Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Maidstone Gaol


Maidstone Gaol

A picture of the Gaol, Maidstone, Kent in 1829. My 3x great-grandfather, John Baldwin, a journeyman tailor, was imprisoned for debt there in 1841.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Postcard from the Past

From time to time I buy old postcards of ancestral places on eBay. They are usually very cheap and provide windows into a vanished world.


Coupar Angus 1917


My latest purchase is a postcard of Coupar Angus, Perthshire, dating from 1917. My family has had a long association with the town, from the 17th century to the 1950s. Some of the names I am researching there are Clark, Fife, Gibb, Haliburton, Hay, Hood, Lowe, Malcolm and Smyth.

When my postcard arrived I turned it over, expecting to see the usual few lines, scrawled by a holidaymaker. Imagine my surprise at finding the following information instead:




I'm a genealogist so, naturally, I started to research R Bingham Adams. So far I've been able to piece together the following facts:

Richard Bingham Adams was born in Portsmouth in 1873 and married Violet Plater there in 1897. They had two children - Violet Plater Adams, born in 1898, and Dorothy Plater Adams, born in 1901. Richard appears in the 1891 census as a solicitor's clerk in Portsmouth. In the 1901 and 1911 censuses he was working for an insurance company, first in Horsham, then back in Portsmouth. During the First World War he served in five different units, including the Labour Corps. After the war he continued to serve in the Territorial Army, which awarded him the Territorial Efficiency Medal in 1928. His Medal Card gives the details of his previous service:


Medal card


Richard died in Portsmouth in 1956, aged 82. His elder daughter, Violet, married Alfred Tree in Portsmouth in 1922. They had a son, Kenneth, who was born and died in 1924, and a daughter, Olive Violet, born in 1925. According to a well-sourced family tree on Ancestry, she is still alive.

I also did some research on Richard Bingham Adams' ancestry. His father, James Lewis Adams, was a pilot who worked for the Colonial Service in Port Louis, Mauritius, and all of Richard's siblings were born there. James himself was born in the then new town of Anglesey in the parish of Alverstoke, now part of Gosport, in 1833. His father was the wonderfully named Balthazar Bowman Adams, who was a ship's carpenter in the Royal Navy.

Balthazar's father, also Balthazar, was the son of Henry Adams, the Master Shipbuilder at Bucklers Hard, who built many famous ships of the Royal Navy. These included Nelson's favourite, HMS Agamemnon, and two other ships which saw action at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Balthazar Adams senior and his brother, Edward, inherited the thriving business when their father died that same year, but they over-extended themselves and by 1811 they were bankrupt.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Waitangi Day - Thomas Bluett, Wellington, 1841

February 6th is Waitangi Day, New Zealand's national day, which commemorates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi on 6 February 1840. To mark the day, the Auckland Research Centre have issued an invitation to blog about New Zealand ancestors.


New Zealand flag


My 3x great grandfather, Thomas Bluett, was born around 1819. On 4 December 1836 he married Mary Langley at St Mary, Lambeth, Surrey. Mary had been born in Ireland around 1813, the daughter of Thomas Langley. Thomas and Mary had two known children. Their first child was a son, Thomas, whose birth has not yet been traced. Their second was a daughter, Mary Ann, who was born at 34 Little Pulteney Street, Westminster, on 3 March 1839. It is through her that I am descended. Mary Ann's birth certificate states that Thomas was a printer and we know from other sources that, at this time, he was employed as a lithographic printer by Day and Haghe of London, the country's leading lithographic printing firm.


Lithographic press 1855


On 17 September 1840, Thomas Bluett's name was entered in the New Zealand Company's register of emigrant labourers applying for free passage to New Zealand. He gave his age as 21 and his occupation as smith and bellhanger. Thomas was said to be married, with a wife aged 25, boy aged three and a girl aged eleven months, and the family were living at 50 St Clement's Lane, Strand, London.

On 27 September 1840, there was another Bluett application. Adam Bluett was registered as a smith, living at 18 Union Place, Sloane Square, Chelsea. He was aged 30, with a wife aged 29, boy aged 12 and girl aged 10. On 20 October 1840, there were two further applications. Another Adam Bluett, differentiated from the first by the designation senior, was a locksmith and bell hanger, resident at 50 St Clement's Lane, Strand. He was married, aged 40, with a wife aged 38. Immediately after him in the register came an application from Peter Langley, an unmarried labourer, aged 21 and also resident at 50 St Clement's Lane.


St Clements Lane cropped


After seven years' research, the relationship between these various groups of people is still unclear but, from the coincidence of names, occupations and addresses, it can hardly be doubted that there is one. Some of the information given in the applications is false - Thomas' occupation and Mary Ann's age were probably altered in order to qualify for free passage - but much has been proved accurate from other sources.

Thomas Bluett and his family were originally booked to sail on the Lady Nugent, which left England on 21 October 1840, but they delayed their departure, presumably in order to travel on the same ship as the others. At some point Adam Bluett junior and his family decided not to travel. He and his wife, Catherine (nee Sweeney), plus Adam's two children from a previous marriage, William and Betsy, can be found in the 1841 census living in Henrietta Street, Marylebone. So it was a party of seven which finally set sail on the barque Olympus from Gravesend on 9 December 1840, as steerage passengers bound for New Zealand. The passenger list notes that Thomas Bluett acted as cook for the voyage.

The Olympus arrived at Port Nicholson (the harbour of Wellington) on 20 April 1841. Thomas Bluett lost no time in getting to work but not as a smith and bellhanger. For he had brought with him in the hold of the Olympus the first lithographic printing press to reach New Zealand. Moreover, one of the cabin passengers on the Olympus was a lithographic artist, Jacob William Jones. It seems highly improbable that this was a coincidence. On 1 May 1841, the New Zealand Gazette announced:


1 May 1841 cropped


On 29 May, Jones and Bluett produced a chart of Port Nicholson, the first printed map in New Zealand:


Port Nicholson chart


By 12 June they had added a plan of Wadestown and a view of Lambton Harbour & Mount Victoria from Tinakore:


Lambton Harbour


By 17 July the Gazette was selling their plans of the town:


Wellington plan


But then it all began to go wrong. 16 September 1841 saw the publication in Wellington of the first, and only surviving, edition of an extraordinary newspaper, the Victoria Times. It was a lithographic print of a handwritten original and the publisher was Thomas Bluett, whose address was given as the Lithographic Printing Office, Wellington Terrace.


Litho office cropped


As was the custom, the first page consisted of advertisements, including one promoting Thomas Bluett's lithographic services on "very moderate" terms and another seeking "a steady and respectable lad as an apprentice to the lithographic business". The second and third pages were devoted to an editorial in the form of an extended diatribe against the Gazette. The fourth page reprinted the Jones and Bluett plan of Wellington:


Wellington map


From the plan, it can be seen that the Lithographic Printing Office was situated on land owned by Jacob William Jones. But, having alienated the Gazette, which had previously sold - and praised - his lithographic prints, Thomas now went on to alienate his collaborator and patron. The last mention of Thomas in New Zealand is an advertisement which appeared in the Gazette on 10 and 13 November 1841:




By the end of the year, Thomas Bluett and his family had left New Zealand for Australia. Their many adventures thereafter, culminating in Thomas' headline-making death back in London in 1846, must be the subject of future blog posts.

As for their travelling companions on the Olympus, I can find no reference at all to them in New Zealand following their arrival. Peter Langley simply vanishes without trace but Adam Bluett senior and his wife, another Catherine, reappear in England. On 16 August 1849 they were convicted at the Wiltshire County Assizes of uttering counterfeit coin and each sentenced to one year's imprisonment. Adam died in the Workhouse in the parish of St Giles, London, and was buried in Victoria Park Cemetery, Hackney, on 27 December 1858, aged 59.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Surname Saturday - Panther

One of my ancestors was a Panther! Elizabeth Panther was born in Finedon, Northamptonshire, around 1802 and married William Eaton in Dean, Bedfordshire, on 30 March 1821.




William was a carpenter, aged 44. He had been married twice before and had nine children, eight of whom were still living, aged four to sixteen. His second wife had only been dead six months when he married the nineteen year old Elizabeth. No doubt he needed to provide a stepmother for his brood but Elizabeth clearly had her own attractions. William went on to have a further eight children with her, the youngest born when he was aged 65. William died in 1857, aged 80, and Elizabeth only survived him by a decade. She died at Dean on 14 August 1868, aged 66. Raising sixteen children clearly wore her out a lot faster than fathering seventeen of them did him!




Sadly, the surname Panther has nothing to do with big cats. It is a variant of Panter, which is an occupational surname. The panter was an officer in a medieval household, who supplied the bread and had charge of the pantry. The panter in a monastery also distributed loaves to the poor. The word is derived from the Old French panieter, via Anglo-French paneter.


Panter at work in Conwy Castle kitchen


The earliest occurrence of the surname cited by Reaney & Wilson in their Dictionary of English Surnames is Reginald le Paneter in Kent in 1200. In later centuries, when the original derivation had long been forgotten, the name probably began to be spelled as Panther because of the association with the animal.

The surname Panter is rare today and its variant Panther even rarer. The distribution is extremely localised to Northamptonshire and its surrounding counties. In 2002 I did a study comparing the occurrence of the surname Panther in the 1881 census to the entries in the modern British phonebooks. In 1881 there were 302 people with the surname Panther, of whom 52% were living in Northamptonshire, with a further 9% in the surrounding counties. 61% of all the Panthers in the 1881 census were born in Northamptonshire. In 2002, the surname Panther appeared in significant numbers only in the Northampton phonebook.