The Greenwood Tree – December 2018

Remembrance is highlighted in the December edition of The Greenwood Tree, the first since the remarkable centenary ceremonies in November which marked the 1918 Armistice. September’s World War One Special Edition was largely dominated by family history stories of the conflict and the December issue, which will be mailed to members at the end of November, echoes some of those themes. Editor, Paul Radford, previews the edition, which SDFHS members can already view or download from the Members’ Area of the Society’s website.



The front cover colour photo shows the spectacular River of Poppies flowing down from the brow of Colmer’s Hill near Bridport, one of Dorset’s best-loved landmarks. The poppies were made of handcraft materials and assembled by local schools and community groups and tied to netting provided by Bridport firms.




Arthur Caswill

The lead story is another heart-rending World War One tale, featuring Somerset-born Arthur James Caswill, who was killed just 39 days before the Armistice while fighting for the Canadians in northern France. He had been on the front for less than a month. Arthur’s first cousin twice removed, Chris Caswill, his wife Lynne and cousin, Andrew Caswill, visited the graveyard where he was buried to mark the centenary of his death and the story is accompanied by photos of the headstone, cemetery and Canadian memorial.




There are also several photos of the Society’s highly successful AGM and Open Day organised by our East Dorset group in Wimborne.

The main hall at the Society’s successful Open Day at Wimborne on 22 September.

Garth and Chris Denman delve into ‘forbidden’ marriages they discovered while researching their Somerset ancestors. The Church of England banned men from marrying a sister-in-law until an act of Parliament in 1907 legalised a practice which had been widely flouted.

Talking of weddings, former editor of The Greenwood Tree Bob Barber offers Marriage Guidance for Genealogists, providing a valuable and detailed step-by-step guide to the most reliable ways of finding information from official marriage records.

Contributor Janet Hall solves a mystery which has been out there for a decade and which was originally raised by another former editor of The Greenwood Tree, Colin Dean, in 2008. Colin had spotted an invoice displayed on a pub wall in Flintshire for work done by carpenter Ludwell White of South Brewham of whom nothing was known. Janet discovers the real story of Ludwell White, who turned out to have been married twice and who died at the age of 92 in 1964.

Peter Meech set himself the challenge of building a family tree of the John family of Dulverton after receiving an envelope containing a collection of old photos sold off at auction and sent to him as membership secretary of the Sherborne Historical Society.

The December edition also contains regular features: Computer Corner; Somerset Spotlight, this time on Farmborough in Somerset; What the Papers Said; Buried in the Archives, looking at the November 1993 issue of The Greenwood Tree; People, Places and Problems, and a whole page of Letters to the Editor.

Farmborough in 1911.

The March 2019 edition will focus on the role of DNA testing in family history. I have included in this December edition my report on a seminar on the subject and am asking for readers’ contributions on the subject for the next issue.

Paul Radford – Editor of The Greenwood Tree.


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Remembering Bertie and Reg

1910-11 whole school - Copy

Foster’s School Sherborne 1910. Bertie Brooks far right and Reg Palmer back row fifth from left. Photo held by Sherborne Museum

I would like to tell you about two boys who died in World War One. They had both attended Foster’s School, in Sherborne, and you can see their names on the Roll of Honour board (now at the Gryphon School.)

These two boys became firm friends and would have had no idea that their carefree schoolboy games and exercises would be followed by such an abrupt end to both their young lives.

The first boy is Francis Reginald Palmer, or Reg as he was known. In 1907 at the age of 13, an age at which many boys ended their elementary education and headed out to work, Reg was awarded a Governors’ scholarship to Foster’s School and so began his secondary education. He was a bright and talented boy, whose party piece was playing the piano with a glass of water balanced on the back of each hand. He was the only child of Arthur and Annie Palmer. Arthur Palmer was the caretaker at Sherborne Girls’ School.

Around the same time, Thomas Hutchins took up the post of headmaster of Foster’s School and within a short time he started the school magazine The Fosterian and it is from copies of this magazine that much of this information about Reg and his friend Bertie Brooks has been extracted.

Albert John Brooks joined the school from Beaminster Grammar School in September 1908. Bertie was the eighth of nine children of George and Mary Brooks. George was a Superintendent of police with Dorset Constabulary and had retired to Trent and Bertie transferred schools with a scholarship from Dorset County Council. I have a personal interest in Bertie as he was my first cousin twice removed.

Christmas 1908 and Bertie and Reg appear together in the school production of The Merchant of Venice and I think it most likely that during the rehearsals the friendship between the two boys began. The following summer they took part in the school sports team, travelling to Blandford for the inter-schools sports day. Another member of that long ago team was Percy Taylor, and if you look at the roll of honour board you will see his name there as well. Percy’s older brother Sidney is also remembered on the board.

In 1911 the headmaster reported that it had been a year of ‘Work, Races and Chases’. Reg and Bertie had been working hard at their studies and had both passed the Oxford School certificate examinations at senior level with eight subjects each. The chases referred to the cross country paper chases which were a popular feature, for some, of school life. Reg and Bertie are rumoured to have ‘chartered a passing motor and finished the last few hundred yards at a somewhat higher speed than the afternoon’s average.’ I think this was contributed, with tongue in cheek, by Bertie himself.

The two friends then went on to sit the Cambridge Senior examination which they passed qualifying them both to go on as student teachers. The headmaster reported that they returned to the school  for teaching practice where they continued to spend Tuesdays giving everyone the benefit of their ideas, both scientific and literary.

The last mention by the headmaster of the two boys at this time appears at Easter 1913:

We are glad to record that Brooks and Palmer, who have been with us for many years past, and who continued to attend School last year as Student Teachers, the teaching part of their time being spent at the Abbey School, have now been appointed provisional Masters near London. They will enter into residence at Training Colleges next October. They carry with them the best wishes of all the Masters and of all the boys.

The following year on 4 August 1914 war on Germany was declared and the headmaster reported in The Fosterian:

‘How wonderfully do circumstances change the value of things! As I write here about our games, our sports and even about our work of last term our countryman in France are meeting death, wounds, hunger and fatigue like heroes.’ He continued ‘A J Brooks went through Sherborne looking very pleased at the prospect of joining the Grenadier Guards for which he had been accepted.’

Summer 1915 and there is mention of Reg:

‘Congratulations to 2nd Lieutenant F R Palmer who has joined the Dorsetshire Regiment and has just completed a month’s training in Oxford.’

Since we last heard of Reg he had moved on to take up a place at Bristol University and he had enlisted from there. He most likely would automatically go into the officer corps as he was entering from a University. The month’s training at Oxford may have included instruction in the art of being a ‘gentlemen’ which it was assumed would bring with it the associated leadership skills.  It is perhaps worth noting here that to be a young Lieutenant was probably one of the most dangerous of all first world war occupations as it was their job to lead their men from the front. They would be targeted by German snipers in order to create the most havoc and confusion.

In the Christmas 1915 edition of The Fosterian the headmaster has the difficult task of reporting the first death from amongst the seventy or so old boys who have joined up by this time and it is my cousin Bertie:

He said: ‘A J Brooks, whom but a short time ago we saw leaving Sherborne to enlist in the Guards, has been missing since September. He was with the Grenadiers at Loos and when, after an attack, they had to retire it is feared he fell and was left upon the field. Brooks was a fine lad, who had equipped himself for fighting life’s battle and would assuredly have earned the success in life he merited had not his country and his duty called him’. Bertie had been killed at the battle of Loos on 27 September 1915 and, despite the headmaster’s fine words, the family back home in Trent would have been completely devastated as Bertie was the second son to die in this war. Two other sons of George and Mary had left for Australia and a new life several years previously. From there they had both joined up and had been sent to Gallipoli where William, the elder of the two, was killed on 23 July. His younger brother Percy was buried in a collapsed trench for three days, with only his boots sticking out before he was rescued. Suffering from what was said to be ‘only partial deafness’ from this experience he would be sent on to France to continue his war. Needless to say Percy never really recovered and when his only son was killed in the Second World War Percy committed suicide.

Bertie was not the first of the old boys of the school to be lost as Harry Derriman fighting with the Wellington Mounted Rifles of New Zealand was killed on the 9 August at Gallipolli and Stanley Adams, while fighting with the Dorset Yeomanry, was killed on 21 August at the Battle of Scimitar Hill also in Gallipoli.

Each edition of The Fosterian contains letters back to the school from Old Boys and in the December 1916 edition a letter has been received from Reg who writes:

‘I am not going to try and portray actual fighting or a battlefield as in the first place I do not remember much of either, and wouldn’t if I could. At 6.10am we were awakened by our servants who said late orders had come that breakfast was at 6.30 – valises to be ready for packing at 7.00 and battalion to move at 7.30. No-one knew where, but the fact remained we were to move. Shaving in cold water at 6.15 sharpens the appetite. We got to mess at 6.30 and found everything packed-up, ergo no breakfast and no rations in our haversack. At 7.30 we marched. Try and picture a road ankle deep in mud, and every few yards having to make a detour through a shell hole. All the time we are marching in imminent peril of being crushed by motor lorries or mules. At 11.10 we arrived at camp, a scene of great fighting last September, and now made into a camp by stretching waterproof sheets over shell holes. At 4.30 we proceed with a guide from the battalion we are going to relieve, and reach Brigade Headquarters. Here we find it necessary to hurry as the Boche is whizzbanging the place and proceed with the platoon guides. Personally I never saw any guides and was soon left in a sunken road with 30 men of our own company and 30 and 20 of others nearby. The guides had disappeared in the dark to find the track. Presently they returned and we proceeded over moors with no landmarks to guide one and the moors themselves one mass of holes so close together that there is only room for one man at a time to go between them. Presently the guide announces he has lost his way, and, although new to the place, we decide to carry on over nothing more than a continuous slush heap. A man thinks he has got a good foothold, uses it, and promptly goes in over the waist. We pull him out amidst much Barnsfather language. Three hours of this and we at last find a trench, slither over top, take over stores, relieve sentries. The platoon commanders shake hands and wish each other ‘Cheerio’ and the other regiment files out. We are left in a soaking trench, not revetted, not possessing a dug-out and everyone proceeds to dig a hole in which to sit. We expect a ration party at first light but a wire comes through saying they have lost their way, and returned whence they started. We have no water that night, but two adventurous spirits creep out to a shell hole and fill their water bottles with the water they find there and everyone goes mad with delight. Later on the rations arrive, bully, biscuits, jam, water and a tablespoon of rum per man. In due time we are relieved and walk into a barrage of lachrymose shells, but at length safely reach the Camp of —–Wood, where we stop till our time comes to go up the line again’.

Reg Palmer was just 24 years old and seven or eight years earlier he was running around the countryside near Sherborne leading the hounds in a paper-chase with his good friend Bertie Brooks.

A second letter was received: ‘Since writing you I have had a month in billets where we were to get beds with real sheets and pillows. Now we are up the line and shall probably spend Christmas with a firework demonstration. When we are in rest billets it generally means running drill for half an hour before breakfast, parades 9-1, with the afternoon devoted to sport and at night from 8.30 -12 is night work – with a route march of not less than 12 miles once a week. We really have an easier time in the trenches but of course we get no sleep there, and plenty of shelling which puts the wind up one’.

In the Easter edition 1917 of The Fosterian, the headmaster started straight away to announce that three former pupils had given up their lives and, written within a heavy black border, he states:

‘R F Palmer, S Taylor, and K Dodge. The first two nobly fell while leading their men and K Dodge fell during his period of training. These are but three of the thousands of lives which have been given up to ensure our safety’.

Reg died on 23 April 1917 fighting at the battle of Arras which raged for over a month near the French town.

We cannot comprehend what this news will have meant to his loving parents, who had lost their talented only son with his lively mind who had done so well at school that he had gone on to university; a quite unheard of achievement amongst their family and friends. He was also planning to instil in others the love and desire for education that he so clearly had found in himself. A complete and utter tragedy for them both to try to comprehend.

Later his mother went on to donate an honours Board in 1918 and a second one, containing additional names in 1932. She died in 1934 but before her death made provision for a History prize in memory of Reg, and a French prize in memory of his friend Bertie and in her will she left £426 to the school (later used to panel the library for the new school which opened in 1939).

I will leave the final words to the headmaster Mr Hutchins who steered the school through this most difficult of times:

“The shadow of war falls over few places more darkly than over a boys’ school. Old boys join up and depart to do their duty, Masters answer the call of the country and older boys leave to take the places of those who have gone to fight. At the outbreak of war the school numbers immediately diminished by one quarter” 


The Roll of Honour now hangs at the Gryphon School, Sherborne

Barbara Elsmore 11 November 2018

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SDFHS events – next week!

There are still places available on Ted Udall’s ‘Essential Family History’ course, which starts on Wednesday 19 October (7-9pm) at our Centre in Yeovil, and is great value at only £40 (£35 for SDFHS members) for five two-hour sessions. If you would like to book a place, please email: or phone 01935 429609.

On Friday 19 October, Robin Ansell will be giving a talk in Sherborne on the history of photography, with another chance to see part of Allan Collier’s extensive collection of old photographs. Book a place in advance (as above) or just turn up and pay at the door.

We will look forward to seeing you!

Essential Family History

Wednesday 17 October (7.00-9.00pm). Yeovil.

Start of our five week evening course at our Family History Centre in Yeovil, with Ted Udall. On 17, 24, 31 October and 7, 14 November 2018.

The course is for absolute beginners and also for those who have been researching for some time and perhaps come to some dead-ends. The course consists of five two-hour sessions and covers basic research techniques both on and off the computer. Handouts will be supplied where necessary – just bring your own notebook and pen/pencil.

SDFHS Members: £35. Non-members: £40.

Family History and Photography

Friday 19 October (2.30-4.30pm). Sherborne.

This event will include a talk Family History in Focus: collecting and dating old family photographs by Robin Ansell and the opportunity to view a display of images from Allan Collier’s vast collection, concentrating on South Somerset and a few Sherborne photographers, including the chance to examine some original Victorian stereocards, through a 3-D stereoviewer. Robin and Allan have also offered to help you to date your old photographs – so please do look some out and bring them along. At the Raleigh Hall, Digby Rd, Sherborne.

SDFHS Members; £3. Non-members:£5. Includes soft refreshments.

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Finding and dating unknown family photos


As anyone interested in family history will know when facts come to light that enable a name to be added to a family tree it is not long before starting to wonder what this person might have looked like. Many of us will have photographs back to our grandparents and some are lucky to be able to go back to the great grandparents but beyond this it may well be much more difficult. It is often tricky too to travel out sideways as great uncles and aunts and all the associated cousins are likely to be very unknown quantities by now to a lot of us. When I started keeping my family tree electronically I really liked to be able to add a little thumbnail photo of identified relatives as this way they suddenly became a person rather than just a set of facts. Group wedding photos are a great source of faces and I was very fortunate in that my cousin came up with two important family wedding photos. The first of which was my paternal grandparents’ wedding in 1908.

reduced wedding 1908

Arthur Collings marries Mabel Blandford in Christchurch Priory  20 April 1908

This photo contains 24 people. The second photo, with 32 people,  is taken at my grandfather’s sister’s wedding in 1900.

Reduced wedding 1900

George Bicknell marries Eveline Collings in St Nicholas Church, Nether Compton 17 April 1900

Initially on looking at the first photo only the bride and groom could be identified. On the older photo no one was known to us at all. By checking against information in my family tree over, it has to be admitted, some years gradually information has come to light. Cousins have been contacted, documentation and corroborating photographs have been found and slowly but surely identification of 53 faces out of a possible 56 wedding attendees has now been made. Some of the guests attended both weddings which was a great help. A personally exciting first set of great grandparents to be identified were found in the 1900 photo plus a second set in the 1908 photo and so a lot of little thumbnail photos could be added to the family tree.

It seemed that my great grandparents would be as far back as I might hope to venture but that didn’t stop me hoping that something more might turn up and turn up it did! My cousin loaned me my great grandmother’s Victorian album of family photos, very few of which had names against them. I carefully removed them all from the album and put a pencilled number in the gap and a corresponding number on the back of each photograph and I scanned the front and back of every one. Because many of them were by local Somerset photographers I showed them to Robin Ansell and Allan Collier as they were compiling their new book on Somerset photographers at the time and I thought that there might have been something of interest to them among them. Photographs often had the name and address of the photographer on it somewhere and this can greatly help in identifying the age of an an old photo. Just like so many of these old surviving albums of photos, hardly any pencilled names were added to help with understanding just who would have been contained within the pages, other than my grandfather and my father adding a handful of clues in pencil at a much later date. We have reason to believe that great grandmother Fanny Payne began collecting photos when she was 21 in 1866. This does not mean, though, that this was the earliest date for any of the photos as it would also seem, once it was known a younger family member was starting out with a collection, older photos would appear from other family members to give the album a good start. Fanny had a not inconsiderable 166 pockets to fill. There was a pattern to their placement as often husbands were next to wives and families grouped together – other than this we had very little to go on. There were two couples pictured twice and Robin and Allan kindly gave me an estimated date for all four of the photos (two c.1865 and two c.1875).

reduced Solomon COllings

reduced Mary Bishop

Solomon Collings (1808-1883) and his wife Mary (1809-1892)

Allan and Robin have both been collecting and working with old photos for many years and the expertise they have gained means they can study various aspects of an old studio photo and give an accurate estimate of the date. This was very thrilling for me as because of this I was able to now know what my great, great grandparents, Solomon and Mary Collings, looked like and how they dressed. I was also able to confirm a family likeness to one in particular of Solomon’s three sons who had been picked out in the 1900 wedding photo. Coincidentally a third photo was taken at the same time and this proved to be only daughter Sarah who was still at home at this time  but married a year later.

reduced Sarah Collings

reduced rev

Left: Sarah Collings (1838-1915). Right: The reverse of all three photos is the same, showing here the pencilled note with Allan and Robin’s estimated date

Now that Robin and Allan’s book, Secure the Shadow: Somerset Photographers 1839-1939 compiled in conjunction with Phil Nichols, has been released it is possible to check that the photographer John Chaffin, who took the likenesses of my great grandparents back in 1865, did operate a photographic studio at Prairie Cottage in Yeovil at around the time my photo was taken, as an old advertisement has been found dated to 1869. This alone would be a great help in dating this photo but I was fortunate to have had the addition of Robin and Allan’s personal skills which date the photo more accurately to 1864/5.

The book is full of information on nearly 800 photographers together with an extremely helpful CD containing biographies for them all. I checked out the biography of John Chaffin and found a mindboggling 74 page PDF which included all that could ever be found, I am sure, on the life and career of this man. Included are 51 photographs showing a wide variety of his work collected by the authors over the years. Overtime this book is going to prove very useful to me and to many others I am sure, as my knowledge increases and I want to know more about unidentified family photographs.

Secure the shadow: Somerset Photographers 1839-1939 will be officially launched on Friday 28 September at 2:00pm at Yeovil Library and Robin, Allan and Phil will be on hand to assist you with perhaps that vital identification that will help you put a face to one of your former family members so do come along if you can and bring along some old photos you may have that have been puzzling you.

Barbara Elsmore – 26 September 2018

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SDFHS events Autumn 2018

We have now started to arrange our Autumn events to be held in Yeovil or Sherborne, with the following already confirmed. Full details can be found on our website.

Secure the Shadow: Somerset Photographers 1839-1939

Friday 28 September (2.00-4.00pm). Yeovil.

The official book launch in Yeovil Library of our latest publication about Somerset Photographers. There will be a short talk by one of the authors and then the opportunity to buy copies of the book, which the authors will be happy to sign, and have old photographs dated by them. This is a free event – please come along and bring your old photographs. Includes soft refreshments.

Essential Family History

Wednesday 17 October (7.00-9.00pm). Yeovil.

Start of our five week evening course at our Family History Centre in Yeovil, with Ted Udall. On 17, 24, 31 October and 7, 14 November 2018.

The course is for absolute beginners and also for those who have been researching for some time and perhaps come to some dead-ends. The course consists of five two-hour sessions and covers basic research techniques both on and off the computer. Handouts will be supplied where necessary – just bring your own notebook and pen/pencil.

SDFHS Members: £35. Non-members: £40.

Family History and Photography

Friday 19 October (2.30-4.30pm). Sherborne.

This event will include a talk Family History in Focus: collecting and dating old family photographs by Robin Ansell and the opportunity to view a display of images from Allan Collier’s vast collection, concentrating on South Somerset and a few Sherborne photographers, including the chance to examine some original Victorian stereocards, through a 3-D stereoviewer. Robin and Allan have also offered to help you to date your old photographs – so please do look some out and bring them along. At the Raleigh Hall, Sherborne.

SDFHS Members; £3. Non-members:£5. Includes soft refreshments.

Monumental Inscriptions

Friday 9 November (2.30-4.30pm). Sherborne.

This talk, by John Damon, will explore the different types of memorial that can be found in churches, chapels, graveyards and cemeteries and how the information from them was recorded. There is often personal family information about loved ones that cannot be found elsewhere in documents or on-line. Examples of interesting inscriptions will also be given and the practical aspects of reading engravings will be discussed and where to find the information from eroded, damaged or missing stones. It is sometimes very satisfying to browse in a churchyard rather than on a computer. At the Raleigh Hall, Sherborne.

SDFHS Members; £3. Non-members:£5. Includes soft refreshments.


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The Greenwood Tree – September 2018

The September edition of The Greenwood Tree is a Special Edition focusing on World War One to mark the upcoming centenary of the Armistice.  It contains eight extra pages and will be mailed to members early in September. The Editor, Paul Radford, previews this Special Edition, which SDFHS members can already download from the Members’ Area of the Society’s website.


To mark the centenary of the Armistice, we invited members to tell their stories of the ancestors who went to war, the families left behind and the memorials to those who should never be forgotten. The response was truly gratifying and these stories dominate the magazine.

One of the saddest tales was Kerrie Alexander’s story of the four ORCHARD brothers who all failed to return home, falling at different times in various phases of the conflict. Tragically the fourth died in a Greek hospital just weeks before the Armistice.

Jack SWEET’s father, Reginald, was severely injured by a shell from his own side just days before the end of the conflict and would almost certainly have died if his close friend Bert HARPER had not broken regulations and risked his own life to take him back to safety.

Boys of Hut 24

Reginald SWEET (third from left in back row with ‘x’ over his head) with his hut comrades during training on Salisbury Plain in early 1918

The Men who Fell Albert Barrett

Albert BARRETT, one of hundreds of Dorset soldiers killed in the Battle of Scimitar Hill

George TATHAM tells the story of the Battle of Scimitar Hill and the terrible price paid by men of the 5th Battalion of the Dorsetshire Regiment.

Michael SULLY describes the discovery of an ancestor who fought in the war under two different identities and his search to find out why he needed to falsify his name.

John MABEY unearths a poignant link between the epic poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ and two second cousins, both named Walter MABEY, brought up on opposite sides of the Atlantic and probably unaware of each other.

Cousins united

Walter Amos MABEY (seated, centre) with his army buddies

The devastating effect the war had on those left behind is well illustrated by John DAMON’s story of his grandmother Ethel’s sailor fiancé who returned suffering from shell shock and who ended his days in an asylum. Their planned wedding never happened.

Even more tragic is June SMALE’s poem ‘The Cawing of the Crows’ about the distress and eventual suicide of her grandmother in an asylum after losing her husband and then the custody of her children because of her fragile mental state.

Dorset Spotlight Pimperne

The war memorial at Pimperne

There are many more compelling stories of war and its terrible effects on people’s lives. Even our regular feature ‘Buried in the Archives’ is given over to the May 2016 story on the Society’s blog from Barbara ELSMORE about the famous Dorset Yeomanry charge at Agagia in Egypt 100 years earlier. ‘What the Papers Said’ also offers a wartime theme.

‘Dorset Spotlight’ is on the village of Pimperne but the ‘Somerset Spotlight’ has been held over until December for space reasons, as has ‘Computer Corner’.

There are more regular non-war stories in the second part of the magazine, notably Paul DOUCH’s piecing together of the life of his Taunton innkeeper ancestor, Edwin DOUCH, through cuttings from the 19th century local press and John PORTER’s latest tale of the Gillingham folk who made their money from the sugar plantations of Nevis. Interestingly, this time they are all women.

Paul Radford 

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Historic Migration from the West Country

I must preface this article by stating that I am no expert on migration – this post is merely a transcript of my notes on the recent seminar, held to mark the 20th anniversary of a similar event held in Lyme Regis in June 1998. I hope I have done the talks justice. The seminar was a full-day seminar and gave an excellent over-view of migration from the West Country. Examples from all West Country counties were mentioned, as were all the main destinations – America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Liz Craig.

Historic Migration from the West Country: a study revisited 20 years on

Saturday 9 June at Loders Village Hall

An emigrant’s last sight of home” by Richard Redgrave in 1858. It was often a last farewell as it was prohibitively expensive for migrants to contemplate returning home.

Farm, Fish, Faith or Family? Motivations for emigration from North Devon 1830 –1875 – Janet Few

As soon as I saw Janet’s name on the programme I knew we were in for a treat; for those of you who have never heard Janet speak, she is an expert on a wide range of genealogical subjects and her talks are always full of well-researched, interesting information with a dose of humour woven in. Janet emphasised that the reasons for migration are multi-faceted – potential clues as to the reason for migration may be found in the date, new location, previous location, travelling companions (i.e. part of a chain of family migrations?), occupation and religion.

Reasons for migration are usually economic, but other explanations include education – a more modern explanation – historically this may have been for apprenticeship, familial (parents’ occupations), personal choice, religious (e.g. persecution), political regimes, avoiding natural disasters, forcible removal and escaping justice. These still explain many reasons for migration today.

Between 1840-1900, 434,806 people left Britain through a Devon port. Nationally, 75% of Victorian migrants went to America, but in Devon only 1.1% went to America, most were destined for Australasia. Janet discovered several preconceptions about Devon migration:

  • That they were ag labs (agricultural labourers) looking for land in the new world
  • That emigrants were usually single
  • That the connection with Newfoundland was due to the cod trade

Patterns of religion in North Devon were much more akin to Cornwall than they were to South Devon. Many Methodists experienced low levels of antagonism at home, even being subjected to “personal violence for conscience sake”; others went overseas to evangelise. Religious migrants tended to settle where others who shared their religion had already settled.

We often assume that migrants tend to go to big cities, as part of the industrial revolution, but Janet found that this was not the case in North Devon – they tended to move to other rural locations within a 15-mile radius, or travel abroad.

Janet then presented case studies of five families – including one in which a whole generation moved. She re-visited some of the preconceptions she outlined at the beginning of her talk. She concluded that

  • Many of the migrants were already farmers, rather than ag labs
  • Migrants were not usually single
  • The fish trade was in decline during the period 1840-1900, so was not a factor

There then followed six 10-minute presentations from Jane’s students, giving examples of migrations from their own research:

Case Study: Cornish Coast Guard Migration within the UK – Sue Wilson

Sue’s talk on her ancestor William Mynheer, from St Mawes in Cornwall, was to illustrate occupation as a motivation for migration. She emphasised the importance of looking at the local and national context surrounding a person’s life. William’s mother died when he was a child. Britain was at war with France, there were constant fears of a French invasion. Bad winters caused poor harvests and bread was scarce. William first went to sea as a boy aged 13 in 1802.

William moved away from Cornwall, and Sue wondered how typical this was. She established that no boatman was to work within 20 miles of his home, not lodge with smugglers, and should live near to his place of work. Sue was able to track his movements using the Database of British Coastguards on Genuki. She looked at 159 of William’s contemporaries, born between 1764 and 1799. 47% had moved out of the county and never returned. 20% left the county and went back. 18% moved elsewhere in Cornwall, many to the opposite coast. 11% broke the rules of employment and stayed in their home town.

Case Study: Incomers into Cornwall, marrying local girls and moving out – Jackie Hewitt

Jackie told us about her ancestor Thomas Chammings, who was born in St George in the East, London, in 1800. The previous year, the East India Company was formed. There was congestion in the River Thames, with ships queuing up to land their cargo in the 20 legal quays – it was said that you could cross from one side of The Thames to the other without getting your feet wet!

Britain had been at war with France since 1793. Britain needed ships and seamen – including pressed men. Thomas first went to sea in 1810. By 1823, the Admiralty had taken over the Post Office Packet Service, bringing post, bullion and news from the plantations back from overseas. Falmouth was the port of choice because of its deep-water anchorage, close proximity to the open sea, and because it enabled ships to dock without having to run the gauntlet of the English Channel. The main drawback was Falmouth’s distance from London.

Thomas moved to Falmouth, married, settled, and had 4 children. He served on packet ships in the 1830s. By the late 1830s, the packet service was in decline. In 1850, the contract was awarded to Liverpool. Thomas and one of his sons returned to London, knowing they could get employment in the docks.

Case Study: Three generations of one Cornish family going all the world – Wendy Hilton

Wendy told us about the Bray/Morcom family, three generations of which migrated – one to Wales and the other two to Australia. Richard Morcom went to Gwennap in Wales. He was a manganese miner but used his transferrable skills to branch out into copper mining. He then moved to Cornwall to mine, then Exmoor, and then Anglesey where he worked as a mining agent in the 1850s.

Grace Bray married William Truscott, and emigrated using the assisted passage scheme, which cost £2 per couple and £1 per child. Her husband Walter described himself as an ag lab – the passage was cheaper for unskilled workers. Their ship docked in Adelaide. Migrants could stay on the ship for two weeks while they looked for work; however, some passengers disappeared straight away and headed for the gold fields in Victoria – there were no assisted passages to Victoria, so they had taken advantage of a cheap passage and then gone to pan for gold! Grace and William then moved to Clare, a farming settlement established 10 years previously.

Grace’s nephew William Henry Bray joined the Navy in 1883 as a carpenter. He jumped ship in Sydney. Perhaps he had heard from his aunt that there were opportunities to be had in Australia. He used his carpentry skills to make furniture and settled in Goulburn, Australia’s first inland town.

Case Study: From Gloucestershire to Dorset – Ken Isaac

Ken told us of his Isaac family’s journey around England over the course of 110 years. Ken’s Isaac family worked on the Badminton Estate near Tormarton (near Bristol), then to London, then on to Windley in Derbyshire. His great grandfather was working as a dairyman and later a coalman. They later moved to Christchurch (then in Hampshire), Pokesdown (near Malvern) and then to Portland. Ken drew parallels with his own working life; he and his wife moved around the country due to Ken’s work.

Case Study: Somerset to the US: taking their skills with them – Jane for Margaret Young

Margaret was not able to attend, so Jane delivered her presentation on the Gayner family, an excellent example of an ancestor taking a trade with him.  Margaret’s ancestor John Gayner was a glass worker in Nailsea. You can read more about the Nailsea glassmaking industry here and here. His wife and several of their children died. For economic reasons, he decided to emigrate to the USA. In 1866 he landed in Maine. He moved from one glass factory to another, living in New Jersey in 1880. The 1900 census enabled Margaret to calculate his emigration date of 1866. Eventually he settled in Salem and founded the Gayner Glass Factory in 1898. The 1900 census is useful to establish an emigration date if you have been unable to find your ancestors on passenger lists.

Case Study: Dorset Meatyards in America – Jane for Caroline Meatyard

Robert and Betty Meatyard emigrated to New York from Bradstock in 1835; Robert described himself as a farmer.  He bought land in Illinois and by 1850 had three children. The 1851 census shows them back in Bradstock; perhaps our emigrant ancestors visited home more often than we thought? However, by 1860 Robert had returned to Illinois with two of their sons, while the 1861 census shows Betty and son James living in Chardstock. In 1869, Robert bigamously married again. Betsy accused him off bigamy in an English court and was granted a divorce. Betsy had returned to Bradstock by 1871, and the census entry is interesting because it appears that her marital status was originally given as divorced – which was then crossed out and replaced with the word ‘unmarried’.

Caroline is doing a one-name study of the Meatyard name. If you have any Meatyards in your family tree, I am sure she would love to hear from you!

Emigration from England to Canada, examples from Dorset – Lucille Campey

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Lucille is the author of several excellent books, three of them focussing on emigration from England to Canada – Ignored but Not Forgotten: Canada’s English Immigrants, Seeking a Better Future: The English Pioneers of Ontario and Quebec, and Planters, Paupers and Pioneers: English Settlers in Atlantic Canada. Her thirteenth book, on emigration from Scotland to Canada, will be published shortly.  She packed so many interesting facts into her talk that I struggled to keep up, but here goes!

The English came to Canada after the Scots and Irish, once they had seen it as the land of opportunity. The English merged quietly into Canadian life – none of the parades or flag-waving of the Scots and Irish. Coming from a great empire, they did not feel the need to explain or express themselves, and at times came across as being aloof.

Emigration from England only began in great numbers from the 1830s. Parish-funded schemes funded many assisted passages especially after the mechanisation of farming which reduced the need for agricultural labourers. In some cases, it was cheaper for the parish to pay for a pauper’s assisted passage than it was to continue paying poor relief.

Many English emigrants to Canada went to Ontario, one example being the Tolpuddle Martyrs who, having returned to England after their transportation to Australia, decided that they no longer wanted to remain in England and emigrated to London, Ontario.

In the 1870s, many Dorset farmers emigrated to Canada. Mounting patriotic feeling swung migration from the US to Canada. Canada was frequently promoted as a land of opportunity. One man (George Dennison?) gave talks around Dorset and Wiltshire, talking in the open air and on village greens, encouraging labourers to emigrate to Canada. Farmers were justifiably worried about losing labourers – many Dorset farm workers left for Ontario as a result of this tour. As many as 100,000 migrants per year came to Canada.

Canadian produce was prominently displayed in horse-drawn wagons which were brought to agricultural shows and weekly markets. Immigration experts were on hand to distribute pamphlets and report favourably on Canada’s prospects.

Inhabitants of the Canadian Prairies were mostly English, with very few Scots and Irish. The railway often didn’t take them all the way to their destination and frequently the journey ended with families walking a great distance carrying their possessions. The transition to prairie life was daunting to some – especially those who’d had servants in England. Some women worked as domestic servants and were embarrassed to admit it. They couldn’t afford servants in Canada as wages were high and their attitude to having to do these manual tasks themselves at times made them come across as snooty. By 1911, the English were the largest ethnic group in Manitoba, especially in the south. The English took a while to realise that the Canadians didn’t care about social standing or who your father was.

In Victorian England, large families became common, and one or two members of the family were encouraged to go to Canada to contribute financially to the family’s income.

In Alberta the younger sons of wealthy English families spotted Alberta’s potential for cattle ranching. The Canadian government’s 1890s campaign encouraged migration to British Columbia. Gold and coal deposits encouraged Cornish migrants, who were engaged in similar occupations at home. The fruit-growing conditions of the Okenagan valley were also an attraction.

In addition to migrants seeking a better life, Britain deposited their destitute and unemployable citizens, which was not what Canada needed. For example, 52 boys were sent from Manchester and Salford refuges, orphanages and workhouses. These migrants were used as cheap labour and often abused, although Lucille found that they often made good lives for themselves as adults. You can read more about British Home Children in Canada here.

An assisted emigrant – means that someone at the other end had organised land for them. Often land was taken by squatters. Land speculators caused great problems.

Lucille’s recommended sources include the Library and Archives of Canada, the Saskatchewan Archives, and the Glenbow Archive, and the Remittance Books in the Ottawa Archive – remittance being when someone settled in Canada and sent money back home to enable relatives to join them.

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Finding sources for researching migrants to the USA – Jane Ferentzi-Sheppard

Jane gave a short talk on sources for finding migrant ancestors, including baptisms, vestry minutes, wills, shipping lists, newspapers, Castle Garden, Ellis Island, naturalisation papers, and censuses. Some US land maps give the names of the people who lived there.

We were then treated to four more 10-minute presentations from Jane’s students, giving examples of migrations from their own research:

Case Study: Dorset Mormons in the US – Sally Beadle

Sally told us the story of her ancestor Thomas Mabey’s arduous journey from Mapperton in Dorset to Utah. Thomas married Esther Chalker; they and their children became Mormons and emigrated to Utah in 1862. The Mormon Church was founded in the 1820s in New York by Joseph Smith. Smith moved to Kirkland, Ohio, then to Jackson, Missouri, from where he fled in 1833 following violence and threats from locals. Smith died in 1844 and his successor Brigham Young led the members of the Mormon Church (renamed The Jesus Christ Church of Latter Day Saints) to Utah.

Thomas and Esther’s daughter married and converted to Mormonisn, and the rest of the family converted soon after. I was surprised to learn from Sally, that there were quite a few Mormons in Dorset at this time. It was considered a Mormon’s duty to emigrate to Utah. It took Thomas Mabey two years of hard work to raise the funds to emigrate. The family sailed in 1862 with 376 ‘saints’ (as the Mormons referred to themselves) and after a 5-week journey, they arrived in New York.

5000 settlers arrived in Salt Lake in 1862. There were two classes of converts – those who could pay their own way and those who could not. It was an arduous journey, by wagon train, and involved walking 15 miles a day. Only the elderly, infirm and children could ride. At night, they would park the wagons in a circle to form a camp.

It took 5 months to get to Utah from Liverpool. They were taken in by families, who housed and fed them until they were able to set up their own homes. Roads, bridges, homes, and meeting rooms were built. Land was cultivated and the soil was fertile. They grew mulberry shoots and bought silkworms. A range of crops were grown, and animals were kept.

Sadly, Thomas died 5 months later. He and his family worked hard and paid back their debt to the church. His surviving family were part of a strong church and social life. Esther and her family moved several times, improving their situation each time.

Sally is fortunate that her ancestor’s son Charles Randall Mabey wrote a memoir, and if his book (republished in 2016) is anything as good as Sally’s talk, then it will be a very good read indeed!

Case Study: Devon, Dorset Channel Island links in the 1840s – Paul Radford

If Paul’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he is the editor of our esteemed journal, The Greenwood Tree. Paul told us how he discovered that three of his ancestors who lived within 30 miles of each other all migrated to Guernsey within a decade of each other. He was intrigued by why they had chosen Guernsey and decided to investigate further.

He discovered that Guernsey had a thriving economy, offering potential employment in granite quarrying and ship-building. Road-builder John McAdam preferred Aberdeen and Guernsey granite for road-building. In 1847 there was a restriction in 1847 which said that no granite which had been cracked within 20 miles of London could be used in road-building.

Also, Guernsey was easily accessible – you could get there in a day. St Peter Port became prosperous in the 18th century mainly due to privateering and smuggling. The population doubled between 1821-1911. The highest number of migrants was in the 1840s. 22% were from Devon, 14.6% from Cornwall, 14.5% from Dorset, and 14.2% from Somerset. Some returned to their home county, but others stayed – Paul recommended that if there’s a gap in our ancestors’ lives, it is definitely worth checking to see if they spent time in the Channel Islands.

Paul reminded us of a previously published excellent resource – a special supplement in The Greenwood Tree. If you missed it, why not view it on the ’40 Years of the Greenwood Tree’ available on either CD or memory stick, available from our online shop.

Case Study: Assisted Passages to Australia – Sue Thornton-Grimes

Sue’s husband Laurence did an MSc with the University of Strathclyde and became interested in emigration. He needed a manageable-sized project to research, and decided to investigate the period 1830-1860; why did agricultural labourers leave during this period? How did they leave?

Agricultural Swing riots and mechanisation had an adverse impact on the lives of ag labs during this period. Australia was being opened up. Government schemes offering assisted passages were available in 1831. One such scheme was the McArthur bounty scheme. The McArthur brothers of Camden, New South Wales, wrote to John West, the rector of Chettle, wanting people to work on his estate. John West vouched for several families, enabling 236 people to emigrate. McArthur organised school and church. You can read more here. A similar scheme was facilitated by the Reverend Lord Sydney Godolphin Osborne, who sent a large group of emigrants to Australia.

Laurence decided to collect as many names of migrants as possible, collecting information about what type of people were leaving Dorset, their occupations, etc. He used lots of sources, such as emigration lists, certificates of departure and passenger diaries. He made good use of online sources such as the Australian Immigrants 1828 – 1896 database on Ancestry, which is a combination of four databases. He used ‘Dorset’ as a keyword in the origin box.

Laurence created a database with 16 fields, including age, gender, status, whether they could read/write, and whether they had a sponsor or not. This data extraction provided 1170 records for analysis. Just over half were make. 477 were aged 0-13. Only 14 people were aged 50-66. 46 were sponsored by the McArthur brothers. Between 1849-58, 157 more people emigrated, having been sponsored by people who were already there. Ag labs were the most frequent occupation – 259 of them sought a new life in Australia, as did 123 (farm & indoor) servants; 1 schoolmaster; 29 dressmakers, button makers and glovers; and 20 shepherds.

Sue and Laurence hope that the database will enable those who haven’t been able to find their emigrant ancestors to locate them. Their work also enables us to see a richer picture of those leaving Dorset for Australia in that timeframe, and their motivations for doing so.

Case Study: Sartin Family: Corscombe to New Zealand – Bonny Sartin

Bonny Sartin talked to us about his ancestors Lucy and Edmund Sarten of Corscombe, Dorset, who in 1840 set sail on the ship William Bryan from Plymouth, arriving in New Zealand four months later. Bonny has been able to supplement his knowledge of their journey thanks to the diary of the ship’s doctor, Dr Henry Weekes, which describes uncomfortable levels of dysentery and malnutrition.   The journey wasn’t all bad though; there were parties on a Saturday night, which included a ‘sing-a-round’ – a new song had to be sung every week. There were occasional dances, accompanied by the fiddle, flute and copper kettle!

The ship sailed to what is now known as ‘New Plymouth’. The Maoris had planted extra crops to feed the new settlers. The Maoris later realised that they had been conned out of their land and this lead to the 1st Maori War, in which two of the Sarten boys were killed. Another son went to the gold mines in the South Island. Another son, Levi ‘Hole in the Wall’ Sarten, was a successful farmer with an interest in local politics. He became a councillor and oversaw the building of two bridges. He earned his ‘Hole in the Wall’ nickname due to a scheme he devised to deal with the problem sand drifting into the harbour – he suggested that a hole in the breakwater would remedy the problem, but the scheme was never carried out.

Bonny ended his talk with a rendition of one of the traditional songs that his ancestor sang. It was the perfect way to end a fascinating and informative day!

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The day ended with a plenary discussion with speakers and guests. Jane is hopeful that a special interest group focusing on migration studies might be formed to build further upon what has already been achieved.

Liz Jones – July 2018

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