John Johnson Pearson — mystery uncle

One of the more interesting and mysterious members of our family is Val’s great-grandfather’s brother on her mother’s side, John Johnson Pearson.

When we started our family history research soon after we were married we were quite lucky with the Pearson side. Val’s grandmother, Martha Pearson (nee Ellwood) had lived with them in a granny flat for 12 years after her husband died, and so Val heard lots of stories about her youth and family in Whitehaven, and she left relics in the form of photos and newpaper cuttings with reports of births, marriages and deaths in the family, most of whom still lived in Whitehaven, Cumberland.

When we started our family history research we wrote to the Whitehaven News, and asked any members of the family who were interested to get in touch with us, and some did, including one of the family eccentrics, Anthony Hurton Pearson. Val’s mother told us that she and her sister had gone to the UK before the World War II, when they were teenagers, to visit the family, and they had been embarrassed by their cousin Tony Pearson, who was strange, and played fairies at the bottom of the garden.

Nevertheless, it was Tony Pearson who first told us about J.J. Pearson (we later found out that his full name was John Johnson Pearson). What he told us was a strange mixture of fact and fantasy. What we eventually found, from Tony Pearson and elsewhere, was the following:

J.J. Pearson was born in Whitehaven about 1850, the son of William Pearson and Sarah Johnson.

John Johnson Pearson was sometime editor of the India Herald and Karachi Beacon. He was the author of The exiles return to their lost inheritance (London, Stockwell, 1917), and was a British Israelite. He appears to have travelled widely through “the prophetic earth” (Palestine, Egypt, Syria and Mesopotamia).

According to Anthony Hurton Pearson he was an assayer who went to India (probably true), and the first to completely neutralise the by-products of the gas-making process at his Broughton Plant (doubtful), and was also known as Basil Gotto (more doubtful). He married a harem of Sikh ladies (even more doubtful), and  Joseph Stalin was his son by one of them (almost certainly fantasy), and that he later lived in Paris lecturing at the Sorbonne (doubtful).

Another far more sensible member of the family was Ralph Pearson (another of Val’s mother’s cousins) who got quite excited about it when we wrote to him, and followed up many of the leads we had found. He established that J.J. Pearson was indeed the author of the books that Tony Pearson mentioned, and even managed to photocopy one and send it to us, and as we had guessed from the title, it was a British Israelite tract. He had some kind of training in chemisty, as an apothecary, or perhaps an assayer, but does not seem to have belonged to any of the professional bodies (Ralph Pearson tried to follow that up).

We’ve found no record that he ever married (apart from Tony Pearson’s tale of the Sikh ladies), or that he had any children (not even Stalin!). He may have lived in Paris for a while, but it is unlikely that he ever lectured at the Sorbonne. The trail goes dead after 1924, so he may have died then, or disappeared, in Paris or elsewhere.

Anyway, it would be interesting to know a little more about him. He certainly seems to have been one of the family eccentrics, and to have lived a fairly interesting life, which took him far from Whitehaven.

So if you know anything more about him (or other members of the family) please help us to complete the puzzle and leave a comment below.

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