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Saturday 28 July 2012


I wrote here a couple of years ago about an ancestral puzzle created by my 3x great grandfather William Brodie Gurney’s attempts to write someone out of the family history. The Gurney family so disliked the second wife of their beloved grandfather Thomas Gurney of Blackfriars(1705-1770) that they referred to her only by her initial. They did the same with her son in law and with the town in which her grandchildren lived, making it impossible, or at least very difficult to identify and trace them.

All that W.B. Gurney allowed us to know was that Thomas Gurney had married a Miss R., sometime after the death of his first wife on 29th May 1756 and (obviously) before his death in 1770. Thomas and Miss R. had one child, Rebecca, who married a Mr F of Hertfordshire; and Rebecca and Mr F. had two children: Thomas who had 5 children, and Martha, the latter still living, in W., when WBG’s history was published in c1850.

Thomas Gurney (1705-1770)
Rebeccah Wick’s husband

R., F. and W. – not much to go on. Someone suggested that the R. might be a first name not a surname. Given their daughter’s name, could it stand for Rebecca? Sure enough, Thomas Gurney widower married Rebeccah Wicks in Southwark on 8th October 1756. The location is right too, because Southwark is where the Gurneys worshipped – another Thomas Gurney marriage, to Rebecca Austen, took place in 1766 in Kent, a county with which Thomas had no previous association.

I can find no other definite trace of Rebeccah, either as Wicks or Gurney. But in the search for her daughter I found Rebecca Gurney marrying John Flindall widower in London on 18th October 1798. The date fits for a woman born around 1757, especially if she had remained a spinster for a while as many daughters did, to care for her widowed mother. And her husband is a Mr F.

So, armed with a potential surname at last, I started looking for Rebecca (Gurney) Flindall’s children Thomas and Martha. There were too many Martha Flindalls to tell; but there was also a Thomas Flindall born in Hertfordshire in around 1800, soon after Rebecca and John Flidall got married.

I cross-checked, and found him elsewhere on, where a contributor had added his middle name – which as far as I’m concerned pretty much confirmed that I had followed the trail of initials correctly. The grandson of Rebeccah Wicks and Thomas Gurney, son of their daughter Rebecca and her husband John Flindall, was Thomas Gurney Flindall, named by Rebecca after her father. 

Rebecca must have been aware of the hostility to her mother and perhaps to her from the rest of the Gurney family, and she was defiantly confirming the connection which they would like to have erased from history.

William Brodie Gurney (1777-1855)
whose family history dismissed his grandfather’s second marriage

Miss R. may have “dissipated Thomas’s property to gratify her habits of intemperance,” as W.B. Gurney alleged, or she may not. And I can understand the family’s hostility to a marriage which took place only five months after the death of their beloved matriarch. But blood is thicker than water, or gin. I’m pleased to have uncovered her identity, and for that matter Mr F.’s.

Oh, and what about the W.? Thomas Gurney Flindall was, at the time of the 1841 census, a blacksmith in the Hertfordshire town of … Welwyn.

Saturday 21 July 2012


This is my 150th weekly posting here, and I thought I'd celebrate with a nod to another writer in the (extended) family.

 John James Smith was a great-nephew of my 4x great uncle David Salter – David’s wife Sarah and JJ’s grandmother Elizabeth Lepard were sisters. Or to put it another, simpler way, JJ, who married Caroline Gurney, sister of my great great grandmother Emma, was my 3x great uncle. 

The Salter and Smith families were further bound by religious and business partnerships between JJ’s grandfather (also John James Smith) and my 3x great grandfather Samuel Salter. That pair were deacons together from 1800 to 1821 of their local Baptist church, Beechen Grove Chapel in Watford; and there is also evidence (from insurance records) of joint dealings between 1811 and 1818 in connection with White End Farm in Watford.

Hamper Mill, Watford, Hertfordshire

JJS junior carried on the family trade of paper manufacture at Hamper Mills started by his grandfather, and also in partnership with his younger brother Charles King Smith the stationery business from their premises at 29 King Street, Covent Garden. (To save you looking, the shop is now occupied by Simon Carter, novelty cufflink designer.)

JJ’s brother Charles changed his name in time to Charles King-Smith. Charles' son, also Charles King-Smith, also stayed in the business and, when the opportunity arose in around 1900, bought a 150-year old paper mill in Bitton in Gloucestershire called Golden Valley Mill. Charles junior moved there with his family, including their six-year old son Ronald, and they ran the mill for 60 years, even providing the village with its first electricity supply until 1932.

Golden Valley Mill, Bitton, Gloucestershire (c1935)

Ronald’s first son Ronald Gordon King-Smith was born there in 1922, and grew up working on the family farm which supplied the Golden Valley works canteen with milk and eggs. Although Ronald junior subsequently tried his hand at other careers including soldiering and primary school teaching, it was his formative years on the farm which shaped his final calling, as a children’s author of farmyard stories. Writing under the name Dick King-Smith, Ronald junior (my fourth cousin, I think!) achieved international fame with his 1984 story The Sheep-Pig, which was a global hit in cinemas when filmed as Babe.

One way or another, it’s been pigs, pigs, pigs, for the Smiths and Salters. I don’t know what their joint enterprise at White End Farm was; but back in 1825, following the death of John James Smith senior, my 3x great grandfather Samuel Salter moved to London. There he began a new enterprise in Panyer Alley off Newgate Street, as a bacon merchant.

A sheep-pig

Saturday 14 July 2012


Read Part 1 here! My great grandfather’s cousin Robert Jenkins served in the 2nd Bengal Light Cavalry. He cut his campaign teeth as a cadet on the siege of Multan in 1849 and by 1857 was stationed at Cawnpore, having risen to the rank of captain. Major-General Hugh Wheeler (a cousin of my 3x great grandmother Matilda Frances Massy), officer in command at Cawnpore, was married to a high caste local woman; he had learned the local customs and language too, and felt relatively safe from the violent acts of rebellion which were breaking out amongst Sepoy troops elsewhere in India that year. But tensions rose, and on the evening of 2nd June 1857 it only took one drunken British officer, Lieutenant Cox, firing off a shot at one of his own Sepoy men, to spark the revolt.

Jenkins’ own unit, the 2nd Bengal Cavalry, was the first to rise up. Joined by other Indian troops their action escalated into a siege of the British community in barracks on the south of Cawnpore. It was a poor position, with only one unprotected well, but Wheeler was relying on early relief from other British units. After three insanitary weeks at the height of summer, the British strength trapped at Cawnpore had been reduced by a third and supplies were almost exhausted. On 25th June Nana Sahib, commander of the besieging forces, offered Wheeler and the entire surviving British community safe passage to Allahabad downriver from Cawnpore. Wheeler had no choice but to accept.

Jenkins, who had survived the siege while a hundred of his comrades had fallen, led one of the last sorties before Wheeler’s surrender, possibly to retrieve water from the well. A fallen Sepoy who seemed dead mustered enough strength to fire off a shot at him, which struck him full in the jaw. He died of his wound two days later, as the British were preparing to be escorted to the river for their journey to Allahabad.

The hospital in General Wheeler’s entrenchment, in which Robert Jenkins and many others died during the Siege of Cawnpore, photographed in 1858, the year after his death (photograph by Dr John Murray)

He was buried rather hurriedly by the departing survivors, along with all the other British dead of the siege, in the only available grave for such a large number: the well. Later a cross was raised over the well, with the inscription
“In a well under this cross were laid by ye hands of their fellows in suffering, ye bodies of men, women, and children, who died hard by during ye heroic defence of Wheeler's Entrenchment when beleaguered by ye rebel Nana, June 6th to 27th, A.D. MDCCCLVII.”
There are individual memorials to some of the soldiers, and Jenkins’ reads
“In memory of Captain Robert Urquhart Jenkins of the 2nd Light Cavalry, who died from wounds received shortly before the surrender of the Garrison of Cawnpore and was buried in this well with many others.”

I don’t know exactly what happened to Robert Urquhart Jenkins’ wife. She may have died before him during the siege, and if so it was a kinder death than it might have been. As General Wheeler led the convoy of exhausted British to the river bank, a bugle call from one of their captors signalled a treacherous attack by sword and gun from the Sepoy rebels. Injured stragglers and Sepoys who had remained loyal to Wheeler were cut down, and any boats that managed to get away were pulled back to shore and set on fire. Any who tried to escape in the water were slaughtered by Indian cavalrymen. All the surviving men were rounded up and shot. Wheeler died here. His son, serving alongside him, had died during the siege.

Of the 900-strong British community of Cawnpore, only four men managed to escape downriver. 206 women and children and five men were held as hostages in a nearby house, the Bibigarh. After two weeks it became clear that the British would retake Cawnpore, and – perhaps in a clumsy bid to hide the evidence of their involvement in the siege – the captors sent in hired men with hatchets and meat cleavers to kill all their prisoners. The scene is unimaginable. To conceal their crime, the rebels threw the living, the dying and the remains of the dead down the Bibigarh’s well. There wasn’t room in the fifty-foot shaft for all of them, and the rest were tossed into the Ganges. Wheeler's wife and two daughters were among them.

Memorial raised in 1860 over the Bibigarh Well

As Britain regained the upper hand in India, its revenge was swift and merciless. The British public was particularly horrified by the Cawnpore Massacre, and “Remember Cawnpore!” became a battle cry. The East India Company was dissolved in 1858, and the British Crown took back direct control of the region which it had granted to the Company in 1600.

Saturday 7 July 2012


Allen’s Indian Mail of 6th January 1846 announced the names of cadets recently joining the Bengal Army of the East India Company. Robert Urquhart Jenkins, a cousin of my great grandfather William Henry Castle (and a great grandson of my 4x great grandparents Rev George Castle and Mary Edye), had signed up with the Bengal Cavalry on  8th December 1845.

His father was Robert Castle Jenkins, a Calcutta merchant, and his mother was Annie Palmer, daughter of John Palmer, whom The Times described as “one of the most famous merchant princes of Calcutta.” The language is an indication of the unassailable right to rule India which the East India Company had by the 1840s firmly assumed. R.C. Jenkins’ first three sons were all born in Calcutta (modern-day Kolkata). The eldest, Richard Palmer Jenkins, served in the Bengal Civil Service, and R.U. Jenkins’ younger brother Charles Vernon Jenkins rose to the rank of Major-General.

The fort at Multan
(photographed in the 1860s by William Henry Baker)

Robert Urquhart Jenkins joined in time to help fight the Second Anglo-Sikh War (1848-49) which saw the East India Company invade and capture the Punjab when Indian rulers in the Sikh city of Multan resisted the imposition of higher taxes and a puppet governor. RUJ was involved in the siege of Multan whose fall led to the establishment of the North-West Frontier Province.

The British soon ran railways into Multan, and if RUJ was involved in their building it would explain his presence as Captain in command of the Railway Engineers Post in the important garrison town of Cawnpore eight years later in 1857. Cawnpore (modern-day Kanpur) in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, midway between Calcutta and Multan, controlled a number of important supply routes. It was home to a British contingent of 900 men, women and children – soldiers, engineers, merchants and their families. Captain Jenkins’ wife was with him, which suggests that his was a long-term posting in the town.

Nothing is known of Robert’s wife. She may well have been a local woman. The wife of Robert’s commanding officer General Hugh Massy Wheeler was one; Wheeler had learned the local customs and language too, and felt relatively safe from the violent acts of rebellion which were breaking out amongst Sepoy troops elsewhere in India that year. (Incidentally, Wheeler’s grandparents were my 5x great grandparents Hugh First Lord Massy and Rebecca Delap. Small world.)

Sepoy troops (here in uniforms of 1812) made up more than three quarters of the East India Company’s Bengal Army – sepoy literally means soldier

The causes of the Sepoy or Indian Mutiny, as it was known in Britain at the time, are of course complex. But it is hardly surprising that the erosion of native princely power, and the ruthless exploitation of the Indian people for the East India Company’s commercial benefit, had been building massive resentment in the local population for decades and centuries. One example of British insensitivity to local custom was the often cited rumour that army gun cartridges were greased with either cow or pig fat, which soldiers had to bite through to prime their weapons. This caused offence to Muslims and Hindus who held, respectively, pigs and cows sacred.

Unrest was in the air, and it prompted Wheeler to prime his cannons as a precaution. This in turn alarmed the large Sepoy contingent of the Bengal Army stationed at Cawnpore. Despite the relatively cordial relations between the British and the Sepoys in the town, suspicion fed suspicion. On the evening of 2nd June 1857 it only took one drunken British officer, Lieutenant Cox, firing off a shot at one of his own Sepoys, to spark the revolt.

Read just how wrong Wheeler was in the events leading up to the Cawnpore Massacre, and what happened to Jenkins and his wife, in Part 2, via this link.
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