Peter Paul Marshall

Peter Paul Marshall

Introduction – a Pre-Raphaelite Inferno

In my previous post I mentioned the wonderful names of various Victorians.  Here is another one to conjure with – Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Yes, one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood; and, No, he’s not buried in Teignmouth cemetery.  But there is a strong connection.

History is fascinating for its weave of time-lines connecting people, places and things.  Because of that interconnectivity I could have chosen a number of starting points for today’s post but have selected Rossetti, or more specifically one of his drawings – Rupes Topseia.

Rupes Topseia

This was a pen and brown ink caricature, or cartoon, which he is believed to have been produced in July 1869.  I wonder if he borrowed the idea from his namesake’s, Dante Alighieri, famous work Inferno?  The drawing depicts William Morris falling from a precipice into hell being watched from the ruins above by his business partners, including one Peter Paul Marshall, the subject of this blog.

Peter Paul Marshall had an interesting struggle in life – the pragmatism of having to earn a living versus the pull of his soul – his real interest in art.  As we’ll see I believe that he tried to balance the two but was forever treading a tightrope.

There is a good article by Keith E Gibeling in the journal of the William Morris Society, Autumn 1996, – The Forgotten Member of the Morris Firm. The basis for the article is that “we know much about Morris, some about Faulkner but very little about Marshall” in the partnership of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co.  It explores the question of who this elusive partner in the firm was.

I shall draw on this but I want to go back to original sources where possible, starting with obituaries of the time which suggest that Peter Paul Marshall was more well-known during his lifetime than now.

The Early Years

I will start with the rather terse obituary published in the Western Times of 23 February 1900:

“The death is announced, at Teignmouth, of Mr Peter Paul Marshall, for many years City Engineer at Norwich.  His chief works there were the fine new Foundry Bridge, the Isolation Hospital, and the opening up of the far-famed Mousehold Heath – the glory of Norwich.  He leaves a widow and five sons, one of them, Mr J. Miller Marshall, a well-known local artist.”

It is interesting that the focus is on his engineering rather than his connection with William Morris or his artistic prowess.

The Eastern Evening News of 19 February 1900 starts to tell us a little more about his early life (bracketed information is from other sources):

“The deceased gentleman was born (in 1830) at Edinburgh and educated at the famous High School there.  Having served in articles to the city architect of Edinburgh, he sought to advance his knowledge of engineering by joining Mr. (Thomas) Grainger, a famous C.E. in his day.  In that capacity (as a draughtsman) he made preliminary surveys of various railway lines, and it fell to his lot to draw out all the working and detail drawings for the stations, goods sheds, and engine-houses of the Edinburgh and Northern Railway, including the Edinburgh Central Station.  He went next (in 1847) into the office of Mr. James Newlands, an Edinburgh architect, and when that gentleman became borough surveyor of Liverpool he took Mr. Marshall with him as an assistant.  In the capacity of assistant to the engineer of Liverpool Water Works he drew out all the plans and working drawings for the Park Hill, Everton and High Level Reservoirs, works which he personally superintended and completed. By appointment from the Liverpool Corporation he took up and completed the contract for the Rivington reservoirs and filter beds, the contractor for which had broken down.”

So a picture is emerging of Peter Paul Marshall as a serious engineer but also one who evidently had a keen eye for the detailed drawings required for that profession. In fact it seems that his father was a local artist and you have to wonder whether naming his son ‘Peter Paul’ was sheer coincidence or perhaps reflected an aspiration for him in the field of art. The same Eastern Evening News commented that:

As a young man he studied art industriously at Edinburgh”, and,

“We would not be understood to point to Mr. Marshall as an artist of high and conspicuous powers, but we may fairly say that he possessed abilities which might have developed to remarkable purpose had destiny called him to the pursuit of art rather than of engineering”; and,

“If Mr. Marshall had not been an engineer he would conceivably have made an artist of some eminence”.

This was already evident by the time he reached Liverpool where he apparently exhibited paintings in 1852 and 1854 at the Liverpool Academy.

I wonder if it was at Liverpool that he first felt the real tension between his dual interests of engineering and art.  Certainly, just as we saw in my last post about Admiral Rumbelow Pearse, this could be another example of historic serendipity – Peter Paul Marshall being in the right place at the right time.

Why? It could all be down to one man who was also in Liverpool at that time – John Miller.

Miller was Scottish-born too and also moved to Liverpool but in the early 19th century.  In 1822 he had married Margaret Muirhead, daughter of a Falkirk merchant.  Liverpool’s economy was expanding rapidly and Miller saw the opportunity to make his fortune through trading. With his newly acquired wealth he started collecting art and, by the 1850s, had developed a keen interest in Pre-Raphaelite art which he not only collected himself but also supported and promoted the movement.

Four years ago (2016) there was a major exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite art at the Walker Gallery in Liverpool. As the Guardian reported at the time:

“They were the punk rockers of their day – subversive, rule-breaking, dangerous – and a new exhibition argues that it was Liverpool more than any city outside London that made the pre-Raphaelites into Britain’s first modern art movement …… The central importance of Liverpool to a brotherhood of artists who, in the 19th century, changed the course of British art is set out for the first time at the Walker art gallery …… ‘We are saying that Liverpool was a hugely significant place for the pre-Raphaelites,’ said the curator Christopher Newall. ‘There was a tradition of art collecting that led to great things … but more than that there was a freedom of spirit, an intellectualism, a non-conformism and self-confidence that allowed this style of art to prosper, …… The exhibition argues that Liverpool’s art scene rivalled London’s. When the early pre-Raphaelites were being treated with contempt by the Royal Academy in London, they were welcomed with open arms by the Liverpool Academy keen to exhibit the new and the daring. And when they struggled to sell their paintings, they found rich and willing patrons in Liverpool.”

So, given the lively artistic ambience of Liverpool, it’s hardly surprising that Peter Paul Marshall’s path crossed with that of John Miller.  But this crossing was much deeper – Peter Paul married Miller’s youngest daughter, Augusta (“Gussy”) Buchanan Miller in March 1857, although by this time he was living in Bloomsbury Square, London.

The London Whirl

What brought about Marshall’s move from Liverpool to London is unclear. Later in 1857 he was appointed as surveyor to the Tottenham Board of Health, but had he left his position in Liverpool long before that and come to London jobless?  If so, had he been driven by his artistic desires – perhaps drawn by the attraction of being closer to the centre of the Pre-Raphaelite movement and with the contacts of his father-in-law?  Was engineering then his fall-back and the certainty of a regular salary, especially now that he was married?

With marriage came children and, by the time of the 1861 census, he and Augusta had two sons – William (age 3) and James (age 2).  He was being kept busy professionally – his duties included the maintenance of roads and footpaths, the inspection of dilapidated houses, and the improvement and upkeep of water supply and sewage facilities.  In 1860 he had also joined Tottenham’s 33rd Middlesex Rifle Volunteers which was part of a national response to the possibility of a French invasion.  Wearing his professional hat he was able to supervise the construction of the firing range and various other buildings for the company.  His obvious enthusiasm was marked by a little verse by a Sally Gunn and collected in the article by Keith Gibeling:

I think I never saw. though perhaps I may be partial.
A more milingtary (sic) looking man than our surveyor, Mr. Marshall,
And very martial. likewise, we all thought that he appear’d
With that darling pair of whiskers, and that lovely flowing beard

He was also still pursuing his own artistic interests. Here are a few examples I have found from this period:

Haymaking is a picture of Marshall’s sons William and Johnnie with their mother and the children of the late J H Stewart.  It’s set in the hayfield at the back of their house in Tottenham with Epping Forest in the distance.  It had been exhibited at the Royal Academy.

A Letter from Home. It is thought the sitter was a Governess and the black edges to the letter suggest a death. Marshall painted in the window irises, a symbol of death.

A Letter from Home

A Clerical Life. This was created as a pair of paintings – The Rich Cleric and his Wife ; and The Labourer is Worthy of his Bread.  The original bore a label ‘8 Red Lion Square’ which was the address of William Morris’ workshop between 1861-5.

The Fifeshire Journal of 26 March 1863 commented on one of Marshall’s paintings on display at an exhibition of the Royal Academy:

“On Monday evening the hospitable doors of the Royal Academy of Pictures opened to a numerous but not equally select assemblage of ticket-holders, invited to a conversazione in the galleries of paintings ……. A very striking picture, by Peter Paul Marshall, entitled ‘First Thoughts of the Locomotive’ catches the eye at the first visit.  It represents the great engineer modelling an engine in clay by the light of the boiler fire, which throws a lurid glare, half natural, half fantastic, over him – his wife by his side, and his favourite rabbits at his feet. The proud, solicitous look of his wife, as she watches his work with interest, is most happily expressed, as is his own thoughtful, reflecting face; and a plate and sandwich on the ground beside him are done with pre-Raphaelite accuracy.”

I wonder if this is a refrain back to his civil engineering days in Liverpool.

At the same time that all of this was going on it seems that Marshall was also busy in the social whirl that was the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (“PRB”).  This is reflected by a few snippets from the Wife of Rossetti, Her Life and Death by Violet Sutton. The first of these shows the breadth of society caught up in this whirl of social events at the home of Dante Gabriel Rossetti:

“For they were entertaining tremendously.  Invitations, lively and informal, ran, ‘Come, we have hung up our Japanese brooms, etc.’ Contesses rolled in their carriages to Blackfriars to see the Pre-Raphaelites in their habitat – the Ladies Waterford, and Trevelyan, and Bath, all eager to break new ground and meet the exponents of the cult they admired and whose pictures they bought.  A good sprinkling of Philistines like Hardman and Anderson Rose; journalists like Hepworth Dixon and Joseph Knight; among authors, Westland Marston and his daughters. Patmore and a wife, Meredith with his handsome head, Edward Lear, round and funny; Martineau, Halliday, chattering Tebbs and Mrs. Tebbs who was their dead friend Seddon’s beautiful sister.  There would be Sandys, Mark Anthony and his daughters; Peter Paul Marshall and his wife Gussy, the daughter of jolly old John Miller of Liverpool, the picture buyer; ‘Val’ with a head like a broom and the heart of a —— (vide Rossetti’s limerick), and Inchbold, a dangerous guest because he always wanted a bed and never went away; Hungerford Pollen, Munro, Hughes and Faulkner and a couple of Christina’s admirers, Cayley and John Brett (‘No thank you, John’).  There would be Morris and his wife, of course, and the Joneses.  Not Stephens; not asked, he had just married Mrs. Charles and had said Lizzy was ‘freckled’.  Holman Hunt was away.  Excepting Georgy there were not many of Lizzy’s particular friends.  Emma Brown was at the sea and Bessie Parkes and Barbara Bodichon were abroad.  But Mary Howitt brought her shy husband, Alaric ‘Attila’ Watts, and sat with him in a corner taking notes for her diary that would have rejoiced a daily paper of to-day.” (p. 272)

Then there were smaller gatherings:

“In the evenings ‘Poll’ Marshall, accompanied by his Gussy, would sing ‘Clerk Saunders’ to please Mrs Rossetti and ‘Busk ye, busk ye my Bonnie Bride’ for Mrs. Ned, and she would sing in her high wild voice ‘La Fille du Roi’ out of ‘Echos du Temps Passee’, to please Ned and Top.  The world had grown older.  Gabriel was thirty-three.”  (p 283)

And other things they did together:

“Gabriel had to go without her to the christening of little Jane Alice Morris in the last days of January.  He went down with some of the fellows, Marshall, Brown and Swinburne, who was just back from the continent and had not yet called on Lizzy.  Janey was going to put them all up somehow, in the fearless old Pre-Raphaelite fashion.  The Joneses were already there – Georgy to help the delicate Janey in preparing for such a large party.  It was given to show the new house and the new baby to as many of the old PRB as could be got together and to the members of the new firm which had been constituted, as it were, on its ashes, to fight Mr. Perkins’ aniline dyes and nurse the silk trade, nearly killed by Cobden’s Bill of three years ago, since when no lady’s gown had been able to ‘stand alone. Premises had been acquired in Queen’s Square.

Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co

So we have now reached another significant point in Peter Paul Marshall’s life.  He was still working full time as the surveyor in Tottenham but had now committed to business with William Morris.  As Violet Sutton noted:

The firm, founded in 1860, consisted actually, like the P.R.B., of seven – Rossetti, Morris, Brown, Jones, Faulkner, Philip Webb and Peter Paul Marshall.  Faulkner wrote to William concerning the first and only prospectus issued of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., 8 Red Lion Square, Holborn.  Fine Art Workmen in painting, carving, Furniture and the Metals.  ‘A very desirable thing,’ Scotus says, who had not been asked to be a member – and he did so like his fingers in every pie – ‘a very desirable thing, Fine Art Workmen! But isn’t the list of partner a tremendous lark!’”

William Morris’s life and works are well documented and exemplified through the William Morris Society, the William Morris Gallery, organisations such as the National Trust and the Victoria and Albert Museum, and numerous biographical works.  So there’s little to be gained by repeating that here.  Rather I want to focus on Peter Paul Marshall’s role in this enterprise.

According to William Michael Rossetti it was Peter Paul Marshall who came up with the idea for the Firm originally which could explain why his name appeared in the title to the business even though he was not as active as an artistic contributor. In the early years I imagine there would have been a burgeoning of energy and enthusiasm as the business got off the ground and Marshall certainly contributed artwork during this period which survives today.

One of the product lines of the Firm was stained glass which, judging by the number of installations, was potentially a fairly lucrative market and, of course, would have given the Firm some visibility. The Firm won a medal for their stained glass work in the International Exhibition of 1862 and, as Aymer Vallance comments in his 1897 work William Morris, His Art, Writings and Public Life:

“Ext No. 6734: Stained glass windows.  The report of the juries and list of awards witnesses that a medal (United Kingdom) was bestowed on the firm for their work ….. the award was given for artistic qualities of colour and design ….. At least one expert, Mr Clayton … pronounced the work of Messrs. Morris and Co. to be the finest of its kind in the Exhibition.  Before the close of the Exhibition orders were received through Mr. Bodley, then a generous friend and supporter of the firm, for glass for St. Michael’s, Brighton.”

St. Michael’s marked its 150th anniversary in 2012 with a project for the renovation of its Great West Window – “one of the finest achievements of Pre-Raphaelite glass making, and one of the most important stained glass windows of the 19th Century.” One of the designs, St Michael and the Dragon, is attributed to Peter Paul Marshall.

Other examples of stained glass design contributed by Peter Paul Marshall include:

The “Military Window” at St Martin’s Church, Scarborough.  According to the church “it is one of the earliest windows produced by Morris and Company, and was installed in 1862 in memory of a Major Monnins who died in 1860. The windows by Marshall are two of the few he executed for The Firm.”  The two panels attributed to Marshal are Joshua and St. Michael the Archangel.

East Window of Bradford Parish Church, 1863.  As the Bradford Historical and Antiquarian Society explains: “The theme of the window might be described as ‘Witnesses to Christ’ ….. The venerable figure of the patron saint, Peter, designed by Peter Paul Marshall, occupies the lower part of the central panel. His green cloak discloses a white robe, and from a golden chain round his neck hang two not very traditional keys and a bible.”  

Photo by Michelle Heseltine,

In the next few years the Firm blossomed.  As the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser of 27 October 1897 commented on Vallance’s book:

“The history of this firm makes the most interesting chapter in the work, and becomes an astonishing record of the genius and miraculous powers of work of the dominant partner.”

However, it is also clear that all was not well with the running of the business ….. which brings us full circle to where we started this story with Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s cartoon Rupes Topseia.

Rupes Topseia

As I said earlier, the cartoon depicted William Morris falling into hell from a precipice whilst being watched by his business partners.  There has been much debate about the meaning of the cartoon, published as it was in 1869, but it clearly foresaw the demise of the Firm Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co.

The front-runner theory is that the cartoon refers to Warrington Taylor’s criticism of Morris’s extravagance and incompetent management which could soon throw the Firm into bankruptcy (Warrington Taylor was the business manager of the company from 1865 until his death in 1870). Whatever the interpretation, Marshall’s future was now set to change though it was another five years before the separation from Morris as the London Gazette of 6 April 1875 reported:

“Notice is hereby given that the Partnership heretofore subsisting between us the undersigned, Ford Madox Brown, Charles Joseph Faulkner, Edward Burne Jones, Peter Paul Marshall, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Philip Webb, and William Morris, trading as Morris, Marshall, Faulkner, and CO., and Morris and Co., as Fine Art Workmen in painting, carving, Stained Glass, Furniture, and the Metals, at No. 26, Queens-square, Bloomsbury, in the county of Middlesex, has been dissolved by mutual consent; and that the said business will henceforth be carried on solely by the said William Morris, to whom all debts due to the late firm are to be paid and by whom all claims against the said late firm will be discharged – Dated this 31st day of March, 1875.”

Marshall received £1000 for his share of the partnership – equivalent to about £116,000 today.  He would need this.

Goodbye to London and All That.

By this time he had six children to support – William Miller, James Miller, Lancelot Paul, Pauline, Patrick Hugh and Geoffrey; and two years earlier he had resigned from his surveyor’s post in Tottenham following a serious outbreak of typhoid there.

According to Gibeling he was more or less unfairly forced out of his post:

“The loss of his job at Tottenham, it must be kept in mind, was due more to village politics than it was to any lack of ability. In fact, Marshall’s later years at Tottenham actually saw him in the vanguard of sewage treatment. He encouraged experiments in sewage treatment techniques by allowing other engineers and scientists to perform tests at the Tottenham sewage works. Marshal! was an engineer in the golden age of engineers, a man who pitted himself against the insidious problems that had plagued and frustrated city-dwellers for centuries. Men like Marshall were the heroes of what Asa Briggs has termed the ‘Age of Improvement’”.

Whatever the reasons behind his resignation this must have been a devastating period in his life as his secured income came to an end and his aspirations in the art world were suddenly curtailed.  I wonder how he felt about this double loss.

It appears that it was four years before he was able to secure another position.  He applied immediately in 1873 for the position of Borough Surveyor and Engineer for Leeds but was unsuccessful.  He was eventually appointed In 1877 as City Engineer and Road Surveyor for Norwich and finally left London life and his Pre-Raphaelite aspirations behind.  Whether he maintained connections with the group is uncertain but for the next 16 years until his retirement in 1893 he applied himself with his customary professionalism to a range of engineering tasks in Norwich.  His obituary notes:

“Amongst the principal works associated with his tenure of office may be mentioned the new Foundry Bridge, the Isolation Hospital, and the initiation of the new sewerage scheme.  It was he also who laid out Mousehold Heath.  In connection with the paving scheme he introduced the system of paving on sand, which has since been widely adopted in other places and by other engineers.”

Foundry Bridge Norwich 2018, Photo: Charles Watson

He did continue his art as well and the obituary continues:

“.…. in his time exhibited at the Royal Academy and the British Institution, as well as in the humbler galleries of the Norwich Art Circle.  In water-colour he was very successful, and many of his sketches are treasured in local salons in company with those by his artist son, Mr J Miller Marshall.”


Interestingly his son may have surpassed him in artistic ability.  When Peter Paul Marshall retired he and his remaining family moved down to Teignmouth and the Norfolk News of 10 March 1894 commented:

“No less an authority on art matters than Mr. William Morris says, ‘The duty of the art missionary should be to induce the public to use its eyes, and to learn to appreciate the beautiful in nature.’….. Local art cannot but be the poorer by the removal from amongst us of Mr. J. Miller Marshall, and at art gatherings his clever and genial father will also be greatly missed.  Mr. P. P. Marshall – though not so well known in his art capacity as his son – was a splendid draughtsman, and a great favourite with the members of the art circle.  This was especially the case with the ladies; more than one of whom I have heard speak of him as ‘dear man’”.

The move to Teignmouth also prompted both Marshalls, father and son, to part company with most of their artwork.  As the Norwich Mercury of 6 December 1893 reported:

“EXHIBITION AT THE ART CIRCLE ROOMS, NORWICH.  During the last few days the opportunity has been afforded the public of inspecting a somewhat large collection of local paintings, the work of two artists in the city, whose names will be familiar to very many, Mr. P. P. Marshall and Mr. J. Miller Marshall.  The former, perhaps, is better known to the citizens as their late City Engineer, and it will, doubtless, come as a surprise to them to know that the gentleman in question is, in his particular line, an artist with abilities of a very high order.  His son, Mr. J. Miller Marshall, has long been a great favourite at the local exhibitions, and, as with his father, so his success has not been confined to local displays, contributions of his having at various times found places on the walls of the Royal Academy. These two artists are shortly leaving Norwich for the south of England, and hence the disposal of the contents of their studios.  By permission of the Norwich Art Circle, the display is made in their three rooms in Queen Street, a private view being given on Saturday, followed by free admission to the general public till tomorrow (Wednesday).  More than 150 works of the two artists are catalogued, and of these a very large number – the majority indeed – are by Mr. P. P. Marshall.  Many of his contributions – more especially those of his younger painting days – show a freshness and vigour of style which, with the developing influence of after years, might have brought out work of a very high order indeed.  Almost the first thought in the visitors , when making the tour of the exhibition, must have been that here, in these early efforts was the promise of a great artist; but to engineering Mr. Marshall’s energies were given, and art, although it did not altogether lose its devotee, was the poorer for the loss of work which would undoubtedly have brought with it distinction.  His best efforts are seen in portraiture.  Some of the more striking of Mr. Miller Marshall’s works depict well-known Broad scenery, but though these will perhaps attract a large share of public attention, he has also a deal of other noteworthy work – quaint bits of architecture in and around the city and county. The exhibition, on the whole, is very well worth a visit by any one at all interested in the work of our local artists.

Art remained an interest for Peter Paul Marshall during his time in Teignmouth and it appears he might still have done commissions.  The Eastern Evening News of 19 February 1900 mentions:

“As showing that Mr Marshall’s artistic tendencies remained with him in his years of retirement, it may be mentioned that since he went to live at Teignmouth he designed a window for a church at Havre, the erection of it being carried out by an Exeter firm.”

Peter Paul Marshall died on 16 February 1900.  He had apparently been in good health upto five months earlier but then, as the Norwich Mercury of 21 February 1900 reported:

“.…. a malady affecting one of his legs began to show itself. But for his age amputation would have been resorted to. He sank gradually under the progress of the disease, and death overtook him on Friday evening”

He left a wife and five sons but also, as we have seen, a legacy in both the engineering and art worlds.  I wonder if he was content with that legacy though.  Unlike his pre-Raphaelite contemporaries he had not come from a wealthy background.  Maybe if he had, he would have had the opportunity to pursue his undoubted artistic talents and be seen today on the same footing as Morris and Rossetti.  We shall never know.

He is buried in a simple grave, plot U58, not so easy to reach now, lying as it does beneath a large weeping lime.  The gravestone is weathered and virtually illegible.  It originally carried, as an epitaph, the refrain from an early nineteenth century Scottish poem and ballad by Lady Carolina Nairne:

The day is aye fair
In the land o’ the leal.

And that’s Peter Paul Marshall. For a few loose ends to the story see the section after the references.

Sources and References

Extracts from contemporary newspapers are referenced directly in the text. Other sources, with hyperlinks as appropriate, are as follows.  For further information and queries which have turned up during this research check out the “Loose Ends” section after these references.

GENERAL for genealogy

British Newspaper Archives for all snippets from contemporary newspapers

Wikipedia for general background information


Arts & Crafts Living:  – a short biography

The Art of William Morris, Aymer Vallance, 1897, George Bell & Son

Friends of St Michaels Church, Brighton: – 150th Anniversary and Windows 

Friends of St Martin’s Church, Scarborough: – Windows 

Victoria & Albert Museum: – Image of St Michael and the Dragon

Bradford Historical Society: – Bradford Cathedral windows  

Bradford Cathedral:  – Lady Chapel windows

BRANCH: Britain, Representation, and Nineteenth-Century History – comments on Morris:  

Arcadia auctions:  – source of various Marshall paintings

William Morris: Design and Enterprise in Victorian Britain, Charles Harvey, Jon Press, 1991

The Wife of Rossetti, Her Life and Death. Violet Hunt. Dutton & Co, New York, 1932

The Rossetti Archive:  – Rupes Topseia

Pre-Raphaelites: Beauty and Rebellion.  Christopher Newall, Ann Bukantas.  Oxford University Press. 2016

National Portrait Gallery: – Rupes Topseia

William Morris Society:  – various references

Arts Docbox – William Morris, an Annotated Bibliography:  

Victorian Poetry, Vol. 37, No. 3 (Fall, 1999), pp. 353-429 (77 pages), Published by: West Virginia University Press

Liverpool Museums:  – comments on John Miller etc

Rampant Scotland – Selection of Scottish Poetry (Land of the leal)  

Peter Paul Marshall: The Forgotten Member of the Morris Firm, Keith E. Gibeling, 1996

Michelle Heseltine – photo of St Peter Window, Bradford Cathedral

Peter Paul Marshall – Loose Ends


Peter Paul Marshall was survived by his wife and five sons.  Augusta may have died in 1915 in Williton, Somerset and their daughter, Pauline, may have died in 1899 and have been buried in the West of London and Westminster Cemetery, Old Brompton.  The sons had followed a variety of careers, though all with links to their father’s past.  According to the obituary in the Norwich Mercury, these were:

  • Mr W J Marshall, a marine engineer in the service of the Chilean government
  • Mr J Millar Marshall, an artist well known in Norfolk
  • Mr L P Marshall, one of the staff in the office of the City Engineer in Norwich
  • Mr P H Marshall, a member of the firm MacVicar, Marshall & Co, shipping agents of Liverpool
  • Mr G Marshall, a mining engineer, who returned to this country from Johannesburg on the outbreak of the war

Of these, James Millar Marshall had picked up the artistic baton as we have seen.  There is an excellent article by Ross Bowden describing his travels around Australia in 1892/93 – “James Miller Marshall: a Norwich School painter in late 19th-century Australia”.  

He was depicted in 1938 as the artist ‘Bradley Mudgett’ in Norman Lindsay’s book Age of Consent.  Norman writes that the artist’s appearance made such an impression on him that he used him as the model, visually speaking, for the artist–hero, Bradley Mudgett.  When that book was filmed in 1969, the English actors James Mason played the artist and Helen Mirren the love interest.

James Miller Marshall in Australia (as Bradley Mudgett)

There are a number of mentions of James in the local Devon press since he was an active participant in the art scene here.  Here’s one from the Express & Echo of 12 September 1899:

“ ART EXHIBITION AT ELAND’S GALLERY:  J Millar Marshall is represented by some attractive pictures from the neighbourhood of Teignmouth the best of which (109) is ‘A View of Teignmouth from the Old Quay’”

And here is an example of one of his works – a Harbour Scene – which looks rather Turner-esque.

A Harbour Scene, James Miller Marshall

Finally ….. Some Poetry

Limerick, Dante Gabriel Rossetti

For those interested in “Val” …..

There is a big artist named Val,
The roughs’ and the prize-fighters’ pal:
The mind of a groom
And the head of a broom
Were Nature’s endowments to Val.

Land o’ the Leal, Lady Carolina Nairne

I’m wearin’ awa’, John
Like snaw-wreaths in thaw, John,
I’m wearin’ awa’
To the land o’ the leal.
There ‘s nae sorrow there, John,
There ‘s neither cauld nor care, John,
The day is aye fair
In the land o’ the leal.

Rear-Admiral William Alfred Rombulow Pearse

Rear-Admiral William Alfred Rombulow Pearse


Is it a pre-requisite of admirals of the 18th and 19th centuries to have grandiose names?  Probably not, but one of the first graves we researched was that of Rear-Admiral Thomas Abel Brimage Spratt – a name to conjure with.  A Royal Naval Mediterranean explorer, he could be called the “Indiana Jones” of his time!

Rear Admiral William Alfred Rombulow Pearse may not have been as renowned as Spratt but he is up there in the name competition stakes.  And he was in the right place at the right time for his name to go down in history.

Grave of Rear Admiral William Alfred Rombulow Pearse and his wife Blanche Eleanor

Little is known of his family and childhood years and public records seem confused.  The 1881 census shows him as having been born in 1821 in Bungay, Suffolk, whilst the 1871 census shows his place of birth as Hilsea, Hampshire. His date of birth shown on his grave is 6th June 1818 whilst the 1881 census gives it as 1821.  His marriage record gives his father as Thomas Henry Richard Rombulow which provides a first mystery – where did he acquire his surname of Pearse?  (More of this in the separate “Loose Ends” section after the main blog.)

Family Life

Following his “childhood years” his life seems to have two distinct phases, divided by one notable event – his marriage on 19 October 1865 to Blanche Eleanor Cookesley.  This event was described in the 28 October edition of John Bull:

“The marriage between Capt. W. A. Rombulow Pearse, R.N., and Blanche Eleanor, eldest surviving daughter of the Rev. H. P. Cookesley, Priest Vicar of Wimborne, was celebrated on Thursday in last week, in the Minster Church, which was densely thronged by parishioners and neighbours, anxious to show respect to one who has endeared herself to all who knew her by her sweetness and amiability of disposition.  The bride entered the western door, leaning on her father’s arm, accompanied by the following bridesmaids: Miss A Cookesley, sister to the bride, Miss Pearse, Miss Cookesley, Miss Bellman, Miss G. Bellman, Miss J. Smith, Miss H. Fletcher.  The bride was attired in a white corded silk dress, a Limerick lace veil, with wreath of orange blossoms and myrtle, and a bouquet of choicest flowers in her hand.  The bridesmaids wore white grenadine dresses trimmed with blue, with veils and wreaths of blue convolvulus. In the unavoidable absence of Capt. O’Reilly, R.N., the office of ‘best man’ was filled by Capt. Cookesley, 22nd Regt., brother of the bride. The service, commencing with a bridal hymn, was solemnised by the Rev. W. G. Cookesley, Incumbent of St. Peter’s, Hammersmith, uncle of the bride, assisted by the Rev. Reginald Smith, M.A., Rector of Stafford.  After the ceremony a large company assembled at the residence of the bride’s father, where a sumptuous dejeuner was served in a tent upon the lawn.  At four p.m. the happy couple left en route to Scotland, where they intend to spend the honeymoon.”

By the time of his marriage he was 44 years old and most of his significant naval experience was behind him.  In fact he was placed on the retired list seven years later and it would seem that his priority obviously shifted after his marriage to Blanche, who was 21 at the time, to family life.  Between 1865 and 1886, when he was 65 and five years off his death, they appear to have had a dozen children, not all surviving. They also moved around the country, living firstly in Little Parndon, Essex, then Great Berkhamsted, Herts, and finally at some point in the late 1880s ending up in Teignmouth.

Why Teignmouth?  There is no evidence of local family connections so the likelihood is that they were following the custom of many military and naval officers in retiring here.  They lived in a splendid mansion, Highcliffe, in a local 1850s development that was known at the time as Cross Park. This is at the corner of New Road and Dawlish Road and enjoyed superb views across the sea and coast.  References suggest that Cross Park was a focal point as well for sea captains who may simply have been looking for temporary accommodation.

Highcliffe today. Admiral Rombulow Pearse’s home, part of the 1850s Cross Park development

More of his family later as well but I want to focus now on his naval career which is where the historical significance lies. Fortunately, where public records seem a little confused, naval records are somewhat more organised.

Naval Career

His military record can be found in the National Archives – two pages that summarise his life at sea.  (As an aside, the second page of the military record gives his date of birth as 6 July 1819. I wonder if he or his parents had to lie about his age to be accepted into the navy, so it appeared that he was thirteen years old rather than eleven.  Also note that his name is spelt ‘Rumbulow’ rather than ‘Rombulow’).

The first page reveals an interesting fact – that his naval career started when he may have been only 11 as “Vol 1 cl” on HMS Rhadamanthus, a 5-gun paddle-steam sloop which saw no action but achieved distinction by being the first British warship to cross the Atlantic assisted by steam in 1833.  I wonder what sort of impression that would have made on the young Rombulow-Pearse?  Would he have recognised the significance of the deployment of this new technology?

Model of the Rhadamanthus at Royal Maritime Museum, Gr

Within two years he was a midshipman on board HMS Meteor, a 296 ton wooden auxiliary vessel, paddle driven, carrying only two guns and commanded by Lieutenant Commander John Duffill.  By 1839 he had passed his examinations and was now serving as Lieutenant on board the HMS Modeste.  This signalled the start of his fully-fledged naval career which, as can be seen from the second page of his military record continued in a range of commands through to his retirement in 1872.

The official military record is interesting but it doesn’t paint a picture of the man.  So to add a little flesh to his story let’s start with his obituary. Here is what the Illustrated London News of 23rd August 1890 had to say:

“He was wounded at the attack on Canton while serving as mate in the Modeste; was present at the capture of the Amoy and Shanghai in 1841; and was senior Lieutenant of the Ajax during the Baltic Expedition.  He attained the rank of Lieutenant in 1838, Commander in 1855, Captain in 1862 and was placed on the retired list in 1872, becoming Rear-Admiral in 1878, and Vice-Admiral in 1884.”

A Naval Biographical Dictionary authored by William Richard O’Byrne in 1849 expands on some of these exploits:

“William Alfred Rumbulow Pearse passed his examination 2 May, 1839; and was afterwards, until paid off at the commencement of 1843, employed as Mate and Acting-Lieutenant in the Modeste 18, Capts. Harry Eyres and Rundle Surges Watson. In the former capacity he assisted, during the war in China, in boarding, 27 Feb. 1841, the ship Cambridge, bearing the Chinese Admiral’s flag, at the enemy’s position below Whampoa Reach, where he also landed and contributed to the destruction, in the whole, of 98 guns. On 13 of the following month he served in the boats at the capture of several rafts and of the last fort protecting the approaches to Canton; and on 18 he was similarly employed at the capture of the city itself. During the series of operations against it we find him commanding the Modeste’s cutter, under the present Sir Edw. Belcher, in an affair up a creek on the western side, where 28 vessels were destroyed. In a day or two afterwards he had the misfortune to be wounded. In Aug. and Oct. he co-operated in the reduction of Amoy and Chinghae. As Acting-Lieutenant, Mr. Pearse, on 10 March, 1842, succeeded with two boats in towing four fire-rafts clear of the shipping off Ningpo. On 15 and 16 of the same month he was employed on shore under Capt. Thos. Bourchier in an attack on the enemy’s camp at Tsekee.”

Late into his retirement an interesting snippet appeared in the Herts Advertiser (13 October 1888), when the then Admiral Pearse was living in Great Berkhamsted:

“MECHANICS INSTITUTE.  On Monday the winter session was inaugurated by a conversazione in the Town Hall.  The ball had been transformed, under the direction of Mr R H Bookey, the hon. Sec., into an interesting museum, adorned by flowers and plants kindly supplied by Messrs. Lane, of the Nurseries, Mr. Cooper and Mr. Mawley, and flags and trophies were suspended round the room, some of them lent by Admiral Pearse, having been taken away from Malay pirates and at the siege of Canton …..”

So the shaping of his image is around his contribution to naval actions.  Of more historical interest though is the four years he spent from 1857 to 1861 commanding HMS Alert.

Sir George Henry Richards, by Stephen Pearce

This is where his historical significance emerges through the convergence of his time-line with that of another character (another future admiral) in the story.  This was Admiral Sir George Henry Richards who, having served in South America, the Falkland Islands, New Zealand, Australia and in the First Opium War in China, was promoted to captain in 1854. There was then a significant five year period from 1857 to 1862 when he was in command of the two survey ships, HMS Plumper and HMS Hecate, acting as hydrographer of the coast of British Columbia.

But we need to back up a bit to recap briefly on the history and role of the Royal Navy as it developed through to this time.

By the mid eighteenth century Britain was expanding its Empire in all directions and needed to raise finance for this expansion.  To do this it made use of the Navigation Acts, originally intended to promote the development of English shipping but which had subsequently been adapted as a form of trade protectionism leading to control of the price of goods.

Effectively this became a form of taxation which was one of the driving forces behind the American Revolution.  The rest is history, as they say, and on the 3rd of September 1783 Great Britain and the United States signed the Treaty of Paris making peace between the two nations, and formally marking the end of the American War of Independence.  This overthrow of British rule firmly established the United States as the first republic in modern history extending over a large territory.

Ironically the new United States then developed its own pretensions to empire as, over the next hundred years, it bought, fought and annexed its way west and south across the North American continent.  Ultimately its eyes were set maybe on the annexation of Canada.  This expansion was framed within a governing philosophy known as “Manifest Destiny”..

Meanwhile Britain continued its own colonial expansion, in competition with other European nations – Spain, France, Holland.  To do this required control of the seas – hence the increasing importance of the role of the Royal Navy.  This wasn’t solely a military force though.  To function effectively the fleets needed knowledge of the areas that they were exploring and patrolling.  This prompted specific expeditions for hydrography and cartography – charting the waters and coastlines across the world.

We have seen this already in the story of Rear-Admiral Thomas Abel Brimage Spratt who spent 30 years doing such mapping in the Mediterranean.  There were similar activities along the coasts of the Americas, which brings us back to Admiral Sir George Henry Richards who was doing exactly that and to Rombulow-Pearse who played a different role.

So, Rombulow-Pearse took command of the newly commissioned HMS Alert in 1857, a 17-gun wooden screw sloop of the Cruizer class.

HMS Alert in the Arctic

Her engines gave 383 horsepower and she was also rigged with a barque-rig sail plan.  He was based on the Pacific Station at Esquimalt on the southern tip of Vancouver Island and had one role – the policing of the Canadian coastline and the protection of its borders from the United States. This was critical because British Columbia was the only access for Canada to the Pacific coastline.  The Alert had been specifically designed for this type of policing work although later it was refitted for Arctic expeditionary work.

George Henry Richards was also sent to provide a British military presence on Vancouver Island and arrived at Esquimalt in November 1857. However, that was secondary to his principal role of assisting the Anglo-American boundary commission in determining the location of the international boundary with America.  This involved detailed surveying of the waters between Vancouver Island and the American mainland, a task he swiftly completed by June 1958 though to no immediate avail – the deadlock in boundary negotiations wasn’t broken until 1871-72.

In the mean time Captain Richards continued his survey work of the British Columbia coast and, as part of this, he designated dozens of names for sites along this stretch of coast. For example, Alert Bay is named after Rombulow-Pearse’s ship; but, more importantly, he also named an island at the north entrance to Johnstone Strait as “Pearse Island”.  On the north side of the island is a two kilometre wide channel of water named the “Pearse Canal” by Captain Daniel Pender in some later survey work in 1868.

So William Alfred Rombulow-Pearse was immortalised by having an island and a channel named after him.  In itself that would be worthy historical recognition but there was more to follow.

Signing of Alaska Treaty of Cessation 1867

The area to the north of British Columbia, the north-western tip of the continent, actually belonged to Russia and its boundaries had been established by the Anglo-Russian Treaty of 1825.  In 1867 the United States purchased this territory (now known as Alaska) from Russia for a mere $7.2 million. In the hindsight of political history this was probably America’s greatest strategic acquisition and Russia’s greatest strategic loss.

Unfortunately the 1825 Anglo-Russian Treaty had been ambiguous about the territorial boundaries, these not being defined on maps of the period. America’s policy of “Manifest Destiny” was now squeezing Canada from both the south and the north, with Britain having to resolve the boundary issues on both fronts.  This was of strategic importance because British Columbia was Canada’s only access to the Pacific coast. The resolution of the boundary dispute took almost another 40 years before being finalised by the Hay-Herbert Treaty of 24th January 1903 (otherwise known as the Alaska Boundary Settlement).

By this time Vice-Admiral William Alfred Rombulow Pearse was long dead but his name lived on, set in the stone of that Hay-Herbert Treaty.  Why? Because the southern sea border dividing Alaska from British Columbia/Canada was the eponymous Pearse Canal.

Admiral W A Rombulow Pearse died on 12th August 1890 and was followed only seven years later on 8 January 1897 by the death of his wife, Blanche Eleanor Rombulow Pearse.  They are both buried in a surprisingly simple and modest plot (S110) which is easily accessible and easy to find. The leaded lettering on the grave is still in good condition but is barely legible because of the lichen growth and stone discolouration.

Sources and References

Extracts from contemporary newspapers are referenced directly in the text.  Other sources, with hyperlinks as appropriate, are as follows.  For further information and queries which have turned up during this research check out the “Loose Ends” section after these references.

GENERAL for genealogy

British Newspaper Archives for all snippets from contemporary newspapers

Wikipedia for general background information


BC Geographical Names – website

A Naval Biographical Dictionary, William R O’Byrne Esq, 1849

The Mid-Victorian Royal Navy – website

Royal Maritime Museum, Greenwich – collections website

Open Library Internet Archive – website

Crosspark – website

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography – website

Dictionary of Canadian Biography – website

Internet Archive – website

Dreadnought Project – website

Records by Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fisher, Hodder and Stoughton, 1919

The National Archives – website

Admiral William Alfred Rombulow Pearse – Loose Ends


I have been unable so far to find a birth registration.  There are three references to his date of birth; his gravestone carries the date 6th June 1818; his naval record shows it as 6 July 1819 and the 1881 census gives simply 1821.

However, I have found a reference to a baptism record for William Alfred Rumbelow dated 25 December 1817 at St John, Portsea, Hampshire.  The caveat is that the parents are shown as Father: John or Thomas Rumbelow and Mother: Sarah or Margaret.

There are two references to his place of birth: the 1881 census gives Bungay, Suffolk; the 1871 census gives Hilsea, Hampshire.  Given his entry into the Royal Navy the latter may be more likely.


It is unclear whether his surname is Pearse, which is how he is referred to in his military records, or “Rombulow-Pearse” which is how he is referred to in his obituary; how his wife Blanche refers to herself in the 1891 census; and how his children seem to be frequently referred to. The “Rombulow” component of the name also seems to have various spellings in references I have seen – Rombulow, Rumbulow and Rumbelow. My feeling is that “Pearse” is indeed probably his surname but, if that is the case, how did he acquire it?


The same question may have occurred to his own family who obviously made attempts to trace his ancestry.  First, though, some relevant information:

  1. His marriage certification gives his father as a “Gentleman”, Thomas Henry Richard Rombulow.
  2. It appears that a Thomas Rumbelow married a Margaret Oxenham on 28 May 1810 at Alverstoke, Hampshire (see Pallot’s Marriage Index)

  3. Thomas Rumbelow died 17 February 1825 at Portsea, Hampshire age 32, birth year 1793).  Geographically this fits with a birthplace of “Hilsea” for our admiral.
  4. shows that they had four children – Margaret Amelia (born 27/7/13), Thomas Henry (born 10/7/1811 baptised 1 Aug 1811), Emily Jane (baptised 3/8/19), Margaret Elizabeth (baptised 18 Jan 1824)
  5. However, the baptism reference above suggests there could have been a fifth child William Alfred Rumbelow (baptised 25 December 1817)
  6. This still doesn’t resolve the “Pearse” surname.  So here comes some speculation:
    1. There is a record on the England, Select Marriages, 1538-1973 of a Margaret Rumbelow marrying a Thomas Pearse in Kent on 17 August 1825.
    2. The Exeter and Plymouth gazette of 9 May 1829 reported in its Deaths column:
      On Monday the 4th of May inst., at Gosport, after a severe and protracted illness of several years, Lieut. Thomas Pearse R.N., eldest son of Rear Admiral Thomas Pearse, of Bradninch in this County.”
    3. The 1851 Census shows a Margaret Pearse residing as a visitor at 10 Albion St, Paddington.  She is described as a naval officer widow, born in Barnstaple and her age is given as 56 (if correct that would have made her about 15 when she married Thomas Rumbelow).
    4. The 1861 census shows a Margaret Pearse as a widow, aged 67, head of household, born in Shirwell (near Barnstaple) Devon. She is described as a “government assisted fund-holder (??)” – a little difficult to read from the census record but I suppose this could imply being in receipt of a navy pension.  With her is a daughter, Margaret Rombulow aged 27, and a grand-daughter, Alice Knock aged 6.  The strong indications are that this is the same Margaret Pearse.
    5. The National Archives also have a reference to “Entry papers for service as an Excise man”, dated 1864, for William Alfred Rombulow Knock
  7. So there appears to be a possible plausible chain to confirm that the surname “Pearse” came from his mother’s second marriage.

There are two examples of the family researching their ancestry.  Both are enquiries in the Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries,” a Quarterly Journal devoted to the LOCAL HISTORY BIOGRAPHY and ANTIQUITIES of the Counties of Devon and Cornwall edited by JOHN S AMERY E WINDEATT HUGH R WATKIN and R PEARSE CHOPE”

Note 189, Vol X1, From January 1920 to October 1921:

“ROMBULOW OR RUMBELOW FAMILY – (1) The arms of the Rombulow family are the same in design as those of Bamfylde, viz:- On a bend gules three mullets pierced of the field.  What connection is there between the two families?
(2) Whom did the following members of the family marry?
Rev. John Rumnilowe 1560-1600 (?)
Rev. John Rumbilowe 1596-1636.  Rector of Bigbury
Rev. Nathaniel Rumbulowe 1635-1671.  Vicar of Quethiock
Mr John Rumbilow of Ottery St Mary 1625- ?
Rev. John Rumbilowe 1668-1729. Rector of Portlemouth.
Mr. John Rumbelloe, born about 1700, father of Mary Rumbelloe, who married John Vivian of Comprigney in Kenwyn, Cornwall.

Any information regarding Thomas Rombulow of Bishop’s Tawton, who died 1776, and of his descendants will oblige.

A. B. Rombulow-Pearse
Major 6th Gurkha Rifles”

Note 235 from Volume XII, from January 1922 to October 1923:

“Oxenham Family. – Is there a pedigree of the Oxenham family in existence? Can anyone tell me the connexion with it of Abraham Oxenham of Barnstaple, who married Anne May, about the end of the 18th century.  I believe he had four daughters, who married:

Julia Oxenham = John Dyer, Paymaster R.N.
Amelia Oxenham = Lieut. Waghorn R.N., who discovered the overland route to India.
Margaret Oxenham = Thomas Henry Richard Rombulow, of Plymouth.
Maria Oxenham = Dr. Mountjoy


Aubrey Bewicke Rombulow Pearse was the youngest son (born 1882) and served as Major in the Indian Army from 1914-20.  He retired as Lt. Colonel and died in 1950.

Other Family Information

His eldest daughter, Miss B E Rombulow-Pearse, married Commander E G Shortland RN in December 1898.  This is how the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette of Friday 23 December 1898 reported the event:

Sad news reported by the Army and Navy Gazette on Saturday 16 October 1897:

LIEUT. A. B. ROMBULOW-PEARSE.  Lieut. Alfred Bertie Rombulow-Pearse R.M.A., third son of the late Admiral W. A. Rombulow-Pearse died of peritonitis at Malta, on Sept 30, on board the Ramillies, flagship of the Mediterranean Squadron. He joined the Royal Marine Artillery as 2nd Lieutenant on Sept. 1, 1890, and was senior subaltern at the time of his death.  He was only 24 years of age.

Plymouth Naval Memorial has the grave of Midshipman Claude Aubrey Mortimer Rombulow-Pearse who died on 22 May 1941

Arthur Egmont Rombulow-Pearse served as a Lieutenant-Colonel of the Royal Marine Light Infantry during World War 1, before becoming Paymaster at the Ports Division on 1 July 1918.  His service medals came up for auction in 2017.

Claude Alwin Rombulow Pearse (CARP) was mentioned in dispatches on 11 April 1919, as Captain RN.  He was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire (Military).  He seems to have survived a chequered career though!  In 1904 he was appointed in command of the destroyer Skate and soon collided with the Vixen. CARP was told that he was to blame for having used too much helm.  He hadn’t learned from this experience it would seem, as in 1906 when commanding the destroyer Desperate he collided with the Banshee and was once again held to blame for “having not slackened speed at the judicious point”.  Conversely though he had also been commended for his handling of the Sturgeon in rescuing the crew of the Decoy when she had collided with Arun on manoeuvres in 1904.  Perhaps collision was just an occupational hazard, more common than we might have imagined! Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Fisher, mentioned this incident in his book:

“we smile when we remember youngsters like Lieutenant Rombulow-Pearse of the ‘Sturgeon’, who rescued the crew of the sinking ‘Decoy’ in a gale of wind, with only his small whaler to help him, and with the loss of only one man, who disappeared nobody knows how.”



Three in One – Part 3b – Harry Welchman – Career Years

This is your life

On February 5th 1960 the TV presenter Eamonn Andrews surprised Harry Welchman in a taxi outside  the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, London. This became Harry’s appearance later that week on the popular TV show of the time ‘This is Your Life’.  Unfortunately the recording of that show doesn’t exist any longer; it would have been interesting to see what, if anything, they had to say about Harry’s early family life and indeed some of the more tortuous parts of his own career.

Harry was mainly a stage performer but between 1915 and 1954 he made 19 films, some musical and others straight drama.

His obituary in The Stage in 1966 described him as:

“.… the most famous musical comedy hero of his time, with handsome stage presence and a fine voice, admirably suited to the melodious scores of the romantic shows of the ‘twenties and ‘thirties.”

His theatrical and film career is well-documented elsewhere and though I will mention in this section of the story various productions with which he was involved, I am more interested in exploring the social aspects of his life. Before starting though why not take a look at Harry Welchman in the flesh in this Youtube recording of Harry Welchman singing ‘A Bachelor Gay’ in the 1932 film ‘The Maid of the Mountains’.  Click here.

Harry Welchman 1907

At the end of the previous post we left Harry Welchman at the age of 15 living in Congresbury, Somerset, with Janet Coke and her two eldest daughters Janet Sarah and Edith.  He remained with them whilst he completed his schooling and then went straight onto the stage in 1904.  He joined a touring musical comedy company led by Ada Reeve (who also appeared in the ‘This is Your Life’ programme in 1960) and made his first appearance on stage at the Royal, Boscombe, in the chorus of Winnie Brooke, Widow.


In Princess Caprice

At the age of 20, whilst playing Dandini in Cinderella at the Marlborough, he was spotted by Robert Courtneidge, the theatrical manager-producer (also father of Cecily Courtneidge).  This led to him becoming a juvenile, and subsequently main, lead in such West End hit productions as Tom Jones (1907), The Arcadians (1909) and Princess Caprice (1912).  By this time he was living in London with his ‘foster-mother’ Janet Sarah and her sister Edith.

On 8th July 1913 Harry married his first wife, the actress Joan Challoner who was described by The Stage at the time as:

“.… a young acress who for the past eighteen months has been a member of Sir Herbert Tree’s company at His Majesty’s.  Miss Challoner became engaged to Mr Welchman during the run of ‘Drake’, in which piece she was understudy both to Miss Phyllis Neilson-Terry and Miss Amy Brandon Thomas.”

Her entry to the profession came through an interesting route, being a member of the Stock Exchange Dramatic and Operatic Society which seemed to be a philanthropic organisation aiming to promote aspiring actors.

Harry Welchman and Joan Challoner

In 1915 Harry made his first film playing the lead role in Mr Lyndon at Liberty. Then the war intervened.  It’s not clear whether Harry actually saw active service but he was commissioned in September 1916 into a Special Reserve of Officers in the Royal Field Artillery.  Harry’s theatrical career was put on hold for a while but Joan Challoner continued hers through the war, including performances in the War Relief Matinees (her matinee was under the patronage of Queen Alexandra in aid of the Women’s Emergency Corps).

Their marriage was not to last though and in 1922 Joan initiated divorce proceedings against Harry.  It’s hard to determine how scandalous this would have been at the time but it seems to have been widely reported in the press of the time and the story suggests that it was quite acrimonious.

According to the Pall Mall Gazette of 19 January 1922:

“In the Divorce Division today before Mr Justice Hill, Mrs Joan Dorothea Welchman petitioned for a decree of restitution of conjugal rights against Mr Harry Welchman, an actor.”

The article described the breakdown of their marriage and the fact that Harry had walked out in April the year before.  However, by July 1922 more details had emerged pointing to an affair that Harry was having.  The Nottingham Journal of 20 July continues the story:


Lord Buckmaster, in the Divorce Court, yesterday heard the petition of Mrs Welchman …. for a dissolution of her marriage on the ground of the adultery and non-compliance with an order for restitution of conjugal rights of her husband Mr Harry Arthur Welchman, the musical comedy actor.

Petitioner gave evidence that …. she never stayed with him at any time during 1921 at the Burford Bridge Hotel …. Edith Oliver, chambermaid at the Burford Bridge Hotel, who identified respondent by means of a photograph, gave evidence that in October, 1921, he occupied a bedroom at Burford Bridge Hotel with a woman not the petitioner.  A decree nisi with costs was granted.”

Harry’s lover seems to have been protected from the press at the time but The People of 3rd August 1924, when announcing Harry’s engagement to Sylvia Forde, chose to reveal those details:

“Harry Welchman was previously married to Joan Challoner; and after she divorced him he was expected to marry Margaret Cooper.  The two were very much attached; but, unfortunately, poor Miss Cooper died.”

Margaret Cooper

There is a superb biography of Margaret Cooper on the Kilburn and Willesden history blog site and I have chosen a few extracts here to explain some of the tragedy surrounding Harry’s divorce.  Described as the ‘Lady in the Long Silk Gloves’:

Margaret Cooper was a very popular music hall entertainer at the piano in the early part of the 20th Century  …..  Margaret was a very talented musician and composer, playing the piano, violin and organ.  After attending the Royal Academy of Music, she worked as an accompanist and sang at concerts and dinners  ….  Her lucky break came when she was spotted playing at a charity concert by theatre manager Sir Alfred Butt  …..  At first rather dubious about appearing on the variety stage, she took the plunge in October 1906 – and never looked back, she was an instant and overwhelming success.  When she appeared later that month in Bristol, she was billed as ‘The Latest London Sensation, in her Inimitable Songs at the Piano.  Her largest fee was £100 for a single performance, which is equivalent to about £8,000 today  …..  she was also in great demand for private parties, where she sang before King George V and Queen Mary and visiting royal dignitaries.

….. The death of her husband Arthur in 1918 was a severe blow to Margaret and her appearances in the London variety theatres became less frequent.  She died four years later from heart failure on 27 December 1922.  Although she’d not been in the best of health after suffering breakdown a few months earlier Margaret’s death was unexpected..  ….. Several obituaries agreed her death evoked a ‘peculiar pathos’ as Margaret was planning a new life, having agreed to marry actor and singer Harry Welchman in February 1923.  But the related scandal that could have damaged Margaret’s image was something the papers chose to ignore, presumably out of respect for the lady.

In Lady of the Rose

….. At the time of Margaret’s death Harry was appearing to good reviews in ‘The Lady of the Rose. Up to then, their engagement hadn’t been made public and there was a good reason for this.  Margaret’s obituaries fail to mention the fact Harry was going through a divorce.  In July 1922 his actress wife Joan … had been granted a decree nisi, on the grounds of Harry’s ‘statutory desertion and adultery’.  This was made final in January 1923, a month after Margaret’s death.  Her role is open to speculation, as she is never named in the newspaper reports as the ‘other woman.’

So 1922-24 was evidently a very emotional and dramatic period in Harry’s life in a non-theatrical sense – an adulterous affair, a messy divorce from his first wife, the death of his lover and then only a year later his engagement to his future second wife, Sylvia Forde.  I have already covered that engagement in Part 2 of this tale dealing with Sylvia Forde but perhaps one last quotation is of interest from The People of 3rd August 1924:

“An Actor’s Romance.  When on the first night of ‘Head over Heels’ there was a new leading lady, Mary Ellis, it looks as though a new name had arrived definitely in the West End.  But no; the the poor young lady was replaced in a few weeks, and I have never heard of her again.  Put in the chorus that night was a young woman named Sylvia Forde, then unknown, who, last week, was announced to be engaged to Harry Welchman and who, therefore, in consequence, will, I have no doubt, be heard of again.”

Harry’s career continued full flight though as he made his first Broadway appearance in Princess Flavia in 1925 but was also performing then in London in Love’s Prisoner at the Adelphi which only had a brief run and was rated by The Times as an unsuccessful mixture of Gilbert and Sullivan, melodrama and musical comedy.

Perhaps one of his most famous theatrical roles came three years later as the Red Shadow in the stage version of the Desert Song which ran at Drury Lane for more than 400 performances.  He definitely set the standard for this role.  The Stage in May 1967 was still continuing the comparison:

“.…. when Harry Welchman captured the Town at Drury Lane forty years ago, with the enchanting Edith Day as the Margot of the story, the show had a spectacular production .   “

By 1929 Harry’s career was taking another dramatic shift but this time of the theatrical sort – he entered management, setting up a production company for The White Camellia at Daly’s Theatre.  Life as a manager was to have its challenges.  We’ve already seen in part 2 about Sylvia Forde that shortly before the opening night Harry lost one of his principal dancers and Sylvia was drafted in at very short notice.  However, the book Daly’s – A Biography of the Theatre describes the financial consequences of Harry’s change of direction:

“Harry Welchman had little luck in management at Daly’s. ‘It has cost me eight thousand pounds to learn that musical comedy of the old-fashioned sort has no chance today’ said Harry Welchman in a Press interview, discussing the losses he incurred in staging first ‘The White Camellia’ and secondly reviving ‘The Lady of the Rose’ at Daly’s Theatre.”

He went on to explain:

“.… one or two of the so-called musical comedy houses are no longer business propositions.  Rents are enormous, the seating is abominable, of comforts there are none.  My advice is ‘scrap the lot’ and build some new ones, or at least leave the shells of the present theatres and reconstruct the interiors.  My dream for the future is to have a theatre with seating capacity commensurate with the biggest cinema theatres.  This theatre will have all the amenities of a picture house.  There will be no charge for programmes and no charge at the cloakrooms.”

I wonder if it was this realisation that perhaps changed his focus towards films – he made more than a dozen in the thirties and early forties, including two 1943 films The Gentle Sex and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.  One performance in the thirties though is definitely worth mentioning since it was local.  As the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette of 6th August 1937 describes:

“BARNSTAPLE MAN’S DESERVED TRIUMPH.  Strong Supporting Bill of Talent.

Had Harry Welchman, the famous musical comedy star, who is a native of Barnstaple and heads the variety bill at the Theatre Royal, Exeter, this week, met the wishes of audiences he would have been a very very tired man.  At each performance he had to take several ‘curtains’, sing extra songs and even when he had smilingly taken his last ‘au revoir’, the applause continued.  It was not because he was ‘one of us’ that Devon audiences have been so enthusiastic, for to most of them it was news when he made the statement at the end of his turn.  It was simply a delighted mass appreciation of his singing, which included well-known numbers from such musical plays and comedies as ‘Desert Song’, ‘Maid of the Mountains’, ‘Southern Maid’, ‘Rose Marie’, etc.  With an excellent voice he combines a charm of manner and histrionic talent that makes his songs doubly enjoyable.  Each contribution is given the right atmosphere, and how audiences have enjoyed listening to them!  One of the most successful was ‘No More War’, with its telling and dramatic recitative.  To this audiences have listened in tense silence, their applause at the conclusion demonstrating their approval of the sentiments expressed.

The high standard set in his particular sphere by Harry Welchman is characteristic of the whole programme.”

He was definitely easing off by the end of the Second World War, though it’s probably a truism that actors never retire.  As we have already seen, he moved down to Cornwall with his family in 1947 where he bought a farm but soon became involved in amateur dramatics at the Penlee Park Theatre.  This had its origins in 1948 with a successful Cornwall Shakespeare .Festival in which Harry performed in Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The theatre stage in its first year was simply made from borrowed beer crates covered in imitation grass from the greengrocers but the following year the Penzance Town Council commissioned a proper earth and granite stage.

Here is a picture including Harry Welchman (centre) behind the scene in 1957 with the Penzance Playgoers Theatre Club.

In 1950 Harry was interviewed by the Nottingham Journal of 1st June, exploring his views on success of productions on the stage.  Harry explained:

“The play’s the thing ….. If you have not got a good play, then even the engagement of well-known people to sing in it will not help you or make any real difference if they have bad material to deal with.  The Student Prince has been a great success ever since its original production because it is based on a good play ‘Old Heidelberg’ – a most beautiful love story.  …..  To be a real success a musical play must have one or two numbers that people can get hold of.  The success lies in the music but the music is inspired by the book.  …..  The ‘Maid of the Mountains’ into which ‘A Bachelor Gay’ a song written by J W Tate was interpolated had nothing to do with the play but everyone came away whistling it.”

With these views it is strange that Harry, the non-retired actor, got involved in his final performance in 1959 – John Osborne’s play The World of Paul Slickey, a musical intended as a satire on high-society gossip columnists.  The play was apparently a complete disaster with the audience booing at the end.  Among the booing members of the audience were John Gielgud and Noël Coward, who later wrote in his diary of the play, “never in all my theatrical experience have I seen anything so appalling, appalling from every point of view“.  As the Birmingham Daily Post of 6th May commented:

“One felt sorry for the cast, especially for such veterans as Mary Lohr and Harry Welchman.”

The play closed after six weeks, rather a sad end to Harry Welchman’s career.

Harry Welchman, 24 February 1886 – 3 January 1966.

Information Sources:

Kilburn & Willesden History Blog – Margaret Cooper

Daly’s – The Biography of a Theatre – Management

All Music – Biographical

Penlee Park Theatre – time in Penzance

Big Red Book – This is your life

Wikipedia – biographical


The Curious Case of the Shifting Shrub

Something slightly light-hearted for Xmas Eve …..

Tales from the Grave so far have focussed on stories surrounding those who are buried in the Cemetery.  But the Cemetery itself has its own tales to tell such as this one from the Western Morning News of Friday 5th March 1880 – a tale of apparent mystery, intrigue and skulduggery which prompted rumours to be spread throughout the town.  I have left the story verbatim as reported in the paper to give it the appropriate ‘period’ feel of a Victorian melodrama but I have broken the single paragraph item up into several for ease of reading.

Curious Proceedings in Teignmouth Cemetery

“At the monthly meeting of the Teignmouth Burial Board yesterday, Mr C H Stooke presiding, Messrs J Tothill and N Hudson also being present, a letter was read by the clerk (Mr Jordan) from Mr G A Hole, gardener, of Fore Street, in which the writer complained that he had found on visiting the cemetery, that a shrub had been taken from his mother’s grave, and on enquiry where the shrub was he discovered that it had been planted on another grave.

The lodge-keeper (Mills) said he knew nothing about it.

The Chairman proposed that, taking all the facts of the case into consideration, the monthly visitor (Mr G Jarvis) be written to, requesting him to have Mills replace the shrub at once.  He (the chairman) heard Mr Jarvis give Mills particular orders not to touch any shrub belonging to any private individual, and Mills should have obeyed those orders.

Mr Tothill thought it possible that Mills might not have been present at all when the shrub was transplanted.  The Chairman thought Mills must have been there the whole of the time.  Mr Hudson inquired whether anyone could plant shrubs on the graves of their relatives.  The Clerk said they could with a “pass” which Mr Hole evidently had.

The Chairman said it appeared that a rumour had gone through the town about this particular shrub, altogether a false rumour, which was got up for a purpose; there was no doubt about that.  He had heard Mills suggest, in Mr Jarvis’s presence, that some of the shrubs in the cemetery should be transplanted, as they were too thick, and were injuring each other, and Mr Jarvis told Mills he must do nothing of the kind with the shrubs planted by private individuals.

Mr Tothill said that might be all very well, but the shrub was removed from a private grave, and placed upon his (Mr Jarvis’s) father’s grave.  It was a thing which he (Mr Tothill) would not have allowed to be done.  Mr Hudson thought it would have been far more satisfactory if both the visitor and the lodgekeeper had been present.  Mr Hudson did not believe that Mills would have allowed the shrub to be removed without Mr Jarvis’s sanction.

It was resolved to order the restoration of the shrub, and to further investigate the matter.

Was Jarvis, the appointed ‘visitor’, the mastermind villain behind this heinous act? Was Mills, the trusted lodgekeeper, the fall-guy?  What was the nefarious purpose of the “false rumour”?  Did Stooke, the Chairman, have a hidden vested interest and was he attempting to pervert the course of cemeterial justice?  Was the further investigation a cover-up, perhaps in the national interest?

We may never know the answers to these important questions – I can find no further report.  The statute of limitations may have passed but this Victorian whodunnit remains a mystery.


PC Harold Ricketts ….. Bravery and a Twist in the Tale

Postman’s Park

Watercolour by John Crowther (1837-1902)

A short distance north of St Paul’s Cathedral is a small area of land which once formed part of the site of the former churchyard and burial ground of St Botolph’s Aldersgate church.

Following the Burial Acts of 1851 and onwards it was decided to convert this land into a public park which subsequently opened in 1880.  Being adjacent to the new headquarters of the GPO it became popular with the workers there who would use it on their breaks and, hence, it became known as “Postman’s Park”.


Memorial Wall

In 1900 though the park took on a different and important significance.  It became the location for George Frederic Watts’s Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice, a commemoration of ordinary people who died while saving the lives of others and who might otherwise be forgotten.

This took the form of a loggia and long wall housing ceramic memorial tablets.  Only four of the planned 120 memorial tablets were in place at the time of its opening, with a further nine tablets added by the time of Watt’s death in 1904.

His wife, Mary, took over the management of the project and oversaw the installation of further memorial tablets together with a small monument to Watts.  Following her death in 1938, and with both George and Mary Watts increasingly out of fashion, the memorial was abandoned half-finished, with only 52 of the intended 120 spaces filled.

One of those memorial tablets is the subject of this story – that of PC Harold Ricketts.

The memorial is simple:

“PC Harold Frank Ricketts, Metropolitan Police, Drowned at Teignmouth whilst trying to rescue a boy bathing and seen to be in difficulty. 11 Sept 1916”.

The story, however, is more complex and reflects the bravery of local fishermen as well.  There is an on-line summary of the story at the London Walking Tours site .

There is also a book “Heroes of Postman’s Park” by John Price. However, I have gone back to the original accounts posted in the local papers of the time – the Exeter & Plymouth Gazette, the Western Times, the Western Morning News, the Western Gazette.

PC Harold Ricketts

Harold Ricketts was not from Teignmouth but had married a young Teignmouth woman, Kate Gilpin, in London only three weeks before his death.  They had returned to Teignmouth for their honeymoon.

Harold actually came from Wimborne, Dorset and was described as “well-known and esteemed in Wimborne by a large circle of friends” and was a member of Wimborne Football Club “rendering excellent service as right-back”.

Harold was the son of Police Superintendent Ambrose Ricketts who himself had died just over a year previously.  He had three brothers one of whom, Ambrose, was his twin, and three sisters the eldest of whom, Charlotte, who described as the head-mistress of Wimborne Minster Girls’ School.  He attended Wimborne Grammar School and then, with his twin brother, served an apprenticeship as a turner at the famous Eclipse Works.

However, that was not to be his career.  Both he and his twin brother decided to follow in their father’s footsteps and in 1913 they both joined the police force.  For some reason though they did not enrol in Wimborne but chose to join the London Metropolitan Police, the Met.  Maybe they didn’t want to be in the shadow of their father or maybe there were simply more vacancies in the Met where pay and conditions (e.g. police housing) were better.

Believed to be Kate Gilpin (from family tree)

At the time of his death Harold was living in Kensington and had been acting for several months as an assistant clerk at one of the divisional offices of the Met.  I am curious to know how he and his wife-to-be, Kate Gilpin, met.  There is no reference to Harold having been to Teignmouth before, nor to any family connections so was Kate living and working in London as well at the same time?

From the 1911 census records it appears that Kate was living in a solicitor’s house in Limpsfield, Surrey.  There is no occupation shown for her but perhaps we can assume that she was in service and that a move to London in a similar role would have been likely.  When they married she was shown as living in Warwick Gardens and had no occupation.  At the time of Harold’s death she gave her address as Irene House, Belgrave road, Shepherds Bush.

However it happened they met, married at St Barnabas Church, Kensington, and came down to Teignmouth for the fateful honeymoon.  Harold was only 23 at the time, whilst Kate was the older woman, aged 28.  They stayed with Kate’s mother, Elizabeth Gilpin who lived in Teign View Terrace.

The Boat Trip 

It was about six o’clock on the evening of Monday 11th September 1916 that the family decided to take a boat trip on the river.

There were six people in the boat on that evening – Kate and Harold, her mother, one of her sisters, Florence (Florrie) Westlake, and two children – Florrie’s four-year old daughter Beatrice and another six-year old girl Alice Hannaford (or Hooper?).  Florrie lived in Bishopsteignton and the family had decided that they would take her upriver by boat as as far as Shaldon bridge from where she would then walk home. Florrie was actually doing the rowing – “she was quite used to this work, having been rowing all her life”.  Her mother sat in the stern whilst Harold and Kate were on either side with the two children between them.

The boat had belonged to Kate’s father, William Henry Gilpin, who had been a Trinity pilot on the river.  He had died two years before so the ownership and licence for the boat had passed to her mother.  It was a ‘stiff-built’ boat 11ft long and 4½ft in beam, large enough to carry five persons.  These were both factors explored at the inquest (see later).

The Incident

Starting from Teign View beach they had rowed up past the second quay as far as the acetylene stores by Polly steps when they heard cries of “Help” and Kate Ricketts saw a young lad in difficulty in the water.  The place used to be a favourite bathing spot for youngsters but with the spring tide running high at the time the boy, Stanley Drew, had obviously got into trouble and was hanging on to a chain attached to the Custom House boat moored in the river.

Kate apparently called out to the boy asking him if he could get back to the shore.  He replied “No” so Florrie turned their boat and rowed back towards him.  When they reached him the boy let go of the chain, Harold got hold of him and managed to pull him half-way into the boat.  The boy though unexpectedly threw his arms around Harold’s neck and both of them fell back into the water.

The jerk made the boat heel over and half-fill with water causing everyone else to  fall into the river as well.  What had started as a well-intentioned rescue of a young lad had now turned into a major incident with seven people struggling in the fast-running tide.

The Rescue

Fortunately the screams of people in the water were heard and the capsizing had also been seen so help soon arrived from various directions.

The three people key to the rescue were:

  • John Fraser, a seaman on board the schooner Rhoda Mary which was lying at buoys.  He was in the ship’s boat heading for the schooner when he heard cries of “Come back, come back” and he “proceeded with all haste” to rescue two women and one of the children
  • Frank Loosemore who was going out mackerel fishing had seen the incident from the New Quay. He ran round to the Old Quay and brought in the third woman and a child.
  • Thomas Hitchcock, a young fisherman of Brunswick Street, Teignmouth.  He was at New Quay with Frank Loosemore and ran round to the scene with him.  He was the one who saved Stanley Drew, the original boy who had been in difficulty.

Rescue was too late for Harold Ricketts though.  He was unable to swim and, according to Kate, when he went over he struggled in the water, went down, re-surfaced but then disappeared.  A fisherman, William Henry Hitchcock, found his body later at about 10pm in six feet of water about 25 yards away.

Tom Hitchcock

When Thomas and Frank arrived on the scene it appeared that people were being rescued apart from the boy, Stanley Drew, who seemed to be drifting down river.  They saw the boy going down and Thomas immediately dived in to rescue him.  He brought him up and swam back to the quay with him.  A passing Belgian (an interesting detail in the story!) leant over with his walking stick for the boy to grab and be pulled up.  However, according to the evidence, the Belgian let him go and the boy went down again.  Thomas dived down for him again and eventually the boy was brought back to land.

Whilst this was going on Florrie, who was able to swim a little, was managing to keep her mother and the two children afloat until John Fraser arrived in his boat saving first the younger girl (Florrie’s daughter) then Florrie.  She and John Fraser between them were then able to pull her mother from the water. According to Florrie he arrived just in time because “her mother and the two children had been down twice.”  By this time Frank Loosemore had also arrived, having jumped from the quay and swum across to save the other little girl who he handed to John Fraser in the boat.  It was just in time to save the girl’s life.  The girl was given artificial respiration and recovered within about five minutes.

Before reaching the little girl Frank Loosemore had swum to Kate Ricketts who was hanging on to a chain.  In Frank’s words though she shouted to him “For God’s sake, save the child!”.  Kate could swim and managed to reach a life-buoy which was being held by a soldier over the side of the quay.  After Frank had rescued the little girl he returned for Kate Ricketts.  John Fraser had no oars in his boat so Frank had to tow it into position close to Kate.  He then swam behind her and pushed her legs up to get her into the boat.

Everyone was brought to shore where by this time Dr G H Johnson had arrived at the scene together with Sgt G A Bilton and Pte Fursdon of the St John’s Ambulance Association.  Stanley Drew apparently had suffered no ill-effects but the two younger children were taken to the hospital.  The adults were taken back to Elizabeth Gilpin’s house in Teign View Terrace.

The Inquest

An inquest on Harold Ricketts’ death was held quite quickly – only two days later. It was presided over by the County Coroner Mr Sidney Hacker with Mr G Pedrick as foreman of the jury.  They took statements from all the parties and those, as reported in the various local papers of the time, form the basis of the above story.  However, the inquest was concerned with more than just Harold’s death itself; it identified what may have been contributory factors in the chain of events that led to his death.

Polly Steps

Frank Loosemore was asked whether the place (I.e. Polly Steps) was dangerous for boys bathing and he confirmed that that was the case.  He said there was a strong current, especially at spring tides, and that “boys were swept off their legs before they knew where they were”.  One of the jurymen, Mr W Shapter, also referred to the danger of boys bathing at the place but, although several other jurymen agreed, no recommendation was made.

It turns out that there had been previous incidents of boys getting into difficulty off Polly Steps.  The Teignmouth Old Quay Company who had built the slip had applied in 1901 for powers to make bye-laws controlling the quay, including preventing bathing at the slipway at Polly Steps.

The Boat

The inquest explored the licence for the boat in which Harold Ricketts made that fateful trip.  The boat had been owned by Elizabeth Gilpin’s husband the Trinity pilot William Gilpin.  It appears though that on his death the licence to carry up to five people had lapsed and had not been renewed. A Mrs Back, one of Mrs Gilpin’s other daughters, had been instructed by the coroner to find the licence but had come back with the explanation that the licence had not been renewed because the boat had not been let out on hire since her father’s death and was for private use only.

As to the number of people in the boat William Hitchcock testified that the boat was big enough to carry five people ‘provided they sat still’.  Kate Ricketts testified that everyone did sit still even during the attempt to rescue Stanley Drew and denied that anyone had “jumped up”.  Florence Westlake explained that though there had been six in the boat they thought it was all right because “the two children were no more than one grown-up”.  The other curious fact that was brought to the attention of the jury was that the mother, Mrs Gilpin, who was sitting in the stern weighed 12 stone!

The Outcome

The jury returned a verdict of accidental death by drowning.

The coroner and the jury offered their sincerest condolences to Harold’s mother, who had only a year before lost her own husband, and to the other family members.  In turn they were thanked by Kate’s brother, Frank Gilpin, who was a naval seaman.

The jury commended those who took part in saving lives and the foreman was asked to bring their gallant conduct to the attention of the local agent of the Royal Humane Society.  One of the jurymen, Mr E Bennett, remarked that Frank Loosemore had saved other lives in the past – more of this to come in a separate story.  The coroner expressed to Frank Loosemore and Thomas Hitchcock the jury’s appreciation of their successful efforts.

The Aftermath

The funeral of Harold Ricketts took place in Teignmouth Cemetery on the afternoon of Thursday 14th September. The vicar of East Teignmouth, Rev J Veysey, officiated.  The mourners were listed as: his mother, Mrs F Ricketts; his eldest sister, Miss C Ricketts; three of his brothers – H, B and A Ricketts; Kate’s sisters – Mrs J Back, Mrs F Waldron, Mrs H Westlake and Miss E Gilpin; Kate’s brother, Mr Frank Gilpin; Mr & Mrs Greenslade (brother-in-law and sister-in-law) and a Mr C Pedrick (foreman of the jury?).  Policemen of the Teignmouth District, under Sergeant Partridge acted as bearers and amongst the floral tributes was a trophy from the officers and men of F Division of the Metropolitan Police.

It is unclear what happened to Kate afterwards.  From the records, it doesn’t appear that she had children or even remarried.  She may be buried in Melbury Abbas having died in 1953 in Shaftesbury.

Frank Loosemore and Thomas Hitchcock did receive the fitting recognition for their bravery as recommended by the inquest jury.  On Wednesday 26th January 1917, at the Teignmouth Petty Sessions Court held at the Customs House, Mr Hamilton Young asked the chairman, Mr M L Brown, to present the Royal Humane Society’s medal to Frank Loosemore and the Society’s vellum to Thomas Hitchcock.  The Chairman congratulated Frank and said “You are what I call an Englishman”.  He remarked to Thomas Hitchcock “You keep this up, it gives me great pleasure to present it to you.”

It was not until 1930 though that Harold Ricketts’ part in the event was recognised.  The Metropolitan Police had applied to the ‘Heroic Self-Service Memorial Committee’ for the addition of three new tablets on the memorial wall in Postman’s Park.  This was agreed and the unveiling ceremony took place on October 15th 1930.  The Bishop of London delivered an address on ‘courage’ and specifically mentioned the three police constables, each of whom had given his own life while attempting to save another:

“.… the excellent way in which they carried out their arduous duties and the courage and heroism subsequently displayed which so frequently passed by without any acknowledgment  ….. they did not commemorate enough or think enough of those who gave their lives in the service of their country in civil life”

Approximate location of unmarked grave

Strangely, Harold had been interred in an unmarked grave.  Over time, with the gradual deterioration of the cemetery, this became overgrown. Through the dedication of volunteers of the Friends of Teignmouth Cemetery it has been rediscovered and is being cleared to make it a more fitting memorial to a young man who died in the attempt to save the boy, Stanley Drew.


A Twist in the Tale

Nine years later on Saturday 14th February 1925 another inquest took place, this time in Newton Abbot.  A Great Western Railway pensioner, William Henry Davies, jumped from the bridge near Ball’s garage into the canal.  The incident was spotted by a young lad who raced to the scene and dived into the canal to rescue the man.  He brought the man back to shore and other passers-by gave artificial respiration but to no avail.  The coroner complimented the “conspicuous gallantry” of the 16 year old lad and he too received a vellum from the Royal Humane Society a month later.

The name of that lad was Stanley Drew.  It would be nice to think that he was the same Stanley Drew who was rescued himself as a young boy nine years earlier.  There is no proof of that though, but even so what a coincidence!

Some Biographical Notes

Whilst researching this story I put out a call on Facebook for any relatives of the three fishermen John Fraser, Frank Loosemore and Thomas Hitchcock.  This is the reply I received from Angela Healy:

First of all, it seems to be a tradition in the Hitchcock family not to use the given name. This makes tracing them through records very confusing. Some of my information has come from family, local people who knew them years ago and from my own memories.

The younger Hitchcock, Tom, was my great uncle and was officially William Thomas Hitchcock (1896-1974). He was a fisherman by trade.  At the time of the rescue, he was living in Brunswick Street.  His father, Thomas Gilly Hitchcock, was a member of the lifeboat crew, Bowman during the rescue of the Russian schooner Tehyva in 1907 and, at the time of his death in 1938, Cox. The name Gilly was my great-great-grandmother’s maiden name and was given to my great-grandfather as a middle name. I believe this was common practice. He was known only as Tom.

In March 1908, young Tom was summoned along with two other boys for stealing a book. The newspaper report states that “the offenders were dealt with under the First Offenders Act but the father of Hitchcock asked that his son should be birched.” The birching seems to have worked and young Tom later joined the lifeboat crew and worked as a lifeguard, rowing a boat along the front beach. I’m told that he saved many lives there because he knew the places where bathers were likely to get into trouble and was able to warn them of the danger. Tom married Edna Clements and had four children, three daughters and one son.  They lived in Hounslow (if I remember correctly) and later moved to Plymouth, where he died.

The older Hitchcock, William Henry, was generally known as Peter. He lived in Teign View Terrace, along from the young widow’s family. (“Teign View Terrace” has been renamed “Teign View Place” for some reason, just as “Salty” has become “The Salty” in recent years).  He was the brother of Thomas Gilly Hitchcock and young Tom’s uncle. I believe he lost a son through drowning but I don’t know when that happened nor the full details. I must do some more research.

And here is a reply from Sharon Williams in Canada:

I was back in the UK last month, (I live in Canada) and Angela and I visited the old cemetery looking for family graves, to no avail.  Thomas Hitchcock is our Great Grandfather, but his first wife Ellen, is Angela’s Great Grandmother, his second, Susan, is mine.  Ellen has her own grave, but Thomas and Susan are buried together. I found it very sad to see how neglected the cemetery has become over the years, my paternal Gran and I tended her parents grave regularly over the years and it was always so well kept.  I wish the FOTC all the best in the restoration.

Teignmouth Fishermen 1938 – William Henry Hitchcock (aka Peter) is shown on the left.  Thomas Hitchcock (Tom) is on the left of the main group.

The Keats Connection

Keats by Joseph Severn

This year has seen the 200th anniversary of the period that Keats stayed in Teignmouth.  He was here for only two months, arriving on 6th March 1818 after an horrendous journey from London through torrential storms.  He had come to look after his brother Tom who had been staying in Teignmouth as part of the ‘treatment’ of his TB, from which he died later in the year.

Whilst he was here John Keats completed the fourth book of Endymion, wrote another epic poem ‘Isabella’, a number of smaller pieces which he described as doggerel or ‘bitcherel’ and, from an important historical point of view, he wrote letters back to his friends which revealed his thought, emotions, worries.

So what’s the connection between Keats and the Cemetery?

Cresswell’s incorrect view of Keats House

In 1901 a notable local historical author, Beatrix Cresswell, wrote a book about Teignmouth – “Teignmouth, its History and its Surroundings”.  In it she refers to Keats and makes the first written mention of where Keats stayed in Teignmouth:

A year or two ago, Dr Lake and Mr H Buxton Forman, C.B. (the latter then busy in searching for memorials of Keats), were at some pains to ascertain, if possible, the house in which he stayed.  By studying his letters they concluded that the young poet lodged in a house (now 35, Strand) at the corner of Queen Street, a turning toward the river.”

Nine years later this was disputed in a letter to a local paper:

“John Keats lived here and at Teignmouth finished his masterpiece ‘Endymion’ dating the introduction to the poem Teignmouth, October 1818.  The house he lived in is now 21 Northumberland Place (adjoining the King William Inn, facing Queen Street) and is not , as Miss Cresswell in her guide states, No. 35 Northumberland Place at the corner of Queen Street nearly opposite.  For this statement I have the authority of Dr Lake, Mr W R Hall Jordan and Mr Forman Buxton (sic) CB who although neither of them are patriarchal enough to have been the contemporary of Keats each remembers this house to have been pointed out to them by those of the former generation as the Teignmouth home of the poet”

The author of that letter was Frederick C Frost.

The debate on where Keats actually stayed rumbled on and even resurfaced in another newspaper article in 2005 (Herald Express, Viv Wilson MBE), even though an official plaque had been assigned in 1931:

“The connection between John Keats and Teignmouth has not diminished with time, and many people still seek out the place where he stayed in 1818.  The red granite plaque on Keats House in Northumberland Place satisfies the majority but there is another contender for the title.  A school of thought supports the idea that Old Place, just opposite, with the canon protecting its corner wall, was the place where he stayed.”

The decision on where to place the official plaque was ultimately based on the earlier work of three men:  Dr William C Lake, Frederick C Frost and William Risdon Hall Jordan.  The latter two are buried in Teignmouth Old Cemetery, whilst Dr Lake would have been had his family not already secured a family vault at St James’ Church.

Frederick C Frost (1855-1914)

Photo by Dave Tovey

He married in Newton Abbot in 1886 and was an antiquarian who ran the local family business of auctioneers, established by his father.  The family lived at 5 Regent Street and Fred would have known Dr Lake well since they were both members of the Freemasons Benevolent Lodge 303.  He was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and also a member of the Devonshire Association, making contributions to that organisation and to the “Antiquary” and “Notes & Queries, a Medium of Intercommunication, for Literary men, General Readers etc” on subjects as diverse as the Devon dialect, medieval religious orders and heraldry.  He used the initials FSI after his name which could mean he was a Fellow (full member) of the Surveyors Institution, awarded a royal charter in 1881 and the forerunner of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (although ‘FSA’ is actually inscribed on his headstone as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries’)..

His contribution to the Keats debate

Judging by the letter he wrote, as reported in the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette of 16 April 1910, he was vociferous in championing the cause of Teignmouth celebrating various historic figures associated with the town by putting up commemorative plaques throughout the town.  My guess is that he was raising awareness and doing some local campaigning because two years later in the Western Daily Mercury of 12 March 1912 the following appeared:

“Teignmouth boasts some interesting literary memories, but the associations of Keats with the town are the most notable.  Keats came to Teignmouth for his health’s sake in 1818, and there he finished his ‘Endymion’ and wrote its remarkable preface.  Hitherto the house on the Strand, where the poet lodged, has never borne any name or indication that Keats spent any time there.  Now the house has passed to another tenant, and he, acting on the suggestion of a Fellow of the Society of Antiquarians, resident in the locality, has decided to christen the residence “Keats’s House”.  There was a dispute as to the exact house where the poet stayed but the present tenant, before deciding on the title, sought the advice of several old Teignmouthians who well remember the ’bonnet shop’.”

Keats House 1912 – Francis Gribble

Shortly after this a popular author of the time, Francis Gribble, wrote a book “The Romance of the Men of Devon” in which he included a section on Keats together with a photograph of Keats’ House with its name newly inscribed on the front door.  The house was subsequently officially recorded as “Keats’s House” in the title deeds of 1925.

William Risdon Hall Jordan (1821-1911)

The Jordan family in Teignmouth goes back to at least the 17th century and the most complete description of William R H Jordan’s life that I have found is in his obituary published in the Reports and Transactions of the Devonshire Association (Vol 44 of 1912).  I have simply transcribed this below, with any notes of my own in italics:

Photo by Dave Tovey

William Risdon Hall Jordan was born at Teignmouth, his family having settled there as far back as 1650.  His grandfather (Robert Jordan), in the early part of the last century, founded, with the late Mr Langmead, the South Devon Bank, which was subsequently merged into that of Messrs. Watts, Whidborne and Co., and later in the Capital and Counties Banking Company. (Note that Robert Jordan was also a key driver behind the scheme to infill the old marshy areas of Teignmouth along the river Tame, which flowed into the Teign, creating the land that is the centre of Teignmouth as we know it today).

Mr Jordan was educated at Dr. Edwards’ School, at Teignmouth, and served his articles with his father.  He was admitted a Solicitor in 1844, and for some years acted successively as managing clerk to Messrs. Tozer and Whidborne, of Teignmouth.  In 1848 Mr. Jordan practised on his own account, and on the retirement of the late Mr. John Chapell Tozer from the clerkship to the Teignmouth Improvement Commissioners in 1852, he became Clerk to that body.

Mr. Jordan subsequently held the appointment of Clerk to the Teignmouth Local Board, under the Local Government Act of 1856, and the Public Health Act of 1875, and was the first Clerk to the Teignmouth Urban District Council.  This post he resigned in 1900 (when he was only 79!!), but he retained the position of Clerk to the Burial Board, which he had held since the inauguration of that body in 1853 (so he was also one of the founding members of the Board that ran Teignmouth Old Cemetery when it was opened).

Mr Jordan also took a great interest in educational work, and acted as Clerk to the Teignmouth School Board from its inception in 1875.  He in later years continued as correspondent to the school managers, from which post he retired in 1910, being succeeded by his son, Mr. W F C Jordan.  To the Bread and Coal Society and the Soup Kitchen in Teignmouth he acted as Hon. Secretary.

He became a member of the Association (I.e. the Devonshire Association) in 1871, serving on the Council for many years, and contributed the following papers to its Transactions: Notes on the Natural History of Teignmouth and its Vicinity (1874); Migration of Insects (1885); Teignmouth Gleanings (1904).  Mr. Jordan was also a member of the Teign Naturalists’ Field Club.

In his earlier days his recreations were shooting and rowing, and he had a great predilection for Natural History. He died at Teignmouth on 17 August, 1911, aged ninety years.

His contribution to the Keats debate

Fred C Frost had quoted William Risdon Hall Jordan in his letter to the local paper but the actual connection with the Keats story is via his father, William Rufus Jordan.  He is recorded as living in 1822 at No 11 Northumberland Place, in other words just up the road from where Keats would have stayed.

It appears that William Rufus Jordan had told his son that he had known Keats well and that he had stayed at No 20 Northumberland Place; his son, William Risdon Hall Jordan, had passed that information on probably shortly before he died.

Dr William Charles Lake (1825-1920)

Photo by John Silverman

Dr William Charles Lake is the third of the local men involved in this jigsaw.  He is actually interred in the family vault in the grounds of St James Church but I am including him here to complete the picture.

His role was international communications!  But first, something about his life and contribution in Teignmouth; again I shall take it direct from his obituary in the Transactions of the Devonshire Association (Vol 52, 1920), with my own notes in italics:

Dr Lake was born at Teignmouth on July 9th, 1825, being the eldest son of Anthony Proctor Lake, surgeon, R.N., and of Elizabeth Kirsopp, both of Northumberland. (Note: his father registered for naval service in 1806, arrived in Teignmouth in 1817 and is registered in 1822 as a surgeon living at 16 Northumberland Place, just up the road from Keats House and close to William Rufus Jordan).  He was educated at Exeter Grammar School under Dr. Mills, and could number amongst his schoolfellows Mr J. H. Tozer, Mr R. W. Templer, and Dr. Robert C. R. Jordan, uncle of Mr W. F. C. Jordan (and brother of William Risdon Hall Jordan).

Dr. Lake followed his father’s profession, and for a time was his father’s pupil, and subsequently of the late Dr. Cartwright, of Brimley House.  He completed his professional education at King’s College, London, and at the University of St. Andrews, where he took his degree of M.D.  He practised in Teignmouth as a physician and surgeon for forty-two years, being Medical Officer of Health for fourteen years.  He was one of the pioneers of the old Dispensary in Bitton Street and later joined the staff of the Teignmouth Infirmary and Dispensary.  On the death of Capt. A. G. Paul, Dr. Lake was appointed Chairman of the Hospital Management Committee, and at the time of his death was consulting physician to the Institution.

During the cholera epidemic of 1867 Dr. Lake undertook the work in connection with the outbreak, and in many cases he actually laid out the dead bodies.  He was presented with a clock and purse by the townspeople for his devoted and unselfish work.

Dr. Lake became a member of the Devonshire Association in 1871, and contributed, besides many papers on meteorology, a “Sketch of the History of Teignmouth”; on the “Frosts of 1855 and 1895 as observed at Teignmouth,” and “Notes on the Origin of Teignmouth Streets and their Nomenclature”.  He was also a member of the Royal Meteorological Society and supplied meteorological observations for close on fifty years.

He was for many years a sidesman at St. James’s Church, and had written articles on the Books of the Bible for the Parish Magazine.  He was chairman and one of the original trustees of the Risdon Charity which is distributed annually in the vestry of St. James’s Church.  In politics he was an enthusiastic Conservative and frequently presided at meetings of the party in the town. (He was also, as mentioned previously, together with Fred C Frost, a member of the Freemasons Benevolent Lodge 303).

In the sixties Dr. Lake was a member of the now defunct Local Board, and the newspapers of those times bear witness of his keen interest in sanitary matters.  He retired from practice in 1891 and was then the recipient of a public presentation.

Having been born in the middle of the reign of George IV – thus having lived under five sovereigns – his reminisces of the past were most interesting.  When at Exeter he often saw the mail coach pass over Cowley Bridge for London.  He had travelled in Brunel’s atmospheric railway, some of the towers of which yet remain.  He remembered when the Tame Brook, which runs through the town, was an open stream with bridges for crossing opposite the Royal Library and at the bottom of Orchard Gardens, and when the site of the railway station was an old farm, and when living in the house in which he was born in the Strand he had an uninterrupted view from his residence of the Den and the sea, and remembered the then Duchess of Clarence riding round the Den.  He was one of the oldest and most esteemed and respected residents of Teignmouth.  His affable and kind manner won a place in the hearts of rich and poor alike.  A sincere Christian he was in every sense much beloved, and his loss will be greatly felt.

His contribution to the Keats debate

Dr Lake photo of Keats House

Much of the historical memorabilia of Keats is now held in collections in American universities. One of the foremost collectors was an illustrator, art editor, and print dealer in Boston, Massachusetts, called Louis A Holman.  His collection now forms part of the Houghton Library at Harvard University.  In 1913 he contacted Dr Lake who responded with two letters which now form part of that collection.

In those letters Dr Lake confirmed that Keats had stayed at No 20 Northumberland Place and sent Louis Holman a couple of photographs of the house.  That information found its way into the literature in 1958 when Prof Hyder Edward Rollins, professor of English at Harvard University, published his definitive up-to-date collection of the “Letters of John Keats”.

The Keats commemorative plaque was eventually placed on the house at 20 Northumberland Place in 1931 based on a recommendation from the curator of the Keats museum in London.  That decision itself was largely based on the previous work done by those three men of Teignmouth:

– Frederick C Frost,
– William Risdon Hall Jordan,  and
– Dr William Charles Lake

all of whom shared an interest in history and contributing to life in Teignmouth.

The above is just a small part of the story of where Keats lived when he stayed in Teignmouth.  If you are interested in the full story there is a complete set of blog-posts on the “Teignmouth in Verse” web-site under the title ‘The Hunt for Keats House‘.  (Note: this link takes you to the first of the series of blog-posts; at the end of that post scroll down slightly and you can then navigate through to the next in the series, and so on)



Thomas Bidwill … continued

Don, the plate, the grave

A few days ago we had a visit from Don Cockman who lives in Torquay and who first contacted us about 18 months ago.  Don owns a decorated terracotta plate painted by “T. Bidwill” who, he believed, was buried in Teignmouth Cemetery.  So we did some research and with the help of the Teignbridge Cemetery Office managed to locate the grave of Thomas Bidwill.

I had promised Don that if he were able to come over to the cemetery I would show him the grave and the clearance work that we were undertaking.  So that’s what happened last week when Don arrived, bringing with him the plate and we were able to capture the moment of Don, the plate and Thomas Bidwill’s grave.

Thomas Bidwill, epitaph

Thomas Bidwill, headstone

Still life decorated plate, Thomas Bidwill

Georgiana Caroline Barbara Mainwaring

What an incredible story we have unearthed today!

On 6 January 1842, 16,000 members of the British Kabul force, the `Army of the Indus’, fled from Kabul under a “shameful capitulation and the illusion of safe-conduct” promised by the eastern Afghan tribes. One week later, on 13 January, Surgeon William Brydon rode alone into Jellalabad, apparently the only British survivor. It has been described as the worst British military disaster until the fall of Singapore a century later and upto that time the greatest defeat ever inflicted on the British by an Asian enemy.

Grave of Georgiana Caroline Barbara Mainwaring

On 15th August 2017 Geoff Wood, a member of the Friends of Teignmouth Cemetery, discovered the overgrown grave of Georgiana Caroline Barbara Mainwaring. She was the wife of Major-General Edward Rowland Mainwaring of the Bengal Army. On her headstone she is decribed as “the last of the lady hostages …. Cabul disaster, Jan 1842”.

The Military Connection

Georgiana had a long association with the military.

She was the youngest daughter of colonel Johan Frederick Meiselbach, born in the Netherlands in 1775 but who subsequently moved to India as a colonel in the Bengal Horse Artillery in the service of the Rajah Mimamet Bahadur of Bundelkhand.

As noted in the Calcutta Magazine and monthly register of 1832 she married Lieut. George Byron of the 48th Regt N.I. (Native Infantry) in Calcutta on November 16th 1831. He died on 23rd May 1834, aged 28. They had one son, George Rochfort Byron, born 9th November 1832.

Georgiana remarried in 1838; as noted in the Calcutta Monthly Journal of September that year:

“At Saint John’s Church, Delhi, by the Reverend R Everest, M.A. Edward Rowland Mainwaring Esq., 16th regiment N.I. to Georgiana Caroline, widow, of the late Lieutenant George Byron”

When they married he was a captain but gained his next promotion four years later as announced in the London Gazette of Tuesday 4th October 1842:

“To be Majors in the Army in the East Indies only.  Captain Edward Rowland Mainwaring, of the 16th Bengal Native Infantry”

He was eventually promoted to Major-General on 28th March 1865 but died in Madras three years later in 1868. As noted in the Times of Thursday May 14th 1868:

On 9th April at the house of his younger brother, Madras, on his way to the Neilghberries for the benefit of his health, after 44yrs service during which he had received five medals, two clasps and a bronze star; Maj Gen Edward Rowland MAINWARING aged 60yrs of the Bengal Army, e/s of the late Thomas Mainwaring Esq, Bengal Civil Service.”

The following obituary appeared in the Illustrated London News in 1868:

MAJOR-GENERAL E.R. MAINWARING Major-General Edward Rowland Mainwaring, who died at Madras, on April 8, was the eldest son of the late Thomas Mainwaring, Esq., of the Bengal Civil Service, by Sophia Walker, his wife, and was nephew of the late distinguished Admiral Rowland Mainwaring, of Whitmore Hall, in the county of Stafford, the representative of the very ancient and honourable family of Mainwaring, which traces back to the time of the Conquest. He was born Nov. 20, 1807, and entered the Bengal Army when only sixteen years of age. He served throughout the whole of the Affghan campaign from 1839 to 1842, including the assault and capture of Ghurnee. He was engaged at the night attack at Babookoorgch, and the destruction of Khoodawah. He was one of the garrison of Jellalabad; and, in the general action and defeat of Akbar Khan, and the subsequent operations leading to the reoccupation of Cabul, he was attached to the left wing of the army of Gwalior, and was present on the staff at the battle of Punniar. He was with the army on the Sutlej, including the battle of Sobraon, and was engaged with the army of the Punjaub and at the actions of Ramnugger, Sadoolpore, Chillianwallab, and Goojerat. His decorations were five medals, two clasps, and a bronze star. The General married Georgiana, widow of the late George Byron, Esq., and leaves two sons and a daughter. He was interred with military honours, at Madras, April 9, last.”

The military life continued through their children. Their elder son, Edward Philipson Mainwaring born 1841, appeared to have had a distinguished career in the Bengal Infantry, retiring as a colonel in 1893. Interestingly his medals were auctioned in 2004 as part of the Brian Ritchie collection.

His younger brother Francis George Lawrence Mainwaring, born in 1851, also joined the army, retiring as a Lieutenant-Colonel at the end of 1899.

Finally, Georgiana and Edward also had a daughter, Emily Sophia Isabella born in 1844, who in 1862 married Major Osmond Barnes of the Bombay Staff Corps. As the tallest man in the Indian Army at the time he was selected to proclaim Queen Victoria the Empress of India.

So we have a picture of Georgiana steeped in military tradition, but what of her involvement in the Kabul disaster?

The Kabul Debacle

So much has been written about the Afghan wars, the Kabul disaster and the subsequent recapture of Kabul that it’s impossible here to go into detail. Here’s an attempt at a summary and the link with Georgiana Mainwaring.

The 1842 Kabul Retreat took place during the First Anglo-Afghan War and was also known as the “Massacre of Elphinstone’s Army”. Following an uprising in Kabul, Major-General Sir William Elphinstone, apparently an ineffectual commander, negotiated an agreement with Wazir Akbar Khan, one of the sons of the Afghan Emir Dost Mohammad Barakzai Continue reading

Admiral Thomas Abel Brimage Spratt

Captain Thomas Abel Brimage Spratt

Captain Thomas Abel Brimage Spratt

The latest grave to be cleared last Saturday (14th November), by Jean and Kay, was that of Admiral Thomas Abel Brimage Spratt (1811-1888)  .………

What a name to conjure with!

Not only was he following in the family tradition of rising through the echelons of the Royal Navy but he also seems to have been a little bit of an Indiana Jones of the period, exploring worlds of ancient civilisations and the boundaries of knowledge. In between his adventurous exploits he, albeit inadvertently, took time to map the waters of the Teignmouth Bar.

Thomas Abel Brimage Spratt was born in 1811 in Woodway House, Woodway Road, East Teignmouth. He was one of thirteen children and also the eldest son of Commander James Spratt RN (who distinguished himself at Trafalgar) and Jane Brimage. (As a complete aside, one of his sisters, Leah born 1828, was known as “Loopy”. She died at sea in 1859 on passage from India to England)

He entered the navy in 1827 and was attached to the surveying branch in which he was engaged almost continuously until 1863 in surveying the Mediterranean. This was interrupted by the Crimean War in which, as commander of the “Spitfire”, he rendered distinguished service in the Black Sea. He was gazetted with especial praise for his services at the fall of Kimbourn for planning the attack to capture the Turkish city and placing buoys which led the fleet to its position. He received the Baltic, Crimean and Turkish medals and the Azof clasp and was awarded Companion of the Order of the Bath after the Crimea War in 1855.

Malaria and Teignmouth

Teignmouth Bar

Teignmouth Bar

The Crimean War was not the only disruption to his naval surveying activities though. Following a severe bout of malaria he was sent home on sick-leave and, as a result, spent the years 1848-49 studying the movements of the Bar sands at Teignmouth. He published a book on the subject, dedicated to Sir William Reid, Governor of Malta, entitled An Investigation of the Movements of the Teignmouth Bar. He also gave all his data to the Teignmouth Harbour Commission who, at that time, were struggling to relieve the local trade from an unjust tax, levied annually by the town of Exeter. It has been suggested that Sprat Sands are named after him (though note different spelling).

Isambard Kingdom Brunel congratulated Captain Thomas Spratt on his scheme to improve the promenade and the harbour entrance at the same time; “I never read a more sensible, concise and practical discussion of such a subject”. The main improvements were never carried out; however, some dredging works were implemented in 1857 near the Den Point following complaints from mariners. This was followed by further dredging works in 1865 and the later building of a groyne 330 yards long from abreast of Ferry Point to arrest sand.

Later Service

Vice-Admiral Thomas Abel Brimage Spratt

Vice-Admiral Thomas Abel Brimage Spratt

After serving on the allied council of war at Paris in January 1856 he surveyed the approaches to the Suez Canal, a project then opposed by the British government. 1863 saw the end of his service afloat, due to his recurring malaria. He was appointed a Commissioner of Fisheries from 1866 to 1873 and, although on the “retired” list, he was promoted to Rear-Admiral in 1872 and Vice-Admiral in 1878. From 1879 he was Acting Conservator of the Mersey Conservancy Board.

His Legacy

He died in Tunbridge Wells on the 10th March 1888 leaving a widow, Sophie Dean Spratt (Sophia Price, whom he married in 1844) and three sons Edward James, Frederick Thomas Nelson and Arthur Graves Spratt (they had two other sons who died in infancy and were buried in Malta). He left his journals to his second son Frederick who died in 1934, in turn leaving his property to his son Frederick Graham Spratt Bowring and his daughters. His journals have disappeared. What a loss! We do have some records though because he did publish during his lifetime, but those original journals must have been a fascinating collection of research.

Spratt the Polymath

So Spratt was an illustrious naval officer but he will probably be remembered in history for his contributions, either explicit or incidental, in the fields of exploration of nature, geology and archaeology. In those he was perhaps verging on the typical Victorian polymath of his time. He was recognised in that capacity through being made a Fellow of the Geological Society in 1843, of the Royal Society in 1856, of the Royal Geographical Society in 1859, of the Society of Antiquaries in 1873 and of the Zoological Society of London in 1883. He was also important as an oceanographer, conducting pioneering if ultimately unsuccessful work on currents which brought him into contact with the scientific community. He published books and articles on the Mediterranean, chiefly on the history and antiquities of Crete, an example of which is “Travels and Researches in Crete”, 1865.

I will give a few examples here of his contributions with links to further information if you are interested.

Pygmy Elephant

Pygmy Elephant - Paleoloxodon Falconeri

Pygmy Elephant – Paleoloxodon Falconeri

Spratt investigated the caves at Malta and obtained remains of the pygmy elephant (Elephas melitensis or P. falconeri). This was an example of insular dwarfism, reaching only 90 cm (3 ft) in height. It may have been the source of the legend of the Cyclops. It was described by Hugh Falconer, a contemporary natural scientist who was the first to suggest the modern evolutionary theory of punctuated equilibrium. (As an aside, Spratt himself had two fossil species named in his honour).


One of the maps made by Thomas Spratt known as “Spratt’s Map” was used by archaeologists Heinrich Schliemann, Wilhelm Dorpfeld, and Carl Blegen, which contributed to the discovery of Troy, because the name Troy with a question mark was added by a German professor of classical antiquities working with Spratt.

Crete: The Island that Tipped

Crete, the tipping island

Crete, the tipping island

It was Spratt who discovered the way in which relative levels of land and sea had changed over the island of Crete in historic times. He wrote of his findings to Sir Charles Lyell, an eminent contemporary geologist, in 1856:

“Dear Sir Charles, Fearing you may be impressed with the idea that the eastern end of Crete had gone down as much as the west, I am induced to write a line to rectify it, if so; and to state that movements in the eastern half of the island have neither been as great nor apparently as uniform as the western movement. Both are subsequent to the historic period and the evidences are in both instances indicated by the elevation or partial submergences of some ancient Greek building or city.”

Phaistos and its Disc


Phaistos was an ancient city on the south coast of Crete, dating perhaps as far back as 6000 BC. The city rose up from the fertile plains of the Messara region and became part of the growing Minoan empire. The first Minoan palace of Phaistos was built around 2000 BC, about the same time as the main palace of the empire was built in Knossos. Both of these Palaces were destroyed by a strong earthquake in 1700 BC and rebuilt on top of the old ones.

Captain Thomas Spratt was the first to establish the precise location of Phaistos during the Mediterranean Survey of 1853 which was cataloguing the topography and settlements of Crete.

Phaistos Disc

Phaistos Disc

And the Disc? This was one of the later discoveries at Phaistos in 1908 which challenged archaeologists until 2014 when the puzzle was solved. It is a clay disc, around 16 centimeters in diameter, both sides of which are covered with symbols, arranged in a spiral pattern, going clockwise around into the centre. The symbols are similar to hieroglyphs and represented a completely new, previously unknown, language.  It can now be seen at the Iraklion Archaeological Museum.

In 2014, after 6 years of analysis of this “first Minoan CD-ROM“, Dr. Gareth Owens in collaboration with John Coleman, professor of phonetics at Oxford, have figured out not only what the language sounded like but also some of the meaning it conveys, believed now to be a prayer to a Minoan goddess.

Thomas Abel Brimage Spratt, Admiral, explorer, polymath and humble surveyor of the Teignmouth estuary. A name to conjure with indeed!

The above information has been collated from:

British Museum ….
Wikipedia (pygmy elephant)
Wikipedia (Hugh Falconer)
Dawn of Discovery (Chapter 7)
Travels and Researches in Crete, Capt Thomas Spratt
Royal Museums Greenwich …..
Wikipedia (Thomas Abel Brimage Spratt)
Project Gutenberg …..
World Archaeology (Crete tipping)
Wikipedia (Woodway House)
Phaistos Disc …..
Brimage family history
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
World News (Phaistos Disc)

And for Gravestone details follow this link