Saturday, 21 November 2015

A Hint of Nobility

This is likely to be my last post for this year because in a couple of weeks I will be visiting my living relatives and won’t have time for writing about deceased ones.  So, I thought I would write about someone who hints at some particularly intriguing ancestry.

My ancestor Mary Hastings was born sometime before October 1671, the daughter of Henry Hastings and sister of Anne.  I don’t yet know her mother’s name.  Mary married Richard Preston after 1697, his second wife.  Mary and Richard had at least four children, a son, Robert, and at three daughters, including my ancestor Letitia.  Mary died in 1765, aged about 100 years old.  Her Hastings great grandfather had lived to a similar age.

Richard Preston was not a good choice of husband.  He had moved to Ireland from England to live in retirement, having lost what was left of his family’s fortune through gambling and an extravagant living.  He already had a son and heir by his first wife.  The Preston’s were Catholic Royalist landed gentry (they supported the losing side in the English Civil war).  Richard’s branch of the family was from Cockerham, Lancashire, and the lineage can be found in various early editions of Burkes Landed gentry.  Some of the later Preston lineages say that Mary Hastings was the relict (widow) of a Mr Dennis, however I think this is likely to be confusion with Richard Preston’s first wife, Mary Dennis.

So why am I writing about Mary Hastings when I seem to know so little for certain about her life?  It is because she was mentioned in an investigation into the Huntingdon Peerage conducted around 1820 by the Attorney General.  The details of the investigation are covered in “The Huntingdon Peerage” by Henry Nugent Bell (which can be found via Google Books and other similar web sites).

In 1789, the title of Earl of Huntingdon, held by the Hastings family, fell into abeyance.  Eventually, a male claimant wanted to prove that he was the heir to the title.  To do this, he had to prove that there were no other more senior male members of the Hastings family to inherit it.  As a result, a great deal of research was done into the various male lines of descent in the Hastings family.  Mary’s father, Henry Hastings, was one of the descendants of the 4th Earl of Huntingdon.  Mary and Ann were the only known children of Henry Hastings, so he had no known male heirs to calm the title.

I found the investigation of the Huntingdon peerage of particular interested because it shows how quickly a family line can die out, causing problems with the succession of titles.  The 3rd Earl of Huntingdon had six sons but the first two failed to have any male children and the third son’s male lines of descent disappeared within a few generations, so eventually the title went to a descendant of the third son.  Curiously, the currently holder of the title doesn’t have any sons and wasn’t the son of the previous title holder, so succession issues continue.

Getting back to Mary Hastings; Mary and her sister, Anne, were mentioned in the will of Ann Hastings nee Cracknell, their grandmother, who lived in Dorset and died in 1672, having written her will in October 1671.  Ann included a lot of detail about her children and grandchildren in her will.  She left little went to Henry or his children.  My assumption is that Henry, as oldest surviving son, had succeeded to property from his father and older brother.

As what was left of Richard Preston’s fortune went the son of his first wife, Mary was left with very little to support her young family after he died in 1721.  According to the obituary of Mary Hasting’s grandson in The Gentleman’s Magazine (see Google books), after Richard Preston died in 1721, she was supported by Theophilus Hastings, 9th Earl of Huntingdon, for many years.

The peerage investigation mentions that Henry Hastings and his daughters had moved to Dublin by 1682.  That seems to be the last known record of his life.  As any family historian knows, researching Irish ancestors is difficult, if not impossible; so uncovering more about the Mary’s life in Ireland will be quite a challenge.  However, much her of ancestry is another matter and is the stuff of history books, so may not be the topic of many future posts.

Notes on Lineage: Me > Mum > Daphne Madge Smith > Esther Ilma Lees > Fanny Sarah Eliza Briggs > Frederick Henderson Briggs > Henry Sparrow Briggs > Jehu Briggs > Letitia Preston > Mary Hastings

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Underground Ancestor

Following on from my previous post, this is the story of another ancestor with a connection to the engineering work of Brunel.

My ancestor Jesse Flower* was born in Timsbury, Somerset, the 7th of 8 children of Jesse Flower and Elizabeth Shore.  The younger Jesse was baptised 5 November 1786 in the church at Timsbury.  He was the second Jesse Flower born into the family, his older brother, Jesse, died three years before he was born.  While that might seem macabre to modern sensibilities, sharing a name with an older deceased sibling was not unusual at times in the past. Jesse Flower senior died in 1792, when son Jesse was only 3 years old.

In the late 1700s coal mining started in the Timsbury area and the industry became a major employer.  So Jesse Flower and at least one of his brothers, Benjamin, became coal miners.  Jesse worked as a navigator, the person who dug the tunnels.

Jesse Flower married Mary Ann Hoare in Timsbury on 18 May 1820.  While they were living in Timsbury, they had three daughters, my ancestor Catherine Elizabeth Flower, Amelia and Harriet.

In 1825, work started on Brunel’s tunnel under the Thames River in London, joining Rotherhithe and Wapping. Brunel was from Bristol and he recruited miners from his home county to help build the tunnel.  Jesse Flower was one of these miners.  His grandson, James Jesse Blake wrote of Jesse Flower’s work.
A new method of tunnelling had been invented to build the tunnel, known as a tunnelling shield, which allowed the construction of a tunnel in soft damp clay.  I found a public domain picture of illustrating the method on Wikipedia.  At this time, the Thames was little better than an open sewer.  While building the tunnel, water seeped in and caused illness among the workers.  It sounds like unpleasant work but then, so was work down the coal mines.  Work on the tunnel continued on and off, with disruptions due to floods, fires and leaks, until November 1841 when the tunnel was completed.
Above ground, life was not much better for Jesse Flower.  He and his young family lived in Southwark and then Rotherhithe.  In 1827 and 1829, he had two daughters, both Elizabeth, who did not survive infancy.  Then in 1832, his wife, Mary Ann, died.

Sadly, Jesse Flower did not quite live to see the Thames Tunnel completed.  He died on 27 Aug 1841, only 55 years old, and was buried a few days later at St Mary’s, Rotherhithe.  His death certificate says that he died of asthma, however I wonder if he was suffering the effects of his years being exposed to coal dust and filthy Thames water.

Other members of the Flower family had migrated to London, so Jesse’s three young daughters would not have been left to fend for themselves.  All three stayed in London and found husbands.

Next to the old tunnel entrance in Rotherhithe sits the Brunel museum.  I have been on a guided tour to the musem that went down the tunnel shaft.  The tunnel is now used by trains and can be seen from platforms at Canada Water and Wapping London Overground stations.  It is kind of cool to be able to see the tunnel and to think that my ancestor helped build it.

*Flower or Flowers.  I have used Flower here as it seems to be the more common spelling.

Note on lineage: Me > Dad > John Edward Blake > James William Blake > James Jesse Blake > Catherine Elizabeth Flower > Jesse Flower

Monday, 5 October 2015


Migrants are the hot topic of the moment, so I thought I’d write about two of my ancestors who migrated from Liverpool, England to Victoria, Australia.

I am a migrant.  It took me two months to migrate from Canberra to London but that was by choice and was an excellent adventure.  I was fortunate to have a round-the-world plane ticket and comfortable accommodation booked.  I also had somewhere to stay when I arrived and a passport that would let me stay.  Many others are not so lucky.

My two ancestors also took around two months to travel between England and Australia, leaving Liverpool on 16 February 1861 and arriving in Melbourne 75 days later.  They travelled on the most technologically advanced ship that existed at the time, Brunel’s SS Great Britain.  The SS Great Britain is now a very good tourist attraction in Bristol (see photo) so it is possible to get a good idea what life was like for migrants on the ship.  I visited the ship last year and learnt a lot.

SS Great Britain, in Bristol.
 So who was on board the SS Great Britain?  My ancestor Sarah Pilling nee Holden and her daughters Betsy (also my ancestor) and Sarah, aged 6 and 3 respectively.  They were travelling to join husband and father John Pilling who was already in Australia, having departed England four years earlier, also on the SS Great Britain, probably leaving behind a pregnant wife (I don’t know Sarah Pilling’s date of birth).

The Pilling family came from Haslingden, Lancashire, not far from Manchester.  At that time, cotton mills were the main industry in the area and the Pilling and Holden families worked in the mills, mostly as weavers.  Hours would have been long and the work was hard.  Like many in that part of England, they were Baptists, non-conformists, which may have led to some discrimination and disadvantage.  So life in England was not easy for them.

John Pilling was a book keeper and had gone to the goldfields in Victoria, perhaps to seek his fortune and a better life for his family.  I assume things worked out for him as his wife and children eventually followed.  I wonder if the long delay was due to the family waiting until they felt the younger Sarah was old enough to travel.  Whatever the reason, it seems to mirror what still happens with migrants today with one family member migrating in the hope of bringing the rest of the family along later.

First class cabin
Steerage cabin
Seeing the SS Great Britain was an eye opener for me.  While the first class cabins looked reasonably comfortable although not luxurious by modern standards (see photo), life for the steerage passengers didn’t look quite so nice.  I assume that Sarah and her children travelled in steerage; there is no indication that the family were well off.  In steerage, Women and children were accommodated in cabins whereas men were more likely to have been in long dormitories (see photo).  The cabins (see photo) were tiny, with four narrow bunk beds.  Some luggage would have been stored in a trunk under the beds in the room, the rest in the hull.  It is likely that Sarah and her two daughters would have shared one bunk.  The other beds would be filled by strangers.  It is hard to imagine just how cramped and uncomfortable that would have been.

Steerage dormitory style accommodation
When not in the cabins, steerage passengers had limited access to the deck and weren’t allowed near the first class passengers.  There was none of the entertainment or facilities that are available on a modern cruise ship, so passengers had to find ways to amuse themselves.  According to the SS Great Britain exhibition, drinking was rife so Sarah would have had to protect her daughters from unsavoury behaviour.  On the positive side, all the teetotaller Baptists on board would have held religious meetings and would generally have looked out for each other.

While this sounds like a challenging journey, it was probably the most luxurious and easiest for any of my ancestors who migrated from the United Kingdom to Australia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Other ancestors experienced things like epidemic disease sweeping through the vessel or ship wreck.  Some of my ancestors had no choice about migrating, being soldiers or convicts.  As for the others, I think they must have been very brave or very desperate to travel around the world in such conditions.  I am grateful that I can now do the journey in just under 24 hours in the relative comfort of a modern airplane.

Notes on lineage: Me > Mum > John Macdonald Charley > Constance Mary Macdonald > Besty Pilling > Sarah Holden

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

A Sweet End

Thomas Perigo is an ancestor who, after a difficult start in life, seems to have done quite well for himself.

Born 11 March 1819 in Rolvenden, Kent, Thomas was the sixth of eight known children of John Perigo and Charlotte Perigo.  An older brother died years before Thomas was born, a sister died in 1823 and two younger sisters died in April 1825.  As if that wasn’t enough tragedy for the young family, his mother died soon after in 1826.

For some reason, Thomas was not baptised until the summer of 1833.  Perhaps the remnants of his family didn’t need any support from the parish until this time; that was one reason for late baptism. 

Rolvenden was, and is, a small rural village.  According to Wikipedia, its main claims to fame are literary. It is home to “The Secret Garden” or at least home to the garden that inspired Frances Hodgson Burnett to write the story. Edward Gibbons lived there while he wrote the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. It is nice to know that I can (vaguely) link genealogy with my interest in Roman history.

During the 1830s, the village of Rolvenden was caught up in the Swing riots, which were violent protest against the use of threshing machines – new technology taking over jobs previously done by people, leading to unemployment and poverty.  John Perigo was a labourer, so probably worked on a farm, and Thomas followed in his footsteps.  Apparently the parish of Rolvenden decided that the best way to reduce the amount of parish relief being paid to the poor was to offer them a onetime payment to sponsor their migration to the colonies.  Thomas took up this offer in 1839 and arrived in Sydney, NSW, in November that year, on the Lady Nugent.

John only survived a year after his son’s departure, dying in December 1840, age 63.  I don’t know whether Thomas stayed in touch with his surviving siblings in England.  According to shipping records, Thomas could read and write a little, which doesn’t make him sound like a prolific letter writer.

A few years after his arrival in Sydney, Thomas met Sarah Elizabeth Playford*.  He may have worked with her father as a brick maker or he may even have known the Playford family from England, as they come from a village in Sussex only a few miles from Rolvenden.  Thomas and Sarah married 16 Mar 1843, at Cook’s River in Sydney.  Their wedding was all too quickly followed by the birth of my ancestor Fanny Sarah Perigo two months later, on 17 June.  She was the first of sixteen children, 10 sons and 6 daughters.  Two of the children died young, but the rest survived to adulthood and most married.

In 1844, Thomas and two others were fined 10 shillings each for rescuing a goat on the way to the pound.  I am not sure whether liberating a goat is a good thing or a bad thing.

By the 1860’s, Thomas and Sarah were living on the corner of Pitt and Liverpool streets in Sydney, where Thomas worked as a sugar boiler.  He made and sold treacle for the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, now better known as CSR.  I have come across a number of adds in the Sydney Morning Herald advertising treacle sales and deliveries by Mr T Perigo.  By the late 1870’s, there were adds for Perigo Brothers selling treacle, suggesting some of Thomas’ sons took on the family business.

Thomas and Sarah may have retired to the suburbs.  They spent their final years living at a house called Davisleigh in Rocky Point Road, Rockdale.  Looking at a modern map of Sydney, I think this may now part of the Princes Highway, not far from Sydney Airport.  Thomas died 18 May 1887, from senile decay.  I am not sure whether that refers to physical or mental decline or a bit of both.  He was buried in Balmain Cemetery, now a park, where his two deceased children were already buried.

Thomas Perigo left an estate valued at £1210.  This seems to be a comfortable sum when compared with other estates listed in the newspaper on the same day. 

As for what his life might have been like if Thomas had stayed in England?  In 1851, his brother was a pauper, as was one widowed sister in 1861.  The other surviving sister spent many years as the mistress of the father of her children before he eventually married her.  So as a young man, Thomas took a chance and it paid off, as it did for many who travelled to the “Lucky Country”.

*Sarah Elizabeth Playford was born Sarah Elizabeth Goodsall, but was known by her (step?) father’s surname and may be worthy of having her own story told.

Note on lineage: Me > Mum > Daphne Madge Smith > Esther Ilma Lees > Fanny Sarah Eliza Briggs > Fanny Sarah Perigo > Thomas Perigo

Monday, 29 June 2015

A Man of Mystery

Like many family historians, I am particularly interested in tracing my paternal line, the line of my surname.  In spite of over twenty years of research, I have only been able to trace my Blake ancestors back to a James Blake who lived in the early nineteenth century.

My earliest record of James Blake is from London land tax records. These show that in 1807 he was living in Prospect Court, St George in the East, London.  My guess is that James was of age, 21, in 1807, so he was probably born before 1786.  James lived in Prospect Court until around 1810 and then moved to nearby Prospect Place, where he lived until around 1818.  There are no land tax records that I can associate with him after this date.

Prospect Place was near St George’s Town Hall, off Cable Street. Like much of the East End, the area was bombed in World War II and the street no longer exists. 

I have found a James Blake, son of Richard and Sarah, born and baptised in St George in the East, in August 1788. He might be a little young.  There were several other James Blakes baptised in the East End of London in the 1780s.

Around the same time that he moved from Prospect Court to Prospect Place, James Blake married Elizabeth, a young woman from Somerset.  She was probably Elizabeth Flower, born 1791 in Widcombe near Bath.  I have not yet been able to find any record of their wedding.  Their first child, Eliza Blake, died in February 1814 aged about 2 ½ years old which gives a rough idea of when they might have married.  Eliza was buried at St George in the East church.  She may have been baptised in St Pancras old church, although it seems a long way from the East End.

James and Elizabeth had four more children:
  • Mary, born 1814 and died 1818
  •  Elizabeth, born 17 Nov 1815, married a Scot, William Muirhead
  • James, my ancestor, born 27 Dec 1817
  • Isaac, born 1 May 1820,
According to the baptism records of James and Isaac, the family were living in Spencer Street, which was the other side of Cable Street to Prospect place.  The baptism of Isaac is the last record I have of James Blake senior. So, I only have definite information covering a bit less than fifteen years of his life.

Grandson James Jesse Blake, born 1848, mentioned in his “Diary” that he never knew his grandfather.  Elizabeth remarried, to John Gilbert, probably in 1836.  James must have died before then; there are a number of possible burial records.  A James Blake who was buried in St George in the East in 1832 was probably a different person, as he had several children baptised in the parish in the 1820’s.  Another James Blake was buried at St Luke’s, Chelsea in 1820, age 34.  The age and date fit, but what would James have been doing on the other side of London?  Was he a former soldier and Chelsea pensioner who was hospitalised before he died?

So where else might I be able to track James Blake down?  According to his children’s baptism record, he was a labourer, so looking for apprenticeship records is unlikely to be helpful.  He is said to have been a mariner on his son James’ marriage certificate.  Son James was a mariner and so possibly following in his father’s footsteps.  I recently discovered that there is a Trinity House Petition for a James Blake aged 22 of Manchester dated 1807.  The Corporation of Trinity House distributed charitable funds to sailors and their families.  The age and timing of the petition fit with what I know about James Blake and is a lead worth pursuing.

I checked baptism indexes for Manchester and Lancashire.  I discovered two things, one is that Blake is not a Lancashire name; the other is one James Blake, who was baptised in Overton, Lancaster in 1782, the son of Thomas and Betty.  Again, the age roughly fits but there is nothing to link this James to mine.

If James Blake was a mariner, it is possible he died at sea or in port somewhere, or even went missing.  I have checked for a will, as sailors often had them, but haven’t found a likely candidate.

One of my hopes in sharing this bit of family history is that maybe someone will read it and be able to help me with my research.

Notes on lineage: Me > Dad > John Edward Blake > James William Blake > James Jesse Blake > James Blake > James Blake

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Sisters in Crime

Following a recent trip to Belfast, I thought it was a good time to write the story of my Belfast ancestor, Eliza Tully, and her sister, Sarah.

Eliza Tully was born around 1818.  Her death certificate lists her parents as William Tully, a boatman, and Annie McGregor.  Her sister’s death certificate just lists a father, John.  As you can see, there is some uncertainty here.  To further confuse matters, an Eliza Tully, daughter of William Tully and Eliza Kerr (a variant of Carr), was baptised in St Anne’s church in the parish of Shankill, 31 January 1821.  Sarah was about a year older that Eliza.

The first definite record I have of Eliza Tully is from the 28 Jan 1834 edition of the Belfast Newsletter.  In report of the quarter sessions, there is mention of two little children, Elizabeth Tully and John Clarke being found not guilty of stealing boiled beef from the property of Hugh Hogan in Belfast on 20 December.  Elizabeth and sister, Sarah, are mentioned in various Irish newspaper articles between 1829 and 1835, accused of theft.  In spite of this, they both were able to gain employment as house maids.

On 14 Sept 1835, Eliza stole a cotton gown and a silk gown from a James McCullough.  She pleaded guilty and because she was “an old offender”, she was sentenced to 7 years transportation.  A short time later, on 24 November 1835, Sarah Tully and John Clarke were found guilty of steeling two pieces of calico from a James McConkey in Belfast.  Sarah was sentences to 7 years transportation, again as “an old offender”, and John was sentenced to 6 months hard labour.  Whether by luck or with some sympathy from the authorities, Eliza and Sarah were sent to Australia on the same convict ship, the Pyramus, leaving in August 1836, two teenagers setting off together on the adventure of their lives.  They arrived in Australia in December 1836.  

It is worth mentioning that a William Tully, possibly the girls’ father, is frequently mentioned in the Belfast quarter session reports in the 1830s and 1840s.  Given the sisters’ early criminal careers, I think it is reasonable to assume that their parents may also have been criminals.  In various convict records, Eliza is referred to and “Eliza Tully alias Carr”.  This link to the name Carr or Kerr, may be an indication that she was indeed the daughter of Eliza Kerr of Shankill.  As for John Clarke, I have not yet discovered his fate or what his connect to the Tully family was.  

Within two years of arriving in Australia, both girls had applied for and been given permission to marry, as convicts were required to.  Eliza Tully married William Jenkins, a convict from Warwickshire, 2 October 1838. Sarah married William Murray, a free settler, also in 1838.  So rather than spending a life split between petty crime and stints in prison in Belfast, the girls found respectable lives as wives and mothers in New South Wales, Australia.

Eliza Tully and William Jenkins had 14 children between 1839 and 1862.  Their first two children were born in Sydney, including my ancestor, their son William Jenkins.  Around 1840, the small family moved to an area called “The Oaks” near Camden, where they and many of their descendants stayed. 

Eliza lost her husband William Jenkins in 1875 to a carriage accident.  She survived him by nearly 30 years, dying in 1902. Her sister Sarah died a few years later in 1906.

Given that both women died almost within living memory - I met my great grandmother who would have known Eliza, I find it easy to understand why it is only in relatively recent times that having convict ancestors has become a matter of pride for Australians, instead of something to hide.

Notes on lineage: Me > Mum > Daphne Madge Smith > John Henry Smith > Louisa Jane Jenkins > William Jenkins > Eliza Tully

Sunday, 22 March 2015

If the Hatt fits…

When I first started investigating my family history as a teenager, Granny (my grandmother, Helen “Nancy” Blake nee Akeroyd) told me a story about her grandmother’s mother.  If you are already confused, don’t worry, there is a note at the bottom (spoiler warning!) showing the lineage so you can try and sort out how everyone fits in.  The story I was told was that the grandmother’s mother was the daughter of a gentleman and she eloped with a groom.  The story also said that her surname was Hatt and that the family was from Gloucestershire.  A Gentleman in this case meant someone who was gently born, that is, a wealthy landowner.  Naturally, I wanted to find out whether there was any truth to this story.

The grandmother was Harriet Partridge.  My research revealed that Harriet was born in 1852 in Duntisbourne Abbots, Gloucestershire, the daughter of Thomas Partridge, a carpenter, and Sarah Smith, the “Grandmother’s mother”.  You might think that is the end of the story, proven false.  However, a bit of digging raised some interesting questions.  The Partridge family once owned the manor of Wishanger in Miserden, Gloucestershire, so Thomas was the descendant of gentlemen.  Sarah Smith was Thomas Partridge’s second wife. Married in 1850 in Winstone, Gloucestershire, their brief marriage ended with Thomas’s death in 1853, leaving Sarah with some step children to look after along with her baby daughter.  In the 1861 census, Sarah, the head of her household, was living with Harriet, stepdaughter Ann Margaret Partridge and son William Smith, who was aged 18 and born (c. 1843) in Kennington, London. 

William Smith was the first hint of a scandal in Sarah’s past, an illegitimate child born a long way from home.  So maybe the story was true but the “Hatt” surname was wrong.  Trying to find William’s birth certificate was something of a lost cause, as there are far too many possibilities, so it was back to the census records and Sarah Smith’s past.  Curiously, William Smith was not living with his mother and step-father in Duntinsbourne Abbots in 1851.  I think he was living in nearby Winstone with the family of the local school mistress. Finding Sarah Smith in the 1841 census proved problematic due to places of birth not being included to offer vital clues.  Researching Smiths is never easy.

The next step was to look for Sarah Smith’s baptism.  Was she the daughter of a gentleman?  I knew from the 1861 and other census records that she was born in Arlington, a hamlet next to the village of Bibury in the Cotswolds.  Bibury is considered by some to be the most beautiful village in England and a very pretty stream divides it from Arlington.  A search of the Bibury parish register revealed that Sarah was baptised 6 June 1817, the oldest daughter of James Smith, another carpenter, and Elizabeth.  So, James Smith was not a gentleman.  Was this the end of the story?

Regardless of whether the story was true, I wanted to continue researching this family. I discovered that James Smith married Elizabeth Hatt by Licence on 17 December 1816, in Eisey, Wiltshire, where Elizabeth was living.  I found the Hatt from the story!  The marriage by licence told me a couple of things, firstly, they could afford a marriage licence and secondly, they had to get married in a hurry (Sarah was born less than 6 months later). 

My next thought was: did the generations in the story get muddled in the telling?  If you got confused at the beginning with all of the grandmothers and mothers, it is easy to imagine how the same could have happened to Granny and her mother.

I was now on the hunt for Elizabeth Hatt and pleased to have a much less common name than Smith to research.  Elizabeth Hatt was the daughter of John Hatt and Sarah Crew, baptised 29 May 1795 in Farringdon, Berkshire.  John Hatt was a yeoman farmer from the Swindon area in Wiltshire, not far from Farringdon.  At last I had found the gentleman!

So was the story Granny told me true?  I would say “sort of”.  It seems that the story was a generation out.  Elizabeth Hatt was the daughter of a gentleman and had to get married in a hurry, even if she didn’t elope.  Although James Smith was not a groom, perhaps he was working for Elizabeth’s family and that is how they met.  I think the lesson from this is that family lore shouldn’t be treated as gospel truth but it may point in the right direction. 

Of course, if I ever track down William Smith’s father, he might put another spin on things.

As for some of the other questions that are raised by this story, I think most of the ancestors mentioned here are worthy of having their own tales told in future blogs as I know a lot more about each of them.  Look out for more family history soon.


Note on Lineage: Me > Dad > Helen Francis Ruth Blake > Florence Ruth Kirby > Harriet Partridge > Sarah Smith > Elizabeth Hatt > Sarah Crew

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Priscilla’s choices

This is a story of how a family dealt with some fairly typical problems that arose before the advent of modern social security.  The solutions, also typical, pose some challenges for family history researchers.

Priscilla Goodyear was born around 1800 in Stokenham, Devon.  Stokenham is located in a very remote rural corner on the Devonshire coast; a place that looks like prime territory for smugglers.  The Goodyear family lived in the area back to mediaeval times.  The eleventh of thirteen children of Richard Goodyear and Elizabeth Norris, Priscilla was baptised in the parish church on 25th January 1801.

It seems that Priscilla’s family were poor and her father’s probable death in 1806 wouldn’t have helped matters.  Because she would have been a burden on the parish, Priscilla, aged nine or ten, was apprenticed to a Joseph Randall by the Overseers of the Poor in 1810.  Some of her siblings were also apprenticed at young ages, including her sister Susannah, who played an important part in Priscilla’s story.  At the time, the church was responsible for looking after the poor and the church parishes tried their best to get someone else to take financial responsibility for the poor person, hence the apprenticeships.

Susannah Goodyear married John Camp Shephard* in 1813.  He was a labourer from Charleton, which is next to Stokenham.  In case you were wondering, “Camp” was his mother’s maiden name.  They had five children, the first two dying in infancy, before Susannah died in November 1821 leaving John with three toddlers to look after.  It may be that Priscilla, as a convenient single female relative, took on the duty of looking after the children.  This was a common solution for the circumstances. 

On Christmas Eve 1822, just over a year after Susannah died, John Camp Shephard and Priscilla Goodyear were married in Stoke Damerel.  Stoke Damerel is about 20 km from Stokenham, on the outskirts of Plymouth.

So, why did they marry so far from home?  At the time, and until the early twentieth century, it was illegal for brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law to marry. Presumably the local parish priest refused to perform the wedding, so they went to the nearest big town.  There, they could get away with pretending they were locals for a few weeks so that they could get married by banns before returning home.  They would not have been able to afford a marriage licence to speed up the process.  I have come across other ancestors who married under similar circumstances, so I think it was not that unusual even though the marriage wasn’t legal.  I assume that for most people, having a wedding was more important than worrying about the intricacies of marriage law.  Nor was it unusual for a widower with young children to marry so soon after the death of his wife, needing someone to look after the children while he went out to work.

With Priscilla and John, there was an additional reason for them to marry.  Jane Shephard was born early in 1823 and was baptised on 2 March that year, in Charleton, just over two months after the wedding.  Given how late in her pregnancy they married, I do wonder whether John was Jane’s father or whether he was the nearest eligible man who was willing to look after Priscilla.   Perhaps they and their families saw the marriage as a good way to solve a few problems and to ensure that the young children had two parents.  Alternatively, it may be that it just took them a while to work out how they could get married outside of their parish.

John and Priscilla had 6 children.  One son, George, died young, so they recycled his name and called their next son George too.  Again, it was not unusual to name a child after a dead sibling.  The second George is my ancestor.  He migrated to Australia as a young man.

In the 1851 Census, the family included Uriah Shephard aged one, listed as their son.  This would have meant Priscilla having a child at 49.  I know from many years of family history research that most women had their last child by the age of about 45, so 49 is a little old, which made me a bit suspicious.  Further research revealed that Uriah was actually their grandson, the illegitimate child of their daughter Susan.  Once again, a grandmother taking on an illegitimate grandchild as her own child was not unusual.  If the grandmother already had a household full of children, one more didn’t make much difference and it allowed the daughter to earn a living.

Priscilla died in 1867.

It took me a while to untangle this family and work out which children belonged to which parents.  Gaining an understanding of British marriage law and social history helped me understand some of the choices they made.


*Shephard is a surname with many varied spellings; I have chosen this spelling as it is the one used by more recent generations.


NOTE ON LINEAGE: Me > Mum > John Macdonald Charley > Walter George Charley > Mary Priscilla Shephard > George Shephard > Priscilla Goodyear

Monday, 2 February 2015

A Charming Scoundrel?

This story comes with a warning to any relatives: the subject did not lead an exemplary life.  Don’t read any further if you don’t want to know about the bad stuff.  On the other hand, if you enjoy a bit of scandal, read on.

Ambrose Rideout* caught my interest because of his unusual name.  Added to this, I have been fortunate enough to have found quite a few records that mention him and have discovered that he led an interesting life.  My feeling is that he lived and died long enough ago that his actions have no real bearing on anyone alive today, so I am not concerned about writing and sharing his story.

Probably born in Ashmore, Dorset, around 1775, Ambrose was the son of Thomas Rideout, a woodman (lumberjack).  A Thomas Rideout and his wife Martha Prence (a variation of Prince?) had several children baptised in the parish of Ashmore between c.1770 and 1791.  Having seen scanned copies of the original records, it wouldn’t surprise me if a baptism was not recorded and that Ambrose was their child.

The first definite record I have of Ambrose Rideout is an entry in the Dorset Prison Registers on 20 Dec 1793.  Ambrose and his future brother-in-law, Jasper Bennett (also my ancestor), were convicted of poaching and sentenced to 3 months imprisonment.  Ambrose was release early on the condition that he enter the Royal Navy with Lieutenant Lethbridge; probably one Thomas Lethbridge.  I haven’t found any record that he actually did join the Navy.  The prison register also told me that at 18 years old, Ambrose was 5 feet 8 inches tall, above average for the time and he hadn’t have finished growing, being an inch taller a few years later.

Sadly, that was not the end of Ambrose Rideout’s criminal record in Dorset**.  On 24 Jul 1801, he was in court on a charge of rape.  The hearing was postponed and Ambrose was released a few days later.  I haven’t yet found any other records relating to this matter so don't know the details of what he was alleged to have done.  At the time, rape was punishable by hanging, so either the case never went to trial or Ambrose was found not guilty.  Then, as now, it was a difficult crime to prosecute. 
On 10 Jan 1803, Ambrose was convicted of killing a pheasant and sentenced to 3 months imprisonment or a £20 fine.  His fine was paid by his master, William Galpine.

In between run-ins with the law, Ambrose married Charlotte Bennett, sister of Jasper, in Tollard Royal, Wiltshire, on 6 Apr 1795.  Tollard Royal is a neighbouring parish of Ashmore and both are rural areas.  Their first child, Ambrose, was born too few months later and baptised in July, in Tollard Royal.  They had three more sons: John Bennett born about 1797, James (my ancestor) born about 1801 and Philip born January 1803.  Philip was baptised 23 January 1803, the same day his mother Charlotte was buried.  I assume that she died due to complications related to child birth.  This was only a couple of weeks after Ambrose was convicted of killing the pheasant.  A difficult time for the young family.

By 1804, Ambrose Rideout left Dorset for Wootton in Bedfordshire, where a newspaper lists him as a game keeper.  As far as I can tell, he left his sons behind.  James and Philip were both convicted of poaching in 1820, still living in Dorset.  While in Wootton, Ambrose had a son, another Ambrose, with Ann Davis, baptised in Jul 1805.  Ambrose Rideout didn’t stay in Wootton for long.  I don’t yet know what happened to Ann and Ambrose Davis. 

In 1806 Ambrose was living in Great Bookham, Surrey, with Sarah Perry.  Ambrose Rideout and Sarah’s first child, Charlotte (named for his late wife? Or a Princess?) was baptised there in February 1807.  Ambrose and Sarah were married 2 March 1811, at St George Hannover Square, London. Between 1807 and 1824, Ambrose and Sarah had 9 children that I know of, and lived in Sussex, Buckingham, Northamptonshire, Kent, Hertfordshire and Norfolk.  I have been able to trace their movements through newspaper records of game keeping licences and thanks to baptism records that include the mother’s maiden name.  I have no records of Sarah after 1824.  By 1826, Ambrose, with or without Sarah, was living in London.  Sadly, his two youngest sons, William and Cornelius, died and were buried at Mile End Old Town, London, in February 1826.

The next record I have of Ambrose Rideout is his marriage 25 Jul 1837 to a widow, Mary Amour nee Maslin, in Bethnel Green, London.  In 1836, England introduced civil registration, so I have a copy of their marriage certificate that includes details such as Ambrose’s father’s name and occupation.  At this time, Ambrose was working as a shop keeper.  They had a daughter, Sarah, born in 1838 and may have had another child before April 1841.  The 1841 Census lists an unnamed baby boy living in their household.  Then, Ambrose was working as a fruit seller.

On 19 January 1842, Ambrose Rideout, of 16 Redmans Row, Stepney, died from lung disease; an all too common fate for my ancestors.  On the death certificate, he is once again described as a game keeper.  He was buried a few days later at Wycliffe Congregational Church.

So why do I describe him as a charming scoundrel?  Well, he was certainly a scoundrel with his criminal records and having at least 16 children by four women.  As for charming, he was twice able to get out of serving full prison terms and, again, four women and lots of children.  It wouldn’t surprise me if I found more criminal records or children scattered around England for Ambrose as more records are indexed and so more easily searchable.


*There are a number of variations of Rideout plus it is sometimes miss-transcribed in indexes.  In earlier records, Rideout and Ridout seemed to be used interchangeably, but I have also found Rydout, Ridoubt, Riddout and other variations. I use Rideout because it is the spelling favoured by more recent ancestors.

**Another Ambrose Rideout, of Manston in Dorset, was transported to Tasmania in 1803.  Some care is needed when checking the records to make sure the correct man has been identified.

Notes on lineage: Me > Mum > Daphne Madge Smith > John Henry Smith > Louisa Jane Jenkins > Caroline Rideout > James Rideout > Ambrose Rideout

Thursday, 8 January 2015

An Unusual Name

Many years ago, when I first discovered my ancestors Ethelbert John Buss and his daughter Elfrida Mary Buss, I was very surprised by their unusual names.
Ethelbert John Buss was born in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, the son of James Buss and Anne Hill, on 15 January 1802.  Unlike most of his siblings, Ethelbert John was baptised as an infant, in August 1802, in Bury.
When he was about 10 years old, Ethelbert John’s family returned to London.  His parents had moved from London to Suffolk around 1800.
While Ethelbert John Buss should be quite a unique name to research, it seems that Ethelbert used his middle name and he appears in some records as John Buss.  Ethelbert had a brother John (John Gowing Buss), so I wonder if this caused any confusion in the family?  Another layer of confusion is that Buss is often miss-transcribed, often appearing in indexes as Bass, but also with other misspellings.
By trade, Ethelbert John was a bookbinder. I have not found him in lists of bookbinders from the 19th Century so I assume he worked for someone else.  The 1841 census says J bookbinder (I think), so my guess is that he was a journeyman rather than a master.  One possibility that needs further investigation is whether he worked for George Buss, who was a bookbinder in London at the right time.  I don’t know of a connection but the shared surname is intriguing and Buss is not a common surname.
At the age of twenty, Ethelbert married a young widow, Elizabeth Austin Hart nee Bell (aged about 22).  They were married on 3 July 1822, in Christ Church, Southwark, which was destroyed in the Blitz in 1941.
Elizabeth had a son from her first marriage.  Ethelbert John and Elizabeth had at least seven more children.  Like his father, Ethelbert was somewhat slack when it came to baptising his children.  Ethelbert also followed his father’s approach to naming children and went for the unusual, including another Ethelbert John, Letitia, Charlotte Mathilda and Clara Julia.
The family lived in the East End of London around Bishopsgate.  In 1851, they lived at 27 Skinner Street, just across a park from the London Metropolitan Archives; convenient for a family history visit.
Ethelbert John did not live to an advanced age, dying in July 1857.  He was buried in Victoria Park Cemetery, which is now Meath Gardens, a park in Tower Hamlets, London; another place to add to my family history visit list.

Note on Lineage: Me > Dad > John Edward Blake > Alice Mary Elliston > George Elliston > Elfrida Mary Buss > Ethelbert John Buss