Posts Tagged ‘Grisdale’

In the late 1830s and early 1840s three young brothers attended school together in what would become, but wasn’t yet, the Canadian city of Winnipeg. They were pupils at the Red River Academy, the first school established in the Red River Settlement, an area of Manitoba where Lord Selkirk had established English and Scottish farmers. These settlers in the Red River area weren’t however the first people there. The indigenous peoples, mostly of the Cree and Ojibway tribes, had been there for a long time. There were also the Métis, people of mixed race – French/Indian or British/Indian – who mostly worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company in the fur trade. It was for the children of these people that the Red River Academy was started.

On land granted by Selkirk to his settlers for religious and educational purposes the Reverend John West of the Church of England founded in 1820 the church of St. John. This was located about two miles below the Forks on the west bank of the Red. The mission gave rise to the Red River Academy, later St. John’s College. It was established for the training of a native ministry and for the education of the sons of Hudson’s Bay Company employees.

Red River Academy

Red River Academy

The three brothers were called Thomas, John and William Bunn. They were the only children of the Métis, or ‘half-breed’, couple Dr John Bunn and Catherine Thomas, who at the time lived in the small Red River Settlement of St. Paul, known as Middlechurch. Catherine’s father was Welsh but her mother Sarah was a Cree Indian. Dr John Bunn’s father was English, but his mother Sarah McNab was a Scottish/Indian Métis.

All the boys’ family were or had been employees in one capacity or another of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Dr John Bunn was the first native-born doctor to practice medicine in the Red River Settlement.   His English-born father Thomas was employed as a writer by the Hudson’s Bay Company at the company’s York Factory (trading post) in Manitoba.

Young John was well cared for by his father and by his Scottish grandfather, John McNab, a surgeon and the chief factor at York Factory. Thanks to their generous assistance, he attended a good school in Edinburgh and then began to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh. ‘In 1819, when he had only two years’ medical training, not enough to graduate, he was persuaded by McNab to accept a position as surgeon at Moose Factory. Upon reaching Moose Factory in September of that year, Bunn had grave misgivings about the wisdom of his grandfather’s decision in sending a not yet fully qualified doctor into the wilderness of Rupert’s Land. Uneasy as he was about his future, during the next five years Bunn gained considerable experience by serving the HBC as a surgeon at several posts as well as on the company’s ship, the Eddystone.’

York Factory 1812

York Factory 1812

John’s entry in the Canadian Dictionary of Biography continues:

With no real taste for a nomadic existence, Bunn in 1824 left the HBC service and moved to the Red River Settlement to begin a private medical practice. Here, in the vicinity of Middlechurch, he lived with his father who had retired two years earlier. Here too, on 23 July 1829, he married Catherine Thomas, the daughter of his father’s close friend Thomas Thomas, a former governor of the Northern Department. Because of his family connections and his professional status, Bunn was able to move easily in the influential circles of Red River society. A witty, good-natured, and vigorous man, with a dark complexion and a handsome bearing, Bunn the doctor was as popular with the HBC establishment as he was with the half-caste population of the settlement.

Feeling the need to upgrade his qualifications, Bunn again attended the University of Edinburgh during the 1831–32 academic session, and returned to Red River in 1832 not with a degree but as a licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons at Edinburgh. He was happy to come home to his wife Catherine who had cheered him with her affectionate letters while he was abroad. A little over a year after his return, on 3 Jan. 1834, came her death, and he never remarried. He and his three small boys… continued to live comfortably in his father’s household which was ably managed by his halfbreed stepmother Phoebe Sinclair Bunn.

Dr John Bunn

Dr John Bunn

With the lack of European women it was fairly common, in fact usual, for English and Scottish employees of the Hudson’s Bay Company in the remote west of British North America to take  native Indian wives, marriages often entered into via a native ritual and thus not recognised by the Church of England. The same was true, and for a much longer period, of the French fur trappers, voyageurs and traders.

There is much more to tell about this fascinating man, but our concern here is with his sons. When the three boys were pupils at the Red River Academy the headmaster was John Macallum who came to Red River in 1833 as a schoolteacher, working at £100 per annum at the academy. In 1836, having married one of his mixed-blood students, he became headmaster in 1838 and having initially leased the buildings from the HBC, which owned the property, he eventually purchased the school for £350 in 1841.

Under Macallum’s guidance it (the school) maintained a high level of excellence. During his tenure courses were offered in Greek, Latin, geography, Bible study, history, algebra, writing, and elocution.

It was later said that Macallum’s school ‘prepared a goodly number of postmasters, clerks and future chief traders and chief factors’ for the HBC and that he was a ‘conscientious and faithful worker”, but who ‘perhaps over-estimated the use of the rod’.

John Macallum

John Macallum

He was in fact ‘a strict disciplinarian, with a strong sense of morality’.  Despite his own marriage to a mixed blood girl, if Indian or mixed-blood mothers were not formally married he refused to allow them to visit their children at the school. One contemporary commented on this policy as being ‘fearfully cruel for the poor unfortunate mothers did not know that there was any distinction’. Macallum was also ‘an exponent of corporal punishment, he employed a rod more than three feet long’.

Such was the school life of the three Bunn brothers. Their mother would likely have not been allowed to visit them if she had lived; unfortunately she had died in 1834 when the boys were still very young.

The third and youngest brother, William, died in 1847, aged just fourteen. Thomas was the oldest son; he was born in St Paul in 1830 and was to go on to great things. Second son John, who was born in 1832, never achieved any fame, but it was one of his daughters who would marry into the family of the Bolton-born future Bishop of Qu’Appelle John Grisdale.

Thomas Bunn (third from left back row) with Louis Riel (meddle second row)

Thomas Bunn (third from left back row) with Louis Riel (middle second row)

Having left school Thomas Bunn first remained in St. Paul where he married Métis Isabella Clouston in 1854. Three children followed until Isabella’s untimely death only three years later. He then moved to the nearby St. Andrews where he married Rachel Harriot in 1859. Eventually he moved further up the Red River to St. Clements near Selkirk. He became a member of the Church of England and a freemason. ‘He was able, therefore, to have some influence in the Indian community and to enter English society in Red River. In January 1868 Bunn was appointed a member of the Council of Assiniboia and held this office until the council ceased to function in September 1870. On 17 Dec. 1869 he succeeded W. R. Smith as executive officer of the council with a salary of £100 per year.’

Here a little history is called for. It explains Thomas Bunn’s involvement in the ‘Red River Rebellion’, better said the Red River Resistance:

In 1869 Louis Riel had begun to organize resistance to the transfer of the North-West to the dominion of Canada without prearranged terms. Bunn was elected a representative from St Clements to the council of English and French parishes convened on 16 Nov. 1869 to draw up terms for entry. He hoped for a united front to negotiate these terms of union with Canada. Most English settlers, however, were disposed to think that Canada would be just, and if it were not, that Great Britain would ensure a fair settlement. Many English were willing to support Riel’s policy of union through negotiation, not so much because they thought negotiation was necessary, but because they hoped thus to preserve peace in the Red River Settlement. Bunn tried indeed to pursue an intermediate position, and the strains were sometimes great. By accepting Riel’s policy, Bunn, in a sense, made himself Riel’s English half-breed lieutenant, despite the fact that there was no bond between the men.

On 19 and 20 Jan. 1870, a mass open-air meeting was held to hear Donald Alexander Smith, commissioner of the Canadian government. Bunn was chairman of the discussion. It was decided that a convention should be held to prepare terms for negotiations with Canada, and that delegates should be elected. Bunn was one of those appointed to a committee to arrange the elections. He himself became a delegate from St Clements. From 27 January to 3 February, the convention prepared a second list of rights and approved the formation of a provisional government. Riel made Bunn secretary of state in the provisional government.

On 24 August the military forces of the crown under Colonel Garnet Joseph Wolseley reached Upper Fort Garry (Winnipeg) and the provisional government was swept from power. Bunn survived its fall and may have been present at a meeting of the Council of Assiniboia which Wolseley revived in an attempt to settle the situation. Indeed, Bunn continued as usual in Red River society and set out to establish himself in the new order. As a man of some education and a fluent speaker with a judicious cast of mind, he decided to go into law. He was called to the bar of the new province of Manitoba in 1871, and was clerk to the First General Quarterly Court held in the new province on 16 May 1871. St Clements returned him as its first member to the provincial Legislative Assembly on 30 Dec. 1870. Thus Bunn’s career decidedly bridged the way from the old order to the new. His early death in 1875 cut short his passage into it.

During all this time that Thomas Bunn was becoming a prominent local politician and being involved in events that shaped the history of Canada, his brother John was pursuing a much more humdrum career as a ‘clerk’ with the Hudson’s Bay Company – exactly the sort of role that the Red River Academy had been founded to prepare such Métis children of the company’s employees for.

St Paul's Anglican Church

St Paul’s Anglican Church

But John didn’t enter the service of the HBC until 1867 when he was 35. What he did before that is unknown. All we know was that he married Jemima Clouston in St Paul in 1859 in his home settlement of St. Paul. Jemima was the sister of Isabella, John’s brother Thomas’ wife. Eight children were to follow, the first few born in St. Paul, the reminder at the various HBC trading posts John was posted to. Between 1867 and 1878, John was a HBC clerk in three factories or trading posts in the remote and wild west of the country: Lac Ste. Anne, Fort Victory and Bow Fort. In 1878 he retired back in the Red River Settlement and ‘died after a brief illness that year’. His wife Jemima was to live until 1888.

It is with his daughter Annie Bunn that we are concerned with here. Annie was born in 1866 in St. Paul in the Red River Settlement but, as we have seen, she spent most of her childhood living with her family in various remote HBC factories. In her 1885 ’Declaration concerning her claim to participate in any grant to Half Breeds living in the North West Territories’, she stated, ‘I lived with my parents in the north West Territories from 1867 to 1877’. I will return to this declaration later.

Following her father’s death, Annie continued to live in St Paul’s with her mother and siblings. In 1891 we find her living with her sister Isabell and brother William in the growing city of Winnipeg. It was probably in Winnipeg that Annie met her future husband Joseph Grisdale.

Bishop John Grisdale circa 1900

Bishop John Grisdale circa 1900

Here we have to leave the Métis world of the Red River Settlement and go back a little to the grim world of the Lancashire cotton mills in England. I have previously written three pieces about a Bolton cotton bleacher called John Grisdale who was first a missionary in India before coming to Manitoba in 1873, and who eventually was to become the Anglican Bishop of Qu’Appelle. (See here, here and here). During one of his many trips back to England in 1882/3 John discussed Canada with his brother Joseph, who was at that time a ‘railway clerk’ in Bolton. When John returned to Canada in 1883 his brother Joseph came with him. At first Joseph lived with his brother John in Winnipeg. In 1883 John was a canon of St. John’s Cathedral in Winnipeg and a Professor of Theology at St. John’s College (the successor to the Red River Academy). But in 1894 he had been appointed dean of Rupert’s Land. In 1891 we find Joseph living with his brother and his family in comfortable circumstances in Winnipeg. No doubt with his brother’s help Joseph was now a ‘Bank Manager’.

And so it was that in some way at some time bank manager Joseph Grisdale met and fell in love with Annie Bunn. They married in Winnipeg in 1893. We can only wonder if Dean Grisdale officiated at their wedding.

Private Percy John Grisdale (1896-1916)

Private Percy John Grisdale (1896-1916)

Initially the family stayed in Winnipeg and had two children there: Percy John Grisdale in 1896 and Eveleigh Grisdale in 1899. In the 1901 census Joseph and his family are still in Winnipeg and Joseph is said to be an ‘accountant’. But sometime prior to 1904 the family moved north up the Red River to Selkirk where two more children were born: twins Edwin and Roland in 1904. The family continued to live in Selkirk until sometime after 1911, Joseph still being a bank manager. But they soon moved on, to Calgary in Alberta. In the 1916 census we find the family living in Calgary with Joseph listed as a ‘bookkeeper’. Son Percy is listed too, but he is said to have been overseas. You can read his story here. Eventually, sometime after 1921, Joseph took his family to Vancouver, where he died in 1950. I don’t know where and when Annie Bunn Grisdale died.

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

New York Draft Riots, 1863

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

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

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

Child Labour in Bolton Cotton Mill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Views of Norristown in 1881

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

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

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

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

Jamison Mills, Norristown, 1883

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

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

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

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

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

SS City of New York

SS City of New York

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

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

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

Mountain Island Cotton Mill

Mountain Island Cotton Mill

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

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

Long Island Cotton Mill

Long Island Cotton Mill

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

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

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

McAden’s Mill, McAdenville, North Carolina

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

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

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

McAden Mill

McAden Mill

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

In an earlier article called A Hussar in India – Thomas Grisdale, I left ex-hussar Thomas Grisdale and his family aboard the ship Strathfieldsaye en route from Madras to Melbourne in Victoria, Australia. We don’t know why the family chose to go to Melbourne but we can make a good guess. The Victoria gold rush had just started and there is no doubt that news of diggers becoming immensely wealthy would have reached India. So perhaps Thomas wanted to see if he too could strike it rich. The family arrived in Melbourne harbour in November 1853.

Victoria Gold Diggers

Victoria Gold Diggers

Things then go a little dark, but not completely dark. Maybe initially Thomas got work in the Melbourne docks, where he later worked, we don’t know. Yet it is certain that he pretty soon tried his luck in the rough and tumble of Victoria’s gold diggings. The family moved to Heathcote, a gold rush town 110 kms north of Melbourne. Two more children were born there: Elizabeth in 1855 and Caroline in 1857. Heathcote itself had ‘developed on the back of a series of gold rushes along McIvor Creek commencing in 1851. One of the major strikes (1852) was a Golden Gully, behind the old courthouse’.

At the peak of the gold rushes there were up to 35,000 people, largely housed in tents and shanties on the fields. 3,000 Chinese walked to the digging from Robe in South Australia where they had disembarked to avoid paying a tax levied upon Chinese disembarking in Victoria. There were at least 3 breweries; 22 hotels; 2 flour mills, reflecting the emergence of wheat growing in the district; a bacon factory, hospital, banks and several wineries.

What sort of life did the family have in Heathcote? Perhaps we can get some idea from letters sent home by other immigrants who had done the same thing at the same time. In May 1855 Alma digger P.H. Brain wrote home to a friend:

There is no friends here, everyone for his self and the biggest rogue – the best man, that is the principle that the colony is carried on, by most people rich and poor. I am happy to say I have never wanted for anything since I have been in the colony, although I have seen more in want than ever I have in England. I have many times thought of you staying in England, I would rather live in England with one meal a day, than here with all the best in the world as there is no comfort to be had here day or night, for by day you are poisoned by dust and flies and by night perhaps nearly blown out of your bed, if it may be so called. Although I have got a feather bed, I cannot sleep…

I should not advise anyone to come out here, although I do not wish to keep them away but I am sure there is nothing to be obtained here but at the risk of your life and hard work and no comfort. You would be surprised perhaps if I say I work 60 or 70 feet underground and have got to sink the hole first. I can assure you that it is the case, one sometimes would sink 10 or a dozen of these and not see gold. I have got a hundred pounds and obliged to spend it nearly all before I could get any more, so you see it’s not all profit. The hole is sunk like a well on, a chain of 24 feet square. You must not have any more than that at any one time but you can sink as many as you want. Where you have sunk one of these holes you try 3 or 4 inches of dirt at the bottom, it is put into a tub and washed so as to wash off the dirt and leave the gravel in the bottom and from thence into a tin dish and divide the gold from the gravel, if there be any. If not you must wash it so before you can tell. So you see what work it is to get gold. I have sunk 10 or 15 before I have seen it and perhaps many around me getting it. I am thinking I shall send you and your dear wife a small nugget, so as you can say you have got some, as I may never have it in my power to bring it personally. If so I have to be more pleased to do so in a larger quantity wont if not to be a pleasure to me once more to see my friends in England all well, which I hope very much is the case now.

James Douglas Ferguson wrote to his parents in 1854 from McIvor (Heathcote):

Gold Rush Camp

Gold Rush Camp

We all live in tension the diggings that you will know I should not think there is a man on the diggings but has a brace of pistols ready for action under his head every night. I have 3 dogs round our tent there is nothing in the shape of beast or body can get near the tent for them, any one was to lay me down £20 for the 3 I would not take it. Some time ago these two men on horseback stuck us up. My dog did his duty she got one of them to an out she made him ten thousand murders. I like a fool had not my pistol charged, perhaps just as well it was not for I should have fired as sure as I am writing this letter to you, anyone comes round your tent at night you are justifiable in shooting them, this was between 12 and 1 o’clock in the morning. I got up and opened the tent door and give my faithful old dog the word of command and got the axe for a weapon myself, I darted out from the side of the tent and got a slip at one of them with the axe, the next moment the dog made the other shout like a bull they did not know that I was up ready to receive them. The wife and children screaming, the dogs barking. People came rushing from all quarters, believe me the fellow would not forget that blow I gave him for sometime. You know I am pretty sharp mettle when set on my pins. They were both armed with pistols but had not time to make use of them. We let them go quietly as there might be a party and some of them come at another time and call on us.

Such was probably the Grisdales’ life in the gold diggings. Thomas must have found some gold; otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to support his family for several years. But he clearly hadn’t struck it rich. The family moved back to Sandridge, Melbourne, where the couple’s next children were born:  Thomas (1859), Joseph (1861), Mary (1863), Isaac Arthur (1866) and Sarah (1869).

Sandridge circa 1858

Sandridge circa 1858

It is only in Melbourne that we start to find actual reports of Thomas and some of his family. The first to appear in the Melbourne Argus on Tuesday 12 September 1865 concerned Thomas himself:

At the Sandridge Police Court yesterday; before Mr. Call, P.M., an old man named Thomas Grisdale, charged with stealing fish, the property of James Lewis, was sentenced to be locked up until the rising of the Court.

Four years later, after having borne ten children, Thomas’s wife Jane died on 24 April 1869 as a result of giving birth to her last child Sarah, who herself died three  days later. On 26 April the Argus reported:

At Sandridge yesterday, the city coroner held an inquiry respecting the death of Mary Grisdale, who had died on the day previous somewhat suddenly. She had been prematurely confined on Saturday last, and from that time until Wednesday was progressing very favourably. On that morning, however, she was seized with sudden illness. Her husband went for the purpose of procuring medical assistance, but before he returned her life had expired. From the medical testimony, the jury returned a verdict that the deceased died from fatty degeneration of the heart.

After Jane’s death it seems that some of her children had to resort to begging. On Wednesday 22 February 1871 the Argus reported:

Sandridge. – On Monday, before Messrs. Molifson (?). P.M., Curtis, and Barker, Caroline Grisdale, a girl from 14 to 15 years old, was charged with stealing a pair of drawers. The prisoner went to Mary Clyans, wife of Michael Clyans, to beg, and Mrs. Clyans took her into her service. At the end of a week the prisoner left, and several articles of clothing were missed at the same time. The prisoner next went to a Mrs. Elizabeth Foley to beg for bread. Mrs Foley gave her 3 1/2d. to buy a loaf for herself and sisters, and the prisoner in return, offered the drawers, which she said belonged to her sister. The prisoner’s father, who described himself as a “lumper” appeared in court, but had nothing to say except that his daughter did not beg, or at least had no occasion to. The Bench sentenced the girl to 24 hours’ imprisonment, and to two years’ confinement in the reformatory, with a recommendation to the police to sec that Grisdale paid for his daughter’s maintenance.

Shortly after this it seems that Thomas and his children moved from Sandridge a short distance across the water to Swan Bay.

Swan Bay, Melbourne

Swan Bay, Melbourne

Later the same year, on 6 October 1871, we read:

A man named James Amos was charged at the police court, Drysdale, yesterday, with an attempt to commit a capital offence upon the person of a girl about 10 years of age, named Mary Grisdale. The prisoner, who reserved his defense, was committed to take his trial at the next sittings of the Circuit Court.

And then the 12 October 1871:

James Amos, an elderly man, was charged with having, on the 14th ult, indecently assaulted a little girl, under 10 years of age, named Mary Grisdale, at Swan Bay. He pleaded “Not guilty,” and was undefended. The jury returned a verdict of “Guilty.”

I’ll tell more of this trial for attempted rape in a future article about Thomas’s children.

The 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.

On 16 May1874 the Geelong Advertiser reported:

Thomas Grisdale, on remand, was charged with stealing seven bags from Mr Levien, M.L.A. Mr Levien said—I have missed some bags within about two month, about two or three dozen Calcutta bags—new cornsacks. I kept them in a shed; I had openeda bale and missed two bundles containingabout twenty in each. The bags produced are of a similar description to those missed.The bag produced marked L has been my property, but I cannot say it has been stolen. I never gave prisoner authority to remove bags off my premises; the prisoner has been in my employ; he left my service about a month ago. To the prisoner—You did have two or three bags last year containing produce (flour and peas). I do not think it possible that the new bag produced is the one in which you had the produce. Joseph, Molden said—I live at Mr Levien’s farm. I identify the bag produced as Mr Levien’s property. I put that patch on it, but I cannot say when. Three other witnesses were examined, but they failed to substantiate the charge against the prisoner, and he was discharged.

Soon after this I believe Thomas moved back to Emerald Hill in south Melbourne.

Melbourne 1858

I mentioned already that after coming back from Heathcote the family settled in Sandridge in Melbourne. What was Melbourne like in those days? Referring to the arrival of William Free’s family in 1853, the same year as Thomas, one writer says:

They were landed not at a wharf but on a beach – Liardet’s Beach or Sandridge as the respectable classes preferred to call it – at which there were present some ramshackle buildings, but no quay, no warehouses, no merchants, and no shade in which the women and children could rest while the men looked for transport. The shore up to the high-water mark was lined with broken drift spars and oars, discarded ship-blocks, mattresses and pillows, empty bottles, ballast kegs, and sundry other items of flotsam. The township of Melbourne was out of sight, some eight miles distant by river and three across land.

Sandridge became Melbourne’s second port – taking the name Port Melbourne. ‘For many years Port Melbourne was a focus of Melbourne’s criminal underworld, which operated smuggling syndicates on the docks. The old Ships Painters and Dockers Union was notorious for being controlled by gangsters. The Waterside Workers Federation, on the other hand, was a stronghold of the Communist Party of Australia.’

We know that Thomas worked as a coal ‘lumper’ in Sandridge port. Margo Beasley, Australia’s expert on coal lumpers, writes: ‘Unlike wharf labourers, who shifted all manner of cargoes between ship and shore, coal lumpers worked exclusively on coal and most, but not all, of that work took place out ‘in the stream’ as they put it… some distance from the wharves…  coal lumpers saw themselves as akin to miners rather than wharf labourers and their main task was to move the coal from colliers or hulks that brought it…  into other vessels.’

Coal lumpers at work

Coal lumpers at work

There were five categories of coal lumping work. The shovellers, winchdrivers and planksmen worked on the collier or hulk that was carrying and discharging the coal, and carriers and trimmers worked on the ship that was receiving the coal or being ‘coaled’. Coal lumpers’ tools were basic: shovels, baskets, boots, ropes and their own brute strength. The ‘gear’ on the collier, which included winch, rope (called the ‘fall’) and baskets, had to be rigged so that the coal could be shifted from down below up to a suitable level on the deck for moving it into the ship that was to be coaled. The baskets were attached to a hook, which was fastened to the fall, which was run through a pulley and a winch on the deck above the hold.

Beasley describes coal lumpers’ working conditions as ‘Dantesque’. She writes:

Billy Hughs, who later became Prime Minister of Australia, was president of the Sydney Coal Lumpers’ Union in 1905, and also its advocate. He said coal lumping work ‘finds out the weak places in a man. If a man has a weak spot in his heart, lungs or back, or … say his nervous system is not all that it should be, he falls out.’ Hughes argued that only the very strong remained in the work and coal lumpers aged 45 or 50 were simply ‘the strongest who have survived’, by natural selection.

Indeed, many men tried the work for a week or two, and even an hour or two, but they couldn’t last. One coal lumper said that some men were forced to leave the work because they because they had started at too hard a pace and they were unable to keep going. Hughes judged that no other occupation called for the exercise of greater physical strength and endurance, supporting his assertion with two illustrations. Employers were unable to get sufficient men who could do coal lumping satisfactorily, or even unsatisfactorily, during strikes and lockouts; and the work necessitated certain conditions that didn’t occur in any other trade: paid two hourly breaks, because a spell was ‘absolutely essential for recuperation and food and rest.

Coal Lumpers

Coal Lumpers

Such was the hard and dangerous life of Thomas Grisdale. The son of a Bolton weaver, descended from the Matterdale Grisdales. A man who had spent years serving Queen and country in India. A man who had been under the command of Captain Nolan who became famous for ‘starting’ the Charge of the Light Brigade. A man who had tried his luck in Australia only to spend the rest of his life lumping coal in the docks. Such I’m afraid was the fate of many, indeed most, of the common soldiers who served Her Majesty throughout most of British history. A fate in stark contrast to that of the wealthy officer class.

Thomas Grisdale died aged 74 on 28 February 1879, at 11 Montague Street, Emerald Hill in Melbourne.

 

“Ours is not to reason why. Ours is but to do and die.”

What was a Grisdale man’s connection with The Charge of the Light Brigade? How did a soldier in an elite British cavalry regiment in India? This is the first part of the story of Thomas Grisdale, a son of an extended Bolton cotton weaving family who would end his days in Melbourne in Australia.

Thomas Grisdale was born in Bolton, Lancashire in 1804. He escaped the cotton mills by joining the army. I’m not yet precisely sure exactly when, but it seems clear that as a private in the 15th King’s Own Light Dragoons (Hussars) he sailed for India with the regiment from their base in Maidstone, Kent, in September 1839 – under Lieutenant – Colonel Sir Walter Scott, the son of the famous novelist. He was to spend the next fourteen years in India, first in Madras but mostly in Bangalore. The ‘Madras Presidency’ which covered most of southern India was run by the British East India Company.

Peterloo Massacre

Peterloo Massacre

The 15th Hussars was an illustrious regiment. They were called both The Fighting 15th and The Tabs. They were raised in 1759 and had fought in the Peninsular War at Sahagun and Vittoria and later at Waterloo. Unfortunately they had also played a pivotal role in the notorious Peterloo Massacre in 1819:  ‘Where a 60,000 strong crowd calling for democratic reform were charged by the Yeomanry. Panic from the crowd was interpreted as an attack on the Yeomanry and the Hussars (led by Lieutenant Colonel Guy L’Estrange) were ordered in. The charge resulted in 15 fatalities and as many as 600 injured.’

Captain Lewis Nolan

Captain Lewis Nolan

After an initial spell in the regional capital, Madras, Thomas was mostly on garrison duty with the regiment in Bangalore. The regiment became one of the best trained cavalry units in the British army, thanks in no small measure to the efforts and new ideas of a certain Captain Lewis Edward Nolan – under whom Thomas served. In a list of the men of the 15th Hussars stationed in Bangalore in 1845 (although I think the list comes from slightly later), we find Private Thomas Grisdale as well as Captain Lewis Nolan.

Nolan wasn’t a typical British cavalry officer. Though British Canadian by birth, through his father’s connections he had been commissioned into the Austrian Imperial Cavalry and seen action as a Hussar in Poland and Hungary. But he was persuaded by certain ‘English gentlemen’ to resign his commission and buy a commission in the British army. This he did in 1839 and he was with Grisdale and the 15th Hussars on the trip to Madras. Nolan had strong ideas about how cavalry should be used, how horses should be trained and about the inappropriateness of the Hussars’ uniforms. He later published two treatises on the subject called: The Training of Cavalry Remount Horses: A New System (1851) and Cavalry: Its History and Tactics (1853). Given his expertise, Nolan was made the regiment’s riding master and his methods were later adopted throughout the army. Two quotes from his writings give us a flavour:

Write up in golden letters – or in letters distinguishable, and easy to read – in every riding-school, and in every stable: “HORSES ARE TAUGHT NOT BY HARSHNESS BUT BY GENTLENESS.” Where the officers are classical, the golden rule may be given in Xenophon’s Greek, as well as in English.

To me it appears we have too much frippery – too much toggery – too much weight in things worse than useless. To a cavalry soldier every ounce is of consequence! I can never believe that our hussar uniform (take which of them you please) is the proper dress in which to do hussar’s duty in war – to scramble through thickets, to clear woods, to open the way through forests, to ford or swim rivers, to bivouac, to be nearly always on outpost work, to ‘rough it’ in every possible manner. Of what use are plumes, bandoliers, sabretashes, sheep-skins, shabraques, etc?

The Charge of the Light Brigade

The Charge of the Light Brigade

But besides the fact that Grisdale knew Nolan, what’s the interest in mentioning this? Well it is this: When the regiment was about to depart for home in 1853, Nolan obtained leave to precede it to Europe. After a bit of spying for Britain in Russia, he was sent to purchase horses for the army for the Crimean campaign. Nolan travelled around Turkey, Lebanon and Syria. ‘He arrived in Varna, Bulgaria… with nearly 300 animals.’ For once Britain and France were not fighting each other; they had come to the aid of the Ottoman Turks in their fight against an expansionary Imperial Russia. Nolan was made aide-de-camp to Brigadier-General Richard Airey.  On 25 October 1854, at the Battle of Balaclava, it was Captain Nolan who brought the message from Lord Raglan to Lord Lucan which read:

Lord Raglan wishes the Cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, follow the enemy, and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Troop Horse Artillery may accompany. French Cavalry is on your left. Immediate.

Raglan’s idea was to have the cavalry prevent the Russians taking away the naval guns from the redoubts that they had captured on the reverse side of the Causeway Heights, the hill forming the south side of the valley. Lucan was unclear what the order meant and asked Nolan for clarification. Nolan is reputed to have replied, ‘Lord Raglan’s orders are that the cavalry should attack immediately.’ Lucan replied, ‘Attack, sir! Attack what? What guns, sir? Where and what to do?’

There, my Lord! There is your enemy! There are your guns!

Nolan is said to have indicated, by a wide sweep of his arm, not the Causeway redoubts but the mass of Russian guns in a redoubt at the end of the valley, around a mile away.

So Lucan ordered Lord Cardigan, the officer commanding the Light Brigade, to charge straight at the Russian guns. So began The Charge of the Light Brigade, when just over 600 British cavalry charged straight at the main Russian cannons, into the ‘Valley of Death’. As Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote:

Half a league, half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!

Charge for the guns!” he said.

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

Captain Lewis Nolan was one of the first to die in the charge. One historian writes:

After delivering the order telling Lord Lucan, the Cavalry Division commander, to attack “the guns,” Nolan joined his friend, Captain William Morris, Acting Commander, 17th Lancers.  Although a staff officer, Nolan was determined not to be left out of this action.  As the Light Brigade advanced, Nolan was seen to ride forward on his own.  His reasons are the subject of vast controversy and much speculation.  In any event, his audacity didn’t last long.  He was struck in the chest by a piece of shrapnel, making him one of the first casualties of the charge.

Nolan, or perhaps only his body, remained upright in the saddle.  The horse veered right, then back through the advancing line of the 13th Light Dragoons, the horse’s former regiment.  After passing through the lines, Captain Nolan finally fell to the ground, but his gallant horse was not through.  Troop Sergeant Major John Linkon of the 13th had just lost his horse.  He managed to mount Nolan’s horse and rode after his regiment.  Thus, although Captain Nolan did not complete the famous charge, his horse did.

After the debacle, his superiors, probably unjustly, put the blame on Nolan. The French General Bosquet, who witnessed the charge, commented: C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre’: c’est de la folie’. (‘It is magnificent, but it is not war: it is madness.’)

Such was the fate of the man under whom Thomas Grisdale had served for so many years in India. But unlike his former officer, Grisdale had avoided the Valley of Death (the 15th weren’t actually there). He left the army in 1853 and with his young family made his way to Melbourne in Australia.

Before I tell of this let us go back a little to Thomas’s roots and the facts of his family. Thomas was the third child of Lancashire cotton weaver Thomas Grisdale and his wife Elizabeth Crossley. He was born in 1804 in Bolton. In previous articles I have tried to show what became of several of his close relatives who had also left England and some who stayed. Among his close relatives was his brother, the weaver Doctor Grisdale, who emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1850, and his two nephews, John and Jonathan, who “went America”.  His uncle  Benjamin became the Collector of Customs in the important port of Whitehaven. His cousin John emigrated to Sydney and his more distant cousin also called John became a missionary in India and later a Canadian Bishop!  His uncle George emigrated with his family to Hudson in Quebec and one member of his family eventually ended up in the Pacific Northwest of America as “King of the Douglas Fir Loggers”. Every single one of these people was a descendant of Joseph Grisdale and Ann Temple of Dockray, Matterdale, Cumberland.

Madras 1850

Madras 1850

When Thomas arrived in India in 1839 he was a single man of 35. But while stationed in Bangalore he married the locally born Mary Cartwright, the daughter of army farrier William Cartwright and his Indian wife Jane. The marriage took place on 5 January 1847 in Bangalore’s Holy Trinity Church. Three Indian-born children were to follow: Thomas (1848), Jane (1850) and William (1852).

Throughout his time in India the British army (or the army of the East India Company to be more precise) had been involved in many nasty little wars, for example the early Sikh and Afghan wars. But these all took place in the north of the country and because Thomas’s regiment were based in the south it seems he took no part in them. I would like to know if this was not the case.

Whatever the case, in 1853, having recently left the army, he, his wife Mary and their two children (Thomas junior had died just before they left) boarded the ship Strathfieldsaye bound for Melbourne in Victoria, Australia. We don’t know why the family chose to go to Melbourne but we can make a good guess. The Victoria gold rush had just started and there is no doubt that news of diggers becoming immensely wealthy would have reached India. So perhaps Thomas wanted to see if he too could strike it rich. The family arrived in Melbourne harbour in November 1853.

See Thomas Grisdale in Melbourne – digging for gold and lugging coal.

 

This is on updated version of an earlier article.

Anybody with the name Grisdale today will, like everybody else on the planet, have an extremely mixed genealogical and genetic ancestry. They will have thousands of ancestors, some of whom will have originated in some surprising places. Surnames are usually passed down the paternal line although this is only one line among hundreds we might choose to explore.

Be that as it may. But one of the interesting aspects of the large Grisdale family is that wherever it is possible to trace a person’s ancestry it almost variably goes back to Matterdale. I have yet to find any instance of ancient Grisdale roots in Grisedale in Yorkshire (see here). My belief is that the place Grisdale from which the Grisdales of Matterdale took their name is actually modern Mungrisdale just north of Matterdale and not the Grisedale/Grisdale Beck, bridge, Tarn area just south near Patterdale  and certainly not Grisedale Pike near Kewsick. Mungrisdale was for long simply called Grisdale. See my article Which Grisdale did the Grisdales come from?

1576

1576 map of Grisdale/Mungrisdale

 

Of course Grisdale (and its variant spellings) is in the first instance a place name. The etymology is quite clear: ‘dale’ is from the Old Norse ‘dalr’ meaning valley, while ‘gris’ is most likely from the Old Norse word gris, meaning boar, i.e. a wild pig. Whether the four Grisdales/Grisedales in Cumbria and Yorkshire were full of boars when they were settled by Scandinavians or whether they refer to the name of an original settler called ‘The Boar’ is unknown, though I tend to prefer the later interpretation.

oxfordI’ll concentrate here on the Cumberland Grisdales. Because Grisdale is a place name, then the early people taking the name were most likely styled as such because they came from there and had most probably moved some way away. They would have been referred to, for example, as John or Richard of Grisdale (or in the Norman French version John or Richard de Grisdale), to distinguish them from other Johns and Richards living nearby. If people lived in the same place, say Grisdale itself, they’d be no need to say they were ‘of Grisdale’.

Other naming patterns were also used. So one might have say a Robert (the) Butcher, John (the) Tailor or Richard Johnson (son of John). We often also find whole strings of ancestry: like John son of William son of Robert. The patronymic suffix son, as in Richardson, is a Germanic and Scandinavian usage; the Welsh used ‘ap’, Robert ap Rhys would become anglicised as Robert Price; in Scotland there is ‘Mac’, in Ireland ‘O’; while the Normans had ‘Fitz’. I’ve used names like John, Richard, William and Robert here because they were certainly common Grisdale names at a later date. But these names are all Norman and only started to be used extensively in England in the twelfth century after the Norman Conquest. Before that we might conjecture names like Sigulf (of) Grisdale – and Sigulf for example means something like Victorious Wolf! See my article When did the Grisdales become Grisdales? for a fuller discussion of names.

Let’s be more precise in locating the two Cumbrian Grisdales neighbouring Matterdale.

Today on the eastern slopes of Helvellyn, running down to Lake Ullswater, we find a valley called Grisedale with Grisedale Beck (Scandinavian for stream) running down it. At the head of the dale lies Grisedale Forest, which was once a hunting preserve of the local lords, and then Grisedale Tarn. ‘Forest’ it should be remembered did not at this time primarily refer to a wooded area (though it might be so), it was an area strictly reserved for the nobility’s hunting of deer and even boars. In Norman times, these areas were tightly controlled and protected by the lords’ foresters and by forest law. Settlement within the forests was highly discouraged, even banned. As I have argued elsewhere I don’t presently think this is where our Grisdales originally came from. I prefer Mungrisdale which was for centuries just called Grisdale. In my article Which Grisdale did the Grisdales come from? I summarized the reasons for my preference:

1747 Map of Grisdale/Mungrisdale

1747 Map of Grisdale/Mungrisdale

‘There are two reasons I now believe that it is from this Grisdale that the Matterdale Grisdales derived their name. First, (Mun)grisdale has always been part of the barony and parish of Greystoke (the earliest records of this are from the thirteenth century). Matterdale too was part of the same barony, whereas Grisedale near Patterdale never was. As the barons of Greystoke were the lords and owners of Matterdale (including Dowthwaite) it was no doubt one of them (or less likely one of their vassals) who originally granted the ‘free’ tenancy of Dowthwaite Head Farm to one of their men from Grisdale. Second, while we know that (Mun)grisdale was a small hamlet, it was a significant enough settlement not only to have an early chapel but also significant enough to be mentioned as the place of birth, death and origin of many families recorded in the registers of Greystoke and to be included in the early manorial records of Greystoke. On the other hand it doesn’t seem that the Grisedale on the slopes of Helvellyn was ever more than a ‘chase’ or private hunting ground.’

Norse Fleet

Norse Fleet

So who had settled Grisdale originally? Clearly one or more Scandinavians, whether one was called ‘The Boar’ or not. And when? Well probably in the tenth century. Present day Cumberland and Westmorland (Land West of the Moors) were originally part of a British kingdom called ‘Cumbria’. The people were British and spoke a British language called Cymric – from whence the names Cumbria and Cumberland derive. They lived all over the area, more in the more fertile flatlands surrounding the hills but also partly in the uplands too. One example of an upland Cymric settlement is Great Crosthwaite near Keswick. Certainly this is a partly Scandinavian name – ‘thwaite’ is a Scandinavian word meaning clearing. But the Cross itself refers us back to the sixth century British Saint Kentigern, and a Celtic church and cross dedicated to him had probably stood on the site for centuries before the advent of the Vikings.

The Anglo-Saxons first started to arrive in southern Britain in the fifth century, later in the North East. They hadn’t managed to make much impression in the western mountainous regions of Cumberland, though they did a little more so in Westmorland. What made more impact was the arrival of Norwegian ‘Vikings’ in the tenth century from their bases in Ireland and the Isle of Man. First they raided and then they settled.

vikings_arrive

Vikings arrive

It was most probably one of these Hiberno-Norse ‘Vikings’, who might or might not have been called ‘The Boar’, who first settled Grisdale and gave it its name. For a fuller discussion of the Norse settlement see my article The first Scandinavian settlers in North West England.

One thing of importance is that until the great Norman monasteries and abbeys were founded in the twelfth century – such as Furness and Saint Bees – and they established a huge wool industry based on upland sheep ‘granges’, most of Cumberland was still forested. When individual Norwegians wanted to settle in these remote areas they usually first had to clear parts of the forest, creating ‘thwaites’.

Turning to the name Grisdale: probably coming from present day Mun(grisdale) some people ‘of Grisdale’ started to spread out and create or join other settlements. When exactly this happened is lost in the mists of time.. The first mention we find in the historic record of someone actually called ‘of Grisdale’ was a certain Simon de Grisdale in Halton in Lancashire in the Lay Subsidy Roll of 1332. There is also a burgess and farmer called Rolland de Grisdale in the newly created town of Kendal in 1404/7.  See my article When did the Grisdales become Grisdales?.

Dowthwaite Head Farm

Dowthwaite Head Farm

But the first Grisdales we can truly identify in any numbers were the Grisdales of Matterdale in the mid sixteenth century. The earliest mention is to a freee yeoman farmer John Grisdale farming at Dowthwaite Head in 1524. I wrote about John in an article called Dowthwaite Head and the first Matterdale Grisdales.  One or two other Grisdales appear quite early too in Crosthwaite and a few other Cumbrian areas, but these seem to have moved there from Matterdale.

Matterdale itself is a Scandinavian place name. It lies just a little south of Mun(grisdale) and just over the hill from Grisedale Beck near Patterdale. In later times it had three main hamlets: Matterdale End, Dockray and Dowthwaite Head. The Grisdales of Matterdale were found in all three. A major group of them became yeoman farmers in Dowthwaite Head, a place itself signifying a clearing made in the woods, probably by some Scandinavian – possibly Dudh. Others lived only a couple of miles away at Crookwath near Dockray. Crookwath means crooked ford or shallow in Old Norse. We don’t know whether such places as Dowthwaite and Crookwath were first cleared by Viking settlers in the early days of Norwegian settlement in the tenth century or much later by these settlers’ descendants, who were probably still speaking a roughly Norse language.

Crookwath Barn

Crookwath Barn

We know that many people were well establised in different parts of Matterdale by 1332, because in the 1332 Lay Subsidy Roll we find their names (see here). We also find one of them was living at Crookwath and we know from people who had moved away that Dockray existed too – they took the name ‘de Dockray’.

While it seems reasonable to assume that such places as Grisdale, Matterdale, Dowthwaite, Dockray and even little Crookwath were Norwegian settlements this doesn’t necessarily mean that all subsequent people carrying the place name Grisdale as their family name were genetic descendants of these early ‘Vikings’. They quite possibly could be, but they could as well be, for instance, descendants of British Cymric people who happened ‘still’ to be living in the Grisdale area, or even later Anglo-Saxon or Norman immigrants, or a mixture of all three. If I refer today to ‘Robert from Scotland’ it doesn’t necessarily mean that Robert’s ancestors were Scots, they could have come from anywhere.

Gowbarrow Hall - A Stateman's Farm

Gowbarrow Hall – A Stateman’s Farm

What is sure is that in the years after 1524 and then following Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1537 there started to be many Grisdales in Matterdale. We know this both from early entries in the Greystoke Parish records (Matterdale hadn’t yet got a church), from numerous Grisdale wils and from the Cumberland muster role in 1581 when nine Grisdale ‘bowmen’ from Matterdale turned up in Penrith to stand ready, once again, to defend Cumberland against the Scots. It was families such as these Grisdales who first started to carve out the landscape of Matterdale we see today. The Grisdale family or ‘clan’ became classic examples of what is called in Cumberland ‘statesmen’. They were still sheep farmers and tenants of the local lord but they had gained the ‘customary’ right to pass on their tenancies to their heirs. In the seventeenth century these ‘statesmen’ built single-story stone long-houses which accommodated their families and their animals, structures of Cumberland so noticeable to this day. These long-houses were either built on top of, or more usually next to, existing wooden long-houses, which often became the future barns or bryers.

What about the original question: ‘Were the Grisdales Vikings?’ The most likely conjecture is that the historic Grisdales of Matterdale had originated from not so far away (Mun)grisdale, but had done so in the fourteenth century before arriving in Matterdale towards the end of the fifteenth century from elsewhere (see here).

In addition, Grisdale was, it is clear, a Viking or better-said a Scandinavian settlement, dating perhaps from as far back as the tenth century. So it’s quite likely that they were descended, at least in the paternal line, from early Vikings, although by the time they appear in the historical record in any number, in the sixteenth century, they most likely would have had English, Celtic and even Norman ‘blood’ as well.

Greystoke Castle

Greystoke Castle

Another thing to consider more is family naming patterns. These, I think, also tend to argue for a later arrival. We don’t know much about early Scandinavian naming patterns in Cumbria but there is a lot of evidence from, for example, the many Nordic and Icelandic sagas. Some of which refer to events that took place in Britain. Here the patronymic suffix ‘son’ is usually used. Even in the early eleventh century, when Scandinavian Forne became the ‘first’ Norman Baron of Greystoke, he was referred to as Forne Sigulfson and his daughter Edith, who became King Henry I’s mistress, was called Edith Fitz-Forne Sigulfson (Edith daughter of Forne, son of Sigulf). See here and here.

Surnames, as we know them today, whether derived from occupations, places of settlement, topographical features or ancestors, only really started to stabilise in the late middle ages. I discussed what we might infer from naming patterns in my article When did the Grisdales become Grisdales?

The great days of Cumbrian statesmen such as the Matterdale Grisdales were not to last. Their economic prosperity declined. Some were able to take a step up to the level of local gentry, some sank into poverty and obscurity, others moved to the squalor of the industrial towns in Lancashire, yet more joined the army or the church or they went to sea, while others emigrated. The Grisdales of Matterdale did all of these.

Lying just south of Ullswater is the village of Patterdale, and just south of that you reach Hartsop, before climbing the long hill to Kirkstone Pass. Throughout the nineteenth century there was a large Grisdale yeoman farming family in Patterdale and Hartsop, whose descendants have spread all over the world. I have long wanted to say something about the family but didn’t know how to start. So I’ll start once again with William Wordsworth.

Written in March while resting on the bridge at the foot of Brothers Water

The cock is crowing,
The stream is flowing,
The small birds twitter,
The lake doth glitter,
The green fields sleep in the sun;
The oldest and the youngest
Are at work with the strongest;
The cattle are grazing,
Their heads never raising;
There are forty feeding like one!

Like an army defeated
The snow has retreated,
And now doth fare ill
On the top of the hill;
The plowboy is whooping—anon—anon:
There’s joy in the mountains;
There’s life in the fountains;
Small clouds are sailing
Blue sky prevailing;
The rain is over and gone!

William Wordsworth, 1802

Brothers Water

Brothers Water

William and Dorothy Wordsworth visited Hartsop in April 1802.  Their experiences of visiting in spring are recorded in the poem above, ‘Written in March while resting on the bridge at the foot of Brothers Water’. As one critic commented, William obviously decided that March rather than April was more appropriate for the theme of spring! Dorothy Wordsworth described the people at work around Hartsop, ploughing, harrowing and sowing and spreading manure on the fields using pitchforks.   She also made reference to the ‘hundreds of cattle in the vale’. They then walked on past Hartsop Hall where William composed another poem to describe the crags looking up from Dovedale:

Unimaginable sight!

Clouds, mists, streams, watery rocks and emerald turf,

Clouds of all tincture, rocks and sapphire sky,

Confused, commingled, mutually inflamed,

Molten together, and composing thus,

Each lost in each, that marvellous array.

Of temple, palace, citadel, and huge

Fantastic pomp of structure without name,

In fleecy folds voluminous, enwrapped.

Right in the midst. An object like a throne

Three years later, in November 1805, Dorothy Wordsworth once again walked over the Kirkstone Pass and down into Hartsop.  ‘She remarked on the beauty of the fields below Brothers Water.  “First seen like a lake, tinged by the reflection of yellow clouds.  I mistook them for the water; but soon we saw the lake itself gleaming with a steely brightness; then as we descended appeared the brown oaks, and the birches of lovely yellow and, when we came still nearer to the valley, the cottages and the lovely old Hall of Hartsop with its long roof and elegant chimneys”’

Hartsop Hall

Hartsop Hall

As William and Dorothy looked around Brothers Water they would have seen only two farms lying just south of the lake: Hartsop Hall (which they walked past) and Caudale Beck Farm; this is likely where they saw ‘the oldest and the youngest’ at work. Both these farms belonged to members of the Grisdale family throughout much of the nineteenth century. When Wordsworth composed his poem the yeoman farmer at Caudale Beck Farm was without any doubt Thomas Grisdale (1746-1813) who arrived there probably in about 1774 when he married. It was his family no doubt that Wordsworth referred to as ‘the oldest and the youngest’ at work.

Thomas’s son Robert (1782-1861) would later become the farmer at the more imposing Hartsop Hall. His other sons John and George would also become yeoman farmers in an around Hartsop.

The Wordsworths were of course Romantics. A slightly different, and rather condescending, view of the hamlet of Hartsop itself, which lies at the northern end of Brothers’ Water, was given by the intrepid traveller Celia Fiennes when she passed through Hartsop in 1698. She described the farming tenements:

Here I came to villages of sad little huts made up of drye walls, only stones piled together and the roofs of some slatt; there seemed to be little or noe tunnells for their chimneys and have no morter or plaister within or without; for the most part I tooke them at first sight for a sort of houses or barns to fodder cattle in, not thinking them to be dwelling houses, they being scattering houses here one there another, in some places there be 20 or 30 together; it must needs be very cold dwellings but it shews the lazyness of the people; indeed here and there was a house plaster’d’, but there is sad entertainment – that sort of clap bread and butter and cheese and a cup of beer all one can have…

Caudale Beck farmhouse

Caudale Beck farmhouse

About a century later in 1790 Joseph Budworth described Hartsop as he descended from Kirkstone Pass:

We see at the bottom of the road part of Bridder Water (Brothers Water), which looks as if embayed in mountains, with trees and copse woods on its margin, giving it the appearance of a fish pond in a large garden…  On entering the vale of Hartsop, we have a full command of Bridder Water, this small dale though not clothed with good grass, is prettily wooded, and is beneath a semi-circular mountain with misshapen interstices, forked like lightning, but which are effects of conveyers of torrents; hanging proudly over the valley, as if to deter any inhabitants from fixing there and I did but observe one house.

I will come back to the Grisdales of Patterdale and Hartsop later, but first let’s go back a little, back one generation.

Robert Grisdale was born in Dockray in Matterdale in 1705, the seventh child of farmer Thomas Grisdale and his wife Mary Brownrigg, who had farmed both at Crookwath and Old Mills. Before that Thomas’s father, another Robert, had also farmed at Crookwath and his father, yet another Robert, came of course from the cradle of the Matterdale Grisdales, Dowthwaite Head.

Having no doubt worked on the family farm as a young man, Robert married Esther Gatesgarth from Johnby in St Andrew’s Church in Greystoke in 1735. Whether Robert had already moved from Matterdale when he married we don’t know, but by 1738 the family had moved and were the tenants of Boredale Head Farm (sometimes called Dale Head) in the remote valley of Boredale – midway between Martindale and Patterdale, to the east of Lake Ullswater.

Boredale Head farm

Boredale Head farm

Robert and Esther weren’t the first Grisdales to move from the west of Ullswater, where we find Matterdale, to the lake’s eastern parishes of Patterdale and Martindale, and they wouldn’t be the last. But they were the family who were to stay longest in the area and are the ancestors of many Grisdales today in the UK, North America and Australia.

As they farmed the rocky soil in Boredale, Robert and Esther had four children: Robert 1738, John 1741, Elizabeth 1744 and Thomas 1746, all born at Boredale Head Farm and all christened in Martindale’s tiny chapel.

The number of descendants of these four children is truly enormous and they spread not only all over England (such as to Lancashire and Liverpool) but also around the world: to Canada and Australia and elsewhere. Here I will focus on just a few who first remained in Martindale but then moved to farm in Patterdale and Hartsop.

Boredale

Boredale

The first son Robert (born in Boredale Head in 1738) married Elizabeth (Betty) Park in Grasmere in 1774. He became an Innkeeper in Hartsop (he and his family were already there in 1787 and he  most probably came in the 1770s) and died in Hartsop in 1817. One of his sons was called John Grisdale (1774-1854). He married Dorothy Harrison in Patterdale in 1805 and at some point took over the tenancy of Caudale Beck farm on the shore of Brothers Water in Hartsop. But when John died his son, also called John (born in about 1811), seems to have disappeared or died and thus couldn’t follow his father as the farmer at Caudale Beck.

Actually this John (1774) wasn’t the first of the family to farm at Caudale Beck in Hartsop. His uncle Thomas Grisdale (born in 1746 to Robert Grisdale and Esther Gatesgarth) was already the ‘yeoman’ farmer there in 1787 and had probably taken the tenancy in 1774 when he married local Patterdale girl Jane Atkinson. Eight Grisdale children were born at Caudale Beck Farm between 1775 and 1793, but not all survived. Thomas died at Caudale Beck in 1813. His son John (born 1775) married Dorothy Jackson in Patterdale in 1807 and went on to farm at Beckstones farm near Patterdale until his death in 1851. Thomas’s other son Robert, who was born at Caudale Beck in 1782 and had initially gone back to farm in Martindale but sometime in the 1810s he became the tenant farmer at the more imposing Hartsop Hall,  literally just across the field from Caudale Beck and adjoining the road as it starts its long climb to Kirkstone Pass. I wrote a little about this Robert Grisdale and one of his adventures here.

I know this array of John, Thomas and Robert Grisdales is bewildering, and I haven’t even mentioned the Georges, or the women! If anyone would like better explanations of the people involved and their relationships they can contact me or look at my Ancestry tree. I will probably write more about some individuals in the future.

Basically what we see here is various members of the family of Robert Grisdale and his wife Esther Gatesgarth first living and working on the family farm at Boredale Head in Martindale and then moving to in the 1770s to Patterdale and Hartsop, to farm at Caudale Beck, Beckstones and Hartsop Hall. Some of the family are still in the area.

Painting of Beckstones Farm, Patterdale

Painting of Beckstones Farm, Patterdale

When the Wordsworths made their visits to Hartsop and observed the scene around Brothers Water the ploughboy whooping and ‘the oldest and the youngest at work’ on the shore of the lake were most likely the family of Thomas Grisdale of Caudale Beck farm.

Of course the Wordsworths were ‘Romantics’ and life in Hartsop was hard for the farmers and others. When James Clarke visited Hartsop in around 1787 he concentrated on the decline of the community at Glenridding north of Hartsop after the arrival of the lead miners. He writes:

It is unlikely that Hartsop witnessed the same influx of miners given the lack of miners’ cottages in the village.  Miners working in Hartsop appear to have walked from Patterdale each day.

A Hartsop cottage

A Hartsop cottage

One of this Grisdale family ended up a miner in the mines Clarke saw; I might tell his story another time.

One writer wrote this:

While the sight of tenants going about their work may have appeared romantic to visitors and poets, it is clear that farming was difficult in Hartsop.   It is clear that there was little good arable land.  A survey of Hartsop and the southern part of Patterdale made in 1839 recorded the existence of some 300 acres of arable land, although how much of this was regularly under the plough is not known.  A further 920 aces were classed as meadow by the survey made in 1839, although much of this is likely to have been of poor quality.  An earlier account of the meadow land belonging to Hartsop Hall Farm in 1823 (when Robert Grisdale was the farmer) described it as being of little worth, adding that the ‘the chief part of it wants draining, and the sheep pastures too dry and rocky’.

MAP

America is often said to be a great cultural melting-pot, and so it is. Except for the Native Americans everyone is descended from immigrants, whether early or more recent. Here I’d like to tell the story of the meeting of two different cultures: those of the Portuguese Azores and of Lancashire in England. It’s the story of Arlena Grisdale and Manuel da Silveira and their families in Oregon.

The Azores

The Azores

The Azores is an archipelago composed of nine volcanic islands situated in the North Atlantic Ocean. It is located about 850 miles west of Portugal. ‘The islands were known in the fourteenth century and parts of them can be seen, for example, in the Atlas Catalan. In 1427, one of the captains sailing for Henry the Navigator, possibly Gonçalo Velho, rediscovered the Azores… ‘

‘In “A History of the Azores” by Thomas Ashe written in 1813 the author identified a Fleming, Joshua Van der Berg of Bruges, who made land in the archipelago during a storm on his way to Lisbon. Ashe stated that the Portuguese explored the area and claimed it for Portugal shortly after. Other stories note the discovery of the first islands (São Miguel Island, Santa Maria Island and Terceira Island) were made by sailors in the service of Henry the Navigator, although there are few written documents to support the claims.’

I start with this mention of Flemings because the subject of this story is a certain Manuel Caetano da Silveira, whose family had been settled on the island of São Jorge (St George) from the earliest times. In fact the family name da Silveira is the Portuguese rendition of the name of a ‘noble Flemish native’ called Wilhelm Van der Haegen, who was the first to settle the island in a major way. Haag means forest in Flemish and thus William became known as Guilherme da Silveira to the islanders. Azorean families with the surname Silveira generally descend from the Fleming Willem van der Haegen. ‘By 1490, there were 2,000 Flemings living in the islands of Terceira, Pico, Faial, São Jorge and Flores. Because there was such a large Flemish settlement, the Azores became known as the Flemish Islands or the Isles of Flanders.’

Prince Henry the Navigator

Prince Henry the Navigator

I reproduce much of the Wikipedia entry for Wilhelm van der Haegen below. It is rather long and those who are not interested in deep history can skip it.

As part of his inheritance, King Edward of Portugal bequeathed the islands of the Azores to his brother, the Infante D. Henriques (Henry the Navigator), in 1433. This was subsequently left to Henry’s nephew and adopted son, Infante D. Fernando, in addition to Henry’s title as Grand Master of the Order of Christ. A grant was made by the Infante to his aunt, D. Isabella of Portugal (Edward and Henry’s sister), the Duchess of Burgundy, in the Low Countries. For many of the Flems (sic) who were recuperating from the Hundred Years’ War, this grant offered an opportunity of alleviating their suffering.

Van der Haegen, a wealthy entrepreneur, was invited by Josse van Huerter (for four-years Captain-General of the island of Faial) to settle the island with him, in an archipelago that was becoming known as a New Flanders or the Flemish Islands. Consequently, in 1470, with his wife Margarida da Zambuja and at his own expense, he offloaded two ships carrying his extended family, slaves and professionals of various services, to begin what was characterised as a “second-wave” of immigration to the island (the first having been pioneered by Van Huerter in the 1460s).

Van der Haegen, by his virtues and distinguished personality, became popular on the island. But, sensing a level of bad faith on the part of Huerter and a growing rivalry, he abandoned his holdings on Faial, to settle in Quatro Ribeiras, on the island of Terceira. He begins to cultivate wheat and gather woad plants for export (specifically Isatis tinctoria which was also produced in the Picardy and Normandy Regions of France until that time). These plants, along with other species, were essential in the production of many of the dyes popular with mercantile classes. Most islands in the archipelago were populated, and the plants commercialized by the landed gentry for their exportable nature; early settlements were founded on the basis of agricultural and dye-based exports, such as woad. Van der Haegen’s colonies were no exception.

Ruins of the Solar dos Tiagos in Topo

Ruins of the Solar dos Tiagos in Topo

On a trip to Lisbon he encounters D. Maria de Vilhena (widow of D. Fernão Teles de Meneses, the Donatary of the islands of Flores and Corvo, then administratively one fiefdom) and his son Rui Teles. After some negotiation, D. Maria would cede the rights to the exploration of the islands to Van der Haegen, in exchange for monthly payments.

Around 1478, Willem van der Haegen settles in Ribeira da Cruz, where he built homes, developed agriculture (primarily wheat), collected more woad species for export, and explored for tin, silver or other minerals (under the assumption that the islands were part of the mythic Ilhas Cassterides, the islands of silver and tin). Owing to the island’s isolation and difficulties in communication his crops became difficult to export. After several years, he decides to leave the island and return to Terceira.

But, his return was brief; after seven years he leaves Quatro Ribeiras and settles in the area of Topo, São Jorge Island, effectively establishing the community with other Flemish citizens. He died in 1500, and was buried in the chapel-annex of the Solar dos Tiagos, in the villa of Topo, today in ruins.

So Wilhelm had eventually settled and died in Topo on São Jorge Island, which is precisely where his descendants mostly lived for the next four hundred years. The American immigrant Manuel Caetano da Silveira was born in 1879. His parents were Topo-born farmer Martinho Caetano da Silveira and his Topo-born wife Ana Vitorina.

Island of St George

Island of St George

The local Azorean records report:[1]

Matris de Nossa Senhora do Rosario in Topo

Matris de Nossa Senhora do Rosario in Topo

Aos treze dias do mez de Abril do anno de mil oitocentos setenta e nove, nesta egreja parochial Matris de Nossa Senhora do Rosario, da Villa do Topo, concelho da Calheta, Ilha de São Jorge, diocese de Angra, o reverendo beneficiado Francisco Pimentel de Noronha, baptisou solemnemente um individuo do sexo masculino, a quem deo o nome de Manoel, que nasceo nesta freguesia, às duas horas da manhã do dia oito do mez corrente, filho legitimo de Marthino Caethano da Silveira, lavrador, e Anna Victorina, e que se ocupa em arangos de sua caza, naturaes, recebidos e moradores no lugar da  Lomba de São Pedro, desta freguesia, neto paterno de Caethano Silveira Leonardes e Francisca Victorina da Silveira e materno de João António Gonçalves e Maria Benedicta. Padrinho dito Caethano Silveira Leonardes, lavrador, cazado, que sei serem os próprios. E para constar lavrei em duplicado este assento, que dipois de lido e conferido, perante o padrinho, só assigno por elle não saber escrever. Era ut supra.

O vigário Francisco Monteiro de Amorim

Précis:

Manuel, legitimate son of Martinho Caetano da Silveira, farmer, and Ana Vitorina, housewife, both native of Topo, where they married and live in Lomba de São Pedro, paternal grandson of Caetano Silveira Leonardes and Francisca Vitorina da Silveira and maternal of João António Gonçalves and Maria Benedita, was born at 2 am, on 8 April 1879 and was baptised on the 13th, in Topo. Godfather was the paternal grandfather Caetano Silveira Leonardes, farmer, married. The godfather cannot write.

silvers ancestry

Manuel was the couple’s third child. Maria was born in Topo in 1876 and Francisca in 1878. Both were born in Topo and baptized in Topo’s Matris de Nossa Senhora do Rosario church, as had been all their ancestors. Martinho and Ana had been married in 1875:

On 13 October 1875, in Topo, Martinho Caetano da Silveira, single, 31, worker, native of Topo, legitimate son of Caetano Silveira Leonardo and Francisca Vitorina, married to Ana Vitorina da Silveira, single, 25, native of Topo, legitimate daughter of João António Gonçalves and Maria Benedita. They cannot write. Witnesses were Pedro Benedito da Silveira and Joaquim Silveira Leonardes, landowners and living in Topo.

Lomba de São Pedro

Lomba de São Pedro

But shortly after Francisca’s birth in 1878 the family moved to farm in Lomba de São Pedro on the nearby island of São Miguel. Over the coming years six more children were born in Lomba de São Pedro, all of whom were brought back to Topo shortly after birth to be baptized in the family church: João (1880), Rosa (1883), António (1885), Ana (1886), José (1889) and Francisco (1891).

Martinho’s mother, Francisca Vitorina da Silveira, ‘wife of Caetano Silveira Leonardo, veteran soldier,’ died in 1898 in Topo. Her husband Caetano was charged with ‘going to the local judge to give information on his children and his belongings (properties, animals, tools and furniture), but he couldn’t do it, because, due to his age (91) he barely could stand, (never mind) …  walking to the judge’s office. This was told by his maid Ana Rita. The person that went to the judge instead of him was the one that was representing his sons. It was said that the couple owned nothing, nor had any debts’.

Here we find mention of Caetano’s other son: João Caetano Silveira Leonardo. Although João was four years Martinho’s junior (born in 1847), at the age of about 18 he had emigrated to America and seems to have first established himself in California before moving on to Grant County in Oregon.

The Vega

The Vega

By 1893 Martinho and his large family decided that they would join João in America. On 1 April while still in Lomba, and just before boarding ship, Martinho ‘issued a document, giving full power to be represented in any occasion by Isidro de Bettencourt Correia e Avila’. A few months later in October his, by now married, brother João ‘issued a proxy to the same above at the notary William H. Kelley, in Grant County, Oregon’.

Having probably sold his farm in Lomba, Martinho bought tickets for himself and his family from the Empresa Insulana de Navegação (EIN) line of Lisbon to travel on their English-built cargo ship Vega from the Azores to New York.

vega

The family arrived at Ellis Island on 19 April 1893. Martinho gave his occupation as ‘Proprietor’ and said the family were bound for California. They crossed the continent by train and seem to have only passed through California before moving to Oregon. Brother João (by now married) was already in Oregon when Martinho and his family arrived in America and Martin and his family went to join them. What is clear is that in 1890 João was certainly in John Day in Grant County, Oregon, as probably was Martinho’s family too by October 1893. From now on will now call João and Martinho John and Martin and use the English names which all the family adopted, at least officially. The family name changed too, from Silveira to Silvers.

Ellis Island

Ellis Island

Martin and John were both farmers and I imagine they knew that they could buy farms cheaply in Oregon. John settled to start with in John Day in Grant County, where he was with his family in 1900 and 1902 (he had married Francisca/Juanita (known as ‘Jessie’) de Moura in about 1889). Martin went to farm at ‘Express’ i.e. Durkee in Bay County where we find him also in 1900 (his son John Martin is living near his uncle John in John Day, Grant County) and 1910.

Durkee was originally a stage stop called Express, and by the 1860s it was the only transfer point between Umatilla and Boise. It prospered as a water stop and telegraph station for the railroad, and even later as a stop on Highway 30, the only paved road in the area. It was platted in 1908, even though the population had already peaked.

I won’t follow all Martin’s family in detail here. Suffice it to say that Martin’s children started to marry and have children of their own (as did John’s): Francisca married Bernadino (Barney) Moura, Rosa first married Manuel Burgess and then Joseph A Moura, Ana married Joseph A Amada, Antonio/Tony married Grace Mae Francis, Jose/Joseph married Mary and Oregon-born Mary married Haven G Ross.

John Day, Grant County, Oregon

John Day, Grant County, Oregon

In 1902, when he was 23, Manuel Silvers married local girl Arlena Grisdale. Here we have a typically American meeting of cultures: the Portuguese Azores meets Lancashire! We can easily guess how Arlena and Manuel met because in 1900 Manuel was working as a ‘servant’ for the family of Arlena’s older married sister Mary Lucinda (Grisdale) McKinney,  who also lived in Express/Durkee, as did Manuel’s family. It was no doubt in the McKinney household that Manuel first met Arlena.

Actually Arlena had been born in America. She was the fifth child of English immigrant Thomas Grisdale and his Indiana-born wife Elmira Jane Clements. Thomas had arrived in America in 1850 aged just eleven with his Bolton cotton-weaver father Doctor Grisdale and mother Mary Greene, together with his brother Joseph. Having originally moved to the cotton mills of Pennsylvania to work, Doctor Grisdale and his family set off on a long trek across the States. I told their story in an earlier article (see here). When Arlena was born in 1875/6 the family was already in Oregon and her father Thomas was working as Brick Maker. Doctor Grisdale had died in Oskaloosa, Mahaska County, Iowa in 1878 and never reached the West Coast, but the rest of the family finally made it to Oregon in about 1871, about twenty years after the family’s arrival in America and about 22 years before Martinho Silveira set sail from the Azores.

This cotton-weaving Grisdale family weren’t the only ones to come to America, I wrote of just some of the others who followed them to Pennsylvania here and here. Of course all these Grisdales found their roots in Dowthwaite Head in Matterdale (see here).

In 1880 we find the family of Thomas Grisdale in Roseburg, Douglas County, Oregon. 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. As said Thomas was working as a “Brick Maker”. He then moved to Bridgeport, Baker County, Oregon with yet 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! 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. Thomas’s wife Elmira married Amos Carson following Thomas’s death and died in 1940 In Baker County, Oregon.

So Thomas Grisdale, who was working as a farmer in Bridgeport in 1900, would no doubt have been present at the marriage of his daughter Arlena with farmer’s son Manuel Silvers in 1902, which probably (though not definitely) took place in Durkee. He wouldn’t have been able to talk much with Manuel’s parents because as the censuses make clear Martin and Ana Silvers couldn’t yet speak English.

The Express Ranch in Durkee

The Express Ranch in Durkee

Manuel and Arlena (Grisdale) Silvers started life together on Manuel’s father’s farm in Express/Durkee. Two sons soon followed: James in 1903 and Thomas Martin Silvers in 1905. There was also a daughter called Anna M Silvers born in 1908 who would marry Arthur Edward Powell in 1923 but died after having two children in 1935. But while the children were still small, for some reason Arlena died in 1908 aged just thirty-four. Perhaps she died giving birth to Anna? Manuel must have been devastated and not being able to cope on his own he sent the two boys to live in Baker City where we find them in 1910 with Arlene’s mother Elmira and her unmarried sisters. Baby Anna was sent to be brought up in the house of her Aunt Anna Almada.

But in 1913 Manuel remarried. His new wife was forty-year old widow Malinda Anderson (nee Glassley). They had a child they called Eva in 1915, who later married Keith Chaffin. Manuel lived to the great age of 93, dying in Baker City. (His father Martin also died aged 93 in 1936!) Malinda died in 1960 aged eighty-seven.

Martinho Caetano da Silveira/Silvers  with some grandchildren in California

Manuel and Arlena Grisdale’s children married too. I have mentioned Anna already. James married Vivian Helen Voris but the couple had no children. Thomas Martin married Sadie Irene Craven and they had two sons. Many of Thomas’s descendants still live in Oregon and other states to this day. I’ll just highlight one here. Eugene Thomas Silvers was Manuel and Arlene’s grandson and Thomas and Sadie’s son. His 2001 obituary reads:

EUGENE “GENE” THOMAS SILVERS

Posted May 11, 2001

Wasilla resident Eugene Thomas Silvers, 72, passed away at Patsy’s Assisted Living Care on March 19, 2001.

As per his wishes, he was cremated and no memorial services will be held. His ashes will be scattered over a large body of water in Alaska early this summer.

Mr. Silvers was born July 24, 1928, in Baker, Ore., to Sadie (Craven) Silvers and Thomas Silvers.

He moved to Alaska from Idaho in 1975 and resided in Wasilla until his death.

He enjoyed a varied career — from logging, ranching, industrial construction, carpentry and general contracting — and retired in 1997.

Throughout his years, Gene taught his sons the value of hard work. He was preceded in death by his mother and father, Sadie I. Silvers and Thomas M. Silvers, of Grants Pass, Ore.

Surviving are his former wife and friend, Irene Silvers of Wasilla; sons, Michael G. Silvers of Lacey, Wash., Patrick T. Silvers of Challis, Idaho, and Clifford Silvers of Wasilla; brother and his wife, Donald and Patricia Silvers of Hauser Lake, Idaho; nieces, Becky McGill and family of Oak Harbor, Wash., Peggy Magnuson and family of Vancouver, Wash., Jeanette Tingstrom of Wasilla; and nephew, Robert Silvers of Guam. He is also survived by his caregiver, Patsy Long, of Wasilla.

Andrew Leslie's shipbuilding yard in Hebburn

Andrew Leslie’s shipbuilding yard in Hebburn

One final coincidence. The Vega, the ‘cargo’ ship that brought the Silveiras to New York, was, as I said, English-built. In fact it was built by Alexander Leslie’s shipbuilding yard in Hebburn, Northumberland in 1879. After several owners in England it was sold to the Lisbon-based Empresa Insulana de Navegação (EIN) in 1890 before changing its name to the Benguela in 1900. It was wrecked in 1907 ‘at Mossamedes when inward from Alexandria with a cargo of dried fish’. And here’s the thing: when the Vega was being built in Hebburn a certain Joseph Grisdale was living right next door to the Leslie yard and would have seen it being built; indeed he also helped manufacture some of its components. Joseph was a distant relation of Arlene Grisdale, having common ancestors in Matterdale. I might tell Joseph’s story another time.

The Vega after it became the Benguela

The Vega after it became the Benguela

 

 

[1] I am grateful to an unnamed American Silveira descendant who visited the Azores to find the local records and posted them on the internet. I thank him/her.

“All you that in the condemned hole do lie, prepare you for tomorrow you shall die, the Lord above have mercy on your souls.” – Jailor every midnight at Newgate Prison

In August 1809 London pawnbroker John Annis was on board the convict ship Ann in Portsmouth harbour. He was probably extremely fearful about his imminent transportation to Australia. The convict ship was due to depart in only a few days and John had been sentenced at the Old Bailey in February to seven years transportation ‘beyond the seas’ for his felony of fraud. But just before the ship departed John’s fate changed. He had clearly been trying to get a pardon for his crime, and while this was being investigated the courts ordered him to be removed from the Ann and imprisoned him on the nearby prison hulk Captivity. This is John’s story, a story of impending doom to riches.

John was born in 1786 in Beaumont, Essex. His father was James Lash Annis, a well-to-do Essex gentleman farmer in Beaumont. The family had deep roots in Essex, as farmers and, before that, mariners. John’s father died while he was young but the family managed to procure him an apprenticeship as a pawnbroker in London in 1807 (or 1804) with a master pawnbroker called John Lucock. John was admitted to the freedom of the City of London. But then in November 1808 a London merchant called Thomas Pugh wanted to ship some goods to Antigua in the Caribbean on board a ship of the Muscovy Company.

The captain of the ship was a certain William Grisdale (see here). William suggested to Pugh that he use John Annis as his shipping broker. It seems young John was tempted to commit a bit of fraud. To cut a long story short, John severely undervalued the value of the shipment to the customs collectors in the London docks and then collected an inflated amount of custom’s taxes he should have paid, and said he had paid, from his client. But the customs’ inspectors checked the shipment and saw its real worth and John was arrested and imprisoned in the hell-hole of London’s Newgate Prison before being convicted of the felony at the Old Bailey and sentenced to seven years transportation. For the authorities the real crime was defrauding the taxman and not so much swindling his client. The transcript of his trial is reproduced at the end.

Inside Newgate Prison

Inside Newgate Prison

After his conviction John would have been returned to Newgate. We could say a lot about the squalor and horrors of Newgate, but it will suffice to use just a few words, those of Charles Dickens who visited the prison a little later:

A little farther on, a squalid-looking woman in a slovenly, thick- bordered cap, with her arms muffled in a large red shawl, the fringed ends of which straggled nearly to the bottom of a dirty white apron, was communicating some instructions to HER visitor – her daughter evidently. The girl was thinly clad, and shaking with the cold. Some ordinary word of recognition passed between her and her mother when she appeared at the grating, but neither hope, condolence, regret, nor affection was expressed on either side. The mother whispered her instructions, and the girl received them with her pinched-up, half-starved features twisted into an expression of careful cunning. It was some scheme for the woman’s defence that she was disclosing, perhaps; and a sullen smile came over the girl’s face for an instant, as if she were pleased: not so much at the probability of her mother’s liberation, as at the chance of her ‘getting off’ in spite of her prosecutors. The dialogue was soon concluded; and with the same careless indifference with which they had approached each other, the mother turned towards the inner end of the yard, and the girl to the gate at which she had entered.

The girl belonged to a class – unhappily but too extensive – the very existence of which should make men’s hearts bleed. Barely past her childhood, it required but a glance to discover that she was one of those children, born and bred in neglect and vice, who have never known what childhood is: who have never been taught to love and court a parent’s smile, or to dread a parent’s frown. The thousand nameless endearments of childhood, its gaiety and its innocence, are alike unknown to them. They have entered at once upon the stern realities and miseries of life, and to their better nature it is almost hopeless to appeal in after-times, by any of the references which will awaken, if it be only for a moment, some good feeling in ordinary bosoms, however corrupt they may have become. Talk to THEM of parental solicitude, the happy days of childhood, and the merry games of infancy! Tell them of hunger and the streets, beggary and stripes, the gin-shop, the station-house, and the pawnbroker’s, and they will understand you.

Note how the poor children Dickens saw would have been familiar with London’s pawnbrokers – John Annis was one.

The National Maritime Museum says that one of these two hulks was the Retribution

The National Maritime Museum says that one of these two hulks was the Retribution

John stayed in Newgate for the next five months before being transferred to the prison hulk Retribution, an old Spanish vessel, at Woolwich on the 22 July. The National Maritime Museum says that ‘during the first 20 years of their establishment (from about 1776) the hulks received around 8000 convicts. Almost one in four of these died on board. Hulk fever, a form of typhus that flourished in dirty crowded conditions, was rife, as was pulmonary tuberculosis’. In 1810 the notorious convict James Hardy Vaux was also a prisoner on the Retribution, he later wrote:

Every morning, at seven o’clock, all the convicts capable of work, or, in fact, all who are capable of getting into the boats, are taken ashore to the Warren, in which the royal arsenal and other public buildings are situated, and are there employed at various kinds of labour, some of them very fatiguing; and while so employed, each gang of sixteen, or twenty men, is watched and directed by a fellow called a guard. These guards are most commonly of the lowest class of human beings; wretches devoid of all feeling; ignorant in the extreme, brutal by nature, and rendered tyrannical and cruel by the consciousness of the power they possess; no others, but such as I have described, would hold the situation, their wages being not more than a day-labourer would earn in London. They invariably carry a large and ponderous stick, with which, without the smallest provocation, they will fell an unfortunate convict to the ground, and frequently repeat their blows long after the poor sufferer is insensible.

After a short time on the Retribution John was moved to Portsmouth to be ready for his transportation to Australia. He was first placed in the prison hulk Laurel. The Laurel was the Dutch ship Sirene, captured at the Battle of Saldanha Bay in South Africa in 1796. It was renamed HMS Daphne before being made a prison ship at Portsmouth in 1798.

A few days or a couple of weeks later John was moved again, this time to the convict ship Ann, ready for the long voyage to penal servitude in Australia. It is here that I started this story. John had obviously been trying to gain a pardon. It’s likely that he had enlisted his family and friends to help.

There were occasions in the course of the legal process when defendants might wish to petition the court about the conduct of their trial. Most importantly, convicted criminals often petitioned for a pardon or to have their punishment reduced, particularly if they had been sentenced to death, and often their friends, relatives, and neighbours sent petitions in support of their case. This was an important exercise, and frequently successful: around 60% of those sentenced to death in the eighteenth century, rising to over 90% in the 1830s, were pardoned. Petitions for pardons and to remit sentences were typically addressed to the monarch in the eighteenth century, and later to ministers. Officials then asked for a report on the case before it was discussed by ministers. During the nineteenth century the developing bureaucracy within the Home Office played an ever-increasing role in these discussions and decision-making. These different processes through time generated some valuable records.

A prison hulk in Portsmouth Harbour

A prison hulk in Portsmouth Harbour

I don’t know if John Annis petitioned the courts or the king, but whatever the case his pleas bore fruit. On 22 August 1809, just six days before the convict ship Ann departed for its long voyage to New South Wales, John was ‘received’ on board the Portsmouth prison hulk Captivity. In 1807 the prison reformer and Justice of the Peace James Neild had visited both the Laurel and the Captivity in Portsmouth.

‘Neild reported that conditions on the three hulks he visited at Portsmouth (Captivity, Laurel and the hospital-ship Sagesse) were better than many. The fit and healthy prisoners from the Captivity and Laurel were employed in the dock yards and if they worked well, received the dock-yard allowance of one biscuit, one pint of small beer and a half-penny worth of tobacco each day. Those unable to work, and the convalescents, spun oakum and cut wood, which was sold in parcels to the ships of war.’ He said that ‘the Laurel had a complement of 196 convicts at the time of his inspection, of which 94 slept on the lower deck. The upper deck was divided into 3 wards: “19 convicts in the fore ward, 26 in the middle and 57 in the aft ward, where the best behaved were placed”. He noted that contrary to the usual practice, he found every porthole on the Captivity and the Laurel open to provide good ventilation. Despite these markedly better conditions, deaths on board the hulks at Portsmouth were still common; about one death every month on the Captivity and one every second month on the Laurel.’

NSW Convict Chain Gang

NSW Convict Chain Gang

While the convict ship Ann was wending its way to Australia, where it arrived in Sydney (Port Jackson) on 27 February 1810, John Annis was still being held on the hulk Captivity waiting to hear if his efforts to secure a pardon would be met with success. They were and on 23 December the records tell us that he was granted a ‘conditional pardon’ and he was released.

It is interesting to note that when the Ann arrived in Sydney John’s name was still included in the passenger list but it was noted he had been ‘discharged’ in Portsmouth, which shows how near he had come to suffering the unhappy fate of so many others he would have known.

John’s ‘conditional pardon’ tells us two things. First, that his conviction hadn’t been reversed, he was still a convicted felon. Second, ‘conditional’ means, as the word implies, that conditions were put on his release. Often this meant that the pardoned prisoner had to agree to serve in the army or navy for some years. Whether this was what John had to do we don’t know.

No doubt relieved that he had been pardoned, John returned to his life as a pawnbroker in London. He probably swore to himself that after his lucky escape he wouldn’t be so stupid again and would stay on the right side of the law. As far as we know he did. The next thing we hear of John is four years later. On 19 December 1813 John married Mary Ann Parsons in St. Botolph in London’s Aldgate. In 1815 the couple had their only (or only surviving) child, a girl they christened Mary Ann after her mother. Twenty years later when Mary Ann was still legally a minor she married (with her father’s consent) another London pawnbroker called Robert Attenborough, their union produced many children who all became wealthy and successful on the back of both John Annis’s work and that of his fellow pawnbroker Robert Attenborough.

London Pawnbroker

London Pawnbroker

Returning to John, in the decades following his escape from transportation John would find himself on many occasions back in the Old Bailey, but now not as a criminal but as a juror or as a witness in several trials involving people being tried for stealing from him or trying to fence/sell stolen goods through his pawnbroking business.

I would just like to highlight the last of these trials which took place in 1846. It involved a recent German immigrant to London called Philip Wetzel who ‘was indicted for stealing 1 painting and frame, value £l, the goods of John Annis; and that he had been before convicted of felony’. This previous conviction ‘for burglariously breaking and entering’ had happened in April 1844 and Philip had been sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment, so his next act of stealing from John Annis can’t have come much after his release. Philip had only arrived in London with his wife (about whom we know nothing) in March 1843, he was probably stealing to feed his family. In the trial of 1846 we are told that ‘the prisoner being a foreigner had the evidence communicated to him by an interpreter.’ The Old Bailey transcript is short enough to quote in full:

BENJAMIN HAZELDINE . I am in the service of Mr. John Annis, a pawnbroker—he lost an oil painting on Wednesday, the 17th of Dec.—this is it—the prisoner had been in the shop five minutes before we missed it.

JOHN LINSCOTT. I am a pawnbroker, and live at No. 105, High-street, Whitechapel. On the 17th of Dec. this painting was pawned by the prisoner for 10s.—he called again two days afterwards, and offered to sell the duplicate—he was then given into custody. Prisoner. It is the truth, I went to sell the ticket and was put in charge.

BENJAMIN HAZELDINE re-examined. This is the painting—it is the property of Mr. John Annis—it was lost from his shop in the Minories, about a quarter past nine o’clock in the morning, and was pawned at Mr. Linscott’s between three and four that afternoon. Prisoner’s Defence. A person gave it me; I do not know him by name; if I should see the man I should know him; he was a countryman, he wanted me to pawn it, and he would give me 1s.; being a poor man I went to pawn it; he gave me a sixpence and left me the ticket; I was in the gentleman’s shop and left two gentlemen and one woman in the shop.

BENJAMIN HAZELDINE re-examined. He offered to pawn a clarionet—there was no other person in the part of the shop where he was—there were other persons, but there is a partition across the shop which parted them.

PATRICK MANNING (police-constable H 160.) I produce a certificate of the prisoner’s former conviction, which I got at this Court—(Read—Convicted on 8th of April. 1844, of burglary, and confined eighteen months)—the prisoner is the man.

GUILTY. Aged 33. — Transported for Ten Years.

Before Edward Bullock, Esq.

Prisoners' Barracks in Hobart, Tasmania

Prisoners’ Barracks in Hobart, Tasmania

So just like John nearly forty years previously, poor German immigrant Philip Wetzel had been sentenced to transportation to Australia. But unlike John, Philip never got a pardon. His trial and sentencing had taken place on 5 January, but by 4 March (no doubt after shorts stays in Newgate prison and on a prison hulk) Philip was on his way from Portsmouth via Rio de Janeiro to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) on the convict ship Lady Palmyra to serve out his sentence.

What happened to Philip when he arrived in Hobart in August is a mystery. He is listed among the convicts arriving, but although his name is there, there is no physical description of him, as there was for all the other convicts. Nor is there any record of his ‘indentures’ or ‘conduct’ as there is for all the other convicts on board the Lady Palmyra. Had he died? Had he escaped? I don’t know, but whatever the case his lot was not that of John Annis whose goods he had stolen.

What might John Annis have thought when he heard of Philip’s transportation, a fate he himself had so narrowly avoided? Who knows?

For most of his life John carried on his pawnbroking business at 121 Minories, on Sparrow’s Corner in the City of London, near the Tower of London, an area now covered with office blocks but at the time full of warehouses serving the docks. His business had thrived because not only did he own his house/business premises in the Minories but also owned at least one more house at 11 Greek Street in Soho, where in the 1850s and 1860s his tenant was his pawnbroker son-in-law Robert Attenborough. Shortly before his death in 1866 John had moved from the City of London to the more upmarket and salubrious area of St. John’s Wood, where he died an ‘Esquire’ at 15 Blenheim Road, leaving an estate of ‘under £20,000’ – a fortune in those days.

I don’t have John’s will but I guess most of his wealth was left to his daughter Mary Ann Attenborough. The evidence seems to indicate that although John might have helped helped his son-in-law Robert Attenborough start in the pawnbroking business Robert already had enough connections to the pawnbroking world: his uncle Richard was already a London pawnbroker and two of his brothers became so too; they weren’t the only ones, pawnbroking runs through this whole Attenborough family.

Haydon Hill House

Haydon Hill House

In 1841, after his wedding and the birth of his first children, Robert had for a while returned to his native Northamptonshire to work as a ‘labourer’ on his father’s farm. But Robert and his family were soon back in London carrying on his pawnbroking and silversmithing business, first In Charlotte Street and then, as John Annis’s tenant, in Greek Street. They became rich and moved to a grand house at 56 Avenue Road on Regent’s Park, where they had governesses, footmen, cooks, parlour-maids and housemaids a plenty. When Robert Attenborough died in 1892 he left the sum of £74,255! His son Robert Percy had followed his father into the pawnbroking business and eventually lived in splendour at Haydon Hill House near Watford in Hertfordshire. Another son Walter Annis was a barrister and a third son, Stanley James, a solicitor.

All of Robert Attenborough’s and Mary Ann Annis’s children did well; they and their descendants became wealthy members of Britain’s commercial, legal and military elite. I wonder whether they knew (or know) that if John Annis had not been reprieved at the last moment and had been transported to Australia it all would never had happened? And as this is a Grisdale family blog, what if Captain William Grisdale had not recommended John Annis to act as Thomas Pugh’s shipping broker in 1808 – what then?

The transcript of John Annis’s Old Bailey trial on 18 February 1809.

Old Bailey in 1809

Old Bailey in 1809

JOHN ANNIS was indicted for a misdemeanor . The case was stated by Mr. Knapp.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. Did he, from your dictation, put down the articles in that trunk – A. He did; I told him what value to put upon that trunk; forty pounds. Q. Therefore then it became a complete copy of this – A. Yes, it did.

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

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

Q. Is that the bill which he brought to you – A. Yes, that is it. (The bill read.) “London, November 9th, 1808, Mr. Pugh to John Annis , nine shillings and six pence convoy duty on three hundred and thirty four pound; thirteen pounds eight shillings commission on three hundred and ninety four pounds sixteen shillings; and two pounds, making a total of fifteen pounds sixteen shillings and six pence; settled, John Annis .”

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

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

COURT. Did he say the entry was made – A. He had charged the entry; he told me that the goods were not put on board, but he would take care and put them on board that morning; this was Saturday the 12th of November; I told him I wanted to see him again, and where I should see him; he said he would meet me at Lloyd’s that day at four o’clock; I met him that day at Lloyd’s, I asked him if the business was done; he said no, some part of them was opened; I said for God’s sake, for what reason; he told me to be quiet and easy and all would be well about them, that he should see me again on Monday, he would give me a better account of them. Mr. Gurney. Did anything then pass about the entry – A. No, nothing at all. On Monday the 14th of November we met again at Lloyd’s, I asked him if they were then put on board the ship: he said no, they were not, but that all but the linen were stopped and opened; I said it was very odd they should be opened, for what reason: he said be still and quiet, and if nothing was said to them it should all be right again; I told him I could not think of any reason why they should be stopped; he told me if I would be quiet he would put all to rights again.

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

Q. Did you find that your goods had been stopped – A. I found that they had been seized by the officer. Q. Was it stated in the prisoner’s presence on what ground they had been seized – A. No, I believe not.

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

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

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

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

Q. This is a declaration of the value of the goods for the purpose of exportation, for what purpose is that entry made – A. For the several duties; one in the middle is the convoy duty upon that entry; I cannot speak to that. Mr. Const. That is your hand writing, that is all you prove – A. Yes.

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

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

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

Q. Now look at that, that is another paper, do you believe that to be his hand writing – A. I cannot say as to that; I do not think that to be his hand writing. (The receipt read.) “Russia Company, William Grisdale, Antigua, British bottom; John Annis; Irish linen, one hundred and twenty five pounds; two hundred weight of wrought iron, wearing apparel in packages, total value sixty nine pounds ten shillings; I, John Annis, do declare that I enter the said goods, value sixty nine pounds ten shillings; witness my hand, John Annis; signed in the presence of J. Miller.”

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

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

JOHN DODSON. Q. Did you receive the convoy duty on these goods – A. I did. Q. That is at the rate of four per cent – A. It is.

Q. What is the sum received – A. Two pounds sixteen shillings as the duty upon the value of sixty nine pounds ten shillings. Q. You received the money of whom – A. That I cannot tell. I signed the receipt at the time.

Q. Did you receive any other money upon these goods than that two pounds sixteen shillings – A. Not upon the account of these goods. Mr. Alley. What is the date of that – A. The 8th of November, 1808. The cotton went duty free. Mr. Const. What did this case contain – A. Wearing apparel and leather, sixty nine pounds ten shillings.

Q. Is there anything upon the face of that of three hundred and sixty four pounds eight shillings – A. Not at all. Mr. Gurney. Does that paper contain the marks of all the packages to be shipped on board – is there not the mark of every article – A. There is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. You knew he was a person acting as a shipping broker – A. I never saw him before this transaction. Mrs. Favey. I believe you shipped some goods on board the Russia Company, and employed Annis to ship them as broker – A. Yes.

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

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

Transported for Seven Years.

London jury, before Mr. Justice Heath.

 

Thomas Grisdale was born in 1639, the son of Symund Grisdale and his first wife Jane. The family lived and farmed in Borrowscale in Matterdale. In 1664 Thomas married Dorothy Rakestreye in Matterdale church. Many people all over the world think that Thomas and Dorothy are their distant ancestors. They are, I’m afraid to say, most likely wrong. As I will show, father Symund together with Thomas and Dorothy and their children moved away from Matterdale never to return. While I have known this for some years, until now I have never been able to find out what happened to Thomas’s many children. Here I can just partly do so. In addition, I’ll show who actually were the Matterdale ancestors of those who have Thomas and Dorothy in their family trees.

Norman Cragg Farm, Hutton Roof, Cumberland

Norman Crag Farm, Hutton Roof, Cumberland

Thomas Grisdale married twenty-three year-old Watermillock-born Dorothy Rakestreye on 25 April 1664 in Matterdale church. Several children soon followed: Ann 1665, Thomas 1667, Jane 1669, Margaret 1673-1673, Solomon 1674, Dorothy 1677, Jonathan 1690, Charles 1682 and Joseph 1685, The parish records give the place of birth of all these children as Borrowscale (with various spellings). But sometime soon after the baptism of Joseph in November 1685 the family moved away. In fact they moved north to live, and probably farm, in Norman Crag in Hutton Roof in the parish of Greystoke. In Norman Crag Thomas and Dorothy had another child who they baptized Samuel in Greystoke church in 1688.

Father Symund Grisdale, said to be “now of Ormand Crag late of Matterdale being about 86 years of age”, was buried in Greystoke on 24 December 1692. A few days later on the 9th of January 1693 (92 in the old calendar), Thomas and Dorothy’s daughter Dorothy was also buried there, she being “the daughter of Thomas Grisedale of Ormand Cragg in Hutton Roof”. Finally on 23 June 1696, Thomas’s wife Dorothy (nee Rakestreye) – “the wife of Thomas Grisedall of Normand Cragg” – was also buried in Greystoke. And that’s the last we hear of the family. Thomas seems to have still been alive in 1696, as were most of his children. Where did they go to next? Before I offer some thoughts on this mystery, let me return to the question of who were the actual ancestors of certain Matterdale Grisdale lines if they weren’t Thomas and Dorothy.

In the case of daughter Dorothy (born 1677), she clearly died at the age of 15 in 1693 in Hutton Roof. This definitively excludes her from being the Dorothy who married Lancelot Dawson in Matterdale in 1712. We know in fact that this Dorothy died in Matterdale in January 1775 said to have been “aged 85”, implying a birth in about 1692 – I would suggest in Watermillock.

Turning to Dorothy and Thomas’s other children. There is no evidence whatsoever that any of them ever returned to Matterdale. Those people who see Thomas and Dorothy Grisdale as being their ancestors do so, I believe, because they see son Joseph born in 1685 as being the only Joseph who could have married Jane Martin in Matterdale in November 1709. One person makes such a conjecture and others simply copy it. But there is another Joseph Grisdale who I believe is the person who married Jane Martin and from this couple countless Grisdale families descend, including many of those about whom I have written stories here. The Joseph who married Jane Martin was in all likelihood born the son of another Thomas Grisdale in Ulcatrow in 1687. Now the farm at Ulcatrow is geographically in Matterdale itself but lies within the parish of Watermillock, and that is where Joseph’s baptism took place and was recorded.

But again, what therefore became of Thomas and Dorothy Grisdale’s children, and for that matter Thomas himself? After years of finding no traces, I believe that I have found one pretty conclusively and another one quite probably.

Son Solomon (born in 1674 at Borrowscale) resurfaces in, of all places, Dublin in Ireland. In 1701 we find a Solomon Grisdale working as a mathematics teacher in Fishamble Street in Dublin.

John Whalley was a notorious quack and astrologer, who flourished in Dublin in the latter part of the 17th century. ‘He learned the trade of shoemaking; but found the compiling of prophetic almanacks, compounding quack medicines, and practising necromancy more profitable employments.’ In the English edition of Ptolemy’s astrological treatise, the Quadripartitum, Whalley recommended Solomon Grisdale and Jonathan Hill “masters of the mathematical school next door to the post office in Fishamble Street, Dublin”.

In A history of the City of Dublin by J. T. Gilbert published in 1854-59, we can also read: “Next to the Post office was a mathematical school kept in 1701 by Solomon Grisdale and Jonathan Hill.”

There can be little or no doubt that this Solomon Grisdale teaching mathematics in Dublin in 1701 was the son of Thomas and Dorothy Grisdale of Matterdale and, later, of Hutton Roof. Simply and literally there is no other Solomon it could be. How and when Solomon moved to Dublin, where and how he had gained a mathematical education, and whether he moved to Dublin alone or with some of his family remain mysteries.

Next we find three baptisms in Church of Ireland (COI, i.e. Protestant) churchs in Dublin: Mary  Grisdell baptized in 1696 in St. Michan’s COI church in 1696, the daughter of Thomas and Mary; then Hannah Greisdel, baptized in St. Mary’s (COI) in 1698, daughter of Thomas and Mary; then John Grasdell, also baptized in St. Mary’s in 1701, son of Thomas and Mary. Could this Thomas be the son of Thomas and Dorothy?

Then we find various interesting entries in the registers of the protestant church of St. Peter and St. Kevin in Dublin starting with the burial in December 1735 of an Ann Grisdell. But then we also see burials for various Grizells, Grissialls and Grisells with addresses all close to the church and indeed close to Fishamble Street: Mr Grisell from Lazy Hill (now Townsend Street) in 1713, Mrs Grisell of Brides Street in 1710, a child of Mr Grisell of Kevin Street in 1700, Cathren Grissial in 1745, John Grizell in 1733 and Thomas Grisell in 1734.

There are even more people called Grisell/Grizell in Dublin at this time (and it is interesting to note not later and not earlier): Joseph Grisell was buried in St Audeon’s (COI) in 1704, Ann Grizell was baptized in St Mark’s COI in 1736, the daughter of Alexander and Brackney. Ann Maria Grizell of Lazer’s Hill (the same place as Lazy Hill) was also baptized in St. Mark’s in 1738, the daughter of William and Mary. This William and Mary Grizell of Lazer’s Hill had three more children baptized in Dublin: William Grizell in 1742 at St. Mark’s, Ann in 1746 in Fleet Street church and Catherine in 1748 in St. Mark’s.

Could these various people called Grizell/Grisell be related to Dublin Solomon and Thomas Grisdale or even Ann Grisdell who died in 1735? It’s an avenue I think worth exploring.

It’s an ongoing research.

Along the Cumberland coast there are several towns that were important ports and mining centres from the seventeenth century onwards: Whitehaven, Maryport, Workington and Harrington. They are all within a few miles of each other. These towns and harbours were literally owned and developed by two powerful families. In the case of Whitehaven, the Lowthers, later Earls of Lonsdale. In the case of Workington and Harrington, the Curwens. Both families developed deep coal mines that ran out for miles under the sea. The ports were initially developed to transport their coal to Ireland but later developed and traded throughout the world. Our concern here is with a Grisdale family living in Harrington in the first half of the 1700s. 

Workington Hall - Seat of the Curwens

Workington Hall – Seat of the Curwens

To understand what this family might have been doing in Harrington at this time and what might have brought them there, we need to understand slightly more about the town, actually the village, itself.  ‘The manor was held of the fee of Workington by the Harrington (or ‘Haverington’) family in the 13th and 14th centuries.  It descended by marriage to Henry Grey, duke of Suffolk, executed 1554.  In 1556/7 the Crown granted Harrington to Henry Curwen of Workington; thereafter it descended with Workington.’ Coal mining in West Cumbria dates back to the 13th Century when the monks from St Bees Abbey supervised the opening of coal mines at Arrowthwaite. By 1688 there was at least one coal mine in Harrington Park ‘valued at £100 per year’ and also a salt pan at Lowca. It wasn’t until 1760 that Henry Curwen built a quay at Harrington on the south side of the River Wyre. Coal and limestone were soon being exported to Ireland from Harrington, and the increase in this trade led to the development of a local shipbuilding industry.

 At that time (1760) there were no houses in the area and no ships were recorded as belonging to Harrington. But by 1794 there were around 60 ships. The main cargoes were coal being shipped to Ireland from Curwen’s mines nearby, as well as lime from Distington to Scotland.

Harrington Harbour

Harrington Harbour

The Grisdales of Harrington were established there before the quay was built and thus, in all likelihood, they worked either in the early Curwen coal mines or possibly in the salt pan.

Henry ‘Grisedell’ was born in the nearby inland town of Wigton in 1668, the son of Alexander Grisedell and Katherine Yoward. Over the years the family name was recorded using all conceivable variants: Grisdale, Grisdell, Grisedell, Grizdale, Griesdale and Grizedale. I’ll use the more usual Grisdale. It appears that Henry married Ann Harrison in Skelton, Cumberland in 1688, but then, sometime before 1710, Henry moved to Harrington. His daughter Jane was baptized there in that year, followed by John in 1712,  Henry in 1713, Abraham in 1715, Sarah in 1722 and Isaac in  1723. All these children were baptized in St Mary’s Anglican parish church in Harrington, although names such as Abraham and Isaac might hint that there were non-conformist tendencies.

What became of these children? Abraham seems to disappear. Did he become a seamen and die somewhere unrecorded, or did he become a miner? I don’t know.

It seems that Isaac (baptized in 1723 but possibly born before) married Ellenor Sen in 1740, down the coast in Gosforth, Cumberland and had a child called Sarah in 1742 in St Bees.

Jane(1711) had an illegitimate son called Anthony in Arlecdon (Whitehaven) in 1745.

John (1712) married, because he had a son called Henry in nearby St Bees in 1740 and another named Anthony in 1744. This Henry married Elizabeth Hope in Whitehaven in 1761, although a daughter called Sarah had been born the year before, also in Whitehaven. More children followed: John 1767, Elizabeth 1772, Jane 1774, Henry 1777 and William 1779, all born and baptized in Whitehaven. I might return to the fate of these children at a later date. Did William become a Captain in the Muscovy Company or was that someone else? (see here).

Cumberland in 1720

Cumberland in 1720

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

Sailmaker

Sailmaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

the worshipfull company of coachmakers

the worshipful company of coachmakers

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

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

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

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

Embarkation of Emigrant Ship in Liverpool

Embarkation of Emigrant Ship in Liverpool

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

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

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

Onboard an Australian Emigrant Ship

Onboard an Australian Emigrant Ship

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

THE EMIGRANT SHIP ‘RELIANCE’

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

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

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

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

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

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ADELAIDE TIMES.

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

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

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

Ships in the Yarra River, Melbourne in the 1850s

Ships in the Yarra River, Melbourne in the 1850s

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

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

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

diggers on way to bendigo

diggers on way to bendigo

What was John’s journey like?

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

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

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

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

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

Bendigo Diggers

Bendigo Diggers

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

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

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

Liverpool Street in mid 1800s

Liverpool Street in mid 1800s

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

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

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

The Bendigo Petition, 1853

The Bendigo Petition, 1853

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

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

Hartsop Hall, Patterdale

Hartsop Hall, Patterdale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old Penrith

Old Penrith

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

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

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

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

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

Carlisle English Gate and Old Gaol

Carlisle English Gate and Old Gaol

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

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

Bound For Van Diemen's Land

Bound For Van Diemen’s Land

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Charge of the 10th Hussars under Lord Paget

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

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

The British Retreat to Corunna 1808-1809

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christ Church, Penrith – where Levi Grisdale is buried

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

Dowthwaite Head Farm

Dowthwaite Head Farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matterdale Old School

Matterdale Old School

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

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

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

Some of the 5th Battlion the Border Regiment in France

Some of the 5th Battlion the Border Regiment in France

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cockermouth gravestone of the last Matterdale Grisdales

Cockermouth gravestone of the last Matterdale Grisdales

In the late 1830s and early 1840s three young brothers attended school together in what would become, but wasn’t yet, the Canadian city of Winnipeg. They were pupils at the Red River Academy, the first school established in the Red River Settlement, an area of Manitoba where Lord Selkirk had established English and Scottish farmers. These settlers in the Red River area weren’t however the first people there. The indigenous peoples, mostly of the Cree and Ojibway tribes, had been there for a long time. There were also the Métis, people of mixed race – French/Indian or British/Indian – who mostly worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company in the fur trade. It was for the children of these people that the Red River Academy was started.

On land granted by Selkirk to his settlers for religious and educational purposes the Reverend John West of the Church of England founded in 1820 the church of St. John. This was located about two miles below the Forks on the west bank of the Red. The mission gave rise to the Red River Academy, later St. John’s College. It was established for the training of a native ministry and for the education of the sons of Hudson’s Bay Company employees.

Red River Academy

Red River Academy

The three brothers were called Thomas, John and William Bunn. They were the only children of the Métis, or ‘half-breed’, couple Dr John Bunn and Catherine Thomas, who at the time lived in the small Red River Settlement of St. Paul, known as Middlechurch. Catherine’s father was Welsh but her mother Sarah was a Cree Indian. Dr John Bunn’s father was English, but his mother Sarah McNab was a Scottish/Indian Métis.

All the boys’ family were or had been employees in one capacity or another of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Dr John Bunn was the first native-born doctor to practice medicine in the Red River Settlement.   His English-born father Thomas was employed as a writer by the Hudson’s Bay Company at the company’s York Factory (trading post) in Manitoba.

Young John was well cared for by his father and by his Scottish grandfather, John McNab, a surgeon and the chief factor at York Factory. Thanks to their generous assistance, he attended a good school in Edinburgh and then began to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh. ‘In 1819, when he had only two years’ medical training, not enough to graduate, he was persuaded by McNab to accept a position as surgeon at Moose Factory. Upon reaching Moose Factory in September of that year, Bunn had grave misgivings about the wisdom of his grandfather’s decision in sending a not yet fully qualified doctor into the wilderness of Rupert’s Land. Uneasy as he was about his future, during the next five years Bunn gained considerable experience by serving the HBC as a surgeon at several posts as well as on the company’s ship, the Eddystone.’

York Factory 1812

York Factory 1812

John’s entry in the Canadian Dictionary of Biography continues:

With no real taste for a nomadic existence, Bunn in 1824 left the HBC service and moved to the Red River Settlement to begin a private medical practice. Here, in the vicinity of Middlechurch, he lived with his father who had retired two years earlier. Here too, on 23 July 1829, he married Catherine Thomas, the daughter of his father’s close friend Thomas Thomas, a former governor of the Northern Department. Because of his family connections and his professional status, Bunn was able to move easily in the influential circles of Red River society. A witty, good-natured, and vigorous man, with a dark complexion and a handsome bearing, Bunn the doctor was as popular with the HBC establishment as he was with the half-caste population of the settlement.

Feeling the need to upgrade his qualifications, Bunn again attended the University of Edinburgh during the 1831–32 academic session, and returned to Red River in 1832 not with a degree but as a licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons at Edinburgh. He was happy to come home to his wife Catherine who had cheered him with her affectionate letters while he was abroad. A little over a year after his return, on 3 Jan. 1834, came her death, and he never remarried. He and his three small boys… continued to live comfortably in his father’s household which was ably managed by his halfbreed stepmother Phoebe Sinclair Bunn.

Dr John Bunn

Dr John Bunn

With the lack of European women it was fairly common, in fact usual, for English and Scottish employees of the Hudson’s Bay Company in the remote west of British North America to take  native Indian wives, marriages often entered into via a native ritual and thus not recognised by the Church of England. The same was true, and for a much longer period, of the French fur trappers, voyageurs and traders.

There is much more to tell about this fascinating man, but our concern here is with his sons. When the three boys were pupils at the Red River Academy the headmaster was John Macallum who came to Red River in 1833 as a schoolteacher, working at £100 per annum at the academy. In 1836, having married one of his mixed-blood students, he became headmaster in 1838 and having initially leased the buildings from the HBC, which owned the property, he eventually purchased the school for £350 in 1841.

Under Macallum’s guidance it (the school) maintained a high level of excellence. During his tenure courses were offered in Greek, Latin, geography, Bible study, history, algebra, writing, and elocution.

It was later said that Macallum’s school ‘prepared a goodly number of postmasters, clerks and future chief traders and chief factors’ for the HBC and that he was a ‘conscientious and faithful worker”, but who ‘perhaps over-estimated the use of the rod’.

John Macallum

John Macallum

He was in fact ‘a strict disciplinarian, with a strong sense of morality’.  Despite his own marriage to a mixed blood girl, if Indian or mixed-blood mothers were not formally married he refused to allow them to visit their children at the school. One contemporary commented on this policy as being ‘fearfully cruel for the poor unfortunate mothers did not know that there was any distinction’. Macallum was also ‘an exponent of corporal punishment, he employed a rod more than three feet long’.

Such was the school life of the three Bunn brothers. Their mother would likely have not been allowed to visit them if she had lived; unfortunately she had died in 1834 when the boys were still very young.

The third and youngest brother, William, died in 1847, aged just fourteen. Thomas was the oldest son; he was born in St Paul in 1830 and was to go on to great things. Second son John, who was born in 1832, never achieved any fame, but it was one of his daughters who would marry into the family of the Bolton-born future Bishop of Qu’Appelle John Grisdale.

Thomas Bunn (third from left back row) with Louis Riel (meddle second row)

Thomas Bunn (third from left back row) with Louis Riel (middle second row)

Having left school Thomas Bunn first remained in St. Paul where he married Métis Isabella Clouston in 1854. Three children followed until Isabella’s untimely death only three years later. He then moved to the nearby St. Andrews where he married Rachel Harriot in 1859. Eventually he moved further up the Red River to St. Clements near Selkirk. He became a member of the Church of England and a freemason. ‘He was able, therefore, to have some influence in the Indian community and to enter English society in Red River. In January 1868 Bunn was appointed a member of the Council of Assiniboia and held this office until the council ceased to function in September 1870. On 17 Dec. 1869 he succeeded W. R. Smith as executive officer of the council with a salary of £100 per year.’

Here a little history is called for. It explains Thomas Bunn’s involvement in the ‘Red River Rebellion’, better said the Red River Resistance:

In 1869 Louis Riel had begun to organize resistance to the transfer of the North-West to the dominion of Canada without prearranged terms. Bunn was elected a representative from St Clements to the council of English and French parishes convened on 16 Nov. 1869 to draw up terms for entry. He hoped for a united front to negotiate these terms of union with Canada. Most English settlers, however, were disposed to think that Canada would be just, and if it were not, that Great Britain would ensure a fair settlement. Many English were willing to support Riel’s policy of union through negotiation, not so much because they thought negotiation was necessary, but because they hoped thus to preserve peace in the Red River Settlement. Bunn tried indeed to pursue an intermediate position, and the strains were sometimes great. By accepting Riel’s policy, Bunn, in a sense, made himself Riel’s English half-breed lieutenant, despite the fact that there was no bond between the men.

On 19 and 20 Jan. 1870, a mass open-air meeting was held to hear Donald Alexander Smith, commissioner of the Canadian government. Bunn was chairman of the discussion. It was decided that a convention should be held to prepare terms for negotiations with Canada, and that delegates should be elected. Bunn was one of those appointed to a committee to arrange the elections. He himself became a delegate from St Clements. From 27 January to 3 February, the convention prepared a second list of rights and approved the formation of a provisional government. Riel made Bunn secretary of state in the provisional government.

On 24 August the military forces of the crown under Colonel Garnet Joseph Wolseley reached Upper Fort Garry (Winnipeg) and the provisional government was swept from power. Bunn survived its fall and may have been present at a meeting of the Council of Assiniboia which Wolseley revived in an attempt to settle the situation. Indeed, Bunn continued as usual in Red River society and set out to establish himself in the new order. As a man of some education and a fluent speaker with a judicious cast of mind, he decided to go into law. He was called to the bar of the new province of Manitoba in 1871, and was clerk to the First General Quarterly Court held in the new province on 16 May 1871. St Clements returned him as its first member to the provincial Legislative Assembly on 30 Dec. 1870. Thus Bunn’s career decidedly bridged the way from the old order to the new. His early death in 1875 cut short his passage into it.

During all this time that Thomas Bunn was becoming a prominent local politician and being involved in events that shaped the history of Canada, his brother John was pursuing a much more humdrum career as a ‘clerk’ with the Hudson’s Bay Company – exactly the sort of role that the Red River Academy had been founded to prepare such Métis children of the company’s employees for.

St Paul's Anglican Church

St Paul’s Anglican Church

But John didn’t enter the service of the HBC until 1867 when he was 35. What he did before that is unknown. All we know was that he married Jemima Clouston in St Paul in 1859 in his home settlement of St. Paul. Jemima was the sister of Isabella, John’s brother Thomas’ wife. Eight children were to follow, the first few born in St. Paul, the reminder at the various HBC trading posts John was posted to. Between 1867 and 1878, John was a HBC clerk in three factories or trading posts in the remote and wild west of the country: Lac Ste. Anne, Fort Victory and Bow Fort. In 1878 he retired back in the Red River Settlement and ‘died after a brief illness that year’. His wife Jemima was to live until 1888.

It is with his daughter Annie Bunn that we are concerned with here. Annie was born in 1866 in St. Paul in the Red River Settlement but, as we have seen, she spent most of her childhood living with her family in various remote HBC factories. In her 1885 ’Declaration concerning her claim to participate in any grant to Half Breeds living in the North West Territories’, she stated, ‘I lived with my parents in the north West Territories from 1867 to 1877’. I will return to this declaration later.

Following her father’s death, Annie continued to live in St Paul’s with her mother and siblings. In 1891 we find her living with her sister Isabell and brother William in the growing city of Winnipeg. It was probably in Winnipeg that Annie met her future husband Joseph Grisdale.

Bishop John Grisdale circa 1900

Bishop John Grisdale circa 1900

Here we have to leave the Métis world of the Red River Settlement and go back a little to the grim world of the Lancashire cotton mills in England. I have previously written three pieces about a Bolton cotton bleacher called John Grisdale who was first a missionary in India before coming to Manitoba in 1873, and who eventually was to become the Anglican Bishop of Qu’Appelle. (See here, here and here). During one of his many trips back to England in 1882/3 John discussed Canada with his brother Joseph, who was at that time a ‘railway clerk’ in Bolton. When John returned to Canada in 1883 his brother Joseph came with him. At first Joseph lived with his brother John in Winnipeg. In 1883 John was a canon of St. John’s Cathedral in Winnipeg and a Professor of Theology at St. John’s College (the successor to the Red River Academy). But in 1894 he had been appointed dean of Rupert’s Land. In 1891 we find Joseph living with his brother and his family in comfortable circumstances in Winnipeg. No doubt with his brother’s help Joseph was now a ‘Bank Manager’.

And so it was that in some way at some time bank manager Joseph Grisdale met and fell in love with Annie Bunn. They married in Winnipeg in 1893. We can only wonder if Dean Grisdale officiated at their wedding.

Private Percy John Grisdale (1896-1916)

Private Percy John Grisdale (1896-1916)

Initially the family stayed in Winnipeg and had two children there: Percy John Grisdale in 1896 and Eveleigh Grisdale in 1899. In the 1901 census Joseph and his family are still in Winnipeg and Joseph is said to be an ‘accountant’. But sometime prior to 1904 the family moved north up the Red River to Selkirk where two more children were born: twins Edwin and Roland in 1904. The family continued to live in Selkirk until sometime after 1911, Joseph still being a bank manager. But they soon moved on, to Calgary in Alberta. In the 1916 census we find the family living in Calgary with Joseph listed as a ‘bookkeeper’. Son Percy is listed too, but he is said to have been overseas. You can read his story here. Eventually, sometime after 1921, Joseph took his family to Vancouver, where he died in 1950. I don’t know where and when Annie Bunn Grisdale died.

James Grisdale can’t have had an easy early life. When he was born in 1843 in Bolton, Lancashire, into an extended family working in the cotton mills, a type of forced child labour was still practiced. James probably starting working in the mills at an early age, after a perfunctory education.  But he had other things to contend with as well before he finally ended up in the mills of North Carolina.

Child Labour in Bolton Cotton Mill

Child Labour in Bolton Cotton Mill

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.

He continued:

The way in which the vast mass of the poor are treated by modern society is truly scandalous. They are herded into great cities where they breathe a fouler air than in the countryside which they have left.

How is it possible that the poorer classes can remain healthy and have a reasonable expectation of life under such conditions? What can one expect but that they should suffer from continual outbreaks of epidemics and an excessively low expectation of life? The physical condition of the workers shows a progressive deterioration.

James’ cotton weaver father Thomas had died in 1847 aged just twenty-six. James was only four. His one year old sister died in 1848. This left James together with his younger brother John and his half sister Nancy Howarth to be looked after by their mother Maria (nee Howarth). In 1851 they are all together in Bolton living in Martin’s Building.  Maria was working as a power loom weaver.

But Maria probably found it all too much as a single mother because by 1861 James had been sent a few miles away to Farnworth to live with his widowed grandfather John, his uncle John and his aunt Margaret.  They all lived in Queen Street and worked in the mills. Grandfather John was a cotton twister, while his uncle John was already a ‘Cotton Power Loom Manager’. Meanwhile James’ mother and brother were still in Bolton centre toiling in the mills.

Lancashire 'Cotton Famine' workers queuing for food

Lancashire ‘Cotton Famine’ workers queuing for food

As I have told before, many thousands of Lancashire cotton weavers went to America when times were hard (which was most of the time) to try to find a better life. Of the Grisdale clan, James’ grandfather’s brother, Doctor Grisdale, was the first to leave. He had emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1850 with his young family (see here). By 1863 when the American Civil War was still raging and the Union navy had blockaded the Confederate ports, raw cotton supplies from America to the Lancashire mills dried up. This led to a dreadful ‘Cotton Famine’ which threw thousands out of work and caused starvation and death.

The Lancashire Cotton Famine, 1861 -1865

In the early 1860’s, the Lancashire cotton industry, which dominated the mid-19th century British economy, was devastated by a political event beyond its control, the Civil War in the United States of America. In April 1861, President Lincoln ordered a blockade of the Confederate southern ports, the outlet for the raw cotton on which Lancashire’s mills depended. Attempts to find alternative sources of supply from India or Egypt had little success. The short stapled Surat cotton proved no substitute for the medium stapled American variety. Deprived of essential raw material, spinning mills and weaving sheds closed down or resorted to short time working. Unemployment mounted rapidly.

By November 1862, three fifths of the labour force, 331,000 men and women were idle. Many operatives, their savings exhausted, were forced to apply for charitable handouts or for relief from the despised poor law system. Such hardships, however, they endured calmly because they believed in the noble cause for which Lincoln was fighting, the freeing of the slaves of the southern plantation owners. From its peak in 1862/3, unemployment fell, but not until the end of the war, in April 1865, was normal working resumed. The cotton industry never regained the dominance it had once held in the British economy.

Most probably as a result of the famine, in late 1863 James’s uncles Jonathan and  John  (with whom James had been living in 1861) made the voyage from Liverpool to New York and from there on to Pennsylvania (see here).

SS City of New York

SS City of New York

Perhaps James didn’t go with them because he wanted to support his mother and brother. But it seems that they both probably died in the 1860s, no doubt as a result of the Cotton Famine. So James decided to follow his uncles and grand uncle to America to seek work there in the rising cotton mills there. He embarked in Liverpool on the Inman Line’s ship SS City of New York (2) and arrived in New York on 21 December, 1868.

Like his relatives before him James made his way to the Pennsylvania mills, because he too was of course a cotton weaver. James soon married Dealware-born Annie Cannon and by 1870 with their new son, also called John, they were living with James’ uncle John in Philadelphia, and James was back in a cotton mill.

But, for whatever reason, sometime between 1873 and 1879 James and his growing family moved on; to live and work in and around Gaston, North Carolina. He probably saw better chances there for a man of his experience:

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

Mountain Island Cotton Mill

Mountain Island Cotton Mill

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

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

Long Island Cotton Mill

Long Island Cotton Mill

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

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

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

McAden’s Mill, McAdenville, North Carolina

The couple had at least seven children, either born in Pennsylvania or, later, in North Carolina. They were: John 1869 – , Emma Virginia 1870-1952, James Wingate 1873-1967, George Washington 1879-1952, Kate Roper 1881-1940, Lucy Lula Sanders 1884-1949 and Jesse D. 1891-1918.

All James’ sons (and many grandchildren) were to follow him into North Carolina’s cotton mills, both in McAdenville and in Salisbury. His daughters too married weaver husbands. And so it went on, as the bible says ‘unto the next generation’

One of James’ sons, Jesse D. Grisdale, died from ‘friendly fire’ in France in 1918 (see here). What became of James and his wife Annie Cannon? I can find no mention of James himself after 1900, when he was working in the McAden Mill. In 1910 his wife was a patient in the State Hospital in Morganton, Burke County, and said to be married, but no sign of James. Where and when James died I do not know. Annie died in 1923 aged 74. She is buried in The Hollywood Cemetery in Gastonia, North Carolina.

McAden Mill, N. C.

McAden Mill, N. C.

Finally, while the cotton mills of North Carolina (and Pennsylvania) had offered various members of the Grisdale family some opportunities, they weren’t much better than the mills ‘back home’ in Lancashire. Child labour was still seen and once the demand from the First World War died out conditions deteriorated and strikes broke out. There is much to be read and learned about this.

Located in the south-western piedmont of North Carolina, Gaston County had the ideal resources for manufacturing. Because of the large potential workforce of former sharecroppers and failed farmers, many northern industrialists moved south in search of a reduced cost of labor. World War 1 brought great prosperity to the southern cotton mills, “fuelled largely by government defence orders for uniforms, tents, and war material. Thousands of new jobs opened in the mills, and wages soared to all time highs.” This boom was to be short-lived, however, and the prosperity that the workers enjoyed soon disappeared. The luxury items they had purchased on credit were now stretching their budgets so much that they could hardly afford to put food on the table.

Managers introduced the “stretch-out” system in which spinners and weavers not only doubled their work, but also reduced their wages. “I used to tend forty-eight looms,” complained a South Carolina weaver in 1929, “while under the stretch-out I have to tend ninety looms and I couldn’t do it. Three years ago I was makin’ over $19 a week. Now I make $17.70.” “By the late 1920’s some mill workers’ wages sank as low as $5 a week.” The owners of the mills insisted on keeping prices down, which caused mill work to become extremely dangerous and dirty. Often the workdays were so long that the women, who made up a considerable percentage of the workers, were rarely home to raise their children.

Annie P Cannon Grisdale's Grave

Annie P Cannon Grisdale’s Grave

‘Killed by Friendly Fire’ is a dreadful modern American euphemism to avoid saying explicitly that a soldier has been killed (unintentionally of course) by his own side. Despite this appalling new name, it is certainly not a new phenomenon. This is the story of one North Carolina man called Jesse Grisdale who was the victim of ‘friendly fire’ at Ypres in Belgium in late August 1918, only a few days after his regiment became a ‘combat’ unit.

The United States entered the First World War late. It wasn’t until mid 1918, only months before the end, that American units first started to go into action in the fields of Flanders.  The British, French, Germans and others had by this time already been slaughtering each other for four years in this most meaningless and avoidable war.

Highland Park No 3 Cotton Mill Workers

Highland Park No 3 Cotton Mill Workers

Jesse D. Grisdale was a young North Carolina man. Jesse was born in July 1891, the sixth and last child of English-born cotton weaver James Grisdale and his wife Annie Cannon. I previously wrote about how James Grisdale had followed his two uncles to America, working first in the Pennsylvania mills before moving his family to North Carolina to do the same thing. In 1907, aged just 16, Jesse was a Machine Operator in Salisbury, North Carolina. By 1910 he was working with his older brother, George Washington Grisdale, in the huge cotton mill in McAdenville in Gaston County, as his father had before. He was a ‘twister’. By 1913, he had moved to Charlotte and was working in Highland Park Mill Number 3, where he was to remain until he joined the army.

The Highland Park #3 Mill in the… North Charlotte industrial district was the largest textile factory in the county when it opened about 1904, one of the state’s first mills designed for electric operation. It soon become one of the South’s best-known mills, for its architect was Charlottean Stuart Warren Cramer. Cramer, credited with designing and/or equipping “nearly one-third of the new cotton mills in the South” between 1895 and 1915, used this factory as a showcase of his techniques. Over seventy pages of his influential book Useful Information for Cotton Manufacturers Volume 3 (1906) are devoted to drawings and photographs of the mill and its machinery layouts. Twenty-four of those pages focus on the architecture of the main building itself, including facade elevations, structural drawings, specifications for contractors, and even detailed drawings of cast-iron column capitals and wooden windows and doors.

Highland Park No3 Mill, Charlotte, North Carolina

Highland Park No3 Mill, Charlotte, North Carolina

When work began in February, 1903, the Charlotte Observer announced that it was to be ‘a state-of-the-art factory, and by far the city’s largest’: ‘$600,000 PLANT TO BE BUILT THE FIRST ELECTRIC-DRIVEN MILL. Work will begin Monday on the new cotton mill that is to be erected by the Highland Park Manufacturing Company…. The plant will occupy 102,125 square feet. R.A. Brown, of Concord, has the contract for the brick work of the mill, and the wood work will be done by A.K. Lostin of Gastonia. It is expected that the mill will be completed and running by next January. … C.W. Johnston … informed an Observer reporter yesterday that his company had decided to build a power plant on Sugar Creek, 1,000 feet from the new mill and about one mile from the Gingham Mill (Highland Park #1 …. The power plant will have 2,000 horse power and will generate electricity to run both the Gingham Mill and the new mill; and the two mills will be the first electric driven plants in North Carolina….. The new mill, which will be called the Highland Park Manufacturing Company plant #3, will consist of two buildings. One will be one story high and 450 feet long by 125 feet wide; the other will be two stories high and will also be 425 feet long and 125 feet wide. The mill will employ over 800 operatives and will have 30,000 spindles and 1,000 looms. The Gingham Mill, which is considered a large plant, has only 500 operatives…. The No. 3 mill will make a specialty of ginghams, and will give the Highland Park Company a total of 27,000 spindles on ginghams alone.’

105th Engineers at Camp Sevier

105th Engineers at Camp Sevier

The United States declared war on Germany in April 1917. In September Jesse joined the newly formed 105th Regiment of Engineers, the engineer troops of the 30th Division, called ‘Old Hickory’. The Regiment spent eight months training at Camp Sevier, South Carolina. ‘While carrying out the Engineering training programme, the Regiment was at the same time given thorough training in Infantry Drill. It had the reputation while at Camp Sevier of being one of the best drilled units of the 30th Division.’ So wrote First Lieutenant Harry S. Tucker, an officer in the Regiment.

SS Melita

SS Melita

On 18 May, 1918, the Regiment left Camp Sevier on four trains. Jesse was in F Company which boarded the third train and arrived at Camp Mills in New Jersey on the 20th of May. A large part of the regiment then went to Montreal to find a ship, but F Company boarded the Canadian Pacific Steamship Melita at Hoboken on May 27th. They sailed for Liverpool, where they arrived on June 8th, and immediately ‘entrained for Dover’ and then crossed the English Channel to reach Calais, establishing their initial camp 20 miles east of Calais in the Licques area. Throughout June and July, 1918, the Regiment continued their training – this time often under British instructors – first at Licques then at Terdeghem. They were not yet a ‘Combat Regiment’ but as well as training ‘the entire regiment was employed in constructing trenches and barbed wire entanglements on the Winnezeele Trench System’. On July 10th the Regiment moved to Proven in Belgium and continued to work on the trenches and defences to the rear of Ypres. On the 17th August the 30th Division, including the 105th Engineers, became a ‘Combat’ unit, its ‘training having been sufficiently completed to the satisfaction of the authority competent to judge’, and on that day the 30th relieved the 33rd British Division on the ‘Canal Sector’ at Ypres.

The 105th Engineers took over the work then being done by the British Royal Engineers and Pioneers.’ This work, Lt. Tucker wrote in 1919, consisted of: ‘The construction of trenches, the building of shelters, machine gun emplacements, observation posts, erecting barbed wire entanglements, road patrols, camouflaging, the establishing of advanced water points, operation of light railways, salvaging material, (and) road and light railway building.

The Division had yet to make any attack, but in preparation for such, on the night of August 26/27th, the 105th Engineers ‘put over some deadly gas attacks’, which, ‘did great damage as we afterwards learned from German prisoners’, as Captain Zachary P. Smith wrote later. But unfortunately the ‘damage’ was not only to the enemy. Lt. Tucker tells us the full story:

On the night of August 26/27th, 1918, there was launched on the left of the Division Sector a cloud gas attack. It was carried out by an officer and 50 men from the Engineers, assisted by 350 men from the Infantry. Nine trains of eight cars each, carrying 2520 gas cylinders, were rolled out by hand into ‘No Man’s Land’. When the wind became favourable – at 02.30 – the cylinder heads were detonated by electricity, under the direction of a British Gas Officer, and the gas released. There was such a high concentration of the gas, combined with a low velocity of the wind towards the enemy trenches, that a considerable gas came back towards our own trenches, As a result the Engineers suffered 15 casualties.

Soldiers of the 30th Division at Ypres, 1918

Soldiers of the 30th Division at Ypres, 1918

Tucker goes to add that, ‘in all other respects the attack was highly successful’.

But three of these fifteen casualties died from their own gas attack, one of whom was Private First Class Jesse Grisdale. In Willard P. Sullivan’s The History of the 105th Regiment of Engineers (1919), Jesse is listed as: ‘Missing in Gas attack August 27th, 1918.’  Another report says: ‘Missing in action following a gas attack that rolled back on US troops. Men tried to retreat from the gas cloud but the Germans opened fire, and some were hung in the barbed wire. Two men were not found, Arnett and Grisdale both from Charlotte.’

Jesses’s sergeant, Guy R. Hinson, was awarded the Distinquished Service Cross for his valour on the day Jesse died. His citation reads:

GUY R. HINSON, sergeant, first class, Company F, 105th Engineers. For extraordinary heroism in action August 27, 1918. He was in charge of a platoon, delivering a highly concentrated gas-cloud attack against the enemy, when the cloud unexpectedly flared back. After leading his men to a place of safety, this soldier went back into the cloud four times at imminent peril to his own life, collecting and rescuing others who had been overcome. Conducting his platoon through heavy machine-gun fire, he put them in charge of another sergeant with instructions to resume their mission, while he again returned to search for gassed men, and found all but two. His excellent leadership and unusual courage prevented many casualties, and at the same time effected the completion of an important mission.

Jesse Grisdale's Grace in Oaklawn Cemetery, Charlotte

Jesse Grisdale’s Grave in Oaklawn Cemetery, Charlotte. North Carolina

Obviously the two soldiers Hinson couldn’t find were Grisdale and Arnett. So Jesse’s war was over almost as soon as it had begun. It seems that his body was probably eventually recovered because his grave is to be found in Oaklawn Cemetery in Charlotte, he was, says the headstone, ‘killed in action’.

Many of the descendants of Jesse’s brothers and sisters still live in North Carolina to this day.

This is the story of a young girl who became a ballet dancer at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London, who married a famous and well-to-do painter, who lived the good life for a while and moved to America. But later poverty and tragedy were to strike and this young girl eked out her final years hawking fish in Falmouth, Cornwall.

Outside Drury Lane Theatre 1820

Because of tight licensing laws in the early nineteenth century there were only two main theatres in London – The Theatre Royal in Drury Lane was one. It was a world where high culture and society met the demimonde. Shakespearean, German and French plays were produced alongside music and romantic ballets. Talented artists were employed to capture scenes from the plays and ballets as well as being commissioned to paint portraits of the leading actors, actresses and dancers – for example of the famous though scandalous and notorious Edmund Kean. Starting in the 1820s one of the most successful and rising of these artists was the young John William Gear (J W Gear). Born in Alverstoke, Hampshire into a very talented and successful Hampshire family, John Gear’s father, Joseph Gear, was both a renowned marine painter and a musician in the Drury Lane Theatre orchestra.

John painted and engraved dozens of scenes from the vibrant life at Drury Lane. In 1824 he even painted the royal family of Hawaii who attended a performance at the theatre during a “state” visit to London.

John William Gear’s painting of the Hawaiian Royal Family at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1824

As mentioned, as well as tragedies the theatre put on romantic or “pastoral” ballets, which usually followed the heavier and more melodramatic fare. There was also what we would now call a “Corps de Ballet”, with principal and supporting dancers. Starting in 1824 one of these dancers was a “Miss Grisdale”. Her full name was Elizabeth Grisdale; though she was known as Minnie. Her name can be found on many of the theatre’s advertising “bills” in the 1820s – for example in 1825 she danced dozens of times in the “pastoral ballet”  The Rossignol – or, The Bird in the Bush. This followed various tragedies such as Macbeth, Der Freischutz and The Merchant of Venice, which featured among others the great Edward Kean and a young James William Wallack (of whom more later). She might have known Joseph Gear as well. The only record I can find that gives some of her (approximate) words is the report of a trial for theft heard at the Old Bailey on the 6th April 1826, it concerns the theft of a pair of Elizabeth’s drawers:

MARGARET HARDING was again indicted for stealing, on the 27th of October, 1 Pair of drawers, value 1s. 6d., the goods of Elizabeth Grisdale, spinster.

ELIZABETH GRISDALE. I belong to Drury-lane Theatre – I was there in October last. The prisoner was a dresser there. These drawers are my property; they were missed from the Theatre on the night after I left them, when I went there to dress – I cannot say when it was.

THOMAS SAMUEL RAVENSCROFT. I am a pawnbroker. I took in these drawers of the prisoner, on the 27th of October – I have known her some time.

GUILTY. Aged 28.

Recommended to Mercy. – Confined Six Months.

Elizabeth was born in the Tower Hamlets in the East End of London and baptized on 5th July 1807 in the Church of Saint George in the East. Her parents were Gideon Grisdale and Elizabeth Jordan. Gideon was a jeweller living in Ship Alley, Well Close, in Tower Hamlets. Interestingly Gideon had also been a party to a trial at the Old Bailey in 1813:

WILLIAM HALL was indicted for feloniously stealing, on the 16th of April, a clock, value 5 l. the property of Gideon Grisdale .

JOHN DUNN GARMSAY . I am a clock-maker, in the employ of Mr. Grisdale; I made the clock for Mr. Grisdale; he told me the clock was stolen out of the shop.

Q. Did you afterwards see the clock in the possession of the prisoner – A. No.

JAMES BLAND. I am a silversmith; I live in Norton Falgate. I bought the clock of the prisoner about four months ago; that clock was afterwards claimed to be Mr. Grisdale’s property; I delivered it to Hewitt, the officer. I did not ask him how he came by it, nor he did not tell me.

WILLIAM HEWITT. I am an officer. I produce this clock; it was delivered to me by Mr. Bland; Mr. Garmsay saw the clock in Bland’s window; I went and took the clock, and directed Bland to stop the prisoner if he ever saw him again. I know nothing more than finding the prisoner in custody.

John Garmsay . This clock is the property of Mr. Grisdale. Elizabeth Grisdale is too ill to attend.

NOT GUILTY .

London jury, before Mr. Common Serjeant.

Gideon Grisdale was born In Matterdale in 1777, the first of the many children of the old blacksmith in Dockray, Matterdale: Wilfred Grisdale, and his second wife Ruth Slee. Wilfred had been born in 1711 to Joseph Grisdale and Agnes Dockray. He had married Ann Brownrigg in 1733 but the couple had no children. But when Ann died in 1775, Wilfred wasted no time in marrying again. He married a young Ruth Slee (48 years his junior) in 1776, at the age of 65. But children soon followed, six in all: Gideon, Charlotte, Bilhah, Wilfred, Joseph and William. I have told some of the stories of Gideon’s siblings already: Wilfred his brother who took the whole family to Canada and his  dancing brother William.

The Old Bailey

As we know Gideon had moved to London and become first a “pawn broker” and then a “jeweller, trader and chapman”. But for reasons we will probably never discover by July 1813 Gideon had been declared bankrupt. From various notices in the London Gazette we know something of what happened. Several meetings were called where his creditors had to prove the debts owed and where Gideon was “examined” as to his estate. This took the better part of a year. Assignees were appointed to manage the bankruptcy and they then proceeded to sell off Gideon’s lease on his premises plus all his “stock in trade, household furniture, goods, chattels, property and effects”. Two dividends were declared for creditors before Gideon was released from bankruptcy by order of “the Right Honourable John Lord Eldon, Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain” having “in all things conformed himself according to the directions of the several Acts of Parliament concerning bankrupts”.

All this was going on while Elizabeth was still a small girl. What became of Gideon and his wife after the bankruptcy is a mystery, they disappear from the historical record.

A Ballet at Drury Lane Theatre

Returning to Elizabeth, she was obviously a pretty young dancer at Drury Lane and there she must have caught the eye of John W Gear because on the 19th February 1827 they were married in the Church of Saint Martin in the Fields.

John and Elizabeth Gear never had children and when and why Elizabeth stopped dancing is unknown. But John’s career seems to have flourished and he kept on painting and engraving in the theatre throughout the 1830s and 1840s. The couple seem to first have lived in Wilson Street, Gray’s Inn Road, but in both 1841 and 1851 they were living at 5 Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square, a very prestigious and well-to-do address. Things looked bright.

Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Mass

Yet for some reason John and Elizabeth left for America in 1852 – moving first to New York and later to Boston. Perhaps the reason was that John’s career was stagnating, or perhaps it was in order for John to live near his father Joseph Gear who had emigrated to the United States many years before and was living and working in Boston; still painting but mostly working as a bassist in the Boston theatre. It’s possible that Joseph was ill and his son wanted to see him before he died – which Joseph did in 1853.

The Houghton Library of Harvard University, where much of John’s work is held, tells us the following:

John William Gear… was an English-born portraitist, miniaturist, watercolor painter, and lithographer, who specialized in theatrical portraits. His greatest work was the publishing of a set of impressions of theater audiences, Portraits of the Public being Heads of Audiences, …. This work was to be published a few at a time in pamphlet form, but only number one ever appeared. He exhibited in London, 1821-1852, and came to Boston ca. 1852 and set-up a business for cleaning and restoring paintings. Although he exhibited his work at the Boston Athenaeum in 1855, he sank into poverty.

We are also told that his father Joseph:

Joseph Gear (1768-1853) was a marine painter, engraver, caricaturist, and a musician. He immigrated to the United States in 1824?, later moved to Boston, and exhibited at the Boston Athenaeum, 1829-1837. He was said to be a “double bassist employed at Drury Lane Theatre, London, and Tremont St. Theatre, Boston, Mass.” John William Gear was his son.

But the sad part for John and for his wife Elizabeth was that:

In 1866 he (John) committed suicide at his father’s grave (Joseph Gear) in Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Falmouth Harbour

A sad but human tale. What became of Elizabeth (Grisdale) Gear? Already in poverty it seems she soon returned to England. By 1871, aged 63, she was living in Falmouth, Cornwall, at 7 Briton’s Yard, right on the harbour. She was a “Shell Fish Dealer”, being born in “Saint George in the East, London”. Elizabeth, now listed as Minnie Gear, was still there in 1881, carrying on the same trade – as a “Hawker”.

A fish hawker was a trader in fish, much like what we now call a fish-monger. She would have bought fish from the returning fishing fleet and sold it to local people, probably from an outdoor stall. We can only imagine what Elizabeth thought when she looked back on her life. How she had been a beautiful ballet dancer at Drury Lane; how she had married a successful and affluent painter; how they had lived at ease in London; how they had gone to America where it had all gone wrong and her husband had committed suicide on his father’s grave and how now she was just selling fish! Who knows? Did her Falmouth customers hear any of this? And if so did they believe her?

Elizabeth “Minnie” Gear died in 1890 in Falmouth.

One coincidence might be mentioned. One of the famous actors who played on the same stage as Elizabeth, and on many of the same days, was a young James William Wallack. After touring extensively in the United States from 1818, Wallack settled in New York in 1852 and started “Wallack’s Theatre” in 1861. In New York one of the actors who was a regular member of his Theatre Group in the 1860s was a certain Walter Grisdale, about whom I wrote briefly on the site. Walter’s great great grandfather, Joseph Grisdale, was also Elizabeth Grisdale Gear’s great grandfather!

On a July day in 1807 Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was sitting on a raft in the middle of the River Nevan, near Tilsit in Russia, making a treaty with Tsar Alexander 1. It was a meeting that in a roundabout way would have a profound effect on the life of one Cumbrian called William Grisdale.

Napoleon was at the height of his power. The French army had recently defeated the Austrians at Austerlitz and the Russians at Friedland, while Prussia had been occupied. Napoleon was now master of much of continental Europe. Just one irritant remained: the British, who three years before at the Battle of Trafalgar had smashed the French fleet, and that of France’s ally (at the time) Spain. The Royal Navy still ruled the seas, though the French seemed pretty unstoppable on land.

The Continental Blockade

The Continental Blockade

The agreement Napoleon made with the Tsar, plus the one he made two days later with the Prussians, became known as the Treaties of Tilsit. The treaties were ‘the most significant deal in Napoleonic history and reinforced French domination in Europe.’ Prussia was stripped of half her territory, while among other things the Russians agreed to join Napoleon’s ‘continental blockade’ (known in French as the Blocus continental), aimed at Britain. The point of the blockade was to deprive Britain of her trading links and thus to weaken her before France’s planned invasion. Napoleon wanted to force every European country to join France in bringing the pesky British to their knees.

Napoleon meeting Tsar Alexander on a raft, July 1807

Napoleon meeting Tsar Alexander on a raft, July 1807

The problem was both that the French Navy was no match for the Royal Navy after Trafalgar and that certain countries, such as Denmark, remained neutral and continued to insist on their right to trade wherever and with whomsoever they wished. Denmark had the second largest merchant marine in Europe and a very respectable Navy as well.

So while Napoleon was chatting with Tsar Alexander on his raft, the two hatched a plot against Britain. But a disgruntled Russian general, Prince Vassili Troubetzkoi, leaked the plot between the two nations to the British. It was said that ‘the Franco-Russian alliance signed at Tilsit had included a secret agreement to force Denmark and Sweden into Napoleon’s continental blockade of British trade.’

The essence of the plot was also revealed in a letter French informant Count D’Antraigues wrote on 21 July 1807 to British Foreign Secretary Lord Canning:

Napoleon … has proposed a maritime league of this country [i.e. Russia] against England and the unification of the Russian squadrons with those of Sweden and Denmark, being certain, he says, of the forces of Spain and Portugal in order to attack England at close quarters (corps à corps).

The British were already fearful that the Danish fleet might fall into French hands but this information confirmed their suspicions of Napoleon’s intentions. If the French moved into Denmark, or forced the country to join them as allies against the British, not only would the French continental blockade be tightened, but, worse, the powerful Danish fleet could fill the gap left in France’s naval forces after Trafalgar. British control of the seas could be threatened, opening the way for a French invasion.

British warships arrive at Copenhagen

British warships arrive at Copenhagen

Something had to be done. The British government requested Denmark to hand over its fleet to the British, which the British said they would return after Napoleon had been defeated. The Danes refused. (Actually Portugal faced with the same request did hand over its Navy and got it back later!) So despite a lot of internal opposition (the Danes were after all ‘brothers’ of the English), an army of 27,000 men under Lard Cathcart and Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) was assembled and sent to the island of Zealand ‘ready to besiege Copenhagen’, while a ‘fleet of warships under Admiral James Gambier, amply equipped with bomb vessels, sailed menacingly up The Sound between Copenhagen and Sweden.’

The Danes were asked again to hand over their fleet. Again they refused. The British army moved to the Danish peninsula and quickly defeated the Danish militia south of Copenhagen at the Battle of Køge on 29 August. The main Danish Army was in the south, in Schleswig-Holstein, ready to repulse any French invasion.

The Bombardment of Copenhagen, 1807 2

The Bombardment of Copenhagen, 1807

After a few more ‘skirmishes’ and more discussions, the British decided they’d have to take the Danish Navy by force. On 2 September a massive land and sea-based bombardment of Copenhagen began which lasted three nights. For the first time the British employed the newly developed ‘Congreve Rockets’, described by one British soldier as ‘fiery serpents in the sky’. The rockets and other shells poured down on the city, starting fire storms and killing over 2,000 Danish civilians and destroying 30% of the buildings.

Rather than send British troops into a dangerous and time-consuming siege, the British command decided to shell the city into submission. Wellesley’s batteries of land-based artillery and Gambier’s floating batteries opened fire on 2 September, 1807. 5,000 rounds were fired into the city on the first night of the shelling, crashing indiscriminately into militia barracks, city defences and civilian homes.

The British unleashed their new weapon, the Congreve Rocket. This had been copied from the Mysorean Rocket artillery used against them by the armies of Tipoo Sultan in the Mysore Wars, and consisted of a strong iron tube with a conical nose, packed with gunpowder. These new weapons of mass destruction hammered Copenhagen, starting fires that the defending militias were hard-pressed to keep under control.

2,000 rounds hammered Copenhagen on the night of 3 September, with 7,000 more dropping into the city on 4 September. The noise, smoke and destruction caused by the shelling, combined with the raging fires, tore the heart out of the Danish defence, and the shocked and awed Peymann (the Danish commander) was forced to sue for peace. On 7 September, disobeying orders to burn the ships in Copenhagen harbour, Peymann handed the city and the fleet to the British. 5,000 Danish soldiers, civilians and militiamen lay dead — the butcher’s bill for King George only ran to 42.

Danish Ships leave under the English Flag

Danish Ships leave under the English Flag

The Danes surrendered their fleet; a large number of which were towed or sailed back to England, although only four were ever used by the Royal Navy.

From the British point of view the danger of the Danish fleet falling into French hands had been averted. The Danes saw it differently, and after the bombardment of their capital they joined the French side. In most histories of the Napoleonic Wars the Battle or Bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807 is usually just a footnote. None of the heroics of Trafalgar or Waterloo here – it was a regrettable though necessary action.

Over the whole campaign there were several hundred British casualties, dead and wounded; a tally General Arthur Wellesley described as ‘trifling’. Trifling it might have been in the greater scheme of things, but it was not trifling for the British soldiers and sailors killed and injured, or for the thousands of dead Danish civilians, soldiers and their families.

One of the British injured was William Grisdale, a ‘soldier’ in the 3rd Regiment of Foot Guards, later to be called the Scots Guards. William was born in Crosthwaite in Cumberland in 1780 or early 1781. He started to work as a tailor but in 1798, aged 17, he joined the army: the 3rd Foot Guards as mentioned. There is no birth or baptismal record for William in Crosthwaite. He could very well have been illegitimate and perhaps related to the weaver Joseph Grisdale (whose wife was Ann Tickell), who lived in Portinscale in the Parish of Crosthwaite.

William fought at the Battle of Alexandria in 1801

William fought at the Battle of Alexandria in 1801

William was in the regiment’s first battalion and served and fought with them for over nine years in the Netherlands, Spain and Egypt. He survived many battles and avoided the plague in Egypt, but in 1807 his regiment was part of the force sent to Copenhagen. There he was badly injured. How and where isn’t known. Possibly it was at the Battle of Køge or maybe in one of the other ‘trifling’ skirmishes with the Danes. But what we do know is that William became a paralytic. In modern English slang paralytic means being in a state of extreme inebriation; being in fact legless. But, then and now, in medical terms paralytic simply means paralysed.

When the British force returned to England, paralytic William was with them, and was probably sent to an army hospital. Early in 1808 his regiment, like many others, was preparing for what has become known in Britain as the Peninsular War (it’s called the War of Independence in Spain).  This was a long and brutal, though ultimately successful, attempt to remove Napoleon’s brother Joseph from the Spanish throne and the French themselves from the Iberian Peninsula. William Grisdale was obviously in no fit state to accompany them.

On 23 April 1808, William was discharged from the army, aged 27, after 9 years and 203 days service in the 3rd Foot Guards. He was at the time a part of the ‘Hon. Lt. Colonel Fermor’s Company’ – Fermor being Thomas William Fermor, later 4th Earl of Pomfret. He had ‘served honestly and faithfully’ and he was recommended as ‘a proper Object of His Majesty’s Royal Bounty of Chelsea Hospital’. The regiment’s medical officer wrote that William was ‘paralytic and totally unfit for further service’.

Crosthwaite, Cumberland

Crosthwaite, Cumberland

What became of William, the paralysed Scots Guardsman? Perhaps he did get a small Chelsea pension. But it seems unlikely that he would have enjoyed a long retirement recounting his exploits, as did his relative Levi Grisdale, who was at the very moment of William’s discharge, preparing to go to Spain to accomplish his famous exploits there. All we know is that William returned to Crosthwaite and died there in 1828, aged about 47.

Such are the ‘trifling’ casualties of war.

The farm at Dowthwaite Head is the ‘cradle’ of the Matterdale Grisdales. When did the first person who would bear the Grisdale name arrive there? I’m afraid no definitive answer is possible. The family weren’t nobility and thus the early records of their lives are scant. So some of what follows is conjecture, some isn’t.

Grisedale Valley, Cumberland

Grisedale Valley, Cumberland

In an article titled Were the Grisdales Vikings? I discussed the Scandinavian/Norse-Irish name Grisdale. It just means Valley of the Pigs. There are several places called Grisdale or Grisedale in Cumberland. As I mentioned, the ancestors of people called Grisdale had at some point obviously moved from one of these Grisdales to elsewhere. At first they would have been called, just for example, John or Robert of (or ‘de’) Grisdale, to differentiate them other Johns or Roberts – like John (the) Forrester or Robert (the) Smith.

It’s my belief that the Grisdales of Matterdale most likely came from next door Grisedale Valley. Grisedale Beck runs down through the valley from Grisedale Pike, under Grisedale Bridge, to finally empty into Lake Ullswater near Patterdale. It’s a rather deserted place today but hundreds of years ago the records show it was a thriving small community. Most likely one or more person/s moved the few miles from Grisedale to Matterdale and it was from him or them that the family took its name. (See new view here.)

One shouldn’t be too concerned by more modern variant spellings: Grisdale, Grisedale or even Grizedale. It’s all the same name. In all the earliest records there were in fact no Es and certainly no Zs. When early Grisdales signed their names, or they are mentioned elsewhere, we find Grisdale, Grysdale, Grysdall, Grysdal, Grysdell. Grysdel and even Grysdaille. The variant E was usually added later by priests at the time of baptisms, marriages or deaths. Gris after all is the Old Norse word for a pig.

When did the move from ‘Grisedale’ to Matterdale happen? And where exactly did the earliest members of the family settle?

Dowthwaitehead Farm

Dowthwaitehead Farm

The earliest historically attested Grisdale in Matterdale was farmer John Grisdale. In 1524, in a survey of the barony of Greystoke he is listed as a ‘yeoman’ and as a ‘free tenant’. His farm was given as being at Dowthwaite Head. John is not only the only Grisdale mentioned but he was also the only ‘free tenant’ of any name living at Dowthwaite Head. He was clearly an adult man and might have been born sometime, say, between 1475 and 1500. I guess he was living with a wife, and possibly already had children, and raising sheep there. Dowthwaite Head was without any doubt the ‘cradle’ of the Matterdale Grisdale clan. Some of the family remained there for at least three hundred years – while others moved to other areas in Matterdale and from there further afield.

Vikings come to Cumbria

Vikings come to Cumbria

Before I go further, maybe we should pause a little and consider a couple of linguistic matters. First, regarding the thousands of Norse place names in Cumbria; names that gave many families their name. As elsewhere, Matterdale is full of them: Dowthwaite, Crookwath, Thornythwaite, Lowthwaite and even Matterdale itself, to name but a few. The Norse-Irish Vikings first settled in Cumbria in the tenth century. The whole area had been peopled by Cumbric speaking Britons for centuries. Around the fringes of the mountains there were also English villages, founded by Northumbrian immigrants/conquerors. The Norse-Irish carved out space for themselves and gave them Norse names. Matterdale itself contains the Norse dalr, meaning valley. While ‘Matter’ could derive from a Norse person’s name, although there are more poetic explanations. Grisdale also. Thwaite is Old Norse for a clearing made in the forest, and so Dowthwaite was a clearing either made by a person (dubh?) or near a place like the River Dove in Yorkshire – from whence the present-day Douthtwaite we find there. One could go on.

The question is often: When were these places first established? When were the thwaites cut out of the forest or from the thorns? One should beware implying that all these names go back to the tenth or even the eleventh century. These Norse settlers continued to speak a form of their Scandinavian language well into the twelfth century. And even as the language slowly morphed in Cumbrian English they still kept many Norse words. For example, a thwaite remained the word for a clearing for centuries and is still used as such today.

With this let’s return to Dowthwaite Head, the cradle of the Matterdale Grisdales. Dowthwaite valley runs southwest from the tiny Matterdale village of Dockray, up to its ‘Head’ under the bleak hill of Great Dodd. The question of who (or what) was the original Dow or Dubh can’t be answered. The answer is lost forever in the mists of time. But when was the forest cleared? When was the thwaite cut? It could have been at any time between the tenth and the fifteenth century, by which time the name was firmly established.

Dowthwaite from Dowthwaite Head

Dowthwaite from Dowthwaite Head

I understand that the present farmer living at Dowthwaitehead Farm believes the place was named after a ‘mine manager’ who once lived there. I would certainly like to discuss this with him, but it must be openly said that there is absolutely no written evidence for this view. None. There was a little mining in and around Dowthwaite, but there are no written records of it. If this putative ‘manager’, Mr Dowthwaite, existed at all, which I doubt for now, he would have had to have been there prior to about 1500. He would also have probably had to have lived there for a fair old time for the valley, the farm, and for the surrounding Dowthwaite Crag and Dowthwaite Moss, in fact for the whole area, to have been named after him. It’s interesting to note that during the whole of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and beyond, there is not a single person called Dowthwaite anywhere in Matterdale, which is interesting given the proliferation of the family name Dowthwaite/Douthwaite in Cumberland and Westmorland.

Places can of course be named after people and not just the other way round. We see it all the time: From old Bir-ming-ham (the settlement of ‘Bir’s’ people), to the more modern Thompson’s Farm. But if a pre-1500 Mr Dowthwaite gave the valley his name (whether he was a mine manager or not), this just begs the question of where the Dowthwaite was he came from. There is only one other Douthwaite (with a U) that I know of: Douthwaite Dale near Whitby in Yorkshire. I don’t find the idea of a very early Mr Douthwaite/Dowthwaite trekking from near the coast of northeast England, across the barren Pennines, all the way to Matterdale, very convincing at all. I prefer to believe that Dowthwaite was so called because it was a forest clearing, a thwaite, cut from the wood or thorns of Matterdale. Whenever that occurred and whoever did the cutting.

Dacre Coat of Arms

Dacre Coat of Arms

There is another fact that we can throw into the pot. It may or may not be relevant. In 1418, an Inquisition Post-Mortem was taken of the barony of Greystoke on the death of Baron Ranulph de Dacre. His lands were surveyed and the rents payable by each one listed. Nearby Watermillock is listed as providing £4, 6s 9d per annum from its ‘tenants’. But Matterdale has no tenants mentioned and is termed a ‘forest’ yielding £10 per annum. A forest here does not mean it was wooded, though some of it still may have been. Rather it means it was a private hunting ground belonging to the barony, which yielded £10 in forest dues. Such hunting ‘forests’ were tightly regulated. Any encroachments, whether by poachers or by farmers, were severely punished in the Forest Court. So Matterdale was in all likelihood either not settled at all in the early fifteenth century, or not settled very much. It certainly didn’t have ‘customary’ free tenants paying rents. My guess is that the thwaite of Dowthwaite had been cut from the forest at an earlier date but that there probably was no one living there by 1418, but this cannot be proved.

As one or two of the ‘natives’ in New York used to say when I was a student there thirty years ago: ‘Enough already!’

Does this all mean that yeoman farmer John Grisdale was the first Grisdale to settle at Dowthwaite Head? And was he the first sheep farmer there? We don’t know and we probably never will. He may have been. What is known is that for the next two or three hundred years the Grisdale family were often the only family living at Dowthwaite Head, although marriages did later bring in other names, such as the Atkinsons. To me this all smacks of a ‘founder event’ as they say in human population genetics.

Let me finish by considering numbers for a minute. As I have mentioned, John Grisdale was the only ‘yeoman’ free tenant living at Dowthwaite Head in 1524. He was also the earliest person bearing the Grisdale name I can find anywhere in Matterdale. He was probably married with children, and it’s not out of the question that there might have been one or two of his other relatives living with him – though if you look at the size of the place I wouldn’t imagine too many. If John was the first Matterdale Grisdale (for which there is no proof at all), then does this gel with the way the family multiplied in the decades to come?

Matterdale Church

Matterdale Church

Matterdale Church records didn’t start until 1634, even though the church itself had been founded in 1580. There is a yawning gap in our knowledge between these two dates. Prior to the foundation of the church, the people of the valley had had to trudge in all weathers to Greystoke Church for baptisms, marriages and burials. They wrote at the time to the Bishop of Carlisle saying that the snow often prevented them getting to Greystoke – so they asked for a church to be authorized in Matterdale itself. I’ll tell the interesting story of Matterdale Church another time. Here we’re concerned with the sixteenth-century Grisdales. Despite the fact that the earliest ‘clerks’ of Matterdale Church failed to keep records of baptisms, marriages and deaths taking place there until the 1630s, there are in fact still a number of other sources and records from the sixteenth century.

The first of these is Greystoke Church’s Parish register. Between 1560 and 1597, we find sixteen Matterdale Grisdales mentioned, mostly their burials. All of them from Dowthwaite Head or simply from Matterdale. To this record we can add three others. First there are some sixteenth-century Grisdale wills. I have nine between 1565 and 1600. They are difficult to read but most of them say that they are the wills of people living at Dowthwaite Head. Next there are a couple of mentions in 1569 and 1571 of two Grisdales working as peat carriers: John Grysdel and Edward Gristal . They were bringing peat from the peat bogs at Flasco, near Penrith, to the German-run copper smelters at Keswick. Finally, in 1581, the Cumberland militia was called out yet again in the face of the never-ending threat from Scottish raids. At the Penrith Muster nine Matterdale ‘bowmen’ of military age turned out: John, William, Christopher, Robert, Edward, Richard and three named Thomas.

I won’t attempt here to describe or differentiate all these families nor relate them to their seventeenth-century descendants. What I’d like to highlight is this: By the latter part of the sixteenth century there were at the most a single handful of separate, though related, Grisdale families living at Dowthwaite Head and, by now, elsewhere in Matterdale. The situation wasn’t much different immediately after the records of Matterdale Church began. This was all about two or three generations after John Grisdale was found in 1524 at Dowthwaite Head. This would have been plenty of time to see such a growth in numbers.

So maybe John Grisdale, who was probably born in the last quarter of the fifteenth century, was the first to bear the name in Matterdale? Or maybe he wasn’t! It’s just a thought.

Towards the end of 1921 gold miner Fred Grisdale was dying of pulmonary tuberculosis in hospital in the mining community of Kingman in Mohave County, Arizona. He told people he was from Oregon and gave the names of some friends there and in Los Angeles, but he refused to name his parents or even mention his wife and child. What was Fred’s story?

Fred died on Christmas Eve 1921. His death certificate gives his age, 43, and his Oregon place of birth, but regarding the names of his father and mother it says that he ‘refused to tell’ and ‘information refused’. Six days later the Mohave County Miner (Kingman, Arizona) announced:

Fred Grisdale a miner aged about 43 years died at the county hospital in Kingman last Saturday after an illness covering a long period. Death was due to tuberculosis. Deceased gave the names of friends in Oregon and Los Angeles but so far nothing has been heard from them and it is probable that burial will take place here.

So Fred was buried in Section 17, Lot 2, Grave 31 of Kingman’s Mountain View Cemetery.

We know that exposure to silica dust increases the risk of pulmonary tuberculosis, particularly among gold miners who drill through hard rock. And Fred was a gold miner. Where had he come from? Who were his family? And why did he refuse to name them?

Baker City, circa 1900

Baker City, circa 1900

Frederick Grisdale was born on 8 November 1878 in Oregon, probably in the town of Roseburg in Douglas County. He was the fifth child and second son of Thomas Grisdale and Elmira Clements. Thomas had arrived in the United States in 1850, aged 11, with his brother Joseph and parents Doctor Grisdale and Mary Greene. They came from the cotton mill town of Bolton in Lancashire, England. I wrote about the family previously; how they had first moved to the cotton mills of Pennsylvania and how, later, Thomas set off on a long journey across the breadth of the continent, via Montana, Iowa and Missouri, marrying and having children on the way. By 1873 the new family had reached Salem in Oregon and then moved to Roseburg, where Fred was probably born, and from there to their final destination in the gold-boom town of Baker City, Oregon. In 1880 Thomas was a brick layer in Baker City and the children were in the local school.

As Baker City grew in population—300 in 1870, 1,200 in 1880, 2,600 in 1890, 6,600 in 1900–all the downtown frame buildings were replaced by buildings constructed of brick and native tuff stone quarried at Pleasant Valley. The most impressive brick building still standing on Main Street is the elegant Geiser Grand Hotel, which the Warshauer brothers, Jake and Harry, constructed in 1889. It went by the name Hotel Warshauer until purchased by the Geiser family about 1900.

Thomas Grisdale probably worked helping to construct some of these buildings. One local historian writes, ‘Baker City was a bawdy place in the late 19th century. One block of Main Street boasted five saloons and several brothels, yet more refined tastes also had a place in the “Queen City of the Mines.” An opera house lent the Oregon hinterlands a little taste of Europe, and the ornate Geiser Grand Hotel was considered the finest between Salt Lake City and Seattle.’

The growth of the town was all due to the discovery of gold. ‘The area had been a mere way station for pioneers on the Oregon Trail, but the region’s fate changed in 1861, when the discovery of gold in nearby Griffin Gulch sparked decades of frenzied mining in the Blue Mountains. Towns sprang up, among them Baker City, named for Edward Dickinson Baker, the U.S. senator from Oregon who died fighting in the Civil War. By the beginning of the 20th century, Baker City was home to 6,700 people… ‘

Placer Mine, Baker City, Oregon

Placer Mine, Baker City, Oregon

To start with the Baker City mines were so-called ‘placer’ mines. ‘Placer mining is frequently used for precious metal deposits (particularly gold) and gemstones, both of which are often found in alluvial deposits—deposits of sand and gravel in modern or ancient stream beds, or occasionally glacial deposits. The metal or gemstones, having been moved by stream flow from an original source such as a vein, is typically only a minuscule portion of the total deposit. Since gems and heavy metals like gold are considerably more dense than sand, they tend to accumulate at the base of placer deposits.’

In Baker City, the placer operations involved running water and gravel through sluice boxes to sift out the heavy gold flakes and maybe also a few valuable nuggets. By 1900 both Fred Grisdale and his older brother Thomas Edward were working as placer miners near Baker City.

We don’t know if Fred and his brother spent any money they made in the taverns, dancing houses and brothels of Baker City, though it might be a good guess. But something must have happened to estrange Fred from his family. Whether it was his marriage in 1904 to Wisconsin-born Laura Hamblin, or something else, remains a mystery. Whatever the case, Frederick moved from Oregon sometime in the first decade of the twentieth century, either before or after his marriage. One historian of the family wrote that Fred had, ‘left home at an early age and was never heard from again’. He had simply disappeared from his family’s lives.

A Missoula Mine

A Missoula Mine

But we can follow him. By 1910 he was living in the Montana gold-mining town of Missoula with his wife Laura and Montana-born daughter Evelyn. Here we find the first clear signs of his refusal to say anything of his parents. In the Federal census, while his wife Laura gave the places of birth of her parents (New York and Canada), Fred refused to say. The entries read, ‘unknown’.  Freddy was still a miner, though by now working underground. Like Baker City, Missoula was a gold and silver boom town. The town was founded in 1860 and named Hellgate Trading Post while still part of Washington Territory. By 1866, the settlement had moved five miles upstream and renamed Missoula Mills before being shortened to Missoula. In 1910 one downtown part was still called Hellgate Township and this is where the family lived.

Tonopah Extension Mine, 1912

Tonopah Extension Mine, 1912

But being a miner was a precarious business and miners were constantly moving in search of work. Sometime over the course of the next few years the family moved again, this time to Tonopah in Nye County, Nevada. In 1918, Fred was working for the Tonopah Extension Mining Company and living in East Pine Street. A History of Nye County gives a little flavour of how miners were hired in Tonopah:

In the era when miners worked for a day’s pay, a person obtained a job by “rustling” at the collar of the shaft. That is, he put in an appearance at the shaft, making it known that he was looking for a job. The old-time mine foreman did the hiring, not the manager or superintendent, although they might recommend someone to the foreman. The person who was hiring seldom used an employment agency, preferring to look at the man he might hire. The foreman wanted to see how healthy the prospective miner looked and whether he seemed capable. If the foreman did not personally know the miner, and if the man did not come well recommended from someone whom the foreman respected, he would take the man into his office and quiz him. He might not even ask about mines, but he could tell by the way the man talked whether or not he knew anything about mining. Mines had varying hiring times, but a lot of miners rustled at noon when the foreman came out of the shaft for lunch, though some miners tried to catch the foreman as he went down into the mine in the morning. Sometimes an unemployed miner would learn about a job from relatives or perhaps a friendly person in a bar might say, “Christ, there’s a bunch of guys quit last night. You’d better get out there tomorrow morning.” One thing that would finish a miner in search of a job faster than anything was for him to follow an ambulance up to the mine. People in town knew when there was an accident; they would hear three blasts on the bell or whistle and the ambulance would head for the shaft. Though foremen were sometimes gruff, had rough exteriors, and might not be able to give a man a job, some were known to give their lunch to a hungry man.

Spokane, Washington, circa 1920

Spokane, Washington, circa 1920

Fred was drafted into the US Army on 12 September 1918 in Tonopah. He gives his occupation, employer, date of birth and his wife’s name and address, but no mention of his parents of place of birth. Whether Fred actually had to serve I don’t know. It’s possible he was sent to Los Angeles, (as his brother was to be), and there met the ‘friends’ referred to in the newspaper notice I started with. But in any case, the First World War was over and with it the demand for many of the war materials mined in Spokane was drying up. The family had to move again, this time to the mining town of Spokane in Washington State.

In the 1920 trade directory for Spokane, Fred is listed as a miner living in College Avenue and his wife is given as Laura. But this information was probably already out of date, because in the 1920 census his wife Laura and 11 year-old daughter are living without Fred in Douglas Crescent, Spokane, and Laura is said to be ‘divorced’! There is no trace of Fred anywhere. Had Fred left Laura? Had she thrown him out? Was Fred already ill? Who knows.

Kingman Arizona

Kingman Arizona

So Fred, divorced from his wife, estranged from his family, set off one last time to seek work in the mines. This time he found himself in Kingman in Mohave County, Arizona. Kingman was founded in 1882, when Arizona was only a ‘Territory’. There were gold, turquoise and other mines. Being at an elevation of around 3,300 feet, it’s not quite as hot as one might imagine. But Fred was probably already ill and if he worked in the Kingman mines it can’t have been for long.

And here it is that I end this sad tale. Poor Fred would never mention his parents to his last breath. He didn’t even mention his former wife and his only daughter. When his ‘friends’ in Oregon and Los Angeles were contacted there was no reply. Did his daughter ever know what happened to her father? It seems his family back in Oregon did not.

Mountain View Cemetery, Kingman, Arizona

Mountain View Cemetery, Kingman, Arizona

So if you’re ever passing Kingman, Arizona, pop into the Mountain View Cemetery and think about lonely Freddy, the grandson of an enterprising Bolton cotton weaver, a descendant of the Matterdale Grisdales; a man for whom life didn’t seem to go quite right.

A truly staggering number of the Matterdale Grisdale clan became priests. Some had the benefit of an Oxford education (mostly at Queen’s College), and went on to great things. Others did not, but they were no less worthy. I have written about some of these ‘Priestly Grisdales’ already. Here I’d like to start to look at some others. I’ll start with John Grisdale, who between 1694 and 1722 was the curate, or ‘parson’, of Troutbeck Chapel in Westmorland, as well as the schoolmaster of the village school.

John Grisdale (an e was latter added to the name) was born in 1654 in Hollas in Matterdale. He was the son of Michael Grisdale (abt. 1615 – 1694) and his first wife Dorothy. Hollas is now the farm called ‘The Hollows’, near Matterdale Church.  The Hollas Grisdales were to have many connections with the Church. John’s uncle, also called John (1609 – 1682), was himself a ‘clerk’; quite possibly one of the early curates of Matterdale. Our John’s older brother Thomas (1643 – 1718) was himself a long-serving curate of Matterdale, while his younger half-brother Richard (b. 1667) was very likely also the curate of Crook Chapel near Kendal.

John married sometime prior to 1685 and his son Michael Grisedale, named after his father, was baptized in ‘Kendal’ on 23 March 1685. The baptism record shows John being ‘of Kentmere’

Kentmere Church

Kentmere Church

‘Johannes Grassdale’ was licensed in 1682 as curate of Kentmere Chapel in Westmorland. In 1691 he ‘exhibited’ there. Each clergyman was obliged to ‘exhibit’ his ordination, institution and induction papers once in each Archdeacon’s incumbency. A number of exhibits were usually taken at each spring Visitation. ‘Exhibit Books record the dates and places of the clergyman’s admittance as deacon and priest, and details about his institution to his current benefice.’ Some clergymen, particularly curates, will appear more than once, since their licences were regularly renewed.

John was still curate of Kentmere in 1701, but it was noted that, “Johannes Grisedale was also schoolmaster at Troutbeck; he had exhibited in 1691 for Kentmere but was described as ‘really serving without licence at Troutbeck.’” John had become the curate of Troutbeck and the village schoolmaster in 1694. He would remain curate until 1722, when he probably died.

In George Henry Joyce’s Some Records of Troutbeck (1924) we read:

1694-95. Mr. Grisedale came to be Minister at Troutbeck this year at a Salary of £10. The said John Grisedale agrees to perform all things belonging to the office of a Minister and diligently to keep and teach a School, as well for Petty, as for Gramar Scholars. The Articles of Agreement by John Grisedale and 43 other names have been duly subscribed to, and are well approved by Wm. Wilson, Rector of Windermere.

Joyce, who was Troutbeck’s schoolmaster for over forty years, adds, ‘The Schoolmaster was required to teach English, latin, greek, and the first four rules of arithmetic. He had to sign a Bond in the sum of Ten Pounds of lawful English money to do his duty, or else not to be admitted to his office’.

Town Head, Troutbeck

Town Head, Troutbeck

Before telling a little more of Troutbeck Chapel and School, what more do we know of John’s life on Troutbeck? Except that he was married with at least one son I know little, but we do know where he lived. In A Westmorland Village (1904), S. H. Scott wrote that after having visited the important Browne family house on the main road in Town Head, the northern most hamlet of Troutbeck, we can proceed:

Up the lane, round a sharp corner, we come to a house very much overgrown with creepers and roses. In the eighteenth century it was the house of Parson Grisedale, parish priest of Troutbeck, and its interior, for it has been very little altered since that time, gives a good idea of the simple surroundings of a Westmorland parson at that time. The ‘house’ has a floor of the familiar blue flags; the ceiling is low, and of course there are the oak beams and joists.

There is an oak cabinet, dated 1705, which bears the initials of John Grisedale and his wife, and a ‘locker’ in the wall by the chimney corner has the same initials and the date 1703.

The small house next Parson Grisedale’s old house was also in the possession of the Grisedale family at one time.

Troutbeck Church

Troutbeck Church

There was a chapel at Troutbeck since well before 1558. The church we see today is the result of a major rebuilding in 1736. The structures that John Grisedale had seen and served were knocked down to their foundation. The rebuilding followed a visitation from the Archdeacon of Richmond (Troutbeck was in the Archdeaconry of Richmond in the Diocese of Chester), which said the following: ‘We present the Chapel of Troutbeck the covering thereof not being in sufficient repair, the walls not being well plastered, and the windows shattered and broken.’

A plan of the former church was made in 1707, in John’s time there; it shows the design and positioning of all the windows and doors. There was also a steeple which in 1735 was ‘too unstable that it was likely to fall’. The bell was removed as a precaution.

The school where John taught was built in 1637. In the agreement to build the school it was stipulated that it should have ‘walles made to be in length eight yards within the walles, four yards and three quarters breadth within the house and four yards and a half in the side walls and to make sufficient chimney in the end of the aforesaid house from the ground of strand, and a flue’.

An article in the Troutbeck Parish Magazine of 1984 tells us:

Troutbeck School had an ancient foundation in 1637. By a piece of good fortune, exact details of the building specifications and names of the builders still exist. £5 a year was allocated to pay a master to instruct in ”English, Latin, Greek writing, Arithmetick and good disciplining” for which the parents paid sixpence a Quarter, although poor children were taught free. During the reign of Charles II, all the teaching became free, making Troutbeck one of the first free schools in the country. In 1760 a stable was built at the school for the use of those who came to church on horseback. The school was rebuilt in 1853, and then at a cost of £258, raised by public subscription and a sale of work, in 1885 it was approximately its present size.

George Joyce collected entries from Troutbeck school’s note book. Here are some I like:

One day the door was suddenly burst open, a rough head was protruded into the room, and a 72 loud voice was heard to say, “Which of you lile divvils left my yett oppen?” The irate farmer’s sheep had evidently strayed thro’ the open gate.

One Shrove Tuesday the children barred the door against the master and demanded a half holiday. This was a breach of discipline, but as there was no other harm done they got their holiday according to custom.

Many children absent—Sheepshearing—only 3 boys attended.

Snow falling heavily all day, consequently the geography lesson was omitted.

An hour lost through scholars being permitted to go hunting.

A liberal amount of cane has been dealt out this week to check a greater amount of talking than usual.

Such was the life of curate and schoolmaster John Grisedale.

Troutbeck Village

Troutbeck Village

When James Grisdale died in 1918 in the Leeds industrial suburb of Hunslet he left the enormous sum of £56,399 to his sons, equivalent to at least £2.2million today. How had he made his money? How had he ended up in Leeds? And what was his connection with the campaign to abolish slavery in the United States?

James’ great grandparents were Joseph Grisdale (1729-1806) and Ann Temple (1736-1811), who lived in Matterdale, Cumberland. I have written quite a number of articles about this family, what they did and where they ended up[i]. A number of Joseph and Ann’s children moved to the cotton mills in Bolton Lancashire. One of these was Timothy Grisdale. He probably arrived in Bolton as a young man in the early 1790s. While working in the mills he married twice: first Nancy Priest in 1794. When she died in 1801, he married Mary Bradley the following year.

A Tallow Chandler

A Tallow Chandler

The first child of Timothy’s second marriage, Joseph (1803-1861), was named after his own father. Whether he first joined his father and other members of the Grisdale family in the Bolton cotton mills is unknown. At the age of twenty-four Joseph married Ellen Elliot in Prestwich, Lancashire. But the family continued to live in Bolton, where by the time of his marriage Joseph was working as a tallow chandler; that is a candle maker. Several children were born in Bolton, but sometime between 1833 and 1837 the family moved to Yorkshire where Joseph continued to ply his candle-making trade. By 1837 they were living in Leeds in Lower Head Row, Joseph’s son James was been born in 1839 in Pudsey (now part of Leeds) and by 1841 they were at Upper Corn Hill in Leeds before moving to Bramley in West Leeds in 1851.

Some of James’s siblings became painters, others went into the Leeds textile mills, but James followed in his father’s footsteps and became a candle maker.

Candle Making

Candle Making

People have been making candles for thousands of years, either from bees’ wax or from tallow, which is animal fat – usually from sheep, cows and pigs. Cotton wicks are repeatedly dipped into hot fat and the layers of the candle are built up. Centuries before the French had pioneered moulded candles, but for domestic purposes dipping remained the common method of manufacture. Of course, by the nineteenth century oil and paraffin lamps were starting to appear and candles were less and less necessary, but they were still widely used. Candles made of paraffin also came into use. What scale Joseph’s candle-making business in Leeds achieved we don’t know. It probably remained small. In the 1861 census, shortly before his death, Joseph was still a ‘tallow chandler’ in Kendell Street, as was his son William. James was also lodging nearby at 9 Little Duck Street, also working as a tallow chandler. But at some point shortly thereafter James started to expand. Before I tell of this perhaps a little flavour might be useful regarding the Hunslet part of Leeds that the family had gravitated to and where James would remain for the rest of his life.

Hunslet grew from an unremarkable area at the beginning of the industrial revolution to a major industrial area only a few years later. The growing industries in Hunslet were not the textile industries, for which Leeds was becoming best known, but generally heavier industries such as steel and iron foundries, engine works and railway works.

In 1834 Edward Parsons wrote[ii]:

Besides the woollen manufacture, Hunslet contains extensive glass works, large chemical factories, considerable potteries, and establishments for wire working.

The whole village, or rather suburb of Leeds, is irregularly, and frequently meanly built, consisting of narrow and dirty lanes, branching out from the great thoroughfare to Wakefield, and from the principal street passing by the chapel. The general aspect of the place is strangely uncouth…

The inhabitants have, however, distinguished themselves by their public spirit, and an infinitely larger portion of intelligence and knowledge is to be found among them, and is in incessant and active exercise, than can be found among an equal number of individuals taken from any agricultural district in the kingdom.

No place in the whole district has experienced such a total change in external appearance. This township now contains as many inhabitants as many of the cities and cathedral towns of the kingdom, and it is superior to them in wealth and intrinsic importance.

It was in this ‘uncouth’ place that James Grisdale was to exercise his ‘intelligence’, ‘incessantly’ and ‘actively’, to make his fortune.

James Grisdale

James Grisdale

By 1871, James was a ‘Master Tallow Chandler’ employing 4 men and 3 boys near Dewsbury Road in Hunslet. He was living with his wife Sarah Craven, whom he had married in 1862, and three surviving children. At some point James went into partnership with a William Rispin Dauber. In 1876 the London Gazette printed the following announcement:

NOTICE is hereby given, that the Partnership heretofore subsisting between us the undersigned, William Rispin Dauber and James Grisdale, carrying on business at Leeds, in the county of York, as Tallow Chandlers and Candle Makers, under the firm of Dauber and Grisdale, has been dissolved by mutual consent, as from the 1st day of April instant. All debts owing to or by the said partnership will be received and paid by the said James Grisdale, by whom the said business will in future be carried on on his own account.—Dated this 21st day of April, 1876. W. R. Dauber.  James Grisdale

James’ progress continued. By 1881 the family had moved to the more salubrious sounding Middleton Villa in Dewsbury Street and by 1891 they had acquired the positively grand Burton House in Burton Avenue, off Dewsbury Street – which later became a school. On both occasions James was now listed as a ‘Candle Manufacturer. James was to live in Burton House until his death in 1918. Clearly James had made some money.

Water Mill Hall Factory

Water Hall Mill Factory, Dewsbury Road, Leeds

But where was James’ candle-making factory? Where he first built up his business I don’t know for sure but it was probably at 1 Dewsbury. In 1887 James bought the Water Hall Mill factory on Dewsbury Road from J & J Armistead and Co. This company had been founded in the late eighteenth century by Leeds Quaker brothers Joseph and John Armistead. It had thrived during most of the first half of the nineteenth century:

One of the oldest established oil seed crushers in Leeds was J. & J. Armistead, who had their mill at Water Hall by 1798. Apart from seed crushing they were mustard manufacturers, mustard milling being between oil and corn milling in technical terms. By 1872 they were also brush makers. Business prospered, the mill was extended several times and these developments are illustrated in billheads of 1811and 1842. In 1824 the mill was powered by a 20 h. p. Murray engine. By 1853 Armisteads had added to their activities candle making. The candles were tallow dips, made by the repeated dipping of wicks into molten tallow, or the more costly moulded tallow candles.[iii]

What had gone wrong?

A Tribute for the Negro, 1848

A Tribute for the Negro, 1848

To cut a long story short, as the years progressed the Armistead  business had thrived and, as we can see from the family’s wills, so did the family fortune. But when  Joseph, the son of Joseph the co-founder of the family business, died in 1861, his son and beneficiary Wilson Armistead took over. Wilson Armistead was a good Quaker, and he was passionately concerned with justice, and particularly with fighting for the abolition of slavery in the United States. He lobbied, received many visits from American abolitionists, wrote pamphlets, gave speeches and became President of the influential Leeds Anti-Slavery Association. And he wrote books, aimed primarily at an American audience. His most famous book, published in 1848, was called A Tribute for the Negro, which was republished in the US in 2005 and is still used in US schools and colleges to this day. Recently the BBC even suggested that Wilson and the Leeds Anti-Slavery Association were ‘instrumental in helping to abolish slavery in the USA’. This might be an exaggeration, but it is clear that Wilson Armistead was a major force in lobbying to abolish slavery in the United States – which was finally achieved after the Civil War in December 1868, just a few months after Wilson’s own death.

Yet the time and effort Wilson put into this noble cause was, it seems, at the expense of the family’s mustard, seed, brush-making and candle manufacturing business. When Wilson died in 1868, he left the much reduced fortune of £9,000 to his son Joseph John (JJ) Armistead ‘Mustard Manufacturer’. His sons tried to revive the business. One family historian has recently written that when ‘Wilson died in 1868 …  JJ together with his brother Arthur worked day and night to rebuild the business.  However, JJ was only 20 and there was some complication with the will and everyone wanted their money back all at the same time so he decided to call it a day and sold up’.

So eventually all these efforts were to no avail. In 1880, Joseph John declared bankruptcy:

The Bankruptcy Act, 1869. In the county Court of Yorkshire, held at Leeds. In the Matter of Proceedings for Liquidation by Arrangement or Composition with Creditors, instituted of Joseph John Armistead and Arthur Wilson Armistead, carrying on business in co-partnership at Water Hall Mill, Leeds, in the county of York, as Drysalters, under the style of J. and J. Armistead, and also as Mineral Water Manufacturers, under the style of the Acerade Company. NOTICE is hereby given, that a First General Meeting of the separate creditors of the above-named Joseph John Armistead has been summoned to be held at our offices, No. 4, East-parade, Leeds, in the county of York, on the 2istday of June, 1880, at four o’clock in the afternoon precisely.— Dated this 1st day of June, I860. NORTH and SONS, 4, East-parade, Leeds, Solicitors for the said Debtors.

The various bankruptcy procedures, both individually and of the firm, trundled on for some years, but in 1887 Armisteads finally went out of business and ‘the works was taken over by James Grisdale & Son, formerly Dauber & Grisdale, oil & tallow merchants of 1 Dewsbury Road. With the introduction of paraffin wax Grisdales made ‘Yorkshire’ and ‘Sun’ brand wax candles as well as the ordinary ‘dips’.’ The mustard business was sold to the (now) famous Coleman’s Mustard.

Burton House, Hunslet

Burton House, Hunslet

James Grisdale had moved up another rung of the economic and social ladder. When his own brother Samuel, who had become a painter, died in 1904, his brother James was referred to as a ‘Gentleman’.

And that’s about all I know of James Grisdale until he died in 1918, still living in his impressive Burton House, when he left the £56,399 to his two ‘candle manufacturer’ sons William and Arthur, his ‘bank clerk’ son James Herbert and to estate agent George Edgar Hudson.

What became of all this wealth? Well James’ sons soon decided to cash in. They sold the factory and the family house and lived comfortably off the proceeds:

Burton Lodge, later known as Burton House, was built in 1791 and is a listed building. The Council bought it in 1919. After serving as an annex to Hunslet Moor Primary School it was later used to house Cockburn’s sixth form. In 1986 it was converted into flats.

On 17th February 1923 Water Hall was reported in the Yorkshire Evening Post as being connected to ‘a house of entertainment’ called Pasture Spring, a kind of tea garden.

James Grisdale and family in 1912

James Grisdale and family in 1912


[i]  These are some blog stories of James’ relatives, all descendants of Joseph Grisdale and Ann Temple of Matterdale:

The Boys Done Good – Three Bolton Weavers Go America, From the Lancashire Cotton Mills to Oregon – The Long Trek of a Grisdale Family, Benjamin Grisdale – Collecting Taxes for the Battle of Salamanca, Soldiering in India, Digging for Gold and Lugging Coal,  Bullocking Around in Perth – Who was William Grisdale?, The Bleacher Missionary – The Early Life of Bishop John Grisdale, ‘The Music of Those Voices Lingers’ – Manitoba University to Regina Trench, Praying Masters and Trip Men – The Ojibway Canadian Indian Grisdales, Flying Grisdales – Flying Officer Robert James Grisdale RCAF, A smart, dapper little lad – The Australian Life of William Grisdale .

[ii] Edward Parsons, The civil, ecclesiastical, literary, commercial and miscellaneous history of Leeds, Halifax, Huddersfield, Bradford, Wakefield, Dewsbury, Otley and the manufacturing district of Yorkshire, Vol 1. Leeds, 1834.

[iii]  E J Connell, Industrial Development in South Leeds, 1790-1914, Leeds, 1975.

In early 1944 young Flying Officer Robert James Grisdale from Winnipeg was still undergoing flying training in Canada. Becoming a pilot in the RCAF was only for a select few. A later squadron colleague of Robert called Cameron Clare Campbell, who became an Air Gunner, wrote that after basic training ‘there were tests in math, morse code and then we had to appear before a Selection Board where they determined whether you were to train as pilots, navigators, wireless operators or gunners. By this time in the war, your chances of going through for a pilot were very slim unless you were outstanding in math and science, which I was not. The majority of the group were classed as straight air-gunners, including me’. Robert Grisdale was selected for pilot training.

RCAF Recruiting PosterHaving successfully qualified as a RCAF pilot he was shipped to England to convert to bombers at RAF Wombleton in North Yorkshire. Training, with No 1666 Heavy Conversion Unit, took several months.  ‘Aircrew who were originally trained on twin-engined aircraft such as Wellingtons or Whitleys received conversion training on heavy four-engined bombers such as the Halifax or Lancaster.’

Aircrews were formed here that would often stay together. Robert was a pilot and his crew at Wombleton comprised: Flight Engineer – Sergeant Walter Alfred James Thurston RAFVR of Southwark, London; Navigator – Flying Officer Isaac Buck Zierler RCAF of Sarnia, Ontario; Bomb Aimer – Flying Officer – William Gordon McLeod RCAF of Port Arthur, Ontario; Wireless Operator/Air Gunner – P/O Joseph Michael Hirak RCAF of Elphinstone, Manitoba; Air Gunner – P/O Francis Gerald Seeley RCAF of Trenton, Canada and Air Gunner – P/O David William Roberts RCAF.

Towards the end of their bomber training we hear of an incident involving this crew flying Halifax LL131, piloted by Robert Grisdale:

On 27th November 1944 this Halifax was landing at Wombleton airfield in bad weather and it missed the runway. On touching down it slewed sideways onto a dispersal pan and, possibly after the undercarriage collapsed, it came to a halt, the aircraft was damaged but the crew escaped injury.

Lancaster of 433 Squadron at Skipton on Swale

Lancaster of 433 Squadron at Skipton on Swale

Despite this mishap the crew all completed their training and were ready to become operational. They were posted together to 433 Squadron based at Skipton-on-Swale, near Thirsk in Yorkshire.

No. 433 (Porcupine) Squadron was formed at Skipton-on-Swale on 25 September 1943, with a nucleus of 5 crews from 429 Squadron. Their Motto was “Qui s’y frotte s’y pique” meaning “Who opposes gets hurt”. Throughout 1943 no 433 Squadron was continuously operational flying Halifaxes over the Continent by night. In January 1945, 433 Squadron was re-equipped with Avro Lancaster Mk Is.

It’s likely that Robert and his crew first flew Halifaxes and then converted to the heavier Lancasters. Campbell wrote in his diary: ‘On the 13th of March 1945 we began converting to Lancasters and by the 18th we were again operational.’ On that day the squadron took part in a diversionary raid over France. March 20 saw their first raid; they bombed an oil installation in Germany near the Danish border called ‘The Heide’. Over the next two weeks the squadron made several more bombing trips to Germany. Of the raid on 8 April Campbell tells us:

On 8 April 1945, we bombed Hamburg and this was probably our scariest raid. All went well until we were almost over the target on our bomb run. Just as we were about to drop I looked up above our plane and there was a Halifax with his doors open and as I watched he let his bombs go. They dropped one by one and missed the rear turret by a few feet short. He then dropped down and almost collided with our plane but must have seen us at the last minute and flew parallel with us for a couple of minutes. He was that close that I could see their tail gunner not more than one hundred feet away. On the way into the target the fighters had dropped the flares that hung on parachutes on either side of our route. The main fighters would stooge above the flares and dive down and pick off bombers almost at random. As we were leaving the target, I saw a Ju 88 dive down and chase a bomber slightly to our left, we were very pleased to get out of there unscathed.

Mosquitos of 105 Squadron 'Return from Leipzig' by Anthony Saunders

Mosquitos of 105 Squadron ‘Return from Leipzig’ by Anthony Saunders

Just two days later on 10 April 433 Squadron was back in the air. They were part of a huge formation of 134 Lancasters from eight squadrons and 90 Halifaxes from six other squadrons, accompanied by 6 Mosquitos from 105 Squadron at RAF Marham. The target was the railway marshalling yards at Engelsdorf and Mochau, near Leipzig. Robert Grisdale, with his usual crew, was flying Lancaster P3-903 with the markings BM-F (or ‘Freddy’).

The weather on their day flight from Skipton was, we are told, good. Approaching the target the bombers were taking a lot of flak. They went over the target at between 15,500 and 19,000 feet and released 1.5 million pounds of high explosive bombs, causing, reports say, ‘severe damage’. But Robert Grisdale and his crew didn’t quite make it. Almost over the target their Lancaster was hit by flak. The RCAF says: ‘According to witnesses, this Lancaster was hit by flak, the starboard inner (engine) was seen to be feathered. Then a small explosion was seen, the aircraft flipped onto its back and spiralled to the ground. No parachutes were seen.’

Leipzig Railwayy Yards being Bombed 10 April 1945

Leipzig Railway Yards being Bombed 10 April 1945

Campbell tells us a little more:

On the 10th April 1945 we did a day light raid on Leipzig. This was a good raid but we were towards the rear of the formation and took a dreadful pounding from slip streams all the way to the target. There was heavy predicted flak close to the target. With predicted flak, the Germans would fire a burst and from observing the blast could make a correction on the next shot which would be closer, then make a correction on the second burst and usually the third burst had your number on it. The secret was to change your height or heading after the first blast.

Just as we were about to drop our bombs, I heard Chris ask the bomb-aimer who was flying F Freddy because he was on fire. Just as Plaskett answered him telling him it was Grisdale’s crew, the bombs and the plane blew up. I never saw the explosion as it was slightly ahead of us and to the right but we felt the blast and saw the debris as we passed.

RCAF Graves in Berlin War Cemetery

RCAF Graves in Berlin War Cemetery

All the crew of Grisdale’s ‘Freddy’ died; they were the only Lancaster of 433 Squadron not to return that day. They are buried in the Berlin War Cemetery. RIP.

Who was Robert James Grisdale? He was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1923, the son of real estate agent and salesman Robert Chaplin Grisdale and Alice Mary Fraser. His paternal grandfather was none other than the Bolton cotton-bleacher who had become a Canadian Bishop – John Grisdale – who I wrote about in another article.

Visitors to Ullswater in Cumberland today might take a walk to the waterfall called Aira Force and nearby Lyulph’s Tower, both situated in lovely Gowbarrow Park on the lake’s shore. It is a place that William Wordsworth visited often. It is believed that he was so taken with the beauty of Gowbarrow that it inspired him to write his most famous poem, The Daffodils:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

lyulph's tower

Lyulph’s Tower today

The present Lyulph’s Tower was built as a hunting lodge by Charles Howard, the 11th Duke of Norfolk, in the 1780s, on top of the original Pele Tower. It was a good site for hunting. One visitor a century before commented that it ‘contained more deer than trees’.

From that dim period when ‘ the whole of Britain was a land of uncleared forest, and only the downs and hill-tops rose above the perpetual tracts of wood,’  down to nearly the end of the eighteenth century, red deer roamed wild over Cumberland.

It was around this time, in the late seventeenth- century, that John Grisdale became the tenant farmer of nearby Gowbarrow Hall. He was what was known in Cumberland as a ‘statesman’ – a well-to-do yeoman farmer. John was the son of Robert Grisdale of Crookwath in the next door parish of Matterdale. John is mentioned in his father’s will in 1694 and in the same year the jurors of Watermillock (where Gowbarrow lay) ordered that: “John Grisedale of Gowberry Hall doe take ye water out of the Highway at Cowclose foot that it do not stand in the Highway….”,  on ‘paine’ of paying three shillings and four pence.

Gowbarrow Hall

Gowbarrow Hall

This branch of the Matterdale Grisdales was to remain at Gowbarrow Hall, and in Watermillock in general, throughout the eighteenth-century and beyond. I might write more about the family at a later date.

Here, however, I want to go back a little further in time, to the late eleventh and early twelfth-century, to the years following the Norman Conquest. It’s the story of the Barony and Manor of Greystoke, in which both Matterdale and Watermillock lie, as well as being a story of one family’s accommodation with the Norman invaders. This family became the future Lords of Greystoke. I will return to the question of the roots of this family in a subsequent article – were they already ‘magnates’ before the Conquest or were their origins more humble? But first, who was the ‘Cumbrian’ woman who became a king’s mistress? And which king?

Her name was Edith Forne Sigulfson, the daughter of Forne, the son of Sigulf. The king with whom she consorted was Henry I, the son of William the Bastard, better known as William the Conqueror. Henry succeeded to the English throne in 1100 on the death of his brother William II (Rufus).

Henry the First

Henry the First

All kings have taken mistresses, some even have had harems of them. It was, and is, one of the privileges and prerogatives of power. In England the king who took most advantage of this opportunity was the French-speaking Henry I. As well as having two wives, Henry had at least 10 mistresses, by whom he had countless children. How and when Edith and Henry met we will never know. What we do know is that they had at least two children: Adeliza Fitz-Edith, about whom nothing is known, and Robert Fitz-Edith (son of Edith), sometimes called Robert Fitz-Roy (son of the king), who the king married off with Matilda d’Avranches, the heiress of the barony of Oakhampton in Devon.

King Henry seems to have treated his mistresses or concubines better than some of the later English kings (think for instance of his name-sake Henry VIII ). When Henry tired of Edith he married her to Robert D’Oyly (or D’Oiley), the nephew of Robert d’Oyly,  a henchman of William the Conqueror, who had been with William at Hastings and who built Oxford Castle in 1071.

When Oxford closed its gates against the Conqueror, and he had stormed and taken the city, it followed that he should take measures to keep the people of the place in subjection. Accordingly, having bestowed the town on his faithful follower, Robert d’Oilgi, or D’Oiley or D’Oyly, he directed him to build and fortify a strong castle here, which the Chronicles of Osney Abbey tell us he did between the years 1071 and 1073, “digging deep trenches to make the river flow round about it, and made high mounds with lofty towers and walls thereon, to overtop the town and country about it.” But, as was usual with the Norman castles, the site chosen by D’Oyly was no new one, but the same that had been long before adopted by the kings of Mercia for their residence; the mound, or burh, which was now seized for the Norman keep had sustained the royal house of timber in which had dwelt Offa, and Alfred and his sons, and Harold Harefoot. (Castles Of England, Sir James D. Mackenzie, 1896)

Oxford Castle

Oxford Castle

Henry also gave Edith the manor of Steeple Claydon in Buckinghamshire as a dower in her own name. After the original Robert D’Oyly had died in 1090, his younger brother Nigel succeeded him as Constable of Oxford and baron of Hook Norton (i.e. Oxford). Despite the fact that the sixteenth-century chronicler John Leland commented: ‘Of Nigel be no verye famose things written’, in fact he ‘flourished during the reign of William Rufus and officiated as constable of all England under that King’. On Nigel’s death in 1112, his son Robert – by now very probably already Edith’s husband – became the third baron of Hook Norton, the constable of Oxford Castle and, at some point, King’s Henry’s constable.

Several children were soon born to Edith and Robert, including two sons Gilbert and Henry. Edith it seems was both a ‘very beautiful’ and a very pious woman. Some historians believe that she was remorseful and penitent because of her previous life as King Henry’s concubine. Whatever the truth of this, in 1129 she persuaded her husband Robert to found  and endow the Church of St. Mary, in the Isle of Osney, near Oxford Castle. The church would become an abbey in 1149. The story is interesting. Sir John Peshall in The History of Oxford University in 1773 wrote:

Edith, wife of Robert D’Oiley, the second of this name, son of Nigel, used to please herself living with her husband at the castle, with walking here by the river side, and under these shady trees; and frequently observing the magpies gathered together on a tree by the river, making a great chattering, as it were, at her, was induced to ask Radilphus, a Canon of St. Frid, her confessor, whom she had sent to confer upon this matter, the meaning of it.

“Madame”, says he, “these are not pyes; they are so many poor souls in purgatory, uttering in this way their complaints aloud to you, as knowing your extensive goodness of disposition and charity”; and humbly hoped, for the love of God, and the sake of her’s and her posterity’s souls, she would do them some public good, as her husband’s uncle had done, by building the Church and College of St. George.

“Is it so indeed”, said she, “de pardieux. I will do my best endeavours to bring these poor souls to rest”; and relating the matter to her husband, did, by her importunities, with the approbation of Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln, and consent of her sons Henry and Gilbert, prevail on him to begin this building there, where the pyes had sat delivering their complaint.

John Leland, the ‘father of English local history and bibliography’, had told much the same tale in the first half of the sixteenth-century:

Sum write that this was the occasion of making of it. Edith usid to walk out of Oxford Castelle with her Gentilwomen to solace, and that often tymes, wher yn a certan place in a tre as often as she cam a certan pyes usid to gether to it, and ther to chattre, and as it wer to speke unto her. Edithe much marveling at this matier, and was sumtyme sore ferid as by a wonder. Whereupon she sent for one Radulph, a Chanon of S. Frediswide’s, a Man of a vertuus Life and her Confessor, asking hym Counsel: to whom he answerid, after that he had seen the fascion of the Pies Chattering only at her Cumming, that she should builde sum Chirch or Monasterie in that Place. Then she entreatid her Husband to build a Priorie, and so he did, making Radulph the first Prior of it.

Osney Abbey

One historian commented: ‘This is a curiously characteristic story. Edith, whose antecedents may have made her suspicious of reproach, was evidently possessed with the idea that the clamour of the magpies was a malicious mockery designed to humiliate and reprove her, and to convey a supernatural warning that she must make speedy atonement for her sins.’ This is, of course, pure conjecture.

Edith even got her son by the king, Robert Fitz-Roy, “Robertus Henrici regis filius”, to contribute to Osney Abbey,  with the consent of his half brother “Henrici de Oleio fratris mei”.

Maybe Edith had found peace in the Abbey she helped create. But England was to soon experience another bout of armed thugs fighting armed thugs, fighting that would come very close to Edith. When Henry 1 died in 1135 without a legitimate son he bequeathed his kingdom to his daughter the Empress Matilda (or Maude), the widow of Holy Roman Emperor Henry V, who had since married Geoffrey of Anjou. Aware of the problems with a woman becoming Queen, in 1127 and 1128 Henry had made his court swear allegiance to Matilda; this included Stephen of Blois, a grandson of William the Conqueror. But when Henry died Matilda was in Rouen. ‘Stephen of Blois rushed to England upon learning of Henry’s death and moved quickly to seize the crown from the appointed heir.’ Remember, this was a French not an English family! A war followed between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda.

King Stephen captured at Lincoln

King Stephen captured at Lincoln

But what about Edith and her husband Robert in Oxford? King Stephen tried various inducements to get Robert D’Oyly on his side, but Robert remained loyal to Matilda.  Sir James D. Mackenzie wrote:

The second Robert D’Oyly, son to Nigel, the brother of the founder, who succeeded his uncle, and founded the monastery of Osney, nearby, took part against Stephen, and delivered up his castle of Oxford to the Empress Maud for her residence. She accordingly came here with great state in 1141, with a company of barons who had promised to protect her during the absence of her brother, the Earl of Gloucester, in France, whither he had gone to bring back Prince Henry. Gloucester and Stephen had only recently been exchanged against each other, the Earl from Rochester and Stephen from Bristol, and the latter lost no time in opening afresh the civil war, by at once marching rapidly and unexpectedly to Oxford. Here he set fire to the-town and captured it. He then proceeded to shut up closely and to besiege Maud in the castle, from Michaelmas to Christmas, trying to starve out her garrison, whilst from two high mounds which lie raised against the keep, the one called Mount Pelham, and the other Jew’s Mount, he constantly battered the walls and defences with his engines of war, which threw stones and bolts.

Maud, who was a mistress of stratagems and resources—she had escaped from Winchester Castle on a swift horse, by taking advantage of a pretended truce on account of the ceremonies of Holy Cross, and had at Devizes been carried through the enemies lines dressed out as a corpse in a funeral procession—was equal to the occasion when provisions failed. Taking advantage of a keen frost which had frozen over the Isis, she issued one night from a postern, and crossed the river on the ice, accompanied only by three faithful followers. The country being covered with deep snow, they wore white garments over their clothes, and succeeded in eluding their enemies, walking through the snow six long miles to Abingdon. Here a horse was obtained for the Empress, and the party got safely next morning to Wallingford Castle. After her escape, Oxford Castle was yielded to Stephen the next day.

It seems that Robert D’Oyly didn’t long survive these events, but it is still unclear whether he died at King Stephen’s instigation or not. Edith survived him and lived on until 1152. ‘Cumbrian’ Edith Forne Sigulfson, concubine of a king, married to a Norman nobleman, was buried in Osney Abbey. When John Leland visited in the early sixteenth-century, on the eve of its dissolution, he saw her tomb:

‘Ther lyeth an image of Edith, of stone, in th’ abbite of a vowess, holding a hart in her right hand, on the north side of the high altaire’.

The dream of magpies was painted near the tomb. ‘Above the arch over her tomb there was painted on the wall a picture representing the foundation legend of the Abbey, viz. The magpies chattering on her advent to Oseney; the tree; and Radulphe her confessor; which painting, according to Holinshed, was in perfect preservation at the suppression of religious houses (in the time of ) Henry VIII.’

We’ve come a long way from the shores of distant Ullswater. So let’s return there briefly. It is certain that Edith was the daughter of Forne Sigulfson. Forne was the holder of lands in Yorkshire (for example in Nunburnholme) in 1086 when the Domesday survey was taken. Whether he was also already a landowner in Cumberland at that time is unknown because Cumbria was not included in Domesday Book, for the very simple reason that at the time it was under the Scottish crown.

But Forne certainly became the first ‘Norman’ baron of Greystoke in Henry I’s time. The Testa de Nevill in 1212 reads:

Robert de Veteri Ponte holds in custody from the King the land which was of William son of Ranulf, together with the heir of the aforesaid William, and renders annually of cornage £4. King Henry, grandfather of the King’s father, gave that land to Forne son of Siolf, predecessor of the aforesaid William, by the aforesaid service.

Greystoke Castle

Greystoke Castle

Some historians have suggested that this was actually a reconfirmation of Forne’s existing holdings and rights – whether originally granted by Ranulf le Meschin, who had been given titular control of Cumbria sometime after the Conquest, or possibly his rights went back to his father Sigulf in pre-conquest days. This is a subject to which I will return. What is clear is that Forne’s son Ivo was the founder of Greystoke Castle. He built the first defensive tower there in 1129. The family received permission to castellate the tower in 1338. Forne’s ‘Greystoke’ family, as it became known, continued to be Lords of Greystoke in a direct male line until 1306, when more distant relatives succeeded to the title: first the Grimesthorps, then the Dacres and then, in 1571, the Howards.

Was Edith even Cumbrian? We don’t know. Quite possibly she could have been born in Yorkshire on her father’s lands there. In any case, Edith was a northern Anglo-Saxon. We don’t even know when she was born, although I think that the evidence points to her being slightly younger than King Henry, who was born in about 1068, probably in Yorkshire. So maybe Edith was born in the 1070s or early 1080s. If so she might even have became Henry’s mistress before he became king and married in 1100, or maybe just slightly thereafter.

What of Lyulph’s Tower and Lake Ullswater? It is generally thought that Lyulph refers to Sigulf, (often spelt Sygoolf, Llyuph,Ligulf, Lygulf etc), Forne’s father and Edith’s grandfather. It is even suggested that Ullswater is also named after him: ‘Ulf’s Water’.

I’ll leave all that for another time.

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

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

Hartsop Hall, Patterdale

Hartsop Hall, Patterdale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old Penrith

Old Penrith

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

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

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

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

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

Carlisle English Gate and Old Gaol

Carlisle English Gate and Old Gaol

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

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

Bound For Van Diemen's Land

Bound For Van Diemen’s Land

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

“Ours is not to reason why. Ours is but to do and die.”

What was a Grisdale man’s connection with The Charge of the Light Brigade? How did a soldier in an elite British cavalry regiment in India end up lumping coal in the Melbourne docks? And did he sire one or more ‘half-breeds’ while trying to get rich in the Victoria gold rush? This is the story of Thomas Grisdale, a Bolton cotton weaver’s son.

Thomas Grisdale was born in Bolton, Lancashire in 1804. He escaped the cotton mills by joining the army. I’m not yet precisely sure exactly when, but it seems clear that as a private in the 15th King’s Own Light Dragoons (Hussars) he sailed for India with the regiment from their base in Maidstone, Kent, in September 1839 – under Lieutenant – Colonel Sir Walter Scott, the son of the famous novelist. He was to spend the next fourteen years in India, first in Madras but mostly in Bangalore. The ‘Madras Presidency’ which covered most of southern India was run by the British East India Company.

Peterloo Massacre

Peterloo Massacre

The 15th Hussars was an illustrious regiment. They were called both The Fighting 15th and The Tabs. They were raised in 1759 and had fought in the Peninsular War at Sahagun and Vittoria and later at Waterloo. Unfortunately they had also played a pivotal role in the notorious Peterloo Massacre in 1819:  ‘Where a 60,000 strong crowd calling for democratic reform were charged by the Yeomanry. Panic from the crowd was interpreted as an attack on the Yeomanry and the Hussars (led by Lieutenant Colonel Guy L’Estrange) were ordered in. The charge resulted in 15 fatalities and as many as 600 injured.’

Captain Lewis Nolan

Captain Lewis Nolan

After an initial spell in the regional capital, Madras, Thomas was mostly on garrison duty with the regiment in Bangalore. The regiment became one of the best trained cavalry units in the British army, thanks in no small measure to the efforts and new ideas of a certain Captain Lewis Edward Nolan – under whom Thomas served. In a list of the men of the 15th Hussars stationed in Bangalore in 1845 (although I think the list comes from slightly later), we find Private Thomas Grisdale as well as Captain Lewis Nolan.

Nolan wasn’t a typical British cavalry officer. Though British Canadian by birth, through his father’s connections he had been commissioned into the Austrian Imperial Cavalry and seen action as a Hussar in Poland and Hungary. But he was persuaded by certain ‘English gentlemen’ to resign his commission and buy a commission in the British army. This he did in 1839 and he was with Grisdale and the 15th Hussars on the trip to Madras. Nolan had strong ideas about how cavalry should be used, how horses should be trained and about the inappropriateness of the Hussars’ uniforms. He later published two treatises on the subject called: The Training of Cavalry Remount Horses: A New System (1851) and Cavalry: Its History and Tactics (1853). Given his expertise, Nolan was made the regiment’s riding master and his methods were later adopted throughout the army. Two quotes from his writings give us a flavour:

Write up in golden letters – or in letters distinguishable, and easy to read – in every riding-school, and in every stable: “HORSES ARE TAUGHT NOT BY HARSHNESS BUT BY GENTLENESS.” Where the officers are classical, the golden rule may be given in Xenophon’s Greek, as well as in English.

To me it appears we have too much frippery – too much toggery – too much weight in things worse than useless. To a cavalry soldier every ounce is of consequence! I can never believe that our hussar uniform (take which of them you please) is the proper dress in which to do hussar’s duty in war – to scramble through thickets, to clear woods, to open the way through forests, to ford or swim rivers, to bivouac, to be nearly always on outpost work, to ‘rough it’ in every possible manner. Of what use are plumes, bandoliers, sabretashes, sheep-skins, shabraques, etc?

The Charge of the Light Brigade

The Charge of the Light Brigade

But besides the fact that Grisdale knew Nolan, what’s the interest in mentioning this? Well it is this: When the regiment was about to depart for home in 1853, Nolan obtained leave to precede it to Europe. After a bit of spying for Britain in Russia, he was sent to purchase horses for the army for the Crimean campaign. Nolan travelled around Turkey, Lebanon and Syria. ‘He arrived in Varna, Bulgaria… with nearly 300 animals.’ For once Britain and France were not fighting each other; they had come to the aid of the Ottoman Turks in their fight against an expansionary Imperial Russia. Nolan was made aide-de-camp to Brigadier-General Richard Airey.  On 25 October 1854, at the Battle of Balaclava, it was Captain Nolan who brought the message from Lord Raglan to Lord Lucan which read:

Lord Raglan wishes the Cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, follow the enemy, and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Troop Horse Artillery may accompany. French Cavalry is on your left. Immediate.

Raglan’s idea was to have the cavalry prevent the Russians taking away the naval guns from the redoubts that they had captured on the reverse side of the Causeway Heights, the hill forming the south side of the valley. Lucan was unclear what the order meant and asked Nolan for clarification. Nolan is reputed to have replied, ‘Lord Raglan’s orders are that the cavalry should attack immediately.’ Lucan replied, ‘Attack, sir! Attack what? What guns, sir? Where and what to do?’

There, my Lord! There is your enemy! There are your guns!

Nolan is said to have indicated, by a wide sweep of his arm, not the Causeway redoubts but the mass of Russian guns in a redoubt at the end of the valley, around a mile away.

So Lucan ordered Lord Cardigan, the officer commanding the Light Brigade, to charge straight at the Russian guns. So began The Charge of the Light Brigade, when just over 600 British cavalry charged straight at the main Russian cannons, into the ‘Valley of Death’. As Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote:

Half a league, half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!

Charge for the guns!” he said.

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

Captain Lewis Nolan was one of the first to die in the charge. One historian writes:

After delivering the order telling Lord Lucan, the Cavalry Division commander, to attack “the guns,” Nolan joined his friend, Captain William Morris, Acting Commander, 17th Lancers.  Although a staff officer, Nolan was determined not to be left out of this action.  As the Light Brigade advanced, Nolan was seen to ride forward on his own.  His reasons are the subject of vast controversy and much speculation.  In any event, his audacity didn’t last long.  He was struck in the chest by a piece of shrapnel, making him one of the first casualties of the charge.

Nolan, or perhaps only his body, remained upright in the saddle.  The horse veered right, then back through the advancing line of the 13th Light Dragoons, the horse’s former regiment.  After passing through the lines, Captain Nolan finally fell to the ground, but his gallant horse was not through.  Troop Sergeant Major John Linkon of the 13th had just lost his horse.  He managed to mount Nolan’s horse and rode after his regiment.  Thus, although Captain Nolan did not complete the famous charge, his horse did.

After the debacle, his superiors, probably unjustly, put the blame on Nolan. The French General Bosquet, who witnessed the charge, commented: C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre’: c’est de la folie’. (‘It is magnificent, but it is not war: it is madness.’)

Such was the fate of the man under whom Thomas Grisdale had served for so many years in India. But unlike his former officer, Grisdale had avoided the Valley of Death (the 15th weren’t actually there). He left the army in 1853 and with his young family made his way to Melbourne in Australia.

Before I tell of this let us go back a little to Thomas’s roots and the facts of his family. Thomas was the third child of Lancashire cotton weaver Thomas Grisdale and his wife Elizabeth Crossley. He was born in 1804 in Bolton. In previous articles I have tried to show what became of several of his close relatives who had also left England and some who stayed. Among his close relatives was his brother, the weaver Doctor Grisdale, who emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1850, and his two nephews, John and Jonathan, who “went America”.  His uncle  Benjamin became the Collector of Customs in the important port of Whitehaven. His cousin John emigrated to Sydney and his more distant cousin also called John became a missionary in India and later a Canadian Bishop!  His uncle George emigrated with his family to Hudson in Quebec and one member of his family eventually ended up in the Pacific Northwest of America as “King of the Douglas Fir Loggers”. I will tell their story at a later date. Every single one of these people was a descendant of Joseph Grisdale and Ann Temple of Dockray, Matterdale, Cumberland.

Madras 1850

Madras 1850

When Thomas arrived in India in 1839 he was a single man of 35. But while stationed in Bangalore he married the locally born Mary Cartwright, the daughter of army farrier William Cartwright and his wife Jane. The marriage took place on 5 January 1847 in Bangalore’s Holy Trinity Church. Three Indian-born children were to follow: Thomas (1848), Jane (1850) and William (1852).

Throughout his time in India the British army (or the army of the East India Company to be more precise) had been involved in many nasty little wars, for example the early Sikh and Afghan wars. But these all took place in the north of the country and because Thomas’s regiment were based in the south it seems he took no part in them. I would like to know if this was not the case.

Whatever the case, in 1853, having recently left the army, he, his wife Mary and their two children (Thomas junior had died just before they left) boarded the ship Strathfieldsaye bound for Melbourne in Victoria, Australia. We don’t know why the family chose to go to Melbourne but we can make a good guess. The Victoria gold rush had just started and there is no doubt that news of diggers becoming immensely wealthy would have reached India. So perhaps Thomas wanted to see if he too could strike it rich. The family arrived in Melbourne harbour in November 1853.

Victoria Gold Diggers

Victoria Gold Diggers

Things then go a little dark, but not completely dark. Maybe initially Thomas got work in the Melbourne docks, where he later worked, we don’t know. Yet it is certain that he pretty soon tried his luck in the rough and tumble of Victoria’s gold diggings. The family moved to Heathcote, a gold rush town 110 kms north of Melbourne. Two more children were born there: Elizabeth in 1855 and Caroline in 1857. Heathcote itself had ‘developed on the back of a series of gold rushes along McIvor Creek commencing in 1851. One of the major strikes (1852) was a Golden Gully, behind the old courthouse’.

At the peak of the gold rushes there were up to 35,000 people, largely housed in tents and shanties on the fields. 3,000 Chinese walked to the digging from Robe in South Australia where they had disembarked to avoid paying a tax levied upon Chinese disembarking in Victoria. There were at least 3 breweries; 22 hotels; 2 flour mills, reflecting the emergence of wheat growing in the district; a bacon factory, hospital, banks and several wineries.

What sort of life did the family have in Heathcote? Perhaps we can get some idea from letters sent home by other immigrants who had done the same thing at the same time. In May 1855 Alma digger P.H. Brain wrote home to a friend:

There is no friends here, everyone for his self and the biggest rogue – the best man, that is the principle that the colony is carried on, by most people rich and poor. I am happy to say I have never wanted for anything since I have been in the colony, although I have seen more in want than ever I have in England. I have many times thought of you staying in England, I would rather live in England with one meal a day, than here with all the best in the world as there is no comfort to be had here day or night, for by day you are poisoned by dust and flies and by night perhaps nearly blown out of your bed, if it may be so called. Although I have got a feather bed, I cannot sleep…

I should not advise anyone to come out here, although I do not wish to keep them away but I am sure there is nothing to be obtained here but at the risk of your life and hard work and no comfort. You would be surprised perhaps if I say I work 60 or 70 feet underground and have got to sink the hole first. I can assure you that it is the case, one sometimes would sink 10 or a dozen of these and not see gold. I have got a hundred pounds and obliged to spend it nearly all before I could get any more, so you see it’s not all profit. The hole is sunk like a well on, a chain of 24 feet square. You must not have any more than that at any one time but you can sink as many as you want. Where you have sunk one of these holes you try 3 or 4 inches of dirt at the bottom, it is put into a tub and washed so as to wash off the dirt and leave the gravel in the bottom and from thence into a tin dish and divide the gold from the gravel, if there be any. If not you must wash it so before you can tell. So you see what work it is to get gold. I have sunk 10 or 15 before I have seen it and perhaps many around me getting it. I am thinking I shall send you and your dear wife a small nugget, so as you can say you have got some, as I may never have it in my power to bring it personally. If so I have to be more pleased to do so in a larger quantity wont if not to be a pleasure to me once more to see my friends in England all well, which I hope very much is the case now.

James Douglas Ferguson wrote to his parents in 1854 from McIvor (Heathcote):

Gold Rush Camp

Gold Rush Camp

We all live in tension the diggings that you will know I should not think there is a man on the diggings but has a brace of pistols ready for action under his head every night. I have 3 dogs round our tent there is nothing in the shape of beast or body can get near the tent for them, any one was to lay me down £20 for the 3 I would not take it. Some time ago these two men on horseback stuck us up. My dog did his duty she got one of them to an out she made him ten thousand murders. I like a fool had not my pistol charged, perhaps just as well it was not for I should have fired as sure as I am writing this letter to you, anyone comes round your tent at night you are justifiable in shooting them, this was between 12 and 1 o’clock in the morning. I got up and opened the tent door and give my faithful old dog the word of command and got the axe for a weapon myself, I darted out from the side of the tent and got a slip at one of them with the axe, the next moment the dog made the other shout like a bull they did not know that I was up ready to receive them. The wife and children screaming, the dogs barking. People came rushing from all quarters, believe me the fellow would not forget that blow I gave him for sometime. You know I am pretty sharp mettle when set on my pins. They were both armed with pistols but had not time to make use of them. We let them go quietly as there might be a party and some of them come at another time and call on us.

Such was probably the Grisdales’ life in the gold diggings. Thomas must have found some gold; otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to support his family for several years. But he clearly hadn’t struck it rich. The family moved back to Sandridge, Melbourne, where the couple’s next children were born:  Thomas (1859), Joseph (1861), Mary (1863), Isaac (18660 and Sarah (1869).

It is only in Melbourne that we start to find actual reports of Thomas and some of his family. The first to appear in the Melbourne Argus on Tuesday 12 September 1865 concerned Thomas himself:

At the Sandridge Police Court yesterday; before Mr. Call, P.M., an old man named Thomas Grisdale, charged with stealing fish, the property of James Lewis, was sentenced to be locked up until the rising of the Court.

Four years later, after having borne ten children, Thomas’s wife Jane died on 24 April 1869 as a result of giving birth to her last child Sarah, who herself died three  days later. On 26 April the Argus reported:

At Sandridge yesterday, the city coroner held an inquiry respecting the death of Mary Grisdale, who had died on the day previous somewhat suddenly. She had been prematurely confined on Saturday last, and from that time until Wednesday was progressing very favourably. On that morning, however, she was seized with sudden illness. Her husband went for the purpose of procuring medical assistance, but before he returned her life had expired. From the medical testimony, the jury returned a verdict that the deceased died from fatty degeneration of the heart.

After Jane’s death it seems that some of her children had to resort to begging. On Wednesday 22 February 1871 the Argus reported:

Sandridge. – On Monday, before Messrs. Molifson (?). P.M., Curtis, and Barker, Caroline Grisdale, a girl from 14 to 15 years old, was charged with stealing a pair of drawers. The prisoner went to Mary Clyans, wife of Michael Clyans, to beg, and Mrs. Clyans took her into her service. At the end of a week the prisoner left, and several articles of clothing were missed at the same time. The prisoner next went to a Mrs. Elizabeth Foley to beg for bread. Mrs Foley gave her 3 1/2d. to buy a loaf for herself and sisters, and the prisoner in return, offered the drawers, which she said belonged to her sister. The prisoner’s father, who described himself as a “lumper” appeared in court, but had nothing to say except that his daughter did not beg, or at least had no occasion to. The Bench sentenced the girl to 24 hours’ imprisonment, and to two years’ confinement in the reformatory, with a recommendation to the police to sec that Grisdale paid for his daughter’s maintenance.

Caroline was to marry John Berkley David O’Neill in 1877. One of Caroline’s sisters was Mary, who had been born in Sandridge in 1863. Later the same year, on 6 October 1871, we read:

A man named James Amos was charged at the police court, Drysdale, yesterday, with an attempt to commit a capital offence upon the person of a girl about 10 years of age, named Mary Grisdale. The prisoner, who reserved his defence, was committed to take his trial at the next sittings of the Circuit Court.

And then the 12 October:

James Amos, an elderly man, was charged with having, on the 14th ult, indecently assaulted a little girl, under 10 years of age, named Mary Grisdale, at Swan Bay. He pleaded “Not guilty,” and was undefended. The jury returned a verdict of “Guilty.”

James Amos would probably have been hung. Mary herself married James Broderick in 1882. The two other surviving sisters, Jane (born in 1850) married James McFarlane in 1874 and Elizabeth (born 1855) married Alfred James Fawcett in 1875.

But what of Thomas’ sons? Most either died in infancy or when young. Only one, William Grisdale, who had been born in India in 1852, seems to have lived long. In 1879 he married Elizabeth Corfield in Melbourne. They had one child, William James, but he soon died. Elizabeth herself died aged 22 in 1881, miles away in the mountain community of Hotham. In the Melbourne newspapers throughout the 1880s we find multiple reports of a man called William Grisdale. Was this Thomas and Jane’s son? I’ll return to this question. But first, in September 1881, the Sandridge Court tried ‘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.

In May 1882 ‘two wharf loafers, named James Sullivan and William Grisdale’ were charged with ‘ feloniously stealing’ silk dresses and other articles and selling them on in Sandridge. Grisdale claimed they belonged to his wife. In January 1884 ‘two young men named William Hilton 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 boots…. 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’.

Given the fact that these crimes took place or were tried in Sandridge, where the Grisdale family lived, it would seem to indicate that the ‘wharf loafer’ William Grisdale was indeed Thomas and Jane’s son. I think he probably was. But a little later in May 1887 the Argus reported:

About midnight on Tuesday Constable Lockhart observed a powerfully built half-caste named William Grisdale accosting a woman, and demanding money from her. When refused he struck the woman a violent blow and knocked her down. The constable arrested the man, who resisted most violently, striking him on the face and kicking him on various parts of the body. The prisoner had a very bad record, and he was fined £5, or in default three months’ imprisonment, at the City Court on Wednesday.

This can’t have been Thomas and Jane’s William, who was not a half-caste. So who could it have been?

Boundary Rider's Hut

Boundary Rider’s Hut

Was he an illegitimate son of Thomas Grisdale conceived with an aboriginal mother while Thomas moved around the gold diggings or later on back in Melbourne? Surely his father must have been a Grisdale? In the early years after 1853 there were probably only two Grisdale families in Victoria. I wrote about one before. This was the family of William Grisdale who arrived in Melbourne in the same year as Thomas. The family settled near Mansfield and worked in and around the gold digs situated there. And as far as we know that is where he stayed.

We also find other ‘criminal’ Grisdales in the Melbourne courts. One a ‘Singhalese’ called John Grisdale (this means a half caste from Ceylon or south India) and a mysterious Arthur Grisdale. Somebody was putting himself about!

Finally in 1924 on the electors’ list for Willaura we find a William Burrumbeep Grisdale working as a ‘boundary rider’ – that is maintaining fences on a sheep or cattle ranch. Burrumbeep itself is not far from Willaura and had a gold rush of its own. It would be tempting to relate this man with the half-caste in Melbourne in 1887, but maybe the possible ages would tell against it?

Actually I believe that sometime after his wife’s death William Grisdale headed out west to help build the Goldfields’ Water Pipeline to Perth and later became a bullock driver. But that’s for another time.

Railway pier sandridge 1858

Railway Pier Sandridge 1858

Returning to firmer ground; where did Thomas and his family live in Melbourne and what did he do? I mentioned already that after coming back from Heathcote the family settled in Sandridge. Referring to the arrival of William Free’s family in 1853, the same year as Thomas, one writer says:

They were landed not at a wharf but on a beach – Liardet’s Beach or Sandridge as the respectable classes preferred to call it – at which there were present some ramshackle buildings, but no quay, no warehouses, no merchants, and no shade in which the women and children could rest while the men looked for transport. The shore up to the high-water mark was lined with broken drift spars and oars, discarded ship-blocks, mattresses and pillows, empty bottles, ballast kegs, and sundry other items of flotsam. The township of Melbourne was out of sight, some eight miles distant by river and three across land.

Sandridge became Melbourne’s second port – taking the name Port Melbourne. ‘For many years Port Melbourne was a focus of Melbourne’s criminal underworld, which operated smuggling syndicates on the docks. The old Ships Painters and Dockers Union was notorious for being controlled by gangsters. The Waterside Workers Federation, on the other hand, was a stronghold of the Communist Party of Australia.’

We know that Thomas worked as a coal ‘lumper’ in Sandridge port. Margo Beasley, Australia’s expert on coal lumpers, writes: ‘Unlike wharf labourers, who shifted all manner of cargoes between ship and shore, coal lumpers worked exclusively on coal and most, but not all, of that work took place out ‘in the stream’ as they put it… some distance from the wharves…  coal lumpers saw themselves as akin to miners rather than wharf labourers and their main task was to move the coal from colliers or hulks that brought it…  into other vessels.’

Coal lumpers at work

Coal lumpers at work

There were five categories of coal lumping work. The shovellers, winchdrivers and planksmen worked on the collier or hulk that was carrying and discharging the coal, and carriers and trimmers worked on the ship that was receiving the coal or being ‘coaled’. Coal lumpers’ tools were basic: shovels, baskets, boots, ropes and their own brute strength. The ‘gear’ on the collier, which included winch, rope (called the ‘fall’) and baskets, had to be rigged so that the coal could be shifted from down below up to a suitable level on the deck for moving it into the ship that was to be coaled. The baskets were attached to a hook, which was fastened to the fall, which was run through a pulley and a winch on the deck above the hold.

Beasley describes coal lumpers’ working conditions as ‘Dantesque’. She writes:

Billy Hughs, who later became Prime Minister of Australia, was president of the Sydney Coal Lumpers’ Union in 1905, and also its advocate. He said coal lumping work ‘finds out the weak places in a man. If a man has a weak spot in his heart, lungs or back, or … say his nervous system is not all that it should be, he falls out.’ Hughes argued that only the very strong remained in the work and coal lumpers aged 45 or 50 were simply ‘the strongest who have survived’, by natural selection.

Indeed, many men tried the work for a week or two, and even an hour or two, but they couldn’t last. One coal lumper said that some men were forced to leave the work because they because they had started at too hard a pace and they were unable to keep going. Hughes judged that no other occupation called for the exercise of greater physical strength and endurance, supporting his assertion with two illustrations. Employers were unable to get sufficient men who could do coal lumping satisfactorily, or even unsatisfactorily, during strikes and lockouts; and the work necessitated certain conditions that didn’t occur in any other trade: paid two hourly breaks, because a spell was ‘absolutely essential for recuperation and food and rest.

Coal Lumpers

Coal Lumpers

Such was the hard and dangerous life of Thomas Grisdale. The son of a Bolton weaver, descended from the Matterdale Grisdales. A man who had spent years serving Queen and country in India. A man who had been under the command of Captain Nolan who became famous for ‘starting’ the Charge of the Light Brigade. A man who had tried his luck in Australia only to spend the rest of his life lumping coal in the docks. A man who just might have sired one or more half castes while looking for gold. Such I’m afraid was the fate of many, indeed most, of the common soldiers who served Her Majesty throughout most of British history. A fate in stark contrast to that of the wealthy officer class.

Thomas Grisdale died aged 74 on 28 February 1879, at 11 Montague Street, Emerald Hill in Melbourne.

“Ours is not to reason why. Ours is but to do and die.”

In the nineteenth century enormous numbers of British people left to try to find a better life overseas. Most went to Canada, America, New Zealand and Australia. Some prospered, some didn’t. One who did was William Grisdale, the son of a Bolton cotton weaver who took his family to Sydney in 1842 when William was just seven. Starting as a bootmaker and pawnbroker William was to become a successful businessman and stood for the New South Wales Parliament. This is his story.

Sydney Cove 1842

Sydney Cove 1842

The Sydney that greeted Bolton cotton weaver John Grisdale and his family when they arrived on the ship Agnes on 15 February 1842 wasn’t the huge, sophisticated and cosmopolitan place we know today.  Even the official History of Sydney City Council describes it thus:

The ‘City of Sydney’ of 1842 was little more than an unruly village of dusty poorly lit lanes and unhygienic dwellings. There was no water or sanitation system. Cattle were routinely driven through the streets.

We don’t know the precise reasons why the Grisdale family decided to leave Bolton and make the long and arduous trip to Australia, although getting out of the Lancashire cotton mills would have been a ‘push’ enough in itself. It’s possible that Ann’s older brother Thomas Rostron had something to do with it. Thomas Rostron, his wife Alice and their daughter Mary had sailed from Liverpool on 14 September 1840, aboard the ship Brothers. They arrived at Port Jackson on 11 March 1841. Thomas was a bricklayer and publican but for a year “was employed by Mr. A. B. Smith of Smith’s Rivulet, Gammon Plains near Merriwa, New South Wales”. Maybe he had encouraged his sister to come to Australia as well and maybe he had even found them a sponsor?

Passenger details of John Grisdale and his family, 1842

Passenger details of John Grisdale and his family, 1842

Sydney wasn’t a place that had much use for the cotton weaving skills that John Grisdale would have learnt in the dark satanic mills back in Lancashire. In fact, on the passenger list of the ship bringing the family as ‘assisted immigrants’ to Australia he listed his trade as ‘labourer’. He had undoubtedly said much the same on his application for assistance to emigrate. So he, and later his two sons, William and Levi, would have to turn their hands to whatever they could if they were to survive and even prosper. This, as we shall see, they did.

Before I tell the family’s story in Australia, let me first place them in England.

John Grisdale was born in Bolton, Lancashire in August 1809. He was the fourth child of Bolton cotton weaver Robert Grisdale and his first wife Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ Shaw. On 28 December 1832, John married Ann Rostron in Bolton. Two living children followed: William, born in 1834, and Levi, born in 1837. Two other sons, both named Thomas, died in infancy. In 1841, John was living with his family in Bradshawgate, Bolton, surrounded by cotton mills.

John’s father Robert Grisdale (1775-1840) was the son of Joseph Grisdale and his wife Ann Temple, who lived in Dockray in Matterdale, Cumberland. Yes of course it all goes back to Matterdale! Some of Robert’s siblings and relations were to venture all over the world. His brother Benjamin became the Collector of Customs in the important port of Whitehaven. His brother George emigrated with his family to Hudson in Quebec and one member of his family eventually ended up in the Pacific Northwest of America as “King of the Douglas Fir Loggers”. I will tell their story at a later date. The son of Robert’s brother Thomas was called Doctor Grisdale and he went to the Pennsylvania cotton mills, his family eventually ending up in Oregon. This Thomas was also the father of John Grisdale whose two sons, John and Jonathan, also went to Pennsylvania to work in the cotton mills there. Another of Thomas’s sons, also called Thomas, went via India to Melbourne in Australia where he became a ‘coal lumper’ in the docks. And finally, Robert’s son Robert by his second wife Hannah Bolton was to have a son called John who became a missionary in India and later a Canadian Bishop! I hope you’re not getting lost? I think I am.

Little could Joseph and Ann Grisdale of Matterdale have known that so many of their descendants would spread out all over the world! Of course the majority would remain in England, many in Cumberland and Bolton, and their lives and struggles were no less courageous and worthy of attention than those of those who ventured overseas.

221 Sussex Street where John Grisdale was a pawnbroker

121 Sussex Street where John Grisdale was a pawnbroker

But let’s return to our John Grisdale. John and his family’s passage had been paid for or sponsored by Mr. G. Townsend, a farmer in Patterson. It’s possible, though not certain, that the family spent their first couple of years in Australia helping on his farm. The first thing we know for sure about them is that they were soon living at 121 Sussex Street in Sydney and John had a pawnbroking and auctioneering business – we know he also worked as a bootmaker. But John wasn’t averse to the main chance and in the early 1850s there was a gold rush in New South Wales as well as in Victoria. Was John tempted to try his luck? It seems he was.  There is an account of a trial in Sydney in September 1851 in which we hear for the first time a little of the Grisdale family’s life:

Stealing a shawl – On Monday, a woman named Catherine Lawler was placed at the bar, charged with having forcibly stolen a shawl, from the person of Mary Gorman, in the public streets on Thursday last. According to the desposition of the prosecutrix, it appeared that on the day in question, the prisoner snatched the shawl, valued at ten shillings, from her shoulders, and threw it on the ground and trampled upon it. Prisoner subsequently took it into her own house, and it was discovered to have been pledged at a pawnbroker’s named Grisdale, in Sussex-street, by a woman named Williams, a friend of the prisoner’s. The prisoner was remanded until yesterday for the evidence of the pawnbroker, when she was again placed at the bar, and, the Police Magistrate enquiring if the pawnbroker was in attendance, a smart, dapper little lad, about fourteen or fifteen years of age, made his debut in the witness-box, when the following dialogue ensued – Police Magistrate -“-Why, you are not, a pawnbroker?” Witness – ” No; but Pa is though.” P.M. – “What is your name, and where is your father?” Witness – “My name is William Grisdale, and Pa is gone to the diggings, and I am carrying on his business.” The witness, being sworn, deposed that the shawl produced was pawned on Friday Iast, for one shilling, by a woman named Williams. The duplicate was produced, and appeared to be improperly written, Mr., instead of Mrs. Williams, being represented as the person to whom the loan had been made. The Police Magistrate directed the attention of Mr. Inspector Wearing to the duplicate, by which the pawnbroker was liable to have an information filed against him, for a breach of the Licensed Pawnbrokers’ Act, his Worship remarking, that if the pawnbrokers thought proper to go to the mines, they ought at least to leave proper persons to transact their business.

New South Wales Gold Diggers

New South Wales Gold Diggers

Gold had been discovered in New South Wales before but only in 1851 did the finds become public knowledge. One historian of the Gold Rush tells us:

The first widely known and officially acknowledged gold find was made by John Lister and William Tom at Ophir in April 1851… The find was proclaimed on 14 May 1851 starting Australia’s first gold rush. Gold was subsequently found in 1851 in the Bathurst-Orange area at Hill End-Tambaroora, Hargraves, Lucknow, Sofala-Turon and Tuena. Further afield, major gold finds were made in the 1850s at Araluen and Majors Creek near Braidwood, at Adelong, and at Hanging Rock near Nundle.

The gold rushes caused many social and economic problems. Bathurst was practically abandoned by able workers during the Ophir rush, while riots broke out on the Turon in 1853 and again at Lambing Flat in 1860-61. Food and common necessities became scarce and expensive with many merchants making more money than the majority of the diggers. In an effort to gain some control on the Government unsuccessfully banned the sale of alcohol. The era became known as ‘the Roaring Days’.

John certainly didn’t stay away too long digging for gold and he certainly didn’t strike it rich. The years passed and then a funny thing happened. It seems John, and probably his wife Ann too, decided to return to England. This probably happened in the late 1850s. But why? Why go back to the squalor and exploitation of the Bolton mills? For that is what John did. We don’t know. All we do know is that by 1861 John was back in Shaw Street, Bolton, living with his brother Thomas and sister Elizabeth Ruffley (nee Grisdale), and working once again as a weaver. He was by this time widowed. Where and when and how his wife Ann had died is unknown. John remained in Bolton for nine more years. In 1861 his next door but one neighbour in Shaw Street was a certain charwoman called Ellen Hendry (nee Goth). When Ellen’s husband Richard Hendry died in April 1861 she and John Grisdale soon married – in 1862. 61 year old Ellen Grisdale was to die of ‘cardiac disease’ on 13 July 1869 at the couple’s new home at 25 Back Defence Street, just around the corner from Shaw Street. News of Ellen’s death somehow reached Sydney and this rather perplexing notice appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 2 October 1869:

DEATHS. At her residence, Back Defence-street, Bolton, Lancashire, England, ELLEN, the beloved wife of JOHN GRISDALE, formerly of Sydney, and mother of William and Levy Grisdale, auctioneers, of Pitt-street.

Who had supplied this information to the newspaper? What sort of confusion or dissimilation was at play? Because of course Ellen was not William and Levi’s mother. That was Ann Rostron, and she had died somewhere in the world years earlier. Perhaps this is a mystery we will never solve.

SS Great Britain

SS Great Britain

With nothing now to keep him in Bolton, John wasted no time in returning to his now married sons in Sydney. He arrived in Melbourne from Liverpool on the famous ship S S Great Britain – the largest and most advanced ship in the world – on 5 December 1870. He quickly boarded another ship, the Alexandra, and reached Sydney on 9 December 1870. Enough of cotton weaving; John could now live out the rest of his days with his increasingly prosperous sons and their families. John was to live to the age of 88. He died on 1 September 1897 at 32 Mount Street, Pyrmont, NSW.

But what of John’s sons: William and Levi? William, the “smart, dapper little lad” of 1851, had married Catherine Craig on 26 February 1856 in Sydney. Descendants believe that his father John was present at the marriage – before his return to Bolton. Three daughters were to follow: Ann Jane (1857), Agnes (1859) and Louisa (1861). Levi married Catherine McFarlane in Sydney in 1869, a year before father John’s return. Levi and Catherine had four children: Charles John (1870), Arnold Levi (1871), William McFarlane (1874) and Catherine (1876).

When John had gone back to England it seems that his son William took over his pawnbroking and auctioneering business. But in earlier years he had also worked, like his father John, as ‘writing clerk’ and bootmaker. He advertised regularly in Sydney for his boot and shoe business. Here is one such advert from December 1859, when William was just 25:

WANTED to be known that W. GRISDALE is selling every description of BOOTS and SHOES cheaper than any other house in Sydney. Storekeepers, and heads of families would do well to give a call before they make their CHRISTMAS PURCHASES, as they can be supplied with every article in the trade very cheap. One trial will prove the fact. Remember the address, W. GRISDALE, No. ll. New Market buildings, George-street, the last shop but one.

Throughout these early years, the family lived at 57 Gloucester Street in Sydney. Sadly, on a personal level, tragedy was soon to strike. William’s wife Catherine died on 26 May 1864 – aged just 32. William was to remarry in 1868. His new wife was Georgina Bartley (nee Ternouth), a widow with two sons and one daughter. They were to have seven children together, first in Sydney and later in Newcastle: Emily (1869), Alice Maud (1870), Georgina (1873), Ada Maud (1875), William Alfred (1876), George Arthur (1878) and Henry James (1880). In his last years in Sydney, William lived and carried on his business in Pitt Street.

William Grisdale

William Grisdale

During his years as a Sydney auctioneer and pawnbroker life wasn’t always plain sailing for William. We know from various court records and newspaper reports that he went bankrupt twice. But being a good Lancashire lad he always bounced back.

William had gone into partnership in his auctioneering business with John Proctor Lister; the firm was called Lister and Grisdale. In early 1872, the murders of two men occurred at Parramatta River. The bodies were found dumped in the river, weighed down with stones and scalped. Before the culprits – Nichols and Lester – were tried, a newspaper wrote breathlessly:

During the four weeks just past, we have to use the words of Macbeth, “supped full with horrors.” While we were all at our usual avocations, trafficking, haggling, boasting, eating, drinking, and sleeping, two at least, of the most diabolical murders on record, were committed at our very doors. Murders, moreover, betraying, as a thoughtful contemporary points out, some recognition of physical science; a thorough deliberation of plan; a mechanical impassibility of purpose; and an utter oblivion of the chances, or a carelessness as to the consequences, of detection. When it is added that the apparent motive for their commission appears to have been cupidity—cupidity, too, of the meanest kind—the almost unparalleled wickedness of the murders is at once seen in all its hideous nakedness.

What was William Grisdale’s involvement?  Well it seems that Lister and Grisdale had been asked by the police to keep their eyes open for the suspects, perhaps they would try to sell the murdered men’s goods, and when they did come into their auction house the partners informed the police. William himself stated in the trial:

They came in a spring cart with a three-bushel bag with clothes in, a blanket, and a horse-hair bag, also two pair of boots which were in the bag.

When they returned to collect the proceeds of the sale, they were arrested. Nichols and Lester were “hung at Darlinghurst Gaol in front of a very large audience”. Just a normal day in the rough and tumble of colonial Sydney!

Ships in Newcastle NSW

Ships in Newcastle NSW

In 1873 William decided to move up the coast to the growing port of Newcastle, New South Wales. It seems his auctioneering business flourished there. He got involved in local politics and “on three occasions he was elected as an Alderman of Newcastle City Council, representing Honeysuckle Ward”. Here is just one example of the things William got involved in; it is a letter written to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald in August 1880. I quote it in full because not only does it tell us something about William but also a little of the life and commerce in Newcastle at the time. It is titled Newcastle and the Government:

Sir, I was rather surprised at Mr. W. Gilroy’s letter, in your paper on the 25th ultimo, with reference to the great indulgences that Newcastle has received from the Government. I think I shall be able to show Mr. Gilroy the very reverse and that Newcastle has never received anything not absolutely necessary and required. I am willing to admit that the Government have built a magnificent wharf at Newcastle, and also at Bullock Island, and put a substantial engine-house and hydraulic-power engines and cranes at the latter place; but at the same time I can prove that they receive a larger percentage from them than they do for any other work they have in the colony.

It is a fact beyond doubt that the Government charges four times the amount for haulage and shipping of coal that it costs the coal companies that ship at their own wharfs. The Government charge 10d per ton for haulage and shipping if the coal has not to be taken more than half-a-mile. The Waratah Company, and J. and A. Brown, can do the same over a distance of six miles, pay all expenses, and allow for wear and tear, at a cost of under 21/2d. per ton. If the Government have made the improvements, they make the shippers pay pretty well for it. I wish to know in what way we are like spoiled children? I think the reverse. If Mr. Gilroy will see the difference between the prices charged by the too indulgent Government and those that are the actual costs by private firms, and also know that an average of 20,000 tons of coal is shipped weekly here, he will see that we pay pretty well for any little improvement we got. I am sure there is no one would grumble at a legitimate wharfage rate, but not such a rate us the one now in force; it might do very well for Sydney, where there are so many private wharfs that the rates will not be collected. And it certainly seems very strange to me that the present law is six months’ old but was never put into force until the Grafton Wharf changed hands, and I do not think the rates will be collected there.

I am sure that the coal interest pays the Government the best interest they receive in the colony. It is acknowledged by the present Government that our railways within a radius of twelve miles of the port, are the best paying of any in New South Wales – the other indulgences that Mr. Gilroy speaks of. I should like him to come up here and see our grand public buildings, which are a disgrace to any city, and still we are getting everything done for us. There is one thing very certain, that until we get some of the Sydney influences, so that we shall be able to have direct imports and exports, we shall always be looked upon as black sheep. It is a well-known fact that Newcastle is the depot for the reception of the produce of the Northern district, and 100,000 bales of wool are grown and sent down annually. It is only right we should be in a position to ship it direct from here, but you will see the disadvantages the Northern squatter has to any other. Every bale of wool has to be sent to Sydney, and what with freights and other charges it costs the squatters £25,000 per annum, that ought to be left, or most of it, in this city.

A short time ago a firm here applied to this too-indulgent Government for the lease for twenty-one years of a piece of land to erect a wool store, which would cost the firm about £4000 to erect. They were told that they could have a lease for five years, which was very naturally rejected, and it was impossible to purchase at any price; so you see there is more Sydney influence. If we could ship our own wool, tallow, copper, tin, hides, &c, it would ¡materially interfere with your Sydney merchants, and that is the reason they are trying to do all they can to stop every industry. But the time will come yet. It is only a short time since this indulgent Government tried to impose the wool and coal taxes. Everybody knows the fate of them; and now they are trying to do something worse by the wharfage rates, for this is threepence per ton for receiving, and sixpence per ton for delivering, if you use the Government wharfs; and we have no other here, except the A. A. Company’s. I have always thought that ours was a Free-trade Government, but this tariff is protection in its very worst form; we should be better off with an ad valorem duty, and then all would pay alike, and not cripple any single industry. Trusting I have not taken up too much of your valuable space. I am, &c,

William Grisdale. Newcastle. August 26.

Besides William’s genuine interest in the welfare of his town of Newcastle, I think one can surmise two things from this letter. First, his own involvement in the shipping and trading to which he refers and, second, his growing involvement in politics. With regard to the former, William had used his success as an auctioneer to move into shipping. He had at least two ships.

In 1875 he ordered a 27 ton 17 metre ketch from the Newcastle shipbuilder Peter Callen. Its name was Colleen Bawn. But shipping was dangerous:

On 4 December 1877, the Colleen Bawn (Capt. Glendenning) was on voyage from Port Stephens to Sydney with a cargo of timber and 1 passenger and a crew of 3, when she foundered (no known reason) off between Port Stephens and Sydney. All 4 died.

In 1877 William and two partners, Benjamin Lloyd and Ed Davies, commissioned the ship-building firm of William McPherson at Williams River, Eagleton, near Newcastle, to build a 38 ton, 23 metre ketch, which they christened Agnes – no doubt after the ship in which William and his family had arrived in 1842. The Agnes was wrecked in 1883 when it foundered off Jervis Bay, New South Wales.

Honeysuckle Newcastle Today

Honeysuckle Newcastle Today

Regarding politics; as well as being an alderman, in 1882 William stood for the provincial New South Wales Parliament as a candidate in the Northumberland ward. Lyn Vincent, one of William’s descendants, writes:

After a bitterly fought campaign on the part of his opponent Mr. Hungerford a squatter, he was defeated. The newspaper reports of the day tell us that he was most brave and gallant in defeat. He was what today we would call “a good sport”.

What I particularly savour is a newspaper report of a nomination meeting and debate which took place in Newcastle in early 1882:

At the nomination for the Northumberland electorale… Mr Hungerford and Mr Grisdale were duly proposed. The former is a squatter, and well-known as an old member of Parliament. His opponent is new to politics, and is a pawnbroker, auctioneer, etc. During the speech of the latter – Mr Grisdale – a good deal of fun was caused by some of his remarks, and it is just worth quoting two passages from his oration. Being a money lender, the livening effect of the following parry may be understood: – He (Mr Grisdale) was in favour of the railways going the whole length of the Colony. – A Voice: “What for; to fetch the rags down?” – He did not think he would be able to lend much on the rags of the last speaker. Further on an elector asked: “Would you be in favour of an absentee or a property tax?” – Mr Grisdale: “I would tax them both.” (Laughter) – But the climax was reached when the orator was about finishing, when an elector asked: “Would you vote for taxing cereals coming into this country? – Mr Grisdale: “I am in favour of putting a tax on Chinamen, and always was.” (Roars of laughter). The elector: “I didn’t say Chinese; I said cereals.” – Mr Grisdale: “Who are they?” – (Renewed laughter and general confusion) – The question having been explained, Mr Grisdale said he would let flour come in as free as possible.

A real touch of the Lancastrian turned Australian I think. Lyn Vincent writes:

Unfortunately not many days after this (election) defeat, William became ill while on business in the “Metropolis” (Sydney). After resting in Sydney for a few days he returned to Newcastle only to have to take to his bed from which he never rose again. He died on 13 February 1882, two days short of being in the colony for 40 years…  Obituaries and testimonials of the day give a glowing report of a man who was not only a great loss to his beloved wife and twelve children, but also to his many friends and acquaintances in Newcastle and Sydney.

I quote part of just one such obituary:

Our readers will learn with regret that the hopes entertained of the recovery of our late esteemed fellow citizen, Mr. W. Grisdale, have proved futile, that gentleman having died of congestion of the brain last evening, at ten minutes to seven. Alderman Grisdale’s decease, although not unexpected, has produced a painful depression throughout the large and varied circle in which he moved… After various successful business enterprises in the metropolis, he arrived in Newcastle in 1874, and commenced business as an auctioneer and estate agent, in which he was remarkably successful. He had been one of the aldermen for Honeysuckle ward for two years, was a member of the Masonic fraternity, and an active officer of the Newcastle Jockey Club. Mr. Grisdale also had a very active interest in all matters relative to the public good and the welfare of the city…

Mr. Grisdale has left behind him an unsullied name, which will be held in sad remembrance by a very numerous circle of friends.

William Grisdale, son of a Bolton cotton weaver, descended from the Matterdale Grisdales, is buried in the Sandgate Cemetery (Methodist Section) in Newcastle with his wife Georgina and his step-daughter, Mary Bartley.

What a remarkable life! It makes most of our’s look positively dull.

There is a little mystery about William Grisdale, told to me by his Australian descendants. Was there a Jewish connection? Supposedly William’s grandson – in – law Benjamin Manning used to look up at William’s picture on the wall and comment: “Look at old Reuben looking down on us”. There was other family talk as well about William having a Jewish connection. Was this just due to his brother’s name Levi? Such names were common in the Grisdale family and elsewhere – they were biblical Old Testament names. Was it because he was a ‘money-lender’? Was there a Jewish connection from his mother’s or grandmother’s side?  As far as I know the Grisdales were all straight forward Anglican Christians – though some became Methodists – so if there is a Jewish connection I don’t know what it is? Maybe you do?

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

Whitehaven harbour in the nineteenth century

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

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

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

Martindale, Westmorland, Where Matthew was born

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

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

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

After his visit Franklin wrote to his wife Deborah:

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

Saltom Mine, Whitehaven, where Benjamin Franklin visited

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

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

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

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

John Paul Jones’ Raid on Whitehaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York Draft Riots, 1863

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

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

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

Child Labour in Bolton Cotton Mill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Views of Norristown in 1881

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

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

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

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

Jamison Mills, Norristown, 1883

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

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

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

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

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

SS City of New York

SS City of New York

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

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

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

Mountain Island Cotton Mill

Mountain Island Cotton Mill

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

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

Long Island Cotton Mill

Long Island Cotton Mill

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

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

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

McAden’s Mill, McAdenville, North Carolina

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

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

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

McAden Mill

McAden Mill

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

Mary Booker

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

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

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

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

In addition:

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

 Finally:

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

George Ishmael Clarke Jnr

The Grisdales of Matterdale it seems went everywhere: to Canada, to the United States and to Australia. They also fought in England’s armies. But the son of one Grisdale woman was also an early New Zealand settler.

In a previous article I wrote about Levi Grisdale and his life as a soldier during the Napoleonic Wars.  After returning from Spain, where he had taken the French General Lefebvre prisoner, Levi and his first wife Ann Robinson had a son, who not surprisingly was also called Levi. He was born in March 1811 in Arundel, Sussex. At the time of their son’s birth it’s very likely that Levi and his wife were visiting Levi’s sister Jane who had moved to Arundel some years before and married a local stonemason called John Booker. It’s possible Levi’s wife had been living in Arundel while Levi was away fighting Napoleon in Spain. Whatever the case it’s a good guess that Jane was present at the christening of her brother’s child.

But this child was to meet a sad end. In the London Morning Chronicle of 5th March 1814 there appeared this notice:

ACCIDENT: Saturday a fine boy, the son of Serjeant Grisdale of the 1oth Hussars, who so gallantly took General Lefebre (sic) prisoner in Spain, and afterwards presented the General’s pistols to His Royal Highness the Prince Regent, was killed in Romford by a gentleman’s carriage, the wheels of which went over his body. The child lingered in great agony twenty-four hours. The mother of the boy was so much affected by the fatal accident, that on Monday and yesterday she appeared to be in a state of mental derangement.

This is the story of one child of Jane Grisdale and John Booker who was to emigrate to New Zealand and found there a long line of New Zealand families.

Jane Grisdale was born in 1784 in Greystoke, Cumberland, one year after her brother Levi. On the 25th March 1805 she married a stonemason called John Booker in Arundel in the County of Sussex. How they came to meet we have no idea, but between 1808 and 1814 they were to have six children in the town. They then moved with their children to London where they had a final child called Jane in 1817. This is pretty much all we know of them. Jane died aged just 34 in early 1819 and was buried in the Church of St James, Piccadilly. Whether John Booker looked after the young family or whether they went elsewhere is unclear but they definitely stayed in London.

William Booker, Jane Grisdale’s Son. A Stonemason and early New Zealand Settler

The second Arundel born child was called William Booker and was born in 1808. In 1826 he married Jemima Neave in Saint Mary’s Lambeth, London. Ten children were to be born over the next 22 years: James (1827), Mary (1833), Frances (1834), Jane Ann (1834), Sarah (1837), Emily (1838), Elizabeth (1842), William (1844), Jemima Annie (1846) and John (1848).

In 1841 the family was living in Dorset Place, Westminster; William like his father was a stonemason. By 1851 the family was living in Hollings’ Cottages in Kensal Green, in the Parish of Chelsea. Did William ever meet his actor cousin Walter Grisdale in London? (see earlier blog).

But the family was obviously interested in starting a new life because in late June 1856 William and Jemima Booker, with seven of their children, boarded the sailing ship Creswell  bound for a new life and new adventures in New Zealand. They arrived at the little settlement of Nelson in the north of the South Island on 6 October 1856.

The Creswell, a barque of 574 tons, was a superior craft to most of the vessels sent out by Messrs. Willis, Gann and Co., and on each voyage to New Zealand made a fair average run for a ship of her size. She brought out a large number of our early settlers. Judging from the brief reports of the passages published in the papers during the fifties, nothing of an eventful nature occurred on any of her voyages.

In 1856 the barque arrived at Nelson on the 6th October, after making the passage in 104 days, and on this occasion landed 172 passengers.

The Bookers among them.

The small settlement of Nelson had been founded in 1842 by the New Zealand Company and it is possible this company paid for the family’s voyage. But why New Zealand? The answer I think must be connected with the couple’s first daughter, Mary Booker, who had been born in Saint Pancras, London in 1833. Somehow Mary had made her way to Melbourne in Australia where she arrived on the 5 October 1853 on the Statesman. She met and married George Ishmael Clarke there in 1854. The couple like many others had joined the Victoria Gold Rush and worked in the “diggings”, but George had quickly contracted a chest infection and before he died he had asked Mary, who was pregnant, to go to his parents (Ishmael and Mary Clarke), who were living in Nelson in New Zealand, to have their baby. After George’s death this Mary did and their child, George William Ishmael Clarke, was born in Nelson in April 1855. So I don’t think it beyond the realms of reason to think that it was perhaps Mary who had written to her family in London and encouraged them to join her down-under?

It’s interesting to imagine whether or not Mary crossed the path of the family of William Grisdale about whom I wrote in a previous article: . They were distant relatives and William Grisdale and his family were certainly in the Gold “digging” town of Mansfield, Victoria, by 1855. Even if they did meet would they have known that they were related?

Nelson, New Zealand in the 1840s

Actually the young widow Mary had already remarried in Nelson some months before the arrival of her parents and siblings in New Zealand. She married the widower John “Jock” Fraser on the 27 March 1856 in “the residence of John Carter, Waimea Road, Nelson”. Jock was a Gaelic-speaking Scottish shepherd and he and Mary were to go on to have a large family before Mary died aged only 43 in 1876 in the Mount Cook region. But that was still years away and we can imagine Mary greeting her newly arrived family when they stepped ashore in the little settlement of Nelson.

What sort of place had they come to? For Europeans New Zealand was a new land:

In 1839 there were only about 2000 Pakeha (Europeans) in New Zealand. However the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, which saw New Zealand become a British colony, had an enormous effect on the New Zealand population. British migrants were offered a paid passage to New Zealand, and 40,000 arrived here between 1840 and 1860.

Regarding Nelson:

 The New Zealand Company was set up by merchants, bankers and ship owners to sell plots of land to eager people in England and then transport them via ships to the new colony of New Zealand. The New Zealand Company established Port Nicholson as its first settlement, but wanted a second settlement in the South Island and had discussions with Governor Hobson about which land they could have.

The New Zealand Company knew there was going to be a place called Nelson and they knew they wanted it to be in the South Island, or Te Wai Pounamu as the Maoris called it. In May 1841, the New Zealand Company had three exploration ships ready to sail to New Zealand for this second settlement. The three ships were the Whitby, the Will Watch and the Arrow and they were under the command of Captain Wakefield. The ships arrived in Wellington in late August- early September 1841.

In October 1841, Captain Wakefield had successful discussions with the leading chief at Kapiti, regarding land available for settlement. The ships set out looking for a place suitable for settlement in the top of the South. Boats were sent out every day. The surveyors of the ship had decided upon what is now known as Kaiteriteri, but Wakefield wanted to look further. He sent out men to look in the far South-East corner of the bay and it was there that the site was discovered. The natural harbour which is now Nelson made it the preferred place for the new settlement. The Arrow entered Nelson on 1 November 1841.

Lack of an actual site for Nelson did not slow The New Zealand Company down in its quest to populate the settlements. In October 1841 it had arranged for the next four ships to set sail for Nelson. These four ships were the Fifeshire, captained by Captain Arnold, Lord Auckland with Captain Jardine as its head, Captain Bolton with the Mary Ann and lastly the Lloyds, with Captain Green. All of these ships ended up in Nelson, the first to arrive being the Fifeshire, on the 1st February 1842.

The Bookers lived in a Mud House like this in Blenheim

At first the Booker family lived in Nelson but later moved to the settlement of Blenheim, where William and Jemima were to remain until their deaths. Life was rude. The New Zealand National Museum tells us that William Booker was a “stonemason and his name can be found at the base of early head stones around Marlborough.” And that:

The Bookers lived in a mud house in Grove Road, beside Peddie’s and opposite Ball’s malthouse.

In the years to come we can find William and some of his sons in various New Zealand Electoral Registers. In 1876, for instance, both William Booker Senior and William Booker Junior were owners of allotments in Wairau, Blenheim and later Registers show them being “Bricklayers”.

I won’t trace here all that I presently know about William and Jemima’s children. I leave that to others – possibly their New Zealand descendants? But perhaps just a few facts: their daughter Jemima Annie Booker married William Henry Attwood in 1864 and went on to have many children before dying in 1928 in Blenheim. Their daughter Frances married William Hannam in 1857 and died in Blenheim in 1920. Son William married Rose Ann and John married Rachel, both had children as well. Daughters Elizabeth and (Violet) Emily it seems never married.

But finally, regarding their daughter Mary, who I have suggested was probably the reason the family came to New Zealand, one family historian has told us the story after she married John “Jock” Fraser. I will reproduce it here in some detail, with thanks, because I think it can give us a little flavour of the life and times of those early New Zealand settlers:

Jock/John Fraser…. came to New Zealand about 1840 with his younger brother Hugh.

On reaching New Zealand Jock and Hugh first settled in Nelson. In 1856 Jock married Mary (nee Clarke) Booker, a young widow (37 years his junior) with babe in arms. Before her premature death in 1876 they would have 8 children.

The Frasers and others left Nelson (the oldest settled corner of South Island) seeking clean, free sheep country free from the taint of scab. Their search took them to the Canterbury Region, home of “Mackenzie Country”. Mackenzie Country was one of the most celebrated pastoral areas in New Zealand. A great inland plain, noted for its pastoral richness and lakes.

About 1857 Jock took ownership of a large area (20,000 acres) in South Island from Pleasant Point to Marlborough. The Fraser brothers (Jock and Hugh) were the only highland Scots to take up sheep runs in the area. Most of the other men working the Mackenzie sheep runs were from England or low-land Scots. Jock and brother Hugh were the first to overland sheep from Nelson to Canterbury in the 1850s….

Jock’s brother Hugh sold their land in 1860 to Andrew Patterson and moved to North Island. In the 1860s Jock and Mary moved to Mt. Cook Station, one of Mackenzie Country’s historic sheep runs.

In May of 1876 Mary and her 18 year old daughter Jessie die within a week of each other and are buried in Pleasant Point Cemetery. Jock lived until 14 April 1893 when he died at the Timaru Hospital. His funeral notice was published in the Timaru Herald on 17 April 1893:

“FRASER – The friends of the late Mr John Fraser, are respectfully invited to attend his funeral, which will leave the Timaru Hospital at 11 o’clock this Morning, for the Pleasant Point Cemetery, which will be reached about 1 o’clock.

Brother Hugh’s family (after moving to the North Island) branched out of farming and ran a box factory in Eketahuna before moving to Wairau (Hawkes Bay) and owning Willowflat Saw Mill. 

William and Jemima Booker’s Grave in Blenheim

In terms of the Grisdale family, although Jane Grisdale Booker had died at a young age in 1819, when her children were still small, I like to think that maybe in London and later in New Zealand her son William Booker just perhaps kept her memory alive. Did the family also know that they had a famous “Uncle” Levi Grisdale who had “saved England and Europe from Napoleon”?  It’s pretty certain that William Booker had met his uncle when he was a boy in Arundel, but whether he remembered anything and told his children we will probably never know.

This is the story of a young girl who became a ballet dancer at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London, who married a famous and well-to-do painter, who lived the good life for a while and moved to America. But later poverty and tragedy were to strike and this young girl eked out her final years hawking fish in Falmouth, Cornwall.

Outside Drury Lane Theatre 1820

Because of tight licensing laws in the early nineteenth century there were only two main theatres in London – The Theatre Royal in Drury Lane was one. It was a world where high culture and society met the demimonde. Shakespearean, German and French plays were produced alongside music and romantic ballets. Talented artists were employed to capture scenes from the plays and ballets as well as being commissioned to paint portraits of the leading actors, actresses and dancers – for example of the famous though scandalous and notorious Edmund Kean. Starting in the 1820s one of the most successful and rising of these artists was the young John William Gear (J W Gear). Born in Alverstoke, Hampshire into a very talented and successful Hampshire family, John Gear’s father, Joseph Gear, was both a renowned marine painter and a musician in the Drury Lane Theatre orchestra.

John painted and engraved dozens of scenes from the vibrant life at Drury Lane. In 1824 he even painted the royal family of Hawaii who attended a performance at the theatre during a “state” visit to London.

John William Gear’s painting of the Hawaiian Royal Family at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1824

As mentioned, as well as tragedies the theatre put on romantic or “pastoral” ballets, which usually followed the heavier and more melodramatic fare. There was also what we would now call a “Corps de Ballet”, with principal and supporting dancers. Starting in 1824 one of these dancers was a “Miss Grisdale”. Her full name was Elizabeth Grisdale; though she was known as Minnie. Her name can be found on many of the theatre’s advertising “bills” in the 1820s – for example in 1825 she danced dozens of times in the “pastoral ballet”  The Rossignol – or, The Bird in the Bush. This followed various tragedies such as Macbeth, Der Freischutz and The Merchant of Venice, which featured among others the great Edward Kean and a young James William Wallack (of whom more later). She might have known Joseph Gear as well. The only record I can find that gives some of her (approximate) words is the report of a trial for theft heard at the Old Bailey on the 6th April 1826, it concerns the theft of a pair of Elizabeth’s drawers:

MARGARET HARDING was again indicted for stealing, on the 27th of October, 1 Pair of drawers, value 1s. 6d., the goods of Elizabeth Grisdale, spinster.

ELIZABETH GRISDALE. I belong to Drury-lane Theatre – I was there in October last. The prisoner was a dresser there. These drawers are my property; they were missed from the Theatre on the night after I left them, when I went there to dress – I cannot say when it was.

THOMAS SAMUEL RAVENSCROFT. I am a pawnbroker. I took in these drawers of the prisoner, on the 27th of October – I have known her some time.

GUILTY. Aged 28.

Recommended to Mercy. – Confined Six Months.

Elizabeth was born in the Tower Hamlets in the East End of London and baptized on 5th July 1807 in the Church of Saint George in the East. Her parents were Gideon Grisdale and Elizabeth Jordan. Gideon was a jeweller living in Ship Alley, Well Close, in Tower Hamlets. Interestingly Gideon had also been a party to a trial at the Old Bailey in 1813:

WILLIAM HALL was indicted for feloniously stealing, on the 16th of April, a clock, value 5 l. the property of Gideon Grisdale .

JOHN DUNN GARMSAY . I am a clock-maker, in the employ of Mr. Grisdale; I made the clock for Mr. Grisdale; he told me the clock was stolen out of the shop.

Q. Did you afterwards see the clock in the possession of the prisoner – A. No.

JAMES BLAND. I am a silversmith; I live in Norton Falgate. I bought the clock of the prisoner about four months ago; that clock was afterwards claimed to be Mr. Grisdale’s property; I delivered it to Hewitt, the officer. I did not ask him how he came by it, nor he did not tell me.

WILLIAM HEWITT. I am an officer. I produce this clock; it was delivered to me by Mr. Bland; Mr. Garmsay saw the clock in Bland’s window; I went and took the clock, and directed Bland to stop the prisoner if he ever saw him again. I know nothing more than finding the prisoner in custody.

John Garmsay . This clock is the property of Mr. Grisdale. Elizabeth Grisdale is too ill to attend.

NOT GUILTY .

London jury, before Mr. Common Serjeant.

Gideon Grisdale was born In Matterdale in 1777, the first of the many children of the old blacksmith in Dockray, Matterdale: Wilfred Grisdale, and his second wife Ruth Slee. Wilfred had been born in 1711 to Joseph Grisdale and Agnes Dockray. He had married Ann Brownrigg in 1733 but the couple had no children. But when Ann died in 1775, Wilfred wasted no time in marrying again. He married a young Ruth Slee (48 years his junior) in 1776, at the age of 65. But children soon followed, six in all: Gideon, Charlotte, Bilhah, Wilfred, Joseph and William. The stories of some of Gideon’s siblings are well worth telling and I will probably return to them.

The Old Bailey

As we know Gideon had moved to London and become first a “pawn broker” and then a “jeweller, trader and chapman”. But for reasons we will probably never discover by July 1813 Gideon had been declared bankrupt. From various notices in the London Gazette we know something of what happened. Several meetings were called where his creditors had to prove the debts owed and where Gideon was “examined” as to his estate. This took the better part of a year. Assignees were appointed to manage the bankruptcy and they then proceeded to sell off Gideon’s lease on his premises plus all his “stock in trade, household furniture, goods, chattels, property and effects”. Two dividends were declared for creditors before Gideon was released from bankruptcy by order of “the Right Honourable John Lord Eldon, Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain” having “in all things conformed himself according to the directions of the several Acts of Parliament concerning bankrupts”.

All this was going on while Elizabeth was still a small girl. What became of Gideon and his wife after the bankruptcy is a mystery, they disappear from the historical record.

A Ballet at Drury Lane Theatre

Returning to Elizabeth, she was obviously a pretty young dancer at Drury Lane and there she must have caught the eye of John W Gear because on the 19th February 1827 they were married in the Church of Saint Martin in the Fields.

John and Elizabeth Gear never had children and when and why Elizabeth stopped dancing is unknown. But John’s career seems to have flourished and he kept on painting and engraving in the theatre throughout the 1830s and 1840s. The couple seem to first have lived in Wilson Street, Gray’s Inn Road, but in both 1841 and 1851 they were living at 5 Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square a very prestigious and well-to-do address. Things looked bright.

Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Mass

Yet for some reason John and Elizabeth left for America in 1852 – moving first to New York and later to Boston. Perhaps the reason was that John’s career was stagnating, or perhaps it was in order for John to live near his father Joseph Gear who had emigrated to the United States many years before and was living and working in Boston; still painting but mostly working as a bassist in the Boston theatre. It’s possible that Joseph was ill and his son wanted to see him before he died – which Joseph did in 1853.

The Houghton Library of Harvard University, where much of John’s work is held, tells us the following:

John William Gear… was an English-born portraitist, miniaturist, watercolor painter, and lithographer, who specialized in theatrical portraits. His greatest work was the publishing of a set of impressions of theater audiences, Portraits of the Public being Heads of Audiences, …. This work was to be published a few at a time in pamphlet form, but only number one ever appeared. He exhibited in London, 1821-1852, and came to Boston ca. 1852 and set-up a business for cleaning and restoring paintings. Although he exhibited his work at the Boston Athenaeum in 1855, he sank into poverty.

We are also told that his father Joseph:

Joseph Gear (1768-1853) was a marine painter, engraver, caricaturist, and a musician. He immigrated to the United States in 1824?, later moved to Boston, and exhibited at the Boston Athenaeum, 1829-1837. He was said to be a “double bassist employed at Drury Lane Theatre, London, and Tremont St. Theatre, Boston, Mass.” John William Gear was his son.

But the sad part for John and for his wife Elizabeth was that:

In 1866 he (John) committed suicide at his father’s grave (Joseph Gear) in Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Falmouth Harbour

A sad but human tale. What became of Elizabeth (Grisdale) Gear? Already in poverty it seems she soon returned to England. By 1871, aged 63, she was living in Falmouth, Cornwall, at 7 Briton’s Yard, right on the harbour. She was a “Shell Fish Dealer”, being born in “Saint George in the East, London”. Elizabeth, now listed as Minnie Grisdale, was still there in 1881, carrying on the same trade – as a “Hawker”.

A fish hawker was a trader in fish, much like what we now call a fish-monger. She would have bought fish from the returning fishing fleet and sold it to local people, probably from an outdoor stall. We can only imagine what Elizabeth thought when she looked back on her life. How she had been a beautiful ballet dancer at Drury Lane; how she had married a successful and affluent painter; how they had lived at ease in London; how they had gone to America where it had all gone wrong and her husband had committed suicide on his father’s grave and how now she was just selling fish! Who knows? Did her Falmouth customers hear any of this? And if so did they believe her?

Elizabeth “Minnie” Gear died in 1890 in Falmouth.

One coincidence might be mentioned. One of the famous actors who played on the same stage as Elizabeth, and on many of the same days, was a young James William Wallack. After touring extensively in the United States from 1818, Wallack settled in New York in 1852 and started “Wallack’s Theatre” in 1861. In New York one of the actors who was a regular member of his Theatre Group in the 1860s was a certain Walter Grisdale, about whom I wrote briefly on the site. Walter’s great great grandfather, Joseph Grisdale, was also Elizabeth Grisdale Gear’s great grandfather!

Walter Grisdale was a famous actor in both Britain and New York. He was born in 1823 in London the son of Thomas Grisdale (1773-1852) and his second wife Sarah Barker. Thomas came from Greystoke Cumbria and was the brother of the famous Levi Grisdale I wrote about in the previous blog.

Walter was his stage name, he was born and christened Solomon Grisdale. Starting in around 1840 he became a ‘tragedian’ and toured extensively in the north of England and in London. After a first marriage to Elizabeth Sweetson in York in 1852 he movd to New York in 1867 and married Caroline Carman (‘Miss Carman’) a famous member of Wallack’s Theatre Company. After an extensive acting career in New York Walter and Caroline came back to London in 1871 and Walter continued to tour. He died on February 15th 1883 in Scotland.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Charge of the 10th Hussars under Lord Paget

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

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

The British Retreat to Corunna 1808-1809

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christ Church, Penrith – where Levi Grisdale is buried

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

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

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

Sources

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