Note: Several websites incorrectly state that Charles Boole was the celebrated mathematician who developed Boolean logic. Other websites state that it was Arthur Boole who developed Boolean logic. These are incorrect. For the record,
George Boole (1815-1864) was the mathematician who developed Boolean logic.
Charles Boole (1821-1904) was George Boole’s brother.
Arthur Boole (1859-1935) was Charles Boole’s son.
CHARLES BOOLE AND HIS FAMILY
Charles Boole 1821 - 1904
Charles Boole, the youngest of the four children of John and Mary Anne Boole, was born on 11 June 1821, and baptised three days later at St Peter at Arches Church in Lincoln. John and Mary Anne were not well off, and the children only had a rudimentary education at the local school. However, what the children did have were very intelligent parents, who encouraged them in every way to take an interest in the world around them, to read books, and to take every opportunity to find out about things.
When Charles was ten, his oldest brother George, who was sixteen, started teaching to help support the family, first in Doncaster and then Liverpool. After three years away, George came back to Lincoln to run a school of his own. When the next brother William grew old enough, he too started work as an assistant teacher with George, and so did their sister Mary Ann.
However, teaching was not for Charles. He displayed more of a commercial inclination, and before he was twenty, he had decided to move away from Lincoln to seek work in the industrial heartland of Lancashire. As George had worked in Liverpool, Charles would have heard something about this city, and may even have visited his brother there. By 1841, Charles was living in lodgings in Grosvenor Street, Liverpool, and working as a merchant, while George, William and Mary Ann were still at their parents’ house in Lincoln, working as teachers.
In 1844 Charles married Ann Harding, the daughter of a Liverpool coal merchant, Charles’ occupation being given on the marriage certificate as Book Keeper. They set up home in Tellery Street in Liverpool, but this marriage was short-lived. Within two years, Ann was dead, at the age of 28, of amaurosis, a disease of the brain that causes loss of sight, and eventually death.
A devastated Charles moved back to Lincolnshire. He was with his family again, and this must have helped to ease the pain of loss. Now, although still not a well-off family, the Booles had something to be proud of. George was becoming very well known in the field of mathematics, was publishing mathematical papers, corresponding with other well known mathematicians, and in November 1844 had received a gold medal from the Royal Society. In November 1849 George was appointed Professor of Mathematics at the newly opened Queen’s College, Cork.
By 1851 Charles was living in South Street, Old Sleaford, not far from Lincoln, and was described variously as a miller and a merchant. Also living in the same street was John Nickolls, a wine merchant, with his wife Catherine and their family, and this is how Charles must have met John’s eldest daughter, Millicent Nickolls. Charles and Millicent married at Sleaford on 20 June 1853.
Millicent and Charles worked hard, he at his business, and she at bringing up a large family. In twelve years, from 1854 to 1866, Millicent gave birth to no fewer than nine children. First three girls, Mary, Fanny and Ellen, followed by three boys, George, Arthur and Charles. In 1856 Charles was described in a directory as a miller, living in Jermyn Street, Sleaford.
Just three months before she gave birth to Arthur, Millicent’s father John died. There was further sadness for Millicent when her baby Charles died in 1861 only three days after birth, of dehydration, but the following year Margaret was born, followed by Millicent in 1864. With a family of seven children, the house in Sleaford must have been crowded, but it wasn’t long before the family circumstances changed dramatically.
For Charles evidently had good management skills, and he was appointed in 1865 by the Rainford Coal Company to run their new colliery at Rainford. There had been mining at Rainford for hundreds of years, exploiting the rich coal seams in that area. As the coal was taken out, the pits had to go deeper and deeper. Rainford Colliery, opened in 1860, had very deep shafts, and employed about five hundred people. It was next to the Liverpool to Wigan railway line, halfway between the villages of Rainford and Bickerstaffe. Suddenly, Charles found himself back in Lancashire, but this time with a large family, a good income, a big house called Lodge Farm near the colliery, servants, and a comfortable life. As coal mines went, Rainford Colliery was a rather more attractive place to work than most. Instead of being in a heavily industrial area, it was in the middle of the countryside, amid farms and woods. Of course, the attractive surroundings made little difference to the men hacking out the coal down underground all day.
In October that year, Millicent’s mother Catherine Nickolls died in Sleaford. She had carried on running the family wine and spirit business for the last six years since her husband died.
A little boy William was born to Charles and Millicent at Lodge Farm in 1866, but again was a very weak baby, who just couldn’t keep food in. He died of malnutrition after two months. In 1870 there was another family tragedy – seven year old Margaret contracted tuberculosis of the abdomen. She died in a hospital in Birkenhead. In the days before modern medical treatment, tragedy could strike rich and poor alike.
When Charles’ brother George, the mathematician, had died in Ireland in 1864, George’s wife Mary and the five daughters were left in poverty. Charles knew what it was like to lose one’s spouse at an early age, and had helped out as much as he could at the time. In 1872, now that he was well-off, his niece Ethel aged 8, who had been very ill, came to live with Charles and Millicent and their six surviving children to recover. Ethel’s memories of Charles were not good. In later years she described him as “very religious and a sadist.” Apparently he used to beat his children, though not Ethel. Instead, he used to make her sit and practice at the piano for hours, while he got angry with her and pounded the keyboard whenever she made a mistake. He would also accuse her of stealing and all sorts of other things, and lock her in her room as a punishment. Charles’ “management skills”, which obviously were effective at keeping coal miners hard at work down in the pit, did not work so well at teaching piano playing to young girls. Charles evidently made a wise decision in not going into teaching like his brothers and sister.
We no doubt see here a violent clash of personalities between Ethel and Charles. Later in life, Ethel moved in revolutionary and anti-establishment circles. Even as a young girl, Ethel would have been a bit of a rebel. If this was so, Charles’ family, who were very proper, and certainly pro-establishment, would not have approved of Ethel’s attitude at all.
In contrast, Charles thought the world of Ethel’s father, his famous brother George, and kept a portrait of him on the wall of their house in Rainford. Charles and Millicent's eldest son George Boole, born in 1858, was named after him. Charles’ plan for young George was for him to take over the management of the mine when he was qualified. After studying at Kings College London, George was sent to study mining engineering at Merthyr Tydfil, in the heart of the Welsh mining industry. He achieved his “Certificate of Competency and Service First Class” in February 1881, and by April he had a position as a Mining Engineer at nearby Treharris Mine. He had been courting Kate Eliza Thomas of Cardiff, daughter of a well-off local brewer and innkeeper, and was clearly a man with very good prospects as a future manager of a mine.
By 1881, all the children except Ellen and Millicent had left home. Mary had gone to London and trained as a nurse. Fanny had married Frederick Hamilton Jackson, an artist, and was living in Acton, west of London, with their three children. George was in Merthyr, and Arthur had emigrated to New Zealand. Charles had put his surplus earnings into buying shares in the colliery, and became a part owner, and now, at the age of 59, he had enough income from these shares to be able to retire. He and Millicent decided to move to London to be near their daughters Mary and Fanny. They bought a house in Penge, in south London, at 4 Bead View Villas on the Croydon Road. Their daughters Ellen and Millicent moved there with them. In April their future daughter-in-law Kate came to stay with them there.
In the meantime, until George finished his training, Charles appointed one Thomas Young Greene as Manager of Rainford Colliery.
George Boole and Kate Eliza Thomas married in Cardiff on 9 July 1881 and went to Ilfracombe for their honeymoon. George was still working at Treharris Mine when Kate and his first child was born in 1882, a girl whom they named Dorothy Gwenllian. By 1884, when Philip Arthur George was born, George was Mining Engineer at Treherbert Mine. The name Arthur was probably given in honour or George’s only surviving brother.
Later that year George and Kate Eliza Boole and their two children moved to Lancashire, into Lodge Farm, and George took over the management of the Rainford colliery. He was reputed to have been a very kind manager, and fair to his workers. Kate Eliza and George had three more children while at Rainford: Llewellyn in 1885, Rosemary in 1886 and John Otto in 1891.
For fourteen years the family life at Rainford was happy. The portrait of George Boole still hung on the wall, and it was invariably pointed out to visitors how much the young Llewellyn resembled him. In 1888 news came from George’s brother Arthur out in New Zealand, who had married. He sent a photo of himself with his new wife Edith.
Millicent and Charles had by now moved to nearby Croydon, firstly at 8 Friends Road, and later at 47 Birdhurst Rise. Charles’ daughter Ellen still lived with them, and she owned a very successful school in Croydon, which she ran until she became ill in 1906. Charles’ other daughter Millicent trained as an artist in London, and worked as an illustrator of magazines and books.
There was sadness for Charles when his sister Mary Ann Boole died in 1887, aged 68. She had never married, and had worked as a governess. A year later, he was again devastated when his much loved daughter Mary died, and his brother William Boole died aged 69, leaving a son, Walter. However, Charles and Millicent must have been proud of their son George’s success in running the mine at Rainford. By 1898 the Rainford mine had been in Boole hands and operating successfully for thirty-three years. Then came more tragedy for the Boole family. On 4 April 1898, George died of pneumonia at the young age of thirty-nine, leaving Kate Eliza to care for the five children, the youngest of whom was seven years old. Kate Eliza and her children left Rainford and moved to Penarth, near Cardiff, to be close to Kate Eliza's relatives. It would have been a very hard time for them, as by 1901 Kate Eliza was in hospital in Cardiff.
Again Charles helped out. Just as he had had his niece Ethel to stay with his family when his brother George died, now his teenage granddaughter Rosemary came to stay, and went to her aunt Ellen’s school in Croydon. Rosemary remembered Charles as a gifted musician, who could play Beethoven's sonatas with no music in front of him. No mention of sadism to young girls any more, twenty years after Ethel’s terrible experience. But then, Rosemary was far from being “a bit of a rebel”. She, like Charles, was religious, and must have fitted in very well in Charles and Millicent’s household.
Charles’ fortune was almost all tied up in his share in Rainford Colliery, but in the early years of the new century, the Rainford Coal Company closed the mine, and he lost nearly all his money. However, the family managed to hold on to their house in Croydon, due mainly to the hard work of the two daughters, Ellen and Millicent.
In February 1904, Charles Boole fell ill of broncho-pneumonia, the same disease his son George had died of four years before. After 16 days, with his wife Millicent at his bedside, on 13 March 1904 Charles passed away, at the age of 82.
Kevin Boole at gravesite in 2008
The Boole family were members of the church of St. Michael and All Angels near their home in Croydon. This was a very “high Anglican” church, almost Roman Catholic in its rituals. In 1907, when she was 19, Rosemary felt the call to become a nun, and joined the “Sisters of the Church,” a community attached to St. Michael and All Angels church. The sisters ran the Old Palace School in Croydon, a school for children of poor families, and Rosemary became a teacher there, living in a convent.
On recovery from her illness, though nearly sixty, Ellen trained as a deaconess in Manchester, and worked in parishes there until well over seventy. Millicent, as we saw, was an artist, travelling up to London by train every day.
That accounts for three of Charles and Millicent’s nine children: George, Ellen and Millicent. Of the others, three died young: Charles, Margaret and William. Mary, the nurse, died unmarried at 34, Fanny married Fred Hamilton Jackson and had three children (a fourth was Fred’s son by a previous marriage), and Arthur moved from New Zealand to Australia, where there are descendants of him and his second wife Muriel. Charles’ widow Millicent died in 1917 aged 92.
Going back a generation, of John Boole’s children, the three brothers and the sister, only Charles Boole’s branch of the family left anyone with the surname Boole, as William’s descendants, like George’s, eventually produced daughters and no sons, and the daughters changed their names on marriage.
Children of Charles & Millicent Boole
Mary Catherine Boole 1854 - 1884
Fanny Boole 1855 - 1929
Ellen Boole 1857 -1935
Charles William Boole 1861 - 1861
Margaret Boole 1862 - 1870
Millicent Boole 1864 - 1943
William Boole 1866 - 1866