The Grisdale family came from the hills of Matterdale in Cumberland. This means that in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries most of them were tenant farmers or were involved in rural trades, such as blacksmithing, either in Matterdale itself or in the neighbouring parishes of Watermillock, Threlkeld, Barton, Martindale and Patterdale. Of course some joined the clergy and others either emigrated or went into the army. Yet there were a surprising number who at one point or another made the journey to the nearby Cumbrian ports of Whitehaven, Workington and Maryport to follow a life at sea. Some of them, or their descendents, subsequently moved on to from there to Liverpool and London.

Whitehaven harbour in the nineteenth century

Whitehaven harbour in the nineteenth century

For example, when the American War of Independence started the port of Whitehaven set up a defence fund in early 1778. Local citizens gave quite generously. The contributors included two Grisdales: a certain John Grisdale of Queen Street, who gave £1. 1s , and another, listed mysteriously as ‘Grisdale of Quay’, who gave  2s. The Scottish-born and Whitehaven-trained American privateer John Paul Jones did in fact make a raid on the port on 23 April 1778, which wasn’t of much import really but has become part of American historical naval folklore. Then there was a poignant notice in a Whitehaven newspaper on 27 December 1777 which read,

Whitehaven, this morning: Workington mariner John Grisdale was found drowned in the harbour; “ he has left a wife, and several children.”

Also in Workington a mariner called Edward Grisdale married Mary Robinson in 1791. He was still there in 1811, as a Captain, living in Town-end. He was the owner of a ship named Mary – probably after his wife. It’s likely that his son, also called Edward and a mariner himself, went to Australia in 1834 and married a convict in Parramatta with whom he had shared the voyage to Sydney on the convict ship Numa. And finally in 1809 we find a Captain William Grisdale in London. He was the master of a Muscovy Company ship which was set to sail for Antigua. Now all of these sea-faring Grisdales found their roots in Matterdale. But their stories are for another time.

My little tale here concerns a Whitehaven mariner called Matthew Grisdale, who disappeared for some years in Victoria in Australia, only to return to Cumberland – where he died shortly thereafter.

Roper Street, Whitehaven

Roper Street, Whitehaven

The story starts with his grandfather, also called Matthew Grisdale, who was born in Martindale, Westmorland in 1852 and who, when young, had moved to Whitehaven and became a successful and ultimately wealthy ‘corn factor’. When he died in 1838 he divided his considerable fortune, somewhat unevenly it seems, between his surviving children. His first child was called John Grisdale (1785 -1852). In his will his father Matthew left him, from his estate of over £10,000, his ‘ house and shop warehouse and premises’ in Whitehaven plus £600 cash and £400 stock. John became a ‘Grocer’. This probably meant he ran some sort of wholesale grocery – think at least the equivalent of Robert Onedin in the TV series The Onedin Line. He carried on his business in a shop at 35 Roper Street, Whitehaven. On 9 October 1815 John married Hannah Watson in Whitehaven. The Watson family was itself a sea-going family. John and Hannah Grisdale had five children; Matthew was the second to be born. He was baptized in Whitehaven’s Holy Trinity Church on 5 April 1820. For reasons we don’t know, but probably influenced by the many family connections to the sea in Whitehaven, Matthew first went to sea as an apprentice in 1935 aged just 15. This means he was on track to become a Mate and maybe even a Captain. Matthew’s seaman’s records tell us that he got his 2nd mate’s ticket in April 1845 when he was 25 – he had a ‘scar on his forehead’. What ships he served on in his early years is unknown,  but given his subsequent career it is likely that at least some of the time he was aboard ships built and owned by the Whitehaven and Liverpool shipping line and ship builders of Thomas and John Brocklebank.

The Brocklebank Line Flag

The Brocklebank Line Flag

In the relatively short period that the government insisted upon each merchant seaman’s every voyage being recorded (the seamen hated the system because it just helped the government to know who it could impress into the Royal Navy) we find that Matthew made several voyages to and from Liverpool between 1845 and 1848 – always listed as being born in Whitehaven.

The last maritime record we have of him was in 1854. After arriving back in Liverpool, he was signed on as a Mate aboard the 338 ton Brocklebank-owned barque Patriot King – which had been built by the Brocklebank shipyard in Bransty, Whitehaven in 1832. And then Matthew disappears from our records. But not quite! In late 1857 in the Melbourne Argus the same notice appeared twice:

If Matthew Grisdale of Whitehaven in the County of Cumberland, England, who sailed from England to Melbourne in July, 1854, will communicate with Mr Clayton, solicitor, Melbourne, or with Messrs Brookbank and Helder, solicitors, Whitehaven, he will hear something to his advantage. Whitehaven 11 March 1857.

Clipper Marco Polo

Clipper Marco Polo

So it seems that Matthew had either jumped ship in Melbourne to join the Victoria gold rush, which thousands of other mariners did at the time, often leaving dozens of ships without any crew. Or (less likely) he had only signed on for the outward voyage, to work his passage to Australia and departed legally. The natural conjecture would be that he had sailed to Australia on the Patriot King, to which he had been signed in 1854. But had he? The Patriot King made many voyages but as far as I can see they were all to India, China, Batavia (Java) and even to South America for the Guano trade. I don’t think the Patriot King ever went to Australia? So maybe Matthew went on another ship. We are told by the Melbourne newspaper notices that he had left ‘England’ for Melbourne in July 1854. Looking at the shipping records it is possible he made his voyage on one of James’ Baines’ Black Ball Line ships regularly plying Liverpool to Melbourne ‘gold rush’ runs. Maybe on the famous Marco Polo commanded by Captain Wild:

The Marco Polo sailed from the Mersey on the 22nd July and reached the equator after 35 days, which included 10 days becalmed in the Bay of Biscay. The only good weather she encountered was on the run from the Cape of Good Hope to Cape Otway, taking 26 days.

There were two or three deaths on the passage, one was a cabin passenger, William Gore Tipper. On the 1st October he was thrown overboard when the ship lurched. It was dark at the time and the ship was travelling at 11 knots, there was no chance of rescue.

Or possibly on the equally famous Star of the East which left Liverpool on the 4 July 1854 and arrived in Melbourne on 23 September 1854.

The newspaper notices in Melbourne in late 1857 were dated 11 March 1857 in Whitehaven and the Whitehaven contact was the firm of solicitors Brookbank and Helder, who dealt with all of the Grisdale family’s legal matters; as well as those of most of the major sea-faring families in the town. We have no idea whether Matthew saw these newspaper notices or not. He was most likely somewhere in the Victoria gold diggings at the time, trying to make his fortune. But it’s a pretty good conjecture that the ‘something to his advantage’ was that he had been left something significant in the will of his unmarried brother William, who had died in Whitehaven in January/February 1857. The dates fit.

The Orwell

The Orwell

Whatever the case, sooner or later Matthew either saw the notices or he decided that he wasn’t going to be one of the lucky few who would strike it rich at the diggings. In 1860 he paid ‘aged 40’ for his own passage home to England on the ship Orwell, which departed from Melbourne for London in July.  The ship made it safely back with Matthew aboard. No doubt when he made it home to Whitehaven he got his inheritance from his brother. Was he able to continue with his maritime career? Did he want to or have to? We don’t know. All we know is that less than four years after his arrival back in England Matthew Grisdale died aged just 43 in Cumberland. The index of his will says the following:

29 February 1864 – Letters of Administration of the Personal Estate and effects of Matthew Grisdale late of Whitehaven… Mariner in the Merchant Service a Bachelor deceased 13 February 1864 at North Mosses in the Parish of Arlecdon… (Effects under £800)

Alecdon is just a couple of miles inland from Whitehaven and many sea-farers retired there. There are also a number of family connections with the village – Matthew’s mother Hannah was even born there.

Maybe Matthew had became ill in Australia? Maybe he died so young for other reasons. Who can say? It’s just one short life, but a full and interesting one I think.

…………………………………………………………….

See also: https://grisdalefamily.wordpress.com/2013/06/24/the-liverpudlian-chairman-of-west-ham-football-club/

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