SAILOR BILL AND KLONDIKE GOLD
The Grand is a very topical building for us in Leigh and it has indeed had a checkered life after being built in 1899, but even stranger is the tale of one of its (possible) landlords.
Through the University in Australia, History and Heritage Studies Department research into Australians and New Zealanders who went to the Klondike Gold Rush in the Yukon in Canada they have uncovered some evidence that one of them came to Leigh-on-Sea.
His name was William James Partridge (an old Leigh surname) but more commonly known as Sailor Bill. He seems to have arrived in Leigh about 1904 when he is said to have purchased the Grand and it was said he was still there until the early 1930s.
Information in Australia indicates that "Sailor Bill" Partridge (William J.), aka "Maritime Bill", was a well known character on the Queensland and Western Australian goldfields in the late 19th century. It is believed he made a substantial fortune in Australia in the early 1890s and then went to Victoria on Vancouver Island, BC, Canada where he ran a hotel, The Australian Hotel, with his wife. This hotel was a very popular stopping place for Australians on their way to and from the Klondike goldfields in the Yukon. "Sailor Bill" made at least one trip to the Klondike, via Skagway and the Chilkoot Pass/Yukon River in mid-1898. This photograph was taken in Skagway on this trip.
Picture courtesy of Yukon Archives, Roy Minter fonds, 92/15 #208
He had some gold claim investments on the Klondike, but he was not an active prospector or miner at this time. It looks like he returned to Victoria at the end of the summer of 1898.
He may have deserted a wife and family in Australia before leaving for North America about 1897. However, sources in Victoria, British Columbia say that he had another Mrs Partridge, an American woman, who ran off with him.
Sailor Bill’s granddaughter who lives in New Zealand says that his second wife (who may have been in Leigh with him) was called Gertrude Ellen Partridge, maiden name Morrison. He had no further contact with his children and it is not known whether he was a widower or had deserted the first wife.
William Partridge is cited in newspaper articles in Australia as the proprietor of the Grand Hotel as early as 1904. The references are quite specific - Grand Hotel, Leigh-on-Sea, near Southend. The following item appeared in the Charters Towers gossip column on the Ladies Page.
“A letter with 8d deficient postage to pay, and which only contained an hotel advertisement card was felt by us as an injustice, until it was perceived that the hotel, ‘The Grand’ at Leigh-on-See (sic), England, is a mansion and that its landlord is Mr W.J. Partridge, better known to North Queenslanders and West Australians as ‘Sailor Bill.’ The picture shows a quadrangular building five stories high. Breakfast, the card shows, ranges in cost from 1/- to 3/-, and dinners to 4/-. The enterprise of William is shown by the fact that for £10/10/- a month he boards and lodges visitors, and gives a first-class season ticket to London. Mr Partridge announces himself as ‘W.J. Partridge, late of all the principal goldfields of the world,’ and says his hotel, which is really an architectural triumph, is the ‘Home for return miners from all over the world.’ “
Was Sailor Bill spinning a story about owning the hotel? Could be. But, he was a hotel keeper both in Australia and in Canada. Buying, or buying a share in, a hotel in England fits well with his past activities.
However, he is not a Leigh Partridge as far as can be told, being born in London and emigrating as a small child with his parents to Australia in the 1850s.
A search of the Essex Licensed Victuallers records shows that there was a Partridge in the Grand in 1906 but his name was George and he left soon after.
Research in local Essex papers has revealed a closer link in Leigh – Chelmsford Chronicle, 4 May 1906 –
Have you anything in your Leigh family that has a link to Sailor Bill – if so please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org