Talk – Great great Uncle Tom!

The speaker on Friday 2nd October was our own Rotarian John Bennett, who regaled us with the adventures of Thomas Butler Gunn. Born at The Ark, Warwick Road in 1826, he moved with his family to Oxford and then London when still a youngster and on leaving school, was articled to an architect in Soho Square. However, his talent for illustrating meant that he soon left the practice and found employment as a freelance illustrator for Punch and several other publications.

Hearing stories about the New World, he sailed for America in 1849, producing illustrations for numerous journals and wrote a book about his experiences in New York boarding houses and eventually drifted into journalism. He travelled extensively around America by train, boat and horseback and with the advent of the civil war, covered the progress of the battles from the front line for The New York Tribune. During his time in America he kept a journal recording all his travels and adventures and by the time he returned to England in 1863, he had completed 23 volumes. These are now owned by the Missouri Historical Society and have been referenced by numerous historians studying that period of American history.

Back in England at last, he married Hanna Bennett of Poplars Farm, Chacombe, who he had been secretly engaged to and who had waited for him, for over 8 years. She was the sister of John’s Great Grandfather. They set up home at Bennett’s Farm in Wardington and where they lived for the rest of their life. His travelling days being over, he lived quietly, still writing for The Tribune as well as for several British publications, contributed articles for the Banbury Guardian and occasionally lectured about his travels.

Thomas Butler Gunn died in 1904, but as John said, if he was alive today, he’d have been proud to call him Great Great Uncle Thomas.