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Saturday 31 July 2010


It remains a family mystery why Adolphe Cooper, son of a prosperous Irish gentleman farmer should take a job laying submarine telegraph cables in the Eastern Mediterranean. Mind you, his father didn’t do much actual farming either, having spent much of his youth yachting around Europe. Adolphe was born in Brussels, the youngest of three brothers, all of whom opted for more modern sources of income. Austin, the eldest, was a railway manager in County Roscommon (the landlocked one north of Co. Galway); Sam became a chemical manufacturer in Peckham, South London. And for Adolphe, telegraph engineering was just the start. 

John Thomas Adolphus Cooper (1836-1897)

Finding himself the regional manager for the Levant Telegraph Company in Smyrna at the age of 23, Adolphe made the most of being an Englishman abroad. Five years later he married his Italian wife in Monastir, Tunisia, and his children were born in Salonika (present-day Thessaloniki in Greece) and Scutari (Shkoder in Albania). All these places were at that time still part of the Ottoman Empire.

Britain was held in high regard by Ottomans, having fought with the Empire against Russia in the Crimean War of 1853. Adolphe’s career advanced easily in the service of a regime eager to modernise its infrastructure; he was Superintendent of the Ottoman Government Telegraph Station in Salonika, and in Skutari he acted as the local Imperial Commissioner of the Ottoman Railway.

He survived massive political upheaval in the Empire in 1876, which saw one military coup, two regime changes and an attempt at constitutional reform. In fact the emerging new leader, Sultan Abdul Hamid II, greatly favoured Adolphe Cooper, who became his Chief Telegraph Engineer and Surveyor. The Sultan promoted him to “Imperial Commander of Roumelian Railways” (roughly speaking, Roumelia stretched from Albania to Bulgaria) and also made him responsible at some point for “the irrigation of the whole of Asia Minor south of Konya” (Konya is a city in southern central present-day Turkey).

I must say this seems quite a stretch of territory and professional responsibility for one man, however British he may have been. But Adolphe’s contribution to the modernisation of the Ottoman Empire cannot be disputed, based on the number of awards showered on him by the Sultan and others. These included:

in 1876, the Order of the Medjidie (4th Class) from the Sultan

in 1879, a Diploma of Honour from the Red Cross (for services to sick and injured Ottoman soldiers), not illustrated here!

in 1884, a Knighthood of the Order of Pius IX from Pope Leo XIII

in 1897, the Order of the Osmanieh from the Sultan

and in 1897, the People’s Order for Civil Service (Commander’s Cross 3rd Class) from King Ferdinand of Bulgaria (for being Inspector of the Eastern Railways in Odrin – Edirne in present day Turkey), 2nd Class version shown here

Adolphe's grandfather and my 4x great grandfather were brothers, so I'd be the first to admit this is a fairly tenuous ancestral connection. But who'd pass up the chance to enjoy all those gongs?

The picture of JTA Cooper and some of the information in this article comes from Butterhill and Beyond, a history of the Coopers by R Austin-Cooper.

Saturday 24 July 2010


I wrote a while back about David Castle who died at Tobruk during the Second World War. He grew up with his cousin Dick, who also served and also died. Dick was the youngest of three boys, the apple of his mother’s eye; in looking through his family photo albums you can see the sudden change in his mother’s face from pre-war happiness to sorrow. She died of a heart attack only six years after Dick.

Dick had been planning to go to Agricultural College. His older brothers had followed the family path to university studies, and rather looked down on their baby brother's less academic aspirations. But I think Dick was lucky – his brothers having fulfilled family expectations, he was free to do something different, something he really wanted to do. (Maybe I’m just projecting!)

Aircraftman 1st Class RF Salter (1921-1944)
on leave at the family home, Nettlebed, Oxfordshire, 1941

Anyway, the war came along and instead Dick signed up with the RAF. He served as Aircraftman 1st Class with 62 Squadron and was posted to Singapore, where he was taken prisoner by the Japanese when the island fell in February 1942. For the next two years he was (I believe) put to work in a series of Japanese POW labour camps, in the sort of conditions portrayed in the film “Bridge Over The River Kwai” about the building of the Burma railway.

SS Junyō Maru

In September 1944 he was on board the unmarked SS Junyo Maru, a ship carrying English, Dutch, Australian and American prisoners along with enslaved Javanese workers. The Japanese were transporting them to begin work on the Pakanbaru-Muara Railway in Sumatra. Prisoners and slaves were packed onto the ship like sardines; extra between-decks of bamboo were installed to maximise the ship’s capacity, and in some areas there was standing room only. Conditions were as bad as on the notorious sailing ships which transported African slaves 150 years earlier, and these Japanese ships were known as hell-ships.

HMS Tradewind

At 5.30pm on the evening of 18th September 1944, the Junyo Maru was sunk by two torpedoes from the British submarine HMS Tradewind. Those on deck stood some chance of survival; those below decks virtually none. Dick, as a survivor reported, was sick and weak, and going blind from malnutrition, and was almost certainly below.

4th June 2000 above the wreck of the SS Junyō Maru

Of the 6500 captives crammed into that ship, 5620 (including Dick Salter) died in the sinking. It was one of the three worst maritime losses of life in the Second World War. Many of the recaptured 880 survivors perished later while working on the Sumatra Railway. Most of those who died were Javanese; of the western victims the majority were Dutch, and on 4th June 2000 a flotilla of Dutch, Belgian and Indonesian ships laid wreathes above the wreck.

War memorial in Nettlebed, Oxfordshire
(photographed in 2008)
Dick is also remembered
 in the Far East Prisoners of War Pavilion
in the National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire

Saturday 17 July 2010


The one thing that everyone knows about my great great aunt Margaret (if they’ve heard of her at all) is that she received the psychic cross-correspondences. It’s an extraordinary story, and was the subject of my earlier post on her.

But I know that her grandchildren and great grandchildren regret that such a one-sided picture is always painted of her (and of her daughter and son-in-law who were best known for similar reasons). It's too easy in researching one's family tree to pounce on the "good stories" and forget that these are real people, and that they are other people's ancestors as well. I am guilty as charged, and would like to make some small amends with the following obituary of her which gives a much more rounded impression of her than I had before I found it this morning online.

In Memoriam.

Our “common cause,” writes a correspondent, has lost a wise and steadfast supporter in Mrs Verrall, whose death, after some months of suffering, took place at her Cambridge home on July 2nd. Both she and her brilliant husband, Professor Verrall, who died in 1912, had done much to help women to realise their powers, and to give of their best, unhampered by artificial restrictions. Mrs Verrall (formerly Miss Margaret De Gaudrion Merrifield) was one of the early students of Newnham College, where she worked with success for the Classical Tripos and where she afterwards held the post of classical lecturer and tutor. She was a remarkably able teacher, for her own brain was clear as well as powerful, and she knew how to make a subject clear to those she addressed. She was also a good speaker, but she preferred the life of the study to that of the platform and committee room, although her political interests (which were, in general, on the side of the Liberal party) were deep and keen. Her work as a scholar included the translation of the text of Pausanias for “The Mythology and Monuments of Ancient Athens,” brought out by herself and Miss Jane Harrison, and she arranged for publication of her late husband’s lectures on Dryden. As a member of the Society for Psychical Research, she gave much of her time and thought to the investigation of mental and physical phenomena in some of their many mysterious and as yet uncomprehended forms.

At the simple funeral service, conducted at St. Giles’s Church, Cambridge, on the 5th inst., by the Rev M.A. Bayfield, rector of Hertingfordbury, the members of Newnham College, including Mrs. Henry Sidgwick, the former Principal, Mrs. B.A. Clough and Miss Jane Harrison walked in procession behind the coffin, which was preceded by the nearest relatives, Mrs. W.H. Salter (Mrs. Verrall’s only daughter) with Mr. Salter, and Miss F. de G. Merrifield (sister) being the chief mourners. The kindness shown by Mrs. Verrall as Hon. Secretary of the Belgian University Committee in Cambridge was recognised by the attendance of some of the leading Belgian professors and their wives, and beside a wreath from Newnham College was one inscribed “Le corps professorial Belge reconnaissant.”

The obituary appeared on p.181 of the newspaper “The Common Cause of Humanity,” the organ of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, on 14th  July 1916.

Saturday 10 July 2010


This is about as far back as I go – John Sadleir was my 11x great grandfather, and understandably details of his life are a bit sketchy. I know his year of birth (approximately) and the names of his older brother and his father (Ralph and Henry of Hackney respectively). That’s about it really. Oh, and he commanded a company of men at the Siege of Boulogne in 1544. Even here it’s a little vague – there were two sieges of the French town that year.

France was supporting Scotland in a war with England, so England joined forces with Spain to attack France. It was literally an unholy alliance – Henry VIII of England had just broken away from the Church of Rome, dissolving all the English monasteries and inventing the Church of England with himself at its head. Spain and France, both devoutly Catholic countries, were natural allies; and Spain’s king was also the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

Henry VIII, Francis I and Charles V,
players in the campaign season of 1544

But war is a pragmatic business, and Spain could see huge political and economic advantages in attacking and weakening France. In any case France’s king, Francis I, had made an earlier and even more unholy pact with the Ottoman Turks (who were Muslims) to attack Spain; and one can well imagine, ringing up and down the diplomatic corridors of the time, the pained cries of “well he started it!”

Henry VIII’s commitment to the joint Anglo-Spanish advance on Paris was less than whole-hearted. Of a promised 40,000 men he sent about 16,000. The English army landed at Calais in early 1544, reached Boulogne on 19th July, and never really got much further.

At Boulogne, bombardment quickly won England the lower town, and the upper town fell by September to fiercer fighting. The town castle itself held out bravely until it was mined by English engineers; on 18th September the surviving 1600 Frenchmen of the original defensive force of 4000 surrendered. Henry VIII entered the town in triumph preceded by  the Lord Marquis Dorset carrying a naked sword, while trumpeters lined the town walls like a scene from Hollywood.

The First Siege of Boulogne
(detail from an engraving by Samuel Hieronymous Grimm)

This is probably the siege that John Sadleir was involved in. Henry returned to England and left orders for the town’s defence by the Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk – who promptly disobeyed the king. They left a garrison of 4000 men in Boulogne and headed back towards England with the rest of the English Army.

Meanwhile, France and Spain had overcome their differences and made a Peace Treaty together. Now both the English garrison at Boulogne and the English army at Calais were trapped and heavily outnumbered by the combined Catholic forces. The French set about retaking Boulogne and after a successful surprise attack on 9th October they very nearly did. Unfortunately the undisciplined French troops began prematurely looting and celebrating, thereby blowing their chances of victory. Instead, they settled in for the rather longer Second Siege of Boulogne.

For the next six years, England held on precariously in both Calais and Boulogne. Neither Henry nor Francis could muster the military forces required to resolve the situation decisively, and in the end an Anglo-French treaty in 1550 allowed France to buy Boulogne back.

Henry, who died in 1547, spent his declining years waiting for a French counter-attack and invasion which never happened. Instead, the Scots took advantage of his distraction by Europe to intensify their irritating border raids on northern England. And six years after his death his daughter Mary I (Bloody Mary) returned England to the Catholic Church which he had so defiantly left twenty years earlier.

Bloody Mary Tudor
burnt 280 Protestants at the stake
including five bishops

John Sadleir was a bit of an under-achiever compared to his brother Ralph, a major statesman and key political figure under four monarchs from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I. Ralph should have a whole blog to himself, but no doubt I’ll return to him here from time to time in the future!

Saturday 3 July 2010

JOSEPH BAYLEY (active mid 18th century to 1793) AND THE PRESS GANG

My oldest Bayley ancestor is Joseph, my 4x great grandfather, a yeoman farmer from Hooley Hill near Audenshaw in Lancashire. “In physique he had few equals and no superiors,” according to a 1907 local history, “Bygone Stalybridge” by Samuel Hill. He passed his physical strength on to his sons, grandsons and great grandsons, all of whom are described in a similar fashion. (See my earlier blog about young Adam Bayley.)

Joseph married Sarah Stopford Harrison, the widow of his neighbour William Harrison from High Ash, and they had four strapping sons, Joseph, James, John and William, who moved the family history on from rural agriculture to industrial milling in nearby Stalybridge. Leaving the land, they founded a mill-owning family dynasty which neatly parallels English social history in the Industrial Revolution. But why did they quit farming?

Quarry Bank Mill at Styal near Manchester
opened in 1784

One day in 1793, old man Joseph took a trip into Manchester, the centre of the new Lancashire cotton industry. Its population had trebled since 1770 and stood now at around 75,000; I don’t know what sort of produce Joseph had to sell, but Manchester would certainly have been a big market for it.

But he was not the only one for whom a large mass of people held an attraction. Far away in France, the popular euphoria of the French revolution of 1789 had given way to Robespierre’s Reign of Terror, and in February 1793 a bullish France declared war on Britain. Britain suddenly needed a stronger army and navy, and couldn’t simply wait for eager volunteers to form an orderly queue. The quickest way to “recruit” was to send the press gangs into centres of population to “persuade” useful men to join up with a combination of strong drink and hard cudgels.

"Manning the Navy" (1780)

No one knows for certain, but it is generally believed in the family that this is what happened to Joseph Bayley. It is easy to imagine him in the tavern after a successful day at the market, then setting off for Hooley Hill and home while a little the worse for wear. If a press gang set upon him even in this condition, it would have taken many men to subdue this great bear of a man. But subdue him they did – Joseph Bayley was never seen in Hooley Hill again.

Britain remained at war with France for the next 22 years. With their father gone, perhaps the next generation of Bayleys could contemplate the brave new industrial world with younger, more open eyes. By the turn of the century Joseph’s sons were already in partnership with other millers in Stalybridge, and in 1804 they built their own premises, Bridge Street Mill, in the town. The past was in farming; the future was in cotton.
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