Joseph Fry (tea merchant)

Joseph Fry (tea merchant)

Joseph Fry (21 April 1777 - 28 August 1861) was a tea dealer and an unsuccessful banker. He was the husband of Elizabeth Fry, prison reformer.

Parental family

He was born in London 21 April 1777, the youngest of the three sons, (one of whom died aged 27) and three daughters of William Storrs Fry (1736-1808) and Elizabeth Fry (born Lambert), who were "plain" Quakers. His father had moved from Wiltshire to London and established a company dealing in tea and banking services, later called W. S. Fry & Sons.

W.S. Fry's brother, Joseph Fry (1728-1787) founded the chocolate factory, J. S. Fry & Sons and type-founding works in Bristol, for which the Fry family is famous.

The brothers, Joseph and William Fry (l768-1858) joined the family business. However, their mother is credited with "the financial acumen which had enabled money both to be acquired and prudently managed: it was a quality which perhaps neither of the sons inherited" Milligan "Biographical Dictionary . . . ", article on Joseph Fry (1777-1861) pp.190B-191A.] .


Joseph married, on 19 August 1800, Elizabeth Gurney (1780-1845), daughter of John Gurney (1749/50-1809) and Catherine Gurney (born Bell, 1755-1792). The bride's family were proverbially [An example of "as rich as the Gurneys" occurs in W.S.Gilbert's lyrics for the comic opera, "Trial by Jury". The phrase is glossed at [ "The Victorian Web".] ] wealthy bankers, originally based in Norwich.


There were five son and six daughters (one of whom died in infancy): Rose "Elizabeth Fry".]

*Katharine (Kitty) Fry born 22 August 1801, unmarried
*Rachel Elizabeth Fry born 25 March 1803 died 1888, married Francis Cresswell
*John Fry born 1804 died 1872, married Rachel Reynolds
*William Storrs Fry born 1 June 1806, died 1844, married Juliana Pelly According to the [ "Gentleman's Magazine" (1852) p.527 (Googlebooks).] , In 1835, the youngest daughter of Joseph and Elizabeth Fry, Louisa, married Raymond Pelly, second son of Sir John Henry Pelly Bt., in whose obituary this information is given. In 1832, William Storrs Fry married Sir John's daughter, Juliana Sally.]
*Richenda Fry born 18 February 1808, died 1884 married Foster Reynolds
*Joseph Fry born 20 September 1809, died 1896, married Alice Partridge
*Elizabeth (Betsy) Fry born February 1811, died 1815
*Hannah Fry born 1812, married William Streatfield
*Louisa Fry born 1814, died 1896, married Raymond Pelly
*Samuel Fry born 1816 (known as “Gurney”), married Sophia Pinkerton
*Daniel Fry, known as "Henry" or "Harry", born October 1822 died 1892, married Lucy Sheppard

Business difficulties

During the 1812 financial panic in the City of London, William Fry, precipitated a crisis, by lending a large amount of the bank's money to his wife's family, undermining its solvency. It was Joseph's wife, with her Gurney financial grasp and her connections, who pulled things through; her brother John Gurney (1781-1814), brother-in-law Samuel Hoare III (1783-1847) and cousin Hudson Gurney (1775- 1864) [Hudson Gurney: ODNB article Peter Osborne, ‘Gurney, Hudson (1775–1864)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 13 Aug 2008] ] came to inspect the firm's accounts and, left her in no doubt that they would do “what is needful for us” [Milligan quotes, citing Rose, p.67] which, meant a large investment in the W.S.Fry & Sons bank.

During the 1825 City financial crisis, Elizabeth Fry's relations saved the firm from bankruptcy. When the same problems recurred in 1828, no further Gurney support was offered and on 21 November, W.S. Fry closed.

The Gurneys acted as receivers and saved the tea merchant business, placing it under their control with with Joseph Fry on a salary of £600 per year.

Business failure was not tolerated by the Religious Society of Friends. Joseph Fry was disowned ["Disownment" is a procedure to separate a member of the Religious Society of Friends, because of some serious misdemeanor, when warnings and admonitions have failed. For much fuller information, see "Milligan's Biographical dictionary ..." Glossary p. 584. ] by Ratcliff & Barking Monthly Meeting in May 1829: however he was re-instated, with much admonition in 1838.

Changes of residence

When they were first married, they lived “over the shop” in St. Mildred Court, Poultry, City of London. After his father's death in 1808, they moved to the grander Plashet House, East Ham [ [ Park Explorer's article on Plashet House, now a public Park] ] . In 1829, they needed to reduce their expenditure and moved to a smaller house in “The Cedars”, Upton Lane [ [ Barking & Dagenham Local History Leaflet: Elizabeth Fry- states address.] ] . After the death of Joseph's sister, Elizabeth Fry (1779-1844), they moved to her home, Plashet Cottage, East Ham. He lived there until his death on 28 August 1861.


* Edward H. Milligan "Biographical dictionary of British Quakers in commerce and industry" pp.190-191: Biographical notes on Joseph Fry (1777-1861)
* Rose, June. "Elizabeth Fry, a biography". London & Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1980. ISBN 0-333-31921-4, reprinted 1994 by Quaker Home Service ISBN 0852452608.
* Francisca de Haan, ‘Fry , Elizabeth (1780–1845)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, May 2007 [, accessed 12 Aug 2008]


NAME=Fry, Joseph
DATE OF BIRTH=21 April 1777
DATE OF DEATH=28 August 1861

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