The Birtles

Maddocks in the Isle of Man

Nathaniel Birtles (my great x 4 grandfather ) was born Dec 29th 1771 died 7 Jun 1831.  He was a mariner from Smithfield St, Liverpool. He owned 15 houses in Prescott Row and Pickop Street, Liverpool and was obviously a wealthy man.

He married July 27th 1795 to Mary Nelson a widow with six children. She was the daughter of John Bryan and Joyce Alcock.
Nathaniel and Mary had five children:

  • James Sept 10th 1796.
  • John May 26th 1799. Died as an infant
  • Joseph Nov 23rd 1800. Married Margaret Cannell b 1803/4, Peel, Isle of Man .Children:
    • Nathaniel Thomas 1831,
    • Elinore Jane 1832,
    • Joseph, 1834,
    • John 1836,
    • Charles 1838,
    • Mary 1839,
    • James 1841,
    • Edward 1843
  • Nathaniel 1805. Married Mary Bryan. Died 1833
  • John 1810. Married Elizabeth Spencer: Children
    • Nathaniel 1829,
    • Henry 1831,
    • John 1833,      
    • John 1834,
    • Elizabeth 1835,
    • Mary 1837

The excerpts following (in italics) are from a privately published family history of the Birtles called Mans’ Yesterdays by Mona Harrison.

Liverpool, even in the 17th century was a growing town and an important seaport. In 1660 there was a castle and a few streets, surrounded by an agriculturally based community. The seaport had a growing trade in salt, spices, wines and metals. After the Civil War, trade began with the West Indies and in the 18th century came the first real dock in the pool of Liverpool.  The triangular Guinea Trade was very important, cloth goods to the slave coast of West Africa; then slaves to the West Indies and finally sugar and spices back to Liverpool.

In 1771, when the population of the town had risen to 25,000, Nathaniel Birtles was baptised in December in St Nicholas Church, the son of Nathaniel of Smithfield St, a mariner.  The older Nathaniel himself may have sailed to the Indies for cargoes of coffee or sugar; rum, coca or ginger; cotton or tortoiseshell; mahogany or logwood. The life would have been both rough and tough.  Privateers were armed merchant ships licensed to attack enemy ships during the war against the French, 120 Liverpool ships were fitted as privateers between 1777 and 1783. However, nothing is really known about Nathaniel senior nor about his son, until Nathaniel Junior married in 1795 by which time he was a plasterer/slater.  Other Birtles in the town followed this trade and were probably related.  Also, there was an Edward Birtles of Button Street, who was a clock maker, he died in 1791 but there were no Birtles in Liverpool before 1760.

When Nathaniel married Mary Nelson in 1795 Liverpool still had some sandy shore and it was not far from orchards and green fields. The Town Hall was burnt that year and, in France, the Revolutionaries had only recently executed their Royal Family. The streets near the harbour were narrow and dirty with shabby houses, but windmills were common on the surrounding hills.  Liverpool was growing rapidly, the docks were being built and inland canals extended the communications so that goods for export more easily included salt from Cheshire; pottery from Stoke-on-Trent; metal goods from Birmingham and cotton goods from Lancashire; though Liverpool had its own flour mills and potteries, rope-walks and breweries. The Mersey was a tidal river with hazards requiring expert navigation especially in the days of sail.

The town grew rapidly, so there must have been work for slaters and plasterers. Nathaniel and Mary had six children: James was baptized at St. Peter’s when they lived in Stanley St. John in 1799 but he died within the year; Joseph in 1800, by which time they were living in Moorfields; Mary about 1802/03; Nathaniel in 1805 and finally another John in 1810.  The boys followed their father’s trade and by the mid-1820s they were all living at Rose Hill, Great Nelson Street, in a part they called Birtle’s Palace.  Many elegant houses were built in the town but there were also small courts, which were becoming slums.  The railway reached Liverpool in 1830, but as the town grew, so did the over-crowding and incidence of cholera, typhoid fever and dysentery.”


James Birtles

James Birtles 1796 -1881. my great, great, great, grandfather, married Jane Rycroft Mar 29th 1818 in Liverpool.

Children of James and Jane:

  • Mary Ann Dec 26th 1820. Married -  Thomas Potts. Her children:
    • Eliza Ann, 1847
    • Mary Jane, 1849
  •  Louisa 1822. died 1849 (without issue)
  •  Nathaniel Dec 25th 1823. Died Jan 12th 1824
  •  Emma Jane  Jan 10th 1826. Married 21 Apr. 1852, Matthew Henry Healliss. Child
    • Emma Jane
  • James Aug 16th 1829. Died in infancy                     
  • James Wilson Nov 28th 1831. Died 1868 in IoM.
  •  Eliza Jane b. July 14th 1836. d 1900  Married (1) George Muncaster in 13 Aug. 1857, he died 1865. Children:
    • Emma Birtles 1859,
    • Ada 1863,
    • Louisa 1864,
    • George Rycroft 1866,


        Married (2) William Pointon. Children:

    • Bertha 1877,
    • William 1879,
    • Birtles (female) 1877-1962 m ? George and moved to New Zealand with her daughter and husband ? Forrester in the late 1950s.

Although James and Jane had seven children. Only four survived childhood Mary Ann, Emma Jane, Eliza Jane and James Wilson Birtles my great, great grandfather (b. 1831). In about 1845, James and Jane moved to Douglas in the Isle of Man.  James, now nearly 50, rented Ballacubbon a farm in Richmond Hill, Isle of Man, leaving two brothers to carry on the family business in Liverpool.

James Birtles died in Douglas, Isle of Man in1861 leaving his widow Jane (Rycroft) Birtles.  In his will it is stated that he owned tea houses in Cazneau Street in Liverpool, so he too was probably wealthy. Interestingly, on the birth record for his son James W. Birtles his father’s occupation is stated as painter and plasterer. In the census records for the Isle of Man in 1851 his occupation is “Farmer”.  Jane (Rycroft) Birtles died at Kirk Braddan, Isle of Man, 22nd Sept. 1875 (aged 80).

At the time of James Birtle’s death it appears that two of James and Jane’s daughters are deceased. Although Mary Jane (Birtles) Potts, at the age of 30 was living with her parents in 1851, by 1861 her two children Mary Ann and Eliza Jane are living with their aunt Eliza Jane (Birtles) Muncaster. No further record of Mary Ann or Thomas Potts. Also deceased, daughter Emma Jane Birtles, who married Mathew Heallis and had a daughter, Eliza Jane in 1853.  In the 1861 census Eliza Jane Heallis is 8 year’s old and living with cousins. She is later mentioned as a ward of Eliza Ann (Birtles) Maddock.  James Birtles did not leave any legacies for his grandchildren.

Will and Probate of James Birtles

Although I have no photographs of this family, portraits of Jane and James and two of their children were found in an attic in Australia,by a descendant. Rex Forrester.

Jane R BirtlesJames Birtles

                            Jane (Rycroft) Birtles                                                                           James Birtles

JB Brooch

    James Birtles, (minature portrait in a mourning brooch)

Mary Ann B

Mary Ann, aged 14

EJB age 2EJB adult

Eliza Jane Birtles as a child of 2 and as an adult (sister to James Wilson Birtles)

“James, the oldest son, who was my great, great grandfather [i.e.Mona Harrison’s GGGrandfather], married Jane Rycroft at St. Pauls Church in 1818. Jane was probably the daughter of William Rycroft, a warehouseman of Chapel Alley, and Nancy Whalley.  James and Jane had seven children, all baptized at St. Peters. Five children survived babyhood, two dying in 1824.  According to photographs of portraits, James was a stocky looking man with a mass of hair and whiskers.

Nathaniel, James’ father died in 1831 and his will shows that he owned 15 houses in Prescott Row and Pickop Street, they were left in trust to his widow and 30 years later, his descendents were still trying to get the trust wound up.

In 1837 there was a splendid procession and fireworks display for the accession of Queen Victoria and there were further celebrations in 1840 for her wedding, presumably the Birtles family enjoyed all these. Nevertheless, somewhere about 1845, James and Jane decided to emigrate, not very far, just to Douglas in the Isle of Man. One day they loaded their belongings, their four daughters and one son, (or maybe only three daughters as Mary Ann was married by now, though with her own two small daughters, she soon joins the family in their new house). James rented Ballacubbon, a farm in Richmond Hill, somewhere near where there is now a home for old horses!  James, now nearly 50, farmed there for some years, leaving two brothers to carry on the family business in Liverpool.”

“Why this sudden enthusiasm for Island life!  About this time the Island population was expanding considerably due to the migration of families from England, Ireland and Scotland. The 1840s were the Hungry Forties and the time of the Great Famine in Ireland. In Liverpool one in every two children died before they were 11 and hundreds of people slept in alleys and doorways or lived in crowded cellars; emigrants came from Europe as well as Ireland, en route to America, but many, exhausted and without money, stayed in Liverpool.  The poor dare not apply for parish relief in case they were sent back; by 1880 Liverpool was a city of 600,000 inhabitants, although probably one tenth were destitute. Other big towns were nearly as bad, so perhaps it is not surprising that the Isle of Man was a welcome alternative.

On the island, trade was increasing because of the increasing tourist trade, despite the poverty in English cities and agricultural areas, there was, in contrast, a growing middle class.  Many Manx families were emigrating and small shopkeepers from England settled in the Island in their stead.

James Wilson Birtles


James Wilson Birtles was born in Liverpool on Nov 28th 1831. He was apprenticed as a seaman in 1847 (aged 16). He was described as having brown hair, grey eyes and a fair complexion. He was my great, great grandfather who married 20th June 1852 (aged 21) to Mary Johnson.

He was at Ballacubbon, Isle of Man., with his parents, at the time of the 1851 census and also in June, just before he married Mary Johnson, daughter of Samuel, a bookseller, Duke St., Douglas.  The Johnsons had also moved to the Island, in their case, from Manchester.

After their marriage James and Mary emigrated to Bendigo, Australia where their first two children were born.  After an attempt to make his fortune in the Australian gold fields James W. and Mary Birtles were back in the Isle of Man by 1856 with their two small daughters, and there they took over the Pier Inn on the North Quay of Douglas Harbour.


Pier where James Wilson Birtles owned a pub.

Two more children were born, after Mary and James, returned to the Isle of man, both dying in infancy. Only Eliza Ann, my great grandmother, survived to adulthood.



In 1847 the only son James Wilson Birtles became an apprentice seaman. He is described as having brown hair, grey eyes and a ruddy complexion. I don’t know when James junior went to sea but he was at Ballacubbon at the time of the 1851 census and also in June when he married Mary Johnson, daughter of Samuel, a bookseller, Duke St., Douglas.  The Johnsons had also emigrated to the Island, in their case, from Manchester.

1850 started a busy decade.  James Wilson Birtles and his new wife, aged 21 and 24 set off for the gold fields of Australia. This would still have been a trip of 90 to 100 days, with possible storms in the Bay of Biscay and the round the Cape of Good Hope. How did they travel? Steerage, between decks with open berths, would have been very Spartan. Possibly their parents paid the money for cabin class, about 25 each, with 4-6 berths in a  cabin, or maybe James worked his passage as crew. They would need to take mattresses and bedding; pots and pans; crockery and cutlery as well as candles, lamps, extra food and other provisions.  Their first child was born in Forest Creek in 1854, Emma Grace’s first summer was hot and thunderous, but she survived and was joined by a second girl, Eliza Ann, born in Bendigo in 1856.  Apart from this we know nothing of their time in Australia.  Gold was discovered in 1851/52 and the rush to the Forest Creek goldfield began in November 1851, so that quite soon up to 10,000 people were at work there. Canvas cities grew up among the muddy tracks and soon there was a second influx from California. It seems the initial excitement was soon replaced by acute home-sickness and some disillusion; it was a question of ‘adjust or go home’; new immigrants were warned that 1) they needed to work twice as hard as any navvy; 2) the weather would be burning sun or pouring rain; 3) there would be flies and mosquitoes (and the diseases they carried); 4) they would work in rain, hail, sun, snow, mud and they would drink muddy water.


‘They’ll charge you 7/- for a pint of mouldy peas,

six and ninepence farthing for a pound of rotten cheese.

Of going gold digging my friends, I’ve had my fill.

May Devil take Australia, I’ll live with old John Bull.

All them that like to emigrate, across the sea may go.

But they’ll never catch me again off to Australia- o’


350 was necessary to buy a dray with horses or bullocks and stores. Flour was 24 a ton in Melbourne but 200 a ton in the goldfields, Bendigo was a seven day trek from Melbourne. Life in the goldfields was turbulent and the bitterness and the frustrations lead to riots and rowdy meetings. Melbourne was a brash city of red brick and stucco, but by 1855 there was a period of some settlement and the development of a degree of respectability although it was a long time before the sidewalks did not become quagmires after any rain.  It is amazing to visualize the ladies in long gowns in such surroundings and even more to think of “keeping house” (and having babies) in the primitive conditions of the diggings.

 It seems unlikely that James and Mary made any notable gold strike, as by 1860 they were back in the Isle of Man again with their two small daughters, and there they took over the Pier Inn on the North Quay of Douglas Harbour, an Inn much frequented by the sailors and fishermen and somewhat rough element of the population”

    James Wilson Birtles died in 1868 leaving a will

Isle of Man 1871 Census shows that at 36 Fort St the home of Martha Howarth (age 53) was with her sister Mary (Johnson) Birtles age 43 (born 1828 in Manchester, England.) and Mary’s daughter Eliza A. J. Birtles age 15.

Eliza AJ Portrait

This portrait is of Eliza Ann Johnson Birtles which hung in her grandson's home for many years.  It is in the same style as the other Birtles portraits and was probably painted by the same artisit who was believed to be a Birtles relative.

In Oct 1873 Eliza Ann Johnson Birtles (aged 17 ), my great grandmother, marries Arthur Maddock in Liverpool, having eloped with him from the Isle of Man.  She left Arthur in 1879 and took her two older children (George and Henry)  back to the island where she gave birth to Emma. 

After the death of her father (1868) and grandfather (1861) it appears that Eliza (Birtles) Maddock was actively involved in the estate in Cazneau St, Liverpool (7 houses and a shop), where she lived with Arthur Hamilton Maddock from the time of their marriage in 1873, until she returned to the Isle of Man in 1879.

1881, Eliza is living with her mother and her three children at 36 Fort St, Onchan.  Mary Johnson Birtles died in 1881. No further record of Eliza Maddock has been found.  Her eldest son, George Frederick Maddock in living at 3 Berkeley St., Douglas, Isle of Man, in 1893, but he appears to be a lodger.


I searched both Isle of Man and the English censuses for 1901 and 1911 looking for Eliza Maddock but found no-one of that name.  However, I found an Elizabeth Gawne in Douglas, Isle of Man, who was born in Bendigo, Australia in 1856 (which is when and where Eliza Birtles was born). "Elizabeth" married Thomas Gawne in 1891/92 at the age of 36. Thomas Gawne had been a master mariner and in the 1901 census is "retired ". In his obituary of 1917 it mentions that Thomas Gawne had retired early due to ill health before the age of 40. 

As it is highly unlikely that there was another female living in the Isle of Man who was born in 1856 in Bendigo I can only assume that Eliza Ann decided to call herself Elizabeth. Perhaps this was to mask her true identity as she was still legally married to Arthur H. Maddock, who did not die until 1895.  Regretably I can find no record of the marriage for Eliza/Elizabeth and Thomas Gawne either in England or the Isle of Man.

Thomas Gawne died in 1917. His obituary was recorded in the Manx Notebook.  There is a death record for Elizabeth Gawne in 1923 (aged 70), but I cannot confirm that this is my great grandmother.