George Moore - Merchant, Philanthropist and all round good egg!

A biography with a twist by Colin Jackson


This is an account of the life of George Moore (1806 - 1876), paying particular heed to his benevolent nature and giving consideration to the notion that his selflessness might have had a genetic basis.Given that possibility, the author suggests, in general terms and with tongue firmly in cheek, a plausible stategy for the resurrection of George Moore's altruism in the twenty first century.

My George Moore Story

In his book 'The Selfish Gene', Richard Dawkins(1) says that he wishes to build a society in which individuals co-operate generously and unselfishly towards a common good but warns that we can expect little help from nature. Dawkins claims that we should try to teach generosity and altruism because we humans are innately selfish and that only by understanding what our selfish genes are up to can we hope to upset their design. If one accepts the notion of the selfish gene, then I believe one can logically argue the case for the co-existence of selfless genes. Such genes, arising perhaps only rarely by spontaneous mutation, unlike selfish genes, would not be favoured by Natural Selection. Indeed, neo-Darwinists might well argue that intense selection pressure against these selfless genes would reduce their frequency and, in time, virtually eliminate them from the gene pool. However, because something is rare and hard to find doesn't mean it doesn't exist!

Let us not be too quick to dismiss the idea that philanthropic acts might have a genetic basis. Most psychologists today recognise the nonsense of the old nature versus nurture controversy and accept that traits, like intelligence, are influenced both by genotype and upbringing (environment). So, if geneticists want to find evidence in human kind for the existence of a selfless gene, I am proposing that there be no better starting point than turning their attention to that great philanthropist and Cumberland worthy, George Moore. Twice married, George Moore died tragically, without issue, aged 70 years. On a visit to Carlisle, he was walking along English Street with Mr Steele of 'The Carlisle Journal' when he was knocked down by one of two galloping runaway horses that had escaped from a livery stable in Lonsdale Street. Striking the ground heavily with his head and shoulder, he was carried insensible into the nearby Grey Goat Inn where it was ascertained that he had four broken ribs, damaged lungs and a fractured right collar bone. He died in the Inn, just twenty four hours after the accident at 13.38 hours on 21st November 1876. George Moore's body was placed in the mortuary chapel within the church of Allhallows near Mealsgate (Appendix 1), his birthplace. As there are no direct descendants, the selfless gene or genes (as the trait is likely to be polygenic) that I argue might have been responsible for George Moore's great benevolence may have died with him unless persisting to this day in branches of his family. After all, he was one of five children, having two brothers, Thomas and William, and two sisters, Sarah and Mary, none of whose descendants, if any, I have traced at the time of writing this. However, with recent advances in biotechnology, pursuit of a selfless gene, several generations down the line in living relatives of George Moore, whilst one approach, may not be the best approach.

Now, if I may digress for a moment. According to Sokolov's 1924 Russian version of events, Czar Nicholas II and the Imperial Family were brutally butchered in July 1918 in the cellar of the Impatiev House where they were imprisoned in Ekaterinburg in Siberian Russia. Sokolov's massive report (2) was supported by eye-witness accounts, depositions, fragments of bone, clothing and jewels, all reputedly recovered from the crime scene, as well as by incriminating contemporaneous correspondence between Russian and German diplomats. In spite of this, controversy raged with regard to the veracity of the story of the murders, with suggestions that principal witnesses lied and that the Bolsheviks planted false evidence. The appearance of Anastasia, who claimed to be the surviving daughter of Nicholas II, added to the mystery. However, in 1991 following the exhumation of the skeletal remains of two adults and three children from a shallow grave in a swamp close to Ekaterinburg, the Romanov riddle began to unfurl when science came to the rescue. DNA was recovered from bones, thought to be the remains of the Russian Royal Family. Comparison in the U.K. of this DNA with that of living relatives, including the Duke of Edinburgh, confirmed that the skeletal remains were indeed those of the Imperial Russian Family. The DNA "fingerprint" of Prince Philip, who is related on his maternal side to Anastasia's mother, showed significant relatedness to the DNA profile of the DNA extracted from the bones of the Czarina, Empress Alexandra.

Do you now see the purpose of my digression into Russian history? If viable DNA can be retrieved from bones dating back to 1918, not meaning to be indelicate, it might prove possible to recover and replicate DNA from the exhumed body of George Moore. If Dawkins reckons that someday sections of DNA coding for selfish behaviour might be identified, then maybe loci in George Moore's genome coding for his undoubted altruism can be isolated. To what end, you might ask. Well, of course, there are ethical considerations but cloning and genetic manipulation is now a reality. Dawkins may not be correct in his assertion. If selflessness has a genetic component, it may well be possible in the future to help nature to help us to build the society in which individuals co-operate generously and unselfishly towards a common good. Of course, eugenics isn't everyone's cup of tea, with its connotations of selective breeding programmes, Nazi baby farms, master races and Hitler's final solution. Notwithstanding, suppose that George Moore's benevolent gene(s) could be incorporated in every human ovum, the spirit of George Moore, philanthropist and all round good egg would indeed live on beyond his grave. The World would surely be a better place for that!

So, you're not convinced. Well, that's understandable. You are a historian and need to consider the evidence, to weigh up the sources. We all know that there are two histories, the history of the victor and the history of the vanquished and these two histories often conflict, leaving one guessing at the truth. In this instance though, George Moore, his family and close associates, as well as those to whom he "did good", appear to be all singing from the same hymn sheet. Nobody, but nobody seems to have a bad word to say about him! In 1878, just two years after George Moore's death, Routledge published Samuel Smile's biography of George Moore. This excellent volume was written by the famous Victorian writer and biographer at "the earnest request of" the second Mrs George Moore and on the recommendation of other publishers, namely Messrs Longman and Murray. The pages of this book contain a wealth of undeniable evidence confirming George Moore to have been an exceptionally good man.

When news of his fatal accident became known in Carlisle, crowds blocked the square in front of the Grey Goat Inn all night and policemen were placed on duty to ensure quiet and "prevent them coming under the window of the bedroom where he lay." It is said that people were stunned that this Cumberland man, universally beloved perhaps more than any other, was dying as a result of an accident in the streets of Carlisle and sympathy was very apparent. When news of his death reached the City of London by telegram, it is reported that strong men broke down and wept. Bow Bells were tolled for an hour between three and four o'clock on that November afternoon. So many people attended his funeral that not all could get into the church. At the funeral and afterwards in funeral sermons, George Moore was praised for his numerous good works but as we know, people seldom speak ill of the dead, so what credence can we give to such epitaphs? Of course, actions speak louder than words and George Moore's actions throughout his life speak for themselves.

First though, let us reflect briefly on George Moore's childhood and family circumstances and consider how these may have influenced George Moore, the man. He was born on 9th April 1806, the third child in a family of five to John Moore, a Cumberland statesman of modest means and his wife, Peggy née Lowes, the daughter of a neighbouring statesman. George Moore's Godfather and great uncle, George Moore of Bothel, a bachelor, was quite well off and on his death, in 1817, at age eighty-two, George inherited £100 to be paid to him at age 21. By this time, with interest, the legacy had grown to around £170, which would have the purchasing power of approximately £8,400 in today's money! George Moore's mother died when he was only about six years of age and, some five years after her death, his father re-married. George said that his stepmother, Mary Pattison, sister of the vicar at Caldbeck, was kind to him but his elder brother and sister probably were prejudiced against her, which did not make for a happy household. Aged 8, George Moore was sent to school at Boltongate, about a two miles' walk from his home in Mealsgate. His accounts of his schooldays suggest that they were less than ideal and that he would have truanted more often than he did, if it were not for fear of the terrible floggings. Initially, Mr 'Blackbird' Wilson, an alcoholic and bird-mimic, taught him. He drove the 3Rs into his pupils, by use of brute force, striking them often on the back and skull with a thick ruler. An unwilling scholar, George Moore indulged in typical boyhood pursuits in his rural environment. He climbed trees and searched the chimneys of old Peel Towers in order to find bird-nests and collect eggs. He wrestled, played marbles, rather well by all reports, had a particular fondness for horses and took an interest in hunting, joining his first hunt with the famous John Peel of Uldale and his hounds around 1816. He was not a lazy child but helpful to his family doing chores and running arduous errands. During the school harvest holiday, he hired himself out to local farmers, earning eighteen pence a day at age ten and an unprecedented two shillings a day at age 12. It is reported that when just eleven years of age, together with another boy, George made a 34 miles round trip on foot one day to Carlisle to witness, at close quarters, the hanging of a man who had passed a forged Scottish banknote. George is said to have fainted at the scene and to have been revived by hot coffee, a beverage that subsequently he could not bear the taste of. After leaving the school at Boltongate, George Moore attended Pedlar Thommey's School at Crookdyke. Although not as cruel and inebriated as 'Blackbird', Thommey was also a poor instructor. Aged twelve, his father sent him, for a mere three months, at a cost of eight shillings, to a finishing school at Blennerhasset. Here, the master, according to George Moore, was a sort of genius who, for the first time, made him appreciate that there was some use in learning, as well as realise the extent of his own ignorance. It was at this point, aged thirteen, that George Moore determined to leave home where, as the second son, his prospects were little better than farm-servant and to make his own way in the world.

Interestingly enough, less than twenty years after the publication in 1859 of Charles Darwin's "Origin of Species", George Moore's biographer, Smiles, writes about his subject's decision at this young age expressly in Darwinian terms, asking how George was "to fight the battle of life" and "enter upon the struggle". What actually happened next was that George went to serve a four year apprenticeship to a draper by the name of Messenger at a shop in Wigton about six miles from the family home in Mealsgate. Initially, George's father wasn't keen on his son going into trade but his stepmother was supportive and in favour and persuaded her husband to allow him to go. Indeed, it was Mrs Moore who accompanied George to Wigton in order to arrange his food and accommodation there. He lodged at his master's premises and took his meals at the adjoining Half Moon Inn. The apprenticeship began well enough although he was bullied mercilessly by an older apprentice who made George's life a misery. After about two years the tyrant left and George was given more responsibility by Messenger who had taken to drink and was often incapable himself of running the business. Eating and socialising in the pub meant George Moore himself was in danger of becoming a victim of drink and gambling. At one stage, he was playing cards for high stakes most nights, sometimes all night. Occasionally he would lose but often gained. He considered himself to be lucky at cards and gambling became quite a passion. However, Messenger disapproved and threat of dismissal caused George to reflect long and hard and he firmly resolved to abstain from card playing and gambling in future. Soon afterwards, he moved to board and lodging with Nanny Graves in Church Street. During the remainder of his apprenticeship, George Moore became increasingly well thought of locally and was trusted by customers and commercial travellers. Mr Todd, a Wigton banker, according to one anecdote, entrusted the young George to go on horseback to deliver several hundreds of pounds to a cattle-dealer in Dumfries. When the apprenticeship ended, George remained for a while with Messenger who was rapidly deteriorating through drink. Early in 1825, now almost nineteen years old, George decided to leave Wigton and seek employment in London.

Having now recounted the key events that are known about George Moore's nurture from infancy to young adult, can the magnanimity and generosity he was to display later in his life be attributed to any specific aspects of his upbringing or early environmental influences? It is clear that he was affable and popular, honest and trusted, hardworking and sensitive. It also appears that he had great respect for his father and stepmother. According to Smiles, George's father was an honest man who was not afraid to speak out against wrongdoing. Patently, one cannot disregard the effect of, say, early parental guidance on George Moore's saintly behaviour as an adult but his childhood and adolescence were not exceptional. As we have seen, he experienced the ups and downs of life and certainly it wasn't all plain sailing for him.

So, to return to my hypothesis that, maybe, just maybe George Moore possessed selfless genes. By 1681 the last dodo had died. Scientists recently recovered DNA from the bones of dodos found in caves on the island of Mauritius. Unfortunately, this 500 to 1000 year old DNA is so degraded that only small bits of the DNA sequence have been worked out. Early conjecture that it might be possible to resurrect the dodo from this recovered DNA seems ill founded. The resurrection of the thylacine (3) may well be a more realistic proposition as several preserved specimens exist in museum jars. Although these specimens are over one hundred years old, they are preserved in alcohol which, unlike the preservative formalin, does not destroy DNA. There is then a real possibility that the phrase "extinction is forever" will be proven untrue. Advances in cloning techniques and biotechnology provide the hope that we can bring back at least some of the creatures that have disappeared within the past several hundred years, such as the quagga (a zebra-like creature), the great auk, the moa and many others. If this possibility is on the horizon, an attempt to salvage George Moore's DNA now, with a view to possibly identifying, replicating and, at some future date, re-introducing his selfless gene(s) into the human gene pool, could benefit society far more than the resurrection of the dodo!

George Moore left Wigton and travelled to Carlisle where, coincidentally, he spent a night in the very room at The Grey Goat Inn in which he died many years later. From Carlisle he travelled two days and two nights by coach to London. On arrival in the capital he looked for suitable work, calling on as many as thirty drapers shops in a day but without success. He was becoming quite disillusioned and was considering emigration to America when he received a message that Mr Ray of Flint, Ray & Co., Grafton House, Soho Square, a Cumberland man and a statesman's son, had heard George was in London and wished to meet him. George went to see Mr Ray who engaged him on a salary of £30 a year. Feeling deficient in his education, he diligently attended night school classes in order to better himself. An arithmetical error on a receipt he issued caused George some embarrassment when Lady Conyngham, a customer accused him of theft, a hanging offence in those days. His employer was satisfied of George's innocence and the Lady later retracted the accusation but George decided, partly as a consequence of this incident, that he no longer wanted to work behind a counter in a retail outlet. Mr Ray managed to procure George a situation at £40 a year with Mr Fisher, another Cumberland man. So it was at the beginning of 1826 that he moved to the firm of Fisher, Stroud and Robinson in Watling Street, the first wholesale lace house in the city.

Mr Fisher did not suffer fools gladly. Calling George Moore a Cumberland "blockhead" made George realise, even more, the inadequacy of his early education. So deficient did he feel in this area, that George wrote to his father imploring him to provide his younger brother, William, with the best education whilst he, himself continued to attend night-school classes. Soon though, Mr Fisher, impressed by his diligence and willingness, changed his opinion of George and promoted him to a town traveller, a job at which he excelled. Whilst travelling in Ireland, he met up with Mr Groucock, a partner in a recently established firm and a competitor in business who had gained a huge share of the Irish lace trade. George Moore worked hard to retrieve trade for Fisher's which led to Groucock, through an intermediary, offering George a staggering £500 annual salary to travel for Groucock and Copestake. Although only in receipt of a paltry salary of £150 a year from Fisher's, George declined the offer, saying that he would serve no other house than Fisher's unless he was offered a partnership. So it was that in June 1830, at age 23, George Moore became a partner in the firm thereafter known as Groucock, Copestake and Moore. On becoming a partner, George Moore paid £670 into the firm, £500 of which was provided by his revered father who had raised the sum by mortgaging his estate and the remainder coming from the money, with accrued interest, left to him by his great uncle George. The partnership was initially for three years, with George Moore taking 25% of the profits but after this time, George, now indispensable, became an equal partner, taking one third of the profits. Working long hours and travelling throughout Britain and in France and Belgium, the firm grew with the increasing popularity of lace goods.

George Moore claimed that his industry over the years was motivated by a secret thought that one day he would be in a position to pay suit to Eliza, the daughter of Mr Ray who had first given him employment in London. He revealed his feelings about ten years after he first set eyes on her but courtship was refused. Five years later, he proposed again and was accepted, marrying Eliza Flint Ray on 12th August 1840. After a weeklong honeymoon, he returned to his work, travelling often taking him away from his Maida Hill home. By 1841, though, with further expansion of the business, he was spending more time in his London office recruiting and training new staff in the art of the commercial traveller. Living now a more sedentary life affected his health and his doctor recommended that he take up an outdoor pursuit. He enthusiastically took up riding and hunting, an activity he hadn't experienced since childhood. In 1844, leaving Eliza at home, he went on a three-month trip to America and Canada, combining business with tourism. On his return, he established, in 1845, a branch of the firm in Nottingham where a large factory and warehouse was built, employing in total about 390 people.

As the firm continued to prosper, George Moore expended his energies by indulging in numerous activities besides business and hunting. His partners spoke of these extraneous interests as "safety valves". George Moore regarded life insurance for those with dependants as extremely important and he became a director and later a trustee of the Merchants and Travellers Insurance Society. The travellers employed by Groucock,Copestake and Moore became agents for the Association and Mr Moore was instrumental in arranging for a proportion of the profits to go to supporting Commercial Travellers Schools, with which he was already involved. Soon after George Moore came to London and when still on a small salary, he subscribed to the Cumberland Benevolent Society. Over the years he increased his subscription and took a more active part in support of this charity. Other charities, such as the London Orphan Asylum and the Blind Asylum in America also received donations from George Moore. He was a most charismatic figure. His business had benefited from his networking skills and he now used his many contacts to raise money for good works, by both encouraging and shaming others into making contributions. George numbered amongst his friends Charles Dickens, the celebrated author, who twice consented to act as Chairman at the anniversary dinners of the Commercial Travellers' Schools Association. At one dinner in 1854, Mr Dickens said, in proposing a toast to the health of the Treasurer, George Moore, that "his name was a synonym for integrity, enterprise, public spirit and benevolence".

George Moore accumulated and enjoyed great wealth.(4) He had a large mansion built in Kensington Palace Gardens. He thought it extravagant and ostentatious but his wife liked the house. Recognising that his employees had played some part in helping him to afford such a grand property, he gave two balls for those who worked for the firm (and their female friends or partners) His generosity to others became legendary. Of course, George Moore held a great affection for his native Cumberland and was keen to improve education in the County, with provision of new schools and encouragement for competition within and between schools by the introduction of "a monster examination". George often visited schools, addressing pupils and giving prizes, not only to scholars but also to teachers in successful schools. He also paid for refreshments and provided sports after examinations. George Moore was concerned for the welfare of orphaned and destitute children. He was a keen advocate of fostering, quite a revolutionary idea at the time. He recognised that, subject to proper supervision and inspection, foster homes were preferable to orphanages. He assisted towards the passage of many hundreds of destitute girls to Canada, where they were found permanent homes and bought up as useful and industrious members of society. George Moore was also a keen advocate of libraries, reading-rooms and evening classes. In 1851, with others, he founded, with the aim of improving adult education in the area, a Perambulating Library embracing nine villages, including Mealsgate, with a librarian appointed to each. Subscribers paid one penny per month and a box of fresh books was delivered to each library every six weeks. Back in London, George Moore took an interest in penal reform, visiting prisons and later establishing a Reformatory for young men. He also wanted to create a refuge for fallen women. He offered £100 annually to the first two female missionaries who would work amongst prostitutes. His next objective, in collaboration with others, was to establish homes for Incurables.(5) George Moore founded the London General Porters' Benevolent Association (6) and supported the London Cabmen's Mission, as well as providing a cabmen's rest near his home in Kensington Palace Gardens.

George Moore assisted not only organised charities but also many individuals during his life. Perhaps unsurprisingly, early in his career he persuaded Mr Ray, for whom he had first worked in London, to employ William, his younger and better-educated brother. However, he helped many others to find suitable positions including an ex-collier who, following an accident resulting in the amputation of a leg, was working, although by his own admission unsuited to the role, as a schoolmaster in Bolton Parish. George found for him a position in London as clerk with the Great Eastern Railway Company. When Messenger's Wigton business failed owing to his heavy drinking, he went to London and found work but was obliged to retire when his health failed. It was George Moore who supported his former master during retirement and who paid his funeral expenses when he died. He similarly assisted his fellow apprentice who had so wickedly persecuted him and subjected him to physical abuse when, aged thirteen years, George first went to work for Messenger. Such was George Moore's forgiving nature. Through the auspices of the City Missionaries, he enabled thousands of people who were living in sin to get married by anonymously paying their fees. This, as he saw it, was to give children a legitimate start in society and to save women from a disreputable social position. His own wife died on 4th December 1858 (Appendix V) shortly after George Moore had purchased the Whitehall Estate near Mealsgate in Cumberland as a summer residence (Appendix II).

After the death of the celebrated African explorer Dr Livingstone in May 1873, his embalmed body, wrapped in a cylinder of bark and sailcloth, was returned from central Africa to England, arriving the following year. The explorer's many friends and admirers thought the body should be interred in Westminster Abbey but this would be quite costly and the money was not immediately forthcoming from any quarter. When George Moore became aware of the problem, he offered to meet all expenses. This apparently shamed the Government into promising to meet the funeral expenses but it was still left to George Moore to pay for the inscribed black marble tablet laid down some time after the ceremony. Interestingly, in relating this fact, the Westminster Abbey website erroneously attributes this donation to Sir George Moore of Cumberland.(7) Although thoroughly deserving, George Moore never received a knighthood. During his lifetime he did decline a number of honours, such as Sheriff of London and Middlesex and, on separate occasions, invitations to stand as M.P. for Nottingham and West Cumberland, considering himself unworthy or inadequately educated to do justice to the positions. Significantly though, after he was awarded the National Order of Legion of Honour for his role in the organisation of relief aid to the French people following The Siege of Paris (8), in 1872 he accepted the office of High Sheriff of Cumberland. Certainly, George Moore, although not ashamed of his origins, was a social climber who sat on numerous committees.(9) He enjoyed hunting, not only because of the health benefits accruing from the exercise but also because it allowed him to mix with "the most polished and refined gentlemen in the land". He then used these contacts to raise large sums for infirmaries, agricultural societies and other causes. He also got some of the most influential and distinguished men of the day to lecture to the young men and women he employed for their benefit and improvement.

George Moore claimed to have regrets over only one of the countless philanthropic acts he performed. Two years after meeting George Moore, the cattle-dealer to whom he had delivered cash to for Mr Todd, the Wigton banker, was convicted of sheep stealing and sentenced to life transportation. This prisoner wrote to George who visited him whilst he waited for the next ship bound for Botany Bay. Subsequently, a petition seeking mitigation, signed at George's request by several Cumberland worthies, was submitted to the Secretary of State. This resulted in a reduced sentence of fourteen years banishment. During the man's absence, his wife maintained the family but on his return to Cumberland the ex-convict took his wife's money, maltreated her and turned her out of the house. George Moore wished he had let the law take its course!

As George Moore rests in peace, as he believed, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, I rest my case; that case simply being that we should disturb his peace, just momentarily, for the benefit of mankind. If, on exhumation, it is found that our hero's body has returned to dust, we can be pretty sure, given his saintly existence, that it will be literally angel dust (10), which is exactly the drug you may have concluded I am on after reading my mad idea to improve humankind. However, if his DNA can be recovered from his mortal remains, then we should go for it. This isn't the fiction of Jurassic Park. I am not advocating the resurrection of dinosaurs that died out 65 million years ago. Rather, just as agri-geneticists worry about the loss of potentially useful genes as a result of moves towards monoculture, I am concerned about saving rare unselfish human genes from extinction and how they may be reintroduced into the human gene pool, surely a laudable and morally defensible aim. If the objective of building the sort of society Dawkins wants could be achieved, to some degree, by using DNA derived from George Moore's remains, this would be George Moore's final philanthropic act, admittedly committed unknowingly by him and without his consent. I appreciate that this is a controversial area. Just look at the storm of protest from some quarters when Diane Blood (11) used her dead husband's sperm to father a child. Many children are born as a result of AID (12) where the donor is anonymous and possibly no longer alive. I cannot see what all the fuss is about. Sometimes the ends do justify the means. And finally as a Parting Shot: When contemplating the loss of George Moore, I am reminded of the comment of the circus owner when told that his human cannonball had died; "This is a sad loss. Men of his calibre are hard to find.”

Make a free website with Yola