Joshua and Susan Bolitho - George Müeller

This is the tale of a brother and sister who were raised within the huge Muller orphanage at Ashley Down in Bristol. Although the details in this story are accurate to the best of my knowledge, there are still missing elements which I have yet to track down, such as how and why they became orphans. Perhaps the Cholera outbreak in Bristol during 1848/9, claimed their parents, but, if so how did the children escape the infection?

The parents

Joshua Bolitho was born on the 25th of May 1812 in Bristol. In 1832 he married Susan Yandle who was born in 1814. Their son, also given the name Joshua was born in March 1842 and their daughter, Susan was born in June 1844. It would seem a bit curious if they are the only children in the family as they were born 10 and 12 years after the marriage. The parents must both have died, or become incapable of looking after their children, at some time between the birth of Susan and the census of 1851, when both children, Susan and Joshua are in the Ashley Down orphanage.

Ashley Down orphanage

The childrens orphanage at Ashley Down in Bristol was built by the efforts of one man, George Muller. The orphans were all provided with a uniform, food and an education. Before they left all of them were found employment to keep them from plunging straight back into destitution. Generally boys left at the age of 14 and girls when they were 17. At its peak Ashley Down held over 2000 children.

Ships Carpenter

Joshua left the orphanage at the age of 14 and was apprenticed as a 'Ships carpenter' in the Bristol docks. At this time Bristol was a thriving port, one of the busiest in Great Britain and had its own ship building yards. Susan remained at the orphanage for the next five years, until she was 17.

Susan's marriage

Susan married widower John Thynne Carpenter late in 1878. A London born shipwright he already had two children from his first marriage. Susan's first child, Frank, was born in 1889, she subsequently had another son, Alfred and a daughter, Lillian, who was Johns' fifth child. In the early years of their marriage Susan and John lived at 14 Orchard Street, St Augustines, Bristol. Later they moved to 2 Maddocks Court, in the same district where they were joined by Joshua. As both men were in the ship building industry it is likely that they worked together in the Bristol docks.

End of the line

John Carpenter died towards the end of 1896 at the age of 60. Joshua died aged 56 in the early summer of 1898. In the space of just 18 months Susan's happiness was shattered, she had lost both her husband and her brother, she was now 54 years old and faced with raising the family alone.

Because Joshua never married, once again another branch of the Bolitho family came to an end, although Susan had children they are of course Carpenters.

So who was George Muller ?

George Müeller was a Prussian, born at Kroppenstadt in 1805. At the age of 25 he landed in Teignmouth, Devon. Upon his arrival he adopted the anglicised version of his name - Muller. He moved to Bristol in 1832 to become pastor of a local church. When 2 young children were thrown into the care of the church and after much thought he decided to start an orphange. George rented number 6 Wilson Street and opened it on 11th of April 1836 to 26 orphan girls aged 7 to 12 years old. By July 1844 there were 4 houses on Wilson street occupied by 130 orphans.

In the Autumn of 1845 George received a letter from local residents about the noise of so many children and the overcrowding. George was a deeply religious man and ran his life on the 'faith' system, believing that if there was a need, God would provide. He never asked for help or money except in his prayers. But now he decided he had to build an orphanage away from people and picked the site at Ashley Down.

Building number 1 opened on a 7 acre site in June 1849 with 300 orphans plus staff all under one roof and the Wilson street houses were emptied. George, being a modest man wanted the new building to be called 'The New Orphanage', but even on early maps the site is referred to as 'The Muller Orphan Houses', which is know to have annoyed him greatly. In 1857 number 2 opened to house 400 children, numbers 3, 4 and 5 followed in 1862, 1868 and 1870 each housing 450 orphans.

George Müeller died, penniless on March 10th 1898 at the age of 93. To build and run the orphanage he had received around 1.5 million, in today's terms thats well over 75 million.

The orphan houses are now occupied by the City of Bristol college. However the work with orphans started by George Müeller is continued by the George Müeller Foundation, who following his philosophy and beliefs, never make appeals or ask for funding, yet somehow the money keeps on coming in from donations and gifts.