W.T. Jones and the development of the Old College Quad (Continued)
If W.T. Jones had settled in Ballarat ‘when he was a young man, about the early sixties’, his success had been very rapid. By the early 1870s he was regarded as a successful and prominent businessman who showed his charitable and generous disposition. In 1873 he was one of the local ‘gentlemen elected to the working committee to canvas the district for contributions in aid of the Ballarat District Hospital’ (Ballarat Star, Wednesday 4 June 1873).
But within four years he was declared insolvent:
William T. Jones, of Melbourne, stock and sharebroker. Compulsory sequestration. Liabilities, £9,308 15s. 1d.; assets. £1,270; deficiency, £8,128 15s. 1d. (The Argus, Melbourne. Wednesday 11 April 1877).
William Thomas Jones, the insolvent, examined, said that he carried on business for the last 11 or 12 years as a stock and share broker. He kept his banking account at the Union Bank, where he was allowed to overdraw to the extent of £300…A very large amount had passed through his account in the Union Bank during the last 12 years – up to a million and a half of money. His account at the bank was overdrawn from day to day four or five years ago to the extent of from £3,000 to £8,000, but the bank was partially secured (The Argus, Melbourne. Saturday 5 May 1877).
And this may not have been the only time that he experienced financial difficulties, but he would always pay his debts:
In his early life he experienced many ups and downs, sometimes possessing a considerable amount of money and at others being "stone broke." When finally he entered on the permanent tide of prosperity he paid in full all outstanding claims that his creditors had against him (The Advertiser, Melbourne. Tuesday 21 November 1911).
And another tribute echoed that ‘he had his ups and downs. So he often quaintly remarked that a man had to 'go broke' at least three times to become a good speculator’ (The Argus, Melbourne. Tuesday 21 November 1911).
But these setbacks did not deter him, and whether up or down, his community work, especially amongst the Welsh of Melbourne, continued. In a report on The Cambrian Society of Victoria who met on St. David’s Day 1876, for an excursion by about 500 on the steamer Williams down Hobson’s Bay to Portsea, An Aberystwythian wrote:
The palm for devotedness to others, and a genial face which carried sunshine all over the ship, must be yielded to the honorary secretary of the movement, our townsman Mr. W.T. Jones. Did any of the ladies want a song, he immediately found someone to do it. Did anyone want a partner for the dance, Mr. Jones was the man to fix it. Not a better known man was there on board ship, he had a word with, and a smile for every one as he passed along and as one of the chief promoters of the excursion he deserves all the good things said of him (The Aberystwyth Observer. Saturday 20 May 1876).
And this wasn’t the only, or first, St. David’s Day excursion, as An Aberystwythian reported the following year, the year he was declared insolvent:
For the last twelve years we have had an annual excursion on St. David's Day, and the credit of its inception belongs to our fellow townsman Mr W.T. Jones (The Aberystwyth Observer. Monday 7 May 1877).
By 1878 he had re-established himself sufficiently to marry:
Jones – Barry – On the 20th April, at the Congregational Parsonage, Williamstown, by the Rev. J. J. Halley, William T. Jones to Isabella Scott, second daughter of David Mackenzie Barry, Esq., of East Melbourne (The Ballarat Star. Friday 3 May 1878).
He had also regained his social position and again used his wealth to support local causes. In 1888 he was listed as one of the subscribers who had given £100 to the Centennial Gift to the Melbourne Hospital to pay off the existing debt of £10,000 (The Age, Melbourne. Friday 26 October 1888).
His obituary in the Kalgoorlie Miner which I referred to earlier said that W.T. Jones ‘went back again to live in England’. We don’t know when exactly that was or where he lived on his return, but from 1889 onwards his name regularly appears in the Cambrian News. Usually he is referred to as ‘Mr W.T. Jones, Melbourne’, although this does vary: ‘Mr W.T. Jones, formerly of Melbourne’ (October 1893), ‘Mr W.T. Jones (of Melbourne), now living in London’ (January 1902), ‘Mr W.T. Jones of Melbourne and London’ (January 1903), and in 1909 he is both ‘Mr W.T. Jones, formerly of Melbourne’ and ‘Mr W.T. Jones, Melbourne’. When he was made a life governor of U.C.W. Aberystwyth in 1890 his address is listed in the College Calendar as ‘Jones, W.T., Esq., Melbourne’. This changed in 1893 to ‘Jones, W.T., Esq., Australasian Bank, London’, and remained so ever afterwards.
He is always referred to as ‘W.T. Jones, Melbourne’in The Cardigan Bay Visitor, a weekly paper that listed all the visitors to Cardigan Bay and where they stayed, and between 1892 and 1905 W.T. Jones visited the area on a nearly annual basis. Sometimes he would be on his own, sometimes he would be accompanied by his wife, and sometimes by his sons, Gordon and Russell, or they would come together as a family when a maid or nurse would be with them. He would always stay at the Queen’s Hotel for periods of between six to eight weeks during July, August and September. There is a significant gap between 1899 and 1905, but as the Daily Advertiser had reported in 1911, he had ‘paid a visit to Melbourne nine or ten years ago’.
And it’s more than likely that his business interests in Australia had much to do with the visit. In September 1903 The Australian reported:
Mr. W. T. Jones, of London, has asked for an extension of one month of his option to purchase the Tasmania mine, Beaconsfield, owing to the delay caused by the amended agreement having to be confirmed by the shareholders. The directors have consented to the application subject to confirmation by the shareholders. It is stated that £150,000 of the required capital been subscribed in London.
Notice that in Australia he is referred to as Mr. W. T. Jones, of London!
And the Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga, Wednesday 22 November 1911) said:
Mr. Jones made a large fortune on the Melbourne Stock Exchange, and ultimately settled in London, where his mining connection was retained…[and] among his Australian investments were pastoral properties in New South Wales.
In August 1905, both the Cambrian News and The Cardigan Bay Visitor carried the following report:
Mr W. T. Jones, Melbourne, who is well known for his many benefactions to the poor of the town, visited Aberystwyth during the week-end, accompanied by his two sons. He drove from Bangor in a motor car and stayed at the Queen's Hotel. On Sunday morning he attended service at Baker-street Welsh Independent Chapel, where the Rev J Miles officiated. After the service he was immediately recognised and welcomed to his old home.
His many benefactions, which were a continuation of his charitable work in Melbourne, were also well documented in the Cambrian News. As noted, his £500 (c.£58,000 today) donation to the College was reported in 1889, and as a result, in 1890 he was made an honorary governor of the College. In 1893 he was elected to the College Council, as he was again in 1897. These were also reported.
His charitable work in Cardiganshire was first reported in January 1891 when he gave 5 guineas to the Headmistress of Llanbadarn School ‘for the purpose of giving a treat to the infants’. This was repeated the following year when ‘the children attending the Cwmpadarn Infant Board School, sat down to a splendid treat of tea and cake, and on that occasion amongst those who presided over the tables were Misses L. Williams and Louise Richards, Maesteg, nieces of Mr W.T. Jones’. Over the following years until 1910 the poor of Aberaeron, Aberystwyth, Devil’s Bridge, Goginan, Llanbadarn, Penllwyn, Penparcau, Ponterwyd, Pontrhydfendigaid and Strata Florida received sums ranging from £5 to £85, many of them on more than one occasion.
The mention of his nieces shows that W.T. Jones still had family in Aberystwyth. His sister, who was ‘relict of Mr Thomas Thomas, painter, of this town, died at her residence, Llysteg, Caradog Road’ passed away on Wednesday 3 June 1896 (Cambrian News, 5 June 1896) and no doubt these continuing connections with the town made him aware of what was happening there. Nine members of the crew of the S.S. Eira that went missing after sailing from Whitehaven for Kronstadt on the 13 October 1898 with a cargo of pig iron were from Aberystwyth, leaving ‘six widows, many children, of whom ten, whose ages range from infancy to 14 years, a Widowed Mother, and other near relatives’. A public meeting in the town launched a relief fund to raise £500 and heading the list with a donation of 10 guineas was W.T. Jones.
He also took an interest in and became involved with local affairs. He had been invited to perform the opening ceremony of the Intermediate School in February 1899 but unfortunately he couldn’t accept the invitation and wrote from the Junior Carlton Club, London, saying that it was ‘impossible for me to say at the present moment if I will be in England in February’ (Cambrian News. 13 January 1899).
At a Mayor’s Banquet at the Queen’s Hotel on Wednesday 21 September 1892, W.T. Jones was one of the main guests and speakers proposing prosperity for Aberystwyth, saying:
that though he had been away thirty-five years he always took a deep interest in the welfare of Aberystwyth, the place of his birth. He noted that great improvements had been effected during the past thirty-five years, but more improvement had been effected during the past three years than in the previous thirty-two. He had visited many watering places in England, but somehow he always returned to Aberystwyth and he hoped someday to be able to make a longer stay among them (Cambrian News. 23 September 1892)
The same month, at a meeting held at the Town Hall ‘for the purpose of organising a Town Football Club’, W.T. Jones was appointed a vice-president of the club. (Cambrian News. 23 September 1892)
In March 1902:
at a meeting of the Working Men's Institute a letter was read from Mr W.T. Jones, Melbourne, promising a donation of £100 towards the new premises, on condition that a similar amount was raised by the Institute. He also hinted that he might assist them afterwards in furnishing the building (Cambrian News. 7 March 1902).
In May 1905, when the competition with Cardiff for the location of the National Library of Wales was at its fiercest, W.T. Jones sent a telegram to the Mayor of Aberystwyth saying, ‘Will subscribe £500 toward the National Library on condition that it will be located at Aberystwyth. The announcement was received with a prolonged roar of cheers’ (Cambrian News, 5 May 1905). And at a Council Meeting held on Tuesday 2 May where Aberystwyth’s claim for the National Library was discussed, the Town Clerk praised W.T. Jones for this proof of his loyalty to the town saying that:
he was one of those gentlemen who helped people who did the best for themselves and he would be most pleased to hear, if the resolution was carried, that Aberystwyth had arisen to the occasion and was willing to face the obligation which seemed to be naturally forced upon the town.
Alderman Jones said, that arising out of the statement that had been made of the liberality of Mr. W. T. Jones, as an old school fellow of Mr Jones, he, would move a resolution expressive of gratification at his contribution and that in addition the many kindly acts he had performed in connection with Aberystwyth. He believed that Mr. Jones was one of the truest and staunchest sons of Aberystwyth. He had contributed a considerable sum towards the renovation of the College and in every financial movement for the benefit of Aberystwyth it was only necessary to make an appeal to receive a kindly and ready response. Captain James, as another school fellow of Mr. Jones, seconded the proposition. (Cambrian News, 5 May 1905)
When in June 1905 the news reached Aberystwyth that they had been successful in their application for the National Library of Wales to be sited in the town, W.T. Jones sent another telegram to the mayor saying, ‘Been away; only just heard good news: delighted; heartily congratulate’ (Cambrian News. 16 June 1905).
Ahead of the visit of George V to Aberystwyth on 15 July 1911 to lay the foundation stone of the National Library of Wales, the Cambrian News gave a brief history of the campaign and listed the major subscribers to the building:
The Corporation of Aberystwyth subscribed £5,000 and Cardiganshire County Council, £2,000. Mrs Edward Davies, the Misses Davies and Mr David Davies, M.P., Plasdinam have given £5,000 and Sir John Williams, Bart., Mr. F.L. Davies, Ferndale and Mr. W.T. Jones, Threadneedle-street, London, have each subscribed £500 (Cambrian News. 14 July 1911).
W.T. Jones stood shoulder to shoulder with other notable and famous Aberystwyth philanthropists.
And on the day itself there were such festivities in Aberystwyth, the paper couldn’t name everyone who had been present at the National Library site, at Old College and that the Public Banquet that was held during the evening at the Pier Pavilion, when ‘a distinguished company was present’, but I’m sure that, health permitting, William Thomas Jones would have been amongst those present.
He was certainly present at the opening of another library in Aberystwyth nine years earlier when in April 1906 the Public Library in Albert Place was opened.
His generosity to appeals outside Aberystwyth were also reported. The Prince of Wales Hospital Fund for London was established in 1897 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee with a target of £150,000. On 16 March 1900 the Cambrian News reported that ‘the amounts received on Thursday, included one hundred pounds from her Majesty the Queen fifty pounds from the Prince of Wales…and one hundred pounds from Mr W. T. Jones, Melbourne’. He had given as much as the Queen and twice as much as the Prince!
‘Fortune’s favours did not make him forget his native town and he took great pride in looking up the friends and familiars of his boyhood days’ says the announcement of his death in the Aberystwyth Observer, but despite his longstanding connections with Aberystwyth he didn’t return there to live. But where he lived – and died – is something of a mystery. The Aberystwyth Observer said ‘we regret to announce the death of Mr. W.T. Jones, of Melbourne, Australia, and of St James’ square, London, which occurred on Sunday at his London residence’. While the Cambrian News and Welsh Farmers’ Gazette announced that ‘the death occurred on Sunday of Mr William Thomas Jones, at his residence, 17, Stratton-street, Piccadilly, and Melbourne, Australia’. However the Queensland Times said that W.T. Jones‘had been in failing health for some time. He died at Norwich, and will be buried in the Crompton cemetery on Wednesday’.
And as it happens, it’s the report in the Queensland Times that correctly names where he died, as the following report on his will and probate shows. The figure of £102,530 mentioned is equivalent to around eight million pounds today.
But what is very sad about this note, and confirmed by the Queensland Times report that W.T. Jones been in failing health for some time, is the fact that Heigham Hall, Norwich, was a ‘private lunatic asylum’. So it is quite possible that he had not been in Aberystwyth in June when the foundation stone of the National Library was laid.
In W.T. Jones, Aberystwyth had produced another local-boy-made-good who had remembered his home town and had helped a number of individuals and institutions. But as with T.D. Slingsby Jenkins (January 2017 blog) some fifty years later it’s possible that he also would have been all but forgotten today if it hadn’t been for Principal Thomas Charles Edwards’ urging of the College Governors at their meeting in October 1890 ‘to erect in the central hall, a suitable tablet and inscription commemorating Mr Jones's generous gift’. This was carried out, and behind the Latin inscription which roughly reads, The ornate roof of this central hall was erected at the expense and generosity of William Thomas Jones. Esquire. A former illustrious citizen of Melbourne Australia on his return to Aberystwyth in 1890, lies a remarkable story.
It is quite possible, by the way, that if he was well enough, that W.T. Jones and T.D. Jenkins had met when ‘a bazaar on an elaborate scale was held at the Coliseum on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday [11, 12 and 13 October 1905] by members of Tabernacle C.M. Church…in aid of the renovation funds’ (Cambrian News. 13 October 1905). W.T. Jones was amongst the distinguished patrons and T.D. Jenkins was one of the honorary secretaries.
Before finishing, this story has further Welsh connections. The Messrs Rowlands and Lewis that W.T. Jones worked for at Ballarat when he first arrived in Australia were also Welshmen. Evan Rowlands came from the Corris area, while Robert Lewis was from the Aberystwyth area, his family farming Trefaes, Llangwyryfon (there are still Lewises farming Trefaes Uchaf and Trefaes Isaf today). They had both emigrated to the gold mines of Australia as miners in the early 1850s, but in 1854 they formed the Rowlands & Lewis drinks company and began ‘manufacturing mineral and aerated waters, bitters, cordials and liquers in a tent on the shores of Lake Wendouree at Ballarat’. Within four years they had built a factory on the site.
Robert Lewis retired from the firm in 1876 and went into politics, becoming Ballarat’s first mayor, serving for five terms altogether. He later became a member of the Legislative Assembly. Evan Rowlands expanded the business, and by the 1890s had factories in Ballarat, Melbourne, Sydney, and Newcastle. The company continued under his name until after the Second World War, when it was sold to Schweppes. It’s no wonder that An Aberystwythian wanted to write about the ‘successes of several Cardiganshire men in these colonies’, there was obviously many of them.
E.L. Ellis. The University College of Wales Aberystwyth 1872-1972.
University College of Wales. Students’ Handbook 1903.
T.I. Ellis. Thomas Charles Edwards Letters.
J. Roger Webster. Old College Aberystwyth: The evolution of a High Victorian building.
National Library of Wales. Welsh Newspapers Online.
National Library of Australia. Digitalised newspapers and more.
Find a will or probate (England and Wales) https://www.gov.uk/search-will-probate
K. Farrer. To Feed a Nation: A History of Australian Food Science and Technology.