Select Banks Miscellany

Here are some Banks stories and accounts over the years:

The Siege of Corfe Castle

Corfe Castle had recently been acquired by staunch Royalists, the Bankes family.  When war broke out in 1642, the formidable Lady Mary Bankes made it her home while her husband Sir John was away serving the King.  Within a year, almost all of Dorset came under the control of Parliament.

Yet Corfe stood firm.  In 1643 Lady Mary and a garrison of just 80 soldiers saw off a six-week siege. When Sir John died in December 1644 Corfe Castle was the last remaining Royalist stronghold between London and Exeter.

Pressure increased during 1645 and by October the castle was again under siege – this time by a larger and more determined enemy force.  By now the reputation of ‘Brave Dame Mary’ was growing and February 1646 saw a daring attempt to rescue her.  A young Royalist officer slipped through enemy lines with a small force and offered her the chance to escape. Typically, she refused to leave her home.

But her days of defiance were numbered.  Later that month an officer of her garrison sealed the castle’s fate with an act of treachery when he allowed enemy troops disguised as reinforcements to enter. Lady Mary was forced to surrender after 48 days under siege.  She was allowed to keep the seals and keys of the castle in recognition of her courage.

Parliamentary sappers set to work with gunpowder to reduce the castle to the ruin we see today and the Bankes’ estate was seized.  However, Lady Mary had the last laugh. She lived to see her estate returned and the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. 

Her memorial read: 

“To the memory of Lady Mary Bankes, the wife and widow of Sir John Bankes, late Lord Chief Justice of His Majesty's court of Common Pleas and of the Privy Council of His Majesty King Charles I of blessed memory, who having had the honor to have borne with a constancy and courage above her sex a noble proportion of the late calamities and the restitution of the government, with great peace of mind laid down her most desired life the 11th day of April 1661."

Sir T.C. Banks the Bogus Genealogist

Thomas Christopher Banks claimed descent on his father’s side from Richard Bankes, a Baron of the Exchequer, and from the ancient Bankes family of Whitley.  He also asserted on his mother’s side that his ancestors were the Nortons of Barbados, baronets of Nova Scotia.  Each of these claims was dubious to say the least.

However, thus equipped, he styled himself Sir T.C. Banks, Baronet of Nova Scotia, and from around 1810 began to offer his services as a reputable genealogist.  In fact he was notorious for assisting several claimants to dormant peerages, based on the very flimsiest evidence which he strengthened with imaginary pedigrees.

His own baronetcy had been purportedly granted to him by a certain Alexander Humphrys who, supported by Banks, had laid claim to the dormant Earldom of Stirling
 on the basis of forged documents.  He gave proof of his own personal faith in the claims of Humphrys by allowing the pseudo-earl, in accordance with rights conferred on the real Earl of Stirling by King James VI of Scotland to create him a baronet of Nova Scotia, and by accepting from him in anticipation a grant of 6,000 acres of land in Nova Scotia. 

When the documents on which Humphrys founded his claims were discovered to be forgeries, Banks ceased to make use of the bogus baronetcy.  However in his obituary notice he was nevertheless styled
 a Baronet of Nova Scotia and Knight of the Holy Order of St. John of Jerusalem.

The Banks Graphite Miners and Pencil-Makers of Keswick

According to legend, the basic material for the pencil-making industry, graphite, was discovered in Borrowdale.  At some time, probably in the 16th century so the story goes, a tree (ash or oak) was blown over to uncover a deposit of wadd, as it was locally known, or graphite.  Graphite was in use by the 1580’s when it was being used by artists “to draw their lines.”

Borrowdale graphite turned out to be very pure graphite and was considered a very valuable commodity.  It was used not only in pencil-making but also by local shepherds for marking sheep and for treating illnesses such as colic. Taken in white wine or ale, it “easeth the pain of gravel, stone and strangury.”  So precious was graphite that an Act of Parliament was passed in 1752 to stop stealing. 

A Banks family was prominent in the graphite mining at Borrowdale from early times and later was part of the pencil-making community at Keswick.  By the 1830's "Banks and Co, Greta Pencil Works and Black Lead Mills" was in businesss at Forge Mill.  The mill remained in Banks' family hands until 1908.

Five Bankes Brothers to America

The family legend (from a Banks descendant in America) ran as follows:

"Five Bankes brothers came from England to Virginia in the 1600's. They came one at a time on different ships so that if one ship sank all would not be lost and some would be left to carry on the name. Two of them are said to have died on the way over, leaving three. These two were supposedly Henry and Edward.  The Bankes' seat in England was Keswick. Black lead was found on the farm there. It was the only known black lead in the world fit for making pencils. We descend from James Bankes from the Northern Neck of Virginia."

The alternative maybe more factual version ran as follows:

“In the year 1635, five Bankes men took the "Oath of Supremacy and Allegiance to the Church of England" and set sail for the New World.  One Bankes man each month sailed from London.  William and Edward sailed for the Island of Barbados and the others for Virginia. These men are believed to be the legendary five brothers, sons of James Banks."

Ralph Banks in Georgia

Georgia Butt Young, taking information froma Georgia medical journal report in 1885, said the following about Ralph Banks, the progenitor of the Banks family in Elbert county, Georgia who had arrived there from North Carolina in 1785.

“Ralph Banks was an intelligent, successful and prosperous Georgia farmer, cultivating tobacco as a principal crop and marketing the hogshead in which it was compressed at Augusta until the cotton gin provided him with a more profitable staple.

The inventory of his estate at his death showed scores of slaves, thousand acres of land, horses, sheep, cattle and goats, wheat, barley, corn, oats and – alas! good Methodist that he was – one hundred gallons of peach brandy, sundry barrels of hard cider, and a barrel of wine.

He and his wife raised twelve children, from whom sprang some of the leading families of Georgia.   Every one of the ten sons attained distinction, several of them acquired great wealth, and all of them preserved their Methodist connection."

William and Ellen Banks' Sojourn in Australia and Beyond

William and Ellen Banks had been married in Dowsby, Lincolnshire in 1841.  He was a farm laborer with little advancement prospect.  So when the British Government started advertising the colonization of Australia he was attracted by the new land and its “liberality” and decided to emigrate there.

They set out for Australia in 1843 in a journey that was to take six months.  During the journey both of their children died.  Two year old Fanny was consigned to “the depths of the briny sea” in October 1843 and eleven month old Rosetta in January 1844.

William and Ellen eventually settled in Melbourne, joining up with William’s brother Joseph who had married Ellen’s sister Charlotte.  When gold fever came William left for a time to find work at Ballarat.

When he returned to Melbourne, however, he found that his family had gone!  Family stories told how, on his way back to the mines, he passed through a small village and saw a small curly-haired boy playing.  He asked the boy who his father was.  All the time he was saying to himself: “Dash my rage, if that’s not my boy!”  The boy’s reply was: “Oh, I am William Banks’ boy.”  Imagine the joy.

By 1854 William and Ellen had been inducted into the Mormon faith.  They immediately made plans to depart for the Mormons’ new home in Salt Lake valley, Utah.  It took two rather unseaworthy vessels to get them to Hawaii where the second of their vessels sunk, taking most of the family possessions with them.  They did eventually reach California, staying for a while in San Bernardino before striking out for Utah.  William died in Parowan, Utah in 1889

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