Sunday, January 14, 2018

Joseph Ashmore – A Tragic Ending at Sea

My ancestor Joseph Ashmore was born in Dover, Kent in 1761. He was a mariner and spent many years at sea. In 1805 he was 54, and had joined the Sea Fencibles. Originally formed in 1798, they were disbanded in 1802 then reformed in 1803 during the Napoleonic Wars the Sea Fencibles were recruited from volunteers in coastal areas. They were  paid 1s per day when required for service, but the main incentive was immunity from service in both the militia and from the press gang. Unsurprisingly, there was no problem getting volunteers.  Although they do not appear to have played a major role during the wars, they did take part in some minor skirmishes with the French, although their lack of larger ships limited their potential. Whenever there was an invasion scare, two lines of blockade were formed – one off the French coast, provided by the navy, and one off the British coast, mostly provided by the sea fencibles, using smaller gunboats. Sea Fencible volunteers were trained in the use of arms and were also required to man watch and signal towers as well as cannons along the coasts and ports. A member of the Sea Fencibles would spend one day a week training.

The Sea Fencibles fleet consisted of small vessels such as colliers and coasting vessels such as hoys adapted to serve as gunboats. A hoy was a small sloop-rigged coasting ship or a heavy barge used for freight, usually with a burthen of about 60 tons. English hoys plied a trade between London and the north Kent coast that enabled middle class Londoners to escape the city for the more rural air of Margate, for example. Others sailed between London and Southampton. These were known as Margate or Southampton hoys and one could hail them from the shore to pick up goods and passengers. Concern about a possible French invasion led the Royal Navy on 28 September 1804 to arm 16 hoys at Margate for the defense of the coast. The Navy manned each hoy with a captain and nine men from the Sea Fencibles.

In early 1806, Joseph Ashmore was working on a hoy named the Friends Good Will. He was possibly carrying out duties as a sea fencible when, on the evening of Sunday April 6, the Friends Good Will was anchored in The Downs, a stretch of sea off the coast of Deal in Kent. Joseph and another sailor were endeavouring to get up what is called a fender, a kind of safeguard usually placed at the side of a vessel to prevent damage from another lying alongside, when Joseph unfortunately fell overboard, and was drowned. According to a newspaper report: “Immediately the deceased fell into the water, a rope was handed him from the deck, which he did  not  perceive, being probably senseless, from a violent contusion on the forehead, which he received from the side of the vessel in his fall. A few minutes only elapsed, before one of the crew caught hold of him just as he was sinking, got him into a boat alive, and had recourse to the usual method of placing him upon a cask for the purpose of recovering him, but all endeavours proved unavailing, as he very soon expired.”  Joseph was buried in Dover a few days later leaving his wife a widow and their four children without a father.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Changing Names - my DNA adventure

I had always thought that as my surname is Evans I must have Welsh ancestry. Besides, Welsh men are renowned for their singing, and I LOVE singing! Oh dear, it’s time to think again!

About three years ago I decided that it was about time to have my DNA tested. I had heard about how some people had matched their DNA with others of the same surname and had established common descent from ancestors in specific areas. I hoped that I could do the same.

My problem was that I had traced my Evans line back to my great great grandfather, John Evans, who lived and married in Manchester in the 1850’s. According to the information I had he was the son of another John Evans and was born in about 1835 in Ireland. I speculated that being Protestant, he was possibly born in Northern Ireland.  Unfortunately my research has revealed that there are untold numbers of men born in Ireland named John Evans who could be my ancestor.

I had thought that by testing my DNA I could hopefully establish the area where my John came from by matching my DNA with other Evans descendants whose ancestors came from the same area.

In December 2011 I submitted a sample to FamilyTreeDNA® for Y-DNA testing requesting a 37 marker test. I waited patiently for matches, and although there were several 12 marker and one 25 marker match, there were no 37 marker matches. After about two years, an email arrived from a man whose surname is Jourdan. He had a 37 marker match with me. We speculated that one of us probably had an illegitimate ancestor and that we both could have been descended from either Evans or Jourdon/Jordan; but then he told me he had a 37 marker match with an American man whose surname is Evins.

This really got me thinking, so I contacted Mr Evins to see how we might be related. He had traced his great great grandfather, also John Evins/Evans, back to 1803, but found records showing that he had changed his name from Nevins to Evins. His ancestors had originated in Scotland then moved to Northern Ireland in the early 1600’s. He had also seen evidence of other Nevins’s who had changed their name to Evans or Evins.

It’s easy to imagine how the surname could have changed if an illiterate John Nevins spoke his name to someone who wrote it down as John Evans and I am convinced that this is very likely to have happened in the case of one of my Evans ancestors. Further research will hopefully provide some confirmation.

Oh well, so much for singing 'Men of Harlech'. Now I’ll have to learn 'Scotland the Brave'!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Following my ancestor's footsteps to Ballarat

This week I'll be travelling to Ballarat for the Eighth Victorian Family History State Conference: Under the Southern Cross – A goldfields experience. My ancestor, Henry Ashmore, was one of the first to travel to the Victorian goldfields after payable gold deposits were discovered there in 1851.

Henry wrote a wonderfully descriptive letter to his brother in England in September 1852 which I would like to share with you. He wrote:

"On the 20th of October, 1851, I proceeded with a party of five to Ballarat diggings, it is situated six miles from Boningyong, that being the name of a very high mountain. From hence through the ranges to the diggings it is covered with white quartz which at places looks as if it is snow. To show you the fearful state of the roads, we sent our things up by a bullock-dray, and it took a fortnight (with ten bullocks) to reach a distance of fifty six miles. We walked with our damper and mutton, which occupied us eight days; some part of the way having to wade knee deep through the mud: there were drays out of number bogged on the road. At night we made our mi mis (hut) of green boughs and branches, and when it rained we were generally wet through. When it rains here it is not like your April showers, but it comes down in torrents. On reaching Ballarat we set to work, and in three weeks we averaged £60 each man, or nearly 2lbs. in weight. My party then wished to return home.

We set out shortly afterwards with a horse and dray for Mount Alexander. On our arrival we commenced work, but were not so fortunate as many, owing to our having a lazy, obstinate Scotchman with us, which was a great drawback. We stayed at the Mount three months, each dividing £150 per man. I then purchased the horse and dray for £52 (the same is now worth £120) and proceeded with my son and son-in-law to Bendigo, twenty-eight miles farther north, there being then not more than 100 people at the place. We commenced surfacing and earthing it down to the creek full two miles to wash, and we averaged about six ounces per day. We could not stop long here, as the drinking water was so bad that it gave us all the dysentry, and the heat was very oppressive. We left a great deal of sickness at the place. On our return to Corio, we found hundreds wending their way to Bendigo. After a few weeks I proceeded to Wardi Yallack, prospecting about fifty miles more southerly, as water was one grand point as well as gold. The precious metal is found there, but not in large quantities. The rocks and mountains in this district are the most splendid I have ever seen. We afterwards returned with a party to Bendigo-creek, remaining there about three months, and dividing £200 each man, The gold is mostly obtained in holes of from 10 to 30 feet deep. It took us on this last occasion 16 days to reach Bendigo from Corio. Provisions were very high when I was last at Bendigo, and there could not be less than 50,000 persons in that district—they are scattered for miles. Flour was selling £18 per bag; oats, £2 15s. per bushel; sugar 1s. 6d. per lb.; tobacco, 12s. per lb., and everything equally dear.

If the weather permits, we are off again in a week; at present it is not promising. Ice fell the other day, Sept. 2nd, nearly as big as walnuts, and the rivers are much swollen. We shall start for the Eureka (Ballarat), for diggers generally are doing well. The highest price I have obtained for my gold was £3. 7s. 3d. per ounce, the highest that has been given in this colony; when I first went to the diggins, only £2 18s. was given for it. I have sent you and my other brothers some Melbourne newspapers ; they will give you some idea of the quantity of gold that has been got. A ship left Melbourne on Tuesday with 120,000 ounces, for London; and a ship has just arrived with 837 emigrants. I should not be surprised to hear of thousands leaving Britain for our shores.

To give you some idea of the working the ground—when we get to the bottom of a hole, we fall in with different coloured clay, which we put into a tub to puddle and reduce so thin that we can wash it off in a dish: dipping the dish continually in the water, the gravel and sand wash out from being the lightest, and the gold falls to the bottom of the dish; but it frequently happens that we wash nearly all the surface down, which is done by putting the earth into a sieve and working it in a cradle—one bales water all the time, and the gold falls down on the slide or back part of the cradle. I see by the papers the gold found here has astonished our good folks at home. I must say some of the yields are wonderful: last week a nugget of solid gold, weighing 102 ounces, was found at Ballarat. The largest piece I have found was 7 oz. 15 dwts., when we first went to Ballarat."

Henry was described in a newspaper article several years later as a 'denizen of the diggins'. In the early 1860's he travelled to New Zealand in search of gold but soon returned to Australia. He lived for many years in the goldfields town of Creswick in Victoria where he died in 1884.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

New online prison records a "must" for convict research

I recently gave a talk on finding convicts online. I spoke about the useful details that can often be found in prison and hulk registers and gave an example of the wonderful information that I had found years ago about my ancestor, Charles Christmas, in the register of the Cumberland hulk.

The register of convicts in the hulk Cumberland, moored at Chatham, with gaoler's reports, 1830-1833 is at The National Archives UK, reference ADM6/418. The register had been filmed as part of the Australian Joint Copying Project, but it took a long time to search and eventually find my ancestor. I was very lucky as this register gives details of place of birth and the address of parents which I had not been able to find in any other record.

Fortunately, this and many other prison and hulk records are now indexed and available online at with more to come over the coming months.

Here is a taste of what can be found, using Charles Christmas' entry in the Cumberland register of 1831 as an example:

Number:                         1314
Name:                            Charles Christmas
Age:                               22
Offence:                         Uttering a forged order for goods
    When:                        12 May 1831
    Where:                       Old Bailey
Sentence:                       14
Character from Gaoler:   Here before
How Disposed of:            VDL Lord Lyndoch 14 July 1831
Where Born
    Town:                          Eagle Street, Holborn
    County:                       Middlesex
Hair:                                Dark Brown
Eyes:                               Light Grey
Eyebrows & Lashes:        Dark Brown
Nose:                              Com.
Mouth:                            Com.
Compl:                            Dark
Visage:                            Long
Make:                              Mid
Marrd. or Single              Single
    Ft:                              5
    Inches:                       3
Read or Write:                Both
Trade:                            Labourer
Remarks:                       Lower part of the face very narrow. Pitted with the small pox scar on the left side of the forehead. Right arm C.O.M. B.K.S. Left arm CCMB. Rope and anchor.
Address:                         Parents lives (sic) at No. 16 Berwick Street, Soho, London.

Good Hunting!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

John Wesley knew my Cornish ancestors

After researching my family history for about thirty years I have not found any ancestors who could be described as famous - although some are rather infamous! It was therefore pleasing to find that two of my Cornish ancestors knew a famous person, John Wesley, who, with his brother Charles and others, founded the Methodist movement.

John Wesley

My ancestors, John and Alice Daniel, lived at the village of Rosemergy in the parish of Morvah in Cornwall. They leased a small farm and John also did some tin mining.

On Tuesday 9 September 1766 John Wesley recorded in his journal:

In riding to St Ives I called on one with whom I used to lodge two or three and twenty years ago, Alice Daniel, at Rosemergy. Her sons are all gone from her, and she has but one daughter left, who is always ill. Her husband is dead; and she can no longer read her Bible, for she is stone-blind. Yet she murmurs at nothing, but cheerfully waits until her appointed time has come. How many of these jewels may lie hid, up and down, forgotten of men, but precious in the sight of God!

In a footnote in the published journal the transcriber adds: "The room which Wesley occupied in her house was called 'Mr Wesley's room'. For a considerable period it was preserved intact, with the furniture as he left it."

Two years later, on Friday 2 September 1768, Wesley wrote:

I preached at noon to an earnest company at Zennor, and in the evening to a far larger at St Just. Here being informed that one of our sisters in the next parish, Morvah, who entertained the preachers formerly, was now decrepit, and had not heard a sermon in many years, I went on Saturday the 3rd, at noon, to Alice Daniel's and preached near the house on 'They who shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, are equal unto angels, and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.' I have always thought that there is something venerable in persons worn out with age;  especially when they retain their understanding and walk in the ways of God.

Alice Daniel died six months later, in March 1769. I'm sure John Wesley's words must have been a comfort to her as her life came to an end. Her husband, John, had died twenty years earlier.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

My great grandfather's tragic death in Manchester

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A First World War soldier who suffered years later

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

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

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

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

Bill Liston died in 1982 aged 91.

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