048: George W. Christian, Liverpool merchant in Africa

George Christian's grave, Cameroon, 1924
George Christian’s grave, Cameroon, 1924
Business partners Charles Dovaston and George Christian and familes, Wallasey, 1922
Business partners Charles Dovaston and George Christian and familes, Wallasey, 1922
The firm's activities advertised in 1910
The firm’s activities advertised in 1910
Christian car Onitsha 1919

Jacob Christian reached Liverpool from Antigua at the age of fifteen. He married Octavia Caulfield: they had six children, all inheriting their father’s dark complexion. George William Christian (1872-1924) ran an import-export business in German Cameroon where he was expelled in 1904; he then established his business in Nigeria where by 1910 he had four branches. With his brother Arthur, also trained with famed Liverpool merchant John Holt in Nigeria, their business had the third brother Alexander at its Liverpool headquarters: at one time like their father, he was a timber merchant. G. W. Christian and Co Ltd, incorporated in 1911, flourished.

George Christian married Isabella Callow Stanbury in Liverpool in 1911. He sold his company to Lever Brothers in 1919 and purchased a plantation at Idenau in the now-British Cameroons. They had three children (born in England although Isabella shared his life in Africa – above photograph taken in Onitsha, Nigeria in 1919): Margaret permitted access to family papers and photographs including a photograph of her father’s grave in Africa, for he died at Idenau in January 1924.

George Christian’s three sisters were Octavia, who married a Liverpool tailor named McDavid, Julia the oldest who, widowed, took her children to Canada in 1910, and Rubena who migrated with her husband and  their children to Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1906. There are Canadian descendents of Rubena Patterson and Julia Rogers.

Octavia, recalled as a fearsome lady by her niece, had a daughter and several sons – three of the boys had successful careers in the merchant navy (one died when his ship was torpedoed; another was a captain and died a very wealthy man in his nineties) including Herbert Gladstone McDavid (1898-1966), the first-born, who in 1952 became the managing director of the Glen Line which had fifteen steamships. It was a subsidiary of the Blue Funnel Line where he had started his career. It sailed twice monthly from London. McDavid was knighted because of his role in the management of shipping in the 1956 Suez crisis.

“George William Christian (1872-1924): Liverpool Merchant” by Jeffrey Green was published in Rainer Lotz and Ian Pegg (eds), Under the Imperial Carpet (Crawley: Rabbit Press, 1986) pp 69-77 and there is an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Charles Kay’s research on Sir Herbert McDavid was published in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography in late 2010. McDavid’s photograph is in the National Portrait Gallery, London and in Ray Costello, Liverpool Black Pioneers (Bluecoat Press, 2007, p 99). British probate yearbooks note that George W. Christian left £16,405 9s 6d (1924); his brother Arthur Emmanuel Christian ‘of Cape Coast, Gold Coast’ died on 27 January 1926 and his British estate was valued at £167 5s 10d (1926). The Canadian family connections are continuing to be researched.


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