Friday, February 28, 2014

Gadsdens of Waterford, Ireland

Waterford City, 1830s
In the early 19th c three sons of John Gadsden (my great great great grandfather) b 1759 (who married Phoebe Hill) began spending time in Waterford City. They were John Gadsden b 1794 (my great great grandfather who married Mary Ann Bone) and his brothers James Eyre Gadsden b 1809 and Charles Edward Gadsden b 1807. 

There are indications that the Gadsdens may have ‘commuted’ between Ireland and England. Freeman’s Journal published the announcement of the marriage of John Gadsden (b 1794) to Mary Ann Bone (incorrectly spelled Hone) in March 1821 at Hackney.* Significantly, at this date John Gadsden is described as ‘of Waterford’.

Yet John and Mary Ann married at Hackney (Mary Ann’s father was resident there) and their first two children were born at West Ham in 1825 and 1827. This Gadsden family was still associated with the parish of St John, Hackney, when their third child, Mary Rochenda, was buried there in November 1828.

Turning to Ireland, Pigot’s Directory for Waterford City in 1820 lists ‘Gadsden and Nash, Provision Merchants, Bridge Street’. In 1824 they are at the same address providing ‘provisions, butter and bacon’. In 1838, Charles Edward Gadsden crops up in the Freeman lists as ‘Merchant, Apprentice of late Joseph Nash’. Slater’s Directory of 1846 shows John Gadsden as ‘Bacon Merchant, Bridge Street’.

Bridge St., Waterford
Initially, the Waterford entries seemed to indicate that the John Gadsden in partnership with Nash in the provision business would be a different John from the person living and producing children in West Ham in the 1820s. Nevertheless, John of West Ham is described as ‘of Waterford’ in 1821. And Charles Edward Gadsden, John’s brother, is apprenticed to Joseph Nash in Waterford. This is clearly no coincidence.

A close connection between the Gadsden and Nash families gradually became apparent. Joseph Nash was the son-in-law of an Elizabeth Gadsden. While more research is required on Elizabeth, it is known she married Joseph Barrington Bradley and had a daughter Ann who in 1815 married Joseph Nash in Waterford. Joseph and Ann had 8 children, one of whom - born in 1825 - being named Joseph Gadsden Nash (a clincher, if ever I heard one).

Causeway Meadows Farm,
birthplace of Joseph Nash
Joseph Nash snr (1787-1837; merchant of Worcestershire, born at Causeway Meadows Farm, Dodderhill) was partner in Gadsden and Nash Provision Merchants of Bridge Street, Waterford. 

By 1838 the reference to Charles Edward mentioning ‘the late Joseph Nash’ confirms Nash was then deceased. Joseph Gadsden Nash (grandson of Elizabeth Gadsden) was only twelve years old at the time. The provision business in Bridge Street continued, as John Gadsden is listed there in 1846. 

Further research brings interesting, even surprising, details about the women involved: Mrs Nash and Mrs Gadsden.

To be continued

Freeman's Journal was one of the leading Dublin newspapers from its founding in 1763 until 1924. Its birth, marriage and death notices cover all of Ireland and include people from other parts of the United Kingdom (often with an Irish connection), the British Empire and even occasionally North America.

Judy Tuccinardi

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Gadsdens of Upton House West Ham

St John, Hackney late 18th c
John Gadsden born 1794 (my great great grandfather) married Mary Ann Bone, daughter of John Bone, Esquire, at St John Hackney on 27 March 1821.

Their son Morton Champnes Nevins Gadsden arrived on 8 August 1825 followed by another boy, less fancifully-named Charles Percy Gadsden in 1827, both born at West Ham.

In the 1861 Census Morton appears aged 31, ‘born at Upton House, Essex’. If the Gadsdens were living at Upton House at the time of Morton’s birth in 1825, they had moved on by 1827 (and research proves this was the case) because in that year Joseph Lister, later to achieve fame as the founder of antiseptic surgery, is recorded as having been born there. 

Was Morton stretching the truth for the benefit of the census enumerator and was he actually born at the village of Upton rather than at Upton House? Had his remarkable Christian names given him a touch of folie de grandeur? Perhaps this is unfair: after all, the Gadsden family’s connection with West Ham goes back to Morton’s grandfather John Gadsden b 1759, who in his will of 1815 mentions his ‘Freehold piece of Land situate at Upton in the parish of West Ham, in the County of Essex’. This may equate to the property on which Upton House stood.

Upton House, West Ham
(Watercolour, Wellcome Library, London)
Upton House was one of a number of mansions built by City merchants in the 17th and 18th centuries at West Ham. Here they could retreat from the noise and bustle of London and enjoy rural pursuits.  During the 18th century and until about 1850, West Ham was an area of large houses in extensive grounds. In 1762 the number of houses in West Ham parish was stated to be 700, of which ‘455 are mansions and 245 cottages’. 

Whatever definition be given to mansions, this seems too liberal a proportion, but five or six years later, Morant, the historian of Essex, describes West Ham as ‘the residence of several considerable merchants, dealers and industrious artists’.  (Source: Handbook to the Environs of London by James Thorne)

A century later, the character of West Ham had changed - and not for the better - with the coming of the railway and various factories. However by 1876 Upton was still a ‘pretty, rural hamlet … little more than a mile northeast of West Ham Church’, so while the Gadsden family were living at Upton in the 1820s the area no doubt retained much of its country atmosphere.

Opposite Upton House was Ham House, confusingly enough also referred to as Upton House during part of the 18th century. They were distinct and separate residences. Ham House was the seat of the Quaker philanthropist, Samuel Gurney. In fact several members of the Quaker community lived at Upton in the early 19th century including Gurney’s sister, Elizabeth Fry, the prison reformer, and Joseph Lister, who was born at Upton House (i.e. the residence associated with the Gadsden family).
(Source: History of East & West Ham by Katharine Fry p 234)

Research into the Upton House matter led to the finding in the registers of All Saints, West Ham, of the baptismal record of John and Mary Ann Gadsden’s eldest son. This establishes once and for all that he was named Morton Champnes (with one ‘s’) Nevins and not Morton Champness Kevins as previously transcribed by other Gadsden researchers.

A marginal note in the All Saints register reads:  ‘According to the certificate by the Rev Ch. Champnes Rector of St Botolph’s Billingsgate transferred to me Aug 1826  J.W. Burton’. It seems that the baptism actually took place at St Botolph’s, a copy of the record later being sent to West Ham where the family then resided. 

The reason for the delay of a year between the birth of Morton and the entry in the West Ham register is not clear. It's possible that Rev Champnes conducted the baptism, either at St Botolph’s Billingsgate or privately, because he was a friend or relative of the family. Private baptisms sometimes took place when a baby was not expected to live, those that survived being ‘welcomed into the congregation’ at a later date. With the appearance on the scene of the Rev Champnes, the origin of part of Morton’s remarkable name is explained. 

A search of St Botolph’s register found no entry for Morton between August 1825 and August 1826. Some baptisms by Rev Champnes were noted in 1827 at St George, Botolph Lane – this parish was united with St. Botolph’s Billingsgate.  The full entry in the All Saints register reads: ‘1826 Aug 17 Morton Champnes Nevins son of John and Mary Ann Gadsden born Aug 8 1825, abode: Upton. Quality, trade or profession: Esquire’. Upton House is not mentioned. However, the term Esquire would probably indicate that John Gadsden was a man of some standing and it is not impossible the family were indeed living at Upton House.

The history of this building thus took on a greater significance for me. A picture of Upton House emerged in Stephen Pewsey’s book Stratford, West Ham & the Royal Docks, published as part of the Britain in Old Photographs series (Sutton Publishing 1996). Apparently an earlier structure had existed on the site, because Upton House was rebuilt in 1731. If the Gadsdens did live here, during their term of residence it would have looked precisely as shown in Pewsey’s book (p 34).  Unfortunately, the house was demolished in 1968.

Another useful illustration in the above publication was Chapman & Andre’s map of 1777. These cartographers produced the first accurate large-scale map of Essex, at a scale of 2 inches to the mile, enough to show individual buildings. The relevant section shows the parish of West Ham. The southern half of the parish was the marshland of Plaistow Level, used for cattle grazing. In the north there were three settlements, Stratford, along Stratford High Street, West Ham, clustered round the parish church, and Plaistow, around the village green. Other hamlets included Upton and Maryland Point. The area would not have changed much by the early 1820s when the Gadsden family were living at Upton

Its proximity to London was the key to West Ham’s growth. Stratford and West Ham were gateway districts between Essex and London. Pewsey states:

‘West Ham lies on the east bank of the River Lea and so before inexorable growth ... it was the last place in Essex before London and the first staging post in Essex from London … The great Roman road between London and Colchester was diverted through Stratford in the 12th century when Bow Bridge was built. 

The largest settlement in West Ham, Stratford, developed due to two factors: bread and cattle. Corn from Essex was brought to the many windmills and watermills along the Lea and its back rivers. Flour from the corn was turned into bread using ovens fired with wood from Epping Forest, which then stretched down almost to the Romford RoadStratford bakers were exempt from City guild controls and were frequently in court for giving short measure. Cattle were brought to Stratford from the eastern counties for slaughter or onward transit to London, and tanning and other leather-based industries developed there. The presence of a large monastic foundation with many royal connections, Stratford Langthorne Abbey, no doubt attracted further wealth to the area.

The River Lea was the stimulus for further early industrial activity. Silk-weaving and calico-printing were undertaken in the 17th and 18th centuries and Bow porcelain was made in Stratford in the mid-18th century. Distilling and gunpowder-making were also important. 

The rest of the parish comprised a scattering of small agricultural hamlets which included Plaistow, Church Lane, Forest Gate and Upton. The marshland in the south of the parish was used for grazing cattle and pasturing horses. Places like Upton and Plaistow were pleasant enough rural retreats to attract City merchants who built substantial houses there. By the late 19th century the separate hamlets of Plaistow, Stratford, Upton, Canning Town and Forest Gate had merged in a sea of bricks and mortar and West Ham was the eighth largest town in Britain.’

It would be unrecognizable today to John and Mary Ann Gadsden as the picturesque rural spot where they spent the halcyon days of their early married life, and where their first two children were born. By 7 November 1828 they spent some time at Clapton, as shown in the register of St John Hackney, where their daughter Mary Rochenda was baptised, having been born in the July of that year.  She died aged only four months and was buried 24 November 1828, also recorded at St John Hackney.

Their next child, another daughter, Emily, was born in July 1830 in Waterford, Ireland, where a new chapter of this Gadsden family unfolded.

Morton (Champnes Nevins) Gadsden in 1861 Census, Southampton:
 his birthplace given as Upton House, Essex
(click to zoom)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Gadsden family history and the Canal Duke

The Packet House at Worsley on the Bridgewater Canal

The Duke of Bridgewater built this canal in 1761. On the left is the Packet House, its 'Elizabethan' modifications carried out in Victorian times, where the Queen's (i.e. Victoria's) barge landed when visiting the Duke. Here also passengers to Manchester and Runcorn embarked.

This photograph is by the late David Tasker a descendant whose direct line comprised Gadsden tenant farmers on the Bridgewater Estates. 

The 'Canal Duke' came from Ashridge, Little Gaddesden and is of the same Bridgewater/Egerton/Brownlow family which until recently owned most of Little and Great Gaddesden.

The white building in the background is the 1725 Nailmaker's House and is the oldest building in Worsley (Manchester). It was featured on a dinner service made for Catherine the Great by Wedgewood when he visited the Duke's canal. The service is now preserved in the Hermitage, Leningrad (St Petersburg).

The Duke allowed his home Ashridge to fall into disrepair whilst he was concentrating on building the canal.

Note the red colour of the water from iron in the world's longest underground canal tunnels nearby.

David Tasker

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

In Memoriam: Roger Bell Gadsden 1950-2012

Roger Bell Gadsden
 13 August 1950 - 25 February 2012

Monday, February 24, 2014

Actor who played Captain Hook 2 300 times

A Gadsden in the Limelight

This undated obituary was the initial clue in a search for Lionel Gadsden, who died on 9 November 1965 (some sources give 10 November; the death was registered at Bromley in December 1965).

He was an actor with an unusual claim to fame: he performed the role of Captain Hook in J M Barrie’s play Peter Pan, over 2, 300 times. Between 1913 and about 1937 he played Hook on at least 16 tours, sometimes taking on the dual part of Hook and Mr Darling.

In 1924 a review stated Gadsden was ‘a terrifying figure as the pirate captain’. His long association with the character became legendary, his version of the role establishing a theatrical tradition in its own right. He appeared in the play – in various guises - more than 4 000 times and on occasion was also stage manager.
Smee (Cassidy) and Hook (Gadsden)

Gadsden co-starred with well-known Irish actor and comedian John Rice Cassidy who played Smee to his Hook in Peter Pan on tour between 1921 and 1925.

The news report above mentions that at the age of 14 he worked as a theatre call boy, messenger and stagehand. If he was 86 when he died in 1965 it gives a birth year of about 1879 yet no birth record has emerged. He is also significantly absent in the UK Census, though shows up in London electoral registers between the 1930s and 1960s, including at Bromley the year before his death.

There are numerous references to him in press reports and reviews of theatrical productions. These show that while his Captain Hook was most memorable, Gadsden also performed in other plays and was known for ‘his fine elocutionary style’. In October 1930 he was on tour to the States in a production of Marigold for the 49th St Theatre. In 1935 he appeared at the Fortune Theatre in When Knights Were Bold, a review in The Times on 27 December stating that ‘the knockabout atmosphere does not prevent Mr. Lionel Gadsden from playing Isaac Isaacson intelligently.’

His career spanned more than 50 years. His first stage appearance was at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, when he was 21. A descendant of Patrick Desmond, who directed Peter Pan several times during the late 1950s and early 1960s, states that Lionel Gadsden was a member of the company for at least one of the productions. When Gadsden turned 80 in 1959 the veteran actor was appearing in The Trial of Mary Dugan at the Savoy, in the role of a spectator at the trial, receiving a round of applause each evening without having to say a word. He died in harness while playing a supporting role in Hostile Witnesses at the Haymarket Theatre.

The question remains: where and precisely when was Lionel Gadsden born and who were his parents? His death was registered by his son-in-law, Wilcoks [sic] but Lionel’s daughter’s name, and that of his wife, are not known.

Jennifer Forsyth
John Gadsden
Chris Duff

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Death of a boxer: but who was he?

The above report in the Evening Telegraph of 15 March 1926 tells a sad story but also presents a conundrum: there is no death record for a William James Godson, given as the real name of boxer Billy Gibbins of Canning Town, aged 27, who died during a match against Edward Ferry.

There is, however, a death registered in Hackney for a William James Gadsdon. Some sleuthing turns up a relevant baptism at West Ham Essex in 1898 for a child of that name born to William James Gadsdon snr and his wife Julia (born Peterson). The age of the boxer is slightly out.

Apparently, Billy Gibbins from Canning Town boxed between 1925 and 1926. He had three professional contests – a brief career and a tragic end.

His opponent, Edward Ferry, was in all likelihood Ted Ferry from Bethnal Green who had a more successful career than Gibbins: Ferry boxed between 1922 and 1937 in 188 professional contests. 

There was another Billy Gibbins, a boxer of Western Australia who was shot in the stomach in 1931. And another from Sheffield fighting in the 1930s. Anyone know who the original Billy Gibbins was who inspired these boxers to carry his name into the ring?

If you have a boxing ancestor try Find A Boxer at

The Chelmsford Chronicle of 19 March 1926 confirms Billy Gibbins's real name as William James Gadsdon:

A further report in the Yorkshire Evening Post 15 March 1926 gives a little more personal detail:

Celia Dodd

Friday, February 21, 2014

Why no reference to my ancestor on NAAIRS?

Not finding a reference on NAAIRS, the SA National Archives online index, doesn’t mean the ancestor did not spend some time in South Africa. It could be that his activities didn’t generate any public records, or that his sojourn was brief and he remained invisible as far as records were concerned.

If you’re searching for a deceased estate, bear in mind that not everyone who died in South Africa had an estate file lodged with the Master of the Supreme Court. Where there are minimal assets – literally no ‘estate’ – a deceased estate file would not be opened. The death might have occurred within the last 20-30 years, in which case there would be no reference on NAAIRS: the file would be at the Master’s Office in the area where death occurred. Incidentally, there’s no legal or other obligation for the Master to send estate files to archival repositories at any stage; it’s incorrect to speak of deceased estate files being automatically ‘transferred’ to archival repositories.

The ancestor, contrary to what you or your family believe, may not have died in South Africa but moved on elsewhere or even returned to his place of origin: emigrants were extremely mobile.

The name you are looking for might not be correct: quite apart from variations in spelling names were sometimes changed completely if a person wanted to start out with a clean slate in the colonies. Do some lateral thinking - he might have used his mother’s maiden name.

If his time in the country pre-dates 1834 you won’t find a death notice for him.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Drowned in Durban Bay 1880

A brief inscription on a family memorial stone in the remote parish of Gamrie, Banffshire, Scotland provided the only initial clue in a search for James Donaldson born 6 September 1856, ‘drowned at Natal on 4th September 1880’. His great grandniece, hoping to discover more about his untimely fate, had checked Marine Records in Edinburgh without success. What James could have been doing in Natal was a mystery.

His date of death fell neatly between the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 and the First Anglo-Boer War which began in December 1880. There were certainly plenty of likely scenarios for a drowning in Natal: such accidents often occurred during military conflict, with troops transporting supplies by wagon across rivers like the Tugela. Natal has a lengthy coastline, and James Donaldson could equally well have drowned in the sea, not necessarily as a shipboard passenger or mariner, but simply fishing from a boat.

The chances of finding out more about James were good, since he died in Natal, and the first step was to look for a deceased estate file. One James Donaldson MSCE (Master of Supreme Court Estate) reference emerged on NAAIRS, a file held in Pietermaritzburg Archives. There was nothing on the index to reveal whether this was the correct individual, but since it was the only reference and the date was right, it was well worth accessing the original file.

There weren't many documents contained therein; however, what they lacked in quantity they more than made up for in quality. The Death Notice - on pale blue paper and in the horizontal format customary for these documents at that date - gave his age as 24, which fitted perfectly with the birth year of 1856 provided by the descendant. No place of birth was given, but his father's name, George, appeared, as did the information that James was a bachelor, had no children, and had left no will ‘as far as is known’. This latter was hardly surprising: at that age one imagines one is immortal. Death evidently overtook young James unexpectedly. There was a short list of the deceased's possessions, provided by the informant, John Crawford. The most significant piece of information on the Death Notice was under the ‘Where Died’ column: ‘In the Durban Bay’. At this point, there was little doubt that we were on the track of the correct James Donaldson.

Durban Bay 1880s

A Minute Paper contained a note from the Resident Magistrate with reference to the effects of the late James Donaldson, ‘supposed to have been drowned.’ There was a further mention of John Crawford, who was to be ‘summarily appointed as Executor Dative’ in the estate. The Magistrate delivered himself of the opinion that ‘the value of the effects of the deceased would not fetch £40 at auction’ - this sum having been suggested by the informant, Crawford, when completing the Death Notice form.

So, what were these effects? All was to be revealed in the two-page handwritten deposition of Crawford himself:

Before me, Arthur Mesham, Resident Magistrate, Durban, appeared John Crawford, who, being duly sworn, states: 'I live on the Point Road. I am a ship's carpenter. I am acquainted with James Donaldson now dead, having been drowned on the 4th September 1880, presumably by tumbling overboard the Lotus - I knew him in England - I know his father and mother - they are alive and living at a place called Macduff in Scotland - I came from the same place - I wish to become possessed of his property consisting of 1 chest of tools 1 chest of clothes two watches, and whatever money there may be due to him as wages from Captain Armstrong. I make application in order that I may hand them over to his family. I paid his funeral expenses £10. I am willing to act as executor dative of deceased's estate. Sgd. John Crawford.'

The official inventory of Donaldson's effects noted that £8 10s ‘in the hands of Robert Armstrong of the Bluff’ was the amount due in wages to the deceased, and that the watches were of silver. Estimated value of James's property was finally set at no more than £28 11s 2d.

Again, ‘presumably by tumbling overboard’ seemed significant: how had the accident happened and why had there been no witnesses? Where was Crawford when his friend drowned? More information was needed on the Lotus - was she a harbour vessel, such as a dredger or a tug, or just temporarily at anchor in the Bay? It appeared that James was working aboard her in some artisan capacity, probably, like Crawford, as a carpenter, considering the ‘chest of tools’ in the inventory. Robert Armstrong ‘of the Bluff’ was evidently Captain of the Lotus and held wages owing to Donaldson. This did not point towards a ship simply passing through the port.

Time to go back to NAAIRS and search on the Lotus. Several references came to light which not only showed the vessel to have been a brig but also the reason why she required repairs. On 10 August 1880, four ships, including the Lotus, had been moored at the Screw Moorings in the Bay ‘when the wind veered to SW and the moorings drew out of the bottom. The Northern Belle and Rosebud consequently ‘drove athwart hawse of the Umzinto and the Lotus’ at the adjacent set of moorings, all four vessels colliding and being driven on to the Bank with resultant damage. The Umzinto's figurehead was smashed and split, the Rosebud had several iron stanchions on her port as well as on her starboard side broken and bent, and 90 feet of iron railing buckled. The Northern Belle got off more lightly, while the Lotus had the iron work of the martingale* broken, the cutwater** split and the bowsprit shroud*** plus some railings on the starboard side carried away. Alexander Airth, Port Captain, reported all the above after personal inspection and by 13 August the vessels had been taken off the Bank. Presumably they were moved to other moorings, where James Donaldson apparently assisted with the repairs to the Lotus.

It still didn't answer the question of why he should have drowned - and why no-one seemed sure at first that this was the case. However, from the estate papers we know that there was a funeral, so a body must have been recovered. There was a strong possibility that a newspaper report of the incident could have appeared, or even mention of an inquiry into the death. Since an exact date was known, a newspaper search was feasible. It wasn't until 13 September 1880 that three brief lines, all but hidden in the general news column of the Natal Mercury, provided James's only ‘obituary’:

‘James Donaldson, of Banff, a carpenter, working for some time on board the Lotus, was found drowned in the harbour on Wednesday.’

At least James's trade was firmly established. There was no mention of cause of death, whether accidental, suicide or foul play, neither was there any sign of a subsequent inquiry. James could have slipped, perhaps hit his head, and fallen overboard, though strange that no-one noticed and that it took some time to ascertain. Suicide might not be ruled out - a young man far from home and family, trying to eke out a living on a minimal wage, could have been depressed or even desperate. Robert Armstrong, his employer, was known to be very hard on his labour, as archival references show.

The fact remains that James Donaldson had, ironically enough, journeyed all the way from the edge of the wild North Sea to drown off a ship at anchor in the waters of the Bay of Natal. The story emphasises that even in the 1880s people leaving for the colonies might be saying goodbye to their place of origin and to their nearest and dearest forever.

Donaldson family ca 1875:
James, 19, at the back
John Crawford was incorrect in his statement that James's parents were ‘still alive’. George Donaldson, James's father, a farm servant and carter, had died in 1877 at the age of 47 in a fall from his cart one February night. James's mother had been left with six children, the youngest only nine, to rear alone - she had lost 7-month-old twins through whooping cough in 1868. They were an unlucky family. 

It is evident that neither John Crawford nor Donaldson himself had visited Scotland in the recent past or were aware of George Donaldson's death three years prior to James's drowning. It is also clear that Crawford's intentions of returning his friend's belongings to the Donaldson family may have been sincere, but are unlikely to have been carried out given that the cost of a passage would have been beyond Crawford's means. Yet the news of James's passing must have filtered through to Banff by mail to be commemorated accurately on the family memorial stone. Perhaps John Crawford can't be blamed for appropriating James's few assets and cash - £10 for the funeral would have been an enormous expense for a ship's carpenter.

The sequence of events doesn't end there. On 2 December 1880, a memo to the Natal Harbour Board requests permission for the use of ‘Dynamite in breaking up ... the remains of the ship Lotus now lying on the Island beach’ and mentions that ‘an experienced hand ... one of Nobel & Co.'s men’ was to undertake the work. Why, if the ship was in such a bad state that it was eventually broken up, had anyone first bothered to try and repair her? The statement of Port Captain Airth in August, after the collision of the four vessels at the moorings, didn't seem to indicate major damage to the Lotus.

For good measure, a red herring arose during the newspaper search, in the shape of another vessel named Lotus This caused some confusion, but the fact that this ship, from Adelaide, was commanded by a Captain Little and left Natal bound for London in November 1880 whereas Armstrong's Lotus was due for the dynamite treatment in December of that year, proves that these were two entirely different vessels, coincidentally at Natal at the same time, the Australian Lotus merely passing through.

If your ancestor was presumed, or certainly, drowned but no trace of him appears in UK maritime records, he may have met a fate similar to James Donaldson's, in one of the colonies. James's descendant was amazed at the wealth of detail which emerged from South African archival and other sources, enabling her at last to answer the question prompted by that memorial inscription thousands of miles away in Scotland.

*     Rope for tying down the jib boom
**   Forward edge of prow
*** Bowsprit, the spar running out from the ship's stem, to which forestays are fastened; shroud, a set of ropes forming part of standing rigging, and supporting mast.

Elizabeth Gabriel

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Ordering copies of SA Archival Documents

If you’ve found a relevant reference to your ancestor on NAAIRS and need copies of file contents consider using the document ordering facility offered by eGGSA

The only repository not covered by this service is the Cape Town Archive Repository (KAB) who offer their own copying service.

Documents can be obtained through eGGSA from Pietermaritzburg (NAB) for Natal, Durban (TBD), Bloemfontein (VAB) for the Orange Free State and Pretoria (TAB) for the Transvaal.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Tracing a Master Mariner 6

By the 1860s Captain George Henry Caithness was a well-known local figure in the Eastern Cape.

Street scene: Old Uitenhage

Whether he ever lived in one of the nine cottages he bought in Port Elizabeth in 1867, or whether they were simply a property investment, is not recorded but by 1869 he had evidently been residing in Uitenhage for some time. 

According to the Centenary publication, Uitenhage Past and Present, in that year he was on the Board of Commissioners of the town. Uitenhage had been founded in 1804 on the Swartkops River not far inland from its estuary at Algoa Bay, about 28 kms from what would later be Port Elizabeth, and initially formed part of the district of Graaff-Reinet.*

'The Commissioners then in office were
 ... George Caithness' etc

Did George find time to tear himself away from civic duties to attend the wedding of his niece Emily Mary Ann Caithness to Herbert Lee Carige at Christ Church in the parish of Addington, Durban, on 12 December 1863? If so, he would have seen his nephew James Edward/Ernest Caithness who was present. It’s possible that George’s sister Mary Ann Bell nee Caithness and her husband William Bell, the latter still in office as Port Captain at Durban, were among the guests. 

Captain William and Mary Ann Bell

As already noted, in the late 1860s/early 1870s George made at least two trips to England as a passenger on Union Line steamers Cambrian and Northam and in 1873 presented some stones from the diamond diggings to the Hartley Institution (the modern day Southampton University).** He may have been the Caithness who in August 1870 joined Slater’s party to the fields though it’s more likely this was James Edward/Ernest. Seven years later James would marry Eugenie Westmacott in London and settle in India.

In 1875 George’s daughter Caroline Ann married John Loftus and became 4th Marchioness of Ely. It’s not known whether George attended the wedding in Chelsea, London. 

During the 1880s George Henry Caithness kept a low profile, no doubt enjoying a peaceful retirement in Uitenhage. When his wife Leopoltina Cornelia Frederika died on 10 August 1894 George survived her by only a few months, dying at the Royal Hotel, Uitenhage on 28 December 1894. His Death Notice gives his ‘condition in life’ as Sea Captain.

A brief line appeared in the Colonies and India edition of 9 February 1895:
‘Captain Caithness, one of the oldest inhabitants of Uitenhage, South Africa, died there recently.’

Note: There is a Caithness Road in Port Elizabeth, about 400 metres south of Bakens River; it seems likely this street was named after James Ramsay Caithness since James's Death Notice describes his residence as being on the south side of Bakens River. There's a Caithness Road in Simonstown which may also owe its name to James. If anyone has further information regarding these two streets it would be most welcome.

* The city of Uitenhage was incorporated in the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality together with Port Elizabeth and the town of Despatch in 2001


Tom Sheldon

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Tracing a Master Mariner 5

Newspaper reports in the Cape Colony and elsewhere have proved a vital source for the activities of Captain George Henry Caithness. As master of merchant vessels trading in waters off the southern and eastern coast of South Africa there would be few if any occasions when he generated public records. 

It’s clear that he was present at the Cape from at least August 1852 (when he was present at his nephew's baptism) and that he sailed the schooner Pet between Mauritius and Natal during the later 1850s. (Several references to the Pet emerged from searches of the British Newspaper Archive online.)

At the age of forty, George married his second wife, Leopoltina, at Port Natal. 
A more settled phase – if there can be such a thing in the life of a master mariner – followed and by the mid-1860s ‘Caithness, George H’ appears listed in the Cape Almanac, as ‘Master Mariner and Ship Owner’ at Central Wharf and 7 Church Square and later at Upper Roeland Street, Cape Town.

The Cape and Natal News of 25 April 1864 mentions George Caithness in the unusual role of passenger on a ship called Fontabelle, 537 tons, the captain of which had been lost overboard. George had taken command and brought the vessel into Table Bay, no doubt much to the relief of all who sailed in her. However, when he claimed 150 pounds salvage it led to a case in the Vice-Admiralty Court which George lost; he received 25 pounds.

He was in the news again in mid-1866 when he offered to take 500 pounds worth of shares in the Buffalo Steam Shipping Company if they would give him command of ‘the new boat’ (unnamed) whereupon he would ‘proceed to England and superintend the building of a boat fitted for the bar.’ This may refer to the mouth of the Buffalo River forming the harbour of East London which had a problem similar to Port Natal – a sandbank or bar across the entrance. Perhaps the Buffalo Steam Shipping Company was slightly premature as it was only in June 1872 that the first steamship crossed the bar of the Buffalo.

Although it seems unlikely that this venture prospered, George must have been doing fairly well as the ever-watchful Cape and Natal News on 22 April 1867 mentions his purchase, for 650 pounds, of nine cottages situated between Alice and Evatt Streets, Port Elizabeth.*

Fort Frederick overlooking Port Elizabeth; Captain Evatt's grave in foreground

*Evatt Street is named after Captain Evatt who commanded Fort Frederick from 1817-1847. He supervised the landing of the 1820 British Settlers who were brought to shore under the protection of his soldiers and were provided with provisions and tents. Originally at St Mary's Anglican Church in the city centre Evatt’s grave was later moved to its present position next to the wall of Fort Frederick. This fort, built for defence against a possible landing of French troops, overlooked the site of what later became Port Elizabeth and is now a monument.

Tom Sheldon

Friday, February 14, 2014

Tracing a Master Mariner 4

George Henry Caithness first appears in South Africa in August 1852 when he is sponsor at the baptism in St George’s Cathedral, Cape Town, of Charles Chance Caithness, son of Captain James Ramsay Caithness and the latter’s second wife, Eliza (nee Noyle).

Baptism entry, St George's Cathedral register, 29 August 1852: Charles Chance Caithness son of James Ramsay Caithness, Master Mariner, and Eliza. George Henry Caithness's name at right.

Durham Gaol
Diet for Class 2 Prisoners, Durham Gaol

Having weathered the storm of bankruptcy proceedings in 1850 and seen the inside of Durham Gaol* – a particularly gloomy and depressing place where conditions were harsh and the staple prison diet was oatmeal porridge – George undoubtedly needed a change of scene, as well as employment.

It makes sense that he chose the Cape Colony since his elder brother James was established there as a merchant captain. Not that James was having an easy time of it: he had lost his first wife, leaving him with six children to rear, remarried in 1851 and in the same year lost his ship Diadem.**

Still, James would have had good contacts in the colonial maritime community and George had plenty of experience behind him as well as having acquired his official Master’s Certificate. By 1857 he was trading between Port Natal and the island of Mauritius (Isle de France) as master of the 100 ton schooner Pet.

The connection between Natal and Mauritius had been strong since the 1840s. Then with the burgeoning sugar industry in Natal in the 1850s, coupled with a downturn in sugar production on that island, several Mauritians moved to Natal to start plantations on the coast. Among these was James Renault Sanders later a leader in Natal sugar and founder of the well-known Tongaat family.

The earliest mention of George and the Pet occurs in Lloyd's List, 30 September 1857 where the schooner is reported as having 'cleared outwards September 29' from Port Natal.

George's regular sailing schedule can be tracked through the press, for example:

Arrived at Natal 22 June 1858 ‘Pet’ (schooner) 100 t , G Caithness, from Mauritius.

In the following extracts, all referring to the Pet with Caithness as master, the date of publication is shown first:

11 March 1858. At Natal 24 Dec 1857, from London.  Left 13 Jan 1858 for Mauritius.
29 March 1858. At Mauritius 6 Feb 1858 from Natal.
24 June 1858. At Natal 8 April 1858. Put back for Mauritius with loss of chain plates. ***
15 July 1858. At Mauritius 10 May 1858. From Natal. And sailed 19 June on her return.
30 Dec 1858. At Table Bay 10th Nov 1858. For Natal.

George's schedule leaves a convenient gap for his marriage at Durban, Natal, to Leopoltina Jones nee Knapp on 19 July 1858.

Marriage entry St Paul's, Durban: George Caithness and Leopoltina Jones born Knapp
29 July 1858. George's occupation is given as 'Captain Merchant Service'.
A strange signature from George: perhaps he was nervous. He is described as 'widower' so presumably his first wife Caroline had died prior to this date though no record of the event has been found.

Durban in 1857


*** Chain plates were essential: the shrouds, pieces of standing rigging which hold the mast up from side to side, connect at the top of the mast and terminate at the bottom ends at the chain plates which are tied into the hull. The loss of chain plates would have been good reason for George to put back for Mauritius.

Tom Sheldon