Sunday, 19 December 2010

Black Sheep Sunday - Rev Frederick Davis

Black sheep embarrass the family whilst they are alive but they make wonderful ancestors. Brushes with the law, financial peccadilloes and sex scandals are the lifeblood of newspapers. Ancestors who got into serious trouble usually got plenty of column inches and those old newspaper articles are gold dust for the family historian.
Serious Charge Against A Clergyman
My favourite black sheep ancestor is my 2x great-grandfather, Rev Frederick Davis. Not just a bad boy but a clergyman to boot - some years ago a cousin christened him "the pervy vicar" and I'm afraid the naughty nickname has stuck.
Frederick was born in Lambeth, Surrey, in 1821. One family story suggests that his father was wealthy but disowned him after an argument. Frederick was certainly well educated but struggled for the rest of his life to establish a financially secure career.
At first he worked as a warehouseman. In 1842 he married a schoolmistress, Charlotte Aves, and by 1848 Frederick had also become a schoolmaster, following teacher training at the Church of England National Society's Training Institution in Westminster.
Frederick and Charlotte worked as a husband and wife team in a succession of church schools in East London, Essex, Staffordshire and Worcestershire. By 1858 they were running the parish school in St Columb Major,  Cornwall, when tragedy struck. Charlotte died of tuberculosis, aged 40, leaving Frederick with eight children aged two to fifteen.
Charlotte Davis Memorial Inscription
Headstone on the grave of Charlotte Davis, Colan, Cornwall
With Charlotte's death the family lost stability. Frederick initially put his daughters into an orphanage run by Anglican nuns at Wymering, near Portsmouth. By 1862 he had moved to Torquay in Devon where, for the first time, he set up his own private school rather than being employed by the Church. On the recommendation of clerical friends, he was also ordained deacon by the Bishop of Exeter and appointed curate of St John's, Torquay.
This proved disastrous. The curacy was poorly paid but so busy as to prevent him running his school properly. He lost pupils, fell out with the vicar and, within six months found himself in precarious financial circumstances. Although supposed to remain in the diocese until he was ordained priest, Frederick petitioned the Bishop to allow him to leave his curacy and move to Northfleet in Kent, to take over a private preparatory school based in the old Manor House.
The Manor House, Northfleet, Kent
The Manor House, Northfleet, Kent
Frederick rebranded the school as Northfleet Grammar School, later the Collegiate School, and advertised his willingness to coach young men for entry to the Universities and the armed forces. Some pupils came (two of them later married two of his daughters) but the school struggled and Frederick supplemented his income by covering for clergy absences in various Kent parishes, not telling them that he was only in deacon's orders.
In 1874 the churchwarden of one of those parishes wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury about Frederick:
Having been prompted to make enquiry concerning his private character in consequence of his having most persistently and impudently attempted to extort more money (to the extent of 4 guineas) than he was entitled to according to my agreement with him, I have ascertained from a most reliable source that he is inhibited by the Bishop of Rochester from doing duty in his diocese.
... Dr Claughton would not have inhibited him, unless there were good and weighty reasons for so doing. I have heard what those reasons are, but would rather not commit them to writing as they are of a most serious and damaging nature. No doubt if Your Grace orders inquiry to be made in the neighbourhood in which he lives quite sufficient cause will be found, to induce Your Grace to take immediate steps to prevent the possibility of his ever performing the duty of a clergyman of the Church of England again.
Archbishop Archibald Campbell Tait
Archibald Campbell Tait, 1811-1882
Archbishop of Canterbury
The Bishop of Rochester added his own disapprobation:
I have not actually inhibited Mr Davis ... but I do not approve of him. He behaves extremely ill to the Clergyman of his Parish.
Thomas Legh Claughton
Thomas Legh Claughton, 1808-1892
Bishop of Rochester
By 1875 Frederick had given up his school in favour of running a home for six wealthy dipsomaniacs (alcoholics). Following complaints that a lady was being detained against her will, the Lunacy Commissioners paid a visit and discovered that one of his patients was mentally ill. In the summer of 1877 he was prosecuted for running an unlicensed lunatic asylum and fined £50.
The Archbishop had reluctantly allowed Frederick to continue officiating in neighbouring parishes. On Sunday 16 December 1877 he was returning from taking services when, on a train between Strood and Gravesend, he was alleged to have indecently assaulted a 17 year old servant girl called Rosina Webb. When the case came up for trial in January 1878 Frederick did not appear. Instead, one of his sons wrote a letter maintaining his father's innocence but saying that, as he feared his word would not be believed, he had gone abroad.
A warrant was issued for Frederick's arrest and an advertisement in the Police Gazette gives us a description of the man, for whom no known photograph exists:
Police Gazette, 4 February 1878
The Police Gazette, 4 February 1878
When Frederick fled abroad he left behind him a second wife. Her existence only came to light because her birth and death dates, minus a name, were recorded on a family gravestone in Northfleet churchyard. The gravestone was destroyed in the 1960s but, thankfully, it had been carefully transcribed by an antiquarian in the 1900s. The death date led to the discovery of the name Harriet Davis in the Northfleet burial registers. Her death certificate revealed that she was the wife of Frederick Davis and that she had died of apoplexy in October 1878, aged 60. No record of their marriage has yet been found.
Frederick went first to Bruges in Belgium before settling in Dinard on the coast of Brittany in France. Both places had substantial numbers of affluent English residents, so Frederick was probably able to earn a living as a tutor. There was an Anglican church at Dinard and the incumbent, Rev Anthony Francis Thomson, was the father of one of Frederick's old pupils, Anthony Standidge Thomson, later to be his son-in-law. Frederick lived in the pretty seaside resort -  no doubt helping out with services - until his death in 1883.
The Quay at Dinard by Ethel Carrick Fox
The Quay at Dinard, Ethel Carrick Fox

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Porter tells porkies to the police

My great grandfather, John McCarthy, was born at Erith in Kent on 27th October 1863, the son of Richard McCarthy and his wife Catherine (nee Brien).
Richard and Catherine (known as Kitty) came from Mitchelstown, County Cork, Ireland. They were both born about 1834 and probably came to England as part of the mass emigration resulting from the Potato Famine in the late 1840s. They were married at St George's RC Cathedral in Southwark on 22 June 1856.
King St, Mitchelstown, County Cork

Richard was illiterate and unskilled. He worked as a labourer, on a farm and in a factory, before settling in Bermondsey where he became a glue maker, using the by-products of the local leather and tanning industry.

Richard McCarthy
Richard McCarthy
John McCarthy was educated at St Joseph's Academy, Kennington Park Road, a grammar school run by the De La Salle Brothers as an extension of their work at St Joseph's College in Clapham (now at Beulah Hill). Obituaries described him as "a man of good education" and "a capital linguist" fluent in both French and Spanish.
In the autumn of 1878, aged 15, John went to work  for Edward Henry Waterworth at 147 Houndsditch in the City of London. Waterworth was a commission agent and dealer in china, earthenware and glass. In March 1880 John changed jobs to work for the London Brighton and South Coast Railway at Shadwell Station, first as a porter and later as a signalman.
Shadwell Station 1910
Shadwell Station 1910

His ambition, however, was to join the Metropolitan Police. Regulations required candidates to be over the age of 20 but John was too impatient to wait that long. In August 1881, with his 18th birthday approaching, he wrote to the Metropolitan Police Commissioners, boldly stating that he was about to turn 20 and asking to be considered as a candidate.
Various background checks were carried out but, fortunately, he was not asked to produce his birth certificate. Probably unaware of his deception, three "respectable housekeepers" vouched for his honesty, sobriety and good temper, as did his parish priest, Father Patrick O'Donnell of the Church of the English Martyrs, Great Prescot Street, Tower Hill.
Church of the English Martyrs, Tower Hill
Church of the English Martyrs, Tower Hill
On 27 December 1881, John was appointed PC 66140 in N Division, based in Islington. His starting pay was 24 shillings per week plus uniform. The terms and conditions of service which he signed on entry stated that: "Every police constable in the force may hope to rise, by activity, intelligence, and good conduct, to the superior stations" and that is precisely what he did.
* "Porkies" is rhyming slang for lies, from pork pies = lies.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Wordless Wednesday - The Ark, Prince Rupert, BC

"The Ark", Prince Rupert, BC, Canada
The house in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada, where my mother was born in 1919. For obvious reasons, it was known to the family as "the Ark".
The legendary Cyndi Howells asked me why the house was built that way. As taught by Cyndi herself, I did a targeted Google search on "Prince Rupert" +houses +stilts. Up popped a result from Google Books - an article from Popular Mechanics magazine dated July 1922. It contains another photograph of the house:
The Ark in 1922
The article explains that:
The city of Prince Rupert, BC, is situated on very hilly ground, and in some instances houses were built before the grading operations were completed, which has led to many unusual sights. In one case a house was built with the first floor level with the street, but the ground was so far below the street level that it was necessary to support the basement on long timbers. A narrow wooden bridge leads from the sidewalk to the first floor of the house.
As it happens, I have a photograph of my grandmother, holding my mother in her arms, standing on that narrow wooden bridge:
Dora and Sheila Davis, 1919
I think this story illustrates three important genealogy lessons:
  1. Sharing your research in a website or blog leads directly to new discoveries.
  2. There is a good reason why professional genealogists like Cyndi teach us to ask the "who, what, where, when, why" questions about our research.
  3. It is simply amazing what you can find on Google Books.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Carols and Capers

[This is my entry for this year's Blog Caroling at Footnote Maven]

What is more natural than that a love of history should be accompanied by a love of folk music? Especially when that music is played on traditional instruments.

One of my favourite groups is The Carnival Band, accompanied by the wonderful voice of Maddy Prior of Steeleye Span, the doyenne of English folk singers.


I first came across their music with their 1987 album A Tapestry of Carols, recorded at the Quaker Meeting House, Frenchay, a short distance from my home. The album is a collection of ancient carols from across Europe, played on Renaissance instruments. Reviews on Amazon describe it as "bouncy", "merry", "heartwarming" and "joyful". It is all those things. It also makes you want to dance and worship at the same time (why not?), then invite your neighbours in out of the snow to join you in a wassail in front of a roaring log fire.

The album proved so popular that Maddy and the Carnival Band now do an annual tour of Christmas concerts around the country, called Carols and Capers. I'm hoping to see this year's show for myself when they visit Bristol next Monday evening. In 2004 they recorded a DVD of their performances in Oxford and Salisbury and some of the songs are on You Tube. 

I was hard put to choose my favourite for this year's Blog Caroling but decided in the end to share their glorious rendition of God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen. A traditional carol, which probably dates back to the 16th century, it is the Christmas carol mentioned by Dickens in the first chapter of A Christmas Carol. The beautiful words powerfully proclaim the "comfort and joy" of the Christmas message. Maddy's singing is a delight, the band's playing is superb and the icing on the cake is the delicious bass sound of the curtal. If this doesn't put you in the mood for Christmas, nothing will.


Thursday, 9 December 2010

Thrifty Thursday - Save £££ using a Library

I've been a bookworm ever since I learned to read. I've been a library user for almost as long. Aged 10, I was given special permission to use the adult library because I'd read everything in the children's section. I cried when I realised there were more books in the world than I would ever be able to read.

Yate Library, South Gloucestershire

My love for books carries over to my family history research - they are amongst my most valuable sources of information. Since Cyndi Howells first taught me how to do well targeted searches using Google, I have regularly trawled Google Books for family information. I rarely come away empty handed. I found an article about a British ancestor's unlicensed lunatic asylum in a German psychiatry magazine and have traced the career of a 19th century King's Messenger entirely through books found online. I even found The Boating Man's Vade Mecum, written by my husband's great grandfather, William Winn.

For books still in copyright, Google Books only provides a snippet view - or sometimes no preview at all. This can be very frustrating. No-one wants to buy an expensive book just to obtain the nugget of genealogy information contained in a footnote on page 169. Fortunately, there is no need to do so, if you belong to a library.

Libraries West Logo

When I find a book of interest, my first stop is the website of my local library consortium - Libraries West. Using their online catalogue, I can search for the book in over 100 libraries in a region extending from the Cotswolds to Exmoor, including major public libraries in the cities of Bath and Bristol. Obscure books can be found in the most unlikely places. I located a book about an East India Company family which had been placed into storage by the Somerset County Library service - it had last been borrowed in the 1960s. A book about London's worst Victorian slum was gathering dust on the sleepy shelves of a library in a Gloucestershire market town.

The Blackest Streets by Sarah Wise

If I find the book in the Libraries West catalogue, I can reserve it for collection at my local library, 100 yards from my front door, for the princely sum of 90p. If I do not find it, all is not lost. I next turn to WorldCat to locate the nearest library with a copy. WorldCat covers institutional libraries as well as the public library service. I recently found a rare book very close to my home in the library of my old alma mater, Bristol University. Armed with details of the holding library, and the call number of the book I require, I go back to the Libraries West website and put in a request for an inter-library loan. The fee for this service is higher, at £2.20 per book, but still much cheaper than buying my own copy - cheaper even than the postage on my own copy.

And inter-library loans are not restricted to published books. In my time I have borrowed a typed manuscript from a library in the Orkneys and even borrowed microfilm copies of an ancestor's journals from the Hudson's Bay Company Archives in Winnipeg, Canada. For £2.20, that has to be the bargain of a lifetime.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Sunday's Obituary: Rev Joseph Bentley, 1840-1903

Bentley Joseph head

Rev Joseph Bentley was my great grandfather. He was born near Barnsley, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, in 1840 and died in Wimbledon, Surrey, in 1903. Joseph was a Wesleyan Methodist minister for 36 years. During this time he served Methodist communities in 17 different places in England, from Durham to Cornwall. The constant upheaval of moving from place to place must have made life very difficult for his wife, Emma, and seven children.

Munden Emma Bentley Joseph children

Joseph's obituary appeared in the 1904 Minutes and Yearbook of the Methodist Conference:

JOSEPH BENTLEY: born in August, 1840. He was converted at the age of eighteen, entered the ministry in 1864, and died on August 7th 1903. His life was chiefly spent in the Circuits of rural Methodism, where he laboured with much energy and zeal. He was loyal to our discipline, and endeavoured to inculcate that spirit among the people to whom he ministered. His preaching was generally appreciated, and his genial disposition won him many friends. The end of his life was shadowed by failing eyesight, which created much depression, but his faith in God and his trust in the atonement of Christ were unfailing.

Friday, 26 November 2010

All the nice girls love a sailor - 2

In Part 1 of this post I wrote about my husband's great great grandfather, Captain John Winn, a master mariner who disappeared in "North America" sometime between 1830 and 1848.

In trying to crack this major brick wall I have pursued many different lines of research. I began by reading this book, published by the Society of Genealogists:

My Ancestor was a Merchant Seaman

I then explored the following sources:


I cannot find John Winn in the 1841 or 1851 British censuses, the 1840 or 1850 US Federal censuses or the 1851 Canadian census.

Lloyds Registers of Shipping

These annual lists can be fully viewed on Google Books. I have extracted the names of all merchant ships with a captain or owner called Winn between 1807 and 1865. I have eliminated those vessels where I have been able to discover the captain's first name and it is not John. I've also eliminated those still sailing from British ports after 1848.

This leaves me with six captains & vessels:

  • 1811-12, Thirsk, J Winn, Hull coaster
  • 1822, Holland, Winn, Exeter coaster
  • 1830-33, Legatus, Winn, Sunderland, Bristol, Montreal
  • 1832-33, Kate, Winn, New Brunswick, London, Halifax
  • 1836-40, George Canning, Winn, Newcastle, Halifax, Bombay
  • 1841-44, Rainbow, Winn, London, Cape of Good Hope

Passenger Lists

There are three masters called Winn on the Ship's List website but, from the names of their ships, I have eliminated all three as being different people. The captain of the Legatus is also mentioned there, spelled Wynn. Using One-Step Webpages I turned up a John Winn, ship master, aged 35 years & 4 months, who arrived in New York from the Turks on board the schooner "Deposit" on 23 August 1836. However, he is described as US born & resident.

John Winn 1836 passenger list


I can find no will, and no action by the family to have him declared dead.

Records of Merchant Seamen

There are no records of merchant navy officers in the UK before 1845. I spent a day trawling through seamen's records and crew lists at the National Archives. There were many John Winns, all ordinary seamen, but nothing to identify my man.


I can find no reference to him (such as a missing person advert) in the British Library's 19th century newspaper collection.

Genealogy Bank turns up various references in US newspapers in the 1830s to John D Winn, captain of the Eliza from Salem, Massachusetts.


I can't find him listed as the captain of a ship that went down at any of the websites devoted to wrecks.

Where should I go next? Please leave your suggestions in the comments. I'll use them to draw up a future research strategy for Part 3 of this post.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Beards and Longevity

Lowe Dr John head

Dr John Lowe (1781-1866)

and sons

Lowe Dr Robert head Lowe George1902 head

Dr Robert Lowe

George Lowe

Lowe Tom1898 head LOWE JAMES HEAD (2)

Thomas Lowe

James Lowe

Monday, 22 November 2010

Amanuensis Monday - The insolent misbehaviour of one of my own tenants

Patrick Lyon, 3rd Earl of Kinghorne

This is an extract from a letter written by Patrick Lyon, 3rd Earl of Kinghorne (1643-1695) to James Ogilvy, 2nd Earl of Airlie (c1615-1703), in March 1670. It concerns my 7x great grandfather, Alexander Hood (d. 1729), the tenant of an estate called Readie in the parish of Glamis, Angus.

The Earl of Kinghorne's family had been virtually bankrupted by the Civil War and the Earl's Book of Record, dated 1684, shows that he had borrowed a large sum of money from Alexander Hood. This may explain the animosity between them. The Earl was ultimately successful in restoring the family's fortunes. One of his descendants was the late Queen Mother.

My Lord,

... excuse me for giving you the trouble of narrating the insolent misbehaviour of one of my own tennants, who obraided me in my face with an ordinary guilt of the breatch of word & write1 (A thing very inconsistent with A gentleman & which I hope non has reason to accuse me of). I believe the fellow said it in ignorance and wishes he had not said it, yet it being befor four or fyve2 as first spoke & for the terror of such, he being fugitive and disobedient to two severall lawfull charges to my Bailies Courts, I caused cease upon his person about fyve dayes agoe and had him as I thought in sure firmance3 till I should bring him to A forder condigne & exemplar4 punishment but this last night he has made his escape and I suppose may have his shalter among some of his wife's friendes who are of your name.5 So my Lord I shal entreat of you & accept of it as A peculiar favour that you will cause intimat to all your tennantry and dependers not to protect him by A glandestine6 keeping of such A person amongst them. He is A young man one Alexr Hood youngest son to the late John Hood in Readie. My Lord this will not only be an act of good neghbourhood but is for the maintenance of that authority which is the inherent right of landlords over ther own people betwixt whom non else ought to interest themselves. This I thought fitt to acquaint you with for preventing such misinformation as possibly might induce you to permitt his wife residence within your bounds, which I hope now you will positively discharge, the injury being against my person , in the way as I have related to you, upon the word of him who avouches to be

Your most affectionat & humble servant


Glamis 18 March 1670

I only apprehend that he shall lurke amongst the country people for I hope no gentleman will receive him.

National Archives of Scotland GD16/34/212

Amanuensis Monday is an idea I found on Geneabloggers.

1. breaking his word

2. in front of four or five witnesses

3. confinement

4. further suitable & exemplary punishment

5. Alexander's wife, Margaret, was an Ogilvy from Airlie

6. clandestine

A map showing the location of Airlie and Glamis in Angus (Forfarshire).

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Three times before breakfast

I’m currently reading Fearless on Everest, an excellent biography of mountaineer Sandy Irvine, who was lost on Everest with George Mallory in 1924. The author is Irvine’s great niece, Julie Summers.

I first came across Julie’s work when searching for information about my grandfather’s first cousin, Marjory Agnes Standish Thomson. (Marjory’s mother, Alethea Isabella Evans Davis, was the sister of my great-grandfather, Rev Alban Edgar Brunskill Davis. )

I knew that Marjory had married a man called Henry Hall Summers in 1917 and divorced him in 1925. I had even found an account of the divorce proceedings in The Times:
Summers nee Thomson Marjory 1925 divorce
Google led me to Julie’s website and her account of her involvement in the recent film about Mallory and Irvine, The Wildest Dream. (Narrated by Liam Neeson, it was Natasha Richardson’s last film before her tragic death in Canada in March 2009.)
Julie writes that:
Although National Geographic were relaxed about showing the corpse reconstruction, they balked at a tale I told of Sandy’s prowess.
Sandy Irvine had a brief but indiscreet love affair with Marjory Summers, the very much younger second wife of Harry Summers … Marjory, who had been a chorus girl when she married Harry at the age of 19, found life married to her stout, balding, fifty-two year old husband quiet. Dull even. … In a move of the utmost audacity she followed Sandy to Norway when he went with the Merton College Arctic expedition to Spitsbergen in July 1923.
I found Sandy’s diary from the expedition in the library at Merton College, Oxford …on the last night that they were on board … Sandy visited Marjory’s cabin at five o’clock in the morning and made love to her three times before breakfast.
This is not the sort of information you expect to find about your first cousin twice removed. Her mother came from a family of zealous high church Anglicans. Her father was an Elder Brother of Trinity House, a Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, and a friend of Prince Louis of Battenberg. What on earth was she doing as a chorus girl in 1917? Lying to a judge in 1925? But the black sheep of the family are invariably the most interesting. Julie’s website even provided me with a photograph of Marjory in a raffish hat:
I would highly recommend Fearless on Everest to anyone who is fascinated, as I am, by Mallory and Irvine’s attempt on Everest. The book has received excellent reviews.
I have not yet seen The Wildest Dream, which was released in the UK whilst I was in America. Have you seen it and, if so, what did you think? Is Marjory portrayed in the film?
Julie Summers tells me that Marjory does indeed feature in the film. If only I could track it down in a cinema near to my home. Perhaps one day it will come out on DVD?
Julie has also very kindly sent me some new photographs of Marjory. I think this one gives a much better idea why men like Henry Hall Summers and Sandy Irvine fell for her:
 Summers nee Thomson Marjory

Saturday, 20 November 2010

The Beau Brummell of the Yard

John McCarthy, 1863-1927

My great-grandfather, John McCarthy (1863-1927) was a detective with the Metropolitan Police. Starting as a constable on the beat in Islington in 1881, by 1912 he had worked his way up to be Superintendent in charge of the Criminal Investigation Department at Scotland Yard. Along the way, he had some fascinating jobs and cases.

He joined CID in 1887 as a founder member of the newly reformed Special Branch. All Irishmen, they were responsible for secret political work at home and abroad, tackling the growing threat from anarchists and Fenians. In the early 1890s he spent a year in Le Havre in this capacity, watching for suspicious activity at the Channel ports and liaising with the French authorities.

Back in England he was sent to Bow Street as a uniformed Detective Sergeant, distinguishing himself in a famous murder case, the Muswell Hill murder. In 1896 he returned to CID and Special Branch and was  promoted to Inspector in 1901. During this time he regularly acted as a bodyguard for the Prince and Princess of Wales, Edward and Alexandra. With Edward’s accession to the throne in 1901, John McCarthy took over protection of the new Prince and Princess of Wales, later to be King George V and Queen Mary.

King Edward VII, Queen Alexandra and the Princess of Wales, later Queen Mary, are seated from right to left. The Prince of Wales, later King George V, is standing between his wife and mother.

In 1906 John became a Chief Inspector. He joined a special section focused on the violent activity of the suffragettes and also monitored the activities of exiled anarchists and revolutionaries such as Lenin. In January 1911, a series of anarchist murders culminated in the siege of Sidney Street. John  McCarthy was one of the senior Special Branch officers who advised the Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, on the conduct of the siege.  After several hours the house caught fire and the anarchists stopped shooting. No one was sure if they were dead so the unarmed John McCarthy decided to investigate:

Accompanied by two fellow plain-clothes officers and keeping close in to the wall ... the burly McCarthy picked his way through the debris to the scarred front door … lifting his foot high, [he] kicked it open. As it swung back a great belch of flame roared out.

Only then did it become clear that nobody could still be alive inside. Scotland Yard later  commended his cool courage.

John McCarthy conferring with other senior officers during the Sidney Street siege

By all accounts he was a popular head of the CID. Contemporaries described him as "urbane and courteous" and he was so well dressed that he earned the nickname “Beau Brummell of the Yard". He also knew how to enjoy himself. In June 1914 he presided at the annual CID dinner. One of the guests was a former Special Branch officer who had joined the Russian Secret Service – the Okhrana. The programme for the evening's entertainment bizarrely found its way into their archives, where it survives to this day. We learn that, after an eight course meal,  John McCarthy and his men enjoyed a cabaret which included a ventriloquist, a highland dancer, a "Growing Man" and a song called "Willie took his Flo below".

His period in charge of CID included the First World War, with controversy over internment of enemy aliens and fears about the effects of war and air raids on civilian morale and loyalty. Special Branch expanded from 114 to 700 men and new departments were created to censor mail. In 1916 came the Easter Rising and from then on Ireland was at the top of Special Branch's agenda.

In March 1918 John McCarthy retired and was immediately reappointed as liaison officer between Special Branch and MI5, with a special suite of offices in Scotland Yard.  His role involved "an intimate knowledge of the movements of the various political sects in Ireland" and Scotland Yard said that "his services were of the greatest assistance to the authorities in this country". In recognition of those services, John McCarthy was awarded the OBE in the King's Birthday Honours List in June 1923.

John McCarthy leaving Buckingham Palace after collecting his MBE, 1923

Because of his undercover work, John McCarthy was on the IRA's death list and Scotland Yard took out an insurance policy on his life. In the event, he died of spinal cancer in September 1927. In the last weeks of his illness he had ordered his daughter to burn his diaries and other papers relating to his police career. Other Scotland Yard officers had published memoirs about their involvement in famous murder cases or anecdotes about their work as royal bodyguards.  John McCarthy's dying concern was not for his own reputation but for those ex-offenders who, having served their sentences, were trying to rebuild their lives and would be harmed if his account of their crimes were to be published.

All the nice girls love a sailor - 1

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 Winn's marriage, 1829

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.

William Winn 's baptism, 1830

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 Winn's affidavit, 1847

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.

William Tomlin's will, 1848

By the time of the 1851 census, William Winn described his mother as a widow:

Heneretta Winn, 1851 census

and when she made her own will on 9 July 1856, she did the same:

Henrietta Winn's will, 1856

but eight days later, when William Winn married, he made no mention of his father being dead:

William Winn's marriage, 1856

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!


I’ve started this blog to share some of the fascinating stories I’ve uncovered during 25 years of researching my family history. I’m also aiming to share some tips on how I broke down “brick walls” in my genealogical research and point readers towards new sources of information for their own families.

Ancestral Places

My research interests are global – mainly in the UK but also in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and India. From time to time I’ll focus on some of these ancestral places.


Ancestral Faces

I’m fortunate to have a wonderful collection of old family photographs. Some were given to me by my mother but many others have been shared by generous cousins around the world. Using some of these ancestral faces, I’ll show how the clues in a family photograph can lead to new avenues of research and fascinating new information about the lives of your ancestors.


Friends and Mentors

Genealogy is the most clubbable of hobbies. I’ve made firm friendships online with family historians I may never meet in person, “pen pals” for the 21st century. I’ve also been privileged to learn from some outstanding professional genealogists. Although I’m British, and focused mainly on UK research, most of these friends and mentors have been Americans and Canadians. To all of you – and you know who you are – this blog is dedicated.