Samuel Gurney (1786–1856)

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Samuel Gurney in 1840[1]

Samuel Gurney (18 October 1786 – 5 June 1856) was an English banker and philanthropist from the Gurney family of Norwich. He should not be confused with his second son, Samuel (1816–1882), also described as banker and philanthropist, and a Member of Parliament.[2]

Early years and marriage[edit]

Gurney was born at Earlham Hall[3] near Norwich, England, 18 October 1786, the second son of John Gurney (1749–1809),[4] a Quaker banker of Norwich, and Catherine, the daughter of Daniel Bell (1728–1750), a London merchant from Stamford Hill. The family's Gurney's Bank was founded in 1770.

Gurney was educated at Wandsworth, Surrey, and at Hingham, Norfolk. Among his siblings were Joseph John Gurney, Daniel Gurney (1791–1880),[5] Elizabeth Fry, Louisa Hoare (1784–1836),[6] the wife of Samuel Hoare, and Hannah Buxton, the wife of Sir Thomas Buxton. At the age of 14, Gurney was placed in the counting-house of his brother-in-law, Joseph Fry (1777–1861),[7] a tea merchant and banker, at St Mildred's Court, Poultry, in the City of London.[8]

Overend, Gurney and Company[edit]

The wealth that came to Gurney from his father-in-law and what was bequeathed to him by his father, helped him to make rapid progress as a partner in Richardson and Overend, with which he had become connected in 1807.[8] The business had been founded in 1800 by Thomas Richardson, a clerk to a London bill discounter, and John Overend, Chief Clerk in the bank of Smith, Payne & Company in Nottingham, with the Gurneys supplying the capital. At that time bill discounting was carried on sporadically by ordinary merchants in addition to their regular business, but Richardson thought there was room for a London house that would concern itself entirely with trading in bills. This novel idea proved an instant success. On his father's death in 1809, Samuel Gurney assumed the control of the Norwich bank. At the same time he took control of Richardson and Overend, whose name was later changed to Overend, Gurney and Company.[9]

Soon after Gurney entered the firm, it began to assume proportions that made it, for about forty years, the largest discounting house in the world. At first only discounting bills, it soon began to lend money on all sorts of securities. In the panic of 1825, the firm was able to lend money to many houses to tide them over their difficulties; this brought them into even greater favour. Gurney became known as "the bankers' banker", and many firms which had previously dealt with the Bank of England now began depositing their surplus cash in its hands. At the time of Gurney's death in 1856, it was calculated that the house held deposits amounting to £8 million sterling.[8] Nonetheless, the bank collapsed in 1866, owing millions.

Philanthropic interests[edit]

During the later years of his life, charitable and philanthropic undertakings almost monopolized Gurney's attention.[9]

Penal reform and criminal justice

Gurney took a part in the efforts of Joseph John Gurney, Fowell Buxton, and Elizabeth Fry for the improvement of prison discipline and the reform of the criminal code. He refused to prosecute a man who had forged his name, knowing well that death was the punishment for such an offence.

Isaac Crewdson (Beaconite) writerSamuel Jackman Prescod - Barbadian JournalistWilliam Morgan from BirminghamWilliam Forster - Quaker leaderGeorge Stacey - Quaker leaderWilliam Forster - Anti-Slavery ambassadorJohn Burnet -Abolitionist SpeakerWilliam Knibb -Missionary to JamaicaJoseph Ketley from GuyanaGeorge Thompson - UK & US abolitionistJ. Harfield Tredgold - British South African (secretary)Josiah Forster - Quaker leaderSamuel Gurney - the Banker's BankerSir John Eardley-WilmotDr Stephen Lushington - MP and JudgeSir Thomas Fowell BuxtonJames Gillespie Birney - AmericanJohn BeaumontGeorge Bradburn - Massachusetts politicianGeorge William Alexander - Banker and TreasurerBenjamin Godwin - Baptist activistVice Admiral MoorsonWilliam TaylorWilliam TaylorJohn MorrisonGK PrinceJosiah ConderJoseph SoulJames Dean (abolitionist)John Keep - Ohio fund raiserJoseph EatonJoseph Sturge - Organiser from BirminghamJames WhitehorneJoseph MarriageGeorge BennettRichard AllenStafford AllenWilliam Leatham, bankerWilliam BeaumontSir Edward Baines - JournalistSamuel LucasFrancis Augustus CoxAbraham BeaumontSamuel Fox, Nottingham grocerLouis Celeste LecesneJonathan BackhouseSamuel BowlyWilliam Dawes - Ohio fund raiserRobert Kaye Greville - BotanistJoseph Pease - reformer in India)W.T.BlairM.M. Isambert (sic)Mary Clarkson -Thomas Clarkson's daughter in lawWilliam TatumSaxe Bannister - PamphleteerRichard Davis Webb - IrishNathaniel Colver - Americannot knownJohn Cropper - Most generous LiverpudlianThomas ScalesWilliam JamesWilliam WilsonThomas SwanEdward Steane from CamberwellWilliam BrockEdward BaldwinJonathon MillerCapt. Charles Stuart from JamaicaSir John Jeremie - JudgeCharles Stovel - BaptistRichard Peek, ex-Sheriff of LondonJohn SturgeElon GalushaCyrus Pitt GrosvenorRev. Isaac BassHenry SterryPeter Clare -; sec. of Literary & Phil. Soc. ManchesterJ.H. JohnsonThomas PriceJoseph ReynoldsSamuel WheelerWilliam BoultbeeDaniel O'Connell - "The Liberator"William FairbankJohn WoodmarkWilliam Smeal from GlasgowJames Carlile - Irish Minister and educationalistRev. Dr. Thomas BinneyEdward Barrett - Freed slaveJohn Howard Hinton - Baptist ministerJohn Angell James - clergymanJoseph CooperDr. Richard Robert Madden - IrishThomas BulleyIsaac HodgsonEdward SmithSir John Bowring - diplomat and linguistJohn EllisC. Edwards Lester - American writerTapper Cadbury - Businessmannot knownThomas PinchesDavid Turnbull - Cuban linkEdward AdeyRichard BarrettJohn SteerHenry TuckettJames Mott - American on honeymoonRobert Forster (brother of William and Josiah)Richard RathboneJohn BirtWendell Phillips - AmericanJean-Baptiste Symphor Linstant de Pradine from HaitiHenry Stanton - AmericanProf William AdamMrs Elizabeth Tredgold - British South AfricanT.M. McDonnellMrs John BeaumontAnne Knight - FeministElizabeth Pease - SuffragistJacob Post - Religious writerAnne Isabella, Lady Byron - mathematician and estranged wifeAmelia Opie - Novelist and poetMrs Rawson - Sheffield campaignerThomas Clarkson's grandson Thomas ClarksonThomas MorganThomas Clarkson - main speakerGeorge Head Head - Banker from CarlisleWilliam AllenJohn ScobleHenry Beckford - emancipated slave and abolitionistUse your cursor to explore (or Click "i" to enlarge)
Gurney is to the front and left of this painting of the 1840 Anti-Slavery Convention. Move your cursor to identify him or click the icon to enlarge

Gurney attended the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention in London and he was a prime figure in the painting which is now in the National Portrait Gallery in London.[1] He is in the foreground of the painting on the left.

The second international Anti-Slavery convention was in 1843 when Gurney was the chairman of the convention.[10] Richard Peek took the chair of the convention when Gurney had to leave.


He also interested himself in the Niger Expedition of 1841.[11] In March 1841 he entertained Captain Henry Dundas Trotter, Commander William Allen, and a large number of the officers of the expedition at a farewell dinner at Upton.

Gurney was a liberal patron of the infant colony of Liberia, kept up a correspondence with President Roberts, and for his many gifts was rewarded by his name being given to a town of Gallenas in 1851.

Education and the Great Hunger

He became treasurer of the British and Foreign School Society in 1843, and held that post till his decease.

In 1849, Gurney undertook a tour of Ireland, where he made considerable gifts to poor people still suffering from the effects of the famine.

Peace mission to France

In 1853 he accompanied a deputation sent to Napoleon III to express a desire for a long continuance of peace and amity between England and France.

Poplar hospital

On the initiative of Gurney, the Poplar Hospital for Accidents, the first casualty hospital for dockworkers, was opened in 1855.

St Paul's Church, Stratford

In 1853 he assisted in the construction of a mission building, which later became the parish church of St Paul's Church, Stratford.

Death and burial[edit]

Samuel Gurney's wife died at Ham House, Essex, on 14 February 1855, and in the autumn of that year, his own health being much broken, he moved his residence to Nice. Getting worse in the spring of 1856, he hurried homewards, desiring to end his days in his own country among his kindred. He reached Paris, but could go no further and died in an hotel in that city on 5 June 1856, at the age of 69.[8]

He was buried in the Friends' cemetery at Barking on 19 June, when an immense concourse of people attended the funeral. He left nine children and upwards of forty grandchildren, but his eldest son, John Gurney (1809–1856) of Earlham Hall, did not long survive him, dying on 23 September 1856. Gurney was the author of a pamphlet To the Electors of South Essex 1852, in which he recommended the election of his son-in-law Sir Edward North Buxton.

The 12.8 metre tall Gurney Memorial obelisk in Stratford Broadway


In 1861, a memorial drinking fountain, in the form of a tall granite obelisk, was unveiled in Gurney's memory. Designed by John Bell, it stands in the middle of the Broadway in Stratford. It bears the inscription (a paraphrase from the Book of Job, Chapter 29 verse 11) IN REMEMBRANCE OF SAMUEL GURNEY / WHO DIED THE 5TH OF JUNE 1856 / ERECTED BY HIS FELLOW PARISHIONERS AND FRIENDS / 1861 / "When the ear heard him then it blessed him"[12][13]

Failure of Overend, Gurney and Co.[edit]

The great commercial establishment of Overend, Gurney & Co., which Gurney had brought to a position of unexampled wealth and influence, after passing into less competent hands, was reorganised as a joint-stock company in August 1865, but failed on 10 May 1866, when its liabilities amounted to £11 million, ruining some of the Gurneys as well as numerous other investors. However, Gurney's Bank and most of the Gurney family escaped losses.[14]


On 7 April 1808, Gurney married Elizabeth, daughter of James Sheppard of Ham House, Upton, Essex, a handsome residence that descended in 1812 to the young couple, and was their abode for nearly the whole of their married life. They had three sons and six daughters.[15] The children's names – John, Samuel, Henry Edmund, Sarah, Catherine, Elizabeth, Priscilla, Rachel and Richenda – appear in the Gurney Family Tree at p. 28 of [16] U.S.:.[17] Barclay Fox married a grand-daughter of Samuel Gurney's brother, Joseph.

Samuel Gurney MP was the second of the three sons of the marriage. The second daughter Catherine married Sir Edward Buxton, 2nd Baronet.[18] Their daughter Elizabeth married Ernest Christian Ludwig de Bunsen.[19] Priscilla married William Henry Leatham.[20]


  1. ^ a b The Anti-Slavery Society Convention, 1840, Benjamin Robert Haydon, accessed April 2009
  2. ^ See Richard Davenport-Hines, "Gurney, Samuel (1816–1882)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 Accessed 23 January 2008. From 1857 until 1865 Samuel Gurney, junior, was MP for the borough of Penryn and Falmouth.
  3. ^ Earlham Hall now houses part of the University of East Anglia.
  4. ^ His ODNB article gives father's dates of birth and death.
  5. ^ M. W. Kirby, "Gurney, Daniel (1791–1880)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, UK: OUP, 2004) Retrieved 1 February 2017.
  6. ^ Susan Drain, "Hoare, Louisa Gurney (1784–1836)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, UK: OUP, 2004) Retrieved 1 February 2017.
  7. ^ Joseph Fry (1777–1861), husband of Elizabeth Gurney.
  8. ^ a b c d Boase 1911.
  9. ^ a b Chisholm 1911.
  10. ^ "Proceedings of the General Anti-Slavery Convention, called by the committee of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, and held in London from Tuesday June 13th to Tuesday June 20th, 1843", accessed April 2009
  11. ^ National Maritime Museum catalogue of Charts & Maps: Niger expedition of 1841: "Captain Henry Trotter commanded the British government expedition devised by The Society for the Extinction of the Slave Trade and for the Civilisation of Africa. The plan was to establish trade with African rulers so that, having an alternative source of wealth, they would be more willing to give up selling slaves. The expedition succumbed to tropical fever and was aborted."
  12. ^ Visual Arts Data Service – Public Monuments & Sculpture Association: Samuel Gurney Memorial
  13. ^ Edwards, Jason. "Bell, John". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/2017. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  14. ^ Margaret Ackrill and Leslie Hannah, Barclays: The Business of Banking, 1690–1996, 2001, Cambridge University Press, Chapter 1 ISBN 0-521-79035-2
  15. ^ See the ODNB article on the second son, Samuel.
  16. ^ Fox, Robert Barclay (1979). Barclay Fox's journal, ed. by Raymond Brett. London: Bell and Hyman. ISBN 9781904880318.
  17. ^ Fox, Robert Barclay (1979). Barclay Fox's journal, ed. by Raymond Brett. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0-8476-6187-3.)
  18. ^ Baigent, Elizabeth. "Buxton, Edward North". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/53188. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  19. ^ Hawke, Joanna. "Bunsen, Ernest Christian Ludwig de". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/32170. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  20. ^ Stephan, Megan A. "Leatham, William Henry". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/16251. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)


  • Verily Anderson, Friends and Relations: Three Centuries of Quaker Families (1980) London, Hodder & Stoughton – an account of the Gurney family ISBN 1-898030-84-7