Who was William Samuel Price ?

In the earlier parts of this history the factual evidence, plus some family reminiscences, have formed the background to the life and times of William Samuel Price II. But what of the Man?

His background is of Scottish and Welsh genes. His mother, Mary Dodds, seems to have been a formidable woman of great character, leaving her home territory of the Lothians in Scotland to venture to the Far East with her soldier husband. She appears to have been physically sound, having produced three daughters before her husband’s death led her into a second marriage with Sergeant William Price. Even after his death, following a very short marriage and the birth of a son, she remained in India to live out her life. She must have had a certain attractiveness as she contracted three further marriages, but in probability these were initially undertaken for the benefit of her children as well as herself. She survived the rigours of the climate and life in Army encampments until the age of 56. Although illiterate, she found work in later life in the hospital at newly conquered Poona and rose to be a Matron.

On his paternal side, his father was of Welsh rural stock but his grandfather seems to have moved to the English West Midlands to improve his lot. William Price was therefore born in Wolverhampton and took an early opportunity to get out of this industrial area to join the Army for adventure. He enlisted in a Regiment that was serving in India, knowing that he would be posted there. He seems to have been a good soldier with leadership qualities, rising fairly swiftly to Corporal and then Sergeant, all within two years. But for his untimely death in Bombay further promotion would have beckoned.

So, William Samuel Price was born of strong-willed and intelligent parents into the harsh climate of Bombay in 1812. Childhood mortality was high due to tropical diseases such as malaria, typhoid and dysentry, but he seems to have thrived in this environment with a mischievous spirit. His step-fathers were good to him and he was of sufficient intelligence to be recruited into the East India Company as a Surveyor in the Revenue Department. This job would have involved trekking to all parts of South Maratha establishing boundaries, recording wealth for taxation purposes and other tasks requiring mathematical and literacy skills. He would have eventually, as he rose in rank, led teams of assistants in his job and developed a good knowledge of the local Indian languages.

On the domestic front, he married when only 19 years of age, showing no lack of confidence in proposing to a widowed lady, Sarah Wilson, who was aged about 26 and probably an Anglo-Indian. In less than a year his first child was born and in little over two years his wife died in premature childbirth, the baby boy not surviving the birth. His mother took over the care of his surviving son and he remarried after about two years. His second wife, Margaret Elander, was only 15 years old when she gave birth to their first child, so was may have been already pregnant at the time of her wedding. This affair may have caused a bit of a scandal at the time, as it proved very difficult to track down details of this marriage. However, the couple went on to have five more children during the next nine years, three of whom did not survive infancy. William Samuel Price was here showing a sexual prowess that continued for the rest of his life.

The death of Margaret soon after childbirth in 1846 was followed by a third marriage, to Charlotte Eleanor Mabbott. She was younger than he by 19 years was and the children continued to be produced at regular intervals until he was over 60. This sexual appetite led to his liaison with Louisa Harris in London in the 1860s -1880s, but over this matter he showed another side to his character. It is unlikely that Charlotte ever became aware of the birth of his illegitimate children, but he did not shirk responsibility. He registered the births as if they were legitimate, giving his full name, at least in the cases of the first few children, and his occupation. He must have give financial support to Louisa Harris, throughout this long relationship What he did not, or could not do, was provide financial support after his death. His Will made no provision for the children and a period of life in and out of workhouses was the lot of this second London family.

Even after his retirement he continued to be mentally alert and took up a part-time career teaching the Indian languages he loved so much to aspiring young men who wished to join the Indian Civil Service. He also, reputedly, collaborated in a revision of a large Hindustani-English Dictionary.

The careers followed by William Samuel Price’s legitimate children give an insight into his ambition for them and their general intelligence. Two became doctors, one in London and one back in India. One daughter became a schoolmistress before marrying later in life. His eldest son followed him into the Civil Service with the same profession as a surveyor and another had a successful career in the Indian Army, rising to the rank of Major, becoming second-in-command of his Regiment. A further son became a District Officer in the Bengal Civil Service and yet another son went into banking and became a branch Manager. One son had a career in commerce in Nigeria and another decided on a life of adventure by emigrating to the USA to make his future there.

This story has gone from the time of the births of William Samuel Prices’ parents in the late 18th century to the death of his last surviving child in 1959. Indeed, his last surviving grand-daughter did not die until 2006, so a period of over 200 years is covered overall.

In summary, he was a remarkable man, gifted, intelligent and caring, who led a very interesting life. At this remove it is difficult to know whether some of the events in his later life indicate a certain amount of vanity or whether they were down to his wife, Charlotte’s snobbishness. For example on his daughter Kate’s birth certificate he claimed to be a Professor at University College, but was actually only a lecturer. The use of ‘Price’ as a Christian name on Kate’s certificate shows a desire to continue the family name after her eventual marriage. His entry in the Bombay Almanac where he has the title ‘Mamlutar of Indiapore’ pre-dates his marriage to Charlotte and shows a certain leaning to vanity. It is to be regretted that there no longer remains a tombstone to mark his final resting place, but the plot number is known and, with the skill of the surveyor, could be located again.