Thursday, November 21, 2013

A mariner's widow at Totton 1826-1889 1

When James Caithness died suddenly of an asthma attack in 1826, his widow Ann, aged 30, was expecting their fifth child (Charles). The four older children were James Ramsay b 1815, George b 1818 (1817 on his Master's 'ticket'), Mary Ann b 1820 and William b 1824. 

It was a dire situation for any woman but Ann rose to the challenge, making successful application for her two eldest boys to attend the Royal Hospital School, Greenwich, to be trained as mariners and receive an education. 

Ann Caithness, widowed in 1826: number of children 'Four and more per accouchement', i.e. she was then pregnant with her fifth child.This document is among her son James's application papers for the Royal Hospital, Greenwich

Map shows Totton, Eling (and its mill), Redbridge, Millbrook and Marchwood
The first ten, even twenty, years of Ann's widowhood must have been extremely difficult. Whether she would have continued to receive James's naval pension of 20 pounds a year has yet to be established. By 1841 William, then 17, was working as a servant in Redbridge, in the parish of Millbrook, a small village in South Stoneham union. (The entry was hidden under the surname Kaithness.) His mother, aged 45, was living on her own in Totton. Charles was nearby, a baker’s apprentice at 15.

St Mary's, Southampton
James Ramsay had married Elizabeth Watson Ridges at St Mary’s, Southampton, in March 1838 and not long afterwards had left England for the Cape Colony. Mary Ann had gone there, too, on a visit to her uncle, James Scorey, and this led to her meeting William Bell whom she married in Port Elizabeth in June 1838. She was never to return home to Hampshire. 

George was pursuing his career in the mercantile marine, serving as an apprentice, seaman and mate during the decade 1830-1840. Charles was a journeyman baker by the late 1850s and, in keeping with the family's maritime associations, became a ship’s baker; he was with the Peninsular and Oriental line by 1861. They were all making their way and forging their own lives.

There’s a rumour that William visited South Africa in 1853 but documentary evidence of this is lacking. In March 1851 he was with his mother in Millbrook village, working as a labourer. Nothing changed by 1861, other than their ages: Ann was then sixty-five and William thirty-five. It was the last Census in which he would be listed. 

Ann and William at Mousehole, Millbrook, Hampshire: 1861 Census
It’s all very well tracing ancestors using the Census: the entries do provide milestones to hang their story on, giving some indication of where they lived, who was in the household and their occupations, but the important years between could remain invisible history unless other extant records are covered. The possibilities are endless: vestry minutes, churchwardens’ accounts, settlement papers, monumental inscriptions, apprentice bindings, muster rolls, poll books and many more sources.

Equally vital – and just as fascinating - is background and contextual research: the setting in which the ancestors found themselves, their social scene, their neighbourhood, external influences such as economics, politics, epidemics and wars – even the weather – in fact everything that affected their lives, bringing us a closer understanding of their circumstances, actions and experiences. This makes the difference between a grayscale picture and one in glorious colour.

Eling Riverside Walk

To be continued 

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