George Burgess (1829-1905)

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George Burgess practiced Phrenology in the Arcades, Bristol from 1861 to 1901.

Between 1845 and 1857 he visited America three times to complete his apprenticeship in stone mason, with the intention to immigrate there, but each time he had to return to England due to the ill health of his mother. He never returned to America after the death of his mother in 1857 and ever regretted it.

It was however, while he was in America, that he learnt about Phrenology, and practiced Phrenology in the shopping Arcades in Bristol as a profession from 1861 until his retirement in 1901.

George a prolific writer compiled a scrapbook during his adult life; he also wrote his own diary and poetry, wrote down his religious thoughts and published at least two books on Phrenology. In his diary he wrote about his life and his family; his children, his parents and his grandfather (John Willis, a farmer at `The Batch', Hanham, near Bristol).


George Burgess, the 3rd son of John Burgess (1789-1844) and Jane Willis (1788-1860) was born at 1am on 12th June 1829, in an old house above the railway tunnel near what is now known as Acacia Road, Staple Hill, Bristol; he was christened on the 7th July. Below is an artist impression of how the railway tunnel may have looked in his day. Today, it's used as a cycle track; following its closer as part of the Beeching Axe in the 1960s.

Artist impression of Staple Hill tunnel, Bristol - by Tom Maloney©

Railway Tunnel, Staple Hill, Bristol[1]

Old railway, above where George Burgess was born in 1829, now cycle track, Staple Hll, Bristol

Contemporary view of Staple Hill Railway Tunnel

George Burgess was born in a house with 1 acre and 8 perches of garden and orchards; 1.05 acres. This was set behind another house with gardens that was near the edge of the tunnel entrance. In 1844, when the council survey was started the house and grounds were referred to as `Plot 879' and was owned by his father John Burgess (a collier). His father also owned `Plot 859' a house and gardens situated nearby at the end of what is now Acacia Road, by Staple Hill High Street, Bristol.

However, before the survey was completed, John Burgess had died and the name of ownership was transferred to his eldest child Ann Sperring, under her maiden name (Burgess), even though she'd been married for about five years. At this time (1845) `Plot 879' would have been occupied by Jane Burgess as Housekeeper, mother and widow; her three children including Ann Sperring; son-in-law George Sperring; and grandchildren (children of Ann George Sperring).


When George Burgess was about 16 his brother-in-law, George Sperring, persuaded him to go to Baltimore, Maryland, America, a `Slave State', to continue their apprenticeship in stone cutting. George Sperring died there and a white marble headstone was placed over his grave in Baltimore Cemetery. George Burgess went on to finish his apprenticeship in Philadelphia, a `Free State', bordering Maryland. By the age of 20 he had developed most of his religious, political and personal views e.g. abstaining from alcoholic drink. while still in America George started a scrapbook of newspaper cuttings which he maintained for life; and in it he naturally put articles which he found of interest covering a wide range of subjects including family health and education; politics and history; society; poetry; religion; science and nature; humour, and teetotalism/drink. In his diary he wrote that he "left school a poor scholar" however he became a prolific writer. For many years he hand-copied articles of interest to him such as `Mary Sewell's `Mothers Last Words'; and later in life did a lot of his own writings including his religious thoughts; diary and poems; and at least two books on Phrenology.

George made many friends in America including Mrs C M Middleton (Maggie Middleton); George and Maggie stayed good friends and kept in touch for the rest of their lives. After he returned to England for the third and last time she sent him photographs, one of her and one of her husband (Dick Middleton) serving as a Captain in the Union Army during the American civil war[2], and a photo of their child, Selina Middleton, on a 1/16 plate tintype photo. George named his second daughter, Catherine Middleton Burgess (born 1872), after Mrs C M Middleton, and in 1884 dedicated a poem to her entitled `The Days Gone Bye'.

George returned to England three times to see his mother, the third and last time being Christmas 1857; when he vowed not to return to America while she was alive. He never did return and ever regretted it.

First wife and children

On 8 March 1858 he married Mary Crouch (1836-1862), who was about 21/22 years old. He was happy with his wife, but her mother and sister (Annie) brought only sorrow into the family and was cruel to his aged mother. The following year, they had a son (George William Burgess) who died at 10 months old and was buried in Manchester on the 21st December 1859. Only four years after their marriage his wife died, and she was buried on 27th July 1862 in the Downend/Mangotsfield parish.

George had a second son by his first marriage, Samuel Edward Burgess (aka Eddie), but he never once mentioned this son in any of his writings, even though Eddie lived with the family for many years. The speculation being that Eddie, like his grandmother, had a cruel streak to his nature. However, Samuel Burgess (Eddie) appears in the census records and the family bible which is now with relatives (direct descendants of George Burgess) in Australia; and Eddie's sister-in-law, Gertrude Rosa Burgess, talked about him at great length to her granddaughter (Grace Baglin) as one of the many family stories about her life that she passed down. One such story told to Grace by Gertrude is that while working in Bristol, George had his hat stolen. Apparently he followed the offender until he caught up with him, and confronted the thief. George then apparently said, "If you need that had so badly that you have to steal it, you need it more than I do", with that George turned and walked away.


Offspring of George Burgess and Mary Crouch (1836-1862)
Name Birth Death Joined with
George William Burgess (1859-1859) February 1859 Bristol, England, United Kingdom December 1859 Manchester, England, United Kingdom
Samual Edward Burgess (1861-) 17 May 1861 St George, Bristol, England, United Kingdom

Offspring of George Burgess and Eliza Knight (1844-1878)
Name Birth Death Joined with
Eliza Caroline Burgess (1871-1910) 3 April 1871 Elicar Villas, Berkeley Road, Horfield, Bristol, England, United Kingdom 2 May 1910 Mr. Barnet

Catherine Middleton Burgess (1872-?) 8 April 1872 Horfield, Bristol (Elicar Villas+ Berkeley Road Horfield+ Bristol+ England) Mr. Phillips

Gertrude Rosa Burgess (1874-1958) 23 May 1874 Hillborough House, 106 Egerton Road, Horfield, Bristol, England, United Kingdom 29 November 1958 14 Sweets Road, Kingswood, South Gloucestershire, England, United Kingdom William Edward Baglin (1839-1908)
Charles Walter Pratt (1875-)

Maud Lilley Burgess (1875-1962) 11 December 1875 Latteridge, Gloucestershire, England, United Kingdom 30 July 1962 Brisbane, Queensland, Australia Albert Thomas Arthur Stickler (1882-1910)
Arthur Darlington Bryer (c1893-1965)

Phrenology - Bristol Shopping Arcades

Phrenology heads used by George Burgess (1829-1905) in his profession

Phrenology heads used by George Burgess (1829-1905) in his profession

In January 1861 George Burgess set himself up as a Phrenologist in the Shopping Arcades in Bristol where he ran his business until his retirement in 1901.

He published at least two books on phrenology about or after 1871, most likely published in the Bristol area. The first book is a general guide to Phrenology and the Scriptural passages in it were searched out by George Burgess in 1868. The second book was used by George Burgess until his retirement in 1901; the readings being entered into this book by George Burgess for his customers to keep, the price of the book was 2d (two old pence).

According to the Bristol Directory of the time his business addresses are as shown in the follow table. Only the Lower Arcade survives today, and is part of a modern and flourishing inner city shopping centre; the Upper Arcade being destroyed in the Blitz during the 2nd World War.

1862 8 Lower Arcade
1863-1864 2 Lower Arcade
1869-1870 38 Upper Arcade
1871-1875 20 Lower Arcade
1878 13 Lower Arcade
1879-1888 23 Upper Arcade
1889-1901 8 Lower Arcade

Second wife and children

George Burgess was a widower for nine years, and then on 28th Jun 1870, just after his 41st birthday, he married Eliza Knight (1844-1878), of Weston-Super-Mare. When his first two daughters were born, between the spring of 1871 and the end of 1872 they were living at Elicar Villa, Berkely Road, Horfield, Bristol. According to the census records of 1871 they had a servant, Hannah Bickley, unmarried, aged 24 years, and from Ireland. By the time his fourth daughter was born, at the end of 1875, they were living at South View, Latteridge, near Iron Action, Gloucestershire. His second wife died at Yatton, Somerset, on 2 December 1878.

While his daughters were growing up they stayed at Latteridge, Iron Action. However, in 1900, he moved back to 106 Egerton Road, Horfield, Bristol. The following year he had to retire from his profession because of his deafness; which had been plaguing him since the age of 42. On the 1901 census they had a Dorothy Rose Loveday, aged nine, from Cornwall staying with them as a border. Then in 1902 George moved back to Latteridge but by 1903 was trying to move nearer to Bristol again.

During the whole of his life he never once saw a doctor; in his scrapbook are newspaper articles about doctors doing more harm than good! He died at age 76 in 1905.

The Diary of George Burgess

George Burgess (1829-1905) at 70

George Burgess (1829-1905) aged 70

June 12th 1899

Today, I am 70 years of age – therefore I may as well write a few facts. I am the son of John and Jane Burgess. My mother was a daughter of John Willis, Farmer, the “Batch”, Hanham; 3 miles from Bristol, and my father was also from the Kingswood locality. Father died, aged 55, when I was 15. Mother died aged 72, when I was about 30. I was born at Staple Hill, 4 miles from Bristol, the old house right on the Tunnel, on Friday June 12th 1829, at 1 O’clock in the morning; when father was 40, and mother 42 years of age.

I went to a Church School – and then a “British School” – and finally left off schooling about age 14, a poor scholar. After father died I went to learn stone cutting at Frenchay – with George Sperring – my eldest sister’s husband. Soon – he persuaded me to go to America with him. I went in about one year; he died there, in Baltimore! There is a white marble headstone over his grave in Baltimore Cemetery. His wife never saw him again, after he left England. I finished my apprenticeship in a marble works, in Philadelphia. I found good friends. I visited England three times to see my mother. The last time was Christmas 1857, when I intended not returning to America while mother was alive. I never returned, and I have ever regretted it.

On March 8th 1858 – I was married to Mary Crouch. Up to this time my life had been all happiness. But now my sorrows began. I was happy enough with my wife – but her mother and another daughter, Annie, brought only sorrow into our home, and they were cruel to my dear aged Mother. In December 1859, in Manchester we buried our little boy – George William Burgess – aged 10 months. His mother died July 21st 1862. Since January 1861 I have been practicing Phrenology in the Arcades, Bristol. But my deafness since 1871 has greatly interfered with my pleasure, and my profits, in my work.

Eliza Knight (1844-1878) 2nd wife of George Burgess

Eliza Knight (1844-1878)

I was nine years a Widower. Then, on June 28th 1870 I was married to Eliza Knight of Weston-Super-Mare. She was the Mother of my four daughters.

  • 1st – Eliza Caroline Burgess, born April 3rd 1871.
  • 2nd – Catherine Middleton Burgess, born June 4th 1872 – both at Elicar Villas, Berkeley Road, Horfield, Bristol.
  • 3rd – Gertrude Rosa Burgess, born May 23rd 1874, at Hillborough House, 106 Egerton Road, Horfiled, Bristol.
  • 4th – Maud Lilly Burgess, born December 11th 1875, at Latteridge, Iron Acton – Gloucestershire.

About the year 1850 – in America – I examined, and then adopted, the principles of Total Abstinence from all intoxicating drinks. Now – all the years in its experience since that time prove that I did well. My wife Eliza died at Yatton, Somerset on December 2nd 1878. Since I was aged 65 I have felt my physical powers declining. Of late my deafness is often accompanied by pains in and about my ears. But otherwise I have never been ill. I have never had any doctors – nor their medicines, so far. During my long life I have enjoyed numberless blessings, and I have also had a few real sorrows. But over and above my sorrows I can keep cheerful and happy along the way. I love my profession as much as ever. It is fairly profitable, and it is a real good and useful profession. Therefore it has secured me numberless real and pleasant friends. I have aimed to preserve my health during my long life. Of course I have avoided all alcoholic drinks. I drink plenty of good water – and also, very freely of tea. I like it fairly strong – with plenty of good milk and sugar in it.

I eat heartily of all kinds of foods, but of course, I eat to live – I don’t live to eat. And I am always at work – in the Garden – or in my office. And – I sleep well – being able to sit down and enjoy a sweet sleep several times through the day. But I set very high value on the Water drinking. Water is as necessary for cleansing the inside of a man, as the outside of a man. It reaches every vital organ – and streams through every avenue of his system – and refreshes, his whole being up with newness of life. I ought to think that these simple and natural rules for taking care of my health have preserved me – and have much helped me to have and enjoy good health and happiness on this my 70th birthday.

Tuesday June 12 - 1900

I am 71 years of age today – Time moves on. I rose as usual, rather early – drank my glass of cold water; walked around, received some nice presents from my girls – ate a hearty breakfast, and enjoyed a happy birthday. My health during the past year has been in the main good as usual. But I had a weakening cold at Easter, which soon passed away, and I am now, on my 71st birthday - not so strong – but apparently, as sound in my constitution as ever, and all through my life I have never employed any medical men, nor used their medicines. I am still pursuing Phrenology in the Arcade Bristol. But I am trying to arrange my general affairs so that I may leave it. When I do leave it my extreme deafness will be the real cause of my doing so – for I am as thoroughly fond of my profession as ever.

June 12 – 1901

I am to day, 72 years of age. The year just ended, has not been very eventful to our household. I have enjoyed good health all through – and it is my deafness alone that has interfered with my daily and general enjoyment. It has now compelled me to give up my Arcade profession of Phrenology – and so has taken away my chief pleasure; and also my chief profit. My Phrenology in the Arcade, had fed and clothed me for over forty years – and all along has supplied the `means’ for bringing up my family. And it has given me numerous friends and numberless joys; I should prefer to have ended my days at Phrenology in the Arcade. But that could not be. So, I have left it forever. We have been living at 106 Egerton Road, Horfield, for more than a year now, and I have used and amused myself by working in the garden; by visiting Public Libraries; and by pleasant walks; and pleasant social visits.

June 12 – 1902

This is my 73rd birthday. So, I may be nearing my end. I have however, enjoyed good health all through the year – and can still say that I have never yet used any medical men, or their medicines. I am now, for a time, living at Latteridge, Glos. several miles from Bristol – quite in the country. And I work much in the garden, and the air and sun do me good. I can eat and sleep well. And I still drink freely of good tea, coffee, cocoa, and cold water – but no alcohol. I wish to die some day – but I want to die of old age, and natural decay.

June 12 – 1903

This day I am 74. I have been quite in good health all the past year. I have worked real hard all through the year in the garden, and in the field. I am still at Latteridge, but hope to be nearer Bristol some time this season. My deafness is my special ailment. People now, have to write down all they wish me to know, because of my extreme deafness, which puts me into Universal Silence!

June 12- 1904

Today, I am 75 years of age. Considering the varied and universal experiences of all lives, my present birthday is fairly happy. My daughters and friends show towards me affectionate and true hearts. When I was 60 I said to my youngest daughter, Carrie – who was then in Newport – that I think I should live on until I was 75. I had good physiological reasons for the prediction. And so I have lived along through those 15 years enjoying my usual health. Now of course, with increasing age, I naturally feel the gradual, and distinct, diminishing of general bodily strength; and special exertions have to be avoided!

June 12 – 1905

76 years to day. I have been travelling the highways and byways of this earthly life. And in looking back I can not fairly complain of my experiences for I believe that the majority of my set met with more sorrows, and less joys, than I have met with during my long life’s journey. My general health during the past year has been fairly good, as usual. But I find that my general bodily organs have much more weakened than in former years – and in exertions, I soon feel worn and tired. Also, under condition helping it, I have felt some brain-dizziness. Of course, all these signs of declines come with old age. They mean natural, and gradual, organic decay; with bodily death, providentially, not far behind. Soon, then, the real man – the immortal Spirit, will pass over to the Spirit land - `the better country’, to progress, and improve, and live forever. But the Body will `return to the earth’ and perish forever – it will never rise again!

Poetry by George Burgess

George Burgess wrote a number of poems between 1875 and 1894 which were first published in ‘Bristol Fashion’ a limited edition in 1973.

My favourite is “Wanted a Barmaid” by George Burgess, February 1876. A tongue in cheek poem as George was a teetotaler.


I now am looking for a bright barmaid;
A sweet young lady, twenty years of age.
One that is honest - but still not afraid,
My patrons' appetites to try and gauge.

For salary, she need not care so much.
As for employment cheerful and genteel.
Her fingers never menial work shall touch -
A lady she shall be from head to heel.

Me - she must try and do her best to please -
Must aim to meet my every little wish.
And should I give her hand an amorous squeeze,
She must not bruise my head with jug or dish.

My many customers, who day-by-day,
Call in to drink my brandy, wine, and beer -
She must so charm, that they may longer stay;
To drink, and spend, and get their pockets clear!

In dress and looks, she must be winning-gay!
Must let her smiles entrance all sorts of men.
Thus she must pass her maiden hours away;
And smile and smile, till past the hour of ten.

She never must look sad behind the bar;
Nor long to see her home, and old fireside.
The gin shop pleasures must surpass by far,
The joys which floated on her childhood's tide.

She must grow fond of winks, and loving fun;
And show delight at every drinker's jest.
And when men's warm attentions towards her run;
She must love all alike, yet each one best.

She must not turn her maiden ears away
When customers shall drink until they swear -
But look as happy as the Queen of May -
And all their jests and ravings calmly hear.

She must from drinkers' hands the glasses take,
And wash well from them, all that men decline.
And such employment certainly should make,
A fair young beauty, always feel sublime.

Now, if some sweet and pretty young lady will,
Agree to serve behind my bar, and grin -
She will the hearts of all my patrons thrill;
And may at last, some docile husband win!

Apply by letter, with photo, to
Mr Bung, & Co, Unlimited -
No. 1 Ruin Avenue,

George Burgess, February 1876

Mrs C M Middleton, Washington USA

Mrs C M Middleton of Washington, USA

Dick Middleton, son of Mrs C M Middleton

Dick Middleton, husband of Mrs C M Middleton

And in 1894 he dedicated ‘The Days Gone Bye’ to his dear Friend, Mrs. C M Middleton, of Washington in the USA. He also named his second daughter, Catherine Middleton Burgess (born to Eliza Knight 1844-1878) after her. He wrote:-

To my dear friend Mrs. C M Middleton,
Aged 66, of Washington in the U.S.A.


The days gone bye, will come no more -
Will come no more.
But coming days sweet joys will bring;
Like light upon the morning's wing,
To make thy soul rejoice and sing -
But days gone bye, will come no more -
Will come no more.

Until you reach the Glory-land -
The sunshine land -
Time - shall give thee joys anew;
Hope - thy path with flowers will strew;
Love - shall sing sweet songs for you;
Until you reach the Glory-land -
The sunshine land.

Then - days gone bye, need come no more -
Need come no more,
To that blessed shore.

George Burgess 1894

Scrapbook of George Burgess

George burgess diary scrapbook and writings

Scrapbook, Diary, Poems and Writings by George Burgess (1829-1905)

The scrapbook of George Burgess covering most of his working life from the 1850's to the 1900’s consists of approximately 500 Victorian Newspaper cuttings. The majority of the articles (mostly from British newspapers but includes some American newspaper cuttings) are undated.

As he ran out of space George Burgess stuck newer cuttings over older articles. A few of the articles have come adrift and most have deteriorated with age. However, this scrapbook is notable in that it gives insight into George Burgess as a person, as he selected (as anyone would) articles to which he could relate. Articles reflecting his views and/or on topics of interest to him e.g. Religion, Science, Humour, Drink and Poetry etc.

The scrapbook has been transcribed to a relatives website and for historical accuracy poor spelling and bad grammar (and American spellings) in the articles have been faithfully reproduced in the transcription.

One of my favourite articles in the Victorian Scrapbook is ‘The Managing Housewife’

The Managing Housewife

The Managing Housewife


"Around her knees domestic virtues meet,
And fireside pleasures gambol at her feet."

The man who has the good fortune to select a good prudent managing woman for his wife has great cause to rejoice. Many sore troubles will be warded off by her careful foresight, her excellent judgment. She is better than riches, for she brings happiness with her. She does everything well, and knows exactly what is wanted in her household. She either does her work herself, or looks closely after those to whom she entrusts it. She is an unfailing housekeeper, and is never better pleased than when engaged in some domestic duty. She is not ashamed that people should know she soils her hands in providing for the comfort of her husband and children. But she would be ashamed of idlement and abashed if her family were left to shift for themselves.

She has the faculty of making the best of every thing. If poverty pinches, the managing woman soon finds some contrivance for easing the smart. She conceals the dark part of the cloud, and reveals only the silver lining. Her rooms are so arranged that the patches, and the rents (carefully sewn together and the marks of indigence, shall be hidden from the curious eye. She turns her linen outside in and inside out, until every part of it is worn away. She throws away nothing until all the use and wear have been got out of it that ingenuity can devise. She keeps house so cheaply that even single young men live in a costly manner by comparison. Not all the money in the world, in the hands of a bad manager could make home so happy as a little in the hands of the woman who is sagacious, thrifty, and judicious. She finds time for everything she has to do, and a place for everything in her possession. She is self-reliant, shrewd in observation, discerning in estimating character. She seldom fails in anything she undertakes, simply because she goes about it in the right way.

The managing woman is apt to be a little sharp with dull people, for anything in the nature of stupidity seems unnatural to her. She has no sympathy with it. Her daughters, if she have any are they the good managers like herself. These girls would profit a discount in the matrimonial market. They are sought after, and men of judgment know how to prize and value them. Her influence is always acting, even when she is not personally doing. Happiness seems to spring up in her pathway - her example is precious to all who approach her, and the love and reverence with which she is regarded no pen can describe. Her discipline may be strict, but is it salutary, and the children are the better for it. She has learnt the art which few of us know how to practice - the art of guiding rightly, and yet giving pleasure. Even-tempered, methodical; firm, yet pleasant; grave, yet cheerful; busy, yet graceful, of her the wise man truly says "strength and honour are her clothing."

And a humorous newspaper article from the scrapbook on Phrenology reads: -

PHRENOLOGIST (examining head): "You are a poet, my dear sir."
Subject: "Never wrote a line of poetry in my life."
Phrenologist: "Incredible! My dear sir, you should try your hand. You have taste, love of beauty, poetry, and art."
Subject: "How do you know?"
Phrenologist: "Oh, easily enough. This bump over the left temple reveals it. It is an open book to the one who - "
Subject (checking him): "And the most remarkable thing about it is that the bump appeared only yesterday."
Phrenologist: "Phenomenal! I cannot account for it."
Subject (gloomily): "I can."
Phrenologist: "Indeed! How?"
Subject: "I called a man a liar."


The Diary of George Burgess (1829-1905)

  1. ^ Drawing of Staple Hill Railway Tunnel Commissioned for Arthur Russ by Tom Maloney©
  2. ^ Richard Middleton, Captain, Union Army, Regiment 50 N.Y. Engineers, Company M; Film #551 Roll 96


See also

External links

Sources and notes

Ω Birth
  • born at 1am



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