Mike Guilfoyle’s investigative curiousity takes him from Tressillian Crescent to India as he follows the colourful career of the ‘bigamist barber’. The vice-chair of the Friends of Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries tells the story of the Ganges river-trader and hairdresser.
Although it might be seen as slightly unfair to visit the sins of a father onto a son, the extraordinary parentage of an Assam Tea Company Accountant called Henry De Russett d.1928 formerly of Tol Pedn, 10 Tressillian Crescent caught my investigative curiosity.
Henry’s business background suggests he enjoyed a more conventional career, probate documents disclose an estate valued at £15,594 2s. 2d. Henry’s wife Eva d.1937 is also buried here.
His father’s colourful career however provides one of the more compelling examples of an engaging scoundrel that my research has so far uncovered with a local connection
Born in London in 1798 George trained as a hairdresser, but his life took a dramatic turn in 1828 when he deserted his wife and family on 19 May 1828.
He arrived in Calcutta on board ship as a cabin boy. He was later to be joined by a son George (who later died with his wife and two children in the infamous Cawnpore massacre of 1857 during the Indian Mutiny) and his brother, William.
Having been brought up as a hairdresser in London, George left his ship on arrival in Calcutta to resume his old business. He was successful and he pushed his way into notoriety.
He also took to going up the Ganges river with merchandise for sale. As a river-trader, George’s skill with the curling tongs brought him to the attention of the king, Nasir-ud-din, transforming the kings naturally straight hair to curls.
For this, he was awarded a title of nobility and the rank of court favourite.
George then fled from the wrath of the King to Cawnpore, proceeding to England and taking with him a fortune estimated at c.£90,000.*
George lost his money through stock speculation and went through the Insolvency courts.
He then learned that he was to be prosecuted for bigamy by Mary Tripe’s brother, John Tripe and so he left for New Zealand before this could happen.
Allegedly, this marriage was bigamous as George was still married to his first wife Elizabeth at the time of this marriage to Mary Tripe ( Henry’s mother), who was related to Linnaeus Tripe, the well-known19th century photographer of Hindu temples
George died in 1861 in New South Wales, Australia.
*George’s precipitate departure did not bode well for Nasir who was poisoned by members of his own family in 1837.
The headstone (above) of Henry De Russett is located in Ladywell cemetery close to the Ladywell Dissenters Chapel-Source: Billion Graves .