Select Hancock Miscellany

Here are some Hancock stories and accounts over the years:

The Hancock Show Family

The Hancock family was one of the most famous show families in the west country during the Victorian era. As the century moved to an end, they were quick to spot the potential of moving pictures in their business.

During 1898 they travelled initially withtheir exhibition under the name of "Edison's Electric Biograph."  By September, when they had reached Exeter, it had become "Hancock's Electical Biograph of Living Pictures." For many people, shows like these, when contained within a fair, were key to the development of cinema.

Hancock's Devon Cider

This Hancock family has been making traditional Devon cider for over a hundred years, with recipes and skills that have been handed down over five generations.  They have been producing cider at their Clapworthy mill three miles out of South Molton in north Devon for more than fifty years.  Each autumn local apples are squeezed in hydraulic presses to make cider and apple juice.  Originally old type presses with straw had been used.

The First Hancocks in America

A descendant of Thomas Hancocke who had been born in London around 1525, William Hancock came to Jamestown in America in 1619 as a member of the Virginia Company of London.  He was part of a group that founded the Berkeley hundred.  In 1622 the settlement was attacked by Indians and William, along with many others, were massacred.

Shortly after 1630, three of William's sons came to America.  Augustine, Simon, and William became prominent planters in Virginia and established a family line that today includes many thousands of their descendants.

The Hancock Manor

Hancock Manor, built between 1734 and 1737 for the merchant Thomas Hancock, was the first house to be erected in Boston at the top of Beacon Hill.

Eliza Gardner who lived in the Manor for many years described the interior and garden as follows:

"As you entered the governor's mansion, to the right was the drawing or reception room with furnitire of bird's-eye maple covered with rich damask.  Out of this opened the dining hall in which Hancock gave the famous breakfast to Admiral D'Estaing and his officers.  Opposite was a smaller apartment, the usual dining hall of the family.  Next adjoining were the china room and offices, with coach house and barn behind.

At the left of the entrance was a second salon or family drawing room, thw walls covered with crimson paper.  The upper and lower halls were hung with pictures of game, hunting scenes, and other subjects.  Passing through this hall, another flight of steps led through the garden to a small summer house close to Mount Vernon Street.  The grounds were laid out in ornamental flower beds bordered with box trees of large sizes.  A great variety of fruit, among which were several immense mulberry trees, dotted the garden." 

Richard Hancock at Gettysburg and Ellerslie

Richard Hancock had been born in Alabama and enlisted in the Confederate army in 1861 at the onset of the Civil War.  Two years later, he was wounded while serving with the Army of Northern Virginia at the battle of Gettysburg.  He was taken to Charlottesville in a mule-drawn ambulance. 

While recuperating, he met and fell in love with Thomasia Overton Harris, the daughter of the woman who had treated his wounds and housed him at the time.  Hancock returned to his unit but was wounded again and captured by Union forces.  This time he managed to escape his captors and while on furlough married his sweetheart.

Thomasia’s father owned Ellerslie Farm in Virginia and the couple settled down there.  There Richard began to take an interest in horseracing, through a neighbor Major Doswell.   He began purchasing thoroughbred mares and Ellerslie became the home of the first distinguished racers bred by the Hancocks.

George Hancock and the Invention of Softball

The story of how the first softball game was created is well established in the history of American sport.  On the Thanksgiving weekend of 1887, a group of young men were gathered in the gymnasium of the Farragut Club in Chicago.  They were awaiting word, by way of telegraph, of the outcome of the Yale-Harvard football game being played that afternoon.  Many had placed a wager on the result, including George Hancock who worked as a reporter for the Chicago Board of Trade.

When the Yale victory was announced, a Yale supporter picked up a boxing glove lying nearby and threw it toward a Harvard supporter who struck it with a stick.  Hancock was so taken with the action of the two men that he declared that there should be a ball game played there and then.  Hancock bound the boxing glove tightly to create a soft oversized baseball.  Using a cut-down broom handle for a bat and foul lines marked with chalk on the gymnasium floor, the first ever game of softball was then played.

Hancock was so enthused by his invention and its potential for play as indoor baseball that he had a more symmetrical oversized ball constructed.  Permanent foul lines were painted on the gym floor and Hancock had a small rubber-tipped bat made for indoor use.  Hancock also created a set of written rules to govern a baseball game played within the confines of a gymnasium.  These rules were formally published in 1888 as the new game gained popularity in the Chicago area. 

Reader Feedback - Hancock's Drift

I must correct you on one thing in your precis of Hancock's Drift.  The story was written by my late father and I am the editor and current publisher of his work.  I also hold all copyrights to his works. 

The story is indeed written from the perspective of Joseph Ebenezer Hancock; but he left no notebooks or records of any historical significance.  Some of the early information was gleaned from a 'bare bones' notebook kept by Joseph's father, James, but most of the information came from the hard slog of research done by my father in the 1950’s.  James Hancock died in Port Elizabeth in 1837 and that's where his notebook entries end.  The story of Hancock's Drift concludes nearer to 1892.  

As a matter of interest, James Hancock came from Staffordshire, but was married in London and left from there for South Africa in 1820 with his surviving family.  He was a china painter and gilder by trade.

Best wishes
John Powell (

Tony Hancock in Australia, The Last Show

The story began on board the ship on which Tony Hancock was emigrating to Australia.  He had with him an Australian valet, Mervyn, whom he had met in England.  After arriving in Australia, Hancock is told by the Customs Officer that a stuffed owl in his baggage must be put into quarantine for six months.  Hancock is then seen in the hotel foyer.  He has an altercation with a bored hotel clerk and goes into his room. 

In flashback we see his last night in England.  He goes to a pub where he is obviously well known as a bore. But when he announces that he is leaving for Australia, he immediately has to buy a round of drinks.

Back in the hotel room, the maid advises him that the hotel overcharges migrants and recommends him to a flat owned by a Mrs Gilroy.  Mrs Gilroy proves only too willing to have Hancock as a tenant.  She becomes rather over-amorous and Hancock has some difficulty in persuading her to leave.

There followed three further episodes where Hancock is shown settling into Australia and rehearsals were proceeding for the fourth episode.  Then, on the morning of June 25th 1968, Hancock was found dead.  He had taken a large overdose of barbiturate tablets and a bottle of vodka.

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