The Courier, October 24, 1913 – Page 2
TONBRIDGE MAN CLAIMS MILLIONS.
HUMBLE ENGINEER’S BID FOR FULLER ESTATES.
ROMANTIC HISTORY OF OLD FAMILY.
RECOVERY COMPANY FORMED.
A claim to immensely wealthy estates is being made by Mr. Peter Fuller, of 55, Priory Road, Tonbridge, a jobbing engineer, at present in lowly circumstances.
The estates in question are those in Sussex and Jamaica, which once belonged to the Sussex Fullers, a famous family, once wealthy ironmasters, but now scattered and impoverished.
On Friday a public meeting was held at the Bridge Hotel[i] to promote a company for the purpose of initiating legislation on behalf of Peter Fuller to recover the estates.
There was a good attendance largely consisting of members of various branches of the Fuller family. Mr. George Webber was elected Chairman.
The CHAIRMAN said that it was a question of right against might. He had been working for Mr. Peter Fuller for over 15 years. He was convinced that Mr. Fuller’s claim was just, but the claimant was a poor man and not in a position to help himself. Hence the meeting. Mr. Fuller had borne any amount of ridicule in the case, but had still persisted. He went on to say that he had trespassed on the Sussex Fuller estate and had dared the present holders to touch him. He maintained that they could not interfere with him rightly, and if they did they must fail.
Mr. Edward DAVIS, a solicitor, representing Messrs. Whitehead and Garton of Regent-street, S.W., who are Mr. Fuller’s solicitors in connection with the claim, outlined Mr. Fuller’s case, saying that the learned counsel employed on behalf of the claimant (Mr. John Duncan, of the Inner Temple) having very carefully perused the documents at the disposal of Mr. Peter Fuller, had advised that gentleman that he appeared to have a rightful title to the estate. The Sussex estate extended from Brightling to Pevensey, and embraced some 6,000 acres. It included several farms, etc.. In 1834 they alleged that there was a wrongful devolution of the title to the Brightling and Jamaican Estates. If this was so, it was due to the fact that John Fuller, the famous Sussex Member of Parliament, who was known to his contemporaries by the Soubriquet of “Mad Jack,” who was he life tenant of the estates, and who died without heir, was not succeeded by the rightful heir. Augustus Elliott Fuller[ii] acquired the estate upon the death of John Fuller M. P. Augustus Fuller was alleged to be the son of Thomas Fuller and a cousin of “Mad Jack. “but they alleged that Augustus was not the son of Thomas Fuller but was only the adopted son, that he belonged to another family altogether, and was possibly an illegitimate son of John Fuller, M.P. There was some mystery about this matter when Thomas Fuller the alleged father of Augustus, died, it was supposed, about 1781. He was succeeded by a younger brother, whereas had an elder brother been alive, he (the elder brother) would have been heir. They had been able to trace another family of Fullers at Heathfield, and it had been handed down that John Fuller, M.P., a man, it was said, with dissolute habits, carried on a liaison with the wife of Mr. Fuller at Heathfield, and that Augustus was their son. All possible claimants being apparently extinct at the time, circumstances were of a nature that at the time of the death of John Fuller, M.P., to make it comparatively easy to put the supposed illegitimate son into possession of the estates. But, of course he did not, if he were illegitimate, as they thought he was, as such, enter into possession of the estates, but as the legitimate son of Thomas Fuller, who died in 1781. Inquiries had been proceeding regarding the matter since 1834, but they had been hampered by the poverty of the claimants, and it was not until the present time that, after the accumulation of a large number of documents, that a case was made out in favour of Peter fuller, a son of Isaac Fuller. Isaac who was descended from John fuller, who died in 1847, son of John Fuller who died in 1814, son of Richard Fuller who died in 1764. He was also descended from Richard who died in 1703, and Thomas who died in 1713.
They alleged that Augustus, if not the illegitimate son of “Mad Jack”, was the son of John Trayton Fuller[iii] and the grandson of yet another Thomas Fuller, who died in 1773. They alleged that the real son of Thomas Fuller[iv], who died in 1780, was the John whom, they alleged, was murdered.
There was a bit of romance connected with the story which made it all the more feasible. Ever since 1834 two rooms had been kept closed at the Manor House (Rose Hill), where so said tradition, it was possible that John Fuller, the real cousin of John Fuller, M.P., and the heir to “Mad Jack’s” estates, vanished –done away with by foul means. The story went that he was murdered in those rooms, and that they had been closed ever since.
The claimants did not, continued, Mr. Davis, advise that any few people should at this stage of the proceedings incur great expense on behalf of Peter Fuller. They proposed to form a limited liability company called the Fuller Recovery Company, Limited. They offered £1 shares accordingly being issued, but it was not necessary for their purposes that they should all be taken up at once. It was proposed to make the company trustees for the estate in the event of the claim being successful, and debentures would be issued to the shareholders to ten times the amount. That meant that for every pound a shareholder puts into the company, provided Peter Fuller were successful, he or she would get ten out. They could easily afford that, as the value of the estates was a matter of several millions. Peter Fuller and the other claimants would enter into a compact with the company that the company should be the trustees for the estates until the debenture bonds were satisfied. There were one or two points in the confidence on behalf of the Fuller’s claim, still to be cleared up, and the finding of the necessary documents was very costly. If they were successful, the paying-off of the debenture holders would be the first charge on the estate. But unless the chain of evidence were absolutely complete, and unless they were definitely advised by counsel that litigation would in all probability be successful there would be none. At present they would be satisfied if £1, 000 could be obtained.
Mr. John DUNCAN, barrister-at-law, said that it was possible that certain settlements made to Elisabeth and Frances, sisters of John Fuller, M.P., might result in a descendant, Lord St. Audries (better known as Sir Alexander Acland Hood) making a claim to one-third. Peter Fuller, however claimed the whole. The principal claimant traced his ancestry, for the purposes of the case, back to 1653. The Sussex estate was very valuable, but those in Jamaica, which were part and parcel of the claim, were still more so. They now wanted more information as to how Augustus Elliott Fuller came into ownership of the estates. They were satisfied that he could not have been a relation to Thomas, the cousin, was never married and that therefore Augustus Elliott in any case could not have been his legitimate son and rightful heir to the estates. Augustus died in 1857.
In response to Mr. John Fuller, Mr. DUNCAN said that the estates were at present vested in a number of people, some of them, or their antecedents, having purchased portions of the lands, etc., from Augustus Elliott Fuller. However, if Augustus were not rightful heir the present owners would have no valid claim to the estates.
In response to Mrs. Orton (of Southborough), Counsel said that the estates were of little value in 1777, when Rose Fuller made the settlement mentioned, but were of great value now. The whole of the estates and the accumulation were entailed in the claim.
In a short, pointed speech, Mr. PETER FULLER said that he could produce all the documents necessary to prove his ancestry and his claim.
Mr. DUNCAN said that only a few links were wanted to complete the chain of evidence. They had put forward a challenge to the effect that Augustus was not a legitimate son and that he had no title to the estates, and if that were not taken up the title of the present owners to the lands, etc., would be killed.
In reply to Mrs. Orton, counsel said that only about 20 guineas was necessary to clear up the outstanding points in the evidence. It was a case for the pedigree hunters. The difficulty was in searching for the documents they required, which were very scattered.
The meeting then closed.
MR. PETER FULLER INTERVIEWED
The claimant to these estates lives in a humble way in a neat little cottage in Priory-road, Tonbridge. He is a tall, big-framed man, standing well over six feet in height, and is apparently quite contented with his lot, although very keen on obtaining the millions, which he considers are rightly due to him. Our representatives found him smoking by his fireside on the day after the meeting in Tunbridge Wells.. Mr. Fuller told his story in a reticent, unassuming way.
“I am 68 years of age, “ he said, “ and earn my living as s jobbing engineer. I am the direct descendant of Captain Samuel Fuller, who died in 1678[v], the founder of the Waldron branch of the family. I was born at Waldron. Under the will of Rose Fuller, the first owner of the whole of the estates as at present claimed, in default of direct male issue in his family the estate was to revert to my grandfather, John Fuller, who died in 1847. It appears, however, that my grandfather did not understand the position of affairs, and therefore never stood up for his rights. Hence, if I prove that ‘Mad Jack’s’ successor was not the rightful heir, the estates are bound to come to me.
“The Jamaican estates mainly consist of sugar plantations. The family bought the Sussex estates cheaply, but its value has since gone up to an immense extent.
“ I can produce a complete history of the Fuller family, ironmasters of Sussex. They rose from being nail-makers, and their success was largely due to lucky marrying. They are now poor and scattered. They have been very unfortunate. The family, once upon a time, must have been very wealthy. When the country was depressed, the farmers in Sussex had not the money to buy corn to seed the land. The Fullers loaned them their money, and thus created the Fuller titles on the lands in Mid-Sussex, where they invested their money. The tithes are still being paid, though to whom I do not know. The Jamaican estates came through lucky marrying. In or about 1705, Major John Fuller[vi] married a rich Creole, and thereby acquired a large estate. Rose Fuller obtained another large estate in an exactly similar manner[vii].
“We are living in humble circumstances now, but I hope to enter into my heritage within a year, and when I do I shall give greatly to the poor. My own heir is prison warder in New Zealand.
“Only a few more documents are necessary to complete the evidence. It is not a question of expense so much as of untiring search. We have even acquired documentary evidence from North Wales. It has involved most careful scrutiny of church books, and even tombstones have been pulled up to obtain details.
“We are nearing the end now,” concluded Mr. Fuller.
FULLER ESTATES SOLD FOR A CROWN
In the course of a chat with our representative, Mr. Webber, who presided at last Friday’s meeting who has the case at his fingers’ ends, said.—
“I have been working on Mr. Fuller’s behalf for over 15 years, and have spent some thousands of hours in writing in connection with the case. It is most complex and beset with legal difficulties. the whole of the transactions after the death of John Fuller, M. P., in 1834, are shrouded in mystery. We have learnt, however, that when Augustus Elliott Fuller took possession, he married into the Meyrick family[viii], of Bodorgan, and the issue of that marriage was a son, Owen John Augustus Fuller-Meyrick [ix]. With that soon Augustus entered into a deed of gift, selling him the whole of the estates for five shillings! When Augustus died he gave the estates to his son in his will –a quite unnecessary step, seeing that he had already sold them.
“The original testator, Rose Fuller, entailed the estates for 500 years. Augustus entered into a deed of disentail, which nullified the will of Rose Fuller. Owen Fuller-Meyrick sold the Brightling estates by auction and created another entail for 500 years of the Jamaican estates, each holder thereof to take the name of Meyrick. The Meyrick family now holds those estates. We claim that the original entail of Rose Fuller still obtains, as Augustus and his descendants, we allege, had no right to the property.
“Peter Fuller’s father, Isaac Fuller, and others carried on a regular feud with the present occupiers of the Brightling estates. They once took possession of the mansion, but were turned out. Then they claimed a cottage from a lady who paid them rent for a time. The law officers stopped that. Later, Isaac and his friends went into a certain farm and attempted to take possession. They were there for about three weeks, during which time they cut down a lot of trees. The gates were locked against them, but they turned the timber tug round, smashed down the gates, went in, got their timber and took it to Lewes and sold it. An injunction was granted against them, but it was not perpetual. For want of means they could not carry their campaign any further. Some of Peter Fuller’s friends have ‘trespassed ‘on the estate frequently.
“In hunting for the pedigrees several peculiar things have been discovered. Many registry books containing entries of importance to our case have been missing for years, and one in particular case, after we had searched for a long time for a certain marriage entry, the clergyman of the church in question found that another piece of paper had been skillfully stuck over the page in question as to absolutely cover it. On separating the page from the piece of paper we found the entry we wanted.
“We are now occupied in tracing these missing registers”.
[i] Possibly the Station Bridge Hotel, Tonbridge.
[ii] Augustus Elliot Fuller (1777–1857) was the son of John Trayton Fuller (1743-1811) and his second wife Anne Elliot(1754-1835), the daughter of Lord Heathfield George Augustus Elliot (1717-1790), the defender of Gibraltar.
[iii] John Trayton Fuller (1743-1811) was a first cousin of “Mad Jack” Fuller.
[iv] Thomas Fuller (1715-1780) was the father of John Trayton Fuller and the brother of “Mad Jack” Fuller’s father Henry Fuller(1713-1761). This makes John “Mad Jack” Fuller and Augustus Elliot Fuller first cousins, once removed.
[v] Samuel Fuller (1620-1678)was “Mad Jack” Fuller’s second great grand uncle.
[vi] John Fuller (1680-1745) was “Mad Jack” Fuller’s paternal grandfather. He was not a “Major”. He married Elizabeth Rose who was born in Jamaica, the daughter of Dr. Fulke Rose. This is where the name Rose (Rose Hill; Rose Fuller) enters the Fuller family lexicon.
[vii] Dr. Rose Fuller (1708-1777), another brother of “Mad Jack’s” father Henry Fuller, married Ithamar Mill (1721-1738) daughter and heiress of Richard Mill (sometimes Mills) of Jamaica in 1737. Sadly she died the following year at the age of 17, either while pregnant or during childbirth. Her father , who was much taken with Rose Fuller, settled her portion of his Jamaican estates on his surviving son-in-law Rose.
[viii] Augustus Elliot Fuller married Clara Meyrick (1775-1856), of Bodorgan, Anglesey, Wales in 1801. They had ten children, the only one to have children was their oldest child, Clara Meyrick Fuller (1802-1831).
[ix] Owen John Augustus Fuller Meyrick (1804-1876) succeeded to the Bodorgan estate, which is one of the largest in Anglesey on the death of his grandfather Owen Putland Meyrick in 1858. He inherited Rose Hill, Brightling, Sussex from his father Augustus Elliot Fuller, in 1857. Since O.J.A. Fuller Meyrick died without issue, his estate was passed on to the son of his sister Clara Meyrick Fuller, Sir George Augustus Elliot-Tapps-Gervis-Meyrick. In 1879 Sir George Augustus Elliot Tapps-Gervis-Meyrick sold the Rose Hill estate to Percy Tew who renamed the house Brightling Park.