Tracing the disparate ancestries of four great families


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John Diston Powles served 20 years as Secretary of the London Docks

Letter from archivist

Letter to A. M. Powles, Solihull (2 May 2001) from R R Aspinall, Librarian, Docklands Archive

Dear Mr. Powles


Thank you for your letter dated 25 April 2001 regarding your ancestor John Diston Powles (JDP). We have here the surviving business records of the London Dock Company (LDC), which was formed in 1800 to build and run the London Docks at Wapping, which opened in 1805. There are two types of records - those dealing with the operation of the LDC, and those dealing with staff matters. The staff records contain the details of the permanent staff of the LDC, the earliest dating from 1815. I quickly found the details of JDP in these records, and I set out the information below:

Date of appointment: 21 April 1837

Situation: Secretary

Salary: l000 per annum

Remarks: In October 1842 allowed the sum of 150 per annum in lieu of bills and expenses appertaining to London Dock House. In December 1851 this allowance was discontinued and his salary raised to 1500 per annum.

Gratuities: During his career as Secretary, JDP was awarded the following gratuities:

1841 l000

1843 500

1848 500

1857 2500

Superannuation: Superannuated wef 2 June 1857 with an allowance of 800 per annum

Death: Died on l4 September 1867

There were no more references to JDP in the staff records of the LDC. I then turned to the business records of the LDC, finding the following references to JDP:

At a meeting of the Court of Directors held on 4 April 1837 the death was reported of Mr. Simon Cock, the Secretary of the LDC. It was recorded that applications for the situation were to be referred to the Committee of Treasurary to report their opinion thereon.

At a Special Court of Directors meeting held at London Dock House on 21 April 1837 it was "resolved that Mr John Diston Powles be appointed Secretary of the Company with the understanding that should his present engagements interfere with his duties, he will resign such portion of these as may be necessary to enable him to devote more time to the business of the Dock".

At a Court of Directors meeting held on 2 May 1837 it was "resolved that Frederick De Lisle and Henry Ewbank Esquires be accepted as Mr. Powles' sureties for the sum of 3,000".

At a meeting held on 19 May 1837 JDP was sworn in as Secretary in the presence of Sir Claudius Stephen Hunter .

At a meeting of the Court of Directors of the LDC held on 2 June1857, a letter from JDP was readout wherein he requested permission to retire (see extract A enclosed). You will see from the extract this permission was granted with regret at the loss of such a capable officer, and that a retiring allowance of 800 per annum was awarded.

At a meeting of the Court of Directors held on 17 August 1841, it was resolved that JDP be presented with a gratuity of 1000 in respect of his "exertions and valuable assistance". This resolution sheds considerable light on JDP's business acumen, and I enclose a copy of the resolution as extract B.

In 1843 JDP was granted another gratuity, and I enclose a copy of the relevant minute as extract C.

You will see from the first page that JDP was granted a gratuity of 2500 in 1857, a massive sum, but I have been unable to find any reference to this in the minutes. This was obviously connected with his retirement after 20 years service as Secretary. The equivalent figure today of this gratuity would be over 85,000 - a handsome sum by any standards.

I am sure you will see from the above and from the enclosed copies that JDP was a highly talented businessman, and held in deep regard by the Directors of the London Dock Company. Being Secretary to the LDC was very much a full-time occupation, and I doubt that he had much time to pursue business interest outside the Company. The Secretary was the Chief Officer of the LDC, akin to today's Chief Executive, and all the dock business would have been under his immediate control. The other senior dock officials, the Dock Superintendent, who was responsible for the smooth operation of the cargo-handling side of the operation, and the Dockmaster, who was responsible for all shipping entering and leaving the dock, would have reported directly to JDP. He was thus in complete control of one of the major docks in what was until l9l4 the greatest port in the world.

Incidentally, while carrying out this research I came across two other LDC employees who were surnamed Powles. As this is an unusual name, it may well be that they were related to JDP. The details are as follows:

John Powles

Entered Service: 3l October l844

Age: 50 years

Situation: Watchman

Wages: 18/-perweek

By whom recommended: Mr. Powles

Career Progression:

Acting Gatekeeper w/e/f 4 October 1845, wages 1/1/- per

week. Gatekeeper 2nd Class wef 16 May 1848,

wages l/3/- per week.

No further mention in the staff records after this date.

S. Powles(no first name given)

Entered Service: 5 July 1853

Situation: Lockman at Shadwell Entrance

Wages: 1.4s.6p per week

Remarks: Resigned 26 March 1862

You will see that, if these two were related to JDP, they apparently did not share his talents. The docks were full of patronage, and presumably JDP would have been able to secure better positions for them if they had the potential.

Last but not least, I enclose a copy of a map of the London Docks dated 1893.Although dating from many years after the time of JDP's term of office as Secretary, the dock would have changed very little in the interim and he would have been completely familiar with the layout of his empire.

I hope that this information is of help in putting some flesh on the bones of what you know about your ancestor.

Yours sincerely




Docklands Library & Archive, Unit C 14, Poplar Business Park, 10 Prestons Road, London E14 9RL

Telephone0207515 1162: Fax 02075380209

Web site:

Owner/SourceMick Powles
Linked toJohn Diston Powles (1507915)

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