Marian Shaw has published a wonderful biography of Zachariah's life :

Shaw, M., 2016, Zachariah Pearson: Man of Hull – a tale of philanthropy, boom and bust, The Grimsay Press: Edinburgh


which can be found on or

Below is a brief summary/timeline of Zachariah's life from that publication :



  • Born 20th August, penultimate of six living children, three boys and three girls. Parents: Zachariah and Elizabeth Pearson. Four children died at birth. His father was a ‘merchant’ and a ‘chapman’.  
  • Address: Chapman Row, Sutton, East Hull, and an office at 80 High Street, Hull.



  • Father became local hero when he leapt into Sutton Drain (canal) to rescue drowning daughter of neighbour


  • Mother died from puerperal fever after birth of 10th child (which also died). The two older boys, John and Robert, remained living with their father. The four younger children, Zachariah and his three sisters, were sent to live in the household of their uncle ‘a gentleman of independent means’.



  • He stowed away when he was 12, but was discovered and brought home.
  •  Educated at Hull Grammar School





  •  Started his legitimate career at sea, aged 16, apprenticed to Jenkins and Tonge as a ship’s boy.




  • Promoted to first mate, aged 17




  • Promoted to ship's captain, aged 21


  • Married 10th April, to Mary Ann Coleman, of 37 Kingston St., but originally from London. Daughter of Edward Coleman.Address: 15, Caroline Place, Hull





    • Birth of Charles Edward, their first son

    • Acquired his own vessel and started trading in his own right aged 25, sailing to America, Hamburg and the Baltic
    •  Address: 15 Caroline Place, next door to Robert Pearson, merchant, possibly his older brother



  • Birth of Mary Elizabeth, their first daughter



    • Passed his Master’s Certificate (voluntary at this stage)

    • Birth of James Harker, second son
    • Commanded some of the passenger ships which plied between Hull and New York.




    • Birth of Alfred Coleman, third son
    • Death of James Harker, aged two, from slow fever (caused by Salmonella) 
    • Address: 11 Spring Street 
    • Continued to develop his business as merchant and ship owner




    • Birth of Arthur Henry, fourth son




    • Formed formal partnership with young brother-in-law James Coleman, forming business of Messrs Pearson, Coleman and Co. Insignia: P, C & Co. on a horizontal white band between two reds bands above and below.
    • Strong timber trade in the Baltic with Russia suspended when Crimean War started, but continued to trade as far as the Prussian ports to keep the route open.
    • Chosen as one of the Younger Brethren of Hull’s Trinity House to survey ‘the belts and passages in the North Sea’ so England could be defended against ‘the great autocrat of the north’ (Russia)



    • The firm started investing in steam, augmenting their fleet of barques with steamers.
    • Established a regular route to the Baltic, instead of leaving when the cargo was ready and loaded. Now they had a timetable they could attract passengers, and made their vessels more comfortable for travelers. Money rolled in.
    • Was elected a member of the Hull Town Council, West Sculcoates Ward, in November



    • Increasing involvement with civic matters
    • Personal interest in charities for seafarers and their orphans
    • Chosen for various delegations to Whitehall to try to influence law-making about maritime matters 
    • Address: 3 Scarborough Terrace, Beverley Road



    • Birth of Emma Jane, second daughter
    • Elected as Sheriff of Hull
    • Won prestigious contract for Australian-New Zealand mail service: launched the Intercontinental Royal Mail Steam Packet C. Ltd. This doubled as a passenger service from Sydney around the coast of NZ as the NZ infrastructure had yet to be developed (no roads).  
    • Had some steamers built specifically for the new trade
    • Steadily grew more successful and wealthier
    • Continued to be invited to London to address Board of Trade on issues maritime



    • Elected as Mayor of Hull, his first Mayoralty (1859-1860)
    • Donated significantly towards repair of Holy Trinity Church, Hull



    • Birth of Beatrice Maud, third daughter
    • Much business carried on from London address: Intercolonial Royal Mail Steam Packet Co. Ltd, 41 Moorgate Street, London
    • Started building, and major funder of, flamboyant Wesleyan Chapel in Beverley Road with seating for congregation of 1220
    • Initiated the new Town Hall so that the council could have improved space for work and entertaining. Estimated cost of £20,200 - built on site occupied by present Guildhall - opened in 1866
    • Initiated the new waterworks to supply Hull with clean water 
    • Purchased 37 acres of land to the west of Beverley Road for £7,400, and donated 27 acres of this for a "People's Park", the first public park in Hull. Badly needed due to massive pollution of air in industrial towns. People lived in cramped foetid conditions breathing noxious air and getting sick. Zachariah could offer space and fresh air.
    • He attached conditions to this gift, i.e. that the town council would be responsible for laying out the park, including an inner gas lamp lit road. 10 acres were retained around the edge for building plots for villas, the profit of which was to help fund the laying out expenses. 
    • 27th August: ‘Colossal Fete’ where he handed over the deeds to people of Hull, and planted the first tree, a Wellingtonia gigantica, with a ceremonially inscribed spade. Sumptuous displays (the poster gives a comprehensive taste) with 40,000 people transported in from the whole of the North of England by trains with special fares and boats; fireworks, then lavish banquet for over 200 invited gentlemen at the Royal Station Hotel in the evening, accompanied by many speeches (all documented in Smith). 
    • 28 August: festivities continued, Charles and Mary Pearson ((the two oldest children) each planting a tree (another Wellingtonia and a Thujopsis borealis, respectively).
    • Commissioned a statue for the park of Queen Victoria, to honour her visit to the town in 1854. Made from a single block of flawless Carrara marble, by sculptor Thomas Earle, a fellow member of the Minerva Lodge. ZCP paid him £100 deposit.
    • Much public praise as "the people's friend and the working man's benefactor". Calls in speeches for his own statue to be erected.
    • Was initiated as a Freemason into the Minerva Lodge in Dagger Lane
    • The Park was laid out over the next 2 years, including a huge ceremonial gateway (its iron gates bearing the Pearson crest - demi-lion rampant, holding ‘mullet’ (=star) between paws; motto: Providentia fido [I trust in Providence])). 
    • Address: grand house on Beverley Road – 1 Grosvenor Terrace. Large garden, and room for the family plus 3 servants
    • Was targeted by the bank Overend and Gurney who wished to minimise their risk on a fleet of Greek vessels that their owner Stefanos Xenos had mortgaged to them. They chose Zachariah because he was both a successful shipowner and naïve in banking and the way the discount market worked. They wanted to place his ships (their security) in a more secure position. ZCP had already borrowed money from this firm to buy the "Cherosonese" and repaid it, so he had the credibility they needed. Zachariah was persuaded to buy 6 steamers on credit although he did not have enough work for them. Evidence that he was cautious/nervous about this transaction, but was nevertheless talked into it – a move seen in retrospect as naive by some - greedy by others.
    • Immediately his business partner, James Coleman, split from the firm, paid off with £4000, a quarter of the value. He could have left for several good reasons: Zachariah probably didn’t consult him about the massive purchase, and/or James knew it was a bad business move. Maybe he just stopped trusting his brother-in-law’s judgement.
    • Became a Major in the newly-established Hull Volunteer Artillery Corps
    • Chartered his paddle steamer ‘Orwell’ to Garibaldi to help in the Risorgimento, reunification of Italy. The vessel was hijacked by the Italians who were being transported south to Sicily, and ZCP lost £7,000.



    • Elected to second Mayoralty (1861-1862)  
    • The American Civil War started.  
    • The two Hull cotton mills closed due to the blockade of the southern American ports by Abraham Lincoln’s navy. No cotton could be exported to England - many people out of work and destitute in Hull. 
    • Zachariah, Mayor of a town of hungry desperate workers, decided to use his now-large fleet of steamers to sell goods to the Confederates, taking the risk of breaking through the Federal blockade. He planned to bring back cargoes of cotton bales with which to reopen the mills, and to put his new fleets of ships to work. It was being successful in business that enabled him to be philanthropic with his money.  Without James to moderate the firm’s decisions, he was free to undertake a whole new level of risk.
    • He bought several cargoes of luxury goods, clothing, arms and equipment, much on credit, and sent them across the Atlantic, using agent(s), e.g. Bermuda-based businessman John T. Bourne to help plan to run the blockade.



    • 27th January: As Mayor, he "turned the first sod at Stoneferry" to open the valve that brought water for the start of the new town waterworks.
    • Became Commandant of the Hull Volunteer Artillery Corps
    • One of his ships, the "Indian Empire", was destroyed by fire while she was being refitted in the Thames. She was insured whilst in the Deptford Dock or to/from it, but had to go into mid-stream of the Thames to have her paddles attached after the refit – and this is where she caught fire. Insurance failed to pay out, but he took them to court and won £10,000 – only to have the jury’s decision overturned on a technicality on appeal as she was not going ‘to or from’ the dock, but was ‘detained’ in the river.  He lost £35,000 on her.
    • From mid-year onwards, his ventures into blockade-running were disastrous, as successively seven ships were either captured or sunk by US Federal Naval vessels in the blockade. One was the Modern Greece, which ran aground under attack, was buried in the sand for 100 years, and then exposed in 1962 by a storm. Artefacts from her supply half the exhibits at Fort Fisher museum, N.C. and the cargo is still being catalogued today.
    • These disasters landed him in huge debt, and he borrowed furiously to try to ‘stay afloat’ until one of his ships made it through the blockade. It was a gamble that failed, and he ceased trading in August.
    • By the time the last three of his vessels had crossed the Atlantic, he had already ceased trading, and his estate was in receivership, so the ships and their cargoes were sold off at a pittance, agents and traders in America and UK all grabbing whatever they could – which was easy as the estate was so huge and so globally scattered. 


    • Huge effort, by selling his other considerable assets, to avoid the ignominy of bankruptcy, but by the end of 1862 it was clear that bankruptcy was inevitable. He was determined to pay his creditors in full: "I do resolve that if the estate does not paid 20/- in the pound I shall devote a portion of my future earnings to pay in full all the creditors in Hull" (personal letter, 6th October, 1862) 
    • Resigned as Mayor, as Commandant, as a Freemason, and from all the charity boards he stood on.
    • People were polarised about him. The working people still held him up as their hero who had given them the park and space for recreation, but traders and shipbuilders were owed money by him, and bankruptcy was a matter of huge shame in Victorian England. People who previously acclaimed him while in power now abandoned him, and he had to cope with this ignominy alongside struggling to sort out his finances: "I have no doubt that I shall again rise, but whether Hull is then my future home, all will depend upon the people themselves. If kinship and sympathy is shown me, that of course will encourage me to come again and work for my family and the town. But it would be very unpleasant indeed for me to live among a people who had known me as prospering and who had no respect for me in adversity" (personal letter, 6th October, 1862) 
    • He valued the few people who stood up for him: "I am exceedingly obliged for your kinship and shall as long as I live remember it and teach my children to remember that you were one of my best friends ... it is in adversity when a man's friends are tested." (personal letter to Mr. Richardson, fellow councilor, 6th October, 1862) 
    • Birth of Eveline Rose, fourth daughter



    • The case was prepared for the Bankruptcy Court, taking a long time due to massive sums of money and huge complexity (not least, dealing with the American Prize Courts, and cases by individual crew members for unpaid wages until they finally were returned to England after being displaced by the Federal Navy off the US coast). Many adjournments. 
    • Queen Victoria's statue completed, but was by now the property of the assignees, so Alderman Moss paid for it on behalf of the town. 
    • October: Victoria's statue was installed, but Zachariah’s name was avoided, being deeply disgraced at this particular time – and there was so much controversy about him. He was still in London preparing for his court case.   
    • A central bone of contention was that while his business plan for the park had included financing some of the layout bills for the park (planting, landscaping, etc) from the profit on the sale of the villa building plots, all income from this source now went to the assignees, and the council was left to pick up the bill without this income stream. There was much vitriol about this from those who had been most hawkish (including some who had lost money because of him) – but others on the council were incensed at the way ZCP was suddenly a pariah, and all the good he had done for the town was ignored.
    • Between 1862 and 1865 the park was laid out, donated elements installed, and the ceremonial gateway completed. The gates, bearing the family crest, were removed before the end of the century as the residents did not like being locked out when they came home late at night.



    • Bankruptcy case eventually held in the London Bankruptcy Court, January - April. Total debts = £648,435.
    • Most creditors had been benign, but a small group of antagonistic ‘hawkish’ creditors had pursued him relentlessly, staging a publicly humiliating character-assassination in court. They accused him of chasing power and position for his own glory, saying that all his charitable works had been with other people’s money – despite the fact he had donated all these when he was wealthy and long before the American Civil War.
    • The slurs were dismissed as ridiculous by Commissioner Goulburn, and Zachariah was finally found to be liable on two of the four charges against him. The Commissioner gave him his discharge in six months, and did not send him to debtor's prison as he realised ZCP was well-intentioned but unlucky and lacking judgement as he tried to borrow increasingly to stay afloat. It was said at his trial that had he succeeded in trading with the Confederates he would have become the richest shipowner in England.


    1864 – 1891 – the post-bankruptcy period

    • He picked up the pieces of his life and lived quietly at 2, Elm Villas, four terraced houses in the north east corner of the Park (now No. 64 Pearson Park), with his family and one maid. 
    • He pursued (in vain) recompense for some of his losses: from the Prize Courts in America claiming that some of his vessels (which had now been converted into US Naval blockaders) had been taken illegally, from the Italian Government with the help of the House of Lords and House of Commons, from the insurance company over the Indian Empire, and from the Confederate Government for the cargoes they didn’t pay for before they were defeated in 1865.
    • He found that that participating in global wars was not as gentlemanly as trading safely within the bounds of accepted rules and laws.
    • He had to earn enough to keep the family, and obtained employment as a ship's surveyor. He was unable to hold office or lead a business, but he worked with his son, Charles, who is listed in the Hull Directory as trading from 6, Manor Street as a ‘shipbroker and commission agent’, and other traders at a low invisible level.  
    • The new Town Hall which he had instigated opened in 1866, but he was not invited. However, unlike the unveiling of the statue, this time at least he was not airbrushed out of the event being publicly thanked in the speeches.
    • Over time, his disgrace faded, though he was still persona non grata with the Hull cognoscenti. He focused on matters maritime, became one of the Elder Brethren of Trinity House, and kept his head well below the parapet.


    • He gradually became re-established, and was an invited guest of honour when the residential area to the west of Pearson Park Avenues was developed – made possible because of the park. His toast was to “The Town and Trade of Hull”. 



    • Was a founder member of the De La Pole Masonic lodge.


      • 9th August: All Saints , Sculcoates: marriage of Emma Jane to Bruno Adolf von Hohnfeldt, University student, son of Adolf von Hohnfeldt, officer in the German army.  They had three sons, Eric (born 1883), Arnold, and Otto, all born abroad. The marriage ended in disaster, as he was cruel to her. Despite her antipathy towards divorce, she walked out on him, returning to England with her three sons. His Old Bailey records show she did the right thing – he was a confidence trickster. Such was the depth of feeling against him (and possibly to the rising anti-German feeling) that Emma Jane and her sons dropped their German links and reverted to the name Pearson.
      • Emma Jane came back with the 3 little boys to live with her parents at 2 Elm Villas.

      •  1883

    • Marriage of Evelyn Rose to George Webster.



    • Zachariah was asked to plant a tree in commemoration of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in the park, and he shared the honour with the family. Beatrice Maude, the last unmarried daughter, planted one of the three trees.


    • Marriage of Beatrice Maude to Dr. Henry Fairbank



    • Death of Mary Ann from cerebral haemorrhage



    • 29th October: Death of Zachariah Charles, ‘gentleman’ from ‘inflammation of stomach’. Buried in Spring Bank Cemetery. His monument includes his wife, baby son James Harker, and Robert Gordon Coleman, one of Mary Ann's brothers.


    • Generous obituaries and letters in local press, especially from all connected with the sea, and many accolades from the working people of Hull.


    • 12th November: auction of all his household effects in order to re-let the house



    • Re-emergence of old polarised positions about ZCP. Much call in the press for a statue to be raised to him, supported by the ordinary people.  An appeal was launched but counteracted by much background dragging of feet in official places over the next four years.
    • A portrait of Zachariah was acquired and made available for purchase by public funding. The £100 was raised and the portrait, by Mr. T Tindall Wildridge, hangs today in the Guildhall. It seems to have been painted after his financial crash, but why, and who paid?



    • The entrance road to Pearson Park was renamed "Pearson Avenue"



    • The Zachariah Pearson Memorial Fund memorial appeal finally reached a compromise, and local sculptor, William Day Keyworth (jr) was commissioned to carve a small bass relief.



    • The marble memorial of Zachariah Charles Pearson's head was installed to a column of ironstone near the lake.




    Marian Shaw



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