Select Porter Miscellany

Here are some Porter stories and accounts over the years:

Porter Derivation

Porter as a load bearer seems to have been a later rather than an earlier meaning of the word.  Whenever the King or his royal party were going to travel, it was the porter or door-keeper that was instructed to carry the luggage to the coach.  It was then the duty of the coachman to load the baggage.  After the tradition was established by the King, people started calling anyone who had duty as load-bearers porters.  

Early Porters of Essex

There was a le Porter family that appears to have been prominent in Essex during the 13th and 14th centuries.  They have left their name to two houses in the county, Porter's Hall near Stebbing in north Essex and Porters in the southeast of the county near present-day Southend.

The land around Porter's Hall had been rented by the le Porters from the de Ferrers family.  There are various deeds dating back to 1292 which record Henry le Porter and his wife Ymanye as holders of the land. The present house is 400 years old and surrounded by a moat.

Porters in SE Essex, as it now stands, is a late 15th or 16th century house.   The general plan, medieval in character, suggests an earlier construction and supports a belief that an older building stood on the site.  Its name appears to have been taken from that of the le Porter family.  In 1305 and again in 1324, Laurence le Porter of Prittlewell was recorded as holding lands in Prittlewell and Middelton (Milton).

Porters in Liverpool

The following Porters were recorded in Baines Trade Directory of Liverpool for 1824.

Porter Henry, shopkeeper, 48 London Road
Porter Jas. & Co, tea dealers, 48 Old Haymarket
Porter John, hairdresser, 89 Dale Street
Porter John, grocer and flour dealer, 20 Circus Street
Porter Letitia, boarding house, 44 New Scotland Road
Porter Maria, commercial eating house, Market Street
Porter Mary, funeral furnisher, 22 Lydia Ann Street
Porter Thomas, coal dealer and shopkeeper, 3 Wright Street
Porter Thomas Colley, oil and color manufacturer, 53 Mersey Street
Porter William Field, shipowner and sail-maker, 77 Sparling Street
Porter William, victualler and commercial eating house, 8 Wapping
Porter William, tea dealer, 2 Nash Grove

Porter Street in Liverpool was named after Thomas Colley Porter, its mayor in 1827 "who won one of the most corrupt elections in Liverpool's history."  Captain William Field Porter was a prominent shipowner and merchant engaged in the China trade.  However, his vessels were uninsured and he lost heavily when a number of them came to grief.  He left Liverpool in 1838 to start a new life in New Zealand.

A Scandalous Affair

In 1863 John Vesey Porter, the owner of the Belle Isle estate in county Longford, married Elizabeth Jane Hall, daughter and co-heiress of Richard Hall of Inishmore Hall nearby.  The marriage was desirable from the financial point of view and because the Belle Isle and Inishmore estates marched.  But it was childless and, it would seem, unhappy, partly on account of the disparity in their ages (he was 47 and she was about 18) and partly (it is conjectured) on account of Porter's cantankerousness.

In September 1870 Mrs. Porter formed an illicit liaison with Captain Leonard Poynter of the 16th Regiment, then stationed in Enniskillen.  Porter found out about this affair in December and, with the aid of his butler and other men-servants, lured Captain Poynter to Belle Isle where he was considerably knocked about, had his hair and one side of his luxuriant moustache cut off, and was then severely horse-whipped by Porter.

Captain Poynter brought an action for assault and battery against Porter and claimed damages of 10,000. Porter would probably have been well advised to have settled out of court. Instead, a packed Dublin courtroom was regaled for almost a week with salacious details of the doings of Mrs. Porter and CaptainPoynter at Belle Isle.  In the end, the jury - obviously composed of stern Victorian paterfamiliae - found for Captain Poynter, but awarded him a farthing in damages.

Shortly afterwards, Porter successfully sued for divorce.  His wife and her parents retired to London where Mrs. Porter died, still only in her early forties, in 1887.

Drs. Daniel Porter of Farmington, Connecticut and Environs

The first Dr. Daniel was initially recorded in Farmington in the early 1650's.  He lived on the west side of the main street, not far from the South schoolhouse, and was paid a salary of twelve pounds by the General Court for setting all the broken bones in the colony.  He was allowed six shillings extra for traveling expenses for each journey to the river towns.

Dr. Daniel the younger assumed the practice of surgery on the death of his father.  He moved to Waterbury and was the second of five generations of Drs. Daniel Porters - father, son, grandson, great grandson, and nephew of great grandson.  His medical library consisted of a bone "set book," appraised with a value of two shillings.


The Porter Family of Pennsylvania

The Porters were one of the leading political families of Pennsylvania of the 19th century.  There were strong ties with the Edwards family from Maryland and David Rittenhouse Porter was grand-uncle by marriage to Abraham Lincoln.

The General Andrew Porter who distinguished himself in the Revolutionary War had three notable sons:
  • David Rittenhouse Porter (1788-1867), the eldest son who was Governor of Pennsylvania from 1839 to 1845
  • George Bryan Porter (1791-1834), the sixth son who was Governor of Michigan territory during the last three years of his life
  • and James Madison Porter (1793-1862), the seventh son who was US Secretary of War in 1843-44.  He was earlier instrumental in the founding of Lafayette College in Pennsylvania.
David's son Horace was a general in the Union army during the Civil War, as was George's son Andrew.  Horace later served as the US Ambassador to France.

William Sidney Porter, alias O. Henry

His mother died when he was three and his father, a medical doctor, began to care more about alcohol than his practice.  His grandmother was thus given the task of raising him and a younger sibling.  She also was responsible for their extensive education.  He was an avid reader and, by the age of nineteen, had read a wide variety of books and articles that would later influence his literary works.

Porter moved to Texas in 1884 to be with friends because they were concerned about a chronic cough that had plagued him from childhood.  In Texas, he got married and obtained a job as a bank teller at one of the local banks.  When faced with charges of bank fraud from the bank he fled to New Orleans and then to Honduras.  He returned to America when word came that his wife was losing her battle with tuberculosis.  On his return he was convicted for bank fraud and was sentenced to three years in an Ohio penitentiary.

From this low point in Porter's life, he began a remarkable comeback.  Three years and about a dozen short stories later, he emerged from prison as "O. Henry" to help shield his true identity.  He moved to New York City where, over the following ten years, he published over 300 stories and gained acclaim as America's favorite short story writer. 

He was also an alcoholic.  Sadly he died in New York City at the age of just forty seven virtually penniless.

Jimmy Porter, A Convict's Story

"Born in the neighborhood of London in 1802 - parents moving in a respectable sphere of life - when six years old I was transferred to the care of my grandmother by her particular request, tho' not without great reluctance of my mother.  I remained happy under the care of my grandmother (going to school regularly until I was twelve years of age) and whose kindness you will find in the sequel proved my ruin. 

At twelve years old I could write a tolerable hand and was pretty forward in arithmetic; but being punished by my schoolmaster for placing hair in his cane so that when he chastised any of us it would split up and cut his hand, and indeed to this day and through all my misfortunes and rambles the same propensity for mischief haunts me."

So began the life story of Jimmy Porter, convict, thief, sailor, and scallywag.  He had led a colorful life until the time he was transported to Tasmania in 1823.  Ten years later he was imprisoned on the notorious Sarah island.  In a calculated and audacious bid for freedom he and nine other convicts commandeered the brig Frederick from Macquarie harhor and made their escape to the open seas.  Rather than head for the islands in the Bass Straits or the coastline of New Zealand, the men decided to make their way to Valdivia on the coast of Chile, a full six thousand miles away.  And - extraordinarily - they made it!

They enjoyed a year's blissful refuge until betrayal led to their discovery and recapture.  Porter was tried for piracy and condemned to death in Tasmania.  Then his sentence was commuted to exile and he was sent to rot on Norfolk Island.

But Porter had a story to tell and he was determined to be heard.  He wrote two versions of his life story, one surviving in manuscript and another published in the Hobart Town Almanac.  A third narrative, purportedly by a returned convict named James Connor, was serialized in the Fife Herald in the mid 1840's. James Connor was the alias used by Porter while on the run in South America and the Fife Herald narrative told basically the same story as the two predecessors. 

Porter in Australia - from Convict Ship to Paradise

In 1819 Thomas Porter was tried at the Old Bailey in London and convicted of "feloniously having in his custody and possession three forged banknotes for payment of one pound each, well knowing them to be forged."  For this he was sentenced to transportation for fourteen years.  His common law wife Sarah Ward had in the previous year also been convicted at the Old Bailey for passing forged banknotes.  Thomas was transported to Australia on the Prince Regent and arrived in Sydney in early 1820.  An 1822 muster recorded him as a Government servant living there with his wife Sarah and their five children.

Two generations later, grandson Tim Porter bought land in the Blue Mountains south of the railway line in Blackheath and built a home there, Avoca, for his family in 1886.  They were the first settlers in the area and he named it Paradise.  Tim Porter's main claim to fame is through the path from Blackheath down into the Kanimbla valley which is now known as Porter's Pass walk.  It is as spectacular and beautiful as any in the Blue Mountains.

Porter's house was built on a site sheltered from the westerly winds.  When the bitter winds blow in the rest of the town, their large garden is the place to sit and enjoy the site of the gales bending the tops of the trees.

Sir Leslie and Dame Shirley Porter

In 1949 Leslie Porter's life was transformed through his marriage to Shirley Cohen, one of the two daughters of the founder of Tesco, Jack Cohen.  She was only seventeen, ten years younger than her husband, of whom she said in 1994: "He looks a bit like Paul Newman.  Women still swoon."

However, throughout their married life Leslie Porter was hampered by his wife's bullying, according to one of his colleagues.  As soon as he became chairman, she "began to meddle in the business and, in the process, made his life and ours hell."

Monday was his worst day, after he had spent a weekend at home.  Normally the most easy-going and affable of characters, he would arrive at the office like a bear with a sore head and grumble his way through to lunchtime, by which time he had finally recovered from the shock of being over-exposed to Shirley's strictures.

Not surprisingly Porter, who enjoyed his social life, was fond of "a Scotch or three" and at parties his wife would threaten "in a voice as sotto voce as a buzzsaw: 'Leslie, if you don't behave I'll take you home.'"

Reader Feedback - Porters in Liverpool and Australia

My Porter ancestors, two brothers and a cousin, came to Australia from Liverpool.  The family had been originally from Hull in Yorkshire, but both John and his brother Thomas were born in Liverpool.  John had been a carpenter there. 

It was John who struck lucky with the Poseidon gold field discovery in Victoria in 1906.   He later settled in the Milton Uladulla area.  His daughter Kitty, a nursing sister, won a Red Cross medal in World War One.  Meanwhile, brother Thomas returned to Liverpool and became Porters the funeral directors. 

My line married Irish girls for several generations in a row.  They may have been Irish; or maybe there were a lot of single Irish girls!

Dr. Gary Porter, Toowoomba Australia (

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