Henry Septimus Gill, J.P. [Obituary]

Trans. Devon. Assoc., 1892, Vol XXIV, pp. 43-45


Rev W. Harpley

Prepared by Michael Steer

The obituary was read at the Association’s July 1892 Tiverton meeting. Pigott & Co’s Directory for Devonshire, 1844, lists Henry Septimus Gill, of High Street, Tiverton as a “Brazier and Tin Man”, i.e. an Ironmonger. From that solid foundation, by virtue of hard work and personal integrity, he rose to become a generous and influential leader of his community. Mr Gill appears to have been an archetypal Victorian era, ‘self-made man”. The article, from a copy of a rare and much sought-after journal can be downloaded from the Internet Archive. Google has sponsored the digitisation of books from several libraries. These books, on which copyright has expired, are available for free educational and research use, both as individual books and as full collections to aid researchers.

Henry Septimus Gill, J.P., was born at Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, in the year 1805. He came to Tiverton while a young man, and commenced business as an ironmonger. By energy, enterprise, and unswerving integrity, he won the confidence of the public and achieved commercial success, enabling him to retire from business while in the prime of life. In the Town Council he served with such ability as to be raised to the Civic chair, which he occupied for the year 1865-66. Party feeling in municipal matters at that time ran high in Tiverton, and Mr. Gill was the first Conservative chosen as Mayor for many years. He discharged the duties of his office with marked impartiality and tact While Mayor he revived the ancient custom of wearing a scarlet robe when acting in his official capacity, and on State occasions.

Mr. Gill was for a long period one of the magistrates for the borough; and for seven years he served as churchwarden of the then undivided parish. He was a member of the Burial Board for many years; and he was on the committee of the Tiverton Infirmary from its commencement He was also a prominent Freemason, taking high office in the craft.

Mr. Gill's interest in scientific matters was very keen. He made careful and accurate observations of the rainfall in his district, and published returns for many years regularly in the Tiverton Gazette. He was interested in astronomy, possessing some fine telescopes, with which he delighted to watch any passing phenomena. He was a diligent student of archaeology and ecclesiastical architecture, and often said he had visited every cathedral in England; and having a very good memory, he liked to talk over their details with anyone similarly interested. Wherever he was temporarily located he made it a rule to visit the old churches, &c, near. He was also fond of botany; he enjoyed long walks in search of wild flowers, and knew all the localities for botanical rarities in the neighbourhood, and most of those in the county. He kept his eightieth birthday by taking a five miles walk in search of a rare wild flower. But his great hobby was the subject of numismatics, on which he possessed a wide and profound knowledge. His interest in old coins never flagged; after he was seventy-five years of age he taught himself enough Swedish to enable him to read a numismatic book in that language that was given to him. He wrote several papers for the Numismatic Chronicle. He began to collect coins while only a boy, and he had a very large and valuable collection of Greek, Roman, and English coins, and 17th century tokens and medals.

Mr. Gill became a member of the Association in 1865, and from that time forward was most active in promoting its well-being. He attended the annual meetings with great regularity, and was rarely absent from any of the meetings of the Council, of which he was also a member. On several occasions he contributed papers. In 1872 he read a paper entitled " A few Remarks on an Ancient British Coin found on Northernhay, Exeter," and also "Devonshire Tokens issued in the Seventeenth Century"; in 1873, 1876, and 1878 the latter subject was again treated of by him under Parts ii., iii., and iv.; in 1878 he also read a paper "On Silver Regal Monies Coined in Devonshire Mints”.

Despite his great age, Mr. Gill maintained his vigour of mind and body almost unimpaired, and until within a short period of his death was to be seen, accompanied by his daughter or niece, taking short walks in the town. His interest in charitable and philanthropic work never flagged, as may be judged from the fact that Canon Eyre, preaching in St Peter's Church on the morning of the day on which Mr. Gill died, had to announce a special donation of £5 to the Church Missionary Society "from one who lived almost under the shadow of the church" - Mr. H. S. Gill. His gifts to the town were many and valuable, including a costly barometer for the Town-hall; more than one handsome painted window for the church; clock and chimes for St. Peter's Church, erected at an expense of more than £200; and a house in Bampton Street, purchased by him for £550, and presented free of encumbrance for the enlargement of the Tiverton Infirmary, &c, &c.

He died at his residence, St. Peter Street, on the afternoon of Sunday, May 29th, 1892, at the age of 87. He was twice married, and leaves an only daughter.