Open main menu

HOLKER, JOHN (1719–1786), Jacobite, was the son of John Holker of Stretford, Manchester, by Alice, daughter of John Morris. The founder of the family, Alexander Holker, is said to have been presented by James I with lands at Monton, Eccles. John's father, a yeoman, died shortly after his son's birth, and his widow about 1740. Young Holker sold his patrimony in order to erect a cotton-mill, and spent two years at Manchester to acquire the necessary knowledge. He married Elizabeth, daughter of John Hilton or Hulton, a Manchester tradesman. Brought up an ardent catholic and Jacobite, Holker was with difficulty dissuaded by his wife from joining the Young Pretender in Scotland in 1745. When the prince entered Manchester, Holker joined his forces with the rank of lieutenant, and was captured with the other Manchester volunteers at Carlisle. He was sent to Newgate in February 1746 in company with Peter Moss, whose friends bribed a turnkey to admit tools and a rope. He escaped (26 June 1746) with great difficulty on account of his size, and was concealed for six weeks by a woman who kept a green stall. Holker, about thirty years afterwards, gave Dutens a minute but inaccurate account of their escape (Memoirs of a Traveller). Even the moonlight alleged to have facilitated the exploit will not bear the test of the almanac. He seems also to have told his family that he was at Falkirk and Culloden, whereas he was never in Scotland. After hiding in England he made his way by Holland to Paris, and in February 1747 became lieutenant in Ogilvie's, also called the Irish Brigade. He served till 1751, when, on his failure to obtain a pardon from the English government, he determined on erecting a cotton-mill at Rouen. The rudeness of Norman processes induced him to submit a paper to Machault, comptroller-general of finance, who commissioned him to go to England to enlist workmen and study the latest improvements. In 1754 he accordingly went in disguise to Manchester, visited the factories, and engaged twenty-five hands. On his return he was assigned a military pension of six hundred livres, and was appointed inspector-general of manufactures. Holker ceased to enforce the old vexatious regulations, introduced improvements, revived or stimulated the velvet and corduroy manufacture, established spinning schools, and promoted pottery works. His salary was raised from 320l. to 480l., and in 1769, on starting the first vitriol factory in France, he was encouraged by a subsidy and bounties. In 1770 he was made a knight of St. Louis, and in 1775, backed by a pedigree from the London Heralds' College and by testimonials from Jacobite refugees, he obtained lettres de noblesse. A widower in 1776 he married the widow of Jean Testart. He retired about 1780 to the village of Montigny, died 27 April 1786, and was buried at Rouen. The Young Pretender, whom he accompanied to London on his secret visit of 1750, presented him with a sword of honour damasked with gold, which is still preserved by his descendants.

His only son, John Holker (1745–1822), was in 1769 appointed deputy-inspector, went to England to study Hargreaves's and Arkwright's processes, and in 1777 was sent by the French government to America to report on the prospects of the war, and dissuade the Americans from submitting to England. Appointed consul-general at Philadelphia, he equipped and victualled French men-of-war in American ports. He settled at Springburg, Virginia, bought twenty thousand acres of land in Indiana and Illinois, visited France in 1800, and died in America in 1822. His wife, Elisabeth Julie Quesnel, had remained at Rouen. Their son, Jean Louis Holker (1770–1844), discovered the method of continuous combustion in the vitriol manufacture, which he carried on, first at Rouen and afterwards at or near Paris.

[Information from M. Henri Holker, Paris; Palatine Note-book (Manchester), April and July 1884; Nouvelle Revue de Paris (a considerably embellished sketch); Ernouf's Hist. de Trois Ouvriers; Mem. of Archibald Rowan Hamilton (who knew Holker at Rouen); Doniol's Hist. participation de la France à l'étab. États-Unis, 1886; Hale's Franklin in France (Mrs. Holker sent Franklin apple jelly at Paris, 1779); Gent. Mag. 1786, i. 441; Universal Mag. 1786.]

J. G. A.