The Courage Family History
The history of the Courage Family started, it is believed, with the emigration of William Courage and
his sons Archibald and John from France to Scotland in the late 17th century. If true, this was very
possibly as a result of the persecution of the Huguenots by the Catholic Church in France.
There appear to be two accounts of the early family from which the Founder John Courage was
descended. In one, it is believed that William Courage, by then a herdsman or grassman, who lived at
Haddo, Foveran, and appeared in the 1696 Poll Book with his wife was the Founder's Great
The Founder’s Grandfather was Alexander Courage born in 1686 in Foveran, who lived later at
Drums, Belhelvie, north of Aberdeen. William and Alexander Courage lived on the Earl of Panmure’s
estate of Foveran and Belhelvie near the coast. What still remains unproven is whether the Scottish
forebears were Huguenot refugees, although the evidence is impressive. The evidence against is that
there was a Courage in Scotland definitely forty seven years before the Revocation of the Edict of
Nantes in 1683, as we know Margaret Courage was at Spittles in 1636, and latterly George Courage
at Rothiemay in 1678. However, there was a considerable interchange of people between France and
Scotland throughout the 17th century, which would support the Huguenot connection.
The early forebears had their difficulties. Between 1666 and 1668, James Courage received
distribution to the poor from the Kirk at Foveran, but by 1696 James had moved up, is entered in the
Poll Book with his wife and child, and paid his landlord one shilling and eight pence for the tenancy of
North Colpnay in Belhelvie where he practised his craft as a tailor. In 1673 Marjorie Courage was
summoned to the Foveran Kirk and admitted being with child and that Andrew Duncan was the father,
and she was fined £4. In 1695 when Marjorie Courage died at Foveran she was so poor that her
relatives could not buy the coffin, which was then bought by the Kirk.
The 2nd Earl of Panmure owned property in France, as well as owning the Scottish Belhelvie and
Foveran estates, where several Courages lived, especially in the early years at Foveran. We know
that his son the 3rd Earl, died in Paris in 1723 and left a French Will and on Foveran maps of this
period is a place called Fontainebleau! It is not inconceivable that Lord Panmure brought with him
from France to Scotland, people called Courage.
Several of the early forebears were certainly craftsmen which fits in with a Huguenot heritage.
The Founder’s father, Alexander Courage, was registered as a shoemaker in Aberdeen in 1754 and
Alexander’s younger brother John was also registered as a shoemaker in 1758. In the Book of
Apprentices held at the Guildhall, London, the list states that Alexander and John’s father, was called
Alexander. Arthur Courage was a cooper, as was his son Archibald Courage, from Findhorn which is
on the Moray Firth. Archibald made casks and hoops and staves, supplying his first cousin the
Founder at his new Brewery in London from 1787. John Courage, the clockmaker made grandfather
clocks at Insch, north of Aberdeen, three of which are known to survive to this day in good working
order, as well as the clock for the Congregational Manse at Insch, and left an estate valued at £326 on
his death in 1858. Another Alexander Courage was a silversmith and completed his apprenticeship as
a watchmaker with John Baron in 1804. Archibald’s son, also Archibald, was a well known bookseller
in Aberdeen and The Huguenot Society Library holds a book by Agnew published in 1886, in which he
records — “I was acquainted with the late Mr Archibald Courage, bookseller in Aberdeen, and he
assured me his ancestors were Huguenot refugees”. The obituary for Archibald Courage, a bachelor,
in the Aberdeen Free Press 1858 states that “with one exception Mr Courage was the last male
representative in this quarter of a line of Edict of Nantes refugees, who came to this country in 1683.
The late Mr Courage of the well known London firm of Courage & Co., brewers, was a near relative.
The family had originally settled in the parish of Bellhelvie and a branch had found its way to Findhorn,
where it had followed the occupation of herring fishing and its kindred employment of the cooper
There is a flat tombstone, just inside the gate entrance, at Belhelvie Old churchyard to Arthur
Courage, a farmer, who lived at a house called Keir, and was born in 1678 and died in 1742, aged 64.
Arthur was the father of Arthur Courage, a cooper, and the grandfather of Archibald Courage, the
cooper, as stated in the burgess' register of Aberdeen volume 2. The stone, in spite of the exposed
coastal position is readable, also naming Arthur’s wife Jean (née Aitken), who died in 1754. There is
no stone at the grave of Alexander Courage, the Founder’s father, buried at Old Machar, Aberdeen
on September 14th 1770. There is a tombstone in pink Peterhead granite to John Courage, the
clockmaker and freeholder, at Insch churchyard, and a prominent stone in an important part of the
churchyard at St Nicholas, Aberdeen, to Archibald Courage, the cooper, and his son Archibald, the
G.N. Hardinge's short history of the Brewery states that The Founder’s uncle, John Courage, went to
India but there is no evidence to support this. What we do know is that John Courage was registered
as a shoemaker and owned property in Aberdeen, and later took his son into partnership and lived a
long life dying in 1810 aged 85. Mr Hardinge also states that one of the early Courage’s was Coutts’
correspondent in Corfu in the nineteenth century, but this requires verification. Similarly there is no
evidence to support Mr Hardinge’s view that the Founder was bursar at Aberdeen College, before he
left for London.
John Courage, the Founder, was the only surviving son of his late father, Alexander, when he left
Aberdeen for London in about 1780 to become the Wapping agent for Carron Shipping at Glasgow
Wharf, leaving behind in Aberdeen his mother Isabel and his unmarried sister Ann. In a letter dated
7th February 1786, the Founder’s sister writes to him congratulating him on his marriage to Harriet
Murdoch and that “the marriage is no surprise to us and be that she be a sober good woman and that
we drank your health on your marriage night very hearty”.
Later the same year, the Founder’s uncle, John Courage, wrote his nephew a letter in which he said “I
would recommend you often seeing your aunt at Hoxton you have not a sincerer friend on earth”.
Another Aunt, Jean, married to Francis Carmichal and living in Aberdeen, sends her son to work for
John at Glasgow Wharf. This does not work out and Jean writes a letter to her nephew on 22nd July
1786, complaining that “your clerk beat him and abuse him on the wharf and if he cannot answer your
intended purpose be so good as to return him back again to Aberdeen”.
John Courage, The Founder, purchased the Anchor Brewery at Horselydown, Bermondsey, in 1787
from John and Hagger Ellis. An earlier owner of the Brewery was Vassal Webbing a Flemish émigré.
What is interesting is that both Vassal Webbing and John were described in G.N. Hardinge’s book,
Courages 1787-1932, as being Protestant émigrés. Frank Courage wrote to his daughter Milly in New
Zealand in 1914, that he thought John (his Grandfather), could have come from Flanders, as brewing
has always been more of an industry there than in France.
The only known French Protestant Courages in the 1600s were Thomas and Nicholas Courage, and
their names do not appear in Aberdeen, so the search has shifted to Flanders (Belgium), for our
Protestant forebears. Early records, including family letters, on the purchase of the Brewery and the
history of Courages thereafter, are held in The Courage Collection, London Metropolitan Archives,
Northampton Road, EC1R 0HB , London.
On 17th December 1787, John Courage, aged 26, paid a cheque for £100 to the Morris Estate as part
payment for the Private House and Old Brewhouse at Horselydown over the Thames and opposite
Wapping. On Christmas Eve, John paid the balance on the purchase of £674 18s 9d. On 4th January
1788, he paid George Courage £26 6s for sundries and scroll book; on 15th January he purchased
one silk waistcoat for 19 shillings 8d, and on 7th June 1788 paid John Ward £10 for a gelding. On
15th November 1788, his sister Ann writes to her brother “this piece of news that our king is died”
(Bonnie Prince Charlie in exile in Italy). In March 1793, tragedy struck and John’s sister Ann died of a
fever in Aberdeen and was interred beside her father in Old Machar; there is a long letter from the
Founder’s mother, Isabel Courage, about this in the Courage Collection at the Greater London
Record Office, EC1R 0HB , together with the other original letters that survive from this period
including the old brewery book. In May 1793, Archibald Courage from Findhorn supplies his cousin
“with 1000 American staves and 20 bundles hoops”. Courage Beer was being shipped all over the
world, as its reputation grew. Two hogsheads of Porter on 25th February 1793 were shipped back to
Scotland to the Earl of Fife, and throughout 1794 barrels of porter were dispatched to India, Dominica,
Antigua, Amsterdam, Hambro, Gibralter and Lisbon. Ann Murdoch, the Founder’s mother-in-law spent
£6-10-6d on clothes for her grandson John in September 1796 and Mrs Courage’s house expenses
for the month of October 1796 was £9-6-10d. The blacksmith’s bill for September 1796 was £3. On
July 29th 1797, Isabel writes again from Aberdeen that “I have sent the boiler fowl and eggs”.
On 26th June 1788 a son, John, was born to John and his wife Harriet, and on 8th June 1790 twins
Ann and Elizabeth were born. On 23rd February 1795 another daughter, Harriet, was born. The
Founder died in October 1797 aged 36 and was buried at St John’s, Horselydown. His widow, Harriet
died in May the following year aged 32, and was also buried at Horselydown.
On Harriet’s death, the new John Courage was only 10, and John Donaldson, the managing clerk, took
over the running of the Brewery, becoming a partner in the newly named firm of Courage and
Donaldson, taking a third of the gross profits, which was afterwards enlarged to half, as well as half of
The Founder’s son John, the second, entered the Brewery in 1804 aged 16, becoming a partner
in 1811. John had married Susan Hawes, daughter of a Norfolk brewer Sidney Hawes in 1823.
A copy of an article about Susan’s mother, Elizabeth Hawes (née Porson) survives in family records.
The article states “that Elizabeth was born in 1756, was a servant and a woman of strong natural
sense and moral qualities and at night used to sit up in bed reading from the light of a candle volumes
of the Universal Magazine. She took in dressmaking and always said she would rise in the world”.
John Donaldson retired in 1836 and was succeeded by his son Thomas, who died intestate in 1848,
his widow taking his share of the business. In 1851 the partnership ended, and the business reverted
back to solely Courage ownership. No doubt purely a coincidence, but on the tombstone at St,
Nicholas, Aberdeen to Archibald Courage, the cooper, and Archibald Courage, the bookseller, is a
Margaret Donaldson, who died 2nd May 1912.
In 1852 within the Courage family a partnership was formed between John the 2nd, John the 3rd and
Robert. On John the 2nd’s death in 1854, John the 3rd took into partnership his brother Edward in
1856 and Henry in 1866. The firm became a limited liability company in 1888.
In the 1881 Census, Robert Courage aged 26, born in Eltham, and Harold Courage aged 20, born in
Eltham, were living at Mousehill, Hambledon, Surrey. Frederic Courage was a malt factor aged 24 and
living at 38 Edwardes Square, London, with his wife Mary aged 20, and his daughter Muriel aged 1.
Susan Courage, aged 82, born at Cottishall, Norfolk, widow of John Courage had her granddaughter
Ailean Courage, aged 12, staying with her in her house in Haling Grove, Croydon, and her daughter
Anne, aged 53, born in Camberwell. The rest of Edward Courage’s family were resident at Shenfield
Place, Essex, with the exception of Hubert, aged 18, and Raymond, aged 14, who were at Eton
College, in the same house. Hubert was born in Carshalton, Surrey and Raymond at Shenfield,
Essex. Alfred Courage, born in Dulwich, aged 46, was living in Wey Park Road, Reigate with his wife
Anne aged 39, born in Devon, and his son, Alfred aged 21, born in Chester, and his daughter Anne,
aged 7, born in London. Henry aged 41, born in Camberwell, was living with his wife Julia, aged 38,
born in Windsor, at The Red House, Kingston Road, Leatherhead, together with seven children, aged
from 1 to 11.
Robert built himself Snowdenham Hall, Bramley, just outside Guildford in 1884 and later on
also Derryswood at Shamley Green. Edward purchased Shenfield Place near Brentwood.
Alfred purchased 22 Nicholas Street Chester, Frank bought Double Corner in New Zealand
moving in 1872 to Seadown House also on the South Island, and Henry bought Gravenhurst
House near Leatherhead moving on later to Bolney Manor near Cuckfield in Sussex.
There is no information on another brother William, but Alfred decided to set up as a malt factor, the
firm subsequently being called White, Tomkins and Courage, one of their maltings being Snape
Maltings in Suffolk. The other brother Frank sought his future in New Zealand and in 1863 he sailed
from Plymouth with his wife and first-born child, and by 1873 had acquired over 45,000 acres.
With thanks to the late Mr G.N. Hardinge, M. Maurice Courage of Verneuil sur Seine, the Huguenot
Society of Great Britain, the Scottish Record Office Edinburgh, Aberdeen Library, and today’s living
descendants for their valuable contributions.
In the other account, (Mr G N Hardinge's), James Courage is recorded in a Poll Book in 1696 relating
to Milbrae of Colpney (Colpnay), taxed in respect of his wife and the possessing of land. His trade
appears to have been that of a tailor and farmer, and he is also returned as a crofter.
James had a brother Alexander who had a son, Archibald. Archibald had two sons, Alexander and
John. This is according to a letter written in 1859 by John Courage (3) in which he refers to Archibald
as the common ancestor of the Courage family. Alexander, the elder son, was apprenticed to the
shoemaking trade, but later set up in Aberdeen as an optician. John, the younger son and Founder of
the Courage brewery, became an agent for the Glasgow shipping firm of Carron, in the course of
which he moved to London and then diversified into brewing.
[From The Courage Family, October 2004]
Comprehensive histories of the Courage family and the brewery may be found in the following
COURAGE'S 1787 to 1932 - The Development and Growth of Courage's Brewery by Mr G N ('Toby')
Hardinge, Managing Director, 1897 to 1927,
A DRAUGHT OF CONTENTMENT - The Story of the Courage Group, by John Pudney, social and
industrial historian, published 1971