The Wrong Marshall

Photographs of Alfred Marshall, Nehemiah Bartley and Charles Henry Marshall. Map of the Turon goldfields. Supply and Demand graph.

Alfred Marshall, the renowned Professor of Political Economy at Cambridge University, was Charles Henry Marshall’s nephew and he, by all accounts, was Alfred’s favourite uncle. The Essays on Economics and Economists by Ronald Coase, which discuss Alfred and his family, therefore inevitably come up when one researches the Marshalls. Coase’s standing as Clifton R. Musser Professor of Economics at Chicago University and a Nobel Laureate has meant that the Essays have been relied upon by others when writing about Alfred’s family. The most notable of these was Prof. Peter Groenewegen for the compilation of his seminal biography of Alfred Marshall, A Soaring Eagle: Alfred Marshall (1842-1924). These two works were then relied on by the editors of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for their entry for Alfred Marshall.

Unfortunately, Coase’s Essays contain a number of factual errors and misconceptions of the Marshall family and these have flowed through into the other works. The Marshall story needed to be corrected and updated and we set out to do that.

Published paper

Because of the standing of Coase and Groenewegen, we felt that we needed to have a meticulously researched rebuttal and historic update published in a peer reviewed journal. It was a difficult three year project, but we achieved our objective. Our paper The Wrong Marshall: Notes on the Marshall family in response to biographies of the economist, Alfred Marshall has been published by History of Political Economy, Volume 52, Issue 2, April 2020, pages 239-273.


Professor Ronald H. Coase included his essays on Alfred Marshall in his book, Essays on Economics and Economists. Because of Coase’s standing as a Nobel Laureate and Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, these essays have been relied on by scholars, authors, and historians researching Alfred Marshall and the wider Marshall family, including Professor Peter Groenewegen for his seminal biography A Soaring Eagle: Alfred Marshall 1842-1924. This research shows that the supposed meeting between Charles Henry Marshall, Alfred’s uncle, and Nehemiah Bartley on the Turon goldfields, on which Coase based his claims of a deceitful and self-aggrandising family, did not take place. Alfred did know where he was born and was happy to say so. Alfred’s grandfather, William, was not a forgotten business failure. Alfred’s father, also William, was not disliked and ostracised by his family despite being cantankerous and possibly brutal. He and his wife Rebecca and their children, including Alfred, were embraced and supported by the wider family. Alfred was, in fact, a product of the family much as described by his wife, Mary Paley Marshall, and John Maynard Keynes. This does not diminish his accomplishments.

The article is available from the History of Political Economy  website for a fee of US$15.00 and can be downloaded HERE

Thanks to Tim Benthall, Professor Kathleen Coleman (James Loeb Professor of the Classics at Harvard University), Dr. Elizabeth Feltscheer, Professor Marian Quartly, and Alice Younger MA for reading this document and for their constructive criticism at various stages of its progress.

The Wrong Marshall – Extended Article

The published paper, because of editorial requirements, omitted some of the story and a lot of fine detail that is interesting to family and family historians. We have added the details as well as pictures, maps, and copies of interesting documents. We also have additional research that was not ready for the paper. This particularly relates to Alfred’s mother’s family, the Olivers; Alfred’s birthplace of Bermondsey; and Alfred’s grandfather, William’s, affairs on Mauritius.

This article is a republication of the published paper with additions. The republication is with permission of Duke University Press and the republished information remains Copyright © 2020 Duke University Press. Their requirements for licensing and subsidiary rights can be found HERE. The Copyright status of all copied documents, photographs, pictures, diagrams and maps is shown beneath them. Other material is © 2020 Megan Stevens and © 2020 Alun Stevens – see copyright conditions. If you wish to use any material from this article please contact us.

The article is extensively referenced. References are presented in the format (Name Date, Page). Endnotes are presented as 1  and are used to present extra information and explanations. Clicking on a reference or endnote will open a separate window that will show the reference with links to the underlying documents where available. Clicking the  button will close the window and take you back to the article. Some browsers might block this, in which case, simply close the window yourself. Some text is ‘hot linked’. These links will take you directly to reference material available on the web. For instance, many place names are hot linked and will take you to a map showing that location. Most pictures will expand in a separate window if you click on them.

1. Introduction

2. Professors Coase and Groenewegen

3. Turon goldfields

4. The clerical connection

5. The halt, the maimed and the blind

6. Alfred’s grandfather: William Marshall (1780-1828)

7. The orphans

8. Alfred’s father and mother: William Marshall (1812-1901) and Rebecca Oliver (1817-1878)

9. A supportive family

10. The Olivers

11. Alfred’s birthplace

12. Conclusion


©Alun Stevens 2020

Leave a Reply