William Henry Somerton and the Bristol Mercury

W.H. Somerton's obituary. Bristol Mercury, 1st October 1870

William Henry SOMERTON was baptised at St Michael’s (C of E) in Bristol on the 7th February 1796, one of six children.  His father, Joseph was, according to a contemporary trade directory, a printer. He had worked for forty years on a newspaper called ‘Felix Farley’s Bristol Journal’ which had first gone to press in 1752. 

But Joseph wasn’t the first man in this family to have ink-stained hands – that honour fell to his father William who, on his death in 1804, according to the Dictionary of Printers and Printing by Charles Henry Timperley (1839) was said to have worked ‘upwards of  fifty-three years’ on the same journal.

So, the SOMERTON men had ink running through their veins but William Henry broke the mould. He may have started as a printer but he went on to not only own the Bristol Mercury but write for it too. As his obituary makes clear, William turned this rather passive and not particularly successful newpaper into a vibrant and animated publication. He certainly got his hands dirty. His bold reporting of the Bristol Riots of 1831 was outstanding, published under the rather laborious title of ‘A narrative of the Bristol riots, on the 29th, 30th, and 31st of October, 1831, consequent on the arrival of the recorder, Sir C. Wetherell, to open the commission of assize’. William’s description of Bristol’s bloody, violent response to the rejection of the (electoral) Reform Bill could have been written by Dickens; it is so absorbing.  When William finally put his pen aside in 1857 his sons, Charles and George took over.

Charles, the eldest son by a year was a staunch Liberal like his father. He was educated at Bishop’s College in Bristol and then went on to study at University College, London where he earned a B.A. in 1845. Charles was in charge of the literary side of the business whilst his younger brother George mastered the finances. Close in age, they were close in every other way too, even taking their holidays together. Charles married Sophia COLE, a lady older than himself; the couple had no children. George married Octavia Augusta WILLIAMS, daughter of the Reverend Hugh WILLIAMS, Chancellor of Llandaff but, sadly, she died less than a year after the marriage and George never re-married.  Hence this branch of the SOMERTON family died out as did their involvement with Bristol newspapers.

On 22nd June 1818, my x3 great grandfather John RIDOUT married William Henry SOMERTON’s older sister, Martha, at St Philip and St Jacob’s church in Bristol, affectionately known by the locals as Pip’n Jay.  I know nothing about Martha - women frequently were the ‘silent’ members of sometimes quite prominent families. However, knowing that her brother and nephews were clearly intelligent, articulate, gentle spirited but modest and unassuming men, perhaps tells me something of the woman who married John.  As well as taking on his existing family, she bore him seven children, one of whom was my x2 great grandfather Edwin.  

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2 Responses to William Henry Somerton and the Bristol Mercury

  1. Raymond Clark says:

    I enjoyed your story very much. My family started in Suffolk Co. England. Raymond Clark.

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