Posts Tagged ‘Levi Grisdale’

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

Spitfire of 72 Squadron Biggin Hill

Spitfire of 72 Squadron Biggin Hill

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

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

Spitfire in colours of 234 Squadron

Spitfire in colours of 234 Squadron

72 Squadron at Biggin Hill in July 1941

72 Squadron at Biggin Hill in July 1941

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

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

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

Douglas Bader with Adolf Galland

Douglas Bader with Adolf Galland

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

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

Seegatz's ME-109 'Beware Novices!'

Seegatz’s ME-109 ‘Beware Novices!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hermann Seegatz with his Tyrolean Emblem in Abbeville

Hermann Seegatz with his Tyrolean Eagle ME-109 in Abbeville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Abbeville Boys

The Abbeville Boys

I have wondered for some time what several members of one Grisdale family were doing in Arundel in Sussex in the early 1800s. How had they come to be there? The first son of the heroic Hussar Levi Grisdale, who fought in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo, was born in Arundel in 1811 – he too was called Levi. Levi’s sister Jane married Arundel stonemason John Booker in Arundel and their first five children were born there between 1808 and 1814. One of these children, William Booker, was an early emigrant to New Zealand. And then there is Levi and Jane’s older brother Joseph who had three children in Arundel between 1806 and 1811. It is Joseph who provides the original connection with Arundel, through his relationship with Charles Howard, the 11th Duke of Norfolk.

In general I don’t have any time for Britain’s landed aristocrats. For centuries they were the repressors and exploiters of the people of the island. The Howard family, whose wealth went back at least to the 1300s, were and still are the premier Catholic aristocratic family in the realm. As Dukes of Norfolk they rank first (below the royal family) in the Peerage of England.  Many of the Howard dukes of Norfolk were executed for treason and some of the family even married kings, such as Henry VIII’s wife Catherine Howard.

arundel 2

Arundel Castle

The families main seat was and still is Arundel Castle in Sussex, but they had lands all over the country: in Holme Lacy in Herefordshire for example and, importantly for the Grisdales, the Howards had, in a roundabout way, become the barons of Greystoke in Cumberland in the late sixteenth century; and of course Matterdale is part of this barony.

greystoke

Greystoke Castle,Cumberland

Charles Howard was born in 1746 and became the 11th Duke of Norfolk in 1786. He was first educated by the Catholic priests in Greystoke Castle, where he spent the early years of his life, before being sent to Douai in France for more Catholic teaching. He would later convert to Protestantism for reasons of political expediency. It was no doubt at Greystoke Castle that a young Joseph Grisdale first entered into the Howard family service. Joseph was born in Matterdale in 1769 the son of farmer Solomon Grisdale. The family then moved to Greystoke where Levi was born in 1783.

Solomon Grisdale was a tenant of Charles Howard’s father, the 10th duke of Norfolk, also called Charles. I would imagine that it was sometime in the mid 1780s that Joseph Grisdale entered into service with the Howards at Greystoke Castle, perhaps initially as a footman or something similar. Whatever the case, by 1794 Joseph had moved to London with the new duke and was in his service at the duke’s palatial London residence in St James’s Square called Norfolk House. Joseph married another servant (maybe of the duke) called Martha Broughton in St George’s church in Hanover Square on 6 June 1794 – both were said to be servants living in the parish of St James.

norfolk house

St James’s Square with Norfolk House on the right

As a servant of the duke Joseph would have travelled around a lot because even in old age he was continually on the move between his various estates. It is likely that buy the time of his marriage Joseph had already moved up the pecking order in the below-stairs hierarchy; maybe he was the duke’s personal valet or maybe, perhaps later, he even became butler – the top of the tree. Given what I will tell later he must have been one or the other. Certainly Joseph would have accompanied the duke during his stays at the ducal seat of Arundel Castle, also to Holme Lacy where the duke’s deranged wife was incarcerated until her death in 1820, and certainly to Greystoke Castle in Cumberland, near where Joseph’s family still lived.

fitzalan

Fitzalan Chapel, Arundel

By the early 1800s at the latest it seems that Joseph and Martha had their ‘home’ at Arundel. Maybe this was a cottage in the castle’s grounds or perhaps even in the castle itself. It was in Arundel that their three children were born: Mary in 1806, Thomas in 1808 and John in 1811. It’s interesting to note that at least Thomas and John were baptized in the Roman Catholic Fitzalan Chapel in the grounds of Arundel Castle. Actually the Fitzalan Chapel, the private chapel of the dukes of Norfolk, many of whom are buried there, is only a part of the Church of England Arundel parish church of St Nicholas

This charming little church (St Nicholas) beside Arundel Castle and opposite Arundel Cathedral is the local Church of England parish church and dates back to 1380…

A peculiarity of the church is that part of the building is the Fitzalan Chapel which is a Catholic chapel in Arundel Castle’s grounds where the Dukes of Norfolk and Earls of Arundel are buried. This catholic chapel is separated from the protestant parish church by just a glass screen and it is possible to peer from one to the other.

The duke, Charles Howard, had converted to Protestantism in 1780 in order to get into Parliament as an MP, but ‘remained a Catholic at heart’ as everyone knew. So had the duke’s servant Joseph Grisdale converted to Catholicism or, perhaps more likely, his wife Martha was a Catholic?

The Prince of Wales (later King George the fourth). Levi's admirer and a drinking buddy of Charles Howard, the Duke of Norfolk

The Prince of Wales (later King George the fourth). Levi’s admirer and a drinking buddy of Charles Howard, the Duke of Norfolk

Before I tell more of Joseph and the duke let’s try to imagine what led his brother and sister, Levi and Jane, to Arundel as well. When Hussar Levi’s first son Levi was baptized in Arundel in 1811 his brother Joseph was, as we will see, a very valued servant of the duke. Levi was still in the army but at the height of his fame. After he had captured Napoleon’s favourite general Lefebvre in Spain in late 1808, his regiment’s Colonel-in- Chief the Prince of Wales, later King George IV, insisted he was promoted to Corporal saying this would be the first of many promotions – Levi ended up a Sergeant Major. In fact the Prince of Wales had offered to pay for an education for Levi but he had refused this. So maybe Levi and his wife were just visiting brother Joseph at Arundel when their son was born or, just possibly, Levi’s wife Ann was living in Arundel while Levi moved around with his regiment? Regarding sister Jane, I can see no other explanation but that Joseph had got her a job as a servant in the duke’s household at Arundel and while working there she married local mason John Booker in 1805.

It’s not just that Joseph Grisdale was a servant of the duke of Norfolk but it seems he was his favourite and most trusted servant. When the duke died in 1815 at his London residence of Norfolk House he of course left a will. As he didn’t have any children most of the will concerns to whom all his extensive properties should go to; including of course Greystoke in Cumberland. I won’t go into all the details here, but the duke willed that his servants should each receive three years wages, quite a generous gesture. But he singled out just one servant, Joseph Grisdale, to whom he bequeathed on top of three years wages the extremely large sum (for the time) of £300!

When you read below the type of life the duke led and what his servants had to do for him you might like to think as I do, that Joseph Grisdale must have been very close to the duke during his drunken and debauched life – possibly as I have suggested being his personal valet (‘minder’ even), rather than his butler (or one of his butlers).

So what sort of man was Charles Howard, the 11th duke of Norfolk? What had Joseph had to deal with? We might get an idea from the Posthumous Memoirs of My Own Time of Sir N W Wraxall, published in 1836. I’ll quote a length because it gives an idea of England’s aristocratic rulers in the glorious Georgian age. Note that Howard was Lord Surrey before he became duke.

At a time when men of every description wore hair-powder and a queue, he had the courage to cut his hair short, and to renounce powder, which he never used except when going to court. In the session of 1785, he proposed to Pitt to lay a tax on the use of hair-powder, as a substitute for one of the minister’s projected taxes on female servants. This hint, though not improved at the time, was adopted by him some years afterwards. Pitt, in reply to Lord Surrey, observed, that ‘the noble lord, from his rank, and the office which he held (deputy earl-marshal of England), might dispense, as he did, with powder; but there were many individuals whose situation compelled them to go powdered. Indeed, few gentlemen permitted their servants to appear before them unpowdered.’

Courtenay, a man who despised all aid of dress, in the course of the same debate remarked, that he was very disinterested in his opposition to the tax on maid-servants; ‘for’ added he, ‘as I have seven children, the ‘jus septem liberorum’ will exempt me from paying it; and I shall be as little affected by the tax on hair-powder, if it should take place as the noble lord who proposed it’.

 “A natural crop – alias a Norfolk dumpling” showing the Duke of Norfolk. It was drawn by James Gillray and published in 1791

“A natural crop – alias a Norfolk dumpling” showing the Duke of Norfolk. It was drawn by James Gillray and published in 1791

Strong natural sense supplied in Lord Surrey the neglect of education; and he displayed a sort of rude eloquence, whenever he rose to address the house, analogous to his formation of mind and body. In his youth, — for at the time of which I speak he had attained his thirty-eighth year, — he led a most licentious life, having frequently passed the whole night in excesses of every kind, and even lain down, when intoxicated, occasionally to sleep in the streets, or on a block of wood. At the ‘Beef-steak Club,’ where I have dined with him, he seemed to be in his proper element. But few individuals of that society could sustain a contest with such an antagonist, when the cloth was removed. In cleanliness be was negligent to so great a degree, that he rarely made use of water for purposes of bodily refreshment and comfort. He even carried the neglect of his person so far, that his servants were accustomed to avail themselves of his fits of intoxication, for the purposes of washing him. On those occasions, being wholly insensible to all that passed about him, they stripped him as they would have done a corpse, and performed on his body the necessary ablutions. Nor did he change his linen more frequently than he washed himself. Complaining one day to Dudley North that he was a martyr to the rheumatism, and had ineffectually tried every remedy for its relief, ‘Pray, my lord,’ said he, ‘did you ever try a dean shirt?’

Drunkenness was in him an hereditary vice, transmitted down, probably, by his ancestors from the Plantagenet times, and inherent in his formation. His father, the Duke of Norfolk, indulged equally in it; but he did not manifest the same capacities as the son, in resisting the effects of wine. It is a fact that Lord Surrey, after laying his father and all the guests under the table at the Thatched House tavern in St Jameses street, has left the room, repaired to another festive party in the vicinity, and there recommenced the unfinished convivial rites; realizing Thompson’s description of the parson in his ‘ Autumn,’ who, after the foxchase, survives his company in the celebration of these orgies:

‘Perhaps some doctor of tremendous paunch.

Awful and vast, a black abyss of drink.

Outlives them all; and from his buried flock.

Returning late with rumination sad.

Laments the weakness of these latter times.’

Even in the House of Commons he was not always sober; but he never attempted, like Lord Galway, to mix in the debate on those occasions. No man, when master of himself, was more communicative, accessible, and free from any shadow of pride. Intoxication rendered him quarrelsome; though, as appeared in the course of more than one transaction he did not manifest Lord Lonsdale’s troublesome superabundance of courage after he had given offence. When under the dominion of wine, he has asserted that three as good Catholics sat in Lord North’s last parliament as ever existed; namely, Lord Nugent, Sir Thomas Gascoyne and himself. There might be truth in this declaration. Doubts were, indeed, always thrown on the sincerity of his own renunciation of the errors of the Romish church; which aet was attributed more to ambition and the desire of performing a part in public life, or to irreligion, than to conviction. His very dress, which was most singular, and always the same, except when he went to St. James’s, namely, a plain blue coat of a peculiar dye, approaching to purple, was said to be imposed on him by his priest or confessor as a penance. The late Earl of Sandwich so assured me; but I always believed Lord Surrey to possess a mind superior to the terrors of superstition. Though twice married while a very young man, he left no issue by either of his wives. The second still survives, in a state of disordered intellect, residing at Holme Lacy in the county of Hereford.

John Howard, the first Howard Duke of Norfolk fell with Richard the Third at Bosworth in 1485

John Howard, the first Howard Duke of Norfolk, fell with Richard the Third at Bosworth in 1485

As long ago as the spring of 1781, breakfasting with him at the Cocoa-tree coffee-house, Lord Surrey assured me that he had proposed to give an entertainment when the year 1783 should arrive, in order to commemorate the period when the dukedom would have remained three hundred years in their house, since its creation by Richard the Third. He added, that it was his intention to invite all the individuals of both sexes whom he could ascertain to be lineally descended from the body the Jockey of Norfolk, the first duke of that name, killed at Bosworth Field. ‘But having already,’ said he, ‘discovered nearly six thousand persons sprung from him’, a great number of whom are in very obscure or indigent circumstances, and believing, as I do, that as many more may be in existence, I have abandoned the design.’

Fox could not boast of a more devoted supporter than Lord Surrey, nor did his attachment diminish with his augmentation of honours. On the contrary, after he became Duke of Norfolk he manifested the strongest proofs of adherence; some of which, however, tended to injure him in the estimation of all moderate men. His conduct in toasting ‘The sovereign majesty of the people,’ at a meeting of the Whigs, held in February, 1798, at the Crown and Anchor tavern, was generally disapproved and censured. Assuredly it was not in the ‘Bill of Rights,’ nor in the principles on which reposes the revolution of 1688, that the duke could discover any mention of such an attribute of the people. Their liberties and franchises are there enumerated; but their majesty was neither recognised nor imagined by those persons who were foremost in expelling James the Second. The observations with which his grace accompanied the toast, relative to the two thousand persons who, under General Washington, first procured reform and liberty for the thirteen American colonies, were equally pernicious in themselves and seditious in their tendency. Such testimonies of approbation seemed, indeed, to be not very remote from treason.

The Prince of Wales escapes from the French in Flanders in 1794

The Duke of York escapes from the French in Flanders in 1794

The duke himself appeared conscious that he had advanced beyond the limits of prudence, if not beyond the duties imposed by his allegiance; for, a day or two afterwards, having heard that his behaviour had excited much indignation at St James’s, he waited on the Duke of York, in order to explain and excuse the proceeding. When, he had so done, he concluded by requesting, as a proof of his loyalty, that, in case of invasion, his regiment of militia (the West Riding of Yorkshire, which he commanded) might be assigned the post of danger. His royal highness listened to him with apparent attention; assured him that his request should be laid before the king; and then breaking off the conversation abruptly, ‘Apropos, my lord,’ said he, ‘ have you seen “Blue Beard?” This musical pantomime entertainment, which had just made its appearance at Drury-lane theatre, was at that time much admired. Only two days subsequent to the above interview, the Duke of Norfolk received his dismission both from the lord-lieutenancy and from his regiment.

Lord Liverppol - Prime Minister

Lord Liverpool – Prime Minister

As he advanced in age he increased in bulk; and the last time that I saw him, (which happened to be at the levee at Carlton House, when I had some conversation with him,) not more than a year before his decease, such was his size and breadth, that he seemed incapable of passing through a door of ordinary dimensions. Yet he had neither lost the activity of his mind nor that of his body. Regardless of seasons, or impediments of any kind, he traversed the kingdom in all directions, from Greystock in Cumberland, to Holme Lacy and Arundel Castle, with the rapidity of a young man. Indeed, though of enormous proportions, he had not a projecting belly, as Ptolemy Physcon is depictured in antiquity ; or like the late king of Wirtemberg, who resembled in his person our popular ideas of Punch and might have asserted with Falstaff, that ‘he was unable to get sight of his own knee.’ In the deliberations of the house of peers, the Duke of Norfolk maintained the manly independence of his character, and frequently spoke with ability as well as with information. His talents were neither impaired by years nor obscured by the bacchanalian festivities of Norfolk House, which continued to the latest period of his life; but he became somnolent and lethargic before his decease. On the formation of Lord Liverpool’s administration in 1812, he might unquestionably have received ‘the Garter,’ which the Regent tendered him, if he would have sanctioned and supported that ministerial arrangement. The tenacity of his political principles made him, however, superior to the temptation. His death has left a blank in the upper house of parliament.

It’s not for nothing that Charles Howard was referred to as the ‘Drunken Duke’. One can examine what Joseph Grisdale had had to deal with over the years and perhaps why the duke was so generous to Joseph in his will.

crown and anchor

The Crown and Anchor

Yet there was more than this to the duke. Much as I approve of any vilification of England’s debauched, indolent and useless landed aristocracy, I think Charles Howard had one great redeeming quality: in his drunken state he still cared a little about the people. As Wraxall’s writings make clear, Howard had been deprived of some of his offices by King George III for his speech to mark the birthday of the Whig politician Charles James Fox held at the Crown and Anchor on Arundel Street in St. James’, London (yes, named after the seat of the dukes of Norfolk) in early 1798.

The Crown and Anchor tavern was one of the major landmarks of late-Hanoverian London. In the period of popular political discontent which stretched from the 1790s through to the Chartist movement of the 1840s, the tavern’s name became so closely associated with anti-establishmentarian politics that the term ‘Crown and Anchor’ became synonymous with radical political beliefs…

The term ‘tavern’ conjures up images of a typically snug English pub; however this would a wholly inaccurate means of describing the Crown and Anchor. Following extensive refurbishment in the late 1780s the tavern stood at four stories in height and stretched an entire city block from Arundel Street to Milford Lane.

The meeting to celebrate Fox’s birthday was attended by upwards of 2,000 people. The Duke of Norfolk was there, probably with Joseph Grisdale in attendance to look after the drunken duke.

The festivities were an annual event, and 1798 saw one of the largest assemblies ever held at the tavern. The Duke’s penchant for drinking and revelry was renowned in London society, as were his liberal political views, despite his close friendship with the Prince Regent. At the request of the chair of the occasion, the Duke of Bedford, the Duke of Norfolk proposed a string of toasts to the 2000-strong audience. Though convention stipulated the first toast at such a public occasion be offered as a salutation to the Monarch, the Duke raised his glass and gave instead to ‘the rights of the people’. The flagrant disregard of custom and etiquette met a mix of cheers and murmured disgruntlement. When the room quieted, the Duke continued with an altogether scandalous line-up of toasts bordering on the treasonous: ‘to constitutional redress for the wrongs of the people’; to ‘a speedy and effectual reform in the representation of the people in parliament’; to ‘the genuine principles of the British Constitution’; and to ‘the people of Ireland—may they be speedily restored to blessings of law and liberty’. When he finally offered a toast to the King, it contained a thinly disguised rebuke reminding the Monarch of his duty—to ‘Our Sovereign’s health—the majesty of the people’.

‘The establishment’s reaction to Norfolk’s speech was captured in Gillray’s The Loyal Toast – As Norfolk salutes the majesty of the people a list of his various offices and titles is being shredded behind him.  The Duke was dismissed from all his official positions, including his position on the Privy Council and the Lord Lieutenancy of the West Riding. Signalling that the Duke’s powerful friendships would not protect him, the notification of dismissal was sent during a dinner with the Prince Regent. Despite eventually satisfying the King with proclamations of loyalty, he was not reinstated to his official post until 1807.’

Gillray's The Loyal Toast

Gillray’s The Loyal Toast

What became of faithful Joseph Grisdale after the Duke of Norfolk’s death in 1815? It seems that Joseph used some or all of the money the duke had left him to buy two houses, one at Ockley in Surrey and one at in Rudgwick in Sussex, both on lands in the estates of the dukes of Norfolk. In 1822 Joseph is living at his house in Ockley but then rents it out until 1830.  The house in Rudgwick was rented out by Joseph in 1820, but by 1833 Joseph’s daughter Mary married George Field in Rudgwick church, so maybe Joseph was living there by then having retired from his years of service? As yet I can’t be sure when and where Joseph and Martha died. His children went on to other things – but some still with connections with the dukes of Norfolk – I’ll return to them at a later date.

Old Rudgwick

Old Rudgwick

In my own Grisdale family line we find the usual array of professions: yeoman farmer, blacksmith and carpenter for example. But it has always intrigued me that my third great grandfather, William Grisdale, was a Dancing Master in and around Penrith for about sixty years. Luckily William’s teaching, his Balls and his dancing school were repeatedly reported in the Cumbrian press and thus we can get just a flavour of his life and the legacy he left.

We know that William was a Dancing Master because he is listed as such in the censuses of 1841, 1851 and 1861. He was by that time already quite old, having been born in Matterdale in 1785, the sixth and last child of Dockray blacksmith Wilfred Grisdale (1711-1795) and his second wife Ruth Slee (1759-1838). But even when he married Mary Charters in Penrith in 1815 when he was thirty he was already said to be a dancing master. As we will see he’d started this vocation even before that.

The English Dancing Master

The English Dancing Master

What was a ‘Dancing Master’?  Well as we might expect he/she was a teacher of dance. Wikipedia tells us something of the tradition:

The Dancing Master (first edition: The English Dancing Master) is a dancing manual containing the music and instructions for English Country Dance. It was published in several editions by John Playford and his successors from 1651 until c1728. The first edition contained 105 dances with single line melodies; subsequent editions introduced new songs and dances, while dropping others, and the work eventually encompassed three volumes. Dances from The Dancing Master were re-published in arrangements by Cecil Sharp in the early 20th century, and in these reconstructed forms remain popular among dancers today.

Another recent writer says:

For those of you not familiar with Playford’s The English Dancing Master (1651), it was the first collection of popular dance tunes published in the British Isles. It was published in London and sold to the English country dancing market… It was a big hit, and it remained in print through various editions until 1728. It’s not exactly traditional music. It was popular music intended for an urban audience.

The various editions were updated with the hits of the day—songs from popular plays and special music used by professional dancers. However, quite a lot of the material can be found in traditional circulation… English country dancing is first mentioned in the Elizabethan period. Some of the tunes were probably at least 100 years old when they were published. Many of the older tunes existed as songs rather than strictly dance tunes. Nowadays there are two styles of what is called “English country dancing” One is based on Playford tunes. Apparently the tunes are usually played in a style based on late 19th century classical music….

But the type of dancing William taught was more like this:

The other kind of English country dancing is the kind of dancing they do out in the country in England. This is true folk dancing, done to folk tunes played in folk style. It doesn’t really have anything to do with Playford, which has been upper-class stuff since the 17th century. John Playford (1623-1686) was a successful London music publisher. A royalist, he kept a low profile during the Commonwealth and came into political favour with the return of Charles II. He catered to the taste of the emerging bourgeois class which preferred country dancing to the more formal galliards and other formal dances popular with the nobility before the Civil War. His business was carried on by his son Henry. The actual title of the work was: The English Dancing Master, or, Plaine and easie Rules for the Dancing of Country Dances, with the Tune to each Dance.

From where had William acquired his love of dancing? How had he started to teach? To be honest I have no idea. None of his ancestors and, with one exception, none of his descendants or relatives had anything to do with dancing. William had moved from Matterdale to Penrith sometime prior to his marriage in 1815. The couple had at least nine children. Perhaps William at first followed his father’s profession as a blacksmith or maybe he worked as a carpenter as did many of his family? If he did he didn’t stay at it long before starting to teach dancing which was obviously the love of his life.

As I mentioned, there are dozens of newspaper reports telling of  William Grisdale the Dancing Master, they span several decades. Basically what William did was move from town to town teaching young people to dance. paid for by their parents, and then a Ball would be staged to show off the results. All the reports tell of the great success of these balls and how they were a great credit to Mr. Grisdale, who as he gets older is sometimes refers to as Professor Grisdale or, more often, ‘the patriarchal dancing master’. Here are just a few of my favourites:

Carlisle Journal 13 June 1851

BALL – The merry little village of Wreay was, on thursday evening week, the scene of much gaiety and pleasure. Mr. Wm. Grisdale upon whose head seventy years have shone, has been endeavouring for some time past to fashion the young limbs of  “fair maidens and buxom lads” of the village and surrounding neighbourhood to the graceful evolutions of the mazy dance, and his labours, which have been followed by most decided success, were brought to a close with a ball on the above evening. Rarely, if ever, has so gay and numerous an assemblage of plump, rosy-checked lasses and lish, hardy, light-hearted youths, been gathered together under the hospitable roof of  “old Sally” . The”kings and queens” discharged their duties with true dignity; and the “hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels,” in which cross-the-buckle, the double-shuffle and the “cut,”  were all rendered in first rate primitive style, reflect much credit upon both Mr. Grisdale and his pupils. The “bow dance,” however, was the great attraction of the evening, and in finery and gracefulness would succumb to few of our more posturing dances. The young ones having finished their spree, the older folk, inspired by the fire of early days, took possession of the floor, and kept up the pleasure of the ball until the grey mists of morning warned them to depart, which they did with hearts filled with joy.

Wreay, Cumberland

Wreay, Cumberland

Two years later on 16 December 1853 the same newspaper reported:

Dancing School Ball – Mr William Grisdale the patriarchal dancing master, held his ball at the house of Mr Thomas Furness, of Loangwathby… Mr Grisdale is upwards of 74 years of age (sic); yet, though his head is silverd o’ver by time he appears as “lish” and active as ever. He has taught dancing for upwards of half a century, and has always kept within a twenty mile circuit of Penrith, so that at the present time there are few middle aged women in the district who were not his pupils in early life . He has taught three generations. He taught the grandmothers of some of the young misses who were recently his pupils in Longwathby.

And then on 14 April 1854:

Old William Grisdale the patriarchal dancing master, has now a dancing school in Penrith Town head. He is teaching the fourth generation, having taught the great grandfathers and great grandmothers of some of his present pupils.

Naval cadets dancing a hornpipe

Naval cadets dancing a hornpipe

William was still a dancing master in 1861, aged 76, and might have continued somewhat longer. So it seems that William had brought ‘joy’ to four generations of his Cumbrian dancing pupils over a period of about sixty years. He had his fair share of tragedy too – two of his daughter died quite young – but he led a life doing what he wanted to do. Sometime in the 1860s William had to stop his teaching, possibly due too ill health, and the sad fact is that he had to enter Penrith’s workhouse where he died on 30 May 1866, his death only getting two lines in the Carlisle Journal that had followed him for decades. His wife Mary died two years later.

Just a few words on William’s family.  In the early nineteenth century his older brother Wilfred (b 1782) had moved to Carlisle and from there he emigrated with his family to Canada, just after William’s marriage, there to found a veritable Grisdale dynasty in Canada and the United States.

Another brother Gideon (b 1777) moved to London and became a jeweller; his daughter Elizabeth ‘Minnie’ Grisdale first became a ballet dancer at the Drury Lane Theatre in London before marrying a famous painter, moved to Boston and then returned as a widow to hawk fish in Falmouth! Perhaps Minnie had been influenced by her dancing uncle William?

Wilfred Grisdale, William's son

Wilfred Grisdale, William’s son

There is much to tell of William’s children. I’ll only highlight a couple of them. Their son Wilfred (1815-1893) was a carpenter. The family story is that Wilfred loved horses. The picture I have included here might suggest that. He married twice and had eleven children, one being my great grandmother Agnes Grisdale. Another son, also called William, emigrated to Australia in 1853 with his wife and child and there had many adventures.

It’s not much of a story I know, but I just love to think of William teaching country dancing to the good youngsters of Cumberland and Westmorland in the nineteenth century. Perhaps he even knew Levi Grisdale, the landlord of the local tavern called the General Lefebvre. Levi was much more famous, but he and William were related, both being descended from Joseph Grisdale and Agnes Dockray of Dowthwaite Head in Matterdale. I guess we’ll never know.

In an earlier article (see here) I wrote about Levi Grisdale and how he had captured Napoleon’s favourite General,  Lefebvre, at the Battle of Benavente (or Benevente) in Spain on 29 December 1808 during the Peninsular Wars, and how he had gone on to other great things. But I wrote as well: ‘Numerous individual stories survive from these wars, written by participants from all sides: French, British, German and Spanish. Yet a great number of these come from the ‘officer classes’. Levi was not an officer and, as far as is known, he never wrote his own story.’ This is true but it turns out that Levi was interviewed about what happened by ‘An Officer of the Staff’ who had been in Spain with Levi in the army of General Moore. This was published in early 1809 (i.e. immediately after the British army had returned to England from Corunna) in a book wonderfully titled ‘Operations of the British Army in Spain: Involving Broad Hints to the Commissariat, and Board of Transports : with Anecdotes Illustrative of the Spanish Character‘. One of these stories was Levi’s. The internal evidence suggests that Levi was interviewed  back in England just weeks after the events, when ‘Private Grisdale’ had been promoted to Corporal (he would end up a Sergeant Major). It is the nearest thing we will get to Levi’s own words and version of  what happened at Benavente and how he had captured General Lefebvre:

CAPTURE OF GENERAL LEFEBVRE, By — — Grisdale, a Private in the 10th Dragoons.

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

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

About one hundred and fifty of the 10th dragoons, and the dragoons of the 7th,[1] were suddenly opposed to about twelve hundred of the enemy’s cavalry, chiefly composed of Imperial Guards, well mounted, and commanded by Lefebvre. The town of Benevente was at a short distance in the rear. As the British had the sagacity, in this instance, to destroy the bridge, the enemy were forced to wade through the river, which they did, with great alacrity, for the purpose of compelling the British detachment to surrender. They advanced in one- solid and compact line against the British force, to salute them with a general volley from their carbines. The British, who were led on by Major Quintain of the 10th, resolutely awaited their approach, and received their fire, which; happily, did but- little execution. The volley was no sooner given, than an order was issued for the British to charge, which they did with that order and impetuosity which insured success. They cut their way completely through the enemy’s line, and then shewed a broad front to him in the opposite direction. The French, in the interim, having faced about, closed their ranks, and put themselves again in good order for the contest. A second charge was then made by the British, which was more successful than the former, for the French, were thrown into confusion, and the carnage which followed was terrible. It was at this time that Grisdale beheld the French Commander, accompanied by two trumpeters, hurrying from the field of action, and followed by two privates of the 7th, in hot pursuit. The French Commander’s horse outstripped those of the trumpeters, as did Grisdale’s those of the 7th; so that, as the General lost the companions of his flight, Grisdale had the good fortune to pursue him single-handed.

General Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes

General Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes

The General fled along the serpentine margin of the river, and thereby lost much ground, of which Grisdale took advantage, and by cutting across from angle to angle, he at length, after a rapid chase of two miles, succeeded in getting in his front. The General now, from necessity, checked his horse; but betraying symptoms of resistance, Grisdale instantly levelled, and discharged his carbine, the ball of which slightly wounded his adversary on the cheek. Thus unsuccessful in his aim, Grisdale was preparing to defend himself with his sword, (his pistols having been previously discharged) when, to his surprise, he beheld Lefebvre throw his sword away, as a token of surrender. This gave Grisdale time to re-load his carbine, which having done, he advanced to the General, took the pistols from his holsters, the sash from about his waist, and having dismounted, snatched up the cast away sword; then re-seating himself in the saddle, he turned the rein of the General’s bridle over the horse’s head, and so conducted him to the British army: the main body of which, at that time, was coming up. Grisdale had too much honest pride to demand the General’s watch and money, but a private of the 7th, who was less scrupulous and exalted in his ideas, did the General that favor before he reached the British lines. Grisdale gave the sash, sword, and pistols, to his Colonel, (Leigh) to have them transmitted to his beloved Commander, the Prince of Wales.

Grisdale has recently been raised to the rank of corporal, as the first step only of more considerable promotion. He is an exceedingly well made, well looking man: his countenance is ruddy and expressive, and strongly indicates that he possesses that intrepid spirit which should, at all times, distinguish the Briton and the soldier. He is a native of Gracestock (sic), in Cumberland; his age is twenty-four. He has a mother living, to whom he is most affectionately attached; and where filial piety exists, we seldom look for human courage in vain.

——————————————————————————-

Notwithstanding this coup d’ éclat, it seemed destined that our retreat should be attended with every possible disadvantage that Nature could throw in our way. The weather was so inclement, that the oldest Galician living, does not remember so severe a season. Wind, rain, and even hail, pelted around us; and to add to our distresses, the greater part of the officers had lost their cloaks, great coats, and linen, as the muleteers to whose care they were confided, bad all scampered to the mountains on the approach of the French cavalry, and left 200 of their mules to be quietly plundered by the enemy! Now, whether this mishap arise from the suggestion of fear or hatred, or knavery, is yet undetermined. Some of our dragoons endeavoured to drive those independent animals forward, but even the stroke of the sabre had no effect, when their masters had forsaken them. Unhappily, they were not linguists, like Balaam’s appendage, and could not, or would not, comprehend the British word of command. Between Benevente and Astorga, and Villa Franca, and Lugo, the retreating army were literally compelled to cut a passage through the snow!

 

The British Retreat to Corunna 1808-1809

The British Retreat to Corunna 1808-1809

[1] Of the King’s German Legion.

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

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

The Continental Blockade

The Continental Blockade

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

Napoleon meeting Tsar Alexander on a raft, July 1807

Napoleon meeting Tsar Alexander on a raft, July 1807

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

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

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

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

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

British warships arrive at Copenhagen

British warships arrive at Copenhagen

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

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

The Bombardment of Copenhagen, 1807 2

The Bombardment of Copenhagen, 1807

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

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

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

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

Danish Ships leave under the English Flag

Danish Ships leave under the English Flag

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

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

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

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

William fought at the Battle of Alexandria in 1801

William fought at the Battle of Alexandria in 1801

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

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

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

Crosthwaite, Cumberland

Crosthwaite, Cumberland

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

Such are the ‘trifling’ casualties of war.

‘The rain will destroy us if it lasts much longer.’ – Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, Saint Jean de Luz, 31 October, 1813

It’s raining today in Itxassou in the Basque region of southwest France. As I look of the window I can see that the River Nive is running high. Two hundred years ago in November 1813 it was also raining and early snow covered the nearby hills. The British and allied army commanded by Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley – the Marquis (later Duke) of Wellington – had just arrived in this part of the world and the troops of his most trusted general, Sir Rowland Hill, were ‘cantoned’ in Itxassou and in the neighbouring villages of Cambo, Espelette, Larressore and Souraide. They were waiting for the weather to improve so they could cross the Nive, on the other bank of which the French army under Marshal Soult had taken up defensive positions all the way from Bayonne on the coast to Saint Jean Pierre de Port. The crossing took place on 9 December, 1813.

Joseph Bonaparte

Joseph Bonaparte

Briefly the background to all this is that in 1813  we are seeing the last stages of the long and bloody Peninsular War, which the Spanish rather quaintly call the War of Independence. In 1808, Napoleon Bonaparte had installed his older brother Joseph on the Spanish throne and the French were in charge of the country. The British had to rescue them. It was a huge, tortuous and brutal effort that took over five years. The decisive victory took place on 21 June 1813 just south of Vitoria – Gastiez (now the capital of Basque Spain) where Wellington’s British, German and Spanish army routed the French.  Joseph Bonaparte and his still huge army started a long and drawn-out fighting retreat over the Pyrenees and back into France. There were many skirmishes and battles and thousands on both sides continued to die.

The Battle of the Nivelle, November 1813

The Battle of the Nivelle, November 1813

In France the Battle of the Nivelle was fought on 10 November 1813 near the village of Sare on the flanks of the La Rhune.

 Soon after midnight, on the morning of 10 November, the columns of the allies under Wellington wound down the passes of the mountains in silence, lighted by the moon. At earliest dawn the attack was made on the lines of the enemy, and by sunset, in a succession of brilliant charges, the allies had broken the line. Soult had been out-manœuvred and outfought on his own long-prepared ground, and beaten at every point. The French, numbering seventy thousand men, had been placed in carefully selected positions. Strongly entrenched, they knew the roads, and were fighting to protect their native land from invasion; yet they suffered themselves to be dislodged from every point assailed with a lack of spirit that surprised the allies.

Under cover of night Soult withdrew and concentrated his forces in front of Bayonne. Wellington took up a position within two miles of the enemy, his left resting on the sea and his right on Cambo. As the weather was stormy and wet, all operations ceased. The roads were execrable, the crossroads a quagmire. It was not possible at that time of the year to move artillery over the sodden ground, and even communication between the wings was difficult.

The losing French army retreated again to the north side of the River Nive, which they believed they could defend and prevent the British from crossing.

After the Battle of the Nivelle, Wellington had wanted to immediately attempt a crossing of the Nive but the appalling weather made it impossible. The ‘roads’ had turned into muddy bogs and the river was so high that the available fords were impassable. As the rains continued to pore down, on the 16th November Wellington sent orders to ‘canton’ the army.

The 10th Hussars in the Peninsular Wars

The 10th Hussars in the Peninsular Wars

General Sir Rowland Hill’s division was ordered to canton Itxassou, Larressore, Cambo, Espelette and Souraide. Sir Rowland was Wellington’s most steady, reliable and trusted general. He was so loved for his care that his troops nick-named him ‘Daddy Hill’. And one of Hill’s soldiers was the famous Levi Grisdale. Grisdale had captured French General Lefebvre at the  Battle of Benavente in Spain in December 1808, had fought at the Battle of Vitoria in June and would go on to personally lead the Prussians of Marshal Blucher onto the field of Waterloo in 1815. But for now Levi was with his elite cavalry regiment, the 10th King’s Own Hussars, waiting to cross the Nive. Levi was more likely to have been billeted in Larressore than in Itxassou, but it’s nice to think that one of my family also looked through the rain on the River Nive two hundred years ago!

The 10th Hussars were at this moment commanded by Colonel Richard Hussey Vivian. Vivian had found himself some very salubrious quarters in the Chateau of Saint Martin in Larressore, from where he wrote to his wife on December 2:

Here I am, my dearest Eliza, in the midst of my brigade —in the midst of the enemy! Out of the very window of the room from whence I now write this I can almost converse with the French sentries! Nothing but a narrow river (the Nive) separates us; and it is fordable in many places; but they are very quiet, harmless neighbours. We have agreed not to fire at each other; and they are too much afraid of an attack from us to make it at all probable that they will molest us in our quarters. If they chose it would not be a very difficult matter to walk into my bedroom any night. There is, however, a brigade of infantry in the village, under General Pringle, and they would hold them. We could do nothing, for it is nothing but hill and dale!

You can have no conception of anything more magnificently beautiful than the situation of my chateau, which is on the point of a hill overlooking a beautiful mountain river, and looking up a most delightful valley, through which runs the river, the hills rising from the valley on either side crowned with timber; villages in abundance, bordering on the river.  But it is to the eye only that it is now delightful. The ravages of war have depopulated these otherwise charming residences ; few, if any, of the inhabitants remain, and what few do remain are almost starving from having been eaten out of house and home by the soldiery, with whom their houses are literally crammed.

General Hill’s division, of which I command the cavalry, is posted in the villages of Cambo, Espelette, Souraide, and Larressore — altogether about 12,000 men within a space of three miles of each other. On our left, at Ustarits (sic), is the 6th Division, Sir H. Clinton, about a mile off. I am just going there to dine and sleep at General Pack’s.

They talk of an advance soon, but I do not think it possible; for the roads are in such a dreadful state from the constant rain we have had that it is perfectly impossible for troops to move.

The next day he wrote to his mother:

I am now here in the midst of my brigade, on the banks of the Nive, and the enemy is quietly opposite me; so near that I can certainly make them hear out of the room where I now write; bat they are in a great fright that we should advance, and we are really very good friends, and they do not molest me, or prevent me sleeping in perfect safety and comfort. I have a capital chateau, delightfully situated… I only wish it were in England. I could sell about £10,000 worth of timber without doing any harm…  They talk of an advance very soon. I hope so, for we are terribly off for forage, and we shall get that in front.

‘Whilst the British were in position on the banks of the Nive, in November, 1813, the French used to meet the English officers at a narrow part of the river, and chat over the campaign. One of the latter, in order to convince them of the reverses of Napoleon in Germany (the Battle of Leipzig), rolled a stone up in the Star newspaper, and endeavoured to throw it across the stream. The stone, unfortunately, went through it, which made it fall into the water. The French officer thereupon remarked, in pretty fair English, “Your good news is very soon damped.”’

General Rowland 'Daddy' Hill

General Rowland ‘Daddy’ Hill

This pleasant, though wet, interlude was not to last. On the 8th December issued his orders for ‘forcing the passage of the Nive’ the next day. The task was entrusted to Rowland ‘Daddy’ Hill. He ‘was instructed to cross the river by fords near Cambo at daybreak of the 9th, re-establish the bridge, and assemble on the right bank the Second Division, the Portuguese Division attached to it, Vivian’s and Victor Alten’s brigades of cavalry, and Ross’s troop of horse-artillery. With these he was to advance along the road from St. Jean Pied de Port to Bayonne, and take up a position in the vicinity of Villefranque and Petit Mouguerre’.

Other divisions were to cross the river at Ustaritz and Arrauntz. Spanish General Morillo was ordered to cross the river at Itxassou in order to protect Hill’s rear from any attack by General Paris, who lay at Louhossoa, some four miles up the river from Cambo.

The Nive at Cambo les Bains

The Nive at Cambo les Bains

I leave the description of what followed to J. W. Fortescue, in his monumental  A History of the British Army:

Meanwhile Wellington’s orders were punctually followed. Beresford successfully laid his pontoon-bridges to an island in the river during the night; and on the morning of the 9th a beacon kindled on the height above Cambo gave the signal for attack.

The Sixth Division at once advanced upon Ustarits, drove the French sentries from the right bank of the river, and enabled the engineers not only to complete the pontoon -bridge but to repair another wooden bridge which had been partly destroyed by the French. They then crossed the water, Gruardet’s brigade of Darmagnac’s division falling back before them upon Villefranque, with little fear of being caught, for the marshy meadows were so heavy that the British could make but slow progress on their way to the road.

Hill simultaneously threw his corps across the river in three columns, one of them above Cambo, the others at Larressore and at Halsou, which was accomplished with only the loss of a few men drowned, though the water was so high that the men slung their cartridge-boxes round their necks to keep them dry. Foy’s division, which guarded this part of the stream, thereupon withdrew slowly, contesting every foot of ground. Fririon’s brigade retired upon Petit Mouguerre and Vieux Mouguerre, where Abbe’s division had been brought forward to support them ; while Berlier’s brigade, being cut off from the road by the advance of Clinton, was forced to retreat due east to the moorlands of Hasparren, and did not rejoin Foy until the afternoon. Paris also was compelled to retire before Morillo eastward upon Hilette (Helette) towards the shelter of Pierre Soult’s cavalry.

Nevertheless Hill’s advance had been so much retarded by the saturated soil that it was one o’clock before the head of his columns reached the heights of Loursinthoa on the road to Bayonne, where he took up a position with the Sixth Division on his left, the Third remaining to cover the bridge at Ustarits. Here he halted for two hours to let the tail of his columns come up; and during this interval d’Erlon deployed the whole of his troops between Villefranque and Petit Mouguerre, where Soult had already since noon taken up his own station. None the less the Marshal did not venture to assail Hill, and at last at three o’clock the Portuguese of Clinton’s division came down to attack Villefranque, and after one repulse succeeded in driving from it one of Darmagnac’s brigades.

A thick fog coming on before dark brought the combat to an end.

The ford of the Nive at Itxassou

The ford of the Nive at Itxassou

The British and allied army had crossed the Nive, Levi Grisdale among them. But things were not over yet. Marshal Soult counter attacked on the 13th December near Saint Pierre d’Irube, near Bayonne, but Sir Rowland Hill defeated the French without Wellington’s help at the so-called Battle of the Nive. Wellington and his army trundled on across southern France, eventually to take the French surrender at the Battle of Toulouse in April 1814. But he, and Levi Grisdale, had to come back the next year, when Napoleon had escaped from exile, raised a new army and met the British and Prussians at Waterloo!

9 December 1813: Just another wet day in the Pays Basque.

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

Sydney Cove 1842

Sydney Cove 1842

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

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

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

Passenger details of John Grisdale and his family, 1842

Passenger details of John Grisdale and his family, 1842

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

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

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

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

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

221 Sussex Street where John Grisdale was a pawnbroker

121 Sussex Street where John Grisdale was a pawnbroker

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

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

New South Wales Gold Diggers

New South Wales Gold Diggers

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

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

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

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

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

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

SS Great Britain

SS Great Britain

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

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

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

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

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

William Grisdale

William Grisdale

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

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

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

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

They came in a spring cart with a three-bushel bag with clothes in, a blanket, and a horse-hair bag, also two pair of boots which were in the bag.

When they returned to collect the proceeds of the sale, they were arrested. Nichols and Lester were “hung at Darlinghurst Gaol in front of a very large audience”. Just a normal day in the rough and tumble of colonial Sydney!

Ships in Newcastle NSW

Ships in Newcastle NSW

In 1873 William decided to move up the coast to the growing port of Newcastle, New South Wales. It seems his auctioneering business flourished there. He got involved in local politics and “on three occasions he was elected as an Alderman of Newcastle City Council, representing Honeysuckle Ward”. Here is just one example of the things William got involved in; it is a letter written to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald in August 1880. I quote it in full because not only does it tell us something about William but also a little of the life and commerce in Newcastle at the time. It is titled Newcastle and the Government:

Sir, I was rather surprised at Mr. W. Gilroy’s letter, in your paper on the 25th ultimo, with reference to the great indulgences that Newcastle has received from the Government. I think I shall be able to show Mr. Gilroy the very reverse and that Newcastle has never received anything not absolutely necessary and required. I am willing to admit that the Government have built a magnificent wharf at Newcastle, and also at Bullock Island, and put a substantial engine-house and hydraulic-power engines and cranes at the latter place; but at the same time I can prove that they receive a larger percentage from them than they do for any other work they have in the colony.

It is a fact beyond doubt that the Government charges four times the amount for haulage and shipping of coal that it costs the coal companies that ship at their own wharfs. The Government charge 10d per ton for haulage and shipping if the coal has not to be taken more than half-a-mile. The Waratah Company, and J. and A. Brown, can do the same over a distance of six miles, pay all expenses, and allow for wear and tear, at a cost of under 21/2d. per ton. If the Government have made the improvements, they make the shippers pay pretty well for it. I wish to know in what way we are like spoiled children? I think the reverse. If Mr. Gilroy will see the difference between the prices charged by the too indulgent Government and those that are the actual costs by private firms, and also know that an average of 20,000 tons of coal is shipped weekly here, he will see that we pay pretty well for any little improvement we got. I am sure there is no one would grumble at a legitimate wharfage rate, but not such a rate us the one now in force; it might do very well for Sydney, where there are so many private wharfs that the rates will not be collected. And it certainly seems very strange to me that the present law is six months’ old but was never put into force until the Grafton Wharf changed hands, and I do not think the rates will be collected there.

I am sure that the coal interest pays the Government the best interest they receive in the colony. It is acknowledged by the present Government that our railways within a radius of twelve miles of the port, are the best paying of any in New South Wales – the other indulgences that Mr. Gilroy speaks of. I should like him to come up here and see our grand public buildings, which are a disgrace to any city, and still we are getting everything done for us. There is one thing very certain, that until we get some of the Sydney influences, so that we shall be able to have direct imports and exports, we shall always be looked upon as black sheep. It is a well-known fact that Newcastle is the depot for the reception of the produce of the Northern district, and 100,000 bales of wool are grown and sent down annually. It is only right we should be in a position to ship it direct from here, but you will see the disadvantages the Northern squatter has to any other. Every bale of wool has to be sent to Sydney, and what with freights and other charges it costs the squatters £25,000 per annum, that ought to be left, or most of it, in this city.

A short time ago a firm here applied to this too-indulgent Government for the lease for twenty-one years of a piece of land to erect a wool store, which would cost the firm about £4000 to erect. They were told that they could have a lease for five years, which was very naturally rejected, and it was impossible to purchase at any price; so you see there is more Sydney influence. If we could ship our own wool, tallow, copper, tin, hides, &c, it would ¡materially interfere with your Sydney merchants, and that is the reason they are trying to do all they can to stop every industry. But the time will come yet. It is only a short time since this indulgent Government tried to impose the wool and coal taxes. Everybody knows the fate of them; and now they are trying to do something worse by the wharfage rates, for this is threepence per ton for receiving, and sixpence per ton for delivering, if you use the Government wharfs; and we have no other here, except the A. A. Company’s. I have always thought that ours was a Free-trade Government, but this tariff is protection in its very worst form; we should be better off with an ad valorem duty, and then all would pay alike, and not cripple any single industry. Trusting I have not taken up too much of your valuable space. I am, &c,

William Grisdale. Newcastle. August 26.

Besides William’s genuine interest in the welfare of his town of Newcastle, I think one can surmise two things from this letter. First, his own involvement in the shipping and trading to which he refers and, second, his growing involvement in politics. With regard to the former, William had used his success as an auctioneer to move into shipping. He had at least two ships.

In 1875 he ordered a 27 ton 17 metre ketch from the Newcastle shipbuilder Peter Callen. Its name was Colleen Bawn. But shipping was dangerous:

On 4 December 1877, the Colleen Bawn (Capt. Glendenning) was on voyage from Port Stephens to Sydney with a cargo of timber and 1 passenger and a crew of 3, when she foundered (no known reason) off between Port Stephens and Sydney. All 4 died.

In 1877 William and two partners, Benjamin Lloyd and Ed Davies, commissioned the ship-building firm of William McPherson at Williams River, Eagleton, near Newcastle, to build a 38 ton, 23 metre ketch, which they christened Agnes – no doubt after the ship in which William and his family had arrived in 1842. The Agnes was wrecked in 1883 when it foundered off Jervis Bay, New South Wales.

Honeysuckle Newcastle Today

Honeysuckle Newcastle Today

Regarding politics; as well as being an alderman, in 1882 William stood for the provincial New South Wales Parliament as a candidate in the Northumberland ward. Lyn Vincent, one of William’s descendants, writes:

After a bitterly fought campaign on the part of his opponent Mr. Hungerford a squatter, he was defeated. The newspaper reports of the day tell us that he was most brave and gallant in defeat. He was what today we would call “a good sport”.

What I particularly savour is a newspaper report of a nomination meeting and debate which took place in Newcastle in early 1882:

At the nomination for the Northumberland electorale… Mr Hungerford and Mr Grisdale were duly proposed. The former is a squatter, and well-known as an old member of Parliament. His opponent is new to politics, and is a pawnbroker, auctioneer, etc. During the speech of the latter – Mr Grisdale – a good deal of fun was caused by some of his remarks, and it is just worth quoting two passages from his oration. Being a money lender, the livening effect of the following parry may be understood: – He (Mr Grisdale) was in favour of the railways going the whole length of the Colony. – A Voice: “What for; to fetch the rags down?” – He did not think he would be able to lend much on the rags of the last speaker. Further on an elector asked: “Would you be in favour of an absentee or a property tax?” – Mr Grisdale: “I would tax them both.” (Laughter) – But the climax was reached when the orator was about finishing, when an elector asked: “Would you vote for taxing cereals coming into this country? – Mr Grisdale: “I am in favour of putting a tax on Chinamen, and always was.” (Roars of laughter). The elector: “I didn’t say Chinese; I said cereals.” – Mr Grisdale: “Who are they?” – (Renewed laughter and general confusion) – The question having been explained, Mr Grisdale said he would let flour come in as free as possible.

A real touch of the Lancastrian turned Australian I think. Lyn Vincent writes:

Unfortunately not many days after this (election) defeat, William became ill while on business in the “Metropolis” (Sydney). After resting in Sydney for a few days he returned to Newcastle only to have to take to his bed from which he never rose again. He died on 13 February 1882, two days short of being in the colony for 40 years…  Obituaries and testimonials of the day give a glowing report of a man who was not only a great loss to his beloved wife and twelve children, but also to his many friends and acquaintances in Newcastle and Sydney.

I quote part of just one such obituary:

Our readers will learn with regret that the hopes entertained of the recovery of our late esteemed fellow citizen, Mr. W. Grisdale, have proved futile, that gentleman having died of congestion of the brain last evening, at ten minutes to seven. Alderman Grisdale’s decease, although not unexpected, has produced a painful depression throughout the large and varied circle in which he moved… After various successful business enterprises in the metropolis, he arrived in Newcastle in 1874, and commenced business as an auctioneer and estate agent, in which he was remarkably successful. He had been one of the aldermen for Honeysuckle ward for two years, was a member of the Masonic fraternity, and an active officer of the Newcastle Jockey Club. Mr. Grisdale also had a very active interest in all matters relative to the public good and the welfare of the city…

Mr. Grisdale has left behind him an unsullied name, which will be held in sad remembrance by a very numerous circle of friends.

William Grisdale, son of a Bolton cotton weaver, descended from the Matterdale Grisdales, is buried in the Sandgate Cemetery (Methodist Section) in Newcastle with his wife Georgina and his step-daughter, Mary Bartley.

What a remarkable life! It makes most of our’s look positively dull.

There is a little mystery about William Grisdale, told to me by his Australian descendants. Was there a Jewish connection? Supposedly William’s grandson – in – law Benjamin Manning used to look up at William’s picture on the wall and comment: “Look at old Reuben looking down on us”. There was other family talk as well about William having a Jewish connection. Was this just due to his brother’s name Levi? Such names were common in the Grisdale family and elsewhere – they were biblical Old Testament names. Was it because he was a ‘money-lender’? Was there a Jewish connection from his mother’s or grandmother’s side?  As far as I know the Grisdales were all straight forward Anglican Christians – though some became Methodists – so if there is a Jewish connection I don’t know what it is? Maybe you do?