Archive for November, 2012

Genealogists and family historians are normally concerned with blood relationships. Who was whose father? What became of the children? But names also get passed down in other ways. American and Caribbean slaves took the names of their masters. In Canada and America native Indians also took European names. These were quite often the names of the missionaries who had influenced, or pressured, them to convert to Christianity. It was therefore with much curiosity and interest that I discovered a family of Ojibway Indians called Grisdale in Manitoba, Canada. Many still live there to this day. What was their story?

In Manitoba there is a small river called Broken head which empties into Lake Winnipeg.

When the Indian people first came into this land, they camped at the mouth of this river. Before it was dark they looked out across the waters of the lake. As they stood there they could see a huge shape rising out of the water. They could see that it was a monstrous head with horns and covered with long black hair. To them it looked like a mighty Mis-ko-taypis- a-ka, that is a giant bull buffalo. The most fearless of the band snatched up his bow and quiver and ran down to the edge of the lake. In an instant he let fly at the head with one of his arrows. Its flint tip struck the fearful monster in the center of the forehead so hard that the head split completely in two. Then with a mighty splash the head disappeared beneath the waters of the lake. Never again was it seen, but since then this river has been called Pas-ka-ta-bay Cee-pee, the River of the Broken head.

Red River Indian Settlement in 1846

These were members of the Ojibway tribe. They first came into the area under their famous Chief Peguis in the late 1790s. He led a band of his tribe to the Red River . They weren’t of course the first Indians to live in the area, but as elsewhere in North American the white man’s diseases had taken their toll. Ojibway Felix Keuhn, upon whose writings I rely extensively in telling this story, and to whom I acknowledge a huge debt, says: “Many, many years ago, all of this land was the hunting grounds of the Cree and Assiniboine nation. Then the white people started to come here to trade furs. They brought with them many sicknesses that no medicine man had ever seen, and many, many Cree and Assiniboine died.”

When Peguis and his people arrived at the Red River they found many camps of the Assiniboine in which all the people were dead with smallpox. The Assiniboine’s who had not died with this sickness had left their hunting grounds here and gone far to the west where they hoped they would never see another white man. Peguis and his people made their camp where the Netley Creek flows into the Red River.

Chief Peguis

There are many excellent histories of Chief Peguis and his dealings first with the trappers and then with the increasing numbers of British settlers arriving in the area; I commend them to you. But as regards the Grisdales, the story starts with two Ojibway brothers who “came from the land where the waters of the mighty Lake Superior flow down into Lake Huron”. They said that would go to “this land where there were more buffalo than any man could count and the rivers were filled with the finest beavers”. “So they set out with their wives and children. One of the brothers had seven sons and a number of daughters. The other brother had five sons and some daughters. They made this trip in their birch bark canoes.”

Felix Keuhn continues their story as it has been passed down in the Ojibway Nation:

First they paddled along the north shore of Lake Superior. Then they came to the mouth of a river. When they had paddled up this river, they came to a lake that the white men called Rainy Lake. From here they paddled up another river into a lake now called the Lake of the Woods. That lake was drained by a mighty river flowing to the north and to the west. There were thirty thundering rapids on that river where the Indians had to make a portage. Finally, they came to a lake, wide and deep and very long, which is sometimes called Ou-in-i-peg (Winnipeg), that is ‘muddy water’.

Then they paddled along this lake to the south and to the west. In the evening they looked for a good place to camp. They saw a good place where a small river flowed into the lake. Here they camped for the night. The little river was the Broken head. The next day they continued paddling along the shore of the lake until they came to the mouth of the Red River. Then they paddled up that river until they came to the camp of Chief Peguis. Here there were many Indians living. Some of the camps were their own Ojibway people; others were the camps of the Cree. Here these families from the east lived for many years.

Finally, the families of the two brothers who came from the east said they did not want to live any longer at the Red River. Instead they would go to the mouth of the river where they had camped the first night many years before. There the river was full of fish and all along the banks of the river grew the maple trees from which they made maple sugar. The bush was filled with berries and with all kinds of animals that were good for food. Many water birds nested close by: there were many marshes filled with muskrats and the river and many creeks were filled with beaver. Here they lived for many years.

Broken Head

They moved back to Broken head. But why? At least in part the reason seems to have been to get away from the British missionaries who were trying to convert them to Christianity. A strange paradox given what was to later happen. Ojibway tradition tells us: “With the passing of time there was trouble among the Indians living along the Red River. There were too many there. Some were Ojibway and some were Cree and there was not enough hunting and trapping close by for both. Some of the Ojibway wanted to be away from the white praying masters who were always telling them they were bad people and that their prayers and dances and all their old ways were no good.”

It was one of the of the sons of the Ojibway brother who “had five sons” who was to eventually take the name Jacob Grisdale, but he only did so many years later. We don’t know his original Ojibway name, so unfortunately we’ll have to call him Jacob. He worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company “for 24 summers”.

In those days many, many furs were brought to the forts south of Chief Peguis’s camp. These furs had to be taken in big boats to Churchill on Hudson’s Bay. The crews of these boats were Métis and Indians. They took these boats down the Red River into Lake Winnipeg and at the north end of Lake Winnipeg they went down the Nelson River. The Indians rowed these boats when there was no wind and carried the bales of fur on their backs over the many portages. It was very hard work. The packages of furs weighed 90 pounds and the Indians were gone from home from the first of June until the end of October. On their trip back these boats brought whisky and supplies to the forts. The company paid them very little for this hard work.

“The White people called these Indians ‘trip men’. The Indian who worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company for 24 summers later was called Jacob Grisdale.” He lived with his wife, who had come from Saskatchewan, and their nine children at Broken head. For a long time no missionaries, or “praying masters” as the Indians called them, had ventured as far as Broken head, “to tell them they should be baptized”.  The Ojibway people all had Indian names and “followed the old ways”. Of course they knew about “the white man’s God and how they should be baptized and give up their heathen ways” because they often visited Red River.

Signing Treaty Number One – 1871

Eventually the “praying masters” broke them down and individual Broken head Ojibway did start to convert to Christianity. The first “to give up the old ways” was an Indian lady who took the name Mrs. Thomas. Her three children were baptized as well, all by “the praying master called Rev. Cockrane” at Saint Peters (Red River). Then they came back to the Broken head. Soon others went to St. Peters to be baptized or to be married by the missionaries there. The first of the five brothers was baptized and took the name Richard Raven. He and his son were baptized in 1864, when the first Anglican missionary came to visit the Indians at Broken head. This was Rev. James Settee.

But the trip man who was later to be called Jacob Grisdale held out. In 1871, still holding on to the old ways, he was witness to an historic, and ultimately sad, event. This was when Canadian Indians from various Nations signed “Treaty Number one” with the British. This took place at the Stone Fort, Lower Fort Garry. Keuhn explains:

In 1871 the white people called the chief and the elders of all the Indians to come to the stone fort. Here the white people persuaded the Indians to sign Treaty Number One. This is when the Indians gave all their land to the Great White Queen. She promised to give them their own land and many presents each year. Those families who were living at Broken head were to have 1000 acres of land there. Jacob Grisdale was a councillor and he was at the stone fort for eight days. He stood at the door where the Indians and the white people were talking. He was sixty years old at the time and remembered every word that was spoken.

In future the Indians were to be restricted to small Reservations; the “old ways” were over. But at least the British gave them something. The treaty included the following gracious gift from the Crown:

And with a view to show the satisfaction of Her Majesty with the behaviour and good conduct of Her Indians parties to this treaty, She hereby, through Her Commissioner, makes them a present of three dollars for each Indian man, woman and child belonging to the bands here represented.

Keuhn writes: “After that Jacob Grisdale returned to his home at the Broken head. He still was not baptized. This did not happen until 1883. When he was baptised he took Grisdale for his name. This was the name of a missionary who had once been at St. Peters.” The missionary who baptized Jacob and his wife, who took the Queen’s name Victoria, was Rev. Crowley. But who was the “praying master” Grisdale from whom Jacob took his name?

Missionary John Grisdale

He was John Grisdale the son of a poor family of cotton weavers from Bolton in Lancashire, England. He was born on 25 June 1845, the son of weaver Robert Grisdale and his wife Alice Yates. He was in fact a member of the same extended Bolton Grisdale family I have written about on previous occasions. He was related to the weaver Doctor Grisdale, who emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1850, and to the two Bolton weavers, John and Jonathan, who “went America”. Other members of the family also ended up in Quebec, Washington State and Australia.

I will write in more detail about John Grisdale’s fascinating life at a later date (See here and here). He studied to be a missionary for five years at the Church Missionary Society’s College in Islington in London. He was ordained Deacon in Saint Paul’s Cathedral in June 1870. He was then sent to Calcutta to work as a missionary. But he found the climate unconducive and became ill, and so, after returning briefly to England and marrying Annie Chaplin, in 1873 he was sent as a missionary to the wild lands of “Rupert’s Land” in present day Canada. He was based at Winnipeg, served as Rector of Holy Trinity Church. Later he held positions at Christ Church and was professor of systemic philosophy at St. John’s College, canon of St. John’s Cathedral Winnipeg, then dean of Rupert’s Land and, finally, in 1894, the third Bishop of Qu’Appelle in Saskatchewan.

But John was always an evangelic missionary and it was probably in his early years preaching in the Indian settlements in and around Red River and Broken head that he had met and tried to convert the future Jacob Grisdale.

After he became a Christian, Jacob Grisdale gave half of his land – this was lot No. 2 – to the Anglican church and it was here that the St. Philips church was later built. His house stood here for many years. It was a two story log house with a piece built on one end.

Alex Grisdale

Jacob and Victoria had many children, all while still living in the “old way”. They all took the name Grisdale. They included: Andrew, William, Thomas, Oliver, Elizabeth and Beatrice. They have many living descendants in and around Manitoba today – still bearing the name Grisdale.

One of Jacob’s grandchildren was called Alex Grisdale. He was the son of Oliver Grisdale and his wife Catherine. He was born in 1895. But his mother died when he was only two and so he was raised by his grandparents Jacob and Victoria Grisdale. He was to learn the history and legends of his tribe and family from them. Later, his stories were published with the title Wild Drums. Here in his own words in the story of how John Grisdale  eventually baptized Alex’s grandfather:

My grandfather and grandmother were never baptized by any church at all, and never got married white man’s way. One day a minister came to Brokenhead. His name was the Reverend Grisdale. This man got after my grandfather to be baptized. At last my grandfather got sick of it and said he would be baptized next Sunday if the minister would give my grandfather his name. So Bishop Grisdale did this and my grandfather was named Jacob Grisdale from that day. The Bishop also gave my grandmother the name of the Queen – Victoria.

Jacob Grisdale himself  “died on the 20th of November, 1910 when he was 98 years old. He was sick for three months with lung trouble before he died. He was buried in the Anglican cemetery by Missionary Le Clair. His wife had already died in 1906. She was 70 years old”.

Early Australian towns were rum old places and none more so than those that grew up as a result of the Victoria gold rush in the mid nineteenth century. One of these was the town of Mansfield, lying 200 km north-east of Melbourne. It was just south of here, at Devil’s River, that William Grisdale and his family had settled shortly after their arrival in Australia in 1853. A few years later, local newspaper reports give us a flavour of William’s life in Australia.

The Delatite River

Devil’s River lies “below the Paps, close to the junction of the Delatite River and Brankeet Creek”. The legend has it that earlier explorers camped overnight “and were so frightened by the sounds of a corroboree being conducted nearby that they called the place Devil’s River”.

At the beginning of January 1871, a horse belonging to missing gold digger James McNally had been found “in one of Mr Chenery’s paddocks” – in Martin’s Gap, near Mansfield on the road to Jamieson. When the horse was brought into Mansfield, “a large party was formed, who started to search for the missing man”, who had already been missed by his mates in December. On the 3rd January, McNally’s body was discovered “at a place called Martin’s Gap some three miles from the Devil’s River Inn” where William Grisdale was landlord. Grisdale “who first came upon the body” was in the company of Mansfield farmer James Owen. The Benalla Ensign reported: “There is some reason to believe that the missing man James McNally may have met with some foul play.” It added that “suspicion attaches to an individual upon whom the police have their eye” – although we never hear explicitly who this might have been.

The body, which was lying on the ground, with the head entirely off, and… was some little distance from the trunk. It is difficult to say whether the head was cut off, or whether its separation was the result of decomposition and the attacks of animals. The body was extended on the back, and near it was an open knife, which is stained with blood. From the appearances it is imagined that a terrible murder has been committed.

An inquest was called which was to be held in William Grisdale’s nearby Devil’s River Inn, to where McNally’s body had first been taken. The first witness to give evidence was James Owen:

I am a farmer living at Mansfield. I knew the deceased James McNally, and recognise the body from the clothes as being that of James McNally. It is about five weeks since I saw him alive. I was searching for him yesterday, as he had been missing about a month. I was searching with about 20 more in a paddock belonging to Mr. Chenery called Wilson’s paddock. About 4 o’clock in the afternoon I found the body of deceased in a small gully, lying amongst some long grass. The deceased was lying on his back, his legs and arms spread out. His head was lying about a foot from the body. There was a knife close by his right hand. (The knife was produced, and was a common pocket knife.) The knife was about an inch and a half from the right hand of deceased. There was a small bone of the neck lying between the head and the body. The body was a perfect skeleton.

William Grisdale was present when I found the body. John Nixon came up when I called out, John Prendergast, and John O’Shea, the shoemaker, of Mansfield, and some others whose names I don’t know. The hat of deceased was found up the gully about 25 or 30 yards (away). We searched Wilson’s paddock because it adjoined the one in which the deceased’s horse was first found. I have known the deceased for seven or eight years intimately. I never observed anything eccentric in his conduct. The deceased was generally a sober man. I have seen him drunk, but after drinking I never observed anything odd about him that would induce me to think he would commit suicide. I should say that the deceased was a most unlikely man to commit suicide. There is a good station fence between the paddock where the deceased’s horse was found and that in which the body was discovered. The horse was not likely to leap the fence. I knew McNally as a digger at Mount Bulla. He had three mates. The last time I saw deceased he said that he and his mate Thomas Egerton could not hit it (off). McNally said that he and Egerton had had several quarrels. McNally complained that Egerton would not work properly. The body did not appear to have been dragged, that is the clothes did not show it. McNally never told me that Egerton had a bad feeling towards him. I think the bad feeling had been blown away. Where I found the body, there was a mark like that of a bullock having laid down, but the ground was not otherwise disturbed. The head was lying in a higher position than the body. Besides Thomas Egerton, McNally’s mates were James Walker and James Williams.

The coroner, Dr, Rowe, and the jury of 14, then started to hear the statements of various other people, including McNally’s brother William and James’s digger partner at Mount Bulla, Thomas Egerton. They heard about James’ character, whether he was a drinker or not and what was his frame of mind when he had last been seen leaving the Mount Bulla diggings on December 9 – on his way to stake a new claim for himself and his three partners. There were also a lot of questions regarding what James had been doing in Martin’s Gap, which was not on the path from Mansfield to Mount Bulla. The dead man’s brother William cast a lot of aspersions against James’ partner and “mate” James Egerton:

My brother continually complained to me about Thomas Egerton, one of his mates. He complained that Egerton did not do his share of work, and that he would watch the party when they wore stripping the paddock where they were working. I advised my brother to leave the claim, but he said he would not give Egerton the satisfaction of leaving.

My brother never mentioned anything about threats or violence between (himself) and Egerton. Egerton said to me after my brother was missing that he had been murdered, that he knew the man who did it, and would have him before he took his clothes off. This was said about eight days ago, when I and Egerton were looking for my brother. Egerton’s words were – ‘It is no use looking, the man has been murdered. I know the man, and will have him before I take off my clothes.’

Under cross examination from Egerton himself, William McNally conceded: “I never heard my brother accuse you of an attempt to swindle him out of a sixpence. I never heard him say who had charge of the gold.”

Egerton went on to tell what he knew of McNally’s last intentions when he left the Mount Bulla diggings on December 9th, and how a few days later he had “searched for him for five days, never taking off my clothes”. He refuted what William McNally had testified: “I did not tell William McNally what he says I did. One word in his last statement is incorrect. I did not say I ‘knew’ the man who killed his brother, but ‘I believed’ I know the man…. I also said, ‘but it is no use until the body is found.’”

The reason I had a suspicion of murder was I knew (the) deceased went to see his brother at Mansfield, and I did not know what took him to Jamieson. That made me suspect foul play.

The original Mansfield Court House was replaced by this one in 1879

The inquest was adjoined and reconvened three more times more at Mansfield Court House. Egerton was examined again at great length. He talked a lot about distances and walking times – still unsure why McNally had been in Martin’s Gap. Other witnesses described how they had seen McNally near Martin’s Gap shortly before his presumed murder and how he had not gone to Mansfield as he said he would but gone instead to Jamieson and was seen returning towards Mansfield before he disappeared. The witnesses’ statements are given in some detail in the various newspaper reports and they are well worth reading in full.  I will quote from the summing up in a minute, but first, William Grisdale also gave own his statement, one of only two times we hear him speak, more or less, in his own words.  “William Grisdale deposed”:

I live at the Devil’s River Inn, and I am a publican and farmer. I know the deceased. He always called at my house when he passed. He has never stopped there at night. (I) last saw him alive on 4th of December. My wife saw him at my house on the 9th December. (I) was in Mansfield on that day – all day. (I) got home about 7 o’clock p.m. About 8 o’clock Willie Little called and inquired about a bullock that he had lost. Told him my mate David Watson and I had been working on the road at the Gap the night before and we had not seen the bullock. Little went on towards Sawyer’s drays which were camped about 150 yards from my house. No one was in my house but David Watson and my own family. After supper, David Watson went to bed, and I also went to bed. No one came to the hotel during the night. On the evening of 9th of December, I met Thomas Sawyer on the bridge at the Devil’s River. He said he was going to Wangaratta to see his wife, who was ill. (I) was searching for the deceased with James Owens when the body was found. The deceased was lying on his back with his arms and legs spread out. His head was separate from his body. An open knife was near the deceased. It was in Wilson’s paddock where the body was found. The body was found nearly in a line from the foot of the range through the opening by Stewart’s house to the late Mr Henry Tomkins’s. The knife, a white-handle one, was found about an inch and a half from the right hand, the handle towards the hand. The grass was undisturbed except a space of a yard and a half. The appearance of the ground was such as might be caused by a scuffle. The deceased’s trousers were unbuttoned and half way down the thigh.

Answering a question from Mr. Egerton, William finished:

I do not know of any man being on the ‘spree’ in my house about 9th of December last.

And that’s the last we hear of William Grisdale in this matter. The judge then heard extensive evidence from the police and Dr. Reynolds who conducted the post-mortem. The doctor gave all the graphic medical details and confirmed that McNally had received a heavy blow to the head before he was decapitated.  “I would have no hesitation in stating that he died first by a blow, which rendered him insensible, and that afterwards his throat was cut.”  In his summing-up Dr. Rowe memorably remarked: “The ‘knife found by the hand pointed to suicide, but a man committing suicide by cutting his throat did not in the first instance give himself a blow on the head.”

The jury, “after consulting for two hours”, returned the following verdict:

That the said James McNally was found dead in Wilson’s paddock, near Delatite, in the Shire of Mansfield, in the colony aforesaid, on the 3rd day of January, 1871; and that he was murdered by some person or persons unknown, but there is no evidence before this inquest to show when he was so murdered.

Not William Grisdale but his brother Wilfred – still in Cumberland

Enough excitement one might think for one year. But no! During the previous nine months, William had also testified at two other inquests at his Inn; one regarding a mysterious poisoning and another related to a huge and deadly gunpowder explosion at Devil’s River. But that’s for another time.


 Suspected Murder at the Devil’s River: The Argus, January 10,1871; The Empire Jan 17, 1871; The Mansfield Independent, January 7, 1871; The Benalla Ensign, January 14, 1871.

The Argus, January 9, 1871.

The Supposed Murder at Devil’s River: The Argus, January 23, 1871.

Murder of McNally: The Benalla Ensign, January 28, 1871.

Jones Rayne White Grave Grisdale was a Durham-born surgeon in the service of the East India Company’s medical establishment in Bombay. He was to lead a short but full life; being for a time in charge of an army plague hospital, a “pest-house”, in Egypt. We don’t know much about him. This is a rather scanty story of just some of his life.

At the beginning of 1801, the British army under General Ralph Abercromby was trying to kick the French out of Egypt. It wouldn’t be too long until it succeeded. But London had felt that some reinforcements would help. The situation in India, following recent troubles, had become calmer, and the East India Company, which still controlled British India, felt it could spare some of its forces for Egypt. It agreed to dispatch a mixed force of British and Indian troops.

General David Baird

They set sail in three divisions from Bombay and Ceylon in January and February 1801. In total the force “consisted of about eight thousand men; of which number about one-half were natives of India, and the other half Europeans”. It was commanded by General David Baird, and he departed with the Bombay contingent – which included two regiments of Indian soldiers, the 2nd and 7th Bombay native regiments of foot, commanded by British officers. Among these officers was a young 23 year old Assistant Surgeon called Jones Grisdale. What he was about to experience would probably mark him for the rest of his life.

The head of the army’s medical establishment for the Egypt campaign was “Superintending Surgeon” James McGregor. In 1804, he would write a fascinating report titled Medical Sketches of the Expedition to Egypt from India, in which he described what was to follow in terms of the health of the army and how the army surgeons tried to fight dysentery, fever, ophthalmia and other diseases and what happened when plague started to take a grip in the army’s ranks.

“The route which we took from India to Egypt”, says McGregor, was “remarkable for having been that by which, in the earliest ages, the commerce of Asia, its spices, its gums, its perfumes, and all the luxuries of the East, were conveyed to Tyre, Sidon, Carthage, Rome, Marseilles, and in a word to all the coasts of the Mediterranean, from Egypt, a country rendered extremely interesting by various recollections.”

The Anglo-Indian forces anchored at Kosseir on the Red Sea coast in May, because “the prevailing winds in the Red Sea, at this time” rendered “it impossible to get so far up as Suez”.

Battle of Canopus – 1801

Actually by the time they arrived the British army under General Abercromby had already defeated the French in March, at the Battle of Canopus.  The French retreated to Alexandria and the British were preparing to besiege the town. Unfortunately Abercromby had been wounded and would die of his wounds a few days later.

The Indian force was requested to join the British army on the Mediterranean coast, to help with the siege and to perform garrison duties when the French surrendered, which they did on 2 September.  They would first however have to march 140 miles across the Theban desert. A route, wrote McGregor, “unattempted by any army for perhaps two or three thousand years”. He added: “The course which we took was nearly that travelled by Mr Bruce.”

The desert march of the Anglo-Indian regiments was filled with incident, hardship and adventure; but that lies outside the scope of this brief article.

By July the army was encamped near Ghenné (Qena), on the banks of the Nile. While there had been some deaths from disease, and even a few suicides, the surgeons, including Jones Grisdale, had managed to keep the army in reasonable health. After a month’s recuperation they set off north for Lower Egypt, some by land, but most by boat – 400 miles down the Nile. By way of Ghiza, the army reached its destination at the port of Rosetta (modern Rashid) in August. They had 1200 sick, but as yet no cases of the plague. This was to change in September, when the first case of plague was discovered. McGregor wrote:

On the morning of the 14th, I discovered a case of the plague in the hospital of the 88th regiment: Anthonio, one of the hospital-cooks, who had for thirty hours laboured under febrile symptoms, shewed me two buboes in his groins.

Memorial to James McGregor in Portsmouth

Over the coming weeks more cases would appear, at first isolated, but soon more frequently.

Our situation now became very alarming. There were the clearest proofs of the hospital which the 88th regiment occupied being thoroughly infected, consisting of about fourteen or fifteen rooms, but all the cases had hitherto come only from three of the rooms. Lamps for the nitrous fumigation were kept constantly burning both in them and in the observation-room. A very large building was procured near Rosetta; and, with all possible haste, the men were moved to it.

By December the main Indian force had moved to El Hammed, but the 7th had remained in Rosetta. McGregor writes:

On the evening of the 15th, it being reported to me that a Sepoy had suddenly died of fever in the line of the 7th Bombay regiment, I examined the body, and found the inguinal glands swelled on both sides. About an hour after, Mr Grisdale, the surgeon, showed me a case in the hospital of the same corps, which – was evidently the plague, and which I instantly ordered to the pest-house.

In the course of the month 38 more cases of the same disease, most violent and rapid in their progress, appeared in the same regiment. Three died, either in the hospital or on the lines, before they could be conveyed to the pest-house, and one died in his way thither. One man of the 1st Bombay regiment died of the same disease, who had clearly got the contagion from the former corps, near which their hospital was situated.

Napoleon visits plague victims in Jaffa

As more soldiers started to contract the plague and the surgeons decided to introduce quarantine measures and had started to establish plague hospitals – which they called “pest-houses”. Medical science was still relatively crude and the surgeons tried to cure the stricken men by the use of mercury and nitric acid, which McGregor wrote,  appear to be “excellent remedies for the plague : but they must be very early and very liberally exhibited”. Though he did elsewhere admit that: “In the treatment of this disease, a variety of modes were put in practice, but so little success attended them, that some were inclined to despair of success from any.”  Jones Grisdale wrote in one of his reports to McGregor that, “in two of the cases, I for five days pushed calomel and mercurial ointment to a very great length, but never could succeed in affecting the gums”.

The native Indian troops were not convinced of their chances should they contract the disease. McGregor wrote that, “so much dejection prevailed among the natives of India, that, from the moment of the attack, they gave themselves up, and said they were sent to the pest-house to die. They never could be prevailed upon to swallow a morsel of food nor any medicine, and some actually starved themselves”.

The bulk of the Anglo-Indian army moved on to join the British army at Alexandria in December, but the troubled 7th Bombay, with Surgeon Grisdale running the pest-house, had been left behind.

All the army, during this month, was in Alexandria, where they attained a degree of health they never had at Rosetta. No case of the plague had been known at Alexandria when the Indian army arrived there; and the strictest precautions were taken to cut off the communication with Rosetta and the 7th regiment.

Rosetta Stone

On the 1st of January, 1802: “Mr Price, who was in charge of the pest-house near Rosetta, was himself attacked with the disease, which with him proved very violent.” The next day “symptoms of the plague were discovered on Dr Whyte, who the day before had inoculated himself, and he died on the 9th”.

But what of Jones Grisdale? McGregor tells us that on January 3rd: “A soldier of the 61st regiment, a servant of Colonel Barlow, Commandant of Rosetta, was sent into the pest-house there, now under the charge of Mr Grisdale and Mr Rice, with the plague.” After Mr Price had contracted the plague, Jones Grisdale had been put in charge of the Rosetta pest-house to tend the stricken 7th Bombay native regiment based there. Rosetta was the epicentre of the epidemic in Egypt affecting the British/Indian forces.

During the next few months all the British and Indian forces were at Alexandria, only five Europeans had been left in Rosetta. “The disease here raged with the utmost violence.” Even the 7th native regiment had moved on. It’s possible that Jones Grisdale was one of these five, left behind to tend the plague victims.

Butcher’s island, Bombay

In May 1802, General David Baird received orders to return to India. After a trek back across the Suez desert to the port of Suez, which was, says McGregor, “performed with much greater ease than that over the desert of Thebes”. The bulk of the Indian army commenced its embarkation for home on the 2nd of June. The 7th Bombay regiment, however, was left in quarantine for another two months. Yet it too finally departed for India, and arrived at Butcher’s island off Bombay in August 1802.

McGregor writes:

As this was the corps in which the plague had principally prevailed, though they were not unhealthy, I judged it prudent to detain them a month. On my last inspection of them before they left the island, of a total of seven hundred, including Sepoys, their wives, and the public and private followers of the corps, I found only four sick, and these I believe were all catarrhs.

Assistant Surgeon Jones Grisdale had not died of the plague, as had many of his colleagues, and countless British and Indian troops, despite the fact that he had been in charge of the pest-house of the most affected regiment and the most affected town. He had tried valiantly, though with the state of medical knowledge at the time, mostly in vain, to save the lives of the Indian soldiers in his care.

Back in Bombay in late 1802, we find Jones listed as an “Assistant Surgeon” with the East India Company’s forces, but he was not attached to any specific regiment. Perhaps he was still in charge of looking after those plague sufferers who had not died?

Saint Nicholas Church, Newcastle

He remained in India, but in 1804 he must have been granted some leave (“furlong”) because on the 8th December of that year he was back the north-east of England, where he married Jane Robinson in Saint Nicholas’ Church in Newcastle. The parish register lists him as being 27, from All Souls Newcastle and “a surgeon of EICS” (East India Company Service). Jane Robinson (28) was of Saint Nicholas’ Parish, Newcastle, but originally came from Claypath, Durham.

It’s quite possible that Jane Robinson was the sister of one of Jones’ surgeon colleagues, because in the 1841 Durham census (after Jones’ death) she is shown living in Claypath with her three Robinson brothers, one of whom, Matthew, was also a “surgeon”!

Who was Jones Grisdale? Or to give him his full name, Jones Rayne White Grave Grisdale.

Claypath, Durham

Like his future wife, Jones was born in the Claypath district of the ancient city of Durham on 7 November 1777. He was the son of John Grisdale “sawyer of Claypath” and his wife Jane White. He was baptized in Durham’s Saint Nicholas Church on 29 April 1778. It seems his father John was not a poor man. When he died in 1790, as part of the probate an admin bond of the not inconsiderable sum of £1800 was posted. His mother Jane died in late 1793 (probate in January 1794).

Possibly with his new wife, Jones returned to his Indian medical service in Bombay. But his life as an East India Company Army surgeon sadly wasn’t to last much longer. In August 1807, by now a full Surgeon with the 4th native regiment of infantry, his death was announced in the Asiatic Register, as well as back in England. Having not died of plague in Egypt, perhaps he had finally succumb to a disease contracted during his work?

And this, I’m afraid, is all that is known, or in any case all I know, of Jones Grisdale – a short life, but not without success and adventure.

Finally, who were Jones’ parents? From what Grisdale line did Jones come? I don’t yet know. There are many John Grisdales who could have been Jones’ father.

It’s possible that John and Jane Grisdale also had a daughter called Mary Hall Grisdale in 1772 (baptized in 1774 in Durham). She was later to marry Sunderland master-mariner William Henderson in 1792.

I hope that I, or someone else, will be able to definitively establish Jones Grisdale’s ancestry. Some clues undoubtedly lie in his wonderfully full name. Some of these names are for sure the names of local Durham families – Rayne for instance – but why Jones? It’s not an abbreviation; it’s his real name and not one that, to my knowledge, ever appeared among the Grisdales. I think it’s a family name and so maybe a “Jones” was important in John Grisdale’s life or maybe it’s the family name of Jones’ mother Jane? Who knows?

In the little Cumbrian valley of Matterdale there is a local story that has been passed down from generation to generation for more than three hundred years. It tells of how in the late seventeenth century one poor tenant farmer walked hundreds of miles to London to testify in front of the highest court in the land – the House of Lords – in a trial which pitted a group of Matterdale farmers against a powerful local lord of the manor. Is this story true? If so what was it all about and what was the outcome?

Luckily the records of the trial survive in the archives of the House of Lords and so it is possible to reconstruct much of the real history of this small episode. More than this, the long and costly struggle of the Matterdale farmers gives us a lovely insight into the centuries-long, and much opposed, English enclosure process – a process that was just beginning to bite in Cumberland in the seventeenth century.

Matterdale Church, Cumberland

In those days, it was relatively unusual for poor tenant farmers (not to speak of still poorer cottagers and landless peasants) to somehow be able to manage to take their complaints and grievances against their lords all the way through the different levels of the English legal system right up to the House of Lords. It was also quite rare for them to eventually win, as these Matterdale farmers did! Such rarity was both because the legal system was increasingly stacked against poor rural people trying to uphold their age-old common rights against the insidious and inexorable encroachments of powerful local lords, but also it was simply a question of money. Most small farmers simply just couldn’t afford the huge expense of lawyers plus the time and effort required to pursue their case to the very end.

Later I will provide a little background on the English enclosure movement and what protecting common rights meant, as well as giving some colour regarding the protagonists themselves, the judges and the witnesses who were called to appear before the House of Lords. I will also ask if we can identify the person who “walked to London”. But first what follows is the true story of the legal case as best I can reconstruct it.

Background to the trials


Cumberland was a very poor and sparsely populated county. It wasn’t “champion” arable country as was to be found in much of the south and east of the country. It was and still is a land of lakes, mountains and moors. Great barons and lords held almost all the land in “fee” either directly from the King or from their feudal superiors – i.e. from more powerful magnates. The common people, particularly but not only customary tenant farmers, still pastured their livestock on the moors. These once natural rights to “the common treasury of all” had by now become “customary” rights. The Cumbrian farmers’ ‘right of common pasture’ on certain moors near Matterdale lay at the heart of the legal battle that is the subject of this article.

In the seventeenth century, the greatest landowning barons in the area were the Howard family, the Dukes of Norfolk, but another powerful family was the Huddlestons – historically Catholic like the Dukes of Norfolk themselves. Andrew Huddleston had recently converted to Protestantism to avoid the problems and religious persecution suffered by other members of his family. He was the Lord of the Manor of Hutton John. It was Andrew’s actions that were the cause of the farmers’ complaints and legal battles.

The Carlisle trial and the appeal

Hutton John – Andrew Huddleston’s Manor

In 1686, William Mounsey and fifty-three other named customary tenant farmers from Matterdale hired a lawyer and brought a writ, an ‘English Bill’, before the Court of Exchequer in London. Their claim was that they had all had a right of common pasture for their livestock on three nearby moors and wastes in the Manor of Hutton John, called Hutton Moor, Westermell Fell and Redmire.  But that the lord of the manor, Andrew Huddleston, claimed that the three moors were part of his manor and thus ‘belonged’ to him alone and that the farmers had no right of common pasture there. Like his father before him, he had tried to prevent the farmers from making use of these moors for grazing their livestock. When they didn’t stop he impounded (i.e. seized) their cattle. As the farmers couldn’t fight him physically they had had to resort to the law.

The case is called William Mounsey et al, versus Huddleston.

On July 1st 1686, the Exchequer judges referred the case to the Court of Common Pleas, to be heard at the next session of the Cumberland Assizes in Carlisle. This was duly held. The Carlisle assize court was presided over by an itinerant judge; a jury of twelve local men was convened. The judge in the case was called Thomas Powell (later Sir Thomas). The court and the jury heard the arguments of the plaintiff farmers and of the defendant Andrew Huddleston (or at least from their counsels), as well as taking the testimony of other witnesses.

The jury found in the farmers’ favour. But Huddleston wasn’t having any of it. As we will see he was later to argue that the true decision of the jury wasn’t in fact that all these fifty-four Matterdale tenants had a right of common pasture on ‘his’ moors and wastes, but that only he and William Mounsey had such a right. However, in the immediate aftermath of the trial what he in fact did was to continue to harass the farmers and impound their cattle.

The farmers wouldn’t lie down for this. They believed they had right on their side. As the law allowed, they made an appeal to the Court of Appeal to have the trial decision upheld and enforced. This meant returning to the judges of the Court of Exchequer in London when they sat to judge such matters of supposed Error and ‘Equity and Justice’. These sittings were held in the “Exchequer Chamber”. We are told that the judges in the Exchequer Chamber questioned the original Carlisle trial judge, the now ‘Sir’ Thomas Powell, and examined the trial record (the so-called Postea). They upheld the original verdict that all the farmers had the customary right of common pasture and made an injunction restraining Huddlestone from harassing the farmers further.

The House of Lords

London in 1690

Andrew Huddleston still refused to accept the verdict and the injunction made against him that he should refrain from harassing the farmers and impounding their cattle. He decided to appeal to the House of Lords to “reverse” the judgement and decree of the Court of Exchequer and asked that he be “restored to all that he hath lost thereby”.

His petition to the House, written by his counsels Samuel Buck and B. Tonstall, is dated the 3rd of April 1690. His case was that there had been an error in the recording of the verdict of the jury at the Carlisle court and that it had actually found that only he and William Mounsey had the common customary right to pasture their livestock on the moors and not that all the farmers had this right as the Court of Exchequer had found. His petition reads:

At ye next assizes for ye said County after aview averdict was given upon ye said issue that the said Mounsey hath only right of common in Westermellfell and the said verdict was indorsed on ye Pannell and yet afterwards at ye hearing upon ye equity… the said court by reason of ye said verdict decreed that all ye said 53 tenants of Matterdale should enjoy right of Common in Westermellfell and that your petitioner should pay costs and be perpetually enjoyned from distreining any (of) ye said Tenants cattle upon ye said Westermellfell.

He based his case on his contention that:

Ten of the said Jury certified upon Oath filed in ye said Court that it was the meaning of the said Jury that ye said Mounsey had only rights of Comon in Westermellfell and no other of the tenants of Matterdale.

And that:

Ye Postea was not filed in ye Court of Common Pleas….  until ye last long vacacon (vacation) and then notwithstanding ye indorsement Judgement was entered as if it had been found that all ye fifty-three tenants had and ought to have Comon in Westermellfell. All of which your petitioner assignes for Error in ye said Judgement and Decree.

Thus his petition to reverse the decision of the court of appeal was “ by reason of ye said indorsement of Record and ye said Certificates ready to be produced” which proved that “it was not found that any of the said tenants had or ought to have any common…”

Now this all may seem a bit obscure and full of French Law expressions, and it is, but as far as I can understand it essentially Huddleston was arguing that the verdict of the Carlisle trial (no doubt along with a list of jurors) was recorded and annexed to or “indorsed” to the writ on a parchment “Pannell”. This had been either not been seen or was ignored by the Court of Appeal. In addition, the Postea, which was the written report of the clerk of the court after a trial detailing the proceedings and the decision reached, had been delayed in being submitted to the Court of Common Pleas in London and thus had not been seen by the judges of the Exchequer Chamber. He was also claiming that he had sworn written statements (affidavits) from ten of the Carlisle jurymen that they had in fact only found that Mounsey had a right of common and not all the tenant farmers.

On the 3rd April 1690 the House of Lords considered Huddleston’s petition:

Upon reading the Petition of Andrew Hudlestone Esquire; shewing, “That William Munsey, and Fifty-three others, as Tenants within the Vill of Matterdale, in the Barony of Grastocke, in the County of Cumberland, in Mich’mas Terme, 36°Car. IIdi, exhibited their English Bill in the Court of Exchequer against your Petitioner, as Lord of the Manor of Hutton John, complaining, that at a Hearing, 1° Julii 1686, it was by that Court referred to a Trial at Law, whether all or any of the said Tenants of Matterdale have or ought to have Common of Pasture in the said Moors, or any Part thereof; and also of the Judgement given upon that Issue, which he conceives to be erroneous,” as in the Petition is set forth:

It is thereupon ORDERED, by the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, That the said William Munsey, and the Fifty-three other Tenants before-mentioned, may have a Copy or Copies of the said Petition; and be, and are hereby, required to put in their Answer or respective Answers thereunto, in Writing, on Thursday the 17th Day of this Instant April, at Ten of the Clock in the Forenoon; whereof the Petitioner is to cause timely Notice to be given to the Defendants, to the End they answer accordingly.

This was a tight deadline for the farmers and their counsel asked for an extension, which the Lords granted on the 15th of April:

The House being this Day moved, “That William Munsey and the Inhabitants of Materdale in Cumberland may have a longer Time to answer to the Petition and Appeal of Andrew Hudleston, they being at a great Distance from London:”

It is thereupon ORDERED, That the said William Munsey and others the Inhabitants aforesaid have hereby Time given them for answering thereunto, until Thursday the First Day of May next, at Ten of the Clock in the Forenoon.

The Matterdale farmers gave their answer on the 30th April 1690. They stated yet again that they held they held customary tenements in “the Barony of Greystoke in the County of Cumberland” and that these tenements were “descendible from ancestor to heire according to the custom of the said Barony under diverse rents and services”. In addition they:

Became duly intituled under the right and tithe of the then Duke of Norfolk Lord and owner of the said Barony or otherwise to have common of pasture for all their goates, sheep and cattle levant and couchant on the said customary tenements yearly and at all times of the year in and upon certain Moores or Wast grounds called Hutton Moor, Westermellfell and Redmire or some of them in the parish of Graystoke  as to their customary tenements belonging and which they and their Ancestors and predecessors, tenants of the said customary tenements, had from tyme out of mind enjoyed and ought to enjoy and being molested therein unjustly by the now Appellant who claymes to be Lord of the Manor of Hutton John and that the said Moores and Wastes lye within that Manor and pretended that the now Respondents had no right of common there.

The farmers then described how they had wanted to assert and establish their right of common and had thus presented their ‘English Bill’ to the Court of Exchequer and how their case had been sent for trial at the Carlisle assizes, in the Court of Common Pleas, the question being:

Whether all or any of the customary tenants of the late Henry Duke of Norfolk in Matterdale … have (from) tyme out of mind had and ought to have common of pasture on the waste grounds called Hutton Moor, Westermell Fell and Redmire in any part thereof and at all tymes of the year..

They stated that “upon a long and full evidence and examination on both sides the Jury gave a verdict that all the said customary tenants had common of pasture for their said cattle”, and that this decision had been so recorded in the Postea. They went on to explain how the case “came again to be heard in the Exchequer Chambor” (the appeal court), how the judges had once again examined witnesses, read the Postea and heard counsel for both parties. The judges had also examined the original trial judge, the now ‘Sir’ Tomas Powell, and had “decreed that all respondents had right of common… and that they should enjoy the same without the least disturbance or interruption of the now Appellant (Huddleston) and that “an injunction was awarded for quiet enjoyment and restraining of the Appellant”.

Westermell Fell – Now Great Mell Fell

Basically the farmers were claiming that both the Court of Common Pleas sitting in Carlisle and subsequently the Exchequer appeal court, sitting in the Exchequer Chamber, had found for them. Their rights, they said, had been upheld “in diverse Tryalls at Law”, but that the petitioner Huddleston “being unreasonably vexatious did still molest and interrupt (them) in the enjoyment of their common by impounding their cattle and otherwise and yet (i.e. still) refusing to suffer their right and title to the said common”. Regarding Huddleston’s claim that he had affidavits from ten of the original Carlisle jury, the farmers “suggested that if he had “procured” such certificates then they believed these to have been “unduly obtained” and that “they ought not to be made use of against them in this case” because it would be of “dangerous consequence to admit new evidence” or give credence to any statements of the jurors which were “in opposition or diminution to their verdict entered of record and verified by the Judge before whom the Tryall was had”.

In essence I think we see here the implicit suggestion of the farmers that Huddleston had somehow pressured or extorted the jurors to recant their original decision. We will never know the truth but such things were not unheard of.

Some of the exasperation of the farmers comes to us clearly over the centuries from their final words. Being they said “but poor men” they were “not able to contend with the Appellant who is rich and powerfull and uses all means to weary (us) out”.

They asked that the House of Lords dismiss Huddleston’s petition “with costs” because they had already occurred significant costs and trouble “in the proceedings so far” and that there was still more to pay.

The verdict

The House of Lords in the seventeenth century

The Lords set the 10th May 1690 for the hearing of the case and asked Huddleston to “cause Notice to be given to the Defendants, to the End they attend with their Counsel accordingly” on that day. They also ordered that “Charles Howard Esquire, John Aglionby Esquire, James Bird Esquire, John Mounsey Gentleman, and John Grisedale” should “attend this House, on Monday the 12th of this Instant May, at Ten of the Clock in the Forenoon, as Witnesses on the Behalf of William Mounsey and others Respondents, and wherein Andrew Hudlestone Esquire is Appellant”.

The date of the hearing was moved back twice more, both because the “respondents and Andrew Hudlestone” were “far distant from London” and because their Lordships had had to deal with “more weighty matters”. A final date of 4th December 1690 was eventually fixed.

The day before the hearing the Lords ordered that:

The Custos Brevium of the Court of Common Pleas do attend at the Bar of this House To-morrow, at Ten of the Clock in the Forenoon, with the Record of the Postea and Verdict in the Cause tried at the Assizes at Carlisle, between Andrew Hudleston Esquire and Mr. William Mounsey; and hereof he may not fail.

The Custos Brevium was the chief clerk of the Court of Common Pleas. The judges wanted to see for themselves the written record of the Carlisle trial which was such a bone of contention.

I give the Lords’ verdict in full:

Upon hearing Counsel this Day at the Bar, upon the Petition of Andrew Hudleston Esquire, shewing, “That William Mounsey and Fifty-three others, as Tenants within the Vill of Matterdale, in the Barony of Graystocke, in the County ofCumberland, in Michaelmas Terme, 36° Car. 11di, exhibited their English Bill, in the Court of Exchequer, against the Petitioner, as Lord of the Manor of Hutton John; complaining, that, at a Hearing, the First of July 1686, it was by that Court referred to a Trial at Law, whether all or any of the said Tenants of Matterdale have, or ought to have, Common of Pasture in the Moors or Wastes in the Petition mentioned, or any Part thereof, as also of the Judgement given upon the Issue, which he conceives to be erroneous;” as also upon hearing Counsel upon the Answer of William Mounsey, Richard Grisedale, Jos. Grisedale, Thomas Atkinson Junior, Thomas Atkinson Senior, Edward Grisedale Senior, Edward Grisedale Junior, Thomas Grisedale, Thomas Grisedale, John Pauley, William Greenhow, Robert Grisedale, John Benson, John Wilkinson, William Robinson, Michaell Grisedale, William Dockeray, Thomas Wilson, Thomas Wilson, Thomas Harrison, Thomas Hoggart, John Wilson, George Martin, John Harrison, John Neffeild, Thomas Wilson, Thomas Hodgson, William Wilkinson, Richard Wilkinson, John Dawson, Rich. Sutton, John Nithellson, John Robinson, Chamberlaine, Dawson, John Mounsey, William Wilson, Robert Hudson, James Hudson, Agnes Gibson, Robert Rukin, John Brownrigg, Michaell Atkinson, John Greenhow, John Birkett, Thomas Brownrigg, William Robinson, Thomas Greenhow, John Gilbanck, Thomas Greenhow, John Gilbanck, John Greenbow, Thomas Greenhow, and John Coleman, put in thereunto:

After due Consideration had of what was offered by Counsel on either Side thereupon, it is ORDERED and Adjudged, by the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, That the said Petition of Andrew Hudleston be, and is hereby, dismissed this House; and that the Decree made in the Court of Exchequer, from which he appealed to this House, be, and is hereby, affirmed.

The Matterdale farmers had won. At least for the time being they and their descendants would be able to benefit from their common and customary rights to graze their cattle and other livestock on these Cumberland moors. Of course the Huddleston family didn’t give up their quest to deny the farmers their ancient rights and they were finally able to completely enclose Hutton Fell by an Act of Parliamentary Enclosure in the nineteenth century, by which time many of the members of the families who brought Andrew Huddleston to court had already been forced off the land, to move to the satanic mills of the northern industrial towns, to join the army or to emigrate. But that is another story.

Who were the protagonists and their witnesses?

The full list of all the fifty-four Matterdale farmers was given in the Lords final ruling quoted above as well as in the farmers’ answer to Huddleston’s petition. They were all members of long-established Matterdale families. William Mounsey himself was one of the wealthier tenants and came from Brownrigg in Matterdale, others farmed up and down Matterdale valley, from Douthwaite Head in the south to near Hutton John in the north.

As has been mentioned, Andrew Huddleston came from a long line of Catholics, whose cadet branch had become Lords of Hutton John. Andrew’s Uncle John was a catholic priest and had helped King Charles the Second escape following the decisive Battle of Worcester in 1651 and when Charles was restored after the English Revolution he became his confidant and reconciled him to the Catholic faith on his deathbed. Unlike many of his relatives (including his father) Andrew was flexible and converted to the Anglican faith and then set about restoring his family’s fortunes. The Huddlestons remained Lords of Hutton John for centuries to come.

Regarding the witnesses who were called to the House of Lords as witnesses; on November 8th 1690, when Andrew Huddleston petitioned that “your Lordships appoint a day” for the hearing, his counsel also humbly conceived that “Sir Wilfred Lawson Bart., John Pattinson, Thomas Benn and John Huddleston be fit and material witnesses in the cause”. I will have to leave it for a later time to look at who these people were (and it is certainly of interest). Suffice it to say they were obviously being called to bolster Huddleston case regarding the alleged customary rights of the tenant farmers as well to challenge the decision of the jury at the Carlisle assizes as it had been interpreted by the Court of Exchequer.

Brownrigg In Matterdale – Where William Mounsey lived

But if we want to know who the Matterdale farmer was who, according to the local oral history, walked to London to appear before the House of Lords, we need perhaps to look at the witnesses called to give evidence for the farmers themselves. Earlier I mentioned that the House of Lords had ordered that “Charles Howard Esquire, John Aglionby Esquire, James Bird Esquire, John Mounsey Gentleman, and John Grisedale” should “attend this House … as Witnesses on the Behalf of William Mounsey and others Respondents”. Now Charles Howard (of Greystoke) was the brother of Henry the sixth Duke of Norfolk who had died in 1684 and to whom the farmers repeatedly made reference in trying to establish the legality of their rights of common pasture. He was no doubt being called to testify to this effect. John Aglionby’s family had supposedly come over with William the Conqueror and were a long-established Cumbrian gentry family. John himself was a lawyer and a long-serving recorder of the Carlisle Assizes and was thus without much doubt being called to testify regarding the decision of the jury and court in the original trial. James Bird Esq. remains obscure for the moment, but John Mounsey, who was a “gentleman”, was William Mounsey’s brother. He and John Grisedale (certainly a relative of the numerous Grisdales amongst the Matterdale farmers) were probably being called either to give evidence regarding the customary rights of the farmers “from time immemorial” or regarding the verdict of the Carlisle trial.

So perhaps it was John Mounsey or John Grisedale who had “walked to London”? After all they are the two most likely contenders as we know that the House of Lords had demanded their presence. But of course it could equally as well have been William Mounsey himself or one of the other fifty-three, in their capacity as respondents to Huddleston’s petition. Perhaps we will never know.

What was it all about?

It’s certainly pleasing to know that this group of “poor men” finally prevailed over the “rich and powerful” Andrew Huddleston. It was obviously pretty crucial to their future livelihood that they could continue to pasture their animals on the moors.  But where does this small legal fight fit in the longer sweep of English history?

The majority of the English rural population had “from time out of mind” relied upon being able to make use of the huge swathes of England that were not under cultivation or definitively enclosed to supplement their meagre livelihood. They collected wood from the forests for building and heating, they foraged wild fruits, berries and leaves to supplement their diets, they cut peat or turf to burn and they grazed their goats, sheep and cattle on the wastes and moors. This they had done for as long as people had lived in a specific locality – in England certainly from well before the Norman Conquest. Without wishing to romanticise pre-conquest England, the land and it bounty were a “common treasury” for all.

When The Norman French arrived in and after 1066, England was divvied up between the King and his secular and religious followers. The French feudal system was imposed with a vengeance. The long process of denying people their “rights” (to use an anachronistic term) to make use of the Commons had begun. The Norman French Kings created private “forests” for their own hunting while the French religious and lay barons and lords went about reducing most of the population to de facto or de jure serfdom. But while there was  hardly any part of the country that was not owned (or held in feudal fee) by the Kings or the great magnates and lords, there were still enormous amounts of wastes, woods and moors surrounding the hundreds of nucleated, and usually cultivated, villages. The local people continued to use these commons but now their right to do so had become “customary” rather than what we might call natural.

Sheepfold on Hutton Moor

These customary rights were just part of a whole elaborate web of mutual feudal rights and obligations between lords and their vassals. To take the example of Cumbrian tenant farmers, they had the right to live on and work their tenements because their ancestors had before them. They had to pay rents, they owed labour services on the lords’ home farms – including various boon-days when the harvest needed gathering. They had to pay a fine or “relief” when the tenant died and his successor took over and when the manor itself passed from one generation to the next. But they also had rights in the common. By the seventeenth century all these rights and obligations were seen as deriving from custom. Sometimes they were written down but sometimes the customs were just that: customary, and were claimed to have existed from time immemorial.

An important part of the history of the English people in the nine hundred years following the Conquest is the history of how the majority of English people was inexorably deprived of its common rights and slowly but surely forced off the land. This was the process of English enclosures. It took a long time, starting I would suggest in the thirteenth century, gaining momentum in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and reaching its brutal climax with the Parliamentary Enclosures of the nineteenth century; by which time England had been effectively fully privatised.

George Orwell once put it thus:

Stop to consider how the so-called owners of the land got hold of it. They simply seized it by force, afterwards hiring lawyers to provide them with title-deeds. In the case of the enclosure of the common lands, which was going on from about 1600 to 1850, the land-grabbers did not even have the excuse of being foreign conquerors; they were quite frankly taking the heritage of their own countrymen, upon no sort of pretext except that they had the power to do so.

In the previous century Karl Marx had already summed up what the Enclosures were all about:

We have seen how the forcible seizure of the common lands, accompanied for the most part by the transformation of arable into pasture, began in the fifteenth century and lasted on into the sixteenth […] The advance that has been made in the eighteenth century is shown in this, that the law itself now became the instrument by which the theft of the people’s land was achieved, although the great farmers continued to use their petty private methods in addition. The parliamentary form of this robbery was to pass Acts for the enclosure of commons; in other words, decrees whereby the great landowners made a present to themselves of the people’s land, which thus became their own private property […] a systematic seizure of communal landed property helped, side by side with the theft of the State domains, to swell the size of those great farms which, in the eighteenth century, were called ‘capital farms’ or ‘merchant farms’, and ‘to set the country folk at liberty’ as a proletariat for the uses of industry.

Deprived of the Commons many Matterdale people ended up here

The small victory of the Matterdale farmers in 1690 was important to them, but in the longer term their victory was almost pyrrhic. The Huddlestons wanted more land and they wanted exclusive use of that land. They wanted “private property” in its modern sense. They, like so many other “noble” English families, finally got what they wanted. The bulk of the rural population could no longer support itself. If people couldn’t have access to the commons they were drawn into the new industrial cities and towns there to become a new class of urban proletariat, or perhaps they went to fights the Kings’ wars or had to emigrate to Canada or America or perhaps they were convicted or petty crimes undertaken to feed themselves and their families and were transported to Australia. The descendants of the Matterdale farmers did all of these.


The details of the hearing of the case William Mounsey et al, versus Huddleston are held in the archives of the House of Lords. Huddleston’s petition: HL/PO/JO/10/1/422/250 and Mounsey et al’s reply: HL/PO/JO/3/184/1. The House of Lords Journal Volume pages 447, 465, 486, 488, 545, 548, 577 and 578 provide further information.

There are also documents relating to the original Carlisle assize trial  held in the Cumbria record office, including D HUD 1/20  and D HGB/1/115.

Matterdale is a rural land-locked valley community in the lake district of Cumberland. But Cumberland has another side to it; the flat coastal plain was until comparatively recently a major maritime and industrial entrepôt. Thus it’s not surprising that many members of the Grisdale family have from time to time made their way to the coast, to find work and perhaps to make their fortunes. One such was Matthew Grisdale, who might possibly have been present in Whitehaven, Cumberland, when Benjamin Franklin paid a visit in 1771 and when the Scottish, turned American, naval captain and privateer John Paul Jones raided the port in 1778.

Whitehaven harbour in the nineteenth century

For much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the town of Whitehaven was a major ship building hub, trading port and coal mining town. It only lost its position slowly as Liverpool rose to prominence. Whitehaven was created in the seventeenth century by the powerful local Lowther family, the Earls of Lonsdale. It remained for a long time a sort of company town. The Lowthers also started, owned and developed an extensive coal mining business in Cumberland, particularly in an around Whitehaven where deep coal seems extended far out to sea. Hundreds of ocean-going ships were built by Whitehaven’s ship-builders and vessels carried on a trade in coal, tobacco, corn and even slaves with America, the East and West Indies, Ireland, the Baltic and Africa. It was quite a hive of bustle and business.

It needs to be said that the working conditions of the men and children in Lowther’s Whitehaven coal mines were horrific. In a previous article on The Wild Peak Blog, I gave the description of a Whitehaven trained slave ship Captain, Hugh Crow, of this “white slavery”:

Think for instance of the poor fishermen, during the winter season – some of the greatest slaves in existence. Think of the miserable beings employed in our coal-pits, and in our iron, lead and copper mines – toiling underground in unwholesome air, which is constantly liable to fatal explosions! Think of all the men, women, and children, confined by hundreds, in heated factories, their health rapidly wasting, and their earnings scarce sufficient to keep soul and body together! Think of other slavish employments – often under masters quite as arbitrary and unfeeling as the planters!  Think of the thousands who are rotting in jails for petty offences, to which many of them are driven by want and starvation! Think of the thousands that have been imprisoned – ruined for killing a paltry hare or a partridge! Think of the wretched Irish peasantry! Think of the crowded workhouses – and do not forget to think of poor Jack, who after devoting himself to a life of toil and danger in a vocation to which his country owes much of her prosperity, is dragged by the hair of his head to shed the blood of his fellow creatures at the hazard of his own life; or, perhaps, to wear out an embittered existence in foreign stations, far from those who are nearest and dearest to his affections!

Martindale, Westmorland, Where Matthew was born

Probably quite a change then for a young Matthew Grisdale when he first arrived in the town, probably in the early 1770s. Matthew was born in the rural Westmorland valley of Martindale in 1753, the tenth and last child of parents Solomon Grisdale and Anne Lowther. Martindale is just across Lake Ullswater from Matterdale, and Matterdale-born Solomon farmed there at a place called Hen How. (If you are interested in which Solomon Grisdale of Matterdale was Matthew’s father, please write to me).

Whether Matthew arrived early enough to be present when Benjamin Franklin came to town in 1771 isn’t known, but I like to imagine he was. Franklin came with:

Sir John Pringle on a sort of voyage of scientific interest. It was suggested he visited William Brownrigg, considered one of the greatest scientists of the day, who by then had given up his medical practice in Whitehaven to concentrate on his scientific endeavours at his home of Ormathwaite, near Keswick. Whilst at Keswick, Benjamin Franklin and William Brownrigg carried out an experiment on Derwentwater to investigate if it was true that oil could calm troubled waters. They found that due to the surface tension oil would spread out to a monolayer on the surface of water and thus a surprisingly small amount could reduce the waves over a considerable area.

After his visit Franklin wrote to his wife Deborah:

In Cumberland I ascended a very high mountain, where I had a prospect of a most beautiful country, of hills, fields, lakes, villas, &c., and at Whitehaven went down the coal mines, till they told me I was eighty fathoms under the surface of the sea, which rolled over our heads; so that I have been nearer both the upper and lower regions, than ever in my life before…

Saltom Mine, Whitehaven, where Benjamin Franklin visited

In a letter the following year he wrote to Jacques Barbeu-Dubourg:

On the nature of sea-coal. To M. Dubourg: I visited last summer a large coal-mine at Whitehaven in Cumberland; and in following the vein, and descending by degrees towards the sea, I penetrated below the ocean, where the level of its surface was more than 800 fathom above my head; and the miners assured me that their works extended some miles beyond the place where I then was, continually and gradually descending under the sea. The slate which forms the roof of this coal-mine is impressed in many places with the figures of leaves and branches of fearn (sic), which undoubtedly grew at the surface, when the slate was in the state of sand on the banks of the sea. Thus it appears that this vein of coal has suffered a prodigious settlement. B. F.

It has been suggested that Franklin was starting to think about plate tectonics years, indeed centuries, before they were suggested. In 1782, he wrote again about his Whitehaven visit:

It seemed a proof that there had been a great bouleversement in the surface of that island, some part of it having been depressed under the sea, and other parts, which had been under it, being raised above it. Such changes in the superficial parts of the globe seemed to me unlikely to happen, if the earth were solid at the centre. I therefore imagined that the internal parts might be a fluid more dense, and of greater specific gravity than any of the solids we are acquainted with; which therefore might swim in or upon that fluid. Thus the surface of the globe would be a shell, capable of being broken and disordered by the violent movements of the fluid on which it rested.

John Paul Jones’ Raid on Whitehaven

But a few years later, after the outbreak of the American War of Independence, Whitehaven got another, not so friendly, American visit from Scottish-born John Paul Jones, who was by now one of the first captains in the fledgling US navy as well as a privateer for his own account. Perhaps with the encouragement of Benjamin Franklin, John Paul Jones, in command of the USS Ranger, conducted a brief raid on Whitehaven – the last time a British port was attacked. At 11pm on 22 April, 1778:

Commander John Paul Jones leads a small detachment of two boats from his ship, the USS Ranger, to raid the shallow port at Whitehaven, England, where, by his own account, 400 British merchant ships are anchored. Jones was hoping to reach the port at midnight, when ebb tide would leave the shops at their most vulnerable

Jones and his 30 volunteers had greater difficulty than anticipated rowing to the port, which was protected by two forts. They did not arrive until dawn. Jones’ boat successfully took the southern fort, disabling its cannon, but the other boat returned without attempting an attack on the northern fort, after the sailors claimed to have been frightened away by a noise. To compensate, Jones set fire to the southern fort, which subsequently engulfed the entire town.

Jones knew Franklin well and perhaps he had his permission for this raid. He orders read: “You shall judge best for distressing the Enemies of the United States, by sea or otherwise.

After the raid Benjamin Franklin and John Adams wrote to Jones:

We shall recommend the men who landed with you at Whitehaven, to the favor of Congress, because we think they merited it; but lest our recommendation should miscarry, we wish you to recommend them, and enclose in your letter an extract of this paragraph of ours. As they have done to themselves so much honor in this expedition, perhaps Congress would approve of the deduction of the advance at the time of entry, which they all received from me, being made from their wages in America, that the men may have their prize money here.

Mercants’ Houses in Irish Street – Like the one Matthew lived in in 1811

Whatever the case, Matthew Grisdale had established himself well enough in Whitehaven by 1783 to marry. His wife was Esther Fletcher. Matthew had become a “corn factor” i.e. a trading merchant. Eight children soon followed: John (1785), Joseph (1787), Lowther (1790), Thomas (1792), Ann (1792), and William (1793), Jane (1798) and Mary (1801).

Things obviously were going well for him because by 1811 his business acumen had enabled him to be living in a fine merchant’s house in Irish Street, Whitehaven. By 1828 he was living, presumedly in an even finer house, in Lonsdale Place and by now was called a “Gentleman”.

Matthew died aged 86 in June 1838. In his will dated 13 June 1837, we can see how wealthy Matthew had become. He divided his estate (unequally) between his children. In cash and government debt he bequeathed around £10,000, plus extensive properties, including his house in Lonsdale Place plus warehouse and shop in Roper Street and extensive household goods. He had done very well!

Many of Matthew and Esther’s children had interesting lives themselves: John became a grocer in Whitehaven, Lowther went to university, became a clergyman and school-master, and was for 28 years the headmaster of Bolton Grammar School in Lancashire, Thomas moved to Liverpool and became a pawn-broker, while William became, like his name-sake Benjamin Grisdale, the manager of Whitehaven’s Customs House. But those stories are for a later date.

Many members of the Grisdale family took holy-orders. Some became rich and mingled with the country’s rulers but many did not. One such was Solomon Grisdale who became Curate of the tiny and poor Durham country parish of Kirk Merrington. We know little about his life but one poignant story has survived – concerning his cow.

Kirk Merrington Church, County Durham

Solomon Grisdale, from the Matterdale Grisdales, had married a Mary Earl in the early 1800s. The couple had at least four children: Mary (1803), Joseph (1805), Jonathan (1807) and Ann (1809), all in Merrington, Durham. He was consecrated Curate of Merrington in 1814, having probably already been schoolmaster.

Just before Solomon’s death in 1818, Merrington was visited by representatives of the Select Committee for the Education of the Poor, where they found “five schools in which 104 children are educated”. One of the schoolmasters (and the curate) was Solomon and he told the visitors that “a considerable part of the poorer class are without the means of education and are desirous of possessing them”.

And that’s about all we know except for this story:

Solomon Grisdale, Curate of Merrington, who was very poor, and had a numerous family, lost his only cow. Mr. Surtees determined to raise a subscription for another cow; and waited on the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry (the late Earl Cornwallis), then Dean of Durham, and owner of the Great Tithes of Merrington, to ask what he would give? “Give,” said his Lordship, “why a cow to be sure. Go, Mr. Surtees, to Woodifield, my steward, and tell him to give you as much money as will buy the best cow you can find.” Mr. Surtees, who had not expected above a five-pound note, at most, exclaimed, “My Lord, I hope you’’ ride to Heaven upon the back of that cow!” Awhile afterwards he was saluted in the College, by the late Lord Barrington, with – “Surtees, what is the absurd speech that I hear you have been making to the Dean?” “I see nothing absurd in it,” was the reply: “when the Dean rides to Heaven on the back of that cow, many of you Prebendaries will be glad to lay hold of her tail.”

I hope he got the new cow!

Robert Surtees (1779 – 1834) was a historian and antiquary who wrote The History and Antiquities of the county Palatine of Durham (1816). His memoirs were later published in 1852, from which I derive this tale.

Bishop James Cornwallis

One interesting little connection is that Bishop James Cornwallis, who offered to buy Grisdale a replacement cow, was the brother of the Earl Charles Cornwallis who had been the commander of the British forces at the Siege of Yorktown in 1781, and who was accompanied there by his friend the Rev Benjamin Grisdale, a distant relative of our poor Solomon.

Solomon it seems was a poor but good man. His son Joseph fared somewhat better, he was able to study at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and became both a clergyman (curate of Wattlefield) and headmaster of King Edward’s Free Grammar School in Wymondham, Norfolk. He died aged 88 in 1893.


See comments below for the solution regarding who Solomon was.

When two young Bolton cotton weaver brothers came ashore in New York from the steamer Melbourne on the 15th of June 1863, perhaps they thought that they had stepped out of the frying pan into the fire. The American Civil War was still raging – Gettysburg was only a couple of weeks away – and New York was a toxic cauldron of racial and social violence and discontent. Irish and other gangs roamed the streets, illegal slave trafficking still flourished and large swathes of the population would, within the month, literally be up in arms against the war draft. Whether young John and Jonathan Grisdale were still in New York on July 13 when the New York City Draft Riots broke out we don’t know. Perhaps they were and had witnessed what New York historian Edward Robb Ellis called “the most brutal, tragic, and shameful episode in the entire history of New York City”. Or perhaps they had by then already reached their destination in the cotton mill towns of Pennsylvania, where they would undoubtedly meet up with their weaver uncle Doctor Grisdale, who had emigrated from Bolton, Lancashire, thirteen years earlier.

New York Draft Riots, 1863

Whatever the case, the two brothers soon headed south to start a new life. Both were married and had young children back in Bolton – who were to join them shortly – but for now they were on their own. Perhaps first staying for a time with uncle Doctor and his family in Upper Merion, Pennsylvania, they would soon have gone to look for work in the rapidly expanding cotton mills of Pennsylvania. Like their father and grandfather before them, both young men had already spent years in the hell-holes that were the Lancashire cotton and woollen mills.

Anybody who would like to get a flavour of the unimaginable squalor and poverty experienced at this time in the Lancashire mill towns would be well advised to read Frederick Engels’ “The Condition of the Working Class in England” published in 1845. Engels had visited Bolton on more than one occasion and made this comment:

Among the worst of these towns after Preston and Oldham is Bolton, eleven miles north-west of Manchester. It has, so far as I have been able to observe in my repeated visits, but one main street, a very dirty one, Deansgate, which serves as a market, and is even in the finest weather a dark, unattractive hole in spite of the fact that, except for the factories, its sides are formed by low one and two-storied houses. Here, as everywhere, the older part of the town is especially ruinous and miserable. A dark-coloured body of water, which leaves the beholder in doubt whether it is a brook or a long string of stagnant puddles, flows through the town and contributes its share to the total pollution of the air, by no means pure without it.

Child Labour in Bolton Cotton Mill

Such was the place in which these brothers had lived and worked. They would find that the conditions in Pennsylvania’s mills really weren’t much better. Indeed many of the mills had been founded or were run by their Lancastrian compatriots.

For those of you more interested in genealogy rather than social history, I will briefly outline the brothers’ family line. Jonathan Grisdale (1832) and John Grisdale (1836) were the fourth and fifth children of Bolton cotton weaver John Grisdale senior (born 1799) and his wife Mary Wellsby. John Grisdale senior’s and Doctor’s father was Thomas Grisdale, who was born in Matterdale in 1772, the eighth and penultimate child of Joseph Grisdale and Ann Temple. Sometime in the 1790s, Thomas moved to Bolton in Lancashire (then called Bolton Le Moors); he married an Elizabeth Crossley there in September 1796. Between 1799 and 1817 they had nine children in Bolton, including in 1799 John, the emigrant brothers’ father.

The family’s earlier history is relatively easy to trace back to the first half of the seventeenth century – in Matterdale of course. Back to another Thomas Grisdale, a farmer, born in 1654 in Ulcatrow in Matterdale. This early Thomas was one of 54 tenant farmers who fought the local lord Andrew Huddleston all the way to the House of Lords in 1690 (see: Walking to London for Justice). I will leave aside the question of who was this Thomas Grisdale’s father for the time being. Those of you who are interested in such minutiae are invited to contact me.

Despite their youth both men had already had years of work in the Bolton mills behind them. This was a period when a type of child factory slavery was still the order of the day. In the 1861 census John is found living in Queen Street in Farnworth, Bolton, with his new wife and daughter. He was already a “Cotton Power Loom Manager”, quite an achievement at the age of 25. John was obviously quite proud of this fact because in A History of Delaware County Pennsylvania and its People, edited by John W. Jordan and published in 1914, when John was possibly still alive, we read:

The Grisdale family of Clifton Heights, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, are of English origin, England having been the home of the family for many generations….  (John) was educated in the common schools of his native country, and obtained his first employment in a cotton mill. His rise in the business was rapid, and when only twenty-two years of age he was promoted to the position of manager.

John Grisdale junior had married local girl Catherine Taylor in 1860, and a daughter, Sarah Jane, followed a few months later. His elder brother Jonathan was also working in the Bolton mills in 1861, as a cotton power loom “overlooker”. He had married Sophia Bamber in 1854 and before he emigrated to America with his brother the couple had had three children: Mary (1856), Richard (1860) and James (1862).

Many Lancastrian cotton mill workers were to emigrate to America, and particularly to Pennsylvania, during this period. But perhaps it is not too far-fetched to imagine that it was the brothers’ uncle Doctor Grisdale who had encouraged them to take the plunge and join him in America?

With their experience and skills they soon found work. In the 1870 US census we find Jonathan, perhaps as we might have expected, living in Middletown Delaware and working as a “loom boss”.  John his younger brother, however, although not far away in Philadelphia, was by now working as a “grocer”! In the History of Delaware County Pennsylvania and its People, we read:

In 1863 he (John) immigrated to the United States and worked for two years at the machinist’s trade, later serving an apprenticeship and learning the trade of a mason and bricklayer. In 1883 he retired from active labor and has since lived a quiet life of ease.

Yet in 1880 he was certainly back in a cotton mill in Clifton Heights, Delaware County as a “loom boss” and is listed in the same place in the US censuses of both 1900 and 1910 as a real-estate agent! So perhaps he could turn his hand to anything?

John and his wife Catherine were to have three daughters: Sarah Jane, Mary Ann and Elizabeth. The report of John’s life continues:

The old school house of Clifton Heights was erected upon land sold by him to the borough. He has held several prominent political positions in the borough, having been a member of the council for eight years and for two years was treasurer. When the local fire department was organized he was one of the charter members and contributed his most earnest efforts to raising it to its present high plane of efficiency. He is at present inspector for the borough. Both he and his wife are members of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

His wife Catherine, we are told, was “a trained nurse” and “she is president of the Women’s Club and a strong advocate of woman’s political equality; she is the present efficient treasurer of the borough poor fund and active in promoting all good causes”.

John died in sometime after 1914 but before 1920.  As it seems that John only had daughters – which is no bad thing – his Grisdale name died with him.

Views of Norristown in 1881

With his brother Jonathan it was quite different. As I said earlier, he and his wife Sophia had had three children in England: Mary Ann (1856), Richard (1860) and James (1862). They arrived in America with Sophia aboard the steam-ship City of London on the 5th October 1863. Five more American-born children were to follow: Jonathan (1866), William Henry (1868), Thomas (1871), George (1874) and Sofia (1878).

As I have mentioned, by 1870 Jonathan and his family were living in Middletown, Delaware, where he was working as a “loom boss” in a cotton mill. By 1880 they had moved to nearby Norristown, Pennsylvania and Jonathan was still working in a cotton mill.

Norristown was incorporated in 1812 on the east bank of the Schuylkill River and expanded in 1853. It was named after early mill owner Charles Norris. When the Pennsylvania canal system connected Morristown with Philadelphia in 1826, the town prospered as a trade center. Mills began to emerge along the waterways.

Many of Jonathan’s sons, and indeed grandsons, were to follow him into the cotton and woollen mills of Norristown, where an untold number of his descendants still live to this day.

Jamison Mills, Norristown, 1883

In which Norristown cotton mill did Jonathan Grisdale work? It’s of course possible he worked in more than one. Let’s first ask where he lived in the town. In 1880 he was living around Main Street. Various city directories and (after his death in 1888) the 1900 census show that the family house was at 320 Hamilton Street “below West Main Street”, so right in the heart of the original town and very close to many of the town’s largest cotton mills straggling along the Schuylkill river. The nearest mills was probably Washington Woollen Mills near the Montgomery Cemetery, but Jonathan could easily have walked along the river to Bullock’s Mills, Simpson’s Mills, De Kalb Street Mills/Jamison’s Mills or even to the Ford Street Cotton and Woollen Mills.

While not perhaps quite on the scale of some of the Bolton cotton mills in which the Grisdale brothers might have previously worked, a couple of these Norristown factories were pretty large operations, as the drawing of the Jamison Mills factory clearly shows.

Jonathan’s brother John had just perhaps fared slightly better. He was after all deemed worthy of an entry in the Montgomery County history, which said that “in 1883 he retired from active labor and has since lived a quiet life of ease”. I am sure that with a bit of local research more can be discovered about both Jonathan and John Grisdale’s lives. Perhaps their descendants can add more? I hope so.

Jonathan Grisdale died in 1888 in Norristown at the age of just 56.

I will leave Norristown and Pennsylvania now and very briefly tell the tale of one other member of the same cotton weaver family who also came to America and founded his own little Grisdale tribe in and around Gaston County in North Carolina.

SS City of New York

SS City of New York

Jonathan and John Grisdale had an older brother called Thomas, born in 1821 in Bolton. He had married Maria Howarth in Bolton in 1841. Two sons followed: James in 1845 and John in 1846. It seems that shortly thereafter Thomas died. At first the two young boys lived with their mother Maria, but maybe it was too much for her, because by 1861 James was living with his uncle John (the American immigrant) and Catherine his wife. He is clearly listed as John’s nephew in the census. What became of James’s mother and brother is unknown but what we do know is that James also decided to make the voyage to Pennsylvania. He arrived in New York from Liverpool on the 21st December 1866 on the ship City of New York. Like his relatives before him he made his way to the Pennsylvania mills, because he too was of course a cotton weaver. James soon married Dealware-born Annie Cannon and by 1870 with their new son, also called John, they were living with James’ uncle John in Philadelphia, and James was back in a cotton mill. I hope you’re keeping up! (see here)

But, for whatever reason, sometime between 1871 and 1879 James and his growing family moved on; to live and work in and around Gaston, North Carolina.  I will probably have to return to explain James’ family in more detail at another time. But for now why did James move to North Carolina? Well, as we might expect, it had to do with cotton mills.

In addition to its rail connections, Gaston County was a prime location for water-powered cotton manufacturing on account of its many fast-flowing rivers and streams, its location in the midst of a cotton growing region, and the availability of cheap labor. By 1897 Gaston County had the largest number of cotton mills of any county in the state, twenty-two total, representing 10.6 percent of the state total of 207 cotton mills.

Mountain Island Cotton Mill

Mountain Island Cotton Mill

In 1880, James was living in Mountain Island Village, Gaston, North Carolina, and working as a “Superintendent in a Cotton Mill”.

A cotton mill, said by some authorities to be the first in Gaston County, was established on Mountain Island in 1848 by Thomas R. Tate and Henry Humphreys, owners of the Mount Hecla steam-powered mill near…. They hoped to take advantage of the less expensive water power from the Catawba River. The site at river’s edge featured a partially completed canal around the shoals that could be used for a mill race, and a steep island whose top now rises from the lake. Machinery was moved from the Mount Hecla mill by mule-drawn wagon and operations began in 1849. A village of brick houses grew around the mill. The mill and village were destroyed on July 15, 1916 in a flood caused by a hurricane.

Long Island Cotton Mill

Long Island Cotton Mill

By 1882, James had moved to the Long Island Cotton Mill in Catawba (which is now under Lake Norman). A letter to The Landmark newspaper dated 1882, tells us that the mill had been recently acquired by the Turner Brothers and that ‘James Grisdale, an Englishman of vast experience,’ had ‘the general supervision of the factory’.

By 1900, James and his family were in McAdenville, Gaston, North Carolina, still working in a cotton mill, almost certainly in the huge McAden Mills. McAden Mills claimed to be the first textile mill in the South to install electric lights. According to historian Billy Miller:

In 1884 Thomas Alva Edison came to McAdenville to oversee and help install the first electrical generator in the South…The lights hung from the ceiling of the mills and were spaced about thirty feet apart. People came from everywhere to gawk at the miraculous new lighting technology.

McAden’s Mill, McAdenville, North Carolina

The couple had at least seven children, either born in Pennsylvania or, later, in North Carolina: five boys and two girls. Many of their descendants still live around there to this day.

So this is my brief history of three Bolton cotton weavers who “went America”. As we (sometimes) say in England, “The boys done good”.

I guess that next I’ll have to write a bit about another Thomas, the brother of Doctor and John Grisdale, who went to India with the British army, married there, and then moved on to Australia – where he arrived in Melbourne from Bombay on the Strathfieldsaye  in November 1853. Maybe I might even write about the members of the family who stayed in Bolton. Or perhaps I should come more up-to-date and tell my own Grisdale family story? Let’s see.

McAden Mill

McAden Mill

At eight o’clock on a fine tuesday morning in late May 1805, a young London lawyer called John Campbell climbed on top of a stage-coach outside the White Horse tavern in Fetter Lane. John, who would later become the Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, was accompanying his close friend and legal colleague John Grisdale to Cambridge. Grisdale was to be admitted as a fellow of the university having achieved high academic distinction there on his graduation three years earlier. He had in fact been the Second Wrangler in mathematics; an honour later awarded to physicists James Clerk Maxwell, Lord Kelvin and economist Alfred Marshall.

Christ’s College, Cambridge

John Campbell was somewhat in awe of his brilliant friend and he wrote to his father about their “pleasant excursion” to Cambridge shortly after his return to his chambers in London. The letter gives us a real flavour of young John Grisdale’s world, so I will quote from it at some length.

The weather was delightful. I cannot describe to you how much I was exhilarated by once more breathing the fresh air and viewing the green fields. It is now near a year and a half since I entered with Tidd, and during that time I had been only one day absent from the office, when I had gone down to the House of Commons. I am of opinion with Dr. Johnson that human life has few things to offer better than travelling at a good pace in a post-chaise, or upon a stage-coach. We took the same road as the celebrated Mr. John Gilpin, through Islington and Edmonton to Ware. We observed his adventures recorded upon several sign-posts as we passed along. About a quarter before three we came in sight of King’s College Chapel. I was very much struck with this noble building, one of the most perfect specimens of Gothic architecture extant. In a few minutes we were in the streets of Cambridge—narrow, crooked and dirty.

John Grisdale was obviously expected because Campbell continues:

 As soon as we alighted we walked up to Christ’s College, where there was a numerous party of Grisdale’s friends drawn up to receive him. He introduced me to the circle, and from that moment till my departure I met with every kind of attention and politeness.

After dining with a Mr. Kaye, “a young man scarcely of age, who had been at once a senior wrangler and first medallist (the highest mathematical and classical honours), and who in consequence had been immediately elected a fellow”, the pair took a stroll along the “grand promenade belonging to Clare Hall” where they found “crowds of townsmen and ladies”. After another supper they adjourned to their lodgings: Campbell to an inn but John Grisdale to the rooms of a famous jockey which Campbell found highly amusing:

Nothing that I saw amused me more than the manner in which they were fitted up. Not a book was to be seen in them. The walls were hung round with portraits of Eclipse, Hambletonian, and other famous racers. From each side of the looking-glass depended a fox’s brush. Behind the door were several hunting caps and (upon my honour) ten different whips, which the bedmaker assured us were not half the number this gentleman possessed.

John Campbell as Lord High Chancellor

The next day was the day of the election, and, says Campbell “considerable anxiety prevailed”. But the fellows unanimously elected Grisdale to a fellowship and after he had taken an oath with the Vice-Chancellor the revels began. John Campbell tells his father: “Dinner was given in the hall. I was taken to the fellows’ table, and was asked to sit next the master. As soon as the cloth was removed we all retired to what is called the combination room, where there was such a drinking bout as I have seldom witnessed. ‘Alma Mater lay dissolved in port.’ Each man must have had above two bottles. Of course those who remained to the last were most excessively tipsy. There was afterwards a supper given by Grisdale, the particulars of which I am not at all able to describe. By some means or other I got safe home to my inn, but several of the fellows continued reeling through the streets for a great part of the night.”

Later on Campbell comments:

You can scarcely form an idea of the sumptuous manner I fed and soaked at Christ’s, and it seemed to be their common mode of life. This being a small college, the men belonging to it form but one society, and at every meal they are feasting with each other. If they dine in the hall, one of them regularly gives wine and fruit after dinner at his rooms. It is impossible they should spend less than £300 or £400 a year. How different from St. Andrews, where the whole expense of the session may be defrayed for £10 or £15! But I scarcely ventured to whisper that I had been at a Scots university.

The next day, no doubt nursing hangovers, the two young men occupied themselves with sight-seeing, Grisdale being Campbell’s guide to Cambridge. Campbell wrote:  “From breakfasting in one place, dining in another, and supping at a third, I mixed with all the classes of which the University is composed.” But the one thing that most gave him cause for thought was a visit to the county goal. They went to visit a friend, and possibly former tutor, of Grisdale’s called Dr. Fisher, who was a fellow of Christ’s College where Grisdale had studied. He was, says Campbell, a “senior doctor at Doctors’ Commons, often sits there as a judge, and is intimately acquainted with Sir William Scott, Lord Eldon, Lord Ellenborough, and all the leading men of the day”. “Do not suppose, however”, says Campbell, “it (his imprisonment) was for housebreaking or any such enormity.” Fisher had been imprisoned for debt. He had provided a guarantee for his brother whose business had failed. Goals In England were at the time sink-holes of squalor, disease and brutality; but not if you had money or a “name”.

We went to drink wine with Dr. Fisher…. We had here a proof of how much there is in a name. There was nothing to tell that we were not in a well-furnished private house.

The latter part of the friends’ stay “was somewhat clouded” when news arrived of the death of John Grisdale’s Cambridge tutor, the very eminent Dr William Paley – a man to whom I will return. Dr Paley’s son also worked as a lawyer in London, indeed in the same chambers as John Campbell:

Young Paley, I believe I have told you, is in Tidd’s office. On Monday night I parted with him in the highest spirits, and it was shocking to think of the news to be brought to him by Tuesday’s post. Besides I was uneasy to think of the inconvenience Tidd might be suffering, being thus deprived of the man he chiefly relied upon in my absence.

So after a visit of some delight, though tinged with sadness, on Sunday morning Grisdale and Campbell set off “upon the top of a coach” on their return journey to London. They arrived at the Blue Boar Inn in Holborn at five in the afternoon.

And for seven years this is the last we hear of the brilliant scholar and promising young lawyer John Grisdale; a man who his friend John Campbell, the future Lord High Chancellor, had told his father proudly, “had been second wrangler about three years ago, and had thus acquired no mean fame in the University. To take such a degree requires reading that in Scotland we have hardly any notion of. If there are greater instances of idleness in English seminaries, there are likewise more astonishing proofs of application”.

So who was John Grisdale? How had a member of this Cumberland family risen to such heights?

Carlisle Cathedral – Where John’s father was Chancellor

John was born in Carlisle, Cumberland, in 1780. He was the son of the Rev. Dr. Browne Grisdale, the “Chancellor of the Diocese of Carlisle, and Chairman of the Cumberland Quarter Sessions”. He was also the nephew of the Rev. Benjamin Grisdale who was captured by the Americans at the Siege of Yorktown, about whom I wrote recently.  His father’s story is also of great interest but I will leave it for another time. Browne Grisdale, like most of the Cumberland Grisdales who were to go to University, studied at Queen’s College, Oxford. John went to Christ’s College, Cambridge and won the second highest prize in mathematics. John had first entered Trinity college in 1799 but switched the following year to Christ’s. His decision to move to Christ’s was probably connected with Dr William Paley. Paley had graduated from Christ’s in 1763 as “senior wrangler”, became a tutor at Christ’s and since 1782 had been Archdeacon of Carlisle Cathedral and a colleague and friend of John’s father Browne Grisdale.

John had attended Carlisle Grammar School where we are told “he gave promise of extraordinary attainments in literature, his mind was stored with much acquired knowledge, and he possessed a judgement clear and comprehensive, which enabled him to select the most useful parts of science; while his superior taste led him to choose for the objects of his imitation the most pure compositions in ancient and modern literature”.

 While at the Grammar-school at Carlisle, his compositions were admired for possessing force, elegance and beauty, far beyond his years; and his friends could not help expecting anxiously, that powers of mind so highly gifted, with application so steady, and a demeanor at once gentle and manly, might achieve a distinguished situation in the learned profession which he had chosen.

As the writer of John’s obituary would later say, his life had opened “most auspiciously”. “His friends beheld with joy the dawn of uncommon talents. There seemed nothing in literature too difficult for his attainment; his application was unwearied; and he was not merely a student by profession; he brought to literature an ardent and noble mind, fraught with all the enthusiasm of a poet; and all the subtleness of a critic.”

Lincoln’s Inn

When John Grisdale graduated as second wrangler in 1802 he found a position in chambers at Lincoln’s Inn, one of the London Inns of Court. From the little we know his life was progressing nicely. We have heard a little about (part) of the life he led from his visit to Cambridge to receive his fellowship in 1805.

But unfortunately John’s great promise did not have time to flower. In The Cumberland Pacquet and Ware’s Whitehaven Advertiser, on Tuesday, 11th February, 1812, local Cumbrians read of John’s death: “The 29th ult. at his chambers in the Temple, London, aged 31, after a short illness, John GRISDALE, Esq. only surviving son of the Rev. Browne GRISDALE, D.D, Chancellor of the diocese of Carlisle. At Cambridge he obtained very high academic honours; and in his profession was much distinguished.”

Slightly later the London-based Monthly Magazine, Volume 33, published John’s obituary, almost a eulogy, from which I have been quoting. Coming to John untimely death the author continues:

Alas! how false are our hopes!

Not only his parents and relatives must deeply lament a fate so lively distressing, but the numerous acquaintances which his superior understanding and excellent qualities had procured him, must deplore a stroke which has cut short the career of one who, had he lived, it is no exaggeration to say would have been one of the brightest ornaments of the nineteenth century.

When a sap, who has attained celebrity in science, fails, we lament his departure, but we regret his loss the less because he has perhaps left a monument behind him, which will not speedily perish; but, when a young man of promising talents… is cut off in the very prime of life, it is truly lamentable…

John Grisdale was buried on February 7th 1812 at the Church of Saint Dunstan in the West in the City of London. His address being given as Elm Court, North Vault.

Dr William Paley

What type of man John would have been and whether he would have put his talents in the service of the mass of the people, as had his teacher and mentor Dr William Paley, we can never know. When Dr Paley’s name was mentioned to King George the third he shouted “Pigeon Paley? Not sound, not sound”. One can’t get higher praise than that! But why Pigeon Paley? In Paley’s book titled Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy he had included a fable of the pigeons:

If you should see a flock of pigeons in a field of corn; and if (instead of each picking where and what it liked, taking just as much as it wanted, and no more) you should see ninety-nine of them gathering all they got, into a heap; reserving nothing for themselves, but the chaff and the refuse; keeping this heap for one, and that the weakest, perhaps worst, pigeon of the flock; sitting round, and looking on, all the winter, whilst this one was devouring, throwing about, and wasting it; and if a pigeon more hardy or hungry than the rest, touched a grain of the hoard, all the others instantly flying upon it, and tearing it to pieces; if you should see this, you would see nothing more than what is every day practised and established among men. Among men, you see the ninety-and-nine toiling and scraping together a heap of superfluities for one (and this one too, oftentimes the feeblest and worst of the whole set, a child, a woman, a madman, or a fool); getting nothing for themselves all the while, but a little of the coarsest of the provision, which their own industry produces; looking quietly on, while they see the fruits of all their labour spent or spoiled; and if one of the number take or touch a particle of the hoard, the others joining against him, and hanging him for the theft.

I wonder whether those involved in the Occupy movement know when they chant their slogan “We are the 99%” that William Paley had said the same thing over two hundred years ago?

Saint Dunstan in the West, Fleet Street – where John Grisdale is buried

Normally I like to research and write little stories about members of the Grisdale family which I think illuminate some interesting aspects of social and family history. This one, however, is more of a request or plea. In 1809, there was heard a fascinating case at the Old Bailey in London which indicted John Annis for a misdemeanor involving a certain Captain William Grisdale of the Russia (Muscovy) Company. Who was this Captain? What was his story? I hope someone can help? Poor John Annis was ordered to be transported to Australia for seven years. He was put onboard the convict ship Anne in Portsmouth but somehow was discharged before the ship sailed for New South Wales. See here.

Here is the transcript of the case:

 JOHN ANNIS was indicted for a misdemeanor .

The case was stated by Mr. Knapp.

THOMAS PUGH. I live on the Pavement, Moorfields, in the city of London.

Q. In the month of November last had you occasion to export any articles to Antigua in the West Indies – A. Yes; on board the Russia Company, captain Grisdale; I employed the defendant as my shipping broker , in consequence of the captain’s recommendation; this was about the 5th of November.

Q. Where did you give Annis instructions to enter your goods – A. At Lloyd’s coffee house.

Q. As shipping broker it would be his duty to make the entry of the goods – A. I understood so.

Q. Did you give him, at the time he made the entry, a list of the goods that he was to enter – A. Yes.

Q. Was that list that you so gave to the defendant copied from that I give to you – A. It was, with the exception of one article of forty pounds. (The paper read.)

COURT. How much do it make in all – A. Four hundred and forty pounds sixteen shillings.

Q. One article, 5 T H, the sum was not put down in the paper that you gave him – A. No, it was not. I said to him there were several articles in that trunk, he must put down what was necessary.

Q. Did he, from your dictation, put down the articles in that trunk – A. He did; I told him what value to put upon that trunk; forty pounds.

Q. Therefore then it became a complete copy of this – A. Yes, it did.

Q. After you had given him these instructions did you yourself take the goods to the West India docks – A. I did; he said he would meet me there if he could. On Tuesday the 5th of November I took the goods; I did not find him there; I left the goods there.

Q. How soon after did you see him – A. I think, to the best of my recollection, I did not see him till Saturday the 12th, he came to me at my house in Moorfields, he came into the shop; he said he brought his little bill and put it down on the counter.

Q. Is that the bill which he brought to you – A. Yes, that is it. (The bill read.)

“London, November 9th, 1808, Mr. Pugh to John Annis , nine shillings and six pence convoy duty on three hundred and thirty four pound; thirteen pounds eight shillings commission on three hundred and ninety four pounds sixteen shillings; and two pounds, making a total of fifteen pounds sixteen shillings and six pence; settled, John Annis .”

Q. At the time that he produced this to you did you make any observation of convoy duty three hundred and thirty four pounds sixteen shillings, and commission three hundred and ninety four pounds sixteen shillings – A. Yes, I did; he said the commission was always paid upon the whole sum, though the duty was not; the linen and cotton went free.

Q. Upon his stating this to you did you give him any money – A. Yes; I paid him the amount; I paid him eleven pounds in notes, four guineas and a half in gold, half a crown, and six pence; I believe I asked him where the paper was that I had given him to enter the goods by; he said he had mislaid it; I asked him if the business was done, and how it came to be so long before it was done, and whether they were put on board; he said no, they were not, but that they should be done, that he would go down to the docks that morning and get them on board.

COURT. Did he say the entry was made – A. He had charged the entry; he told me that the goods were not put on board, but he would take care and put them on board that morning; this was Saturday the 12th of November; I told him I wanted to see him again, and where I should see him; he said he would meet me at Lloyd’s that day at four o’clock; I met him that day at Lloyd’s, I asked him if the business was done; he said no, some part of them was opened; I said for God’s sake, for what reason; he told me to be quiet and easy and all would be well about them, that he should see me again on Monday, he would give me a better account of them.

Mr. Gurney. Did anything then pass about the entry – A. No, nothing at all. On Monday the 14th of November we met again at Lloyd’s, I asked him if they were then put on board the ship: he said no, they were not, but that all but the linen were stopped and opened; I said it was very odd they should be opened, for what reason: he said be still and quiet, and if nothing was said to them it should all be right again; I told him I could not think of any reason why they should be stopped; he told me if I would be quiet he would put all to rights again.

Q. How soon did you meet him again – A. I saw him again at the custom house; I went down to the custom house and enquired about the goods; that was on Wednesday the 16th I saw him again.

Q. Did you find that your goods had been stopped – A. I found that they had been seized by the officer.

Q. Was it stated in the prisoner’s presence on what ground they had been seized – A. No, I believe not.

MR. MILLER. Q. You are a collector of customs for the port of London; of the customs outward for the port of London – A. Yes.

Q. Do you remember the defendant, Annis, coming to make any entry of goods on the 11th of November last – A. No, I cannot; I have some hundreds come to me on a day.

Q. Look at this paper – A. This is my hand writing.

Q. You saw that signed – A. I dare say I did; I believe it to be signed in my presence.

Q. This is a declaration of the value of the goods for the purpose of exportation, for what purpose is that entry made – A. For the several duties; one in the middle is the convoy duty upon that entry; I cannot speak to that.

Mr. Const. That is your hand writing, that is all you prove – A. Yes.

Q. When the defendant made an entry of this before you, he put the value of the goods, you put the charge from the value of the goods – A. Yes; the exporter makes it out and I sign it; that is my hand writing.

MRS. FAVEY. Q. Have you had any opportunity of knowing the defendant, Annis’s, hand writing – look at that and see whether you believe that to be his hand writing – A. I did not see him write it; I believe it to be his hand writing.

Q. Look at that and tell me also whether you believe that to be his hand writing – A. I believe that to be his hand writing.

Q. Now look at that, that is another paper, do you believe that to be his hand writing – A. I cannot say as to that; I do not think that to be his hand writing. (The receipt read.)

“Russia Company, William Grisdale, Antigua, British bottom; John Annis; Irish linen, one hundred and twenty five pounds; two hundred weight of wrought iron, wearing apparel in packages, total value sixty nine pounds ten shillings; I, John Annis, do declare that I enter the said goods, value sixty nine pounds ten shillings; witness my hand, John Annis; signed in the presence of J. Miller.”

JOSHUA STURTING CROSSLEY. Q. I believe you are one of the searchers of the customs for the port of London – A. I am.

Q. Is this the copy of the entry of these goods for Mr. Pugh, that was entered, shipped on board the Russia Company – A. It is. (The entry read.) Total value sixty nine pounds ten shillings; signed John Annis.

JOHN DODSON. Q. Did you receive the convoy duty on these goods – A. I did.

Q. That is at the rate of four per cent – A. It is.

Q. What is the sum received – A. Two pounds sixteen shillings as the duty upon the value of sixty nine pounds ten shillings.

Q. You received the money of whom – A. That I cannot tell. I signed the receipt at the time.

Q. Did you receive any other money upon these goods than that two pounds sixteen shillings – A. Not upon the account of these goods.

Mr. Alley. What is the date of that – A. The 8th of November, 1808. The cotton went duty free.

Mr. Const. What did this case contain – A. Wearing apparel and leather, sixty nine pounds ten shillings.

Q. Is there anything upon the face of that of three hundred and sixty four pounds eight shillings – A. Not at all.

Mr. Gurney. Does that paper contain the marks of all the packages to be shipped on board – is there not the mark of every article – A. There is.

Q. The person that exports he declares the value so declared – A. He does, he pays upon the warrant; I have only received for the value of sixty nine pounds ten shillings and no more.

Q. to Crossley. You told me before you were one of the searchers – A. I am.

Q. Did you search the goods that are contained in that declaration – A. I did.

Q. Marked in the described there – A. Justly so.

Q. Did you observe the sum in which they were entered – A. I did, sixty nine pounds ten shillings.

Q. In consequence of the smallness of that value did you open the goods – A. I did, and I found them to be of large value.

Q. What did you find the real value of these goods entered sixty nine pounds ten shillings – A. Perhaps three or four hundred pounds, or more; vastly exceeding the entry; I thereupon seized them.

Q. After you had so seized them did Mr. Annis come to you – A. He did, and his excuse was that in the hurry of business he had committed the error.

Q. You knew he was a person acting as a shipping broker – A. I never saw him before this transaction.

Mrs. Favey. I believe you shipped some goods on board the Russia Company, and employed Annis to ship them as broker – A. Yes.

Q. I want to know whether the articles A. F. a trunk of ironmongery and sadlery were your property – A. That was my property; he entered it as ironmongery; they was shoes.

Q. Upon forty nine pounds ten shillings the duty would be two pounds would it – A. Yes.


Transported for Seven Years.

London jury, before Mr. Justice Heath.

My recent article about William Booker and his family, who were early New Zealand settlers, has caused a small flurry of interest from some of his descendants in New Zealand. They have also provided me not only with a lot of information about some of his descendants but also more about how the family came to New Zealand.

Mary Booker

I had suggested that the reason William and Jemima Booker had emigrated with their children in 1856 was probably connected with of their daughter Mary Booker. I wrote:

 The answer I think must be connected with the couple’s first daughter, Mary Booker, who had been born in Saint Pancras, London in 1833. Somehow Mary had made her way to Melbourne in Australia where she arrived on the 5 October 1853 on the Statesman. She met and married George Ishmael Clarke there in 1854. The couple like many others had joined the Victoria Gold Rush and worked in the “diggings”, but George had quickly contracted a chest infection and before he died he had asked Mary, who was pregnant, to go to his parents (Ishmael and Mary Clarke), who were living in Nelson in New Zealand, to have their baby. After George’s death this Mary did and their child, George William Ishmael Clarke, was born in Nelson in April 1855. So I don’t think it beyond the realms of reason to think that it was perhaps Mary who had written to her family in London and encouraged them to join her down-under?

It turns out that this was indeed the case. Mary’s descendants have provided me with the text of a very poignant letter written by her to her parents on February 10th 1855, after she had moved to New Zealand following the death of her husband in Australia:

 I write these few lines hoping they will find you well. I am glad to say they leave me well at present (considering the circumstances in which I am placed) I have written one letter to you but as yet have received no answer which makes me feel very anxious. After my arrival in Melbourne I became acquainted with George Ishmael Clarke, and was married and then proceded to the diggings, but we have not been there about three weeks when he caught a severe cold which settled on his lungs and soon terminated in death. He was a kind and faithful husband to me the short time that we were permitted to enjoy each other’s society which was not for more than five months and only two out of them he was in the health. It was his wish that I should come to his parents here in Nelson who are very kind and affectionate towards me. Before the bearer arrives with this letter I expected to be confined the latter in of April, and I thank the Gracious Providence I am places along with kind and affectionate hearts who respect and honour me on account of their dear son and my husband who died at the age of 24 years. I hope and trust that this letter will find you in good health and that you will write as soon as possible. I have sent this letter by care of the bearer a friend of Mrs Clarke on board the ship Monsoon for London who has kindly promised to call upon you on his arrival. Give my love and plenty of kisses to my dear brothers and sisters. I will enclose a piece of my husband’s hair and a piece of mine. The darkest is his. I must now conclude with my dearest wishes for your welfare and should we not meet again on this earth I hope and trust we shall have a happy meeting where parting is not known and death can never sever. I will wish you good bye my dear parents and no more at present. Your affectionate daughter. Mary Booker.

In addition:

 The Booker Family…  arrived in New Zealand aboard the ship Cresswell in October 1856. New son-in-law, Jock Fraser, (he & Mary were married in March 1856) stood surety for William, Jemima and their seven children.


 George Ishmael Clarke was the first born to Mary Booker on 10 April 1855 at Nelson, after being widowed at the Goldfields in Australia. When she came to Nelson at her husband’s wishes, Mary lived with Ishmael and Betsy (nee Steeden) her in-laws until the baby was born and for the first year or so of George Ishmael’s life. It appears that the Clarke’s were neighbours of Jock Fraser in Nelson, and so not surprising Jock and Mary became acquainted and were married at Nelson on 27 March 1856. 

George Ishmael Clarke Jnr

In 1816 Gideon Grisdale was only about twelve when he arrived with his family in Canada. The family were early settlers in North Monaghan, Ontario and I told something of their journey from Cumberland and their early years in Canada in a previous article. This is a brief story about Gideon (and later about his son who was also called Gideon) after he moved to help build a canal.

Gideon Grisdale Senior

Gideon was born in Carlisle, Cumberland, England in 1804, he had been named Gideon after his father Wilfred’s brother.   

Building the Welland Canal

While some of Gideon’s family remained in and around Peterborough County for a long time after the family’s arrival in 1816, he, together with his brother James, soon sought work elsewhere. It was probably in the late 1820s or maybe the early 1830s, when Gideon was in his early or mid twenties, when he moved to Allanburg in Welland County, near Niagara and the American border. Allanburg was at first a shanty town which had sprung up to house the mostly English and Irish workers who had arrived to build the first Welland Canal linking Lake Erie with Lake Ontario. A village was later laid out in 1832 by Samuel Keefer and originally named Allanburgh to honour two men: William Allan, a Toronto banker who was vice-president of the Canal Company, and John Vanderburgh, the first settler. On November 30, 1824, approximately 200 people gathered near Allanburg to witness the sod-turning for the construction of the canal.

The construction of the Canal was beset with challenges and underwent several revisions of its route, but a mere five years after incorporation, on November 30, 1829, the first vessels passed up the completed canal from Port Dalhousie to Lake Erie.

It is highly probable that it was to find work as a labourer on the canal that Gideon trekked from the forests and lakes of Peterborough County all the way to Allanburg. Besides to work on the canal there was no other reason to go there. Gideon probably first lived in the shanty town.

The life of the canal builders was hard. We are told that “undoubtedly the most challenging part of the entire project was digging through the earlier miscalculated 18-metre height of land between Allanburg and Port Robinson”.

This involved excavating a cut of more than 3.2 kilometres in length, at times to a depth of 21 metres from which over 760,000 cubic metres of earth were removed.

The construction was very labour-intensive, with from 250 to 600 men being employed at one time, at a wage of 63 cents a day.

The work was very heavy and difficult, accomplished by human brawn helped only by crude tools and animals. The earth was loosened by pick and shovel, moved from the excavation site by wheelbarrow and then loaded onto ox-drawn carts, or wagons pulled by horses.

If the banks were too steep for the animals to climb, mud had to be shovelled into sacks and with much struggling carried to the surface upon men’s backs.

The work was not without danger. Unstable soil, some sources even describe quicksand, was encountered in many places. Rock had to be drilled by hand and then blown apart by gunpowder. The company once boasted that there had only been three deaths “in a considerable period of time.”

Disease also took a heavy toll. Due to the conditions of moving huge quantities of wet earth, many labourers fell ill with fever. Cholera, likewise, was a grave problem.

Even the work animals suffered. Numerous oxen were killed sliding down the steep banks that became slippery after heavy rains, and many horses died from injury and infection.

Work continued on a southern extension, which was finished in 1833. In the same year Gideon married  Mary Ann Green (called Ann). Two children followed: Gideon Junior in 1834 and Robert John in 1837, both born in Allanburg itself. We next find the family in the 1850 Canadian census in Thorold, in which Gideon is listed as a labourer. Whether he was still labouring on building canals we don’t know, although the second Welland Canal which had been started in 1841 was still not fully completed.

In 1860 Gideon was to be found back in Duoro Peterborough County. He was widowed and living with his farmer nephew Wilfred McCue. How long he stayed in Duoro isn’t known, it’s also unclear how long he had lived in a house his son had bought and sold to him in Allanburg. The Thorold records contain information regarding the purchase of some land and a house in Allanburg, right next to the canal, in 1857 and 1860:

On 20 Jul 1857 (Reg 22 Jul 1857) John Harper et ux sold to Gideon Grisdale ½ acre upon which is erected and known as All Nations House in the Village of Allanburg in Allanburg in Lot 119 Thorold Twp. For £300.

Three years later Gideon Junior sold this to his father:

On 16 Jun 1860 (Reg 26 Jun 1860) Gideon Grisdale Jr. sold to Gideon Grisdale Sr. ½ acre in the Village of Allanburg in Lot 119 Thorold Twp. for £300.

So it seems that Gideon’s son Gideon Junior had by the age of 23 been able to buy land and a house which he sold three years later to his father for the same amount he had paid.

This piece of land had an interesting history. Originally it was part of William Hamilton Merritt’s large plot called “Lot 119”. Part of this land he sold to Captain Ogden Creighton, whose widow Eleanor Creighton sold it to John Harper in 1854. It was from this John Harper that Gideon Grisdale Junior bought the land and house before selling it to his father.

An early survey map of the first and second Welland Canal in Allanburg drawn in the 1860s clearly shows a John Harper’s Tavern on the canal as well as a Lock Tender’s House, both in Lot 119.

In any case by 1881 at the latest Gideon Senior was back in Thorold and continued to live there, possibly (but by no means certainly) in All Nations’ House in Allanburg, until his death from diarrhea in September 1889. This is his obituary:

Welland Tribune, September 27, 1889, p. 4.
Gideon Grisdale, Sr., aged 86 years, died at the residence of his niece, Mrs. Tewsley, Low Banks, on Sunday. His body was interred here on Tuesday. Mr. Grisdale has resided in this section about fifty years and for a long time lived at Allanburgh. He served twenty years as locktender, and was employed on the first Welland Canal that was excavated. Deceased was father of Messrs. Robert Grisdale of this place and Gideon Grisdale of the Ontario police, Niagara Falls.

Gideon Grisdale Junior

Turning now to Gideon Junior, from his birth in 1834 until his death sometime after 1891 but before 1901, Gideon Junior lived in and around Allanburg and later in Port Robinson, in Welland. The censuses always refer to him as a “carpenter”. His work very probably was also connected to the canal; he might also have been a lock keeper on the canal.

Gideon Grisdale Junior married Margaret Bell in 1856 in Niagara, Canada. They were to have four children: William (1857), Margaret Ann (1859), Alexander Latimer (1861) and Gideon Chatfield (1863).

Perhaps we will never know much more about Gideon Junior’s life, unless his descendants have kept stories or have documents, but as we have seen he had done well enough by 1857 to buy land and a house.

Yet there was one incident where we know that he was present and that was the “Battle of Fort Erie” on June 2nd, 1866. This was a small side event in what have become known as the Fenian Raids.

When the American Civil War ended, the “Fenian Brotherhood, who were based in the United States” started to raid “British army forts, customs posts and other targets in Canada to bring pressure on Britain to withdraw from Ireland”.

Canadian Militia during the Fenian Raids

While these raids, which lasted from 1866 to 1871, were perhaps not of great import in the larger scheme of things, they were to be of great significance to the development of Canada’s own national identity. I will not recount the history of the raids as there are many excellent telling of the events. Suffice it to say that usually a mixture of Regular British/Canadian troops and locally raised Canadian militia generally saw off the Irish raiders. Except that is for a defeat on the 2nd June, 1866 at the “Battle of Ridgeway”.

Before news of this rare Canadian defeat became known orders were given for the tugboat W T Cobb to embark. Gideon Grisdale was a Sergeant in the volunteer Welland Field Battery and he was aboard the Cobb. One history of what happened puts it as follows:

In response to the Fenian occupation of the township of Fort Erie, Ontario on the night of June 1, 1866, militia units throughout the Niagara Peninsula had been mobilized or put on alert. At Port Colborne a detachment of 51 gunners and N.C.O.s, British Royal Artillery bombardier Sergeant James McCracken and 3 officers (Captain Richard S. King M.D., Lieutenants A.K. Schofield and Charles Nimmo [Nemmo]) taken under command by Lieutenant-Colonel John Dennis, boarded a tugboat, the W.T. Robb carrying the Dunville Naval Brigade, consisting of 19 men and 3 officers (Captain Lachlan McCallum, Lieutenant Walter T. Robb, Second Lieutenant Angus Macdonald) (a total of 71 men and 8 officers) and steamed east to the Niagara River, then scouted downriver as far as Black Creek. The Welland Field Battery did not have its four Armstrong guns with it, and were only half armed with Enfield muzzle-loading rifles while the other half with obsolete smooth-bore “Victoria” carbines that had a limited range of approximately 300 yards at best.

The Fenians apparently gone, Dennis turned back upriver to secure the village of Fort Erie and deny them an easy escape route. Dennis and a company of the Welland Field Battery, landed without difficulty, rounding up a number of stragglers. But when John O’Neill returned with the bulk of his force from his victory at Ridgeway, the volunteers – expecting to encounter only scattered bands of defeated Fenians under close pursuit – were unable to resist them. A fierce firelight followed, in which the militia soldiers and sailors were swept off the shores by the better-armed Fenians and most of the Canadians who had landed were captured. While his men were making their stand, Dennis ran away on foot and hid in a house, shedding his uniform and shaving off his luxurious sideburn whiskers. He would later be court-martialled for deserting his men but he was acquitted by two of the three officers serving on the tribunal.

The “Battle” of Fort Erie 1866

Gideon Grisdale had been involved in this fight and was one of those captured. (Some histories have mistranscribed his name as Griswold). They were released by the Fenians a few days later.

The last thing we know about Gideon Junior before his death in Port Robinson in October 1892 is that in 1891 he was living with his wife Margaret in Niagara Falls Town in Welland County. He was it seems by then a member of the “Ontario Police”!  How this came about is a mystery.