All writing © 2009-2015 by Colin Salter unless indicated otherwise. All rights reserved.
More information at

Tuesday 29 December 2009


I found a note amongst the papers I inherited from my uncle, from my great aunt Emily about a distant cousin John Salter, who
“was head gardener at the Tuilerie Gardens (until the coup d’etat) (in the time of Louis Phillipe I believe). He came to England bringing his wife (a French lady, whom I well remember), & his 2 children, Alfred & Annie (Mrs Holborn).”

Well this was all very glamorous and historical, and as it turned out not very accurate.

“Head gardener at the Tuilerie Gardens” – I went to the Tuileries in 1991 and stopped short, thank goodness, of asking the authorities about previous head gardeners in their employ. I did read a short horticultural history of them which made no mention of an English head gardener. The Tuileries, Marie Antoinette’s pleasure grounds, had indeed been overrun by the sansculottes at the time of the 1789 French Revolution. But her king had been Louis XVI. Louis Phillipe was The Citizen King, whose abdication was forced by the French Revolution of 1848 (when any European citizens worthy of the name were revolting).

The truth about John Salter eventually turned up in a history of the chrysanthemum. His father, a cheesemonger and the half brother of my great great great grandfather, had left money in his will for all his children to be apprenticed in the trade of their choice. John chose to be a gardener, and having served his time he established a nursery selling the popular notion of the English Garden ... to the French!

His nursery was at Avenue de Picardie, Versailles, not the Tuilleries, and he had obviously learned his trade well because he was a frequent medal winner at the regular Versailles flower shows. In the troubles of 1848 he did indeed return to England, where he set up shop in his native Hammersmith as “The Versailles Nursery.”

Chrysanthemum Annie Salter (in yellow)

He was particularly adept at breeding dahlias and chrysanthemums. Two of his inventions were still listed with the Chrysanthemum Society in the 1960s. One he had named Queen of England in honour of Victoria – a spawn of it he later called Empress of India. The other he named in honour of his eldest child. Chrysanthemum Annie Salter was still a staple of floral arrangements for decades after his death, a beautiful yellow firework of a flower and a lovely thing to be immortalised by.

Amongst his other creations were the chrysanthemums Mrs W Holborn (in memory of Annie’s marriage) and Alfred Salter, for his son. Alfred ran the Hammersmith business alongside his father.

Chrysanthemum Alfred Salter

As for his French wife, she was called Jane and came from Reading in Berkshire!

Saturday 26 December 2009


Amongst my 128 6x great grandfathers, Gurney was a miller, Salter was a brickmaker and Delap was an owner of slaves and sugar plantations. Thomas Marsom was an ironmonger to trade, a useful profession but not his main claim to fame.

(I’m going with the majority here in calling him my 6x great grandfather, but from the dates and a reference to him by my genealogical predecessor Brodie Gurney he may well have been a generation earlier. Thomas was certainly a family name across several generations, and a later descendent Thomas Marsom (1743-1815) wrote a New Year’s Day hymn. My Thomas Marsom’s daughter or grand-daughter Martha married my 5x great grandfather Thomas Gurney in 1739, but Marsom himself died in 1725 or 1726 and was old enough to have been in prison in the mid to late 17th century. Martha was born in about 1705.)

Anyway, this Thomas Marsom’s place in history was assured when he found himself in Bedford Gaol along with 59 other religious dissenters, one of whom was none other than John Bunyan. We can’t be sure of the exact date, because Bunyan was in and out of prison several times between 1660 and 1675.

John Bunyan, asleep in Bedford Gaol

During one such incarceration Bunyan had been inspired in a dream to begin work on a new allegory. And it was while the two men shared a cell that Bunyan showed Marsom an early draft of it. Marsom was sufficiently impressed to say to Bunyan, “John, print it.”

The draft was of Bunyan’s great work The Pilgrim’s Progress, and it duly appeared in print in 1678. It became the most widely read book in the English language after the Bible. Chances are that it would have got to print even without Thomas Marsom’s ringing endorsement; but Thomas certainly played his part in the history of English literature, and in the evolution of the dissenting church which would be central to the faith of his descendents for 200 years.

Thomas Marsom's contribution to English literature

Wednesday 23 December 2009


The Gurney family’s attitude to my 5x great grandfather Thomas Gurney is full of contradictions. On the one hand he invented the system of shorthand by which the family made its name; and they celebrate his ingenuity, his piety, his religion, his character, his geniality, his family leadership and his first wife their common ancestor.

Thomas Gurney (1705-1770)
twice-married inventor of the Gurney system of shorthand

On the other hand there is his second wife – not I hasten to clarify a bigamous relationship, but the woman he married some years after the death in 1756 of his first. Of course it’s quite common for the children of a first marriage to resent a second (although I ought to make it clear to my own half-siblings that this wasn’t the case for me!). But the opprobrium heaped on her head in the biographical memoirs of his grandson Brodie Gurney is quite shocking to see in Victorian print.

Where his first wife Martha Marsom was “an excellent and sensible woman”, his second was a homewrecker so beyond the pale that Brodie Gurney can’t even bring himself to name her, and she is referred to only as Miss R. As he tells it, when his grandfather remarried, his children left home and his property was dissipated to gratify her habits of intemperance. In other words she drank the family silver.

Thomas and Miss R had a daughter, Rebecca; and Brodie Gurney denies us the chance to find out what happened to her by telling us only that she married a Mr F of Hertfordshire. That marriage produced two children – Martha, still alive in 1845 and living in W, wherever that is; and Thomas, who had died by then leaving five children.

That’s all Brodie Gurney gives us, which I think is shameful given the elaborate lengths he goes to in extolling the virtues spiritual and temporal of the descendents of Thomas’ first marriage. Maybe Miss R was a drunk, but that doesn’t seem like Thomas Gurney’s type given his hard-working life and staunch non-conformist religious convictions. And even if she did drink, marrying her was his call and perhaps his consolation late in life. And even if she did wreck the family home, it’s no reason to erase her child and grandchildren from the family history.

Sunday 20 December 2009


I’d like to know more about my great great grandfather Richard William Ralph Sadleir, but here’s what I’ve pieced together so far.

Sadleirswells, Co Tipperary, c1868

He was born in Sadleirswells, Co Tipperary, desecendent of a family with a proud tradition going back to the sixteenth century, a man whose relatives were among the great and good (and not-so-good) of the land. He married well, in 1848, to Eleanor Wilhelmina Octavia Cooper, daughter of another prominent Tipperary family of the Protestant Ascendancy.
Killenure Castle, Co Tipperary, c 2004

But by 1861 he was living in a cottage in Sutton in Lancashire with his wife, five children and a “poor dependant” man from Ireland. He was working as a chemical manufacturer’s assistant, and three years later he set up his own New Road Chemical Works in St Helen’s with a business partner, John Lawrence Kean. But the scheme failed in 1866 and he ended his relatively few days, aged just 57, as a banker’s clerk in a terraced house in Toxteth.
I think what happened is that he got caught up in the collapse of the Tipperary Bank brought about by the fraudulent activities of his cousins James and John Sadleir in 1852. It was a cataclysmic event for thousands of small and not so small investors in the county, who lost everything. John Sadleir, who it seems had been the criminal mastermind in the scandal took his own life that year by drinking prussic acid on Hampstead Heath one night. His brother James, who had also been implicated, refused to face justice and fled to Switzerland, where he was murdered for his gold watch in 1881 while out walking on the Zurichberg.
If Richard Sadleir lost all he had in the bank’s failure, it would explain why he went to find work in the industrial goldrush of mid-nineteenth century Lancashire. There’s no suggestion that he had any aptitude for chemistry, or any wealth with which to support his young family (only one of whom had been born before they left Ireland) in the lowly English addresses I have for them. I don’t know how he died, but it seems safe to say Life didn’t turn out as he might have expected it to.

Perhaps Holly Cottage looked like this ...
Ivy Cottage, Little Saughall, Cheshire, c1900

His wife had grown up in a Tipperary castle, and died in a Cheshire cottage, Holly Cottage in Little Saughall, where she had been living with two unmarried daughters. Another daughter, my great grandmother Eleanor Sadleir, left a note on the back of a photograph of her mother’s former home, keeping the memory alive, I’m grateful to say, for me and future generations.

Thursday 17 December 2009


Raking through the contents of my great great great uncle Charles Castle’s writing desk, I came across this furious letter to him from his mother about his sister, my great great great aunt Deborah Castle.

See the handwriting fizz and splutter!

Clifton Thursday Morning

My dear Son,

It is impossible for me to express in writing how much my feelings have been outraged or how many times! But that is nothing compared with his last act. So determined am I never to forgive it, that if the whole of their family were to fall on their knees to ask my pardon I never will.

And so I told Mr Ricketts on Tuesday last with whom I had a long conversation. No marriage with him shall ever take place from this house – they may go where they please, the sooner the better. I never wish to see either of them again, and I do most earnestly entreat you not [doubly underlined] to be present at the Marriage or have any thing to do with it whatsoever.

Mr Henry Pulson is employed as her solicitor, and Mr Ricketts has most kindly agreed to be her trustee provided she has the whole of her property secured upon herself but not otherwise. Mr Crispin made himself too agreeable by half to D----h [sic] so much so that both Michael and myself have thought it proper to speak to her on the subject, I told her plainly that would never do. He is old enough to be her Father. He has nothing but his half pay, and in addition to this he is a Catholic which is an insurmountable Bar in itself.

[she then tries to write of other matters, but is so incensed that she cannot help returning to the subject]

Before I close this Dull epistle I must again revert to Mr Crispin; should he ever speak or write to you on the subject of your sister, say at once I will never hear of it. I have suffered too much misery lately to wish to begin a new game.

[then another attempt to end on a more cheerful note with some family news, but it’s no good – back she turns to the vexing topic of the moment]

I must in Pity to you leave off as I fear you will not be able to read half of what I have written. Give my very kind love to Edward [one of Charles’ brothers] & keep the same dear Charles from your ever affectionate Mother M. Castle

[but still she cannot leave the matter there, and there’s a post script]

Mr Carr nor Mr James Jenkins do not expect I will allow the marriage to take place here, I have just heard said.

Deborah Castle (1816-1902)
in 1864 when everything had worked out fine

Poor old Mary Castle, so consumed with rage that her spidery writing shakes and the fine nib of the pen slips of the page at times. Poor young Deborah, in love with Mr Crispin, a much older man, a poor man and a catholic to boot. Poor old Mr Crispin, with ideas so far beyond his means and rank and age.

The exact date of the letter is not given, but if Charles was going to be able to give his mother’s love to his brother Edward, it was certainly before 1845 when Edward emigrated to Adelaide. Still, she could have been in her late 20s and quite able to make up her own mind about marriage, except for the duty of a daughter to have her parents’ approval. I wonder what her father Thomas thought.

I wonder what Charles thought, but I suspect he will have toed the family line and had a word with Deborah. Deborah did not marry Mr Crispin. She did not leave home, never to darken her mother’s door again. In fact she resigned herself to a spinster life as her mother’s companion, and she wrote wearily to her brother Charles from time to time of walks on the esplanade at Bournemouth (where she and her mother would holiday every summer).

Sir John and Lady Deborah Bowring (1864)

Her mother died in 1856, and three years later Deborah, now 43, married John Bowring, an entirely suitable man. He was wealthy, a Non-Conformist, a brilliant polymath and a successful politician and statesman. He was however also old enough to be her father, fully 23 years her senior!

Deborah was not popular with the children of her husband’s first marriage. But she and John had by all accounts a happy and mutually supportive marriage – both were by now prominent figures in the Unitarian movement. He died in 1872, aged 80. Deborah was 56, and lived out her days in the Bowring mansion outside Exeter, for another 30 years. She compiled a book of her husband’s sacred poetry and hymn lyrics, and included a short biography of him. In it she wrote:

Deborah Castle's memorial to her husband, published 1873

"If my task has been a sad one, I may truly say that, in dwelling upon the scenes the circumstances, and the thoughts of bygone years; in reviewing the active political struggles and controversies in which my husband was engaged; and above all, in pondering on the God-like spirit that animated, the faith in the Divine love that cheered, the entire belief in the ultimate prevalence of truth and goodness, that encouraged him, I too have found sources of consolation."

I'm delighted to add in August 2014 that a new biography of Sir John Bowring has just been published. "Free Trade's First Missionary" is written by Sir John's descendent Philip Bowring and deals with his time in Europe and Asia. Chris Patten, former governor of Hong Kong, said of the new book: "This scholarly and very readable biography, written by one of Asia's most distinguished journalists, shows how free trade became part of Hong Kong's DNA." It's published by Hong Kong University Press and is available on Amazon as a real book and also in a Kindle edition. (And this blog is acknowledged in the introduction!)

Monday 14 December 2009


Really if you were a Massy and not called Hugh, then either you were a girl or your parents simply hadn’t done their homework on your family history. In my abbreviated, inexhaustive Massy tree alone there are 19 Hugh Massys, and they all owe their name, not to mention their wealth and position, to my 6x great grandfather Massy.

Hugh d’Avranches, 1st Earl of Chester, who shared his winnings

He himself was descended from a French family de Macey, who had been rewarded with estates in Cheshire for fighting alongside Hugh Lupus d’Avranches at the battle of Hastings. No doubt they chose to honour his memory by naming their children after him.

By the seventeenth century the family had expanded their power and lands throughout the west coast of Britain. Then in 1641 rebellion flared up across the sea in Ireland.

The massacre of Portadown Bridge (1641),
when hundreds of Protestant men, women and children
were thrown from the bridge by a Catholic mob

Resentment had been simmering there ever since Henry VIII had confiscated Irish catholic lands in the wake of the Disestablishment. Now, with civil war brewing in England, that resentment bubbled over. Charles I, distracted by more pressing matters at home, lost control in Ireland before he lost his head in England. Ireland descended into chaos. The rebellion became a brutal free-for-all for the next eight years, and followed the pattern of earlier Irish conflicts (and later ones) with bloody massacres by both sides.

General Hugh Massy was at some point dispatched with a cavalry regiment to help end the revolt. He seems to have played his part in the ruthlessly successful achievement of that aim in 1649 by Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army.

Cromwell’s revenge,
the massacre of thousands of men, women and children
during the sacking of Drogheda (1649)

By the time the confederacy of Irish rebels had been defeated, the bill for the war in Ireland was £3,000,000. It was a bill the English government could ill afford to pay but faced with the rising anger of thousands of battle-hardened but unpaid soldiers it eventually found a neat solution. Cromwell ordered a mass grab of land from the remains of the Irish aristocracy, and parcelled it out to the government’s creditors in lieu of back pay. The rebels were disenfranchised and the army appeased in one simple move.

Like his Norman ancestor, Hugh Massy profited from bloody war. In 1659 he was granted 3000 acres including the estate of Duntrileague in Co. Limerick, which like his Norman ancestor he and his descendents expanded through the generations. His son Hugh trebled the size of the estates over the next 30 years; not one but two of his great grandsons, Hugh and Eyre, became hereditary Lords; and by the 1870s the sixth Lord Massy, John not Hugh, was in possession of 33000 acres in three Irish counties.

In the final decades of the nineteenth century the Massys began to withdraw from Ireland. I don’t know why, I’m afraid; but the lands were all sold off by 1900, and the last of the houses from which they ruled their vast Irish domains in the early years of the twentieth century. It’s almost as if the Massy family were never there …

Friday 11 December 2009


I wrote earlier about Brodie Gurney and the trial of the assassin of Prime Minister Perceval in 1812. I’ve since noticed that it was something of a family tradition. Eight years later Brodie’s brother, my great great great great uncle John Gurney, was a key player in the trial of the would-be assassins of Perceval’s successor, Lord Liverpool. Apart from anything else, I had no idea Britain’s relatively recent political past had been quite so unstable.

Sir John Gurney (1768-1845)
painted by George Richmond R.A.

The end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 was followed by cycles of famine and unemployment, and a groundswell of radical feeling that the nation’s wealth should be distributed more equitably. This climaxed in 1819 with a huge rally at St Peter’s Field in Manchester which was brutally dispersed by sabre-wielding cavalrymen. Up to 600 people were injured or killed.

The Peterloo Massacre as it became known was swiftly followed by the enactment of six new laws designed to restrict any sort of assembly which might be perceived as a threat to public order and political stability. Ordinary people were shocked at the violence, and the introduction of the repressive Six Acts only fuelled the anger and hunger of radical groups for change. One such group resolved that the only solution was the assassination of the Prime Minister and all his cabinet, and the establishment of a new revolutionary government.

They thought they had found their opportunity when they got wind of a dinner to be held in London on 23rd February 1820 at which all their targets would be present. But the dinner was an invention, fed to them by an infiltrator in their midst, and as they gathered in an attic in Cato Street to commit the assassinations, the whole group was arrested.

John Gurney was appointed the counsel for the prosecution of two of the Cato Street conspirators at their trial, Richard Tidd and William Davidson. He was a thoughtful man, either open to new ideas or fickle depending on your point of view – he was a supporter of the French Revolution who was disappointed by its subsequent military tyranny, a religious Dissenter who became a member of the Church of England, a Liberal who became a Conservative. He was made King’s Counsel in 1816, perhaps in part as a result of having performed well as an assistant to counsel in the prosecution of John Bellingham eight years earlier.

William Davidson (1781-1820)

Tidd was a failed shoemaker and Davidson a failed cabinet maker. Davidson was a Jamaican who’d studied Law in Glasgow and Maths in Aberdeen. He spoke eloquently at his trial: "It is an ancient custom to resist tyranny... And our history goes on further to say, that when another of their Majesties the Kings of England tried to infringe upon those rights, the people armed, and told him that if he did not give them the privileges of Englishmen, they would compel him by the point of the sword... Would you not rather govern a country of spirited men, than cowards? I can die but once in this world, and the only regret left is, that I have a large family of small children, and when I think of that, it unmans me."

He accused the Court of racial prejudice – more or less, “Is it ‘cos I is black?” But the fact that Davidson had been in Cato Street, and had earlier taken a blunderbuss out of pawn in preparation for the planned murders, rather counted against him. All eleven conspirators were convicted, and such was the outrage of the Establishment at their crimes that they were sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered, a rather medievally brutal version of the death penalty.

The hanging of the Cato Street conspirators
Highgate Prison, 1st May 1820

In the end some of the guilty had their sentences commuted to transportation, and the rest were merely hung, on 1st May. There are lurid eye-witness accounts of the occasion; Tidd, a large man, was expected to hang easily, but didn’t. Davidson “ascended the scaffold with a firm step, calm deportment, and undismayed countenance. He bowed to the crowd, but his conduct altogether was equally free from the appearance of terror, and the affectation of indifference,” a dignity not showed by all the men: one, James Ings, was rather too tunelessly defiant in his singing of 'Death or Liberty', and the ringleader Arthur Thistlewood said, "Be quiet, Ings; we can die without all this noise."

John Gurney’s successful prosecution of the case made his name. In 1832 he was knighted and appointed a Baron of the Exchequer. The government used the trials to defend the introduction two months earlier of the Six Acts. But the Observer newspaper defied the government order not to report the proceedings of the trial before the sentencing. And in Manchester the whole sequence of events led directly to the establishment in 1821 of a new liberal newspaper, the Manchester Guardian.

Wednesday 9 December 2009


Amongst the family history treasures that I inherited from my Uncle John there was a scrawled note which read as follows:


My dear May,

I never saw that house before, it is not one of our family. Our Sadleir Grandma was the daughter of the Hon’ble Eyre Massy and he was the son of Lord Massy who married a Spanish lady. That is where some of the family get “Spanish eyes” they come out in every generation. Grandmother Sadleir was very dark but she hadn’t “the eyes”. She married again and she had a daughter more Spanish than any of you. I have seen them all. Our Aileen has a look of your mother and Netta said she has the “Spanish eyes”. If I could get upstairs I would look for the pamphlet and lend it to you. I live off the hall and if I come downstairs I have to sit down and bump down each step.

With love dear neice, your aff aunt Louie

I have no idea what house affectionate Aunt Louie was referring to, but I love the image of her bumping down the steps with a pamphlet in her hand. More excitingly I had no idea as I read it who any of the people involved in the note were. But now that she’d mentioned it, I had to agree with Aunt Louie about the Spanish eyes; one, perhaps two of my brothers, definitely.

Antigua, 1752

It was Rebecca who brought them to the family. She took some tracking down, and I think the “Spanish” was a bit of a euphemism. She was my 5x great grandmother, the daughter of Francis Delap, who owned a large sugar plantation on Antigua. He was Irish, from Scottish stock, and her mother was Elizabeth Donaldson, so it’s hard to see where the Spanish eyes come in, unless there were some shenanigans on the plantation.

Presumably Francis returned regularly to Ireland, or perhaps kept his family there rather than exposing them to a strange colonial life on the plantation. At any rate his daughter met and married Hugh, first Lord Massy (of Stagdale, Duntrileague, Suir and no doubt a few other Irish castles) in 1754 – Lord Massy was himself 54, 28 years her senior, and she was his second wife. She had six children with him, one of them the Hon Eyre Massy that Aunt Louie mentions, and perhaps that’s why, despite being 28 years his junior, she died four years before Hugh.

Suir Castle, co Tipperary

She died at Suir Castle. The castle itself will have been a ruin even in Rebecca’s day. There was a modest country house next to it, of a date which suggests it might even have been built for Rebecca. There were several outhouses – stables, dairy, servants’ quarters – and an ornamental lawn in front with a semicircular drive for the carriages to pull up to the house. the house and the picturesque ruin of the old castle stood on a high bank above the River Suir, with a long view west across the Golden Vale to the sunsets over the Galty Mountains.

Lord Massy died not at Suir but at his seat, Stagdale. And I wonder if they were living separate lives, or whether he just couldn’t bear to go back to Suir after Rebecca died.

Suir Castle stables in the rain - sunset not pictured

It’s certainly a desolate place now. Or at least is was when we found it at the end of a long overgrown lane, two miles from the nearest tarmac road, in the pouring rain one October afternoon. The servants’ quarters are still standing, mostly roofless, although someone was doing up the stables when we visited. You can still see the traces of the drive, and the embankment created by levelling the lawn, but the house itself is a pile of rubble, barely one stone on top of another. And the ruined castle is still a ruin.

Monday 7 December 2009


If you were ever a stamp collector, you’ll remember those Starter Packs you used to be able to buy – plastic bags of stamps from all over the world, none terribly valuable, just a random handful to get you off the ground and give you something to put in your new stamp album.

When my uncle John died, his widow passed on to me all his family memorabilia. His brother, my father, had always stressed the male line, but from John I suddenly had a wealth of ancestral material which had been passed to him by his mother. It was like the Best Starter Pack in the World … Ever!

It included the mid-nineteenth century contents of Captain Charles Castle’s writing desk and other historical (even historic) correspondence, Uncle John’s own genealogical notes, books written by or about or belonging to family members going back hundreds of years, and of course pictures and photographs. I had Faces! Places! Handwriting! Lives! Who WERE all these people?

As I write this I remember what I felt then, the energy and excitement of a schoolboy stamp collector, but I ought to confess that I was in my thirties when I received all this stuff. Still, all these new genealogical clues sent me off like an excitable pack of young hounds in all manner of directions looking for answers. Some I’ve found; in some cases, I haven’t even had time to turn over the paper and read the question yet.

Killenure Castle, near Cashel, co. Tipperary, c1850
an ancestral family home!

One of the most exciting early puzzles was a picture of a castle, at which of course my eyes lit up. I mean, what young boy DOESN’T hope to find a castle somewhere in his family’s past?! The castle led in fact to several more as I uncovered a great swathe of ancestors amongst Ireland’s Protestant Ascendancy. But the real clue was the scrawled note on the BACK of the picture, written in two different hands.

Eleanor Wilhelmina Cooper born 5th of June 1820 married 22nd August 1848 Richard William Ralph Sadleir of Sadleir’s Wells now called King’s Wells Tipperary – she was 8th daughter and 12th child of William Cooper Killenure Castle Cashel Ireland (in the photo are her brother Samuel Cooper & Louisa is wife & Mysie their daughter the others are visitors) she died 29th October 1906 – the photograph is of her old home

and then
This was written for me by my mother E.W. Castle (nee Sadleir)
May Salter 21st Oct 37

Four generations, and four family names, laid out for me: William Cooper; his son Samuel (and family) and daughter Eleanor who married Richard Sadleir; their daughter Eleanor Sadleir who married a Castle; and her daughter May who married a Salter. It was a fantastic kick-start to get my family trees growing, and I was hooked. The rest, as they often say, is history.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...