George William Lauder worked in the executive department of the Conservative newspaper the Hampshire Advertiser for over a quarter of a century before his death in 1858. He was variously reporter, editor and manager. It is a peculiarity of nineteenth-century newspapers that those whose professional life is dedicated to the dissemination of news are themselves frequently hidden from public view. So it is with Lauder. Little is known of his life. And what is known is largely tragic.
Born in London, he moved to Southampton in the late 1820s, probably at the invitation of the Advertiser's proprietor John Coupland. He lived at a variety of addresses: Panorama Place (the south side of Winkle Street) in the late 1830s/early 1840s; New Road in the mid 1840s; West Place, West Quay in the late 1840s/early 1850s; and finally in Windsor Terrace.
Seven children are recorded to George and his wife, Jane Whittaker Lauder, but only one - Victoria Jane - survived his death. She died two years later in 1860. Three children died under the age of five years - William in March 1834, aged 2 months; Thomas in October 1836, aged 1 year 5 months; and Charles Francis in December 1841, aged 3 years. His eldest daughter Jane Anne was burnt to death after falling into the kitchen fire at their house in West Place in December 1840, aged 12 years. His eldest son, George William Thomas, was set up as a tobacconist in Above Bar but died, aged 17 years, in April 1848. A seventh child - Francis William, baptized in April 1839 - was dead by 1858.
Being subject to coarse, indecent and scurrilous language is part of the life of a political journalist. Few however can have endured such hatred as was poured on Lauder by the editor of the Southampton Free Press during the protracted by-election in early 1857 following the resignation of Alexander Cockburn as borough MP. A testimonial, signed by upwards of 400 inhabitants, was presented to Lauder after the election "in consequence of the attacks made upon him by a base, vulgar, and outrageously spiteful ephemeral paper, got up … by amateurs who prostituted their mean talents to the utter disgust of all well-regulated minds" (Hampshire Advertiser, 4 July 1857).
The following winter Lauder contracted bronchitis, and after "a long and harassing illness" died at his residence, Beckford Lodge, on 12 June 1858. The obituaries are largely silent on his career. The Hampshire Advertiser restricts itself to bland generalities: "Few men have commanded a larger share of esteem, and deservedly so, for he was strictly conscientious and a highly moral man, social in habit, liberal in sentiment, and generous in disposition". It ends with a conundrum: "He bequeaths to his widow and child an inestimable good name, but regret to add - nothing more". There is not a hint as to why he died completely destitute.
A fund was set up to assist his widow and child in "their present helpless condition, and also to make some provision for putting them into a little business that may enable them to obtain a livelihood" (Hampshire Independent, 14 August 1858). It was supported by all political parties. Secretary to the committee was John Richard King, brewer of Portland Terrace and a Tory. The treasurer was "Mr Andrews", who can only be Richard Andrews, a Liberal politician for years the target of Lauder's editorials but with whom a political rapprochement had been now reached. Whatever monies were received can only have been a temporary salve, for Jane Lauder, George's widow, died in January 1862. She was in Southampton Workhouse.
There are few references to Lauder's life outside his family and the Advertiser. He was a subscriber for £200 to the Manchester and Southampton Railway in July 1846. In October the following year he moved a motion at St Michael's Vestry meeting against the building of a workhouse on the Common. It would, he thought, set a precedent for further expensive innovations, such as a lunatic asylum or a new jail, in the borough. He tendered for the lease of the Shelter House on the Royal Pier in August 1841, laying plans before the Pier and Harbour Commissioners to make the shelter a reading room, to supply it with newspapers and periodicals and to provide refreshments for parties visiting it. The tender was rejected. Accounts of the commissioners, however, show that Lauder was lessor of the Shelter House between 1848 and 1852 at least.
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