Did the magnificent bougainvillea compensate for the tough life into which Bertrand and Florence brought their daughter Dorothy? In 1904 he joined the forest staff of Messrs Steel Brothers and became responsible for much of the firm’s success. As the result of a serious shooting accident while out hunting tigers in 1910 when he lost an eye, his career in Burmah came to an end and he returned to England.
In 1914 he joined the London Board of the company and the Petleys came to live in Beckenham at 31, The Avenue. By 1919, they were living in the house at the bend of South Eden Park Rd that they renamed Harvington. They ran a dairy farm there next to another small dairy farm, Kelsey Manor farm, that stretched across to Kelsey Park. Locals remember hearing the cattle in the fields and Mrs. Petley prided herself that her farm was the longest surviving working farm in the district.
In 1926 Bertrand Petley became the Chairman of the Board. He was the only forester to become the Chairman of Steels. Work in the jungle did not normally lead to the boardroom! He held many other posts and was known as a staunch churchman of great dignity. He retired from business after a debilitating stroke in May 1929 and died on Boxing Day 1930 sorely missed by his wife and children. He had attended Christ Church for nearly twenty years but was buried at Downe cemetery near to the local church.
How the family came to be in Burmah is a fascinating story. By the middle of the nineteenth century, three families had associated as iron founders and ship owners trading with outposts of the British Empire. They were the Peggs, Chappells and the Petleys.
Old Samuel Pegg owned a coal merchanting business sending colliers from Sunderland to London. William Petley, son of the Tewkesbury Quakers, James Petley and Lydia Knight, came to London to work at the Phoenix Gas Co at Bankside in Southwark. He met and married old Samuel’s daughter Mary Pegg. Old Samuel’s friend was John Chappell of the iron foundry business, Of William and Mary’s four sons, young Samuel and James became sea captains and Joseph and William became partners of the iron founders Bailey Pegg and Co.
After an incident in the Bay of Bengal when he was washed off the bridge but miraculously returned on deck unconscious and clutching a rope, James decided to stay on in Rangoon negotiating hardwood concessions. He established a tea and coffee plantation at Nan Cho in the Karen Hills close to Toungoo, which he cultivated until the coffee leaf disease struck Burmah in 1898 and the estate had to be abandoned. James was buried in Toungoo in 1903 and if it were not for his granddaughter, Elizabeth Marion Heptonstall, leaving notes for her nephews and niece, the exciting story of the Petleys in Burmah would largely have been lost.