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Alderman Finnis Lord Mayor 1856 - 1857, Master 1856 - 1859

© Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London.

The name of Alderman Finnis is often quoted for having been the last Lord Mayor to have his procession on the Thames. But what else is known about this distinguished Bowyer?

The City History website tells us that Thomas Quested Finnis was born in January 1801, the son of an upholsterer of Hythe, Kent, and that he was baptised at St Leonard's Church on 12th February of the same year. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to James Smith, bowyer, for a period of seven years from 6th December 1815, paying a consideration of £150. He was admitted to the Freedom of the Bowyers' Company in April 1823 and to the Freedom of the City in September. Whilst serving as Master from 1856 to 1858 he also served as Lord Mayor in 1856/1857.

A family historian and descendent of Thomas's brother, tells us that his parents were Robert Finnis (1754 - 1832) and Elisabeth Quested (1762 - 1839), which explains his unusual middle name, and that this brothers were Lt Col John Finnis of the 11th Bengal Native Infantry and Stephen Finnis of the 29th Native Infantry. It was during Thomas's mayoral year that John was killed by sepoy mutineers at Meerut on 10th May 1857 and it is believed that he was the first European officer to be killed in the Indian Mutiny.

In business, Thomas was partner in a firm of provision merchants, Finnis & Fisher, which pioneered trade to the port of Bussorah (now known as Basra) and was also Deputy Chairman of the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Company and of the Improved Industrial Dwellings Company. His business address is given in the Renter Warden's Account books as 79 Great Tower Street.

In civic life, he was appointed in 1833 Common Councillor for Tower Ward where his business was located, Deputy in 1848 and Alderman as well as Sheriff in the same year. He was also Deputy Governor of the Irish Society 1843/1844, member of the Metropolitan Board of Works 1863 to 1866, the Thames Conservancy Board 1872 to 1883 and Treasurer of the Sons of the Clergy from 1874 to 1882, plus a member of the City Glee Club.

In later life he retired to a mansion known as "Park Gate" in Wanstead, Essex (now E11) where he died on 29th November, 1883. The house was demolished in 1925 but two impressive stone gate posts placed there in 1715 by Sir Richard Child can still be seen on both sides of Overton Drive.

The Corporation's on-line picture collection, "Collage", contains three images relating to Thomas Finnis. The earliest dated 1850 is a fine painting in oils showing him in the robes of an alderman. In 1856 a portrait engraving appeared in the Illustrated London News following his appointment as Lord Mayor and the collection also contains a wood engraving of the Lord Mayor's carriage procession. Sadly there is no image of the procession on the river. The Illustrated Times dated 8th November, 1856 included an engraving of the new Lord Mayor and of the installation ceremony at Guildhall.

Alderman Finnis is mentioned many times in the company records. He acted as the apprentice master for Archibald Griffith in 1840, William Pemberton Fisher in 1845, James Gilbert Hoseason in 1848 and Harry Fiennes Speed in 1872 ; he was Master during the hearing of Mills v Bowyers relating to the dispute with the tenant at Islay Walton and lent the sum of £1,350 @ 5% for seven years secured on the estate to enable the Company to clear its debts; and he entertained the Court to dinner at Mansion House on 16th April 1857. The records also mention two further generations of the family. George Carruthers Finnis (presumably a nephew) was apprenticed in 1860, Robert Francis Finnis (relationship not certain) in 1862, Lt John Finnis (son of the murdered Lt Col John Finnis) in 1865 and another nephew, George L Finnis in 1875. Robert's premature death was recorded in the minutes of 21st January, 1869. On 17th January 1867, the Court Minutes record:

"The case of George Carruthers Finnis, apprenticed to Mr Alderman Finnis and now resident in Baghdad, in the employ of Mr Alderman Finnis was brought forward and it was resolved: That the Clerk ascertain whether there is a precedent of the admission of an Apprentice to the freedom of the Company without his attending personally to be sworn in."

He was not the only member of the family absent overseas for on 20th April 1876 the Court Minutes record: "As Captain Finnis was not present expected to return from India the Court proceed unanimously to elect Alfred Sangster MD.....to fill the vacancy on the Court."; On 22nd April 1880, Major John Finnis was eventually elected to the Court.

On 28th July 1898, Frank Valentine Finnis, son of G C Finnis and great nephew of the Alderman, was admitted to the livery. The Court minutes record that on 24th January 1918, he was sworn in as an assistant wearing the uniform of His Majesty's Army Service Corps. The early death of Capt F V Finnis was recorded in the minutes of 23rd October 1919.

But by far the most interesting entries in the Court Minutes are those dated 18th October 1856 relating to the preparations for the installation of the Lord Mayor and 22nd January 1857 which describe the river and carriage processions.

The final entry appears in the Court Minutes of 17th January, 1884: The Clerk reported "the death of Mr Alderman Finnis late senior member of the Company. It was unanimously resolved that the Master be requested to write to Mr G C Finnis expressing deep feelings of regret of the Company of the loss of so highly esteemed a member of the Company."

Simon Leach
January 2006

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