Marian Pierre-Louis has kindly publicised my search for the elusive Captain John Winn in her excellent Roots and Rambles blog, so I thought I’d start my blogging journey with him.
John Winn is my husband’s earliest known Winn ancestor and a huge stumbling block to tracing the family tree any further back in time. He first appears in the records with his marriage to Heneretta Tomlin on 5 October 1829 at St Mary-le-Bow, London, when he was stated to be “of this parish”. The witnesses to the marriage were Heneretta’s father, William Tomlin, and a so far unidentified man named John Nickless.
John and Heneretta had only one child, William, baptised on 29 August 1830 at St Dunstan's, Stepney. The baptismal register shows that the family were living in Mile End Old Town and that John was a master mariner i.e. the captain of a merchant ship.
I could not find John Winn in the 1841 census, which did not surprise me, given his occupation. Heneretta was living with her sister and brother-in-law, James and Mary Ann Horn, in Green Street, Bethnal Green, a short distance from her father’s business premises at Twig Folly, Bethnal Green. William Winn cannot be identified with any certainty, the most likely candidate being an 11 year old pupil at a boarding school in the township of Roby in Lancashire.
Heneretta’s father, William Tomlin, was a prosperous man, the owner of lighters and barges which transported coal from the docks at Limehouse along the Regent's Canal. His grandson, William Winn, would later take over the family business and eventually serve two terms as Master of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen. No formal apprenticeship records for William Winn can be found but it is likely that he served some sort of apprenticeship in the London docks, for which a baptismal certificate would be required.
It was probably in this way that Heneretta discovered that her unusual name had been wrongly recorded as Hannah in William’s baptismal entry. For on 25 February 1847 she swore a formal oath before the magistrates in the Thames Police Court, in order to get the entry corrected. In her affidavit she described herself as the “wife of John Winn of 6 Waterloo Terrace Commercial Road in the Parish of St Dunstan Stepney”.
Heneretta clearly still regarded herself as the wife of John Winn but that was not how her father saw things one year later. On 10 February 1848, William Tomlin wrote his will, in which he described his daughter as:
Heneretta Winn the wife or widow of John Winn who some years since went to North America and whose existence is uncertain.
By the time of the 1851 census, William Winn described his mother as a widow:
and when she made her own will on 9 July 1856, she did the same:
but eight days later, when William Winn married, he made no mention of his father being dead:
When Heneretta died in Southampton on 15 August 1857, her death certificate described her as the “widow of John Winn master mariner”. That is the last mention of John Winn in any records I can find.
In Part 2 of this post I will describe the efforts I have made to find additional information about this wayward matelot, who appears to have no beginning and no end!