Archive for the ‘History’ Category

After Sergeant Major Levi Grisdale left the army in 1825, having completed twenty-two years of service that had seen him capture Napoleon’s favourite general, fight in thirty-two battles and lead the Prussians onto the field of Waterloo, he eventually settled down back in his home town of Penrith. There he had five children with his second wife Mary Western. Thomas was the fourth of these. He was born in 1841 in Penrith and was to become a clerk in the Postal Service, a decision that would take his family far to the south – to the London suburb of Barnes in Surrey. It was in the nearby suburb of Wandsworth that Thomas’s grandson, Philip Thomas Grisdale, was born in 1917.

Spitfire of 72 Squadron Biggin Hill

Spitfire of 72 Squadron Biggin Hill

Philip’s father, Charles Philip Grisdale, had also joined the post office, passed exams, and done well for himself and his family before becoming a successful ‘commercial traveller’. The family lived at 21 Quarry Road in Wandsworth in a solidly middle-class house. It was here that Philip grew up with his twin brother Thomas Grover Grisdale. In 1938, when he was twenty-one, Philip married Averil Bush in Wandsworth. The couple had  one son: Carroll P Grisdale.

Without consulting the RAF records I don’t yet know when exactly Philip joined the RAF, what squadron he was initially posted to and whether or not he fought as a pilot in the Battle of Britain. However I do know he arrived at 72 Squadron on July 26th 1941 from 234 Squadron at RAF Warmwell – flying Spitfires. He had the rank of Flight Sergeant in 72 Squadron, which had just returned to the famous Biggin Hill airbase in Kent. The squadron had been reformed in 1937 and in 1939 Spitfires replaced its aging Gloster Gladiators. It had assisted in the evacuation of Dunkirk and fought in the Battle of Britain.

Spitfire in colours of 234 Squadron

Spitfire in colours of 234 Squadron

72 Squadron at Biggin Hill in July 1941

72 Squadron at Biggin Hill in July 1941

By the autumn of 1941 the RAF had shifted from defending Britain towards ‘offensive sweeps’ over mainland Europe. On the 29 August 1941, 72 Squadron’s Spitfires escorted a formation of Blenheim bombers on a raid to the important railway yards at Hazebrouck, a small town near Dunkirk in the Flemish region of France.

The raid, or ‘Circus’ met stiff resistance from German anti-aircraft fire and engaged a large body of German fighters. And so, it would appear, it was near here at half past eight in the morning that Philip Grisdale had the misfortune to encounter one of the Luftwaffe’s veritable fighter-aces, Oberleutnant Hermann Seegatz, flying a Messerschmitt Bf 109. Hermann was the same age as Philip; he was born on 24 June 1917 in Fuerstengrube in German Silesia (now in Poland). His first air ‘kill’ was during the Battle of Britain when he shot down a Spitfire ‘south west of Dover’ on 7 July 1940. By August 1941 he was with no 4 Squadron of the second group of the 26th Fighter Wing (4.11/JG26) based at Abbeville airfield in northern France. JG26 was commanded by the famous ace Adolf Galland. They were known as either “The Abbeville Boys” or “The Abbeville Kids” by both the British and Americans who flew against them.

Due to the quality of leadership, attention giving to training replacement pilots, and the professionalism shown by these Luftwaffe pilots the Allied pilots came to respect the “Abbeville Boys”. Any yellow nosed Messerschmitt or Focke-Wulf 190… ever seen was reported as being flown by JG26. Bomber crews especially were respectful of them due to their ability to penetrate the fighter screen and shoot them down. JG26 is regarded as having some of the best pilots in the Luftwaffe throughout the War.

Douglas Bader with Adolf Galland

Douglas Bader with Adolf Galland

Only three weeks before on the 9th of August, RAF ace Captain Douglas Bader had bailed out over St Omer in France. ‘Bader was well known to the Luftwaffe and at the time of his capture had been credited with 22 aerial victories. Galland himself claimed two Spitfires on that date. Galland and JG 26 entertained Bader over the next few days. Owing to the significant stature of the prisoner, Galland permitted Bader, under escort, to sit in the cockpit of a Bf 109. Apparently, despite losing one of his tin legs in the aircraft, Bader, in a semi-serious way, asked if they wouldn’t mind if he took it on a test flight around the airfield. Galland replied that he feared Douglas would attempt to escape and they would have to give chase and shoot at each other again, and declined the request.’

Seegatz already had 14 confirmed victories to his name the day he fought Grisdale in his Spitfire; a total that would eventually reach forty.

Seegatz's ME-109 'Beware Novices!'

Seegatz’s ME-109 ‘Beware Novices!’

Hermann was the ‘Squadron clown’. At one early stage he had the words ‘Beware Novice(s)!’ (‘Achtung Anfaenger!’) emblazoned on his ME-109, either as a warning to his adversaries or more probably as a tongue-in-check reference to himself. (See picture). His personal emblem was a Tyrolean Eagle, which can just be seen in the second picture of him with his Messerschmitt . Maybe Philip Grisdale caught a glimpse of this Eagle of the yellow-nosed ME-109 on that day in 1941, or maybe he never saw Hermann coming. We will never know. But in any case Philip was shot down and died while attempting a forced-landing (see below). The place was Nieuwpoort on the Belgian coast. When his squadron returned to Biggin Hill Philip was reported missing in action. Seegatz claimed his 15th air victory, reporting that he had shot down a Spitfire near Nieuwpoort and had seen it crash.

Was this Spitfire definitely Philip’s? We can never be 100% sure, but all the evidence points in that direction and all the ‘experts’ who investigate such things concur that it was. The authoritative JG 26 Luftwaffe Fighter Wing War Diary, Volume 1; Volumes 1939-1942, by  Donald Caldwell, clearly shows that the Spitfire shot down by Seegatz belonged to 72 Squadron, while 72 Squadron’s records indicate that only one of their planes failed to return that day: that of Sergeant P. T. Grisdale.

Tom Docherty in his definitive Swift to Battle: No 72 Fighter Squadron RAF in Action, 1937 – 1942 writes:

On the 29th (August) it was back to Hazebrook marshalling yards as escort to the bombers of Circus No 88. Twelve Spitfires, led by Sqn Ldr Sheen, took part, and as they crossed the coast near Hardelot a large number of Bf109s were sighted. Sqn Ldr Sheen decided that they were a distinct threat to the squadron, and led the Spitfires into a running battle, which stretched into the middle of the Channel. During the fight Sqn Ldr Sheen (W3380) damaged a Bf109, Plt Off Rosser (W3441) destroyed one, Flt Lt Kosinski (W3511) destroyed one Bf109 and possibly destroyed another. On the debit side of the battle Sgt Grisdale (P8713) called up on the R/T informing his squadron mates that he was force-landing in France. Grisdale was killed. Sheen recorded. ‘Circus!? 1 Me109 damaged. Attack on N. France. Sqn versus 250 + 109s. 30 miles inland.’

Philip Thomas Grisdale is buried in Zandwoorde British Cemetery near Ypres in Belgium.

Like many allies airmen shot down during the war maybe Philip had first been buried locally and only later reinterred at Zandwoorde.

Hermann Seegatz with his Tyrolean Emblem in Abbeville

Hermann Seegatz with his Tyrolean Eagle ME-109 in Abbeville

What became of fighter-ace Hermann Seegatz? He claimed his next victory only two days later – another Spitfire. Later he was posted to Russia where his victories continued, before returning to Germany to help in the defence of the Fatherland. He became a Captain, then an Adjutant and finally, in 1944, a ‘Group Commander’. On 8 March 1944, Hermann scored his 40th, and last, victory. He shot down an American B-17 Flying Fortress at ‘Luben north of Luchnau’ before being shot down himself, probably by an American fighter. The German records tell us that Hauptmann Seegatz of the First Fighter Wing crashed in his Focke Wulf 190 after an ‘air battle’ with a fighter (‘Absturz nach Luftkampf mit Jaeger’). His aircraft was totally destroyed and he was ‘tot’ – dead.

Hermann Seegatz, Luftwaffe fighter-ace, is buried in Bernburg/Saale Cemetery.

The Grisdale family had gone from Waterloo to WW2, fighting for ‘King and Country’. ‘Hero’ Levi Grisdale had survived to tell his tales, his great grandson Philip had not.

Philip Grisdale, third from left, with 72 Squadron at Biggin Hill shortly before his death.

Philip Grisdale, third from left, with 72 Squadron at Biggin Hill shortly before his death.

I’d like to end with a poem much beloved of pilots everywhere. It’s called High Flight, by John Gillespie Magee, and adorns the wall of my own flying club:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

I hope both Philip and Hermann did manage to ‘touch the face of God’.

The Abbeville Boys

The Abbeville Boys

At the end of the eighteenth century the pressures forcing rural people off the land were reaching a peak. One of the few options besides emigration and joining the army was to move to work in the dark satanic mills. In the north of England this often meant the cotton mills of Lancashire. Several Grisdale families from Matterdale followed this route. This is the story of just one of them. It is also a story of how part of the family then emigrated to Pennsylvania and from there, via Montana and the coal mines of Iowa, to Oregon in the Pacific Northwest. A story of pioneers maybe and a little example of “How the West was Won”.

The story is best started with Thomas Grisdale, who was born in Matterdale in 1772, the eighth and penultimate child of Joseph Grisdale and Ann Temple. Sometime in the 1790s Thomas  moved to Bolton in Lancashire (then called Bolton Le Moors); he married an Elizabeth Crossley there in September 1796. Between 1799 and 1817 they had nine children in Bolton. The fifth of these, born in 1809, was called Doctor Grisdale – for reasons that are not known. It is he who we will follow to America.

The industrial revolution was getting under way and Lancashire villages were being transformed from small rural settlements into huge cotton producing centres. They quickly became massive sinks of misery, squalor and exploitation for the rural poor – who were to become a new urban proletariat. They were to remain so throughout the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth century.

An early Power Loom

Thomas became a cotton weaver. Whether at first he was a hand-loom weaver or whether he started work immediately on one of the new power looms that had recently been invented and patented by Edmund Cartwright we don’t know. Hand loom weavers were a type of urban working class elite and they could earn good wages for their skills. But once mechanised power looms were introduced demand for hand weavers fell and their numbers dwindled. It was precisely against the brutal and inequitable effects of this process that the original Luddites were to fight and this certainly in and around Bolton. One of the most infamous repressions of the Luddite protests took place in nearby West Houghton in 1812. Garth Ratcliffe in the ‘The Burning of Westhoughton Mill by Luddites in 1812’ writes:

On Friday afternoon April 24th 1812 a mob of Luddites from Chowbent/Atherton attacked Westhoughton Mill, a cotton weaving mill situated opposite the White Lion Inn. This Mill was one of the first steam driven in the locality. The Mill was broken into and set fire to and burned down. The Scots Greys stationed in the area, rounded up the suspects who were identified by various witnesses from Hag Fold and other areas of Chowbent which is only about 2 miles from Westhoughton.

The suspects, who were mainly disaffected weavers, were “examined” by Ralph Fletcher and other magistrates and subsequently taken to Lancaster Castle prison to await trial for the charge of burning looms and a factory.
In addition, there were other Luddites mainly from Bolton town centre, who were charged with various aspects of “illegal oath taking/attending illegal meetings”.

Both sets of Luddites were tried on 23rd May 1812 and the results of the trail sentenced four men to be hanged and nine others transported to Australia for seven years.

The executions were at Lancaster Castle. The transported prisoners were taken to Portsmouth to await the next ship to Australia which took about 8 months.

These prisoners had to work for seven years on govt projects or for a landowner. After this period they could apply for ownership of land.

Luddites in Bolton in 1812

Maybe Thomas Grisdale witnessed this? If not he certainly will have heard about it because it was his fellow weavers who were killed, executed and transported to Australia.

But with the Luddite protests crushed by the army and militia, the grim life of the power loom weavers in Lancashire went on. In 1841the family are still working in the cotton mills: Thomas, now aged “65”, living with two of his sons, and Doctor Grisdale with his young family. They were all “cotton weavers”.

Doctor Grisdale had married Mary Greene and their son Thomas was born in 1839. Another son called Joseph was to follow in 1842.

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

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

Such was the place in which this Grisdale family lived and worked.

A Delaware Woolen Mill

Some were destined to suffer this cruel fate for decades to come, but some tried to get out. Doctor Grisdale was one of these. Some Lancashire weavers had already emigrated to the United States, there to help in the development of America’s cotton and woollen mills. One place where they had ended up was in Pennsylvania and it was to there that Doctor and his young family headed. They boarded the ship Plymouth Rock in Liverpool and arrived in Boston on 16 January 1850. Just months later the family were established in Upper Darby. Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Doctor was working as a weaver in the mills. Local historian Thomas J. DiFilippo tells us this about Upper Darby:

The growth rate of the township changed about 1830 when textile making moved from the homes into mills. Before 1830, the spinning of yarn and the weaving of cloth was mostly performed at home by the women and primarily to satisfy the family’s needs. About 1830, some old grist mills were converted to spin yarn that was sold to individuals who wove their own crude cloth. About 1840, the mills became “integrated,” meaning they spun the yarn from raw material, then wove, finished and dyed the cloth. This was the beginning of a prosperous large textile industry in Upper Darby that lasted into the mid-1900s.

What became this country’s massive textile industry began in New England then spread to the Delaware Valley. Philadelphia became a major textile center with many mills in Germantown, Manayunk, Kensington, and Blockley. Realizing the potential market for textiles, descendants of the Garretts, Sellers, and Levis, followed by the Burnleys. Kellys, Kents, and Wolfendens, built or converted to textile mills. This expansion occurred after the flood of 1843 because that event destroyed nearly everything along the creeks.

Most of the mills employed Immigrants from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and later Irish Catholics. Although the managers and skilled workers were male, the laborious jobs were performed mostly by women and children. The mills owned the nearby “mill houses” and rented them to their employees. Workers were expected to follow the politics of the mill owners. Very few owners had compassion for the workers and thus the working conditions were poor, the salaries meagre and the working hours long. These conditions bred frequent labor disputes and were the cause of the early child labor laws and unionization.

By 1860 the family had moved to the mills in nearby Upper Merion, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, where Doctor was still employed as a weaver in a woollen mill. What happened to Doctor Grisdale and his wife in the few years after 1860 is unclear, I’ll mention his death later. But the family’s long trek from Bolton to the west coast of America was only just beginning.

A Coal Mine in Oskaloosa. Iowa

What is clear is that Doctor’s son Thomas set off west, probably accompanied with his American born sister, Mary Ann. Perhaps Doctor’s son Joseph had already died? In 1862, Thomas married a very young Elmira Jane Clements, who came originally from Porter, Indiana. Their first child, Dora Mae Grisdale, was born in Montana Territory in 1868. But in 1870 the family was living in Oskaloosa in Mahaska County, Iowa. Thomas was now a “Miner” living with his family and his sister.

Mahaska County was rich in bituminous coal and in the 1870s coal mining became part of the local economy. In 1883, the area had 38 mines and an annual output of over a million tons. In the prime days of mining, Mahaska County surpassed all other Iowa counties in tonnage and number of mines. The advent of transcontinental railroads was also a boon to Mahaska County. The locomotives moved coal out of the area year round as demand for coal increased.

The earliest settlers mined coal among the hills of south central Iowa. They used coal to heat their homes and cook their food in areas were timber was not available.

Not until 1870 did the industry of coal mining begin to rapidly grow in Iowa. By that time the major Iowa railroads reached from the Mississippi River in the east to the Missouri River in the west. The railroads leased land in coal producing areas and operated mines which produced coal for the use of the railroads. These were the largest and most productive mines in the state.

We are also told the following about the Iowa mines of the time:

Usually a coal camp had several hundred small homes, a company store, a tavern or pool hall, and a school. Most coal companies required that miners shop only at the company store which sold everything from “cradles to coffins.”  Most mining families didn’t like this restriction. Because the average coal mine lasted only ten years, little care was given to the appearance of these camps

The history of one of these mines tells us:

One of the best remembered and most unusual coal camps was located in Monroe County in southern Iowa. Buxton, as it was called, was a thriving coal community during the early 1900s.

At first the camp was located at what was called Muchakinock about five miles south of Oskaloosa in, Mahaska County. For at least two years mining was good in this area. But then in 1875 labor troubles began. The workers went on strike. In 1881 black workers recruited from the south were hired as strike breakers.  In a few years the mines of Muchakinock were nearly exhausted. The Chicago and Northwestern railroad, which owned the Consolidation Coal Company, bought more land south in Monroe County. The community moved south where they began to build the town of Buxton.  It was named after J.E. Buxton, the superintendent of the Consolidation Coal Company.

Buxton was a thriving community for at least twenty years. By 1920 the mines began to run out of coal. By 1927 the last mine was closed. Buxton soon became a ghost town like the many other mining camps dotting central Iowa.

We don’t know how long Thomas and Elmira were in this Iowa mining community, their second daughter, Mary Lucinda, was born in Montana in 1870 and by 1873 their third child Thomas Edward was born in Oregon, so maybe they were just passing through? However I think it likely that they remained until at least 1878 because on 25 April in that year Thomas’s father Doctor died and was buried in Oskaloosa. Perhaps he and his wife had come to join them. In any case Oregon was the family’s next stop in the great move west. In 1880 we find them in Roseburg, Douglas County, Oregon with several more children. Thomas’s sister Mary Ann was also there, having by this time married Timothy Ford. But also Doctor Grisdale’s widow Mary had moved with them to Oregon. Thomas was working as a “Brick Maker”. He then moved to Bridgeport, Baker County, Oregon with more of his children and was listed there in the 1900 US Census as a “farmer”. So maybe after more than a century it was back to the land!

The grave of Doctor Grisdale’s widow Mary In Oregon

Thomas Grisdale was still living in 1903 because he paid a substantial council tax in Baker, Oregon, in 1903; but his mother Mary died on 26 June 1901 and was buried in Lone Fir Pioneer Cemetery, Portland, Oregon, as was his sister Mary Ann Ford. Something of the immediate history of Thomas’s family can be found on my (evolving) tree on Ancestry; although I have yet to find Thomas’s own death or that of his father Doctor. Thomas’s wife Elmira had married Amos Carson following Thomas’s death and died in 1940 In Baker County, Oregon.

I know this little history is somewhat lacking in detail and is rather skeletal, but it is, I think, another interesting example of the spirit of endurance and survival of so many English people trying to make a better life for themselves and their families – wherever in the world they had to go to do this. The Grisdales in this respect were no different to thousands or millions of others. But I don’t apologize for this. This family is after all the subject of this site. Sometimes I think that while this is family history it is perhaps something more. It can illustrate important social, economic and political realities about English history and the history of the English-speaking world.

Finally, although many members of this Grisdale family were to stay in Bolton (and their stories are interesting too) one other son of the Thomas Grisdale who came from Matterdale, a brother of Doctor, and also called Thomas (1804-1879), also led a very adventurous life. He found his way to Madras in India (possibly with the British Army) and from there, with wife and children, to Melbourne in Australia.

One day in late August 1900 at Geluk’s Farm near Belfast in South Africa two companies of the 1st Battalion the King’s Liverpool Regiment were cornered and being attacked by the Afrikaner farmers – the Boers. Many of the company involved were killed, others escaped and one won a Victoria Cross. One of those who died was Liverpudlian Thomas Grisdale.

In 1895 a nineteen year old Thomas Grisdale was living in a pretty squalid area of Toxteth in Liverpool. His boss was foreman Mr Berrick in Dolling Street, Toxteth, and Thomas worked with him ‘carting’ goods on and off trains.

The King's Liverpool Regiment Memorial

The King’s Liverpool Regiment Memorial

Whether for reasons of adventure or simply trying to better his position, Thomas decided to join the army. He signed up for the Liverpool militia in October 1895 aged, he said, ‘19 years 4 months’. Two months later he enlisted in the regular army with the King’s Liverpool Regiment. He was first attached to the 2nd Battalion but then transferred to the 1st. Having recently returned from Nova Scotia, the King’s (Liverpool) Regiment, or ‘Liverpools’ as they were generally known, was first posted to garrison duty in the West Indies, but in 1897 they were sent to Cape Colony (Cape Town) in South Africa, where relations between the British and the Boers were once again deteriorating. From the Cape the first battalion, including Thomas, was moved to the town of Ladysmith in Natal, where the ‘1st King’s formed a company of mounted infantry and underwent intensive training’. They were still there two years later when war was declared on 11 October 1899 (the Second Boer War) and Natal was invaded by a Boer force under General Piet Joubert.

Boer Fighters

Boer Fighters

Under General George White 16,000 British soldiers set out from Ladysmith and elsewhere to confront the Boers, but British tactics were out-of-date and they suffered heavy losses in the first major engagements. Regarding Thomas and the 1st Battalion of the Liverpools:

The 1st Battalion was in Ladysmith when war was declared. They were not present at either Glencoe (20th October 1899) or Elandslaagte (21st October). On the 24th Sir George White, being anxious to engage the attention of the Boers and so prevent them falling on General Yule’s column, then retreating from Dundee to Ladysmith, moved out of the latter town and fought the action of Rietfontein. The force which he took out was—5th Lancers, 19th Hussars, Imperial Light Horse, Natal Mounted Volunteers, 42nd and 53rd Batteries RFA, No 10 Mountain Battery, 1st Liverpools, 1st Devons, 1st Gloucesters, and 2nd King’s Royal Rifles.

Sir George threw out the Lancers and Hussars to seize some ridges and protect his right. The Gloucesters advanced on the left and the Liverpools on their right, the Devons being in support afterwards in the firing line and the King’s Royal Rifles at the baggage. The general’s intention was not to come to close fighting. The two field batteries did admirable work, silencing the Boer guns and keeping down the enemy’s rifle-fire, and what was a tactical success might have been accomplished at very slight loss, but the Gloucesters pushed rather too far forward and suffered severely. Before 2 pm firing had ceased, the Boers had withdrawn westwards, and the danger of that part of their army attacking General Yule was over.

On 26th October General Yule’s force entered Ladysmith, wearied and mud-bedraggled, after a march entailing very great bodily hardship to all and very great anxiety to those in command.

The Boer's 'Long Tom'

The Boer’s ‘Long Tom’

Over the next few days, as the Boers were gathering north of Ladysmith, the British army, including Thomas’s 1st Liverpools, attacked again. But a lot of ‘bungling’ followed; bungling for which many of those in charge were soon to be castigated back home in Britain. I won’t tell the whole tale; the main engagement is usually known as the battle of Nicholson’s Neck. The upshot was that the British retreated to Ladysmith where they were to be besieged by the Boers for the next four months. The Boers literally brought up their big gun; the so-called Long Tom. They bombarded the town but try as they might, and they made several attacks, they couldn’t take Ladysmith.

The Boer bombardments were conducted at no particular time, particularly by their two 6 inch guns. On 24th November 1899 Long Tom caught a company of the King’s Liverpools massed in the open, inflicting 9 casualties, five of them dead.

British soldiers defending Ladysmith

British soldiers defending Ladysmith

‘During the siege of Ladysmith the Liverpools were located on the north side of the town, and were not in the terrible fighting when the attack was made upon the southern defences on 6th January. Of course a feint was made on the north of the town, but the attack was not pressed as it was at Caesar’s Camp and Waggon Hill…. On the night of the 7th December Colonel Mellor and three companies of the Liverpools seized Limit Hill, “and through the gap thus created” a squadron of the 19th Hussars penetrated some four miles to the north, destroying the enemy’s telegraph line and burning various shelters, etc.’

As the weeks passed conditions in the town got worse and worse for both its inhabitants and for the British soldiers. By the end of February a relief force under General Redvers Buller had, despite several humiliating defeats, managed to fight its way up from the Cape to Ladysmith and the siege was relieved. The Boer besiegers trekked away across the veldt. One of the defeats the British relieving force had suffered was called the Battle of Spion’s Kop, after which Liverpool Football Club’s Anfield ‘Kop’ is named. Winston Churchill, who was there after his daring escape from a Boer concentration camp, wrote, ‘Corpses lay here and there. Many of the wounds were of a horrible nature. The shallow trenches were choked with dead and wounded.’

On 1st March 1900 … the 1st Liverpools and other troops, now emaciated and worn to absolute weakness, crawled some five miles north of Ladysmith to harass the enemy in their retreat, and did effect some good work in that way.

Relief of Ladysmith. 1900

Relief of Ladysmith. 1900

All this Thomas Grisdale had experienced. But his military career was not yet over. General Buller soon decided to go on the offensive and the British moved into the Boer heartlands of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. The Liverpools were often in action, for example at Amarsfoori on 7 August and at Van Dykes Vlei on 21 August. But then:

On the following day Buller’s army advanced to Geluk, some five or six miles, the (Liverpool) battalion with the Gordons and mounted troops of Dundonald’s Brigade, acting as rear-guard. A very difficult spur, with steep sides, was crossed, and the high hills on the further side occupied. These had been held by the Boers in strength, but they had retired on Buller’s approach. As soon as the infantry of the rear-guard had arrived in camp, the mounted troops of the rear-guard were attacked rather sharply, but they managed to hold their own and to beat off the Boers. Two companies (‘C’ and ‘E’) of the Liverpool Regiment, who formed part of the advance guard, fell into an ambush and lost considerably, leaving, it was reported, some eighty men either killed, wounded, or prisoners in the hands of the Boers. Shortly after arrival in camp, five companies of the Regiment were sent out on outpost duty, taking up a short line and entrenching—two companies were entrenched in front and furnished sentries, with three companies entrenched in rear in support.

William Heaton VC - A soldier with Thomas Grisdale at Geluk

William Heaton VC – A soldier with Thomas Grisdale at Geluk

One member of the two Liverpool companies that were ambushed was Private William Edward Heaton:

On the 23rd August, 1900, the Company to which Private Heaton belonged, advancing in front of the general line held by the troops, became surrounded by the enemy and was suffering severely. At the request of the Officer Commanding, Private Heaton volunteered to take a message back to explain the position of the Company. He was successful, though at the imminent risk of his own life. Had it not been for Private Heaton’s courage there can be little doubt that the remainder of the Company, which suffered very severely, would have had to surrender.

Private Heaton was awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry. Twenty-four year old Private Thomas Grisdale was also one of the soldiers at Geluk’s Farm. He unfortunately did not survive, at least not for more than a few hours. The official ‘Natal Field Force’ casualty roll tells us that Private T. Grisdale, number 5080, of the 1st Battalion The King’s (Liverpool Regiment) was ‘killed on 24 Aug 1900 at Geluk’.

Like countless young British men over the centuries Thomas was never to return home. As the poet A E Housman once put it:

We pledge in peace by farm and town
The Queen they served in war,
And fire the beacons up and down
The land they perished for.

“God save the Queen” we living sing,
From height to height ’tis heard;
And with the rest your voices ring,
Lads of the Fifty-third.

Oh, God will save her, fear you not:
Be you the men you’ve been,
Get you the sons your fathers got,
And God will save the Queen.

Thomas's grandfather Wilfred Grisdale in Penrith

Thomas’s grandfather Wilfred Grisdale in Penrith

So who was the father of Thomas Grisdale who might or might not have been proud that his son had died to ‘Save the Queen’? His parents were William Grisdale and Margaret Robinson. They had arrived in Liverpool from Penrith, Cumberland in the early 1860s with their three young Cumberland-born children. Seven more children were to be born in Liverpool. Thomas was the couple’s seventh child and was born in the first half of 1876. William was born in Penrith in 1838, the first son of carpenter Wilfred Grisdale (1815-1893) by his first wife Hannah Robinson. William also became a carpenter but probably finding it difficult to make a living moved to Liverpool. He worked first as a labourer but later found work as a joiner. The family lived at 10 Leslie Street in Toxteth Park. The street was later erased from the map when large swathes of Liverpool’s slums were cleared in the second half of the twentieth century.

Although from Penrith the family had, as you might expect, originally come from Matterdale. Thomas’s great grandfather William (1785- 1866) was born there but had moved to Penrith where he was a ‘Dancing Master’. He was the son of Matterdale blacksmith Wilfred Grisdale (1711- 1795) and his young wife Ruth Slee. (I’m sorry there are so many Wilfreds and Williams!) Another son of Wilfred the blacksmith, also called Wilfred, emigrated with his family to Canada in 1816 and founded a veritable Grisdale dynasty in Ontario and Michigan. William, the brother of Penrith Dancing Master Wilfred, emigrated to Victoria, Australia in 1853, joined the gold rush, and later found a decapitated man. Another member of the family became a ballet dancer at Drury Lane, married well, went to Boston but died hawking fish in Falmouth.

Our Private Grisdale’s parents must have been devastated when they heard of his death. Father William died in Liverpool in 1906 in Dolling Street, Toxteth. After his death his wife Margaret was admitted to Toxteth Park Workhouse and died there in 1907.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

 

‘I will bury him myself. And even if I die in the act, that death will be a glory… I have longer to please the dead than please the living here.’ Antigone, Sophocles.

Thomas Howard, the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, unfurled the Royal Banner in Carlisle in February 1537. He was declaring martial law in the North of England. Martial law wasn’t really law at all; it was simply a suspension of the accepted process and procedures of English law. It meant that anyone taking part in or supporting a rebellion, or defying the crown in any way, could be summarily dealt with as a traitor. They could be executed without the bother or uncertainties of a jury trial.

Royal Banner of Henry the Eighth

Royal Banner of Henry the Eighth

Howard had taken it upon himself to ‘unfurl the banner’ in the name of King Henry VIII, whose authority had been challenged by the recent uprising in Lincoln, by the ‘Pilgrimage of Grace’ in Yorkshire, Northumberland and Durham and by a serious rebellion in Westmorland and Cumberland. Henry had broken with Rome and, advised by the unpopular Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell, was setting about dissolving and robbing catholic England’s monasteries and abbeys. He was also increasing the tax burden of the people and encouraging the theft of common land via private enclosure. All of these measures were deeply unpopular over great swathes of the country. They were obviously resented and resisted by monks, friars and other clergymen, but also by gentry and commoners as well – though for different reasons.

The uprising in Lincoln in late 1536 had managed to muster thousands of people to the cause but had ended after just two weeks. Just as the King’s representatives were about to wreak their revenge on the Lincoln rebels, a more serious challenge arose: the people of Yorkshire and surrounding parts of Northumberland, Durham and Lancashire had also rebelled. Under the leadership of lawyer Robert Aske, this was essentially a conservative protest and one that the rebels wanted, if at all possible, to keep non-violent. Aske himself christened it the ‘Pilgrimage of Grace’, a name that perhaps unfortunately has stuck. The rebels didn’t want to challenge the King’s right to rule, rather they wanted to pressure him to stop the dissolution of the monasteries, restore the link with Rome and suppress the spread of Lutheran versions of Protestantism. They also hoped that some of Henry’s hated advisers would be removed, particularly Chancellor Thomas Cromwell, who they blamed for both the religious policies and, as importantly, their own worsening economic plight.

The Holy Wounds Banner of the Pilgrimage of Grace

The Holy Wounds Banner of the Pilgrimage of Grace

In this sense the Pilgrimage of Grace was both a social and a religious revolt. The impetus came from below, from the ‘commoners’, but some of the local gentry joined in willingly, while others needed to be coerced.

Under Aske’s leadership, the leaders of the rebellion called themselves ‘Captains of Poverty’ or sometimes, in the case of monks and priests, ‘Chaplains of Poverty’. These captains started to call out the northern ‘host’, usually a thing done by the king or the local barons. Their numbers swelled, to reach around 28.000 – 35,000 by October 1536. They were disciplined and organized and more than enough to face down, and defeat if necessary, the 4,000 mercenary troops, under the Duke of Norfolk, who Henry had sent to put them down. The rebels had captured Pontefract castle without much trouble.

Robert Aske - Leader of the Pilgrimage of Grace

Robert Aske – Leader of the Pilgrimage of Grace

This isn’t the place to retell the events and causes of the Pilgrimage of Grace. There are many fine histories of what happened. In brief, Norfolk knew he couldn’t defeat the rebels by force of arms, so he prevaricated and seemed to play along with, even sympathize with, their demands. A truce was called on 27 October at Doncaster Bridge and on 6 December Norfolk promised a royal pardon in the name of the King. He also promised that many of the rebels’ demands would be met. Eventually, and not without great deliberation, the northern rebel host dispersed and the Pilgrimage was effectively over. It is only in retrospect that we can judge them naive.

All this was not to Henry’s liking. Henry’s instinctive and invariable reaction was always to crush any opposition, not to make concessions or compromises. He soon reneged on the pardon and had many of the leaders or sympathizers of the revolt executed. He never took England back to Rome and he redoubled his drive to dissolve the monasteries and expropriate and appropriate their considerable wealth.

Let us return to events in Westmorland or Cumberland (which together I rather anachronistically will call Cumbria). This was a region that the Duke of Norfolk himself was to call the ‘poorest shire in the realm’. During the Pilgrimage appeals had been made to the people of these counties to join in and to take the Pilgrims’ Oath. Local ‘Captains’ were appointed and some of them were to go to Yorkshire on at least two occasions to consult with Robert Aske and the other leaders. Two of the most prominent Cumbrian captains were Nicholas Musgrave and Robert Pullen, but several others went as well.

The Cumbrian captains started to gather support. To try to remain anonymous they usually called themselves ‘Captain Poverty’ – like their Yorkshire colleagues. Eventually a force of 15,000 was gathered and was planning to march on Carlisle, the administrative and military centre of the ‘West Marches’. But before they could progress any further, news came that the Pilgrimage was over and, despite the fact that Sir Francis Bigod and John Hallam tried to resurrect it, unsuccessfully as it turned out, the Cumbrian rebel host disbanded and returned home.

Over Christmas 1536, and into the early New Year, the commoners started to fear that their local gentry had abandoned them and that they had slipped off to London to declare their allegiance to King Henry. They were right. Madeleine Hope Dodds and Ruth Dodds wrote in 1915, in their still seminal two volume study The Pilgrimage of Grace and the Exeter Conspiracy:

The chief reason for the agitation was the departure of so many gentlemen to court. The commons distrusted the King, who might have the gentlemen beheaded, and they distrusted the gentle men, who might betray them to the King. When the gentlemen were away, the bailiffs and other officers found it impossible to keep order.

And that might have been that were it not for Henry’s reprisals. He wanted all the leaders of the Pilgrimage hunted down and executed as traitors. In early January 1537, it became known that ‘Captains’ Nicholas Musgrave and Thomas Tibbey were in the Westmorland town of Kirkby Stephen. On 6 January, Thomas Clifford, the ‘bastard son’ of Henry Clifford, the first earl of Cumberland, was sent to the town to capture them. ‘Musgrave was warned and with Thomas Tibbey he took refuge in the church steeple, so defensible a position that Clifford was obliged to withdraw without his prisoners’. This, we are told, ‘stirred the country greatly’. A watch was to be kept for them in every town. ‘The men of Kirkby Stephen plucked down all the enclosures in their parish and sent orders to the surrounding parishes to follow their example.’

Things started to get tense. In Cumberland, one of the King’s men, Sir Thomas Curwen, wrote that ‘The west parts, from Plumland to Muncaster, is all a flutter’. He told how ‘on Saturday 13 January a servant of Dr Legh came to Muncaster. The whole country rose and made him prisoner. He was carried to Egremont and thence to Cockermouth. A great crowd filled the market-place, crying, “Strike off his head!” and “Stick him!”

Kirkby Stephen Church

Kirkby Stephen Church

The region was in ferment and it only needed a spark to set it alight. This spark was provided on 14 February when ‘bastard’ Thomas Clifford returned to Kirkby Stephen, once again trying to capture Musgrave and Tibbey. This time he came with a group of ‘mosstroopers from the waters of Esk and Line ’. These were rough border reivers, ‘strong thieves of the westlands’, with a penchant for violence.

Musgrave and Tibbey fled to their old fastness in the steeple, and there defied their pursuers. The townsfolk took no part either for or against the rebels, but while Clifford and some of his men were debating how to take their quarry, the rest of the riders, following their inbred vocation, fell to plundering. This was more than flesh and blood could bear. The burgesses caught up their weapons and fell upon the spoilers, causing a timely diversion in favour of the men in the steeple. Scattered about the narrow streets of the town, the horsemen were at a disadvantage and soon showed that their prowess was not equal to their thievishness. Two of the townsmen were killed in the skirmish, but their enraged fellows drove the borderers from the town and followed up their retreat until they were forced to take refuge in Brougham Castle.

Moss Troopers

Moss Troopers

Musgrave and Tibbey had escaped again. But having witnessed the brutality of the King’s forces, the local people realized that they would get no quarter or justice either from the King or the local nobility. They could expect no fair hearing of their economic or other grievances. ‘The commons saw that they were committed to a new rebellion, although they had risen in defence of their property ; indeed, a panic seems to have spread through the countryside that they would all be treated like the people of Kirkby Stephen. The two captains raised all the surrounding country and sent the following summons to the bailiff of Kendal, whom they knew to be on their side’:

To the Constable of Mellynge. ‘Be yt knowen unto you Welbelovyd bretheren in god this same xii day of februarii at morn was unbelapped on every syde with our enimys the Captayne of Carlylle and gentylmen of our Cuntrie of Westrnerlonde and haithe destrowed and slayn many our bretheren and neghtbers. Wherfore we desyre you for ayde and helpe accordyng to your othes and as ye wyll have helpe of us if your cause requyre, as god forbede. this tuysday, We comande you every one to be at Kendall afore Eight of the clok or els we ar lykly to be destrowed. Ever more gentyll brether unto your helpyng honds. Captayn of Povertie. ‘

None of the local gentry joined them and very few priests. They were more afraid of losing their aristocratic privileges and the wrath of the King than they were concerned about Henry’s religious reforms. The ‘commoners’ were on their own. Their plans were simple. ‘They had long before decided that the first step in case of a new rebellion was to seize Carlisle.’

Thomas Howard 3rd Duke of Norfolk

Thomas Howard 3rd Duke of Norfolk

The Duke of Norfolk was still in Yorkshire continuing his clean-up and reprisals after the Pilgrimage of Grace. Carlisle was commanded by Sir John Lowther, Thomas Clifford and John Barnsfeld. They were out-numbered and they were worried. They knew that they needed the help of Sir Christopher Dacre, who, in the absence of his nephew Lord William Dacre, welded the most power in the area. Christopher Dacre’s loyalty to the crown was still much in doubt and the Clifford and Dacre families were old adversaries – enemies even. On 15 February the three Carlisle commanders wrote to Sir Christopher Dacre:

In the King our sovereign lord’s name we command you that ye with as many as ye trust to be of the King’s part and yours, come unto this the King’s castle in all goodly haste possible, for as we are informed the commons will be this day upon the broad field … further that ye leave the landserjeant with the prickers of Gillisland so that he and they may resist the King’s rebels if the said prickers of Gillesland will take his part, or else to bring him … and that ye come yourself in goodly haste. (Castle, of Carlisle, 15 February at 10 hours.)

When the Duke of Norfolk, who was in Richmond, heard about the danger in Cumbria, he too wrote to Dacre on the same day:

Cousin Dacres, I know not whether you received the letter I sent you yesterday. I hear those commons now assembled draw towards Carlisle, and doubt not you will gather such company as you may trust and, after your accustomed manner, use those rebels in a way to deserve the King’s thanks and to aid your nephew, my very friend, whom I look for every hour. I will not instruct you what ye shall do, for ye know better than I. Spare for no reasonable wages, for I will pay all. And spare not frankly to slay plenty of these false rebels; and make true mine old sayings, that ‘Sir Christopher Dacre is a true knight to his sovereign lord, an hardy knight, and a man of war’. Pinch now no courtesy to shed blood of false traitors; and be ye busy on the one side, and ye may be sure the duke of Norfolk will come on the other. Finally, now, Sir Christopher, or never. (Richmond, 15 Feb.) Your loving cousin if ye do well now, or else enemy for ever.

Norfolk had written to the king the previous day informing Henry that ‘when Cumberland’s bastard son, deputy captain of Carlisle, came to take two traitors at Kirkby Stephen, they keeping the steeple, his horsemen, in great part strong thieves of the Westlands, began to spoil the town, and the inhabitants rose to defend both their goods and the traitors. A skirmish ensued, in which one or two rebels were slain, and Thomas my lord’s bastard son, was forced to retire to Browham (Brougham) castle. The country has since risen, some say 4,000 or 5,000 together, and are sending for others to aid them.’

Norfolk thought that ‘no such thing would have occurred if this enterprise had been handled as it was promised’.

By 16 February about 6,000 local Cumbrians were camped on Broadfield Moor, a few miles south of Carlisle. They were ‘more or less effectively armed and mounted’. They knew Carlisle was, as it has always been, the key to controlling the region. They didn’t have gentry leadership, but in no way were they a rabble, as too many histories have disparagingly called them. They were in fact the very same people, the same ‘host’, which the local barons would usually call out when they needed military support. Clifford and the other commanders of the town had been busy rallying the local ‘artisans’ to the defence of the town. The Cumbrian host didn’t really know how to go about attacking or besieging a fortified town.

Carlisle Castle

Carlisle Castle

On Saturday 17 February, the host prepared for the assault on Carlisle. ‘The rebels carried a cross as their banner principal… It does not seem to have been such a vigorous attack as the word now implies. They approached within bow-shot, and showered arrows on the defenders who appeared on the city walls. This went on until they exhausted their supply of arrows, when they retired a little way to consider what to do next.’

After the failure of their attempt to take the town, the rebels were considering how best to attack again when, suddenly, Sir Christopher Dacre arrived on the scene with ‘five hundred border spearmen’ – called ‘prickers’. The commons broke and turned to flee. This emboldened the defenders and they sallied forth from Carlisle. Together with Dacre’s men they set about the now fleeing commoners. The mosstroopers were ‘in no mood to spare the countryfolk who had beaten them so ignominiously on Monday’.

The rejoicings in London were great. Sir Christopher Dacre was the hero of the hour. It was said that he had slain 700 rebels or more and taken the rest prisoners, hanging them up on every bush.

Exactly how many of the commoners were massacred is not known. Perhaps not the 700 reported. But compare this with the fact that in the whole of the more famous Pilgrimage of Grace (I exclude the later reprisals) there had only been one death – and that was accidental. Hundreds of prisoners were taken back to Carlisle, including it seems Thomas Tibbey, but not Nicholas Musgrave. The rest of the host fled back to their homes or went into hiding. Christopher Dacre had proved his loyalty and was later rewarded for his decisive intervention.

On the day of the attack and subsequent massacre, the Duke of Norfolk was still at Barnard’s Castle in Yorkshire and had raised 4,000 men – ‘everyone they could trust.’ But news soon reached him that this ‘splendid little army’ would not be needed. Norfolk was delighted. He wrote to King Henry that Christopher Dacre had ‘shown himself a noble knight’ and that ‘seven or eight hundred prisoners were taken.’ He was, he wrote, ‘about to travel in all haste to Carlisle to see execution done.’

Norfolk arrived at Carlisle on Monday 19 February. This is when he ‘unfurled the banner’ and imposed martial law, not just on Cumbria but on the whole of the North of England. He used the pretext of the Carlisle events to be better able to punish those involved in draconian fashion, as well to be able to more easily and brutally punish those involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace itself. Norfolk reported that: ‘There were so many prisoners in the town that he found great difficulty in providing for their safe-keeping.’ ‘He wrote that night to the Council to promise that if he might go his own way for a month he would order things to the King s satisfaction. It would take some time, because he must himself be present at all the convictions and proceed by martial law, and there were many places to punish.’ He added, significantly, that ‘not a lord or gentleman in Cumberland and Westmorland could claim that his servants and tenants had not joined in the insurrection.’

Proclamations were issued which ‘commanded all who had been in rebellion to come to Carlisle and submit themselves humbly to the King’s mercy.’  ‘The country people began to straggle into the city in scattered, dejected bands. They had lost their horses, harness, and weapons in the chase; they were in instant fear of a traitor’s death for themselves, and of fire, plunder, and outrage for their homes and families.’ Norfolk wrote that ‘they were contrite enough to satisfy any tyrant’ and ‘if sufficient number of ropes might have been found (they) would have come with the same about their necks’

Taking advice from the local lords, Norfolk chose seventy-four of the ‘chief misdoers’. ‘That is of the braver and more determined of them, and turned the rest away without even a promise of pardon’.

On 21 February, Norfolk wrote to Thomas Cromwell: ‘The poor caitiffs who have returned home have departed without any promise of pardon but upon their good a bearing. God knows they may well be called poor caitiffs; for at their fleeing they lost horse, harness, and all they had upon them and what with the spoiling of them now and the gressing (taxing) of them so marvellously sore in time past and with increasing of lords’ rents by inclosings, and for lack of the persons of such as shall suffer, this border is sore weaked and specially Westmoreland; the more pity they should so deserve, and also that they have been so sore handled in times past, which, as I and all other here think, was the only cause of this rebellion.’

Norfolk knew that if he left justice to the mercy of local juries he probably wouldn’t be able to execute as many as both he and, importantly, the King and Thomas Cromwell wanted. ‘Many a great offender’, he said, would be acquitted if juries were called. He was quite honest about this. He later wrote to the King:

All the prisoners were condemned to die by law martial, the King’s banner being displayed. Not the fifth part would have been convicted by a jury. Some protested that they had been dragged into rebellion against their will. The most part had only one plea, saying, ‘I came out for fear of my life, and I came forth for fear of loss of all my goods, and I came forth for fear of burning of my house and destroying of my wife and children… A small excuse will be well believed here, where much affection and pity of neighbours doth reign. And, sir, though the number be nothing so great as their deserts did require to have suffered, yet I think the like number hath not been heard of put to execution at one time.

As the Dodds wrote: ‘They had not, in fact, turned against the law, they had risen to defend all that the law should have defended for them from Clifford’s police, the thieves of the Black Lands.’

Henry the Eighth

Henry the Eighth

Henry was pleased with what Norfolk and the defenders of Carlisle had done. His reply to Norfolk on the 22nd was blunt and brutal. He started with his thanks: ‘We have received your letters of the 16th, about the new assembly in Westmoreland, and your others of the 17th by Sir Ralph Evers, touching the valiant and faithful courage of Sir Chr. Dacres in the overthrow of the traitors who made assault upon Carlisle, reporting also the good service done by Thomas Clifford, and the perfect readiness of all the nobles and gentlemen in Yorkshire and those parts to have served in your company against them. We shall not forget your services, and are glad to hear also from sundry of our servants how you advance the truth, declaring the usurpation of the bishop of Rome, and how discreetly you paint those persons that call themselves religious in the colours of their hypocrisy, and we doubt not but the further you shall wade in the investigation of their behaviours the more you shall detest the great number of them and the less esteem the punishment of those culpable…  We desire you to thank those that were ready to have served us. We have thanked Sir Chr. Dacres in the letters which you shall receive herewith, and will shortly recompense him in a way to encourage others.’

Referring to Norfolk’s decision to declare martial law, Henry continued:

We approve of your proceedings in the displaying of our banner, which being now spread, till it is closed again, the course of our laws must give place to martial law… Our pleasure is, that before you shall close up our said banner again, you shall, in any wise, cause such dreadful execution to be done upon a good number of the inhabitants of every town, village, and hamlet, that have offended in this rebellion, as well by the hanging them up in trees, as by the quartering of them and the setting of their heads and quarters in every town, great and small, and in all such other places, as they may be a fearful spectacle to all other hereafter, that would practise any like mater.

Finally, as these troubles have been promoted by the monks and canons of those parts… you shall without pity or circumstance, now that our banner is displayed, cause the monks to be tied up without further delay or ceremony.

Anyone who had participated in the uprising and escaped was still pursued. On February 28 the earls of Sussex and Derby and Sir Herbert Fitzherbert wrote to the King from Warrington in Lancashire: ‘There came lately to Manchester one William Barret, a tanner dwelling in Steton in Craven, who declared to the people that my lord of Norfolk at this his being in Yorkshire would, as he heard, either have of every plough 6s. 8d. or take an ox of every one that would not pay, and that every christening and burying should pay 6s. 8d. Being apprehended and brought before us, he confessed he was one of those who made the late assault at Carlisle and shot arrows at those in the town, and that the constables of the townships, after divers bills set upon church doors, warned him and his company so to rise, alleging that one of the Percies would shortly join them. We think he deserves the most cruel punishment; but Mr. Fitzherbert says the words are no ground for putting him to death, and that he cannot be indicted in one shire for an offence committed in another; we therefore forbear to proceed till we know your pleasure.’ (Warrington, 28 Feb.)

This brings us to the main point of this short article. What was to be the fate of the 74 rebels that Norfolk and the local lords had picked for summary execution? Henry had ordered Norfolk to hang ‘them on trees, quartering them, and setting their heads and quarters in every town’. We don’t know how many of them, if any, were actually hung, drawn and quartered as Henry had clearly wanted, and as was often the case for traitors under martial law. The punishment itself was described by Chronicler William Harrison as follows:

The greatest and most grievous punishment used in England for such as offend against the State is drawing from the prison to the place of execution upon an hurdle or sled, where they are hanged till they be half dead, and then taken down, and quartered alive; after that, their members and bowels are cut from their bodies, and thrown into a fire, provided near hand and within their own sight, even for the same purpose.

Gibbet Irons

Gibbet Irons

It’s most likely that none of the rebels were hung, drawn and quartered. Even Robert Aske was finally spared this fate. They were in all probability all ‘hung in chains’. When Norfolk later wrote to Thomas Cromwell, he said, ‘All in this shire were hung in chains.’  What was hanging in chains? It was a form of punishment and deterrence used for centuries in England until it was abolished in 1834. An eighteenth century French visitor to England, Cesar de Saussure,  described what happened:

There is no other form of execution but hanging; it is thought that the taking of life is sufficient punishment for any crime without worse torture. After hanging murderers are, however, punished in a particular fashion. They are first hung on the common gibbet, their bodies are then covered with tallow and fat substances, over this is placed a tarred shirt fastened down with iron bands, and the bodies are hung with chains to the gibbet, which is erected on the spot, or as near as possible to the place, where the crime was committed, and there it hangs till it falls to dust. This is what is called in this country to ‘hang in chains’.

But in Tudor times the punishment was often even more barbaric. People were frequently hung alive in chains and they first starved in agony before putrefying on the gibbet. How many of the rebels were ‘gibbeted’ alive and how many dead is not known. The point of these executions was of course not simply to kill people, it was also to make them and their relatives suffer and to be so terrifying that it would act as a deterrent to any future challenges to royal authority. The cadavers were not allowed to be removed and buried. They should remain rotting, sometimes for years, in full sight of their communities. For the condemned and their relatives this was not just a question of suffering and grief, it was also a matter concerning their eternal souls: Many still believed that the resurrection of the dead on judgement day ‘required that the body be buried whole facing east so that the body could rise facing God’

Hanging in Chains

Hanging in Chains

The rebels were hanged (in chains) in their own villages, ‘in trees in their gardens to record for memorial’ the end of the rebellion.

Twelve were hanged in chains in Carlisle for the assault on the city, eleven at Appleby, eight at Penrith, five at Cockermouth and Kirkby Stephen, and so on; scarcely a moorland parish but could show one or two such memorials. Some were hanged in ropes, for iron was ‘marvellous scarce’ and the chain-makers of Carlisle were unable to meet the demand. The victims were all poor men, farm hands from the fields and artisans of the little towns; probably the bailiff of Embleton was the highest man among them. Only one priest suffered with them, a chaplain of Penrith.

Once the executions of these poor men had been carried out, in village after village throughout Cumberland and Westmorland, their women wanted to bury their husbands, sons and fathers. Like latter-day Antigones, they thought this to be their natural right and duty. But Henry’s law, like that of Creon, forbade it. At great risk to their own safety and lives, the women crept out at night and cut down their men and secretly buried them.

In May, when Norfolk heard that ‘all’ the rebels’ bodies had been cut down and buried, he ordered the Cumberland magistrates to seek out the ‘ill-doers’. They sent him nine or ten confessions in reply, but he did not consider these nearly enough: ‘It is a small number concerning seventy-four that hath been taken down, wherein I think your Majesty hath not been well served.’

The Dodds write: ‘Of all the records these brief confessions are the most heart-breaking and can least bear description. The widows and their neighbours helped each other. Seven or eight women together would wind the corpse and bury it in the nearest churchyard, secretly, at nightfall or day break. Sometimes they were turned from their purpose by the frightened priest, and then the husband’s body must be buried by a dyke-side out of sanctified ground, or else brought again more secretly than ever and laid in the churchyard under cover of night. All was done by women, save in two cases when the brother and cousin of two of the dead men were said to have died from the “corruption” of the bodies they had cut down.’

Norfolk asked the King what he should do with these offenders. They were all, he said, women: ‘the widows, mothers and daughters of the dead men’. Thomas Cromwell was displeased, suspecting that Norfolk had ordered or countenanced this. Norfolk tried to placate him and shift any blame to the Earl of Cumberland. He wrote to Cromwell:

I do perceive by your letter that ye would know whether such persons as were put to execution in Westmorland and Cumberland were taken down and buried by my commandment or not: undoubtedly, my good lord, if I had consented thereunto, I would I had hanged by them; but on my troth, it is 8 or 9 days past since I heard first thereof, and then was here with me a servant of my lord of Cumberland called Swalowfield, dwelling about Penrith, by whom I sent such a quick message to my said lord, because he hath the rule in Cumberland as warden, and is sheriff of Westmorland and hath neither advertised me thereof, nor hath not made search who hath so highly offended his Majesty, and also commanding him to search for the same with all diligence, that I doubt not it shall evidently appear it was done against my will.

We don’t know what the subsequent inquiries about these women’s actions disclosed and what, if any, were the consequences.

Henry's Field of the Cloth of Gold

Henry’s Field of the Cloth of Gold

This brutal episode in English history is usually given scant mention in histories of the period, particularly in histories of Henry VIII  – concerned as they depressingly are with political machinations, battles and the deeds of ‘great men’. Yet surely such events tell us more about the real history of England, or better said the real history of the English people, than do Henry’s dealings with the Holy Roman Emperor, the Papacy, his opulent and ostentatious ‘Field of the Cloth of Gold’ or his tedious litany of marriages?

Of course the Pilgrimage of Grace and the Cumbrian rebellion had failed – although taken together they were the most significant challenge Henry would ever face at home. But in the case of the Cumbrian rebellion, its significance does not lie in its success or failure. It lies in the fact that it is just another much neglected example of what happens when ordinary English people try to protest against the repression of their rulers, their economic pauperization or the suppression of their religious or other rights. As Leveller leader Colonel Thomas Rainborough was to write in the seventeenth century:

For really, I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he; and therefore truly, sir, I think it’s clear, that every man that is to live under a government ought first, by his own consent, to put himself under that government.

Antigone buries her brother

Antigone buries her brother

What I find a pity is that Antigone’s poignant and courageous act of burying her brother, whether it really happened or not, has been studied and dissected for at least two thousand years. German Philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel even saw it as a clash of right against right: familial natural right against the right of the state; others interpret it differently. Yet ‘only’ five hundred years ago, dozens of poor Cumbrian women did the same thing and ran the same risk as Antigone, but they are hardly remembered at all. Who would dare today to present their bravery and humanity as a clash of two equally valid rights?

Sources:

Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 12; Madeleine Hope Dodds & Ruth Dodds, The Pilgrimage of Grace and the Exeter Conspiracy, (1915); M. L. Bush, The Pilgrimage of Grace: A Study of the Rebel Armies of October 1536, (1996); Michael Bush & David Bownes, The Defeat of the Pilgrimage of Grace: A Study of the Postpardon Revolts of December 1536 to March 1537 and Their Effect, (1999).

In the 1830s Vauxhall Gardens had been one of London’s ‘pleasure gardens’ since the mid seventeenth century. It ‘drew all manner of men and supported enormous crowds, with its paths being noted for romantic assignations. Tightrope walkers, hot air balloon ascents, concerts and fireworks provided amusement.’ Our story here concerns one such balloon flight and one parachute descent and how a young Thomas Grisdale became involved.

A satirical illustration by Cruikshank entitled 'Vauxhall Fete' celebrating the achievements of Wellington.

A satirical illustration by Cruikshank entitled ‘Vauxhall Fete’ celebrating the achievements of Wellington.

In the late 1700s James Boswell wrote:

Vauxhall Gardens is peculiarly adapted to the taste of the English nation; there being a mixture of curious show, — gay exhibition, musick, vocal and instrumental, not too refined for the general ear; — for all of which only a shilling is paid; and, though last, not least, good eating and drinking for those who choose to purchase that regale.

Later, in 1836, Charles Dickens wrote in Sketches by Boz:

vauxgdn

Vauxhall Gardens

We paid our shilling at the gate, and then we saw for the first time, that the entrance, if there had been any magic about it at all, was now decidedly disenchanted, being, in fact, nothing more nor less than a combination of very roughly-painted boards and sawdust. We glanced at the orchestra and supper-room as we hurried past—we just recognised them, and that was all. We bent our steps to the firework-ground; there, at least, we should not be disappointed. We reached it, and stood rooted to the spot with mortification and astonishment. That the Moorish tower—that wooden shed with a door in the centre, and daubs of crimson and yellow all round, like a gigantic watch-case! That the place where night after night we had beheld the undaunted Mr. Blackmore make his terrific ascent, surrounded by flames of fire, and peals of artillery, and where the white garments of Madame Somebody (we forget even her name now), who nobly devoted her life to the manufacture of fireworks, had so often been seen fluttering in the wind, as she called up a red, blue, or party-coloured light to illumine her temple!

And then:

the balloons went up, and the aerial travellers stood up, and the crowd outside roared with delight, and the two gentlemen who had never ascended before tried to wave their flags as if they were not nervous, but held on very fast all the while; and the balloons were wafted gently away…

A printed sketch by

First balloon flight from Vauxhall Gardens by Charles Green in 1836

Always wanting the latest attraction and spectacle the Gardens featured the first balloon ascent from there in 1836. The proprietors asked the famous English balloonist Charles Green to build a new balloon for them; it was first called the Royal Vauxhall and then the Nassau. Green made a first successful flight from Vauxhall Gardens on 9 September 1836 ‘in company with eight persons…  remaining in the air about one hour and a half’. On the 21 September ‘he made a second ascent, accompanied by eleven persons, and descended at Beckenham in Kent’. Further flights followed, including on 7 November, when with two others he crossed the channel and ‘descended the next day, at 7 a.m., at Weilburg in Nassau, Germany, having travelled altogether about five hundred miles in eighteen hours’. A feat that was much celebrated.

NassauBalloon-featured-image

Charles Green’s balloon on the way to Germany in 1836

While successful balloon flights were becoming more common, parachute descents were still rare and highly dangerous. The first parachute jump had been made in France in 1785. In England André-Jacques Garnerin made the first parachute jump in 1802 which a professional watercolour artist called Robert Cocking had witnessed. He was inspired to develop a better design which wouldn’t sway from side to side during the descent as Garnerin’s umbrella-shaped parachute had done.

cocking use

Cocking’s parachute

His design was based on the theory that an inverted cone-shaped parachute would be more stable. After many years perfecting his design which ‘engrossed very nearly all his attention’, he was ready and persuaded balloonist Charles Green first to let him accompany him on his first balloon flight from Vauxhall Gardens in 1836, and then, in July 1837, to stage a balloon flight with Cocking’s parachute attached underneath, from where he would release when sufficient height had been gained. The event was to be the main attraction of a Grand Day Fete at Vauxhall Gardens on 24 July 1837.

And so at 7.35 on that morning with thousands watched the sixty-one year-old Cocking ‘ascended hanging below the balloon, which was piloted by Green and Spencer’.

As the great balloon rises, his plan is to get up to at least 8000 feet before releasing himself. However, the weight of his apparatus slows the balloon’s ascent. The balloonists, Spencer and Green, jettison much of their ballast in a bid to rise higher. The balloon drifts over South London where it vanishes into a bank of clouds making it unsafe to drop any more ballast for fear of what’s below. Finally, over Greenwich and only a mile up, the balloonists advise Cocking they can get no higher. From his basket, Cocking yells, “Well, now I think I shall leave you. Good night, Spencer. Good night, Green.” With that, he severs the tether.

Mr. Green and Mr. Spencer, who were in the ‘car’ of the balloon, had… a narrow escape.

nassau

The Nassau lifts off with Cocking’s parachute in 1837

At the moment the parachute was disengaged they crouched down in the car, and Mr. Green clung to the valve-line, to permit the escape of the gas. The balloon shot upwards, plunging and rolling, and the gas pouring both the upper and lower valves, but chiefly from the latter, as the great resistance of the air checked its egress from the former. Mr. Green and Mr. Spencer applied their mouths to tubes communicating with an air bag with which they had had the foresight to provide themselves; otherwise they would certainly have been suffocated by the gas. Notwithstanding his precaution, however, the gas almost totally deprived them of sight for four or five minutes. When they came to themselves they found they were at a height of about four miles, and descending rapidly. They effected, however, a safe descent near Maidstone.

‘A large crowd had gathered to witness the event, but it was immediately obvious that Cocking was in trouble. He had neglected to include the weight of the parachute itself in his calculations and as a result the descent was far too quick. Though rapid, the descent continued evenly for a few seconds, but then the entire apparatus turned inside out and plunged downwards with increasing speed. The parachute broke up before it hit the ground and at about 200 to 300 feet (60 to 90 m) off the ground the basket detached from the remains of the canopy. Cocking was killed instantly in the crash; his body was found in a field in Lee.’

Actually Cocking wasn’t instantly killed:

The balloon, freed of the weight, shot up like a skyrocket. Sadly, Cocking goes the other direction at much the same pace. In Norwood, a man described the chute’s descent as like a stone through a vacuum. With a tremendous crash, Cocking’s basket and chute slam into the ground at a farm near Lee. A shepherd is first to reach him. Cocking has been spilled from the basket, his head badly cut, his wig tossed some distance away. A few groans are the only brief sign of life. Carried by cart to the Tiger’s Head Inn, Cocking soon died of his injuries.

cocking grisdale

Cocking’s ascent and descent

Well that’s the story of Robert Cocking’s death, the first death by parachuting. The accident was of course widely reported in the press with many witness accounts and the testimony given at the inquest at the Tiger’s Head Inn in Lee.

‘In 1815 cavalry and foot regiments passed through Lee Green on their way to the Battle of Waterloo.’ Was Levi Grisdale with them?

In the early 19th century bare knuckle boxing matches took place at the Old Tiger’s Head. Horse racing and (human) foot racing take place in the 1840s but the police put a stop to these events, probably under pressure from local citizens.

As stated earlier, the first to reach Cocking, who was still alive, was John Chamberlain, a shepherd in the employ of Mr Richard Norman. the proprietor of Burnt Ash Farm (a place that has now disappeared under the suburban sprawl of south London). Chamberlain told the inquest how he had seen the ‘machine’ part from the balloon and it made a sound ‘like thunder’ which frightened his sheep. The ‘machine’ fell to the ground and turned over and was ‘broken to pieces’. He ran to the crash and the man (Cocking) was in the basket ‘up to his chest’ with his head lying on the ground’. The sight ‘quite turned him’. Others then arrived followed by his master Mr. Norman. He then heard a groan from Cocking.

One of the others who soon joined Chamberlain was Thomas Grisdale, Mr Norman’s footman.

Thomas Grisdale, footman to Mr Norman, of Burnt Ash Park, saw the parachute part from the balloon; it appeared to turn over and over; there was a great crackling; it appeared all to come down together; it was all closed up, not expanded; witness assisted: in taking the deceased out of the basket to do which they had to unfasten some ropes which were about him; he was laid on the grass; he breathed and appeared to live for two minutes or so; no ropes were attached to the deceased, but they had to remove the ropes attached to the basket, to get him out.

fitzalan

Fitzalan Chapel in Arundel where Thomas Grisdale was baptized

For anybody who is interested in who Mr Norman’s footman Thomas Grisdale was, well he was the son of the Joseph Grisdale I wrote about recently in a story called Joseph Grisdale, the Duke of Norfolk and the ‘Majesty of the people’. Joseph was the long-time favourite servant of the 11th Duke of Norfolk, Charles Howard. He was also the nephew of the famous and heroic Hussar Levi Grisdale who I have written much about.

Thomas was born in Arundel in 1808 and like his father went into ‘service’, although Mr Norman of Burnt Ash Farm was nowhere near in the same league as the Duke of Norfolk. He married Ockley-born Charlotte Charman in London in January 1830. Ockley in Surrey was a place where Thomas’s father owned a house. A daughter called Eleanor was born in June, but she died the next year. And then Thomas seems to disappear. Maybe he died soon after witnessing Mr Cocking’s tragic death? I just don’t know.

In 1841 Charlotte was a servant of aristocrat Christopher Thomas Tower at the stately Weald Hall in Brentwood in Essex and she died at her parents’ home of ‘Linacre’ in Cranleigh in Surrey in 1847, aged just thirty-seven.

Weald_Hall

Weald Hall, Brentwood

 

On 12 December 1814 a British fleet was anchored off Cat Island in the Mississippi Sound. It was there to prepare for an attack on New Orleans. One of the ships was the 38-gun frigate HMS Cydnus commanded by Captain Frederick Langford, a long-time colleague of Admiral Lord Nelson. Second in command was a twenty-one year-old Lieutenant Charles Grisdale.  Charles was about to take part in the final acts of the ‘War of 1812’.

In 1812 the United States had opportunistically and rather sneakily declared war on Britain, believing that with Britain fully stretched fighting Napoleon’s French they could use the distraction to grab Canada. Yet even with Britain fighting on two fronts on either side of the Atlantic the war had gone badly for the Americans until the Battle of Plattsburg in September 1814. Even then the British went on to capture Washington until driven out by an unprecedented storm. After a bombardment of Fort McHenry – which inspired the words of the Star Spangled Banner – the British left Baltimore intent on an invasion of Louisiana. And so the British fleet left Jamaica and assembled off Cat Island.

Fort McHenry 1814

Fort McHenry 1814

Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

American gunboat Alligator

American gunboat Alligator

The task was to secure a safe place to land the British army on the Gulf Coast. They choose Lake Borgne just east of New Orleans. But this bay was too shallow for warships to enter and it was defended by five American gunboats and two other US ships called the Alligator and the Sea Horse. These would have to be taken before any landing could be made. And so it was that late on December 12 forty-five small boats and barges filled with 1,200 sailors and marines, including Lieutenant Grisdale, started to row from the fleet towards the entrance to Lake Borgne. Arriving on the 13th they anchored overnight and with the next dawn they started their attack. Under the command of Captain Nicholas Lockyer the British soon stormed the American ship Alligator and captured it. Lockyer then ordered the boat flotilla to anchor just beyond the range of the American long guns. His men had rowed 36 miles and now received a much needed rest and breakfast.

At 10.30 they weighed anchor and made straight at the line of American gunboats. The Americans opened fire but their targets were small and little damage was done. The British returned fire with the small canons they carried and grappled and stormed the gunships with musket and bayonets.

By the early afternoon of 14 December it was all over, all the American gunships had been taken. The Americans had lost 6 men with 35 wounded, while British casualties were higher: 17 dead and 77 wounded, many mortally. So ended the ‘Battle of Lake Borgne’, in which Charles Grisdale had taken part.

Battle of Lake Borgne

Battle of Lake Borgne

The British were now free to land, which they did at Pea Island under General John Keane. HMS Cydnus, with Charles Grisdale still second-in-command, helped with the landing.

I won’t here retell the story of the subsequent Battle of New Orleans, which culminated on the 8th January 1815. It was a victory for the Americans under General Andrew Jackson, caused both by British mistakes and the heroic defence of the city by the Americans. In fact the battle had taken place after the Treaty of Ghent had been signed in December officially ending the War, but news of this had yet to reach America.

General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans

General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans

We know from reports that Charles Grisdale was with his ship during the Battle of New Orleans, but not what he did. But after the battle while again anchored off Cat Island one final event took place on board the Cydnus that Charles would have witnessed: the court-martial of Captain Henry William Percy. Captain Percy had led a force to try to capture Fort Bowyer in September but had failed. During the action his ship, HMS Hermes, had grounded and Percy had fired it to prevent it falling into the hands of the enemy. For this he was being court-martialled; but was after much acrimony he was exonerated. Whether this event had something to do with what followed I don’t know.

HMS Cydnus then sailed for Jamaica where Captain Langford and his second-in-command Lieutenant Grisdale parted company. Langford died a few days later in Jamaica and Grisdale set off for home.

Mail Packet Princess MaryThe Royal Cornwall Gazette reported on Saturday 18 February 1815:

During the homeward passage of the Princess Mary Packet, which arrived at Falmouth, from Jamaica, on Monday last, she experienced the most dreadful weather. We lament to state that during its continuance Lieutenant Grisdale, of the Navy, was struck by lightning which caused his death instantaneously. This Gentleman had been Second Lieutenant of the H.M.S Cyndus, 38 Capt. Langford; but in consequence of some disagreement with his Commanding Officer, he had quitted that ship and was on his return to England when he met his untimely fate. We understand that Lieut. Grisdale, was a meritorious young man, and highly respected by his brother Officers for his many estimable qualities.

Charles Grisdale was just twenty-one. I wrote about his family in an article called ‘The extinction of a line’.

A Leda-class frigate like the HMS Cydnus - HMS Pomone

A Leda-class frigate like the HMS Cydnus – HMS Pomone

It’s a peculiarity of genetics that siblings often inherit quite different genes. William Grisdale had a Bolton-born father and a half-Indian mother. He obviously got his mother’s family’s colour because his is repeatedly called, rather endearingly, a ‘coloured’ or a ‘half-caste’ in the many records of his criminal activity in Australia. I wrote of William’s father, ex-soldier Thomas, in two previous articles: A Hussar in India – Thomas Grisdale and Thomas Grisdale in Melbourne – digging for gold and lugging coal. Here I’ll try to say something about his son William; what became of him? He was a bit of a wayward lad and I’m sure I wouldn’t like him if I met him, but he was after all an Australian!

William was born in 1852 in Bangalore, India. He was the third child of Private Thomas Grisdale of the 15th Hussars and his half-Indian wife Mary Cartwright. He arrived in Melbourne with his family aboard the ship Strathfieldsaye in 1853. About his early years we know little, except that he was without doubt with his family during the years spent in the gold diggings in and around Heathcote, Victoria. He would also later have lived with his parents and siblings when the family moved back to Melbourne.

At some time during his youth William became a ‘ward’ of court. In his case this probably means he was put in a Reformatory School for offences committed while still a minor. But the first time we find him in newspaper records is in 1873 in the Geelong Advertiser:

Monday 28 July 1873

Pugilism.—Three men, named Grisdale, Reilly, and McFarlane, were summoned for fighting in the streets. They had been turned out of the Buck’s Head. They pleaded guilty, and Keilly, who bad been previously convicted, was fined 20s and costs, the others 5s and costs.

Then in 1874 he appeared in Drysdale court to testify in a case involving his father. The Melbourne Argus reported on Friday 23 January 1874:

DRYSDALE POLICE COURT.

Drunkenness and Obscene Language. Police v Collins.—Superintendent Furnell appeared to prosecute, and Mr McCormick for the defence. Defendant was summoned for allowing’drunkenness in his house, and for using obscene language. Thos. Grisdale said he was at defendant’s house on the night of the 24th December, there were a lot of people there; some drunk and some sober. Defendant said to me, “Your son got me fined £5 on one occasion”, and also called him some names. “He offered to fight me for £5, John Davis said-I was at the hotel on the night of the 24th ult. Butlerand Davis were there; they were prettywell on. I remember the constable coming there, but I do not recollect what he said. I heard the words complained of,”

William Grisdale—I am son of the first witness. I went to Collins on the 25th and asked him what be had said about me the night before. Collins said he was drunk, and did not know what he said, and wished to let the matter drop. The case as far as permitting drunkenness was not pressed farther, nor was evidence called as to the use of obscene language. Constable Muloahy—I was on duty on the night of the 24th. I heard Collins tell Grisdade that his son had caused him be fined £5, and offered to fight either him or his son for £5, at the same time calling him disgraceful names. Cross examined — I am not bringing these cases merely for the purpose of taking away his license. Collins told me he had been to Melbourne to try and get me removed, but did not succeed, and would go to Geelong. I asked him to give me time to bring these cases against him. Mr McCormick objected to tho wording of the summons, but this objection was overruled. Tho charge of allowing dancing was proceeded with. MrMcCormick contended that the bonch, as a Court of Petty Sessions, had no jurisdiction, it must be brought before the Licensing Magistrates. Objection allowed. Pined 40s and 30s costs.

In 1878 William married Elizabeth Corfield in Melbourne. Their son, christened William James, was born the next year but died. Elizabeth herself was also soon to die; in 1881 aged just 22 in the Benevolent Asylum in in Hotham, North Melbourne. The Argus reported on Friday 26 August 1881 :

THE BENEVOLENT ASYLUM

Eliza Grisdale, native of Hotham, aged 22 years on the 23rd, from phthisis, a patient for six months.

Phthisis was Tuberculosis, often called Consumption.

 

Benevolent Asylum, Hotham, North Melbourne

Benevolent Asylum, Hotham, North Melbourne

William then starts to appear quite regularly in the Melbourne newspapers, and not for good reasons. On 24 September 1881, just after his wife had died, the Argus reported :

A considerable portion of last Thursday’s sitting of the Sandridge Court was taken up by the investigation of an impudent case of hotel robbery. The prisoner, who gave the name of William Grisdale, entered the Southern Cross Hotel, in Inglis street, on the 15th inst, accompanied by a man named Mullinger. They called for drinks, which were supplied to them by the barmaid, and for which they paid. The prisoner then asked for biscuits and matches, and while the girl temporarily quitted the bar to procure them, he leaned over the counter, and was in the act of abstracting the till, containing £1.12s. 6d, when she returned. He at once ran out of the hotel, but after running some distance was stopped by two young men whose attention was attracted by the cry of ‘Stop thief.’ After a violent struggle the prisoner got away from the young men, but was eventually arrested on a warrant by Constable Good. These facts were proved by the evidence of the barmaid, Mullinger, and the arresting constable, and the prisoner, who had frequently been before the court, and had only just completed a term of imprisonment for an assault, was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment with hard labour.

So William wasn’t new to the courts; he ‘had frequently been before the court, and had only just completed a term of imprisonment for an assault’.

The Argus , Thursday 27 January 1881:

A most disgraceful case of assault came under the notice of the Emerald Hill Bench on Wednesday, when a coloured man named William Grisdale was charged with unlawfully assaulting a woman named Elizabeth Noon on the 11th inst. The prosecutrix stated that on the above date she was sitting in her house in Boundary street when the prisoner deliberately burst open the door and after trying to commit a criminal offence he assaulted her in a moat cowardly manner. The medical evidence showed that the prosecutrix had been subjected to very severe ill usage. Constable Stewart stated that since the assault took place the prisoner was arrested on two other similar charges – one for assaulting a young woman at Tootscray, for which he was bound over to keep the peace for six months, and the other for an assault on his wife, for which he received two months imprisonment. On the present charge the prisoner received six months, cumulative on the former sentences.

So William battered his wife as well as assaulted other women.

Then on 11 May 1882 we read:

At the City Court on Wednesday, before Mr Call, P M, and a bench of magistrates, two wharf loafers, named James Sullivan and William Grisdale, were charged on remand with feloniously stealing two silk dresses and other articles, valued at £50, the property of John William Parkin, from Cole’s Bond, on the 28th of February last. The evidence for the prosecution was to the effect that on the date in question Mr. Parkin arrived from Adelaide, and placed eight cases containing wearing apparel and household linen and pictures, in Cole’s Bond for security. One case was placed in the open shed in the yard, and the others in the locked bond. About a week afterwards the case in the shed was found to have been broken open and the contents stolen. On the 8th of March last the two prisoners brought some of the stolen goods ma bundle to the restaurant of John Williams, in King street, where they occasionally took their meals, and offered them for sale.

The prisoner Grisdale stated that the apparel belonged to his wife, and Williams bought a lavender silk dress, a black silk polonaise and skirt, a black satin skirt, a black silk body, two black cloth jackets, a black cloth dolman jacket, a print costume and Indian worked muslin skirts, for £2 15s. On the 21st March the prisoner Grisdale pawned two velvet polonaises, a part of the stolen property, at the shop of Elizabeth Davenport at Sandridge for 5s. Detectives Wilson and Brown arrested the prisoner Sullivan on the 27th ult, when he stated that he found the stolen property in Flinders street one night and Detective Mahony arrested Grisdale the same evening, and he said the things had been given to him by a man whom he did not know, and he subsequently identified Sullivan as the man. The Bench committed the prisoners for trial at the Central Criminal Court on the 15th next.

Port Melbourne Docks

Port Melbourne Docks

And on the 15th May:

James Sullivan and William Grisdale were charged with stealing wearing apparel. The second count was feloniously receiving. On the 28th February some cases of luggage, the property of John William Parkin, a passenger from Adelaide, were placed in Cole’s bond. A day or two afterwards one of the cases was found broken open, and most of the contents, which were valued at £30, stolen. Subsequently Sullivan sold a portion of the goods to a Mrs Williams, wife of coloured restaurant keeper, in West Melbourne, for £2 15s. He told her that the clothing belonged to his wife, who had been dead seven years. The story being doubted he called Grisdale, who confirmed it. Some other articles in the list were found at a pawn office. Detectives Mahoney and Wilson arrested the prisoners, who had given various accounts of how they came possessed of the goods.

The prisoners in their defence alleged that Sullivan found the apparel in a bag in Flinders street, and not finding it advertised, sold it. The jury found the prisoners guilty of feloniously receiving. Grisdale was recommended to mercy on the ground that he had been the tool of Sullivan

Five previous convictions (for assault and larceny)) were proved against Grisdale, and one for larceny against Sullivan. Sullivan was sentenced to 14 months’ and Grisdale to l8 months’ imprisonment. His Honour stated that had the prisoners been before him for the first time he should have sentenced each of them to a year’s imprisonment, but he added two and six months’ imprisonment respectively to the term on account of the former convictions

Two years later, probably not long after getting out of prison, William was back in the Melbourne Court. In January 1884:

At the South Melbourne Court yesterday, before Messrs Stead, Foote, and Dr Barker, J P s, two young men named William Whitten and William Grisdale, who had been both frequently convicted were charged by the police with being rogues and vagabonds and also with the larceny of boot Mrs Goodwill, the proprietress of a boot shop m Thistlethwaite-street, stated that three pairs of boots had been taken from her place through a hole made in the window the prisoners were seen by other witnesses close to the shop early on the morning of the robbery, and it was proved that Grisdale pawned a pair of the stolen boots with Mr J Solomon, a pawnbroker at the corner of King and Collins streets. Both prisoners pleaded for a lenient sentence on the ground that they intended to reform and leave the colony. The Bench pointed out, however, that they had already neglected their chances, and they accordingly sentenced both men to 12 months imprisonment, with hard labour.

So back to prison and hard labour. But on his release William is soon back in court. The Argus 8th September 1886:

At the City Court on Tuesday, Walter Middleton, a cook, aged 25, was charged with having stolen a small black bag containing papers, &c., from Mr. Alfred Shaw, who arrived from Adelaide on Monday. The bag in question had been left with a port-manteau and an overcoat in the pantry at Hosie’s Cafe, Flinders-street, but when Mr.  Shaw called again for it the barman could not find it. Inquiries were made concerning the bag, and the porter said he had seen the prisoner take it away. Middleton was then standing outside the hotel without the bag, and was given into the custody of Constable Davidson. He was sent to gaol for three months.

William Grisdale, a companion of the prisoner Middleton mentioned in the last case, was charged at the same court with having  broken a window, valued at 15s., the property of Mr. George Feeney, landlord of the Holyhead Hotel, Flinders-street. Mr. Moloney prosecuted. Mr. Feeney stated that the prisoner and Middleton, who had only just been discharged from gaol, went to his hotel on Monday after-noon, and Grisdale deliberately pushed Middleton through his window. Witness stood in the doorway to prevent Grisdale escaping until a constable came, but was struck by him. They struggled, and with the assistance of a man, who was in the bar, Grisdale was detained until Constable Ross arrived. The prisoner was fined 20s., with40s. costs, in default one month’s imprisonment.

Then in 1887  ‘half-caste’ William Grisdale made an appearance in the Melbourne court in 1887 charged with accosting a woman and demanding money.

But what did the ‘wharf loafer’ William Grisdale do later? He certainly disappears from the Melbourne records. At some point he headed out west to Western Australia where he was again in trouble.

The West Australian (Perth) reported on Wednesday 2 December 1896:

ESCAPE OF PRISONERS AT GERALDTON. RUNAWAYS STILL AT LIBERTY. Geraldton, December 1. Yesterday afternoon a prison gang, consisting of about thirty men, were at work at the quarries at Greenough Road, Geraldton, and shortly before it was time to return to gaol two of their number managed to escape the vigilance of the warder in charge. As soon as they were missed, the police were communicated with, but it was some little time before they received information. When they did so, Constables Conroy and Pollet were immediately despatched on horseback in full pursuit. The names of the men who have levanted are Grisdale and Sutcliffe, alias Walker. Grisdale is a powerful colored man, who gave the police much trouble when arresting him a few days ago. He was then sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for assaulting W. P.C Podesta. Sutcliffe had already served six months out of a term of fifteen months, and has always been quiet and orderly up to the present. There is but little doubt that he was induced to attempt to regain freedom by Grisdale. The warder in charge was out with the gang for the last time, as he had resigned his position, and yesterday was his last day of service.

Both men were soon recaptured near Dongarra and were ‘sentenced to l8 months’ imprisonment with hard labour, cumulative upon the sentences they are now undergoing’. The story of their recapture makes interesting reading:

The two escaped prisoners, Grisdale and Sutcliffe, who abruptly left the quarrying party on Monday evening, were arrested about three miles on this side of Dongarra by Police-constable Walsh at a late hour last night. Warning had been sent to Dongarra that the fugitives were heading in that direction. The particulars connected with the recapture are these: — Police – constable Walsh was engaged yesterday in patrolling the space between the sea and the Geraldton road near Dongarra, the distance intervening being three miles. Late in the evening the constable on coming from the beach discovered the footprints of two men on the road. He felt convinced that they were the tracks of the escaped prisoners, and he followed them. About five miles further on they came to Waldeck’s homestead. Inquiring there, he found that two men had visited the place, and got some food, and were then lying in a thicket 300 yards off. The constable thereupon tied up his horse, and, with a black tracker, made for the thicket, which he carefully and cautiously searched. He saw a fire, and on going up to it found the two absconders sitting around it. Neither offered any resistance, and they were marched to the Dongarra lock-up. Sutcliffe and Grisdale state that they escaped from the road party at 2 p.m. on Monday last. They then made for Walk away, which they duly reached next morning. They started out, as they thought, for Dongarra, but, to their astonishment, in the afternoon they found themselves back at the quarries, the very place they had absconded from on the previous day. They determined to make a safe route, and followed the beach towards Dongarra, and when 15 miles out cut across to the road, which they kept until Waldeck’s residence was reached. It was their intention to go to Esperance, and needless to say they were much disappointed at the course which events took.

Perth in 1900

Perth in 1900

In Freemantle in November 1901: ‘Wm. Robertson, alias Grisdale, was charged with having robbed John Pablitch of the sum of £4 16s. Circumstantial evidence was given, but the Magistrates decided that although the case against Robertson looked bad, there was nothing to connect him directly with the robbery. They therefore ordered his discharge.’

On Saturday 19 July 1902, William is in the Perth Court House:

Obscene language. – A powerful man named William Grisdale (50) was charged with having behaved in a disorderly manner by using obscene language in Bazaar terrace the previous night. Evidence was given that the accused was in an intoxicated state on that occasion and about midnight was using filthy language at the top of his voice. He also was announcing his intention to fight anyone. He gave annoyance to the occupants of two large residences, and was given in charge. Accused said he was a hardworking man, and had been employed on the pipe-track. His conduct on this occasion was only due to drink. He asked to be “given a show,” and said he would not so offend again. Mr. Roe said the accused had ‘used disgusting language’ in the hearing of the lady occupants of the residences, and would have to pay a fine of 30s, with 12s. costs, in default three days’ imprisonment.

Note here William’s age – 50. This fits exactly with ‘our’ William’s date of birth, which was 1852. There weren’t any Grisdales in either Perth or Victoria in 1852, so this is the same William Grisdale. William was back in court a few days later on a similar charge:

Constables Sampson and East arrested two men in different parts of the city on Saturday night for having used filthy language in public places. Both men, George Jones and William Grisdale, were charged with the offence at the City Court this morning, and in the case of the first a fine of 10s was imposed. The second man, Grisdale, accused the arresting constable with having been drinking whilst on duty, but the bench was satisfied with the statement of the policeman, and ordered Grisdale to pay 40s. (Monday 4 August 1902)

Early in 1903, William was yet again in trouble and notice that on each occasion he gave his age as 50.

Charge of Stealing, – William Grisdale (50) charged with having, on the 23rd last, stolen from the premises of John Mullins a silver watch-chain, locket, and pendant. The accused was remanded to Thursday. (Tuesday 27 January 1903)

The Perth Daily News reported the result on 28 January 1903:

A WATCH AND CHAIN. William Grisdale was charged with having stolen a watch and chain, the property of John Mullins, a resident of Victoria Park. The prosecutor desposed to having left his watch and chain in the camp and that it was missing when he arrived home. He reported the matter to Constable Murray.  W. P. Silverstom, licensee of the East Perth Hotel, said that the accused came to his hotel, and asked for a loan of 2s. 6d. on the chain produced. Witness lent the accused the money, and the accused purchased two bottles of beer. After hearing the evidence of Constable Murray, the accused was sent to gaol for one week.

And then on 10 February 1903:

A Series of Charges. – William Grisdale (50), a previous offender, was brought up on four charges. For having given a false name to the police, he was fined 20s., or three days’ imprisonment, and 20s., in default three days’ imprisonment, for having falsely represented himself us a bona-fide traveller. For having resisted arrest, Grisdale was sentenced to 14 days’ imprisonment, and for having created a disturbance at the lock-up he was ordered to do a further 21 days’ imprisonment. The evidence showed that Grisdale had acted in a violent manner.

William makes other appearances in court and in one he even promises to leave the state – but he didn’t. You’ll be pleased to know that’s (almost) the last of the court reports. I quoted them at some length both for social interest and to see if they provided evidence for William Grisdale’s identity. Let’s move on.

Building the Goldfields' Water Pipeline

Building the Goldfields’ Water Pipeline

William had said in July 1902 that ‘he was a hardworking man, and had been employed on the pipe-track’. What did this mean? What in fact he had been doing was helping build the important Goldfields’ Water Pipeline: ‘In 1895 the first plans were prepared for an engineering feat that would stagger the world — an attempt to pump water uphill some 500 km, from the hills near Perth to the goldfields of Coolgardie. Before construction began, the dream had become bigger. The pipeline was extended for water to be pumped even further east, to the new goldfields of Kalgoorlie. On 24 January 1903, the dream became a reality when water, which began its journey at Mundaring Weir, flowed into to Mt Charlotte Reservoir at Kalgoorlie.’

It was a remarkable achievement. In 2009 the ‘goldfields water supply scheme’ was recognised as an international historic civil engineering landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers. It seems that William Grisdale had been one of the labourers constructing this vast pipeline.

Water from the pipeline became available just as the production of gold in the state’s eastern goldfields was starting to decline. However regular water supplies meant agriculture could prosper. Today the Western Australian wheat fields are the most productive in Australia, accounting for 42 per cent of the nation’s wheat crop and coming mainly from the areas serviced by the goldfields pipeline and its extensions.

Is that it? Is that all we know? Not quite. In the 1916 Perth electors’ list we find a William Grisdale, who listed his occupation as a bullock driver.

Bullock drivers were typically skilled, tough men who often faced extreme difficulties during the execution of their occupation. Bullockies were also colourful characters, often noted for their strong language. Some did not swear though, relying solely on gesture, talking and whip movements as persuasion for the team’s job at hand. A typical bullocky wore a cabbage tree hat, a twill shirt of that period, moleskin trousers, blucher boots and carried a long bullock whip which in many instances he had made.

William gives his address as The Duke of York Coffee Palace in Perth. Now as a bullock driver William probably didn’t have a fixed abode and it is well known that The Duke of York Restaurant and Hotel (often called the Coffee Palace) was a place which was given as an address so people could write to them. Thousands of Australian servicemen used the address in the First World War.

James Alexander Jones (known as ‘Pa’) had taken over the running of Perth’s The Duke of York Restaurant in 1899. The Duke of York Restaurant was also referred to as The Duke of York Hotel (as they offered rooms for rent in addition to serving meals) and even as The Duke of York Coffee Palace. The latter may have been because Mr. Jones had previously run a place in Perth called The Paris Coffee Palace.

Jones offered a unique service. The Perth Sunday Times of May 25, 1925 tells us:

All who remember the old place will recall a large window abutting on the street in which were exhibited many hundreds of letters and newspapers, these having been sent to those who had either forgotten or wished to be forgotten by their friends or who had gone away in to the big spaces of the bush or had crossed the Great Divide. For years Pa Jones kept these letters in his window and now and then was rewarded by someone claiming one or two. Not until years had passed would he allow any to be opened and then only in the presence of reputable and responsible witnesses, and in many cases the letters were returned to their senders with an informative note attached.

Bullock Team

Bullock Team

Let me end with a poem I discovered by Henry Kendall called Bill the Bullock-Driver. I think it’s apt:

The leaders of millions, the lords of the lands,
Who sway the wide world with their will
And shake the great globe with the strength of their hands,
Flash past us–unnoticed by Bill.

The elders of science who measure the spheres
And weigh the vast bulk of the sun–
Who see the grand lights beyond aeons of years,
Are less than a bullock to _one_.

The singers that sweeten all time with their song–
Pure voices that make us forget
Humanity’s drama of marvellous wrong–
To Bill are as mysteries yet.

By thunders of battle and nations uphurled,
Bill’s sympathies never were stirred:
The helmsmen who stand at the wheel of the world
By him are unknown and unheard.

What trouble has Bill for the ruin of lands,
Or the quarrels of temple and throne,
So long as the whip that he holds in his hands
And the team that he drives are his own?

As straight and as sound as a slab without crack,
Our Bill is a king in his way;
Though he camps by the side of a shingle track,
And sleeps on the bed of his dray.

A whip-lash to him is as dear as a rose
Would be to a delicate maid;
He carries his darlings wherever he goes,
In a pocket-book tattered and frayed.

The joy of a bard when he happens to write
A song like the song of his dream
Is nothing at all to our hero’s delight
In the pluck and the strength of his team.

For the kings of the earth, for the faces august
Of princes, the millions may shout;
To Bill, as he lumbers along in the dust,
A bullock’s the grandest thing out.

His four-footed friends are the friends of his choice–
No lover is Bill of your dames;
But the cattle that turn at the sound of his voice
Have the sweetest of features and names.

A father’s chief joy is a favourite son,
When he reaches some eminent goal,
But the pride of Bill’s heart is the hairy-legged one
That pulls with a will at the pole.

His dray is no living, responsible thing,
But he gives it the gender of life;
And, seeing his fancy is free in the wing,
It suits him as well as a wife.

He thrives like an Arab. Between the two wheels
Is his bedroom, where, lying up-curled,
He thinks for himself, like a sultan, and feels
That his home is the best in the world.

For, even though cattle, like subjects, will break
At times from the yoke and the band,
Bill knows how to act when his rule is at stake,
And is therefore a lord of the land.

Of course he must dream; but be sure that his dreams,
If happy, must compass, alas!
Fat bullocks at feed by improbable streams,
Knee-deep in improbable grass.

No poet is Bill, for the visions of night
To him are as visions of day;
And the pipe that in sleep he endeavours to light
Is the pipe that he smokes on the dray.

To the mighty, magnificent temples of God,
In the hearts of the dominant hills,
Bill’s eyes are as blind as the fire-blackened clod
That burns far away from the rills.

Through beautiful, bountiful forests that screen
A marvel of blossoms from heat–
Whose lights are the mellow and golden and green–
Bill walks with irreverent feet.

The manifold splendours of mountain and wood
By Bill like nonentities slip;
He loves the black myrtle because it is good
As a handle to lash to his whip.

And thus through the world, with a swing in his tread,
Our hero self-satisfied goes;
With his cabbage-tree hat on the back of his head,
And the string of it under his nose.

Poor bullocky Bill! In the circles select
Of the scholars he hasn’t a place;
But he walks like a man, with his forehead erect,
And he looks at God’s day in the face.

For, rough as he seems, he would shudder to wrong
A dog with the loss of a hair;
And the angels of shine and superlative song
See his heart and the deity there.

Few know him, indeed; but the beauty that glows
In the forest is loveliness still;
And Providence helping the life of the rose
Is a Friend and a Father to Bill.