Suffrage Stories: The 1866 Petition: J.S. Mill And The South Hackney Connection

In a previous post that I wrote about the 1866 women’s suffrage petition I recorded something of how the petition came into being and investigated the connections that had led an erstwhile near neighbour of mine, Fanny Maughan of Goswell Road, to be a signatory. I deduced that Fanny – or I suppose more especially her husband – were members of a working-class circle supportive of John Stuart Mill who, as MP for Westminster, was to present the petition in Parliament.

Over the years I have researched many of the names on the petition – and thought I’d bring to your attention three other women who caught my eye simply because they lived in another place I know well – south Hackney.

For instance, why was Mrs John Plummer of 4 Homer Terrace, Hackney Wick a signatory to the petition? And who was she?

Mary Ann Jenkinson had been born in Kettering c 1839 and as a young woman earned her living as a milliner. In 1860 she married John Plummer, who worked in a staymaking factory in the town. He had been born in London, an illness in infancy rendering him deaf and lame. His family had been too poor to provide him with any education; he had educated himself. After moving with his family to Kettering he made a name locally as a labourr campaigner and versifier and in 1859 published his first book, Freedom of Labour.

By 1866 the Plummers had moved to London, to Homer Terrace in south Hackney, at the east end of Victoria Park, close to Hackney Wick. In the 1871 census John Plummer described himself as a ‘newspaper editor’; he worked on a wide range of magazines, almanacs, and trade journals and founded the London Figaro.

Political economy was John Plummer’s principal interest and for some years he had been in touch with John Stuart Mill, who in 1862 described him as one of the ‘most inspiring examples of mental cultivation and high principle in a self-instructed working man.’

Therefore it is not at all surprising that in June 1866 Mary Ann Plummer was approached by Mill’s step-daughter, Helen Taylor, and asked to add her signature to the petition – as well as any she could obtain from her friends. (See LSE Archive Mill/Taylor Papers/13 ff 242 for a letter from Mary Ann Plummer to Helen Taylor, 5 June 1866).

At this time – as well as involvement with the suffrage – John Plummer was leading a campaign, supported by Mill, to preserve and extend Victoria Park – in particular to prevent the erection of a large gas works at the Hackney Wick end.

Working alongside Plummer on the Victoria Park Preservation Committee was George Dornbusch, of 11 Grove Villas, South Hackney, whose wife and daughter also signed the suffrage petition.

George Dornbusch (photo courtesy of Ancestry website)

George Dornbusch (photo courtesy of Ancestry website)

George Dornbusch was a native of Trieste and had been described by George Holyoake as ‘a fugitive German communist’. He had arrived in England from Hamburg in 1845 and became a leading figure in the early vegetarian movement in London, naming his house in Malvern Road, Dalston – ‘Vegetarian Cottage’. He lived there with his first wife, Amalie, who was also involved with the vegetarian movement (see Gregory Of  Victorians and Vegetarians: The Victorian Movement in Victorian Britain).  Dornbusch, who was described by Richard Cobden as ‘a most unsafe and excitable person’ was also an activist in the anti-vaccination and the peace movements.

In 1863 Dornbusch was a member of the general committee of the Emancipation Society – along with John Stuart Mill, P.A. Taylor, Dr Richard Pankhurst and many others who were shortly to support the emancipation of women – as well as of slaves.

By 1866 Dornbusch had moved from Dalston to Grove Villas, Hackney Wick and by 1870 he was a vestryman in Homerton Ward.

The Mrs George Dornbusch who signed the 1866 petition was not Amalie but Emma, 20 years Dornbusch’s junior, who in 1861 had been his housekeeper. I presume that Amalie had died although I haven’t found a record of her death – nor can I find any trace of his marriage to Emma. Ada, who also signed the petition, was Dornbusch’s  daughter by Amalie.

Although there is no evidence that Emma or Ada Dornbusch continued to be active in the suffrage movement after 1866, George Dornbusch did give his support – as a member of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage in 1867 and 1868 and of the Central Committee of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage in 1871/72 shortly before his death in 1873.He is buried in Abney Park Cemetery.

In 1880 Emma Dornbusch remarried. Her new husband, George Tompsitt, was an Australian shipper ten years her junior and in 1881 they sailed to Australia, together with their young son, George, and Ernest and Conrad Dornbusch, the sons from Emma’s first marriage. Emma kept a delightful diary of the voyage which was published as a pamphlet in Melbourne on their arrival. She died in 1890, in Queanbeyan, New South Wales.

Ada Dornbusch married in 1878 and continued to live in south Hackney with her husband, William Beurle, a dealer in precious stones. She had three children and died in 1909.

There are two other women from Grove Villas whose names are on the petiton – Mrs C.A. Dawson and Mrs A. Young, who both give number 4 as their address. The latter was probably Mary, the wife of Alexander Young, a retired baker and confectioner, who the 1871 census shows living at number 7.

Mary Ann Plummer had taken Helen Taylor’s request seriously and had approached likely signatories amongst her friends in her immediate south Hackney neighbourhood. There were other Hackney women who also signed the petition – but the little group of working-class women, living at the east end of Victoria Park, are linked by their close association with John Stuart Mill.

In 1879 John and Mary Ann Plummer and their family emigrated to Australia, where he enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, continuing to support labour reform. He died in 1914, survived by Mary Ann.


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.

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  1. #1 by thomassutcliffe on February 27, 2016 - 10:55 am

    Very interesting stuff.

  2. #2 by Sean Gubbins on October 3, 2016 - 5:38 pm

    Thank you for this information. i always wondered whether there was a reason that the house in Malvern Rd is called Vegeterian cottage.

  3. #3 by Angharad Beurle-Williams on February 3, 2017 - 12:02 pm

    This is so interesting! You might be interested to know that vegetarianism is still going in this family… I should know as I’m the 6th generation in a straight line of veggies straight from George. I didn’t know about his activities in emancipation though, but I’m obviously very proud! Also, I have always been told that George’s wife (it may have been mother to be fair…) ended up in a lunatic asylum. Thanks for this post!

    • #4 by womanandhersphere on February 4, 2017 - 5:17 pm

      Many thanks for getting in touch. I wonder if it was his first (perhaps only?) wife who was committed to the asylum? That might explain why I could find no trace of his marriage to Emma (mother of Ada, from whom you are obviously, from your surname, descended)..that is, they couldn’t actually marry because his wife was still alive. I love these family mysteries..and so interesting that vegetarianism has been a constant thread.

  1. Hackney Suffragettes and the 1866 petition | The Radical History of Hackney

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