Francis Robert HONEYMAN and his family

Francis Robert HONEYMAN was the son of David HONEYMAN and Ann WYNN and was born in St George’s Southwark on the 18 Nov 1782. He was the third of eleven children growing up in a family of well-to-do curriers. He was reasonably well educated (he could read and write well in later years) although one of his letters suggests he “in early life, instead of being at school, was floating over the blue waters“. This has been taken to a suggest he was in the Navy but it might also indicate that he was, like many of his family, working as a Thames waterman. He was married around 1802 to Sarah whose last name we cannot identify. They had a family of eleven children born in St George the Martyr in Southwark, on the south side of the River Thames. In 1803 Land Tax records, we see he took a property in Barron’s Buildings, and the Holden’s Triennial Directory for 1805-1807 record Francis Robert Honeyman as a leather stainer in 13 Barron’s Buildings, along the Blackfriars Road.

On 20 Oct 1808 Francis was assaulted by a Robert BRADBURY (who was later acquitted at the Quarter Sessions) and in 1810, the family are confirmed as living in Barron’s Buildings, Blackfriars Road. An entry in the London Directory for 1811 refers to him as ‘Robert Honeyman Leather Dresser of 19 Barron’s Buildings, Westminster Road’, indicating that he had trained as a Leather Dresser; he is described as a ‘Leather stainer of Barron’s Buildings’ in the will of John Branscombe in 1815 and he appears similarly as a ‘kid-leather manufacturer of Barron’s Buildings in the Quarter Sessions in 1819. Francis was the victim in a robbery in 1819 by John GLIDE and Thomas WEST who stole 30 skins from Honeyman and tried to sell them to his brother.

The Royal Circus had been a place of entertainment along Blackfriars Road since 1782 owned by the theatre manager and playwright Charles Dibdin the elder. When Honeyman was born and during his formative years, equestrian events and circus acts performed regularly. In 1815, the decision was made to convert the Circus into the ‘Surrey Theatre’. The circus rink itself was made into a standing area for spectators and the stables next door were converted into a saloon bar adjacent to the Theatre itself. The management was taken over by a group of three men including John BRANSCOMBE, who was a theatre engineer who made machines and engines to allow theatrical displays to take place. On 8 Apr 1815, Branscombe died and his executor was his friend Francis Robert Honeyman. Branscombe owned the lease on the ‘Royal Circus Refectory‘ which was an establishment akin to a pub with two billiard tables and a licence to serve alcohol and spirits. The lease expired soon after Branscombe’s death and Francis took over the new lease, appearing in the list of licensed victuallers alongside Charles DIBDIN in that same year, demonstrating that he moved into a licensed establishment from 1815. One of Branscombe’s debtors, a surgeon called James COOKE, took Mary Ann BRANSCOMBE and Francis Robert HONEYMAN to Chancery in late 1815, claiming that a medical bill of over £67 in medicines was unpaid at the time of his death. In 1821, at the birth of his son Walter, we learn his establishment was called “Evans Coffee Shop” along the Blackfriars Road. Francis named his daughter Charlotte Dibdin Honeyman, presumably after his business partner.

By 1822, Francis’s coffee shop known in Branscombe’s day as the ‘Royal Circus Refectory’ was known as ‘Honeyman’s Coffee Shop adjoining the Surrey Theatre‘ and the ‘Circus Coffee Shop‘ showing that he now managed the saloon next to the Theatre which would become, in later years, the ‘Surrey Coal Hole’. Honeyman was also taking an interest in the activities within the Theatre itself. In 1822, the uncle of his stepchildren, Richard Branscombe, took Francis to court claiming that he has misappropriated the funds that John Branscombe had left for his children. Honeyman in reply accounted for all the money and asserted that he earned upwards of £20,000 per annum by virtue of his business as a leather stainer – a phenomenal sum at a time when the Governor of the Bank of England earned £400 per year. He claimed to have no need to take money from Branscombe’s fund.

The Surrey Theatre was the site of the first London performance of John Baldwin Buckstone on the 30th Jan 1823 as David Ramsay in the play of Scott’s book, ‘The Fortunes of Nigel’. We know that by late 1824, Francis was treasurer of the Theatre when there was a scandal involving embezzlement of the door takings by one of the employees and this event seems to have precipitated the decision of one of the lessees, Llewellyn Watkins WILLIAMS, to sell his interests in the Surrey Theatre to Francis Honeyman in October 1825.

By late 1825, having taken over the Theatre, Honeyman made the decision to refurbish it, and it was reopened on 26th December 1825. At the same time, Honeyman was taken to court by a firm of bankers, Whitmore, Wells and Whitmore of Lombard Street, for failing to repay a loan of £700. Honeyman owned two tenements at no 29 and 30 New Street Cloth Fair in the parish of St Bartholomew the Great in London, and he had attempted to sell them to pay the bankers.  However the bankers claimed that Honeyman had attempted to defraud them by selling property to realise the assets and then refusing to provide title to the new buyers, thereby retaining the ability to claim the rents. It is clear that Honeyman was investing substantial amounts in property and becoming indebted with substantial loans to do so.

Honeyman tried to employ his friend Thomas DIBDIN, and wrote to him offering him the position of manager. However Thomas was also being offered the running of Sadler’s Wells Theatre and so he suggested his brother Charles in his stead. On the 27th Feb 1826 Francis tried to enrol Thomas and his brother together to manage and provide entertainment at the Surrey Theatre.

Surrey Theatre, 27th Feb. 1826

Dear Sir,
Understanding Messrs. Terry and Yates are in treaty for Sadler’s Wells, and that, should such treaty take effect they will bring their own establishment ; and wishing to attach as much talent to my own theatre as I can, I should be happy to make you an offer, (which was a very liberal one) as coadjutor with my present acting manager, your brother, with whom I shall never part, while he will, as he has done, exert himself for me ; leaving it to yourself, whether you would prefer being styled stage manager,—or, doing that duty, call it by any other name. My only motive in mentioning this punctilio arises from my anxiety not to offend talent, and apprehensive you may think the denomination of stage manager subservient to that of acting manager ; but you and your brother Charles Dibdin would understand each other, I am certain. Feeling this offer is one pound per week less than mentioned in our former treaty, I would willingly make it up by every comfort I could afford, every attention I could show you, or courtesy as to privilege of admissions ; and by throwing you off an equivalent in the scale of your benefit charges. Should I be wrong in making this offer, your usual urbanity of manners, and gentlemanly feelings, will excuse the roughness of a man, who, in early life, instead of being at school, was floating over the blue waters.

Sincerely yours,

The manager was Charles DIBDIN the younger and the opening night included several plays and vignettes written by Dibdin. A summary of Dibdin’s reminiscences of Honeyman and the Surrey Theatre appeared in the Memoirs of Charles DIBDIN – References to Honeyman. Honeyman employed several key stage names of his day including Buckstone and the celebrated actor George Holland in 1826. Honeyman had to run the gauntlet of a draconian law that allowed only Theatres with Royal Patent to stage ‘drama’ and this was restricted to the Drury Lane, Covent Garden and Haymarket theatres. Honeyman could get around the law by including substantial amounts of musical accompaniment which meant that the house was staging ‘mimes and ballets’ rather than drama. Honeyman was a celebrated figure of his time – when misfortune came to his son (who was kicked by a horse and nearly lost an eye in 1826) and daughter (who was attacked in the street in 1827), the reports omitted the names of the children but stated that they were the children of  ‘Mr Honeyman of the Surrey Theatre‘.

Honeyman kept the Theatre until late 1826 when the lease came for renewal. The owners presented such a steep hike in the rent that Honeyman had not choice but to refuse to renew the lease and he returned to managing the Circus Tavern, and by 1827 he is already being described as ‘late proprietor’ of the Surrey Theatre. On the 28th Mar 1828, Honeyman witnessed the marriage of his daughter Annie Marie Honeyman to the actor John Baldwin Buckstone; the marriage was also witnessed by her sister Mary Ann and (probably her sister) Sarah. Charles Dibdin wrote to him a few days later to congratulate the family:


My dear H, I received your kind note late on Thursday night, and was too much taken up yesterday to answer it. In regard to dining with you tomorrow, I cannot at this moment say yes, or no – if I can conveniently (for my time is now more my son’s than my own) I will. That Ann is married, I wish her joy, simply but sincerely expressed, and my feelings are concerned in this wish infinitively beyond what the simple word may seem to convey; but you will all give me credit, I am sure, for intent the most cordial and family. Give Mrs — (You did not mention her new name) my very best regards. Excuse a short letter; if I can’t see you tomorrow, I will, please heaven, soon; in the meantime, accept my sincere regards, you, Mrs. H and all your children, and believe me to be, Yours most cordially, C. DIBDIN.

PS My son is better, but still in a precarious state. On the back of the above letter are the following lines: Then come to my home, ’tis the home of a friend, In the green woods of Fruagh thou art safe from thy foes; Six sons of McKenna thy steps shall attend, And their six sheathless spears shall protect thy repose. Then partake of the cheer those green woods can spare, While I pledge thee a bumper of generous wine; And bold is the hand and the heart that will dare To harm but a hair of a ringlet of thine !

FR Honeyman signature 1822
Signature of Francis Robert Honeyman from a chancery case in 1828.

In the 1831 rates, he appears in 27-29 Dukes Street and Watton Place in Southwark. In 1833, Sarah died from Mason Street, Southwark.

The fortunes of the family flagged seriously in the mid-1830s. Francis moved to a boarding house in Oakley Street in Chelsea and by Feb and Mar 1837 his children Sarah and Walter were admitted to St George the Martyr parish workhouse indicating that Francis’s once lavish lifestyle was no longer tenable. The evidence suggests that each of the family moved to different addresses. In 1838 the children left the institution, and his son Francis William was married by which time Francis Robert was then described as a ‘currier’ (i.e. leatherdresser). In 1839, Francis took Henry YOUNG, the manager of the Sadler’s Wells Theatre, to the Surrey Sheriff’s Court asking for payment for silk bills that he had had given to Young. The case gives an interesting snapshot of Honeyman’s family life. His daughter Maria was described as Maria CROSBY and his daughter Sarah was living in Lewisham, presumably in service, possibly a connection from his daughter and son-in-law, John Baldwin and Annie Maria BUCKSTONE who lived nearby. Francis was living in a room upstairs in a boarding house in Oakley Street, Chelsea where he had entertained Young three years earlier in 1836. The family has clearly encountered hard time and it may not be coincidence that the Francis Robert’s son, Francis William (later known just as William) was twice caught stealing and, on the second offence in 1838, transported to Australia.  

By the 1841 census, Honeyman is described as a ‘Composer’ in St Sepulchre without Newgate parish in London. The census does not allow us to determine precisely where but the large numbers of single men in the establishment suggests that it is some form of boarding house. A few years later when Francis died, his address was given as 18, West Street, West Smithfield, which is consistent with this address in 1841, but I believe that this was the ‘Union Workhouse, West Street’.

In July 1842, Francis was caught stealing 6 glasses from the Sir Hugh Myddleton Inn next to Sadler’s Wells Theatre, then convicted and sentenced at the Old Bailey to imprisonment in Newgate Prison. He appears in the gaol calendar with a one month sentence. He called himself ‘Robert FRANCIS’ when arrested but he was known to the staff as HONEYMAN, hinting he had used a false name to hide his identity when caught.

Robert Honeyman [sic], some years since proprietor of the Surrey Theatre, and in affluent circumstances, was committed for trial on Saturday from Clerkenwell Police Court for stealing six tumblers from the parlour of the Sir Hugh Myddleton Tavern, adjacent to Sadler’s Wells Theatre. Several glasses having been missed, and the six immediately after prisoner’s departure, he was followed, and the property found on him. He pleaded poverty, and said that since the death of his wife and daughter, coupled with peculiar misfortunes, his mind was affected, and he must have taken the tumblers in a moment of aberration of intellect. The poor fellow shed tears, and was deeply affected at his degrading position. The Magistrate regretted that any person who bad been in a higher sphere of life should be reduced to such extremity. He had, however, no alternative but to commit him, and he was conveyed to Newgate.

He died on the 8 May 1843 in the workhouse and he wrote the codicil to his own will. He left his estate to his fourth daughter Maria Matilda Honeyman, who was described variously as a ‘spinster’ and as the wife of George CROSBY, Chelsea Pensioner. The documents indicate that Maria was not married to Crosby, even if they lived as man and wife.

Francis Robert Honeyman’s Children

Francis and Sarah had upwards of 11 children, most of whom grew to adulthood. Only one of the surviving children was a son – Francis William HONEYMAN – who was transported to New South Wales for theft (see below). Hence most of Honeyman’s lineage comes from his daughters. Honeyman’s family appear to have dissipated around 1836, each moving away from the family home. When John Branscombe died in 1815, the care of his children passed to Francis who became stepfather to Eleanor Ann, Emma (Emily Sophia), Clara Elizabeth, John Stephen and William Samuel Branscombe. Unfortunately all but Clara died in infancy, but Clara survived and was married in 1832.

Many of of his daughters lived with or married people linked to the stage. However we cannot find marriages for many of his daughters. Maria CROSBY is variously described as a wife and a spinster, and we infer that she lived with, but was not married to, George Crosby. Eleanor Emily Honeyman clearly lived as a married couple with Christopher John SMITH having three children, but did not marry him until 1859, some 23 years after the birth of their first child. It may be that the reason we cannot trace some daughters is that they entered into what appeared externally to be married relationships but without formal marriages that we can now trace.

Clara Elizabeth BRANSCOMBE (1811-?) was born 8 Jan 1811 in St George the Martyr, Southwark, the daughter of John BRANSCOMBE and his wife Mary Ann LAMBERTH. John died on the 8 Apr 1815 leaving the care to his widow Mary Ann, but she ‘abandoned’ the children and their care was taken over by Francis Robert. Clara and her brothers and sisters then became stepchildren of Francis. She married 16 Feb 1832 to Jonathon RIDGEWAY and Francis Robert Honeyman and his daughter Eliza were the witnesses. A year later in 1833, she travelled with her husband’s family to New York. He died there in 1849 of cholera, but Clara has not been traced.

Mary Ann Susannah HONEYMAN (1803-?) was born 17 Dec 1803 in St George the Martyr, Southwark. She may have been the ‘daughter of Mr Honeyman of Surrey Theatre’ who was followed and attacked in 1827. We know she was alive when she witnessed her sister’s marriage in 1828. It may be that she is Mary Ann who married James BULL and had a son James Honeyman BULL born in 1829.

Francis Robert Honeyman's daughter attacked
Incident which happened to one of Francis Robert Honeyman’s daughters (probably Mary Ann or Sarah) in 1827, reported in the local news. 26 Jul 1827 in the London Courier and Evening Gazette.

Sarah HONEYMAN (1805-1841?) was born 29 May 1805 in St George the Martyr, Southwark. She is probably the Sarah Honeyman who witnessed the marriage of her sister Anne Maria in 1828. She was a witness to the case between her father Francis Robert HONEYMAN and Henry YOUNG in 1839. She stated that she had moved out to Lewisham in 1836, presumably in service and possibly a connection arranged by her sister Anne Marie who had married John Baldwin BUCKSTONE and was living nearby at the time. In 1837, Sarah briefly entered the St George the Martyr parish workhouse, being discharged in 1838. She may be the Sarah Honeyman who died in the St Giles in the Fields workhouse in Dec 1841.

Anne Marie HONEYMAN (1807-1844) was born 21 Jan 1807 in St George the Martyr, Southwark. She married the celebrated comedian and actor John Baldwin BUCKSTONE at St John Waterloo on the 28 Mar 1828. She had five children with him but died 3 Jul 1844 at 6 Brompton Square, Kensington, London. She was buried in Brompton Cemetery. Buckstone married a second time and had a further six children.

Catherine Elizabeth HONEYMAN (1808-1810) was born 25 Jul 1808 in St George the Martyr, Southwark. Buried from Barron’s Buildings in Jul 1810.

Francis Thomas HONEYMAN (1810-1810) was born 26 Mar 1810 and died 5 Oct 1810 in St George the Martyr, Southwark.

Maria Matilda HONEYMAN (1812-?) was born 10 Sep 1812 in St George the Martyr, Southwark. She was a witness in the case between her father and Henry YOUNG when she was described as ‘Maria CROSBY’. She was the primary recipient of her father’s estate in 1843, at which time she was described as of Old Pye Street, Westminster. The documentation associated with her father’s estate make it clear that she is not formally married to Crosby, who is probably the George CROSBY who witnesses Honeyman’s will and is described as a ‘Chelsea Pensioner’.

Eliza HONEYMAN (1814-?) was born 27 Apr 1814 in Barons Buildings, St George the Martyr, Southwark. She was witness to her stepsister Clara Elizabeth Branscombe’s marriage in 1832. On 14 Aug 1838, she married George Thomas OAKLEY at St Margaret’s Westminster and had at least three children. In the 1841 census, she is in Birch Street, Lambeth with her family. She is the recipient of the estate of her brother Walter, which she received in 1859, 15 years after his death. At that time she was described as of ‘11 Lucretia Street, New Cut, Blackfriars Road, Surrey’. On the 1861 census, she is found in 15 Ferry Street, Lambeth. 

Francis William alias William HONEYMAN (1815-1893) was born in Barrons Buildings, St George the Martyr, Southwark 12 Dec 1816. In 1826, he was involved in an incident when a horse kicked him and he nearly lost his right eye. In 1837, he was arrested and tried at the Old Bailey for theft and given 6 months imprisonment. He was married in 20 Mar 1838 to Elizabeth JONES in St George Bloomsbury – he signed his name with a flourish, indicating that he was educated and he was described as an office clerk of Vauxhall Bridge Road. A few months later he was arrested for the theft of a clock and one of the constables recognised him from his previous conviction. As a result, Francis William was sentenced to 14 years transportation. He was conveyed on the ship called the ‘John Barry’ and the description of the convicts makes comment of the damage and scar around his right eye. He is now described as being unmarried, but I infer that the marriage with Elizabeth Jones was ignored through mutual consent. Honeyman appeared in the records of New South Wales from his arrival on the 22 Mar 1839. He described himself normally as ‘William HONEYMAN’ and appears to have had a casual relationship with Catherine SULLIVAN by whom he had at least two daughters and lived in North Parramatta, New South Wales. In 1851, after he was formally pardoned, he married Eliza Jane MOORE in Sydney and his signature is identical to that in 1838. They had six children. He died in New South Wales in 20 Oct 1893.

Incident re Francis William HONEYMAN 1826 cropped
Newspaper entry from 1826 describing the injury of Francis William Honeyman. The scars around his right eye would be mentioned as part of his description when he was transported on the John Barry to New South Wales. 13 Apr 1826 in the London Morning Advertiser.

Eleanor Emily HONEYMAN (1818-1878) was born in St George the Martyr, Southwark. She entered into a relationship with the comedian and actor, Christopher John SMITH around 1836 and they had three children together. They finally married in Norbiton 15 Nov 1859 after they had been together for around 24 years. Eleanor died about 1878 and her husband lived for a further ten years.

Charlotte Dibdin HONEYMAN (1820-1821) was born 15 Apr 1820 in St George the Martyr, Southwark. She was most likely named after her father’s business partner, Charles Dibdin the younger. She died in Jan 1821 and was buried in St George the Martyr churchyard.

Walter Evans HONEYMAN (1821-1844) was born 31 Oct 1821 in Evans Coffee House, Blackfriars Road, Southwark. A brief unreferenced comment in the ‘History of the Honeyman family‘ refers to Walter Honeyman, son of the proprietor of the Surrey Theatre, as ‘stolen in London as a child‘. In 1837 he was admitted to Southwark workhouse because of illness. He died 25 Nov 1844 in Westminster Hospital and was buried in St Margaret, Westminster. His estate was finally released to his sister Eliza in 1859.

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