John Zimmerman was a man who lived on the margins of Southampton society. His life would be little more than a collection of bare facts were it not for his involvement in the most raw forms of political electioneering. It is in this way that he crossed paths with John Malachi.
John Zimmerman had exotic origins. Baptized on 11 May 1804 in All Saints Church, Southampton, he was the son of Jacob Zimmerman, a cavalryman in the 20th Light Dragoons then stationed in the barracks between foreign assignments. His mother was Juliana Zimmerman. John was twice married. His first wife, Mary, was born in Southampton c.1800. She died on 5 May 1859. Eight children were born between 1827 and 1855. None lived beyond the age of 30 and four perished under five years old. Seven family addresses are recorded during this period, most in the St Mary's district: Queen Street, Union Street, Pardy's Buildings (Lower Canal Walk), Briton Street, Armour Street, Bedford Place and Bridge Street. John married his second wife, Ann, born in Bitterne c.1809 and sister of the fly proprietor William Hunt, in 1863.
The list of John's early occupations would be similarly sparse were it not for the report in the Hampshire Advertiser (27 July 1844) of his cross-examination by the barrister Charles Saunders in a trial at Winchester in July 1844 (referred to later). It is a one-sided exchange for all we have is Zimmerman's replies to the questions fired at him. "He got his living honestly, and worked hard for it; he was an agent - could be an agent for Mr Saunders - anything to get money honestly. Was not able to work; was a cripple; had two limbs broken; was a porter seven years ago when he fell off a coach; was a book-keeper; was never a cad; did not know what a cad was; gave up his book-keeping because the Railroad unfortunately began. He did everything he could to get an honest living". This hand-to-mouth existence is confirmed by his occupations recorded between 1827 and 1844: tapster, porter, mariner, book-keeper, toll collector and agent.
A veneer of respectability was achieved when Zimmerman, then in his mid-40's, took over the licence of St George's Hotel in Bridge Street in November 1849. He held the licence until late 1860, interrupted only by a brief interlude as licensee of the Clarendon Hotel in Bernard Street between August 1858 and November 1859. These were two important hostelries in the town. In order to supplement his income, Zimmerman acquired the right in 1856 to graze sheep and cattle on the Common Fields of the town. He clearly believed that this corporation contract 'to rent the grass' was a passport to wealth, for his tender (£50) in April 1857 to renew the contract (held for nine months) was over twice that of other bidders. It was a miscalculation. The common lands were being transformed from an essentially agricultural resource into a sterile urban park. The cricket ground carved out of Hoglands in 1857 significantly reduced the scope for profit. The further condition that the contractor was to feed and mow the grass if grazing alone did not produce the good turf demanded by the corporation was increasingly irksome to Zimmerman. In June 1857 his contract was temporarily cancelled for his failure to keep the sward in good condition. He was also obliged to pay for any damage caused to trees and shrubs by his work. In 1858 Zimmerman lost the contract. Two years later, in November 1860, he applied for bankruptcy in Southampton Insolvent Debtors' Court owing debts of £288.3s.7d., mainly to local tradesmen. He had no assets. His total profits from November 1859 to November 1860 amounted to no more than £30.
Bankruptcy was a temporary setback to a man of Zimmerman's resilience. In 1862 he was awarded the contract to provide refreshments at the grandstand during the July race meeting on the Common. 'The Wines and Spirits are of the choicest qualities, and the Refreshments from the well-known cuisine of Mr Brixey, High Street'. The contract went elsewhere the next year - lost to a higher tender - but as lessee of the grandstand Zimmerman personally supervised the victualling department run from No.1 Pavilion in the immediate rear of the grandstand, serving luncheons, wines, spirits, Bass, Guinness and Allsopp's ales and stouts. Two years later, in 1865, he returned to the innkeeping trade as licensee of the Fish and Kettle Tavern in French Street, which he briefly renamed the Market Tavern. On his death on 30 May 1868, aged 68 years, the licence was taken on for a few years by his widow Ann.
John Zimmerman had a largely hidden life as a political manipulator. It was a role revealed in a series of legal and parliamentary enquiries into the electoral practices of the borough. The case of Bray v Andrews, heard before the Undersheriff of Hampshire, Charles Seagrim, in July 1844, casts light on his role in the pivotal parliamentary election of July 1841. Charles Bray of the Wheat Sheaf tap in Bridge Street sought to recover £19.16s.0d. from Richard Andrews for breakfasts, lunches, dinners, grogs and suppers supplied to friends of the Liberal candidates E J Hutchins and Captain Charles Mangles. John Zimmerman and Richard Ray, the latter of the Wiltshire Eating House in West Street, - both former Tory supporters and both without a vote - had been empowered to open the Wheat Sheaf and "take there the doubtful voters whom it was likely that they could secure for Mangles and Hutchins". The voters were provided liberally with refreshment and escorted to the poll on election day to ensure that there was no backsliding. Their puppet master was Richard Andrews, in perhaps his first election as a Liberal operator. Charles Saunders - counsel for Andrews - argued the impossibility of such a man employing Tory apostates like Zimmerman and Ray. The court disagreed, giving a verdict in favour of the plaintiff and awarding damages against Andrews of £9.14s.0d. In the words of the Undersheriff, Zimmerman and Ray "were men who made money how they could and that they had gone to Richard Andrews and offered to commit unlawful acts". Or more explicitly in the testimony of John Zimmerman, under cross-examination, "Went to Mr Andrews because he paid for it". Evidence given by Richard Andrews before the House of Commons election committee in July 1842, investigating corruption in the 1841 election, reveals a further service performed by Zimmerman. He admitted having given him £10 so that he could "pay 20 men on the nomination day [who] were to go to the hall [Guildhall] to secure a hearing for our candidates": ie political enforcers.
Zimmerman had a vote at the next parliamentary election in August 1842. He exercised it - as he did in 1852 and 1865 - in favour of the Conservatives. He was by now a member of the Grand Protestant Association of Loyal Orangemen, one of whose meeting places was the St George's Hotel. In 1852 he became one of the first investors in the Southampton Freehold Land Society, in its early days an exclusively Tory organisation. We have already met Zimmerman in 1853 as one of those who encouraged John Malachi to give evidence against Richard Andrews and his fellow Liberals before the parliamentary inquiry into corruption during the borough election of the previous year. Malachi testified that it was Zimmerman who took down his statement about being offered Perkins's place. The exchange is recorded above. Zimmerman acted as a whipper-in to the Tory witnesses before the 1853 inquiry and accompanied Malachi to London in March 1853 where, despite Malachi's too insistent denials to the contrary, he clearly pumped the witness on how to respond to the questions he was to be asked. A fellow coach was the Tory solicitor - and member of the Loyal Orange Association - William Henry Mackey, who later represented Zimmerman before Southampton Insolvent Debtors' Court.
A foot soldier for most of his political life, Zimmerman made a public and controversial intervention in the 1856 municipal election for the ward of Holy Rood. The contest, to fill the vacancy caused by the retirement of John Henry Cooksey, became a fratricidal battle between two Tories of a very different hue: William Henry Rogers, well-known nurseryman and pledged to obtain the benefits of the Hartley Bequest for the ward, and John Zimmerman, landlord of the St George's Hotel and intent on making mischief. To the Hampshire Advertiser (11 October 1856), 'the game has been carried out during the week with immense zest. Addresses have appeared in the name of certain celebrities, some of which to the townsmen are full of point, and one or two exhibit very trumpery spite and inane threats, which only damage the party they are meant to serve'. The Hampshire Independent believed that 'the accession to the Council of John Zimmerman was no means considered to be desirable'. Unsuccessful appeals were made to two Tory stalwarts - John Coupland, editor of the Advertiser, and William Le Feuvre, who had some time since resigned from the council in despair of its work - to break the impasse. But neither Rogers nor Zimmerman was prepared to concede. The day of the poll saw a reversion to the politics of the 1830s, with intimidation and at least three cases of impersonation. The poll was neck-and-neck until noon, but in the end Zimmerman lost by 65 votes to 55. He claimed that seven of his promised supporters had voted against him and that twelve had kept away. It is an ironic footnote that in March 1857 Zimmerman was appointed one of the two ward assessors for All Saints. It was the job of assessors to maintain the purity of the burgess lists, deciding who was and who was not eligible to hold the municipal franchise.


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