George Walters Bleckley, or Bleckly, was baptised in Reading 28 October 1810, the son of George Bleckley and Martha nee Walters. He appears on the voters’ list for Reading for the Parliamentary election 14 July 1837, in Castle Street, occupation printer. He had married Eliza Collins at St Mary’s, Southampton 3 January 1837, but was apparently present at an Anti-Church Rate meeting in Reading on the 10 April that year. He was still in Reading 22 May 1838, when he assigned all his estate and effects in trust for his creditors. His business had failed.
His eldest daughter, Eliza, was born in Reading Apr-June 1838, followed by Emma whose birth was registered in Romsey Oct-Dec 1839 (her mother Eliza had been born in Romsey, and still had family there). The family had moved to Southampton by the 1841 census, when they were living in Queen Street, which ran south from East Street, in Southampton’s “Rookery”. He was back in business in 1845, when the Southampton Directory lists him as a bookbinder and printer at 19 Houndwell Gardens, which ran north from East Street, a slightly more attractive address. That year he was one of the Librarians for the Southampton Polytechnic Institute, and again in 1846. The Institute was just around the corner, in Hanover Buildings.
Edwin George was born in 1842, William in 1844, Martha in 1846, Charles in 1847, Arthur in 1850: William died 31 August 1849, and Arthur only 14 days after his birth 18 January 1850. George and Eliza’s next child was born in 1851 and named William Arthur. Then came Fanny Elizabeth in 1854, Alfred John in 1855, and Laura Kate. in 1857.
George’s name appears on the Southampton Wesleyan Circuit Plan March-June 1847, as no. 28 on the list of Local Preachers, and as the plan’s printer. When Rev Thomas W White left the circuit unexpectedly in 1848, he left notes in the circuit statistical schedules for his successor, saying of Mr Bleckley that he “has been in the habit of having books [for] the Superintendent as a Bookseller. Mr Man allows 15% on such orders and also 10% to the minister. Mr B has 1 mag (1/-), 1 youth journal, as a Local Preacher. The above arrangement has give occasion to his name being on the Plan as selling Books. My account with him last year was about £ 12.” His address was now 31 Oxford Street, a new development nearer the Docks. Oxford Street was part of the development portfolio of fellow Methodist and later Mayor of Southampton, George Laishley. In addition to the printing and the book selling, George became, in July 1849, a receiver of letters for the Post Office.
Rev. Samuel Dunn, who had been expelled from the Wesleyan Conference in 1849 for supporting moves for reform, spoke at a meeting in the Long Rooms 22 January 1851. In the chair was John Mansell, a builder, “a respectable tradesman of Southampton, who has been a member of the Wesleyan body for about 30 years and a local [lay] preacher for 21 years” (Hampshire Independent 25 January 1851.) Also present were local preachers George Walters Bleckley, and Richard Wake, blacksmith. The Superintendent minister Rev John Crofts visited Mr Wake after the meeting and suspended him as Class Leader. Further actions followed: although their names were still on the Plan, they had not been given any preaching appointments. The next Quarterly Meeting took place 26 March, and Mr Crofts served notice that the three men would face a complaint or charge against them for the part they played in the Long Rooms meeting. The men were found “guilty of the enormous crime of daring to think for themselves” (Hampshire Independent 29 March 1851) On 20 April, they started holding separate Wesleyan Reform services at 20 Hanover Buildings. There was some confusion as to the name of the new body. The meeting place in Hanover Buildings was variously called a Wesleyan Chapel, a Wesleyan Reform Association Chapel, or a Reformed Wesleyan Chapel.
Whatever their name, the Reformers’ activities were reported regularly in Southampton’s Liberal newspaper, the Hampshire Independent. In September 1851, Mr Bleckley gave the opening lecture, on Divine Revelation, to the Scripture Mutual Instruction Society. Meetings would be held every other Thursday evening, at Hanover Buildings, and consist of debates, conversations and occasional lectures.
The Wesleyan Reformers took over the old Infant School in Lower Canal Walk when the Ragged School opened in its new premises. After repairs and fitting out, the opening services took place on Sunday, 28 May 1854. The preacher was Mr T Pybus, of Bakewell, Derbyshire. They had held their third anniversary services at Hanover Buildings Sunday 16 April. John Mansell registered Lower Canal Walk for worship 22 June 1855.
Membership in May 1854 was about 40. They had no paid minister, but the local preachers were conducting burials for their flock in the Cemetery. The Cemetery Committee were puzzled by the payment of fees to Mr Bleckley, a bookseller and stationer, and not a Reverend, but were told that he “always presented the amount of his fees to the Infirmary.” (Hampshire Independent 24 June 1854.) A week later, Mr Bleckley wrote to say that his church regarded the use of the prefix “Reverend” as a “relic of bye-gone ages … without Scripture authority or precedent.” (Independent 1 July 1854.) He did not believe in a paid ministry, and held that the 3s fee for his services was an imposition on the bereaved, so he either returned the money to the family, or, if they would not accept it, gave it to the Infirmary, or some other charity. Mr Mansell, who also performed burials for their members, did the same. The “unconsecrated” Cemetery register records 12 people buried by either Mr Bleckley or Mr Mansell between 1853 and 1859. Their addresses are Bevois Street, South Front, Chapel Road, and two, William Henry Cole and James Cole, come from the same family.
In June 1855, George Bleckley “bookseller, stationer, printer, bookbinder and letter receiver” filed for bankruptcy because of “the insufficiency of my profits to support my family, and the removal of the steam boats [of the General Screw Steamship Company.” (Hampshire Independent 16 June 1855.) He supplied the court with a balance sheet from December 1848.
His furniture and stock-in-trade were worth £70, and he was owed £269 5s 6d in unpaid debts. He had sold his house for £350. His profits were
1848 (one month) £7
1855 (5 months) £45
He owed £4 3s 9d in “good debts” and 4s 2d in doubtful ones
Ground rent for six years £45
Mortgage payment to the Frugal Building Society £250
Second Mortgage payment to the Portsea Loan Society £110
Taxes for six and a half years £65
Servants’ wages for four years £10
Household expenses for six and a half years £482 10s
Wearing apparel for self, wife, and seven children £113 10s
Loss by a fire on my premises £70
Law expenses £10
Medical expenses £15
Paid my attorney £14
Paid valuation of excepted articles £1 1s
Excepted articles £19 18s 6d
Difference between valuation and cost price £16
Stock-in-trade and household goods in my possession £45
Difference between valuation and cost price £18
Money in my possession 4s 6d
Deficiency £1 13s 7d
His stock-in-trade was advertised in the same paper, for sale by auction 19 June by J R Weston: it included “Counter and gas fittings, Standing and Cutting presses, a sofa bedstead etc.
He “obtained his final order and protection without opposition” at the end of July. he was now living in Amoy Street, and working as a compositor for the Hampshire Independent.
Two years later, 1 June 1857 he was being presented with a testimonial in recognition of his services as District Secretary of the Order of Oddfellows: a “handsome writing desk.” In his acceptance speech he “alluded to the encouragement, assistance and condolence he had received from the brethren of the Order in time of trouble.” (Hampshire Advertiser 6 June 1857)
In 1857, about half of the Wesleyan Reformed congregations merged with the Wesleyan Methodist Association to form the United Methodist Free Church.
John Mansell seems to have joined the Bible Christians about this time: he was a trustee for Hedge End Bible Christian Chapel 5 March 1857, and the Bible Christians had use of the Lower Canal Walk Chapel from 1857.
In September 1857, following the death of his wife, Richard Wake snr emigrated to the United States.
On Tuesday 16 February 1858, George Bleckley sailed with his family on the Parsee to Australia. The two older girls, Eliza and Emma, are listed as unassisted emigrants in their own right, but travelling with their parents. George, his wife Eliza, and the remaining children were a single partys. Sadly, the baby, Laura, died as they arrived in Melbourne, between 14 and 18 May 1858.
Mr Bleckley is mentioned from time to time in the Australian newspapers. On the 14 August 1862, he was proposing a motion of thanks to the departing minister of the United Methodist Free Church, Georgetown, Fitzroy, Melbourne, the Rev Joseph Townend. The announcement of Edwin’s marriage to Agnes Bellinger, in Dunedin, New Zealand, published 5 December 1866 , says he was living in Ballarat, Victoria. In 1867, his occupation was disputed at the revision of voters’ lists for Ballarat: “George W. Bleckley objected to, that he was not a minister of any church or religious denomination. The voter stated on oath in the box that he was a minister of religion. Mr M’Dermott—Your worship, he’s a job printer in Mr C. Boyd’s establishment. One guinea costs allowed, the objection being dismissed,” (Ballarat Star 10 October 1867). He subscribed to the Ballarat East Public Library in 1870. He held office at the United Methodist Free Church District meeting: Secretary 1873, treasurer 1874, member of the Chapel Fund Committee 1876, editor of the minutes in 1877, and District Corresponding Secretary in 1878. The following year his son Charles, now 31, drowned while bathing “between the Emerald Hill baths and the Sandridge lagoon” with his brother William (Argus 28 January 1879).
George W Bleckly appears in rate books from at least 1874. In March 1874 and 1877, he was listed in a Methodist church owned house on Wakeham Street. Intriguingly, for a man who had denounced titles so vehemently twenty years earlier, he is Rev. George W Bleckly. In 1878 and 1879, his grocer’s shop was on Bay Street. In 1880 and 1881 his address was 180 Bay Street, and his occupation once more “printer.”
The Hampshire Advertiser published a death notice, 14 September 1883: “DEATHS: BLECKLY- On July 24th, at Nathaniel Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne, George Walters Bleckly, formerly of Southampton, aged 73 years.” He is buried in the Melbourne General Cemetery.