The site was in the NE corner of Cumberland Market. The venture was unsuccessful so Sir Felix reverted to the more conventional method of vinegar brewing.
Between 1840-1843, Sir Felix Booth was faced with a blackmail situation and it was ultimately taken to court in 1843. Sir Felix had a second cousin once removed also named Felix Booth b 1805, being the grandson of Richard Booth of Caistor Lincolnshire. Felix, no doubt envious of Sir Felix's wealth, threatened - with the intent to exhort money - to reveal to the police that Sir Felix had committed unlawful sexual crimes. Sir Felix attended the hearing in Hull Yorkshire, vigorously denying the claims asserted by Felix. Sir Felix admitted to the court that he had fathered a male child with a Scottish woman in Edinburgh that he was very fond of and had financially assisted the child through his growth years. This situation had made Felix insanely jealous. The 'love child' was referred in the court as simply Mr Marr. The court ruled Sir Felix to be innocent and Felix was found guilty of blackmail and sentenced to twenty years transportation to Australia.
William Bradley (1801-1857), one of England's leading painters / engravers of the era painted a portrait of Sir Felix Booth around 1850, coloured in a mettzo-tint style and it was hung in the Court Room of the Coopers Company until its destruction in an air raid over London during World War 2.
Sir Felix Booth died unexpectedly of heart failure whilst staying in a seaside hotel at Brighton in 1850, aged 69. His funeral procession was staged with all the solemn pageantry of the Victorian period and passed respectful bare-headed villagers lining the roadside in Edmonton and Hoddesdon. Six horses, preceded by outriders, drew the hearse, six coaches of mourners followed it and Sir Felix's private carriage, empty of passengers, brought up the rear. It was said that "Sir Felix Booth dies generally and justly lamented. he was in every respect a princely citizen of London. His immense wealth, acquired by his own industry, was devoted to the benefit or enjoyment of others. His disposition was amiable and his habits splendid. He took delight in hospitality and in acts of kindness and charity".
Sir Felix Booth had not married but his illegitimate son John Marshall Marr - mentioned in the 1843 Hull Court hearing as simply Mr Marr - married Emma Minchin on 26 Sep 1836 at Exeter Devon and they produced eight daughters and four sons, named George b 1837 + William b 1845 + Arthur b 1852 + John b 1855. John Marshall Marr was adequately benefited in the Will of Sir Felix Booth.
As of 2015, Booth's Gin remains licensed by Diageo.
He provided £17,000 for the expenses of the expedition, to which Captain (later Sir John) Ross had added £3,000, and the result was an immense stride in the progress of geographical science. The grateful commander bestowed the name of his patron upon several of his discoveries on land and sea - Gulf of Boothia, Isthmus of Boothia, Continent of Boothia Felix, Felix Harbor, Cape Felix, and Sheriff's Harbor: the district with the islands, rivers, lakes, &c., extending to 74° N. latitude along the north-eastern portion of North America.
Honours and distinctions
A founding Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, Booth was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society on 10 April 1834; his sponsorship of the successful expedition was rewarded by King William IV with a baronetcy, on 27 March 1835, with remainder to heirs male of his eldest brother.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Gibson, John Westby (1886). "Booth, Felix". In Stephen, Leslie. Dictionary of National Biography. 5. London: Smith, Elder & Co.