Archive for December, 2013

Sometime in the spring of 1855 Betsey Grisdale decided that she must declare her husband John ‘missing’ in Australia. As she wrote her letter at her home in Lonsdale Terrace in Liverpool she was probably in despair. What had happened to her husband? What was to become of her and her children? Two years before, in February 1853, John, a Liverpool mariner, had boarded the new American-built sailing ship Eagle, bound for Melbourne, where he had arrived in May after an 88 day voyage. Betsey had received news that John had headed to the new ‘gold rush’ diggings in Bendigo, Victoria, and then – nothing.

Sailmaker

Sailmaker

Betsey had already written several letters to John. Perhaps telling him of the birth of their child Joseph in late 1853? Perhaps asking him to come home? She had had no reply. She arranged for an announcement to be placed in Melbourne’s Argus newspaper, which appeared on the 29th of November 1854:

John Grisdale lately sail maker in ship Reliance of Liverpool, lately of Bendigo – letters from wife. Apply to Joseph Pacey, Cambridge Street, opposite Cambridge Place, Collingwood.

The next year John’s brother and sister had also tried to make contact. An announcement in the Argus of the 27th April 1855 read:

If this should meet the eye of John Grisdale, that came out in the ship Eagle, from Liverpool in February 1853, he will hear of his brother and sister by writing to Portland Post Office and he will hear news from home.

Once John had been declared ‘missing’, one final announcement was to appear in the official Victoria Government Gazette on November 27, 1855:

Missing Person. John Grisdale, Victoria Australia. 20 Dec 1855. Sail and ropemaker by trade. Sailed from Liverpool 2.1/2 years ago on the Eagle.

the worshipfull company of coachmakers

the worshipful company of coachmakers

John Grisdale was born in 1815/16 in Cumberland, the son of the later ‘coachmaker’ William Grisdale and his unknown first wife – he was to marry three times. Shortly after John’s birth his mother obviously died. William remarried, his new wife being Emma ‘Amey’ Bell. They married on the 23rd March 1818 in the Cumberland village of Hesket in the Forest. The family lived in Penrith where William and Emma had their first child, called Thomas, in May 1821. Shortly thereafter the family moved to London, no doubt with John in tow. Three London-born children followed: Mark 1822 and twins Ann Bell and Eleanor Greenhow in 1824. Mark was baptized in St. Botolph without Bishopsgate in the City of London, while the twins were christened in   the church of Saint George the Martyr in Southwark. William was in all cases said to be a ‘Coach Maker’. Throughout their time in London the family lived in William Street in Kent Road, and it was there that young daughter Eleanor Greenhow died in early 1826.

Sometime thereafter it seems that William’s wife Amey also died, and William moved from London back up north. This time he managed to find work in his field of coach making in Salford in Lancashire. In Salford William married a third and final time. In October 1833 he married 37 year-old Sarah Payne in Salford.

But let us return to the subject of this story. John had no doubt moved with his father from Penrith to London and returned with him to Salford. It was most likely around the time of William’s third marriage in 1833, when he would have been 16 or 17, when John first went to sea – almost certainly becoming an apprentice seaman in Liverpool. There is no record of John in the 1841 census, implying I think that he was at sea somewhere in the world at the time. His father was at the time still coach making in Salford, living with his wife Sarah. But certainly in 1843, when he was about 26, John was back in Liverpool because on April the 4th of that year he married Betsey (Elizabeth) Bateman in the church of St. John the Baptist in Walton on the Hill in Liverpool. They both gave their address as New Mann Street in Toxteth Park.

Betsey was certainly already pregnant when she married John, because on 25th December 1843 she was delivered of twins Mary and William in Salford, where no doubt she had been living with John’s father William while John was again away at sea. The twins would be baptized back in Liverpool almost a year later, possibly when John was home. Two more children followed: Mark in 1850 and Joseph in 1853, both in Liverpool. John is continually listed as a ‘mariner’.

Embarkation of Emigrant Ship in Liverpool

Embarkation of Emigrant Ship in Liverpool

Which ships John served aboard during his first years at sea we don’t know. But we do know that by the early 1850s he was a ‘sail and rope maker’ on the 805 ton sailing ship Reliance, commanded at this time by Captain Henry B. Fell. This was a ship that was continually plying the ‘Australian Trade’, taking cargo and, more importantly, emigrants to Australia.

The story of one such trip in 1851, on which it is highly likely that John Grisdale was part of the crew, is worth retelling. Captains were always trying to make the fastest passage and often had bets with each other. In 1851 Captain Fell tried ‘the system of great circle sailing on the passage out to this colony’.

The Reliance tried the great circle sailing, and found it advantageous, having been, on July 30th, in lat. 27° 55′ S, and long. 32° 31′ W, and made Kangaroo Island on the 11th September ; doubling the Cape on 14th August, in lat 51°, and the highest latitude being 64° south. She never had to close-reef the topsails, and the thermometer was never lower than 31° at 9 o’clock in the morning.

Onboard an Australian Emigrant Ship

Onboard an Australian Emigrant Ship

But although the Reliance made a quick voyage by taking the Great Circle route, it wasn’t otherwise a very successful trip, at least not for the emigrants. In the South Australian Register in Adelaide on the 15th September 1851 the following report appeared:

THE EMIGRANT SHIP ‘RELIANCE’

The very unusual number of deaths (15) in proportion to the arrivals (313) on board the above-named ship, which arrived on Saturday from Liverpool and Plymouth, calls for some special explanation and comment, the particulars obtained by our reporter present the following sorrowful details:

July 17.  Mary Ann Bull, 24, disease of the heart. July 22. George Hunt, threw himself overboard whilst in a state of insanity.  Aug. 1 Janet Watson, 23, typhoid fever.  Elizabeth Clyne, 23, ditto. Aug. 7 Rosina Mott, 3, ditto. Aug. 10. Edwin Pople, 26, ditto. Aug. 15. Edward Thrower, 35, diarrhoea. Aug. 20. James Clyne, 21, consumption. Aug. 30. Rachael Grossman, infant, mesenteric disease. Elizabeth Reynolds, Montefiore Warren, William Lock, children of tender age, died from inflammation of the lungs. Sept. 2. Martha Reynolds, 18, typhoid fever. Sept.7. Mary Simpson, 30, consumption.    Sept. 10. T. Chapman, infant, inflammation of the lungs.

The cases of typhoid fever, of which it will be seen  that several terminated fatally, are attributed by the survivors to the offensive evaporations or rather the gases emitted by the quantity of patent fuel (350tons) forming so large a portion of the cargo. The unpleasant smell is much complained of, even by those who are in health, and we are told the com-plaint is by no means a new one, similar effects, though not followed by consequences so fatal, having been experienced on board previous arrivals partly laden with patent fuel.  We hope the Government will make the most careful enquiry into this serious matter with a view to put the Commissioners in England on their guard in the chartering of vessels in future, if these sad consequences are attributable to the large quantity of patent fuel on board. Judging from the names of the emigrants, as well as from the circumstance of the final departure from Plymouth, we conclude that emigrants were embarked at both places. This is a very objectionable arrangement, as involving tedious delay for the emigrants first embarked, and very possibly producing serious inconveniences which were felt throughout the subsequent voyage. The births during the passage out of six in number, viz.: – Four girls – Reynolds, Sutton, Pierce, and Pryce and two boys – Mott and Kirran.

But Captain Fell had other concerns. By 1851 the Victoria gold rush was just starting in earnest. In every Australian port ships were at anchor but couldn’t leave because the crews had deserted en masse, to try their luck digging for gold.  Such was the case for Captain Fell and the Reliance. Fell wrote to the Adelaide Times on the 27th November 1851:

THE ‘TIMES’ NEWSPAPER, AND THE SHIP ‘RELIANCE’.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ADELAIDE TIMES.

Sir— I am sorry to notice in your paper of this day that great complaints are made of the detention of the Overland Mail by the Reliance, more particularly as it appears all sorts of rumours are in town as to the cause of the delay, which do no credit to the Captain. I will ask you, with all due deference, if any of the reports are relative to my not having a crew on board? Or whether my having brought out emigrants affords greater facility for keeping a crew ?The Reliance is not the only vessel in Port that has been most fearfully detained by the desertion of seamen. The Satellite now at the North Arm is an instance, and the Constitution, that sailed the other day, was upwards of three months here with few hands on board. I picked up one of my men at Gumeracka last week, and have him now in gaol; and so long as encouragement is given to deserters by secreting them, I see very little chance of vessels visiting this colony getting anything like quick dispatch. I posted two letters for my own mail some three weeks ago, thinking I would have been able to pick up a crew long ere this, but it is much easier said than done. Perhaps some kind friend who makes rumours that do no credit to the Captain will lend a helping hand to get a crew for me.

I am Sir, etc, Henry B. Fell. Reliance. North Arm, 27th Nov., 1851.

If John Grisdale was part of the Reliance’s crew in 1851 then he, it seems, didn’t do a bunk. Eventually Captain Fell did manage to scrape a crew together by paying enormous wages, and the Reliance returned to England. But the next August the Reliance was back in Adelaide. There were the same problems with the crew deserting and with crew wages. We know that John Grisdale was a sail maker on the Reliance and thus he was certainly a member of the crew in 1852.

Ships in the Yarra River, Melbourne in the 1850s

Ships in the Yarra River, Melbourne in the 1850s

John was back in Liverpool in 1853. We know this because it was then that his last child Joseph was conceived and, of course, it was in February 1853 that John boarded the emigrant ship Eagle for Australia, commanded by the famous Captain Boyce. As I have said, the evidence seems to suggest that during one or more trips to Australia on the ship Reliance John conceived the idea of returning to try his luck digging for gold. Hence rather than jumping ship we find him as an ‘unassisted immigrant’ aged 37 among the passenger list of the Eagle, which docked in Melbourne in May 1853. Perhaps he wanted to get rich quick and return home? A few did just this. Or possibly he thought that if things went well he could later bring out his Liverpool family to join him? We’ll never know.

What we do know is that one way or another he managed to tell his family that he had gone to the diggings in Bendigo, Victoria.

It is believed the first major discovery of gold in Victoria was in early August 1851 at Buninyong, near Ballarat. Two months later it was discovered at Bendigo. By mid-1853 around 60,000 diggers and their families were on the Victorian goldfields – nearly 23,000 of these were at Bendigo.

diggers on way to bendigo

diggers on way to bendigo

What was John’s journey like?

Men could generally be noticed trudging along beside the drays. Most of them wore moleskin trousers and gay-coloured shirts. They had heavy boots on their feet. They would pass bullock wagons which were loaded with produce such as flour, sugar and tea, destined for enterprising merchants who expected to make money, not from searching for gold, but by selling supplies to the diggers and their families.

One woman who arrived at the Bendigo diggings at around the same time as John wrote the following:

What a scene presented itself for my wondering gaze. I cannot describe it. … Heaps and heaps of newly upturned earth; deep holes out of which sickly looking men were drawing buckets more of it; while others, up to their waists in water, were washing pans of the sun-dried clay, and so close were the holes to each other, that there was hardly any room for one cart to pass between them, obliging us to make a constantly zig-zag track. How plainly it all seemed to speak of the grovelling nature of men. What, I thought to myself, can man stoop so low as to burrow in the earth in this way to risk health, and stand in the depth of winter, up to the waist in water, and such fleeting gains.

Life was hard in Bendigo. Not only did many of the miners die in accidents and through disease, but violence was also rife, particularly because of tensions between European and Chinese miners.

An angry group of European and American miners met in Bendigo in 1854 and declared that a “general and unanimous rising should take place… for the purpose of driving the Chinese off the goldfield”. Local constables acted quickly to prevent the uprising, by asserting their presence and warning the miners against any further vigilante action. The event was only the beginning of greater anti-Chinese tensions

Bendigo Diggers

Bendigo Diggers

At the exact time that John Grisdale would have arrived at Bendigo, in mid-1853, a petition was signed by over 5000 diggers on the Victorian goldfields who were angry about the mining licence fees imposed by the government and the system by which they were collected. The petition outlined the diggers’ grievances and called for a reduced licence fee, improved law and order, the right to vote and the right to buy land.

The petition was brought to Melbourne and presented to Lieutenant-Governor Charles Joseph La Trobe on the 1 August 1853. Most of its demands, including the reduction in the licence fee, were rejected. Eventually the diggers’ dissatisfaction erupted, culminating in the Eureka uprising at Ballarat on 3 December 1854.

So this was the life mariner John Grisdale had found. But what became of him? Had he died at Bendigo? Had he just decided to abandon his family back in Liverpool? We don’t know. Certainly there seems no future mention of him in Australia. I tend to think he died by an accident, disease or violence.

Liverpool Street in mid 1800s

Liverpool Street in mid 1800s

So poor Betsey back in Liverpool and John’s brother and sister never heard from John again. In 1861 and 1871, now said to be a widow, Betsey was still in Liverpool living with her children and older sister and working as a ‘Plain Sawer’, whatever that is.

I won’t follow the lives of John and Betsey’s children here, or that of some of his siblings. Regarding John’s Grisdale ancestors, it took me a long time to pin him down. But now things are clear, or clearish. John’s father William, the coachmaker, was born in 1786 in Watermillock, the son of Mark Grisdale (1760) and his wife Eleanor Greenhow. Mark had two Grisdale parents. His father was John Grisdale, born in 1708 in Dowthwaite Head in Matterdale, who was the son of Edward Grisdale the brother of the famous Rev. Dr. Robert Grisdale, the founder of Matterdale School. Mark’s mother was Jane Grisdale (born 1730 in Dowthwaite Head), the daughter of Jonathan Grisdale and Mary Jackson. Jane was also the aunt of Sergeant Major Levi Grisdale of Peninsular War and Waterloo fame. We can of course go back further.

And that, as far as I can reconstruct it, was the life of Liverpool mariner John Grisdale.

The Bendigo Petition, 1853

The Bendigo Petition, 1853

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In the early nineteenth-century Hartsop Hall in Patterdale was owned by the Earl of Lonsdale but farmed by yeoman Robert Grisdale, whose family had made the short trip from Dockray in Matterdale to the Patterdale area about a hundred years before. The hall ‘is a very old building’ and ‘was once the seat of a distinguished family, whose arms at one time were to be seen above the doorway’. In 1903, the Rev W. P. Morris, the Rector of Patterdale, wrote: ‘The Lancasters of Sockbridge, one of whom was Provost of Queen’s College, Oxford, held the lands round about Hartsop in the early part of the seventeenth-century. Sir John Lowther acquired the property by marriage, and his descendant, the present Earl of Lonsdale, is now lord of the manor of Hartsop.’ Morris continues:

There is a right of way through the house. It was into this house that the notorious gang of burglars attempted to enter with the intention of murdering the whole family. These desperadoes were the terror not only of the neighbourhood of Patterdale, but also in and about Penrith.

Hartsop Hall, Patterdale

Hartsop Hall, Patterdale

No more information is given regarding the gang’s ‘intention of murdering the whole family’, but Morris adds: ‘Robert Grisdale, the then farmer, was one night riding home on horseback from Cockermouth when he was accosted by two of them when coming through Dockray. He at once perceived what their intentions were, but he showed them his pistol and galloped home in safety. It was not considered safe for any person to be out when darkness had set in. The gang consisted of four men, who went about wearing masks and carrying rifles and pistols.’

Morris briefly tells of how the gang was caught, but there is a much fuller and more colourful account given in 1894 by William Furness in his History of Penrith from the Earliest Record to the Present Time. I will quote it in full:

‘A notorious gang of highwaymen and burglars infested the neighbourhood in the early years of the century, and were the terror of the country people, especially those of the villages west and south of Penrith. The names were John Woof, (Woof was taught to thieve by his mother, who put him through a staircase window, at Melkinthorpe, to rob a poor old woman of a few shilling she had saved.) Melkinthorpe; William Armstrong, Eamont Bridge; John Little alias Sowerby, Clifton Dykes; and William Tweddle, Penrith. Woof was a small farmer, Armstrong a labourer, Sowerby a swill maker, and Tweedle a labourer. For eighteen months prior to their arrest scarcely a Tuesday passed but some person, returning from Penrith market, was robbed, and in some instances left bleeding and senseless on the highway, for these scoundrels were not deterred from employing any ruffianly violence to secure their object. They went so far, in one case at least, as to dig a grave beforehand for their intended victim. This was done in Bessy Ghyll Wood, near Thrimby, for a farmer, who was attending Shap fair, and was expected to have a good sum of money with him, as a result of his sales. They had stretched a wire across the road just high enough to drag a rider from his horse, and lay waiting for their victim. Not appearing about the time that they had calculated he should, they went off in search of him. In the meantime, the farmer had providentially remembered that he had a call to make at Little Strickland, and therefore turned off the main road at Shap Beck Gate, to gain his home and make his call on the way. He had barely made his call when he found the attentions of several men were being paid him. Guessing who these individuals were, he put spurs to his steed to widen the distance between himself and his pursuers, that he might have time to open the gates that lay between him and Sheriff Park farm house. The fold gate was gained, but his pursuers were almost upon him, when a lucky idea entered his head and was instantly acted upon. He called for help, which was at one replied to, and his pursuers stopped short; he opened the gate, roused the household, and was safe. Little did these desperadoes think that the farmer both called for help and replied to the call – but in a changed voice.

Burglaries also were of common occurrence, and were carried out by masked men armed with swords and pistols.

Dockray - where Robert's family came from and where he met the robbers

Dockray – where Robert’s family came from and where he met the robbers

Under these circumstances it was considered unsafe for any man, known to have money upon him, to be out after nightfall. The occupants of houses in lonely and secluded places feared to retire to rest, unless they had a good staff of servants and plenty of defensive weapons. Least the burglars should surprise them in the night. No wonder then that the whole district was terror stricken, and that the country people hurried home form market before darkness and robbers overtook them. A relative of the writer, living at Gowbarrow Hall, had been to the Market, at Penrith, and was returning, on horseback, in the evening, when he was accosted by four men, near to Tynefield, who demanded his “money or his life”. Finding one man at this horses bridle, one on each side of him, and one on the look-out, he quietly handed up his pocket book, and was allowed to proceed, after being asked if he knew them, and made a promise that he would not follow them nor prosecute them at the imminent peril of being shot. Thinking they might be disappointed with the contents of the book, as he had only part of his cash in it, and that they might pursue and murder him in the road home, he turned in at the Bee Hive Inn, Eamont Bridge, and ordered stabling for his horse for the night, and a bed for himself, and comfortably placed himself in a cosy seat in the chimney corner. He had not been long there when amongst those who dropped in he recognised one of his assailants, who not recognising the person in the corner seat, forthwith began to tell of the latest robbery by the brutal gang of masked robbers. This ruse was adopted by the whole four, at their various resorts, to throw off suspicion from themselves, and to get to know what the public opinion of the robbers was. A price was put upon the robbers, and advertisements proclaimed the reward for their apprehension, but to no effect.

The alarm in Penrith was so great that the inhabitants voluntarily revived the “Watch and Ward” to guard the town, as in the days of border warfare. A list of names was published of householders who were willing to act, and everyone on the list served in turn, except a few gentlemen and few women householders, who obtained substitutes at 2s.6d. per night. The watchers were four each night and their rendezvous was the Ship marketing room. Each watchman, while on duty, was supplied with a rattle, and armed with a bludgeon.

Old Penrith

Old Penrith

The detection and apprehension of the gang was due Mt T Robinson, of Kings Meaburn, who had been robbed by them and beaten on the highway, but recognised one of the gang as William Tweddle, who was immediately arrested, at Penrith, and lodged in the House of Correction. This member of the gang, fearing the consequences to his own neck, turned King’s evidence and disclosed the whole proceedings of the gang. This led to the immediate arrest of Woof and Armstrong, (As Armstrong was being taken to the House of Correction, he was seen by an acquaintance named Mary Bowerbank, who accosted him thus: “I’se sorry to see thee theer, Will.” He replied: “I’ll sune clear mesel, Mary, me lass.” This incident shows how little he was suspected by neighbours and acquaintances.) But Sowerby, hearing of Tweddle’s apprehension and confession, escaped to Newcastle, where he was subsequently arrested, passing himself off as John Smith. Sowerby, Woof, and Armstrong were committed to the Assizes at Carlisle held in August 1820.

The charges against these men were numerous, but the only one they were tried upon for “burglarously breaking and entering the house of John Wilson, of Soulby, in the parish of Dacre, about ten o’clock on the night of 22ndDecember, 1819, and taking therefrom five notes of the value of £1. Or one guinea each, and four webs of cloth, the property of the said John Wilson.” Mr Rain, who acted for the prosecution, having briefly stated the case to the jury, proceeded to call witnesses. The first was Margaret Wilson, who stated that she was “wife of John Wilson; lived at Soulby, a lone house about a quarter of the mile from all others. A man came to the house on the night of 22ndDecember, and asked his way to Mark’s; others came after, and made a noise’ this was about ten o’clock. She asked what they wanted, and they said the £100 which her husband had got form the bank at Penrith, the day before. She said it was not there; they said it was, and would have it, and if she did not immediately open the door they would blow her brains out. She begged of them not to be so rough; said her daughter would give them what money they had out of the window; they replied they would not have it that way, and if they did not open the door it would be worse for them, as they knew how to get in. Witness’s husband went down, thinking it would be better, as they could make no resistance. She then opened the door. When four men rushed in; three had on smock-frocks, the fourth had on a coloured overcoat; two had pistols, two swords, and they all wore masks, but could not say what kind they were. They then asked for money, and her daughter gave them her husband’s pocket book, which contained five notes. They asked for the £100; she said her husband had left it at Penrith. They asked for the keys, and got them, and her daughter Mary went upstairs with two of them, and the other drove the family up. Her daughter did not see any of them, as she was ill in bed, but the servant saw them. Two of them searched the drawers and took 20s. in silver; they then went into another room where a chest was standing locked. They ordered her to open it, or they would break it open. They then took out three webs of linen cloth, three of tow, and one of line; then they proceeded to the servant’s room, searched her box, and took out what silver there was – 7s, or 8s. They asked her what she had been doing thirty years, to have no more than that. They took her umbrella, and went downstairs, and asked for four bottles of rum. She said she had none, and then asked if she had no liquor; she said, perhaps a little gin, and went into the parlour to get it, when two men followed her. When she took out the gin, the two reached over and took two bottles of wine and another took the gin. They then went in to the kitchen and asked for ale; she went to bring a bottle, when one of them followed her, and took another. They then demanded bread and cheese, and got it. Previous to their departure, one of them presented a sword to her breast, and drew it across her neck, as an obligation of an oath that they had got all there was in the house, and said if she would give them more money they would give back the webs; but she again said they had got all that came from Penrith. One of them asked her daughter if she knew them; to which she replied, she did not know whether she had seen them before; and he added, ‘No! and I hope you never will again.’ One of them said, on going away: ‘Go night, Mrs Wilson; we know you well enough.’ They ordered the family no to leave the house till morning. She found that two of the doors were fastened also. They made endeavours to get out, but could not, and it was eight o’clock in the morning when they were let out by a servant man.”

William Tweddle was then called, and corroborated Mrs Wilson’s evidence as to the robbery, He further said he “had known Armstrong since they were boys, Little about two years, and Woof since a boy, but the last two or three years in particular. Remembered going to Wilson’s. Armstrong proposed it, as it was likely house to get money. Woof had no mask, but the rest had black ones. Woof had nothing to disguise his face with his coat. After leaving the Wilson’s they went to Little’s house, at Clifton Dykes, where, with the assistance of Little’s wife, the booty was equally divided. He gave the information after being apprehended for stopping Thomas Robinson, of King’s Meaburn.”

James Anderson, constable, Penrith, stated that “in consequence of the information he got from Tweedle, he went to the house where Woof got his meat, and in a box, which the mistress of the house said was his, he found some pieces of cloth, one of which was marked with the words ‘John Wilson: 47 yards.’”

Several other witnesses gave corroborative evidence, after which the judge summed up, and the jury returned a verdict of guilty. The judge, in sentencing them to death, held out no hope of mercy.

Carlisle English Gate and Old Gaol

Carlisle English Gate and Old Gaol

They occupied one cell, between the condemnation and execution, and their behaviour during these days was of a shocking character. The execution – the last at the old gaol – took place on Saturday September 2nd, 1820, at the south angle of the gaol. Even at the gallows they behaved unseemly, and one of them spat in the face of the executioner. (The librarian at the Free Library, Mr John Stuart, witnesses their execution, and distinctly remembers it, though he was but a lad at the time, and witnessed the scene from his father’s shoulder.)

Tweedle was transported to Van Diemen’s Land, and eventually joined a gang of desperados, and is said to have come to a violent end. (The story of Tweedle runs thus: Having got clear away into the bush he joined a gang of freebooters. Some time afterwards, in their leisure time, the gang were recounting their deeds which expatriated them from the old country, and Tweedle was called upon for his story. After recounting his exploits which his comrades, he told of their capture and the execution of three of this gang, whilst he escaped hanging, and was transported, because he turned King’s evidence. “Traitor,” cried the whole gang, and the captain said “since he had escaped his just deserts at home, and they could not tolerate a traitor amongst them, he must suffer the traitor’s doom.” Then the gang seized him and hanged him on the nearest tree.)

Bound For Van Diemen's Land

Bound For Van Diemen’s Land

Armstrong’s sister witnessed the execution, and afterwards begged the body of her brother, which she placed in a cart she had provided for the purpose, and brought it to Barton to bury. The malefactor’s body was exhibited, by the sister, at the public houses between Carlisle and Penrith, to anyone who would pay a penny for the sight, which hundreds did. It is said that when the body was buried in Barton Churchyard, a gap was made in the wall to let the procession into the churchyard, as it could not be permitted to enter by the gate. This act speaks of the superstition of the age.’

I hope I will be forgiven for writing here about a young RAF pilot called Bill Lewis. He was the grandson of Penrith-born Agnes Grisdale and her husband Frederick Lewis – my great grandparents. My father used to tell me about his cousin Bill who had died in the Second World War serving in the RAF. I never knew how and where he died. This is part of Bill’s story. I hope I’ll be able to tell more in the future.

William Lewis Commissioned Gunner, Royal Navy in 1928

William Lewis Commissioned Gunner, Royal Navy in 1928

William ‘Bill’ Lewis was born in Dover, Kent in 1922. He was the second son of Royal Navy ‘Commissioned Gunner’ William Lewis. William Senior had joined the Royal Navy as a rating in 1903. When the Great War came he was commissioned and served as a gunnery and torpedo officer throughout the war and beyond. After having a son called Frederick in 1911, William lost his first wife Mary in 1914. He remarried Ethel Teresa Leeming in 1916 in Dover, and the couple’s only son Bill was born there while William was serving on the cruiser HMS Caledon.

As a child Bill spent much of his time with his mother and older half-brother Frederick, while father William was away at sea. The family eventually settled near the Royal Navy’s dockyard in Chatham in Kent. William Senior was by all accounts a rather old-style disciplinarian and, I have been told, rather dreaded by his family. What his relationship with his two sons was like I don’t know.

Young Bill attended St Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School in Rochester, probably until he was 18 in 1940. He then worked as an ‘accountant’ in Chatham Royal Navy Dockyard. The family story was that Bill had fought and died in the Battle of Britain, this is not true. Bill joined the RAFVR on 29 January 1941 and was immediately chosen for pilot training. He gained his ‘wings’ on 18 February 1942 and then was sent to 54 OTU at RAF Church Fenton in Kent for night fighter training, before joining the Beaufighter night-fighter 29 Squadron at RAF West Malling in July 1942 where he became a Flight Sergeant in January 1943. He was granted a commission and became a Pilot Officer in March 1943 (with effect from January) and was then transferred to 255 Squadron which was then serving at Maison Blanche in Algeria.

29 Squadron Bristol Beaufighter

29 Squadron Bristol Beaufighter

A Beaufighter Mk 6 in 255 markings as at Bo Rizzo in Sicily in August 1943

A Beaufighter Mk 6 in 255 markings as at Bo Rizzo in Sicily in August 1943

Here in a nutshell is 255 squadron’s war history:

The squadron (255) was reformed on 23 November 1940 and was equipped with the Boulton Paul Defiant. This turret armed fighter had been proved inadequate as a day fighter, and its lack of radar meant it wasn’t particularly successful as a night fighter either. In July 1941 the squadron received the Beaufighter, a much more effective night fighter, and these aircraft were used as part of the air defence of the Midlands from then until late in 1942.

In November 1942 the squadron was deployed to North Africa to take part in the invasion of North Africa. It was used to provide defensive cover at night over the Allied bases in Algeria, which were vulnerable to German attack from Tunisia. At first the squadron had to operate without its airborne radar, which was removed for security reasons, but in early December the radar was restored, and the night defences became rather more effective.

In August 1943 the squadron moved to Sicily and in November to Italy. Its role now changed, and it went onto the offensive, flying intruder missions over the Balkans (including attacks on river traffic on the Danube). The Beaufighters were replaced with Mosquitoes at the start of 1945 and these aircraft were used until the end of the war. After the end of hostilities the squadron moved to Malta, and then to Egypt, before being disbanded on 30 April 1946.

255 Squadron. Ad Auroram 'To the break of dawn'

255 Squadron. Ad Auroram ‘To the break of dawn’

When the squadron left for Africa from RAF Honiley on 13 November 1942, the squadron’s diarist wrote:

A great send off was arranged & the entire staff of controllers etc etc had manned the roof & verandah of the control tower armed with very pistols. Rockets, red lights, green lights, all sailed into the air as each three machines started their ‘take-off’… A few minutes before the ‘take-off’ began the following message was received:

‘ Both present and past Air Officers commanding No 9 Group and entire Group Staff wish to thank 255 Squadron for their willing efforts, excellent cooperation and first class work in the Group and now congratulate 255 on being given further opportunities of showing their worth and wish them the very best of luck and good hunting.’

Pilots of 255 Squadron at Maison Blanche, Algeria 1943

Pilots of 255 Squadron at Maison Blanche, Algeria 1943

Travelling via Gibraltar the squadron arrived in North Africa. At first the Beaufighters of 255 Squadron were based at Maison Blanche and Setif airfields in Algeria before moving to Tunisia and operating out of various airfields there: such as Monastir, Bone, Paddington (Souk El Khemis) and La Sebala. They conducted regular defensive and offensive night patrols and shot down many Italian and German aircraft, while also losing many of their own pilots.

Pilot Officer William Lewis only joined the squadron at Maison Blanche on 28 April 1943, as we have seen having transferred from 29 Squadron. His first patrol was from Bone airfield on the night of 4-5 May. A few days later  on the night of 8-9 May, Bill, with his radio navigator P/O S. A. Hurley:

Took off at 23.05 from Monastir landed 02.00 Monastir. Freelance patrol east and north of Cap Bon 20/30 miles out at 2,000’. Flames and flares seen to west. Investigated lights on the sea, thought to be naval units shelling the coast. Flow over Pantellara on return. R.D.F sweeping followed Beaufighter some way down to Monastir.

During May and June the squadron, including Bill, continued their nightly patrols while the allied forces in North Africa prepared for the invasion of Sicily – Operation Husky. On the 17th June, Bill, together with the rest of the squadron, had what the squadron diarist called a ‘red letter day’: ‘The whole squadron paraded at Sebala 1 to welcome the King.’

An Italian Cant Z 1007 bis medium bomber

An Italian Cant Z 1007 bis medium bomber

The British and Americans landed in Sicily on the night of 9-10 July 1943. And on that very night we can read of another patrol by Bill Lewis and his long-time radio navigator P/O S. A. Hurley. They took off in a Beaufighter Mark 6 F at 01.25. from La Sebala airfield in Tunisia:

Carried out practice interceptions under mixture control North of Bizerta until 02.30 hours. Afterwards on patrol in the same area. At 03.05 a Bogey was reported 20 miles N. E. Of Bizerta at 14,000ft going N.W. Mixture instructed pilot to increase height to 14,000ft and at an airspeed of 230 MPH IAS gave various vectors ranging from northerly to westerly ones. At 03.12 contact was obtained at 9,000ft range hard to port well below.

Turned in towards it and throttled back with a few corrections of course the Beaufighter lost height to 11,000ft. The pilot then saw an A/C on port side at 2,000ft range and below, crossing from port to starboard, burning navigation lights. The Beaufighter got beneath the E/A and at 100 yards range the pilot could clearly see three twin bright exhausts and twin tail against the starlit sky. The aircraft was identified as a Cant. Z. 1007 Mod. The navigation lights were no longer on. At 03.20 now approx 50/60 miles NN. E of Bizerta fire was opened with all guns at 100 yards range. After a two seconds burst the centre motor burst into flames. Small pieces of burning wreckage hit or passed over the Beaufighter without causing damage.

Another two second burst put the starboard engine on fire. The E/A lost height in a diving turn to port. Coming down 5,000ft the crew of the Beaufighter saw the blazing A/C hit the sea and burn there for a few minutes. Only slight evasive action taken and there was no return fire. No one seen to bale out. The Beaufighter returned to base after the combat. CLAIM: – One Cant. Z. 1007 Bis (Mod) destroyed.

Bill Lewis had shot down a three-engined Italian medium bomber over the Mediterranean off Tunisia and the unfortunate Italian crew had been killed. The squadron’s diarist wrote: ‘Congratulations also go to P/Os Lewis and Hurley on their success in shooting down a Cant. 1007 B.’

The allied armies fought their way through Sicily, which the Germans evacuated in late August. While this was happening, 255 Squadron Leader Eliot “flew to Sicily” on July 27th “to give the ‘dromes’ the ‘once over’”. On the same evening back at La Sebala ‘the 2nd airmans’ dance was held’. ‘Cpl. Johnston … enlivened the proceedings by endeavouring to teach the French lassies the highland fling.’

'Bo Rizzo' Airfield, Sicily - 1943

‘Bo Rizzo’ Airfield, Sicily – 1943

In late August Bill’s squadron moved to Sicily, soon basing themselves at ‘Bo Rizzo’ airfield (the present-day Aeroporto di Trapani-Chinisia). Night offensive and intrusion patrols continued in support of the allied invasion of Italy. By November the squadron could move to the Italian mainland near Naples. Here they operated from the airfields of Grottaglie and Pomigliano.

On 27 November 1943, the promotion of P/O (Pilot Officer) W. Lewis to F/O (Flying Officer) was announced, ‘with effect from 20. 7. 43’.

A month later on 28 December, Bill and his navigator Hurley took off from Pomigliano at 04.10:

On patrol west of Naples at 10,000ft. At 05.25 port engine failed. Set course for base. Attempted to feather airscrew, not sufficient oil pressure to feather. Prepared to bale out. Height now 4,000ft. When a west of Ischia, propeller fell off. Then able to maintain height at 4,000ft. Made safe landing at base. ATOM and Chaperona gave every assistance to home the aircraft.

In the New Year Bill flew a few more patrols in Italy, his last being a ‘defensive patrol’ from Grottaglie on the 12th of January. On the 28th of January, Flying Officer W. Lewis (Pilot) and Flying Officer S. A. Hurley (Navigator Radio), their ‘tour expired’, were ‘posted to 144 M.U. for test duties’.

144 Maintenance Unit Maison Blanche

144 Maintenance Unit Maison Blanche

Bill had been sent to 144 Maintenance Unit based at Maison Blanche airfield in Algeria – the same place where 255 had first been based in North Africa. As its name implies such Maintenance Units repaired and maintained aircraft, both of the RAF and the USAF. After his last operational tour Bill, together with his navigator Hurley, were there to test fly repaired aircraft to ascertain if they were fit to re-enter service. The 144 M. U. records state that Flying Officer W. Lewis had been ‘posted from 255 Squadron for Beaufighter testing duties’. During February and March 1943, this is what Bill Lewis did.

But then, on the 1st April 1944, 21 year-old Bill was killed. The records say:

April 1st. F/O W.Lewis (139419) (sic) was killed when Mosquito MM.472 crashed into the ground near Rivet, Algeria and caught on fire.

The RAF Historical Branch wrote to me as follows:

I can tell you that Fg Off Lewis was serving with 144 Maintenance Unit and was engaged on a non operational ferry flight at the time of his death. He took off from Blida airfield at about 5.6 pm on 1 April 1944 in Mosquito MM472; the aircraft was seen to be flying straight and level at about 7000 feet when it commenced aerobatic manoeuvres in the form of slow rolls. These rolls were performed at least twice before the aircraft went into a steep dive resulting in a spin.

The aircraft crashed near Rivet, Algeria about 20 miles South East of Algiers. Fg Off Lewis died in the crash and was buried on 3 April 1944 in the cemetery at Deli Ibrihim. The service was conducted by Squadron Leader The reverend J L Douglas Padre of 1 Base Personnel Depot

When at a height of 500-1000 feet Fg Off Lewis tried to gain regain control of the aircraft by using his engines but was unsuccessful. The evidence presented to the Court of Inquiry (we hold no copy the report produced by this Inquiry) showed that the accident was due to loss of control while attempting aerobatics in a type of aircraft unsuitable for the purpose and was against regulations.

I have to say that as a pilot I find this report a little puzzling but I’ll leave it for now.

Flying Officer William Lewis RAF (VR) of ‘255 Squadron, Service Number 139418”, aged just 21, was buried in Dely Ibrahim War Cemetery (4. F. 18) in Algeria. (photo)

Flight Sergeant Bill Lewis aged 19 in 1941 before he became an officer

Flight Sergeant Bill Lewis aged 20 in 1942 before he became an officer

All RAF pilots had to write a will. When Bill’s was proved on 13 September 1944, giving his address as 32 Balfour Road, Chatham, he left his small estate of £537. 13s. 1d to his father William Lewis ‘retired commissioned gunner R.N.’.

So this was the fate of ‘Cousin Bill’, a story my father never told me, or never knew.

It’s strange really but only a few months ago I was with my family in Naples and we climbed to the top of Mount Vesuvius. If I had known I could have seen from there the airfields from which Bill flew his night patrols in 1943 and the island of Ischia where he had lost an engine. So many times we cross the paths our ancestors crossed, and never know it.

 

 

 

 

ROB

Rochester School Memorial includes William Lewis

Rochester School Memorial includes William Lewis

Did a Cumbrian soldier “save England and Europe” from Napoleon?

In the mid-nineteenth century in the small Cumbrian market town of Penrith there was a public house called the ‘General Lefebvre’. Locals jokingly referred to it as the ‘General Grisdale’, after its publican, an old ex-Sergeant Major called Levi Grisdale. It seems that Levi was quite a character, and we might well imagine how on cold Cumbrian winter nights he would regale his quests with tales of his exploits as a Hussar during the Napoleonic Wars. How he had captured the French General Lefebvre in Spain, as the British army were retreating towards Corunna, or even telling of how it was he, at the Battle of Waterloo, who had led the Prussians onto the field; a decisive event that had turned the course of the battle and, it is usually argued, led to Napoleon’s final defeat.

Scouts of the 10th Hussars During the Peninsular War – W B Wollen 1905

Numerous individual stories survive from these wars, written by participants from all sides: French, British, German and Spanish. Yet a great number of these come from the ‘officer classes’. Levi was not an officer and, as far as is known, he never wrote his own story. Be that as it may, using a variety of sources (not just from the British side) plus some detailed research in the archives, undertaken by myself and others, it is possible to reconstruct something his life. Levi spent 22 years in the army, fought in 32 engagements, including at the Battle of Waterloo, rose to be a Sergeant Major and was highly decorated. There is even an anonymous essay in the Hussars’ Regimental museum entitled: How Trooper Grisdale, 10th Hussars, Saved England and Europe! This suggested, possibly with a degree of hyperbole, that it was Levi who caused Napoleon to leave the Spanish Peninsular in disgust! But the events of the Peninsular War were decisive. Many years later Napoleon wrote:

That unfortunate war destroyed me … all my disasters are bound up in that knot.

I greatly enjoyed discovering a little about Levi. What follows is my version of this Cumbrian’s life and deeds. I hope you will enjoy it too!

Levi Grisdale was born in 1783, near Penrith in Cumberland’s Lake District. He came from a long line of small yeomen farmers. His father, Solomon, and his grandfather, Jonathon, had both been farmers. They were born in the nearby small hill village of Matterdale; where the Grisdale family had lived for hundreds of years. Although obviously a country boy, Levi somehow found his way to London, where on 26th March 1803, aged just 20, he enlisted for “unlimited service” as a private or ‘trooper’ in the 10th Light Dragoons, later to become ‘Hussars’ – an elite British cavalry regiment. How and why he enlisted in the army we do not know. His older brother Thomas was probably already a soldier based at the cavalry barracks on the outskirts of Canterbury, and maybe this contributed to Levi’s decision. We know nothing of Levi’s first years in the army; but in October 1808 he, with the 10th Hussars, embarked at Portsmouth for Spain.

A Charge of the 10th Hussars under Lord Paget

The regiment, having passed through Corunna, joined up with the now retreating British army, under its Commander-in-Chief, Sir John Moore, at Zamora on December 9, 1808. Under Sir John Slade, they became part of the army’s defensive rear-guard. They arrived at Sahagun in Spain on the 21st December – just in time to take part in the tail end of a successful action known as the Battle of Sahagun. Before the battle, Levi had been made a ‘coverer’ – a sort of bodyguard or ‘minder’ – for the fourteen year old Earl George Augustus Frederick Fitz-Clarence. It wasn’t unusual for wealthy and well-connected young men to become British officers at such a tender age, and Fitz-Clarence was certainly well-connected. He was the bastard son of the future King William IV and nephew of the Prince of Wales, the future King George IV – who was the regiment’s Colonel-in-Chief.

During the battle Levi was wounded in the left ankle by a musket ball. It can’t have been too serious a wound because only a few days later he was to take part in another engagement. His exploits there were, in large part, responsible for us being able to reconstruct Levi’s story today. I will take some pains to explain what happened. The account I will present is based on numerous sources and on several eyewitness accounts; not just British, but also German, French and Spanish. There are some inconsistencies but when taken together they provide a coherent enough picture.

The British Retreat to Corunna 1808-1809

Despite the victory at Sahagun, the British army had continued its retreat towards Astorga and Corunna. But Napoleon had heard that the British were intent on a crossing of the River Esla, two miles from the Spanish town of Benavente. He sent his elite cavalry, the Chasseurs à cheval, commanded by one of his favourites, General Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes, to cut them off and prevent the crossing. But due to dreadful weather they had been slowed down and they arrived just too late. Sir John Moore had already crossed the river on the 24th and departed with the bulk of the British army. He had, however, left a strong cavalry rearguard in the town of Benavente, and a small detachment was watching the river fords. Early on the morning of 29th December, British engineers destroyed the bridge at Castrogonzalo. When Lefebvre and his force of about 500 – 600 cavalry arrived, we are told that this was at nine in the morning, there seemed no way to cross, because the river “was swollen with rain.”

Lefebvre could see that “outlying pickets of the British cavalry were stationed along the Western bank of the River Esla.” He thought, wrongly as it turned out, that the few scouts to be seen were all that remained of the British at Benavente. Eventually he managed to find one place to ford the river and, according to one report, first sent across “a peasant mounted on a mare” to see find out what response there would be. Seeing there was none, Lefebvre crossed the river “with three strong squadrons of his Chasseurs and a small detachment of Mamelukes” – though not without great difficulty.

One account, drawing on a number of sources, nicely sums up what ensued:

The French forced the outlying pickets of the British cavalry back onto the inlaying picket commanded by Loftus Otway (18th Hussars). Otway charged, despite heavy odds, but was driven back for 2 miles towards the town of Benavente. In an area where their flanks were covered by walls, the British, now reinforced by a troop or squadron of the 3rd Hussars King’s German Legion, and commanded by Brigadier-General Stewart, counter-attacked and a confused mêlée ensued. The French, though temporarily driven back, had superior numbers and forced the British hussars to retreat once more, almost back to Benavente. Stewart knew he was drawing the French towards Paget and substantial numbers of British reserves. The French had gained the upper hand in the fight and were preparing to deliver a final charge when Lord Paget made a decisive intervention. He led the 10th Hussars with squadrons of the 18th in support, around the southern outskirts of Benavente. Paget managed to conceal his squadrons from French view until he could fall on their left flank. The British swords, often dulled by their iron scabbards, were very sharp on this occasion. An eyewitness stated that he saw the arms of French troopers cut off cleanly “like Berlin sausages.” Other French soldiers were killed by blows to the head, blows which divided the head down to the chin.

The French fought their way back to the River Esla and started to cross to its eastern bank – swimming with their horses. But many were caught by the pursuing British cavalry, and either killed or made prisoner. General Lefebvre, however, did not escape. His horse had been wounded and when it entered the river it refused to cross. He and some of his men were surrounded by the British cavalry under Lord Paget, which consisted of the 18th Hussars and half of the 3rd Hussars, King’s German Legion. During this encounter Lefebvre was wounded and taken prisoner, along with about seventy of his Chasseurs.

General Lefebvre is Captured at Benaventa. Painting by Dennis Dighton. Royal Collection, Windsor

So who was it that captured General Lefebvre? Some British sources claim simply that it was Private Grisdale. In Levi’s own regimental book we read that Lefebvre was pursued by the “Hussars” and “refusing to stop when overtaken, was cut across the head and made prisoner by Private Levi Grisdall (sic).” Other witnesses suggest that it was in fact a German 3rd Hussar, called Private Johann Bergmann, who captured the General, and that it was he who subsequently handed over his captive to Grisdale.

Any continuing mystery, however, seems to be cleared away by later witness statements made by Private Bergmann himself. His statement is corroborated by several other German Hussars who had taken part in the action, and by letters written by some German officers who were also present. Bergmann’s extensive testimony, taken at Osterholz in 1830 , is recorded in the third person. It states that there were:

three charges that day… at the third charge, or in reality the pursuit, he came upon the officer whom he made prisoner. He was one of the first in the pursuit, and as he came up with this officer, who rode close in the rear of the enemy, the officer made a thrust at him with a long straight sword. After, however, he had parried the thrust, the officer called out ‘pardon.’ He did not trouble himself further about the man, but continued the pursuit; an English Hussar, however, who had come up to the officer at the same time with him, led the officer back.

Bergmann went on to say that he hadn’t known that the officer was Lefebvre until after the action, when he was told he should “have held fast the man.” He added that he was young and “did not trouble” himself about the matter.  All he remembered was that the officer “wore a dark green frock, a hat with a feather, and a long straight sword.”

All the other German witnesses and letters confirm Bergmann’s story, but we also learn that the General had fired a pistol at Bergmann “which failing in its aim, he offered him his sword and made known his wish to be taken to General Stewart.” But Bergmann “didn’t know General Stewart personally, and while he was enquiring where the general was to be found, a Hussar of the tenth English joined him, and led away the prisoner.”

So this it seems is the truth of the matter: Lefebvre was surrounded by a German troop and captured by Private Johann Bergmann. Levi Grisdale, with the 10th Hussars, might have arrived at the scene at the same time as Bergmann or very slightly after, opinions differ. Lefebvre asked to be taken to General Stewart and so Bergmann, “not knowing General Stewart personally”, handed him over to Private Grisdale who “led the prisoner away.”

Lefebvre was delivered to the British Commander-in-Chief, Sir John Moore. Moore, who, we are told, treated the General, who had suffered a superficial head wound, “kindly” and “entertained him at his table.” He also gave him his own sword to replace the one taken when he surrendered. “Speaking to him in French”, General Moore, “provided some of his own clothes; for Lefebvre was drenched and bleeding.” He then “sent a message to the French, requesting Lefebvre’s baggage, which was promptly sent.”

Napoleon, who had viewed the action from a height overlooking the river, didn’t seem too put out by the losses of what he called his “Cherished Children.” But he was very upset when he heard of Lefebvre’s capture. He wrote to Josephine (my translation):

Lefebvre has been taken. He made a skirmish for me with 300 Chasseurs; these show-offs crossed the river by swimming, and threw themselves into the middle of the English cavalry. They killed many of them; but, returning, Lefebvre’s horse was wounded: he was drowning; the current led him to the bank where the English were; he has been taken. Console his wife.

In the aftermath of the battle, a Spanish report from the town of Benavente itself, tells us that on:

The night of the 29th they (the British) used the striking pines growing on the high ground behind the hospitals as lights, at every step coming under the fire of French artillery from the other side of the river, answered feebly by the English, whose force disappeared totally by the morning, to be replaced by a dreadful silence and solitude….

The British cavalry had slipped away and, with the rest of the army, continued its horrendous winter retreat to Corunna. Levi Grisdale and the 10th Hussars were with them.

General Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes

General Lefebvre himself was later sent as a prisoner to England, and housed at Cheltenham where he lived for three years. As was the custom, he gave his word or “parole” as a French officer and gentleman that he would not try to escape. He was even allowed to be joined by his wife Stephanie. It seems that the couple: “were in demand socially and attended social events around the district.” Other reports tell us that General Lefebvre was in possession of a “fine signet ring of considerable value which had been given him years earlier by his Emperor Napoleon. Lefebvre used this ring as a bribe to get escape and was thus able to escape back to France, where he rejoined his Division.” This was, says one commentator, “an unpardonable sin according to English public opinion.” So much for a gentleman’s word!  The Emperor reinstated him as commander of the Chasseurs and he would go on to fight in all Napoleon’s subsequent campaigns, right up to Waterloo – where he would share the field once again with Levi Grisdale.

I have kept us a little too long in Spain. This is, after all, not the story of the retreat to Corunna, much less a history of the first Spanish chapter of the Peninsular War. After the so-called March of Death and the Battle of Corunna, Levi Grisdale was evacuated back to England by the Royal Navy – with what was left of the 10th Hussars. Here his fame started to spread. The Hampshire Telegraph of 18th February 1809 announced that Grisdale was back in Brighton with his regiment and described him as: “tall, well-made, well looking, ruddy and expressive.” He was promoted to Corporal and awarded a special silver medal by the regiment, which was inscribed:

Corporal Grisdale greatly distinguished himself on the 1st day of January 1809 (sic). This is adjudged to him by officers of the regiment.

The years passed. The regiment moved from Brighton to Romford in Essex, but was once again back in Brighton in 1812. Of this time we know little; only a few events in Levi’s life. Soon after his arrival back in England, he somehow arranged to get away to Bath, where on 29 March 1809, he married Ann Robinson in St James’ Church. Their only son, also called Levi, was born and baptized at Arundel on 12 March 1811 – sadly he was to die young. On 17 February 1813, he “was found guilty of being drunk and absent from barracks.” But, it seems, he was neither reduced to the ranks nor flogged. Other evidence suggests that the whole regiment was “undisciplined and tended to drunkenness.” Whether the leniency of his treatment was due to his record at Benavente we will probably never know.

But by February 1813, Levi, by this time a Sergeant, was back in the Iberian Peninsula, serving in a coalition army under Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, who was later to become the Duke of Wellington. With the 10th Hussars, he fought his way through Portugal, Spain and France and, so  his regiment’s records tell us, was actively engaged at the Battles of Morales, Vitoria, Orthes and, finally, at the Battle of Toulouse in April 1814. Here the British and their allies were badly mauled. But news soon reached the French Marshall Soult that Napoleon had abdicated and Soult agreed to an armistice.

It is said that Levi Grisdale led Bluecher's Prussians onto the field at Waterloo

It is said that Levi Grisdale led Bluecher’s Prussians onto the field at Waterloo

And that should really have been that as far as Levi Grisdale’s military campaigning days was concerned. Yet one more chapter lay ahead. A chapter that would no doubt later provide Levi with another great story to tell in his Penrith public house. Napoleon, we might recall, was to escape from his exile on the Island of Elba in February 1815. He retook the leadership of France, regathered his army, and was only definitively defeated at the Battle of Waterloo on 18th June 1815. It has often been said that the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo “hung in the balance” until the arrival of the Prussian army under Prince von Blücher. One writer puts it thus:

Blücher’s army intervened with decisive and crushing effect, his vanguard drawing off Napoleon’s badly needed reserves, and his main body being instrumental in crushing French resistance. This victory led the way to a decisive victory through the relentless pursuit of the French by the Prussians.

And here it is that we last hear of Levi’s active military exploits. According to his obituary, published in the Cumberland and Westmoreland Advertiser on 20 November 1855, Levi had been posted on the road where the Prussians were expected to arrive, and he led them onto the field of battle! We are also told that during the battle “his horse was shot from under him and he was wounded in the right calf by a splinter from a shell.” Finally, according to a letter written by Captain Thomas Taylor of the 10th Hussars, written to General Sir Vivian Hussey in 1829, Levi, who was a by now a Sergeant in No1 troop under Captain John Gurwood, and “who was one of the captors of Lefebvre … conducted the vedettes in withdrawing from French cavalry during the battle.

Of course, Levi Grisdale certainly did not “save England and Europe” from Napoleon. But, along with thousands of other common soldiers, he played his part and, unlike countless others on all sides, he survived to tell his tales in his pub.

What became of Levi? After he returned to England, he was promoted to Sergeant Major and remained another nine years with the 10th Hussars. When he left the army in 1825, aged only 42 but with twenty-two years of active service and thirty-two engagements behind him, his discharge papers said that he was suffering from chronic rheumatism and was “worn out by service.” Hardly surprising we might think. The army gave him a pension of 1s 10d a day. His papers also state that his intended place of residence was Bristol. He was as good as his word as and he was to become the landlord of the Stag and Star public house in Barr Street, Bristol.

Christ Church, Penrith – where Levi Grisdale is buried

Yet by 1832 Levi and his family had moved back to his native Penrith. His wife Ann died there in July of that year. It seems that Levi was not one to mourn for too long. Within about two weeks he had married again. This time a woman called Mary Western – with whom he had four children. He continued his life as a publican and, as I have mentioned, christened his pub the General Lefebvre; he even hung a large picture of the General over the entrance. During his last years, Levi Grisdale gave up his pub and worked as a gardener. He died of ‘dropsy’ on 17 November 1855 in Penrith, aged 72, his occupation being given as “Chelsea pensioner.” He was buried in the graveyard of Christ Church in Penrith.

Despite what we know about Levi’s life, we will never know what was most important to him – his family, his comrades? Nor will we know what he thought of the ruling ‘officer class’? What he thought of the social and political system that had led him to fight so many battles against adversaries he knew little about? Nor whose side he was really on? We will never know these things, though we can imagine!

As General Macarthur once said, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” ‘General’ Levi Grisdale certainly died but, thankfully, his memory has not yet faded away.

Sources

Mary Grisdale. Levi Grisdale. Unpublished research 2006; David Fallowfield. Levi Grisdale 1783-1855, Unpublished article. Penrith; Philip J. Haythornthwaite. Corunna 1809: Sir John Moore’s Fighting Retreat. London: Osprey Publishing 2001; Lettres de Napoléon à Joséphine, Tome Second, Paris 1833, Firman Didot Freres; Christopher Hibbert. Corunna, Batsford 1961; Michael Clover. The Peninsular War 1807-1814. Penguin Books 2003; North Ludlow Beamish. History of the King’s German Legion, Harvard 1832; Christopher Summerville. The March of Death: Sir John Moore’s Retreat to Corunna. Greenhill books 2006; Brime, D. Fernando Fernandez. Historical Notes of the Town of Benavente and its Environs.  Valladolid 1881; Wikipedia.  Battle of Benavente. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Benavente.; The Museum of the King’s Royal Hussars. http://www.horsepowermuseum.co.uk/index.html .

From its early days in Dowthwaite Head around 1500, the Grisdale family inexorably grew and spread out. Even in the sixteenth century members of the family had started to work and farm throughout the valley of Matterdale, and even further afield. They moved for instance to Hollas (Hollows), as well as to Matterdale End, Dockray, Crookwath, Mills, Ulcatrow and to nearby parishes such as Keswick and Threlkeld (to name just two). Some even ventured to London. In the eighteenth century they started to move to Penrith, Kendal, Carlisle, Patterdale and elsewhere, as well as to Lancashire and Yorkshire. And so it went on. By the nineteenth century the family started to emigrate overseas: to Canada, the United States, Australia, India and even South Africa. Many of the articles on this blog have been concerned with such families.

Dowthwaite Head Farm

Dowthwaite Head Farm

One of the upshots of this century-long process of birth and emigration has been that the number of people carrying the Grisdale name in Matterdale itself has fluctuated enormously. I hope to be able to provide some estimates of numbers in the future. But what is abundantly clear is that starting with maybe just 5 to 10 Grisdales in Dowthwaite Head in the early years of the sixteenth century, the family grew rapidly. During the seventeenth century and much of the eighteenth, the Grisdales were, it seems, everywhere. They were one of the most numerous and influential families in the valley. They were mostly yeomen farmers, but the family also produced innumerable clergymen (some famous, most not), some entrepreneurs who became rich, while, naturally, many joined the army.

Yet by the time we reach the late eighteenth century the exodus from Matterdale had really heated up; spurred it should be said by the on-going land grab called the ‘enclosures’. My own Grisdale family left Matterdale in around 1810-1815 and settled  in nearby Penrith. As the decades passed, more and more Grisdale families gradually left, until in 1891 there was only one person called Grisdale still living in Matterdale. He bore the common family name Solomon. Of course it wasn’t that there  weren’t many other people still in Matterdale who were descended from the hundreds of Grisdales who had lived in the valley for the last 500 years, there were. But in 1891 the 23 year old Solomon Grisdale was the last to carry the name.

Solomon was born in 1868 and christened on 22 September in Matterdale church. He was the illegitimate son of Elizabeth Grisdale (born 1842), who was herself the illegitimate daughter of Ann (born 1818). Ann was the first of nine children of the well-to-do Dockray yeoman farmer Solomon Grisdale and his wife Elizabeth Wilson. I won’t here tell the story of these two illegitimate births except to say that historically, while such births outside wedlock were not unheard off, they were in this family very rare. This family were descended from Joseph Grisdale (1687-1750) and Jane Martin (1687-1769), who were also yeoman farmers in Dockray, and from whom so many of the people I have discussed in this blog are also descended. Of course before that the family can be traced back to Dowthwaite Head.

At first Solomon’s mother Elizabeth had continued to live with her new son on the farm of her grandmother Elizabeth, with other members of the family. Solomon Senior had died in 1866. In 1878, when Solomon was ten, his mother married a Yorkshire road contractor called John Raine, and in 1881 the family were living just outside Dockray at High Row. They were still there ten years later and the 23 year-old Solomon was a labourer working building roads with his stepfather. By now, as I have said, Solomon was the only Grisdale in Matterdale.

In 1896 Solomon married Harriot Nicholson in the Church of All Saints in next door Watermillock. He was a ‘main road foreman’ or ‘contractor’ in his own right. The couple lived in Dockray and two children followed: Thomas in 1897 and Laura in 1905 (there may have been others who died young).

And here, finally, we do come to the last of the Matterdale Grisdales, for Thomas and Laura were the very last.

Matterdale Old School

Matterdale Old School

It is interesting to consider that both Thomas and Laura were christened in Matterdale church, a place with so many connections with the Grisdale family going back to the 1580s. Thomas would also have attended the old Matterdale School, founded in 1722 by the Rev. Dr. Robert Grisdale.

What became of them? Well their stories are very different.

Solomon decided that there were probably better opportunities for road building in the Cumberland town of Cockermouth than there were in rural Matterdale. He took his family there soon after 1905. A third child called Percy was born there in 1908, followed in 1919 by a daughter Edna. The family lived at ‘2 The Laurels’ until their death many years later. Would Solomon have known that just around corner the rather grand Cockermouth house now called Wordsworth House, where the poet William Wordsworth was born, had been bought with Grisdale money? I guess not.

Some of the 5th Battlion the Border Regiment in France

Some of the 5th Battlion the Border Regiment in France

Once Thomas was old enough he started to work with his father building roads. By 1915, when he was only 18, he had progressed to be an ‘Assistant Surveyor’. But Thomas had the misfortune to be born when he was. He was just coming to adulthood when the Great War broke out. Like countless millions of others throughout Europe, Thomas Grisdale volunteered to join the army. He enlisted in Cockermouth in the 5th Battalion of the Border Regiment on the 22nd November 1915. He had just turned eighteen. After some months training he was shipped from  Southampton to France on 6 May 1916. I won’t tell of Thomas’s military life here. Suffice it to say that he fought in many of the important battles of the Great War over the course of the next two years. After being wounded in September 1916 he spent some time recovering back in England, but he was soon back in the trenches in March 1917. After fighting at Paschendale, in March 1918 Thomas’s regiment found itself ‘based at Roisel, working on road and tramway construction and building large dug outs at Templeux’. This was unfortunate because this was where and  when the German army had planned a huge attack, now called the Kaiser’s Battle, which started on the 21st of March

On March 21, 1918, the Germans launched a major offensive against the British Fifth Army, and the right wing of the British Third Army. The artillery bombardment began at 4.40 am on March 21. The bombardment hit targets over an area of 150 square miles, the biggest barrage of the entire war. Over 1,100,000 shells were fired in five hours…

Although the British had learned the approximate time and location of the offensive, the weight of the attack and of the preliminary bombardment was an unpleasant surprise. The Germans were also fortunate in that the morning of the attack was foggy, allowing the storm troopers leading the attack to penetrate deep into the British positions undetected.

By the end of the first day, the British had lost nearly 20,000 dead and 35,000 wounded, and the Germans had broken through at several points on the front of the British Fifth Army. After two days Fifth Army was in full retreat. As they fell back, many of the isolated “redoubts” were left to be surrounded and overwhelmed by the following German infantry. The right wing of Third Army became separated from the retreating Fifth Army, and also retreated to avoid being outflanked.

One of the 20,000 British dead on this one day was Thomas Grisdale. There is much more to tell, another time I hope. Thomas was buried at the Pozieres Memorial Cemetery in France. Back home in England he is remembered on the Cockermouth War Memorial and on the gravestone of his parents Solomon and Harriot.

Thomas’s younger sister Laura Grisdale never married and stayed in Cockermouth for the rest of her life. She died in Cockermouth in 2006, aged 101! She was for sure truly the last Matterdale Grisdale.

Cockermouth gravestone of the last Matterdale Grisdales

Cockermouth gravestone of the last Matterdale Grisdales

From lightning and tempest; from plague, pestilence, and from battle and murder, and from sudden death, Good Lord, deliver us.’  English Liturgy, 1547 The plague, along with starvation and repression, has been the perennial lot of the English people, as indeed of so many others. Cumberland was no exception. Here plagues have struck from time to time from at least the thirteenth century. A hundred years after the above English Liturgy was written the plague came once again to Cumberland and wiped out dozens if not hundreds of families. One of these was a Grisdale family in the small Cumberland market and industrial town of Keswick.

St. Kentigern's, Crosthwaite, Keswick

St. Kentigern’s, Crosthwaite, Keswick

On the 5th of February 1620, Thomas Grisdale married Alice Birkett of Seathwaite in St. Kentigern’s Church in Keswick. With one (perhaps relevant) exception this is the first mention of a member of the Grisdale family in Keswick. Over the next twenty-five years with two wives Thomas had nine children, some died young but many survived. What had brought Thomas to Keswick? And where had he come from? As to the reason that Thomas came to Keswick, there is I believe only one explanation. The only reason for someone to come to the town of Keswick at this time was to work in the German-run copper smelter situated at Brigham in Keswick. In an earlier article I showed how German miners had been brought over by Queen Elizabeth, and how the industry had developed (see here). Once the mines and the smelters were fully up and running in 1569, we find a certain John Grysdall mentioned twice. In the August 1569 accounts – the Germans did accounts seven times a year- John is listed as a ‘peat carrier’. He received payment for delivering 3 hundred (loads) of peat from ‘Flasco’ (present-day Flaska near Troutbeck in the north of Matterdale parish) to the copper smelter at Keswick. He did the same again later in the year. And in 1571 an Edward Gristal (Grisdale) of Threlkeld was also paid as a peat carrier for deliveries from Flasco.

In the middle of 1567 the Company began keeping its own carts and horses, for building and for carriage of special articles close to Keswick; but this did not supersede the use of English packhorses for charcoal, peat, ore, and a little later for stone-coal.

An eighteenth-century Copper Smelter

An eighteenth-century Copper Smelter

While one can imagine why charcoal was needed for the smelting of ore, what was the peat for? Chemistry, Society, and Environment: A New History of the British Chemical Industry (ed. Colin A. Russell et al, Royal Society, 2000) explains:

Copper ore was mined and smelted at Brigham, near Keswick in Cumberland, under the auspices of the Company of Mines royal… The sulphide ores used at Keswick were subjected to preliminary roasting to burn off excess sulphur, and then treated with nine horseloads of peat and five horseloads of ‘stone coals’ (a horseload was equivalent to 109 litres). Limestone was added as a flux and after smelting a matte or “green stock” was run off. Subsequently, about eight days’ recovery of matte was roasted with six peat fires, each hotter than the last, to produce “copper stone” or “black copper”. This was smelted once a month to give “rough copper”, and involved three separate smelting with lead ore to extract the silver from the copper matte. This process of making copper at Keswick took eighteen weeks and five days.

I believe Thomas either worked in the Brigham copper smelter or worked for the German miners in another way. As to my second question: Where had Thomas come from? There can really be no doubt. Thomas married in 1620 and thus was most probably born in the 1590s. At this time, and for a while thereafter, there are no Grisdales recorded anywhere else but Matterdale, and the majority of those lived in Dowthwaite Head. We have already seen that there were two Grisdales lugging peat to Keswick shortly after the Germans started copper mining and smelting, thus Thomas too descended from the Matterdale Grisdales – even if (as might just be the case) he was related to Edward Grisdale, the 1571 peat carrier of Threlkeld.

Dowthwaite Head Farm

Dowthwaite Head Farm

In the vast majority of cases the sixteenth-century Grisdales are listed as living in Dowthwaite Head. Clearly this was where the family had originally settled (see here). Around the time that John and Edward Grysdall were lugging peat on their packhorses from Flasco to the smelters at Keswick, we find Robert, two Christophers, Edward, Thomas, Richard and two John Grisdales, all with two exceptions living at Dowthwaite Head. Finally, in 1581 the Cumberland militia was called out yet again in the face of the never-ending threat of Scottish raids. At the Penrith Muster on that year nine Matterdale ‘bowmen’ of military age turned out: John, William, Christopher, Robert, Edward, Richard and three named Thomas. I think it highly likely that our Thomas Grisdale of Keswick was either a son (or possibly a grandson) of one of these nine Matterdale bowmen. We left Thomas marrying Alice Birkett in early 1620. Six children followed, all baptized in Keswick church: Susanna 1621 (died the same year), Jayne 1625 (died the next year), Alice 1628, Edward 1631, Robert 1632 and Ann 1638.It seems that then Thomas’s wife Alice died, because on 24 July 1638 Thomas married again, this time to Ann Hayton of Abbeyholme. Four more children were born to Thomas and Ann: Joyce 1639, Edward 1641, Thomas 1643 and Jayne 1645. From this we can imply that as well as Susanna and Jayne (from Thomas earlier marriage to Alice) who had died as babies, son Edward (1631) had in the meantime died as well. This just left six children: Alice, Robert, Ann, Thomas and Joyce and Jane. I mentioned that Thomas’s wedding in 1620 was the first mention of a Grisdale in Keswick, except for one. On 14 January, 1620 just three months before Thomas married Alice, there is a record of a Jenet Grisdale being baptized in Keswick church, the daughter of ‘Thomas Grisdale of Keswick’ and his wife Jennett. It is of course possible that Jenet’s mother Jennett died in child birth and, if we are dealing with the same Thomas, he very quickly remarried Alice. As we will see it is sure that daughter Jenet survived.

A Plague Victim

A Plague Victim

And so the years passed and Thomas’s children started to grow. But then in 1646, only a year after Thomas and Ann’s last child Ann was born, disaster struck. The plague came to Keswick. I’d like to follow Dr. Henry Barnes, who in September 1889 gave a talk to the Cumberland & Westmorland Antiquarian & Archaeological Society called Visitations of the Plague in Cumberland and Westmorland. Barnes asked: ‘At the outset it may be asked, What was the plague? What kind of disease was it?’ He continued:

It may be sufficient to remark that among the various nationalities of antiquity and in the middle ages the word plague was used in its collective sense, and included the most various diseases that occurred in epidemic form, ran an acute course, and showed a heavy mortality. Some of these visitations have no doubt been visitations of the true oriental plague, a disease characterized by inflammatory boils and tumours of the glands, such as break out in no other febrile disease. On other occasions it may have been the sweating sickness…. It is probable also that smallpox and typhus formed some of the epidemics and were included under the head of plague.

Back to Keswick. Andrew B. Appleby in his Famine in Tudor & Stuart England (1977) tells us:

Plague ravaged Carlisle in 1645, spread to Keswick in 1646, Cockermouth in 1647, and St. Bees in 1650. This seems to have been the same epidemic, although it took four years to cross Cumberland.

Keswick, Cumberland

Keswick, Cumberland

Regarding Keswick, which is in the parish of Crosthwaite, Appleby continues:

The number of burials increased dramatically in May (1646) and continued high through September – the usual plague season. Of the 93 persons dying between May 14, the beginning of the epidemic, and July 28, 80 came from Keswick, 11 from “Estenbec” (nearby in Crosthwaite), and the homes of two others were not shown.

He says:

The striking characteristic of all the dead who can be geographically placed in no more than two communities indicates that the disease did not spread into the rural parts of the parish. Most of the parish was spared in 1646, in contrast to 1597 and 1623.

When I first looked at the early Crosthwaite parish registers I was appalled to find dozens of deaths and burials within a few short months in 1646. The registers also show what Appleby states, namely that the plague started to bite on May 14. One of the Keswick families it struck was the Grisdales. Here are the Crosthwaite burial entries for just a few days in May:

May 17 – Alice Grisdale of Keswick May 17 – Robert Grisdale of Keswick May 19 – Thomas Grisdale of Keswick May 20 – Joyce Grisdale of Keswick May 20 – Jenet Grisdale of Keswick May 29 – Thomas Grisdale of Keswick

The Plague in seventeenth-century England

The Plague in seventeenth-century England

This means that  at least three and possibly four of the seven remaining children of Thomas Grisdale died in the plague in just a few days. Also one of the two Thomas Grisdales who died was obviously Thomas himself. The Grisdale family of Keswick had been completely wiped out. It’s most probable that the Alice who died was Thomas’s 18 year-old daughter, which would imply that mother Alice either survived or had died in childbirth in 1645. (See comment below for more information of the survivors) Unfortunately as most of them died there is no testament of any sort to the destruction of this poor family, with of course the exception of the parish records. In place of such a testament I’d like to quote a Rector called Robert Lenthall whose family died of plague in 1647 in the village of Great Hampden. Below is what he wrote. I’ve left the spelling unchanged and not replaced the ‘YE’s and ‘YT’s by THE and THAT. Contrary to popular belief people never said YE (as in ‘Ye Old Pub’), the Y was just a letter signifying the sound TH.

My daughter Sarah Lenthall was buied ye eleventh day of August Ann: Supra (1647) she came from London to Whickham (High Wycombe) & on ye Saturday only to see us and so to returne ye morrow in ye afternoon to Whickham againe, but then fell sick & on Wednesday morning following being ye 11th of Aug. About an houre before Sun rise dyed of ye sickness & so on ye Evening we buried her in ye Meade called Kitchen-meade by ye hedgeside as you go downe into it on yor left hand, a little below ye pond at ye entrance into ye meade: She was aged 14 yeares eleven months & seaventeene days – had she lived to Bartholomew day she had been 15 yeares of age. Susanna Lenthall my wife dep’ted this life Thursday evening about eight a clock ye 26 of August, she died of ye sickness comfortably & in peace & was buried ye 27 by hir daughter Sara. John Gardiner a childe yt lived in my house died of ye sicknes & was buried August ye 29th. Adrian Lenthall my sonne a hopeful young man & neere one & twenty years dep’ted this life of ye sickness, Thursday morning a little before day breake & was buried at ye head of his sister Sara’a grave ye same day, being ye 2nd of Septe’b. My cosen John Pickering a lad of about 13 yeares of age, dying of ye sickness, was buried the 25 of Septeb 1647. Robert Lenthall, Rector

J. F. D. Shrewsbury recounted this story in his A History of the Bubonic Plague in the British Isles. He added:

It is more than 300 years since this simple yet moving lament was written in the bitterness of his grief and loneliness by a man bereft by bubonic plague of wife, children, and kinsman within the space of one month. Because they were the victims of that dreaded disease he dared not bury them in consecrated ground and erect a monument over their resting place; but he has given his loved ones a more lasting memorial, one that will endure as long as the printed word is read and long after the costliest gravestone has crumbled to dust.

Indeed. What happened to the Keswick copper smelting works where Thomas might have worked?  I’ll let the great Lakeland historian Collingwood explain in his own inimitable words:

In 1604, James I granted a charter confirmatory to the Company, including the names of Emanuel and Daniel, sons of the late Daniel Hechstetter. The Keswick mines survived them both, though Joseph, son of Emanuel, lived to see the wreck of the Smelthouses, which he managed in his turn, at the Civil Wars. It is usually said that this was perpetrated in 1651 by Cromwell’s army on the march from Edinburgh to Worcester. But General Lambert’s troops took Penrith in June, 1648, and Colonel Ashton’s forces came in September of that year to raise the siege of Cockermouth Castle. There were several opportunities, without casting the usual blame on Cromwell, for Parliament men to attack the headquarters of a royal monopoly. How far it deserved attack is quite another matter.

Keswick today

Keswick today