Posts Tagged ‘Lancashire Cotton Mills’

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

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

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

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

An early Power Loom

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luddites in Bolton in 1812

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Delaware Woolen Mill

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

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

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

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

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

A Coal Mine in Oskaloosa. Iowa

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

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

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

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

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

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

The history of one of these mines tells us:

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

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

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

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

The grave of Doctor Grisdale’s widow Mary In Oregon

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

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

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

“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.

 

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

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

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

An early Power Loom

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luddites in Bolton in 1812

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Delaware Woolen Mill

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

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

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

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

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

A Coal Mine in Oskaloosa. Iowa

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

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

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

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

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

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

The history of one of these mines tells us:

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

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

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

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

The grave of Doctor Grisdale’s widow Mary In Oregon

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

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

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

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

When a young unemployed cotton bleacher from Bolton in Lancashire walked into the annual meeting of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) being held at Exeter Hall in London’s Strand in May 1865, he didn’t know that his life was about to change. A hymn inspired him and a discussion would lead him down the path to becoming a missionary himself, and later on a Bishop in the Canadian prairies. The young man’s name was John Grisdale. This is the first part of his fascinating story.

Preaching at Exeter Hall

Preaching at Exeter Hall

The hymn that inspired John was a favourite of his former teacher, the Rev. Canon Henry Powell, who was present at the London meeting. The hymn referred, as John’s obituary in a Bolton newspaper in 1922 tells us, to ‘India’s Coral Strand’; it is called From Greenland’s Icy Mountains and was written in 1819 by Indian missionary Reginald Heber. I include it here because the sentiments tell us a lot about about how missionaries such as Powell, and later John Grisdale, saw their job and the world at large:

From Greenland’s icy mountains, from India’s coral strand;
Where Afric’s sunny fountains roll down their golden sand:
From many an ancient river, from many a palmy plain,
They call us to deliver their land from error’s chain.

What though the spicy breezes blow soft o’er Ceylon’s isle;
Though every prospect pleases, and only man is vile?
In vain with lavish kindness the gifts of God are strown;
The heathen in his blindness bows down to wood and stone.

Shall we, whose souls are lighted with wisdom from on high,
Shall we to those benighted the lamp of life deny?
Salvation! O salvation! The joyful sound proclaim,
Till earth’s remotest nation has learned Messiah’s Name.

Waft, waft, ye winds, His story, and you, ye waters, roll
Till, like a sea of glory, it spreads from pole to pole:
Till o’er our ransomed nature the Lamb for sinners slain,
Redeemer, King, Creator, in bliss returns to reign.

After the meeting John talked with Canon Powell. He “expressed a desire to enter upon Christian work in a larger field”. Powell was obviously pleased that his former pupil wanted to follow him into a missionary life and “used his influence” to get John admitted to the CMS’s  Islington Missionary College, where he would spend the next five years training to be a missionary.

Let’s go back a bit to see what had led John to be in London in 1865.

He was born in 1845, in Tongue Moor, Bolton, Lancashire, the second child of Bolton cotton weaver Robert Grisdale (1819-1897) and his wife Alice Yates (1821-1897). The family soon moved to another part of Bolton: to Slater’s Lane in Little Bolton. In the year of John’s birth Frederick Engels wrote this about the Lancashire towns and about Bolton in particular:

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.   – The Condition of the Working Class in England (Leipzig, 1845)

St Peter's, Bolton Le Moors

St Peter’s, Bolton Le Moors

Later in life John would tell of how he was “formerly an errand lad” around the town. While his father toiled in the mills John attended the Bolton Parish School. This was an Anglican school attached to Bolton Parish Church (Saint Peter’s) and was overseen at the time by the vicar of Bolton: the Rev. Canon Henry Powell we have already met. Henry had been made vicar of Bolton after many years as a missionary in Ceylon. Canon Powell taught John at the school. Another of his teachers was the Rev J Farrell Wright (whose own son was to become an Archbishop). Given John’s subsequent career as a missionary in India and then in Canada, it might prove informative to try to get a little flavour of how Canon Powell saw the “heathens” whose job it was the CMS’s missionaries to convert. In 1840, two years after arriving in Ceylon, Powell wrote home to his friend the Rev. Francis Trench in Reading:

The natives, among whom we live and labour, are a mild, inoffensive race of beings, but very indolent, uncleanly, indifferent, and deceptive. In fact, without charging them with any particular breaches of morality, I should designate their character as low, weak, and in nowise to be depended on. The men have no dress but a cloth tied round the waist, reaching to the knees. The women dress precisely the same, except in missionary stations, where they have been induced to add a jacket. The hair, both of the men and women, is turned up and fastened with a comb, as ladies’ hair in England; so that it is with great difficulty a new comer can distinguish male from female.

The religion which is commonly professed amongst the natives is Bhuddhism; though many are given up to devil worship, and others are Atheists, and of no religion at all. Idolatry, it seems, is very productive of Infidelity and Atheism. Satan may here almost literally be said ‘ to lead the poor creatures captive at his will;’ and so infatuated are they of their superstitions, that nothing but the power of the Divine grace can, I am sure, drive them out of those fastnesses in which they have entrenched themselves.

Their ignorance, also, is fearful in the extreme; and their minds have been so long neglected, and so unused to consideration, that it seems almost impossible to communicate ideas to them. Words seem to make no impression; they are listened to as a pleasant sound; they recreate, but fail to instruct. It is a fact, that the natives will sometimes listen to my instruction and conversation for a tolerable length of time; and though I broach none but the most elementary truths, yet even these are not understood or remembered, and they are unable to answer a single question upon what has been told them.

An old woman, indeed, told me the other day that she had heard the missionaries preach here for years; but she did not understand or remember what they said, for it was not her place to think, and she could not. This arises from their own destructive system; for, when they go to hear their idolatrous books read, which is, however, only once a year (but then for a whole week, night and day), they are not required to attend to what is said, but only to be present to hear, which is all that Bhuddh requires of them, and for which he will dispense merits according to the time that they attend. Indeed, they could not understand the reading, were they to pay attention to it, for it is in the Pali and Sanscrit languages, which they have never learnt.

Their indifference to religion, however, is even a greater obstacle to our success than their ignorance. This seems almost invincible. They do not care for the event; nor do they look upon religion as important. They are, indeed, a set of fatalists; and, holding very strongly the cold doctrine of metempsychosis, they look upon their present condition as the result of their conduct in some former state of existence; and, in consequence, seem to care very little what becomes of them for the future. Indeed, they have very few notions of religion in common with ourselves, and, apparently, do not wish to have. They acknowledge Christianity to be a good religion, but they cannot see why they should become Christians.

Of course that they didn’t want to be Christians didn’t stop the missionaries from trying to make them be; a pattern that John Grisdale would later follow in Canada.

Slater's Bleachworks, Bolton

Slater’s Bleachworks, Bolton

John was obviously a keen pupil of the religious doctrines he was taught in Bolton Parish School because he was eventually to become a religious ‘Sunday School’ teacher there. But John had to work too. At the time in Lancashire a type of unpaid child slavery still existed in the cotton milling industry.

As long as the English cotton manufacturers depended on slave-grown cotton, it could truthfully be asserted that they rested on a twofold slavery, the indirect slavery of the white man in England and the direct slavery of the black men on the other side of the Atlantic — Karl Marx, New York Daily Tribune, October 14, 1861

As well as the mills themselves, the cotton industry had many other associated trades. One of these was cotton bleaching – an extremely unhealthy job. The Grisdale family lived in Slater’s Lane, right next to Slater’s Bleachworks, and it was perhaps inevitable that John, and later his brother Levi, went to work there. He was perhaps in his early teens but could have been younger. John became an apprentice and he is listed as such in the 1861 census when he was fifteen. After completing his apprenticeship, we are told that “he was thrown out of work, and leaving Bolton in search of employment, he went to London”.

In the early to mid-1860s, thousands of Lancashire cotton workers had been thrown out of work, become destitute and even starved. It was the time of the so-called Lancashire Cotton Famine. This was a depression in the textile industry of North West England brought about by the interruption of imported baled cotton caused by the American Civil War. The North had blockaded the Southern ports. One historian writes:

The famine of raw cotton and the difficult trading conditions caused a change in the social circumstances of the Lancashire region’s extensive cotton mill workforce. The factories ran out of raw cotton to process, large parts of Lancashire region’s working society became unemployed, and went from being the most prosperous workers in Britain to the most impoverished.

Lancashire 'Cotton Famine' workers queuing for food

Lancashire ‘Cotton Famine’ workers queuing for food

That the Lancashire cotton mill workers were ever the most prosperous in Britain is ludicrous. They never were. But I’ll leave that to one side.

Rather than starve John Grisdale tried his luck in London and, when he had walked into the missionary meeting at Exeter Hall, his luck had been good.

We don’t know much about John’s five years of missionary training in Islington and I won’t try to reconstruct it here. But in 1870 John left the college and was ordained a clergyman in Saint Paul’s Cathedral. The Church Missionary Society then decided to send him to India; as a missionary to the heathens there. By the way, the word ‘heathens’ was the one used by the CMS, whose whole purpose, which was very explicit, was to convert the native “heathens” – the religious care of colonists generally being left to the SPCK (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and the SPG (Society for the Propagation of the Gospel), although the lines were often blurred.

We know something of John’s short career in India from letters he sent home to the CMS and from a talk he gave to the  ‘Anniversary Meeting’ of the local  CMS ‘auxiliary Society’ at their meeting in Colchester on 13 May 1872. It was reported that “owing to the exceedingly unfavourable state of the weather… the general attendance was very small”. A motion was taken and passed asking the speakers to tell the audience something about “the character and reality of the work being done by the society”. John Grisdale “proposed to give them in plain language the experiences of a young Missionary on his first arrival in the country which was to be the scene of his labours”. “It was”, he said, “one Sunday morning in December (1870) that (we) first steamed into the Harbour of Bombay.” He was met by a missionary friend and taken to his house. John “truly rejoiced to see 70 native Christians taking part in the Liturgy and Services of the Church of England, in their own tongue, and a native Clergyman who was once a Hindoo, reading the service for them”. The next day he “went to see a large and important school in Bombay – the Robert Money School”. The Roman Catholics, Protestants, Mahommedans and Hindoos were “all mixed together”. They had, Grisdale said, “all come to this School which had for its avowed object their conversion to Christianity; they nevertheless seemed to come to the School from some decide preference to the others in Bombay”.

John then moved “105 miles to the north, to the sacred city of Nassach, the very centre of Hindooism in India”. He talked a lot about the Mission there, but another incident caught his attention. It seems that having travelled much during the day he had taken a longer night’s rest than usual and about half-past five in the morning, “when it was just dawning”, he heard voices outside his window. “In that heathen land” he heard the words of Bishop Ken’s morning hymn: “Awake my soul, and with the sun, thy daily stage of duty run.” When he went out he “found that nearby were some thirty of the sable daughters of Africa”. He continued:

The Church Missionary Society had an orphanage there for the purpose of receiving the girls captured by the Queen’s ships from the slavers, who still carried on their trade on the Eastern Coast of Africa… When rescued, these slaves are taken to Bombay, and from thence to Nassach, and an attempt was made to civilize them, and afterwards many of them were taken back to their own country. It was hoped, in this way, that their bodily slavery might turn out to be the setting free, not only of themselves, but many of their fellow-countrymen, from the trammels of idolatry.

St John's College, Agra

St John’s College, Agra

John continued his journey across much of the breadth of India; visiting the missionary stations in Jubbulpore and Benares before eventually arriving in Agra. Here he was “attached to St. John’s College”, a CMS missionary establishment occupying a fine building. He was appointed Professor of Pastoral Theology. His “especial duty”, he told his Colchester audience, “was to teach the Bible, and afterwards (he had) also the English class”. Every morning about 50 gathered around him – some “Mahommedans, some Hindoos”. He would open his class with a prayer and when the reading was over he would say: “Is there anything you would like to say as to the bearing of this chapter on Hindooism or on Mahommedanism?” And after they had spoken he would try “to show the superiority of Christianity”.

Soon after he was “summoned down to Calcutta, and afterwards to Burmah”. But he was so unwell that he thought he would have to go to the hospital in Rangoon. However, an English gentleman took him to his house, where he was “obliged to keep to his room for some weeks”. He related how every morning a “Mahommedan” used to come and ask:” How is your Highness’s health?” It seems that “this little fellow was the grandson of that cruel king who was reigning in Delhi at the time of the Indian Mutiny”. Grisdale hoped that this young member of that family “would reach the Kingdom of Christ”!

Missionary John Grisdasle

Missionary John Grisdasle

Because the climate had affected his health so much, John had written to the CMS in London requesting a transfer. A little later, in June 1871, he wrote again from Calcutta to the Rev. Wright, the corresponding secretary of the CMS. He brought up the subject of his health and enclosed a letter from his doctor. He also mentioned for a second time his intention to marry. In view of both these facts he asked that the CMS sanction both the marriage and the transfer so that he would be “enabled to make the necessary arrangements”. The CMS were to agree to John’s request and he soon returned to London. His intended wife, Ann Chaplin, was a carpet dealer back home in Bolton. When John was “invalided” back to England they were married in late 1871 in Lutterworth, Leicestershire (Ann having been born nearby in Hinckley) to where her parents had returned after their many years in Bolton. Their first son, Robert Chaplin, arrived in Chelmsford, Essex in September 1872.

Where would be a more conducive place for John’s future health and ministry? Canada was decided upon. Not ‘old’ Canada, but rather Rupert’s Land, which had only just been acquired for the British Crown from the Hudson’s Bay Company and whose “capital” was the 300 person settlement of what was soon to be called Winnipeg.

And so it was that the 27 year old Reverend John Grisdale, his new wife Ann, twelve years his senior, and their baby son, stood on the docks in Liverpool one day in late April 1873 about to board the ship Algeria. They were bound for New York, from where they would make their journey to Winnipeg and their new life. And there I will leave them. I will tell something of John’s long and successful career in Canada in Part Two.

“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.”