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James Cummins

From the age stated on his death certificate, it is calculated that James was born in 1789 or 1790. His wife's name was Mary (family name not known) and they had a daughter Anne Elizabeth Cummins. When his daughter later married an member of the Royal Irish Constabulary, it is recorded that the daughter originated from County Carlow in Ireland - the name Cummins is well known in Carlow and so it is possible that James' origins may eventually be identified in that county. Nothing else is known of James until he commenced employment with the East India Company in London in 1825.

This was before the first railway operated in England (1830). Before the first recorded case of cholera in England (1831). Before England abolished slavery in its colonies (1833). Before the Factory Act restricted working hours for children under 12 years of age to 9 hours a day; and for older children to 12 hours per day (1833). Before the 18-year-old princess Victoria became queen and Charles Dickens wrote "Oliver Twist" (both in 1837). Before physician John Snow identified that over 500 cases of cholera occurred within 10 days over a radius of some 250 yards centered on London's Broad Street and traced all the infections to a single water source in Broad Street(1854) starting the move to clean water in modern cities.

East India House 1817
East India House drawn by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd, c.1817. source Wikimedia Commons.

East India House was a major landmark in Leadenall Street in the trading district of Victorian London. Although there were some residential apartments in the building at this time, it might not seem likely that the Cummins family was sufficiently important to have resided there. However  James' daughter later wrote this address in a book she owned and James died at this address, so that it appears that they did reside there.

The East India Company, although once the largest company in the world, ceased to trade in 1834 but continued to administer the government of India as a managing agency for the British Government until 1854. (  &  It was in the years of transition that James Cummins was employed by the Company.

Records of the East India Company are held by the British Library. The East India Company must have some of the best surviving archives of all companies, but there is such a mass of material available, that one sometimes does not know where to begin and there are no simple indexes to use. Professional genealogist, Mr Sydney Smith, undertook painstaking work to uncover references to James Cummins.

The "Salary Books of the Home Staff" contained in Ref: IOR/L/AG/9/4/1-20. are complete lists of staff for each quarter. The original documents are very large fragile volumes containing details of all staff, their record of appointments, promotions and salaries. There were several references to the name "James Cummings" (additonal "g" included in East India Company records but pension records and later death certificate show that his name was definitely Cummins.)

James Cummins joined the East India Company as a porter in the accountants office on 4 February 1825. He became a salaried officer as an under-doorkeeper on 16 November 1831. This coincides with the first appearance of his name in the 1832 directory. The detailed entries were in the form of "minutes" and do not give much biographical detail.

Fol. 546 16th Nov. 1831
Resolved that Mr. James Cummings who has been upwards of six years a messenger to the Accountants office, be appointed to the situation of Junior Door keeper to the Court (vacant by the decease of Mr. William Davy) upon the terms of the Courts Resolution.
Note: The reference throughout to the word "Court" does not relate to any legal office, but the "Court of Directors" (what we would call the "Board of Directors") at "East India House" in Leadenhall Street in London.

Fol. 555 11th Oct. 1837
Resolved that in consequence of the decease of Henry John Crondell, James Cummings, at present Junior Doorkeeper, be promoted to the situation of Third Doorkeeper, upon a salary of £190, per annum, commencing for the Courts resolution of the 9th March 1831, to supply the vacancy occasioned by the promotion of James Cummings.

Fol. 557 27th Nov. 1839
Appointed Second Doorkeeper at £220. p.a., the said allowance taking effect at Xmas.
(There is no reference to James in this "minute", but the index entry at the front of the volume does indicate that it was actually James who was promoted on this day. )

The salaries of the three levels of doorkeeper were fixed at

1st doorkeeper £260 p.a.
2nd doorkeeper £220.p.a
3rd doorkeeper £180.p.a.

Above these positions there were, in addition, the Head doorkeeper and Assistant doorkeeper.

Fol. 561 26th Jan. 1842
Resolved that the situation of Head Doorkeeper to the Court having become vacant by the decease of Mr. Peter Cropper, the following promotions and appointments be made with the salaries fixed by the Court on the 27th Nov. 1839: Mr. John Saunders to be Head Doorkeeper at £330. p.a., Augustine Rayment to be Assistant Doorkeeper at £280. p.a. James Cummings to be 1st Doorkeeper at £260. p.a ..... (followed by appointments to the other doorkeeper positions.)


For the purpose of comparison with salaries paid to other people in England at the time, the following information relates to the postal service in 1840. The Royal Mail was the great new communications "technology" of the time. The Postmaster at Bristol earned £450 a year, postal clerks earned earned £100 a year, letter sorters earned 16 shillings a week (approximately £42 per year), letter carriers earned 6 shillings a week (approximately £16 per year) and a mail coach guard earned 10 shillings ( £26 per year) with tips. (reference but this page is no longer active.)

This was the era in which England started moving from being an agricultural economy to an industrial one. In 1840 farm workers earned 8 to 9 shillings a week (£21 to £24 per year) while men working in factories could make between two to three times more. (obtained from but link no longer active).


It all suggests that James Cummins' salary was quite respectable and that he would have been considered middle class. He was obviously literate and numerate at a time when many people could neither read nor write and earned their living on farms or, if they were lucky, in factories and for much less income than James received.

In the pay lists for Lady Day 1831 there are these references to James Cummings:
4 February 1825 appointment to the Accountant's Office at £100 p.a.; and
16 November 1831 appointed Junior Court Room Doorkeeper.

In another pay list dated 26 January 1842, James Cummings' s salary was £260 p.a. followed by payments in 1842 and 1843, and then a note that he died 5 October 1844.

The Library reference for the East India Company Pension Records of "Widows Funds" is IOR /L/AG/23/3A/21. In 1845, there was an entry for Mary Cummins. The entries are written in a very small hand and are quite difficult to read. There are scribbled notes all over the place, and many figures which are difficult to follow. (These were actually working administrative books at the time, and not intended for genealogical research many years later!!) The entries were spread across two large A3 size pages, with the names and any details written on the left hand side - the right hand side was usually just a list of figures.

The entry (at folio 2) relating to Mary Cummins shows
Cummins, Mary £48. p. ann. - widow of Mr. J. Cummins, 3rd Court Room Door Keeper paid or payable ? to Mr. Geo. Shipway.
As noted, some of the entries are difficult to follow, but it may be that George Shipway was the man responsible for making the payments, although this is unclear. There also appears to be a reference to the first payment made on 26 March 1845 for the Quarter to Lady Day 1845 (Fund £8.14s and Company £3.6s) - The payment appears to have been divided in this way, but obviously, this fits with a first payment of £12. for the Quarter - which also follows, the pension being worth £48. p.a.

The records of the following year (1846) show that Mary actually did not survive very long after her husband, and the pension appears to have been transferred to her daughter, identified by her married name, Anne Bergin.

CUMMINS, Mary ........ died 4th June 1846 ..... followed by various figures (payments) (Pbl? to George Shipway)     Right hand side of the page ....Warrant in favour of daughter, Mrs. Anne Bergin pbl to Mr. Shipway Company: £2.11s.4d ; Fund: £6.15s.5d Warrant withdrawn and cancelled F H O Book 8th July 1846.

The last bit is almost impossible to read, and it is not easy to work out its meaning. However, it seems that Mary's pension was probably transferable to their daughter Anne Bergin, but that this may have been withdrawn and cancelled soon after. The Company's policy is not known but they may well have had the practice of paying the widow's pension for a short time after her death to the rest of her family. Minor children were provided for, but Anne clearly was not a minor by this time, and probably had little claim on the funds.

The death certificate gives us James's age, 54 years, at the time of his death on 5 October 1844, so that his birth was probably in 1789 or 1790. He died of dysentery in the East India House in Leadenhall Street and the informant was M. Roberts.

Ten years later, in 1854, Dr John Snow was to make major progress in prevention of dysentery-linked diseases when he traced numerous cholera infections to a single water source in Broad Street, London, just a short distance from East India House in Leadenhall Street.

Too late for James.

The East India Company pension records show that Mary Cummins died on 4 June 1846, less than two years after her husband. Civil death records for England and Wales are indexed quarterly and include two records for women named Mary Cummins who died in the April to June quarter of 1846. However, scrutiny of details on the death certificates shows that neither of the women fits the known information. (One died on 27 April at age 78 years in Queens Head Lane, Islington East; she was the widow of a printer, and the witness at the death was Mary Sophia Young. The other woman died on 16 May at Blissett Street, Greenwich; she was 63 years old and the witness was Amelia Richards.) This leads to the conclusion that Mary Cummins died outside England and Wales. As her daughter Anne had married and was living in Ireland, it is possible that a record of Mary's death may be found there, possibly in Laois or Offaly. While English civil death records started in 1837, the Irish ones didn't start until about 25 years later so that there would be no civil record.



Much of the above information on James Cummins was researched, on commission, by genealogist, Mr Sydney Smith, 59 Friar Rd., Orpington, Kent BR5 2BW.       e-mail:       Mr Smith is thanked for his thorough research.



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