Tuesday, July 17, 2012

My great grandfather's tragic death in Manchester

My great grandfather, Ernest Evans, died on this day ninety three years ago at the age of 54. He lived in Manchester where he was a stocktaker at a cotton warehouse owned by Horrocks Crewdson.

Ernest Evans in about 1918 with his wife and grandson
I had known that Ernest died in 1919 but had never bothered to get his death certificate. As most of his sons and grandsons had  died from or suffered heart attacks I thought that this was most likely the cause of his death. However, having learnt from past experiences that assumptions should never be made when researching family history, I finally decided that I might as well obtain his death certificate.

When the death certificate arrived I opened the envelope thinking that it probably wouldn't be of much interest. I skimmed across the first few columns and then came to the "Cause of death". I was stunned. "Suicide by hanging in the dwelling house". There was also information that a certificate had been received from the Manchester coroner following an inquest on 18th July 1919.

I started searching for details of the inquest hoping that it might shed some light on why Ernest was driven to hang himself, but unfortunately the inquest records for Manchester at that time haven't survived. I also searched newspapers available online, including those in the British Newspaper Archive, but was unable to find any reports of his inquest.

Why did he commit suicide? Maybe the end of the First World War the year before he died had something to do with it. Many men were returning home looking for jobs, so older workers might have lost their jobs. The British cotton industry was in decline which would have made matters worse in places like Manchester.

I would be grateful for any help in finding out why my great grandfather died so tragically.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A First World War soldier who suffered years later

I recently wrote about my grandfather's time at the Broadmeadows Army Training Camp in the First World War. One of his mates at the camp was Bill Liston. My grandfather was medically discharged and always regretted that he had been unable to serve his country abroad, however, after researching Bill Liston, I'm sure that my grandfather was lucky to have stayed at home.

After enlisting in June 1915 at the age of 24, William Ferrier Liston embarked for active service on 26 August 1915. He landed at Gallipoli on 25 October 1915. From there he was sent to Egypt where he served from January 1916 and was later sent to France. In October of that year he was admitted to hospital for deafness, but was sent back to his unit eight days later. On 25 February 1917 he was severely wounded with gunshot wounds to the face, neck and elbow. He was evacuated from France and admitted to hospital in England. He survived his physical wounds but was sent home to Australia arriving in February 1918, still suffering from nerve deafness. Bill settled in Murtoa, a town in north-west Victoria, where he became a produce merchant.

Whilst browsing the National Library of Australia's Trove website, I came across a story that brought home to me the terrible affects that war can bring many years afterwards. Twenty years after returning from the war, Bill Liston, a man who had served his country heroically like so many others, was on trial. He pleaded guilty to stealing, as an agent, 6100 bags of wheat worth £3000. It all started when, as Secretary of the Murtoa Wheat Growers' Association, he found a few bags of wheat missing and took it on himself to pay for the missing wheat; but to do this he began to speculate in wheat and potatoes and to bet on racehorses, paying for his speculation with the proceeds of wheat owned by other people. 

In his defence, Bill Liston's lawyer said that " rigidly moral men had been so shattered nervously by war that they were unable to show that small amount of courage in an emergency which would have prevented them from lapsing into crime." The lawyer said that he "was in a bad nervous state. He had been seriously injured in the war and doctors were still picking pieces of shrapnel out of him. He had been unable to sleep for two years." The judge sentenced him to 18 months in prison.

Bill Liston died in 1982 aged 91.

Further information about Bill Liston, including an excellent article by Rod Martin, can be found on Lenore Frost's website.

Monday, June 4, 2012

My biggest brick wall smashed: John SCOTT was really John CONACHER

A surprise phone call from a relative a few weeks ago has helped me smash my biggest genealogical brick wall. She had found some old letters dating back to the 1850's from SCOTT relatives in Scotland.

For over 25 years I had been searching for my 2nd great grandfather, John SCOTT, a baker at Creswick in Victoria, Australia during the 1850s who married Susan ASHMORE at Creswick in 1857. When he married, John gave the names of his parents as Alexander SCOTT and Margaret LAMB, his place of birth as Dunkeld, Scotland and his age as 30. John's brother, Alexander also came to Victoria and married.

I had never been able to find John and Alexander's birth or baptism or the marriage or even existence of their parents. The records just weren't there. The newly found letters, however, provided details of brothers and sisters and importantly where they were living in Scotland from the 1850s to 1870s. A letter written in 1855 told of the death of a sister, Susan.

I set to work checking ScotlandsPeople and other sites for the SCOTT family, but still no luck! Surely Susan's death would have been registered in 1855 and the family should have appeared in the various census records. I had another look at the letters and noticed that father Alexander's surname wasn't there. He signed his name Alexander at the bottom of one letter but the part where his surname would have been written was missing due to a tear - perhaps this was deliberately torn. Maybe the brothers had changed their name.

More searching for the first names of the family in the census indexes finally brought results. The family's surname was actually CONACHER. There was a family story that John and Alexander had left Scotland to get away from their father who was a strict Calvanist. Their mother was Margaret SCOTT who married Alexander CONACHER at Dunkeld in 1824, so the sons had adopted their mother's surname when they came to Australia. John had given his mother's surname as LAMB when he married, but LAMB was in fact the surname of his grandmother, Susan LAMB, the mother of Margaret SCOTT.

Now onto the next brick wall!

Dunkeld and the Tay River, Scotland

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

At the Broadmeadows Army Training Camp in the First World War

My grandfather was a coachbuilder. He was keen to serve his country during the First World War so volunteered for service on 12 June 1915 at Victoria Barracks, Melbourne.  He was assigned as a Private in the 8th Reinforcements, 22nd Infantry Battalion which he joined on 22 June. He was sent to the Broadmeadows army training camp, Melbourne, where this photo was taken.

Trainees at the Broadmeadows Army Training Camp, Melbourne in about July 1915

My grandfather is second from left in the back row. I would love to know who the others were and I think I have found a clue to their identity in my grandfather's notebook which contains the following list of names: Gus Sterling, Bill Serties, Bill Liston, Frank Tribe, Malcolm, Norm, Harry.

I have confirmed that William Ferrier Liston joined the same battalion at about the same time as my grandfather, so suspect that he is the Bill Liston in the notebook. I have written about Bill Liston in A First World War soldier who suffered years later. I think that the list of names in the notebook is probably the list of the others in the photo.

Within a few weeks of enlisting an old knee injury was aggravated when my grandfather slipped in the mud and twisted his leg, and two days later caught his foot in some wire. He was sent to a Clearing hospital and then to the Base hospital on 31 July. He was found to have a displaced cartilage in his left knee. He was discharged from hospital on 4 August but was told that he would need to rest before having an operation on the knee in September.

Meanwhile, on 26 August, his Battalion embarked for overseas service. On 20 September he was re-admitted to hospital for a knee operation and was discharged two weeks later and sent on leave. He was bitterly disappointed that he had not been able to disembark with his battalion. The disappointment was heightened when he returned for a medical examination on 3 December. There was still some stiffness in his knee joint. He could walk fairly well, but the Medical Board considered that he could not march and he was discharged as permanently unfit for service.

He tried again to enlist in October 1916 , but once again was found to be unfit. He always carried his Medical Certificate of Unfitness together with the photo at the Broadmeadows training camp with him in his wallet until he died in 1962.

Further information about Bill Liston, including an excellent article by Rod Martin, can be found on Lenore Frost's website.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Irish convicts nearly burned alive on Norfolk Island

I came across this interesting story whilst researching the voyage of the East India Company fleet from England to China in 1804.

HMS Athenienne, a 64 gun warship under the command of Captain Francis Fayerman, left England with nine ships of the East India Company bound for China in June 1804. A homeward bound fleet from China had been attacked by the French Admiral Linois as the fleet entered the Straits of Malacca earlier in the year. It was therefore decided that instead of sailing via the shortest route across the Indian Ocean this fleet would sail via the southern coast of Australia then via the Pacific Ocean to China to avoid confrontation with the French.

In a heavy fog whilst crossing the Southern Atlantic Ocean three of the ships separated from the remainder of the fleet. Two of missing ships rejoined the fleet a month later, but one ship, the Taunton Castle, remained missing. Captain Fayerman decided to make an unscheduled visit to Norfolk Island to ask whether the Taunton Castle had been sighted.

In 1804 Norfolk Island was a penal colony. Many of the convicts on the island were Irish who, it was thought, could be sympathetic to the French if the island was attacked by a French force.

The Athenienne and the accompanying ships arrived off Norfolk Island at 3.30 pm on 9th November. On seeing the fleet of ships approaching the island, the commandant, Captain Piper, reported that he was ‘very much alarmed’. Fearing that they were French ships, he had the Irish convicts locked in the gaol and mustered his forces ready for an invasion. According to one of the convicts, wood was stacked around the gaol (apparently without the knowledge of the commandant) with the intention of setting it alight and burning all of the Irish convicts alive if the ships turned out to be French.

Captain Fayerman sent a boat with Lieutenant Little on shore to inform the commandant who they were and to enquire about the Taunton Castle. The relieved commandant said that the missing ship had not been seen.

The Taunton Castle called in at the island three days later after the remainder of the convoy had departed. She arrived at Harlem Bay, China on 5th January 1805 after having been separated from the rest of the convoy for nearly four months.

My ancestor, Joseph Ashmore, was a midshipman on HMS Athenienne.

Opium ships at Lintin in China, 1824

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Agricultural labourers found in old newspapers

There were nearly 1.5 million agricultural labourers, farm servants and shepherds listed in the 1851 English census - the most common occupation group. Agricultural labourers were often described as "Ag Labs" in the census. I had always pictured my agricultural labourers from Somerset as wearing smocks and floppy hats, drinking cider and working for the local Squire.

I was searching in the online British Newspaper Archive and decided to try looking for my Napper family from the South Petherton area of Somerset. I had previously searched without success in other British online newspaper sites. Much to my surprise I found some of my Napper relations in the Western Flying Post, Sherborne and Yeovil Mercury.

In the edition of October 20 1849, for example, there is a report of the annual meeting of the Chard, Crewekerne and Ilminster Labourers Friend Society at which awards were presented to "deserving labourers". According to the report:

"One of the prizemen was deserving of particular notice, his name was Charles Napper of Lopen, he had brought up twelve children without parochial relief, for which on a former occasion he received a prize from the Society: he now received a prize for long service. His wages averaged about eight or nine shillings a week."

In another article in the November 10 1849 edition of the same newspaper there is a report of the annual meeting of the South Petherton Agricultural Society. In this report over twenty labourers who won prizes are listed together with the names of their employees.

My ancestor James Napper, who was described as an agricultural labourer in the 1851 census, was found in an advertisement for a land auction at South Petherton in the September 3 1850 edition of the Sherborne and Yeovil Mercury. Details were given of four pieces of land that he was leasing at Watergore.

I've found the British Newspaper Archive to be a great resource and I'm sure that there are many more "Ag Labs" waiting to be found.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Back from the Adelaide Genealogy Congress

I've just returned home from the 13th Australasian Congress on Genealogy and Heraldry held in Adelaide. I thought that it was a great success.

This was my sixth Australasian Congress, the first being the Sydney Congress in in 1988. Back then  personal computers were just starting to become popular and the internet had not become accessible to the public. Now virtually all presenters use computers of some description, frequently connected to the internet. Many of those attending talks use notebooks, tablets and smart phones to take notes, check websites and tweet the latest words of wisdom and their thoughts about the talks on Twitter. I even tweeted a few times myself.

As usual, the Congress provided the chance to make new connections with other family historians, enjoy some time with old friends and visit the exhibitors stands.

Congratulations to the organizers of a great Congress, and I'm looking forward to the next one in Canberra in 2015.

The Adelaide Congress organizers

Sunday, March 18, 2012

150th Anniversary of the Departure of the Boanerges

One hundred and fifty years ago today two young married couples and about 450 other emigrants left Southampton for Australia on the Boanerges.  The ship sailed on the evening of Tuesday March 18th 1862. The temperature was about 40°F, and an east to northeasterly wind was blowing. By the next morning a mist had set in, however, there was no rain. The emigrants started their voyage on a relatively calm sea.

The two couples were sisters Eliza NAPPER and Fanny NAPPER and their new husbands, Robert DENMAN and Simeon IRELAND. Both couples had married a week earlier at South Petherton, Somerset. Eliza and Fanny had visited a studio with their mother to have their photograph taken shortly before departure. They never saw their mother or father again. Simeon and Fanny IRELAND were my great great grandparents.

I have written an article about this voyage which I am happy to send to anyone who is interested.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Apprenticeship Records Help to Find a Birthplace

Richard Purnell was a cordwainer in Abergavenny, Monmouthshire. He married Ann Powell in Monmouthshire in 1744, but his birthplace was a mystery. There were very few Purnells living in or near Abergavenny and none appeared to be related to Richard. There were a couple of potential candidates for his baptism but I had not been able to confirm which was the Richard of Abergavenny - until I checked the UK Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices' Indentures, 1710-1811 on Ancestry.co.uk. Images of the original Apprentice Books from The National Archives, UK series IR1 are now available online.

I found that Richard son of Elianor Purnell had been apprenticed to John Everett of Dursley, Gloucestershire, cordwainer, on 28 April 1730. This tied in nicely with the baptism of Richard Purnell, son of Thomas and Elinor, in the neighbouring parish of North Nibley on 20 January 1716/17. Together with other information gathered since, I have now confirmed that this is the Richard who later moved to Abergavenny.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

English and Welsh Poor Law Union and Workhouse Records Online

The National Archives UK website has recently added a searchable index of records of 23 Poor Law Unions in England and Wales. Images of the original records can be downloaded free. The records start in 1834 and extend to 1871 in some cases.

The records don't just include the names of the poor, for example, the Truro Poor Law Union has a "Statement of Medical Officers' and Schoolmaster's and Schoolmistresses's Salaries" for the Quarter ended Christmas 1848.

I've already found a petition from several residents of St Agnes in Cornwall (including one of my Boundy family members) requesting that the parish should not be moved to the Camborne Union.

I'm sure there is lots more to be found.