John Sebastian Glouton

When John Sebastian Glouton died in at 98 Western Road, Brighton in 1864, he was described as “a very plain and unpretending man, possessing a kind and genial nature.”  He was much more complex than that.  Forget the unfortunate name of Glouton [Glutton].  Monsieur Glouton was a highly intelligent man and reputedly a brilliant teacher.  Alas, he was no businessman.

Born in France in 1806, he spent his very early professional years teaching in Paris in a private Catholic school – the prestigious Collège Stanislas.  Aged only 22, he took up a post of teacher of rhetoric at the “Collège militaire de la duchesse d’Angoulême” at Versailles.  This was short lived as he left in 1830.  1830 was the year of the July Revolution which swept away the restored monarchy.  Was young John a monarchist?  Or did he prefer a quiet life on the other side of the English Channel?  Whatever the truth, by 1832 had set up as a schoolmaster in Brighton.

Brighton was awash with schools in the middle of the 19th century.  The air was salubrious.  The houses large – and relatively cheap to rent.  The 1843 directory for Brighton lists 94 “Academies” – many of which would have had 10 or fewer pupils.   Mons. Glouton and his young bride Elizabeth (née Lucas) had taken the house at 4 Devonshire Place and set up their school with just five live-in teenage female pupils.  There could well have been day-pupils in addition, as the household boasted two schoolmistresses in their 40s in addition to the proprietors. 

Presumably teaching did not pay immediately.  The family had just three servants (the youngest being 14, the same age as one of the pupils) to look after the married couple, the five pupils, and one “lady boarder” aged 20.

Mons. Glouton had higher ambitions.  Variations on the following advertisement appeared in The Times as well as in Brighton newspapers over a period of the next 10 years or so. 

In the meantime, there had been a move to Charles Street and two babies had come along: Edmund in 1849 and Elizabeth less than a year later.

The next move was to Oriental Place.  There were no boarders but there must have been numerous day-pupil for at one point in the 1850s Mons. Glouton was claiming to run his school in both Nos. 5 and 6 Oriental Place.

As the Queen Victoria’s empite burgeoned in India, the languages of the sub-continent were a must for young men destined for the British Indian Army, the Indian Civil Service or even in declining East India Company. A few years on and the war in Crimea (the 1854-1856 one) promised excitement for young men and a chance for their families to show their patriotism. 

Surprisingly, no mention is made of the French language.  The Napoleonic wars had been long forgotten and Britain and France were fighting on the same side in the Crimea.

The East India Company’s Military Seminary at Addiscombe 1859 (c) Unknown (Life time: Unknown, photo c1859), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

We must either imagine that Mons. Glouton was a prodigious polymath. Or that he could call on a large part-time staff knowledgeable in a wide range of subject and languages. Or that he was over-reaching himself.  Or that the imminent closure of The East India Company College at Halleybury in 1858 was his final undoing. Whatever the case, in 1857 John Sebastian Glouton, by then of 37 Norfolk Road, Brighton, became insolvent and “came up for his first examination” for bankruptcy that July.  His debts amounted to £626 10s. 9d.  His assets were a mere £82.

Not to be defeated, Mons. Glouton soldiered on.  He moved to Wellington House, 98 Western Road, Brighton.  In an 1858 newspaper advertisement he claims that:

“Mons. Glouton sent to the last Examination, two pupils who obtained, the one 2,385 marks, the other 2,250; 1,800 only being required to pass.”  Tacked on as an after-thought to the advertisement, Mons. Glouton adds: “Hindustani taught.”

Not one to hide his light under a bushel, Mons. Glouton proudly quotes testimonials he had received.  The following, which appeared in the Brighton Gazette in 1858 under the heading “Extracts from Letters addressed to Mons. Glouton”, does appear to be genuine … and if so, Mons. Glouton was indeed a remarkable man:

So good to see that French was back on the curriculum.

There are just two slight difficulties with the testimonials.  The first is that all the advertisements were placed by Mons. Glouton himself.  Did his skills extend to imaginative copy writing?  The second is that he had recently become bankrupt.  Were these rather effusive pieces of writing attempts by his friends to get him back into business?

He certainly was a well-liked and respected man.  When he died in November 1864, the obituary writer did not gloss over the bankruptcy, but referred to it most sympathetically: “We regret to learn that a man of such varied and extensive acquirements should have been straightened in circumstances, and that in his, as in the case of many other really able men, no provision had been made for his wife and children.”

A subscription was set up to help Mrs. Glouton who tried to set up a “PREPARATORY SCHOOL FOR YOUNG GENTLEMEN under the age of 13 years.”

This comment may disguise the fact that Mrs Glouton had possibly given up the struggled to keep the family’s head above water.  Three years before her husband’s death, she had already moved to South Chailey with the two children and was eking out a living as a “private tutor” (1861 Census).  Ten years later, she was back in Brighton running a lodging house at 34 Queens Road.  She died in 1882 aged 69.

Her son, Edmund, was a plucky soul.  Shortly after his father’s death, he took a leaf out of the older man’s book and placed an advertisement in the Brighton Gazette.  The lad was barely 16 years old.

This move having apparently failed, Edmund became apprenticed to a Mr. B. Walker of the Merchant Navy in 1866.  His career was short lived.  Two years later, he was serving aboard the 420-ton wooden sailing ship “Albert Hawley” bound for Australia   Fifty-six days into the voyage a minor, unexplained event happened to the ship which had to be “rescued” by another vessel.  On 27 February 1868 Edmund died, “drowned at sea”.  There is no knowing what killed Edmund – but the boy’s death must have broken his mother’s heart.

Of Elizabeth the daughter, there is, so far, no trace.  There is no representative of the famille Glouton in Brighton to this day.

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