©  Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: September 19, 2019
Webpage updated: January 01, 2020



JOHN BURNELL (1793-1864)

John Burnell was a Plymouth-based grocer who founded Messrs Burnell, Brown and Nicholson, wholesale grocers, was a partner in  Messrs Bryant, Burnell and Company, sugar manufacturers, and served as Mayor of Plymouth for 1859-60.  The business later became Messrs Brown, Wills and Nicholson Limited.

John Burnell was the fourth child and second son born to Mr William Burnell and his wife Agnes, at Plymouth Dock (Devonport).  It is believed he was born in 1793.

In 1797 his father set up in business as a wholesale grocer in Plymouth under the title of Messrs Burnell and Company.  In due course he was joined by both his sons, William and John.  It appears that following the death in 1834 of their father, Mr William Burnell senior, the brothers went separate ways.  John remained in charge of the wholesale grocery business and took his clerk, Mr Eldred Roberts Brown (1809-1885), into the partnership, which, along with addition of a Mr Thomas Nicholson, turned the business into Messrs Burnell, Brown and Nicholson.  That partnership was dissolved in 1853, when Mr Burnell retired and left the business in the hands of the remaining partners who, with the addition of a Mr Joseph Wills (1804-1872), continued to trade as Messrs Brown, Wills & Nicholson.

Mr John Burnell, who never married, was elected as an Alderman of the Borough in 1859 and chosen to become Mayor of Plymouth for 1859-60, as a result of which he became a Justice of the Peace.

During his life he was a partner of Messrs Bryant, Burnell and Company, and chairman of its successors, the British and Irish Sugar Company, which ran the sugar refinery in Mill Lane.  He was also chairman of the South Devon Shipping Company until about 1855 and a partner in Messrs William Bryant and Company, soap manufacturers; Messrs Sparrow, Hodge & Company, lead and limestone merchants; The Plymouth and Dartmoor Gunpowder Company; and The Plymouth Patent Alkali Company.

Described as 'possessed of mild and benignant manners, with a great equability of temper with unswerving honesty of purpose', Mr Burnell was highly respected in ands beyond the Town.

At about 10am on the morning of Saturday October 22nd 1864 Mr John Burnell passed away at his home, number 4 Windsor Villas, Lockyer Street, Plymouth.  He was said to 'have attained the ripe age of 72 years'.  He was survived by his older brother, Mr William Burnell, and a sister, Miss Mary Ann Burnell.

The funeral took place at the George Street Baptist Chapel on Friday October 28th 1864 and Mr Burnell body was laid to rest in the burial ground there.  Police Inspector Wreyford and a group of ten Constables of the Borough led the funeral cortège from Lockyer Street to George Street.  Eight members of staff from the sugar refinery acted as under-bearers and the funeral arrangements were undertaken by Mr Hawken, of York Street, Plymouth.  The service was conducted by the Reverend T C Page, of George Street Baptist Chapel, and a prayer was said by the Reverend T Horton of the Hope Baptist Chapel, Devonport.

In his Will he left to his sister, Miss Mary Ann Burnell, a moiety in the freehold property of the South Devon (later Hartshorn) Wharf at Lower East Smithfield on the river Thames, which was then under lease to and occupied by the South Devon Shipping Company; and a freehold shop, warehouse and other premises in Bilbury Street and Charles Street along with freehold stores and other premises in Vauxhall Street.  Mr Burnell also left £100 each to the Plymouth Ragged School Association and the South Devon and East Cornwall Hospital.


  Details from Mr Burnell's Will are reproduced courtesy of Mr Jon Burnell, March 2010.