Saturday, 31 March 2012

Nathaniel Joe Stracey 1891-1961 - A Life in Pictures

This is a photographic record of my grandfather's life.  I wish I had known him, but unfortunately he died a long time before I was born.  Photos are all I have to know him by, but I feel, judging by the photos I have, that I would have got on really well with him.

Nathaniel Joe Stracey was born in 1891 in the village of Sawbridgeworth in Hertfordshire, England, but had moved to East Finchley, north London by the time he was twenty.  There he married my grandmother, Esther May Cullip, and had three children.  An ordinary man, he lived through extraordinary times.  He served in World War One in Mesopotamia and India and lost his eldest son to the Second World War.  He first worked as a gardener and then became a postman.  He retired in 1957 when he received the Imperial Service Medal for 'long and meritorious service'.  Joe died in East Finchley in 1961, aged 70.

As a boy Joe was a member of the Boys Brigade, a UK wide
organisation founded in 1854.  Its aim was to promote "habits
of Obedience, Reverence, Discipline, Self-Respect and all that
tends towards a true Christian manliness"
. This is probably
the earliest photo of Joe, taken in the first decade of the 20th
century in Sawbridgeworth.

This is a teenage Joe, looking very smart and with a flower in his
 lapel.  He appears to be attending a wedding, although, as he got
married when he was 23, I don't believe this was taken at his own
marriage ceremony.  He looks far too young.

On the 1911 census, Joe was working as a gardener at a large house, the Grange,
in East Finchley.  But at the time of his marriage to Esther May he was working as a
gardener at Lambeth Palace, the London home of the Archbishops of Canterbury.
This photo could have been taken at either establishment.  But how smart they look
 - working men in overalls, yet wearing ties.

In December 1914 Joe married Esther May Cullip.  This is probably
their wedding portrait as Esther is displaying her wedding ring and
they are seated in the classic 'newly weds pose'.  By this time, Joe
was enlisted in the 5th Battalion of the East Kent Regiment, also
known as the Buffs.  He looks incredibly dashing...

With the Buffs, Joe traveled to Africa, India and Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq).
His diary, written in 1917, reveals the voyage he undertook, stopping at Freetown
 (Sierra  Leone), sailing past the Ascension Islands, landing in Cape Town, then Durban
 (South Africa) before finally disembarking in Bombay.  Their stay in India was short
however, as within three months they were in Mesopotamia, where Joe stayed until at
least 1919.  My grandfather is the tall chap in the back row with the moustache.  They
are all carrying, or wearing, pith helmets with sun protection.

A very relaxed Joe with puttees on his legs and his pith
helmet by his feet.  This photo was taken in either
Mesopotamia or India.

After Joe was demobbed he returned to East Finchley and his family.
His eldest child, Gladys, was born in 1916.  But it was not until 1922 that
his eldest son, Joseph Roy, was born, followed a few years later by my
dad.  This photo was taken in 1935 and shows Joe, Esther May, Roy and
my dad on the beach.  Joe is still wearing a tie!

In 1935 Joe became a postman, a job he held until his
retirement in 1957. Here he is standing proudly outside
his home in East Finchley, with Esther May in the
background, with his bike and postbag.

This photo was probably taken around 1940.  Although
their expressions are serious, it's a relaxed photo with
my dad resting his hand on his father's knee.

Happy and at ease in the late 1940s.

Joe died in 1961, aged 70.  He died in the house
he'd lived in for the last 40 years.  Esther May
followed him eight years later.  

Thursday, 22 March 2012

James Ivanhoe Cullip 1894-1918

Names often hold a fascination for me.  When I discovered that my great uncle, James Cullip, had Ivanhoe as a middle name, I immediately wanted to know more about him.

Born in 1894 in East Finchley, north London, James Ivanhoe was the eldest son of James Cullip, a labourer, and Ann Esther Hardwick.  He grew up with one brother and seven sisters!  It must have been a noisy, chaotic household.  This family of ten moved several times but always within the same two terraced streets of East Finchley where everybody knew everyone else.  The children's neighbours were uncles and aunts, half-uncles and cousins. In fact the census for both 1901 and 1911 shows that, in most cases, the children grew up in the same streets as their future spouses.

East Finchley, 1912
In 1902, along with two of his sisters and his brother Tom, James was baptized at the local church, Holy Trinity in East Finchley.  He was seven years old; it must have been quite a family event.  I assume that he had some schooling as a child, though, as the 1911 census reveals, by the age of 16 he was working as a 'gardener nurseryman'.  And that's all I know about his young life.

At the outbreak of the war in 1914 James was 20 years old but doesn't appear to have signed up, or been conscripted, for another two years.  His service record is one of the many which were destroyed in World War Two.  His medal card however, shows that he received the British War Medal and the Victory Medal which were earned by those who saw service after January 1st 1916.

James became a Gunner in the 140th Hammersmith Heavy Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery.  The RGA were responsible for the heavy artillery, the units who were positioned behind the trenches bombarding the enemy lines with their howitzers and 60-pounder guns.  This battery first saw service in France in April 1916.  I need to make a trip to the National Archives to find out exactly which battles he was involved in, and where he was stationed.  What action did he see?  Nevertheless, James did survive the war and returned home to England.  And this is where the tale takes a tragic turn.

On 27th October 1918, two weeks before the Armistice, James married Dorothy Lucy Bagley at the Holy Trinity Church in East Finchley, the same church he had been baptised in.  The Bagleys were relative newcomers to the area.  Dorothy's father, Levi, was a local fishmonger and butcher.  For James and Dorothy however, married life was to be cut short in its infancy. Less than a week after the wedding James was dead, a victim of the Spanish Flu pandemic which cut young men down in their prime.  One can only imagine how utterly distraught Dorothy must have felt.  Her new husband had survived two years of an atrocious war only to be taken from her in a matter of days at a time when they should have been enjoying newly married life.

James is buried in the East Finchley Cemetery, just across the way from the terraced streets where he spent most of his short life, and is remembered on the War Memorial there.  It's ironic that James was to travel to France, endure the dreadful conditions of the Western Front, only to lose his life in his own backyard...

East Finchley Cemetery War Memorial

Saturday, 17 March 2012

My family in 1930s Ireland

As a child I always enjoyed the fact that I was a quarter Irish.  Born and bred in north London, it was one of those things to boast about in the playground to appear different, unique.  And who do I thank for my streak of Irish blood?  Well, that would be my maternal grandfather.  Grandad died in 1992 but I'll always remember him as a happy man with a smile on his face and a pint of Guinness in his hand.  I have fond memories of sitting in my Nan and Grandad's living room with my Grandad in his armchair talking nineteen to the dozen and, most likely, blaspheming his heart out.  We visited my grandparents every Sunday and for a small child who would rather be playing with her toys at home or watching the Sunday afternoon film on the telly, it was sometimes a bit of a chore.  Now I lament the lost opportunities to have drilled, interrogated and quizzed my grandparents on their lives and experiences.

In particular I would love to have known more about their early married life in Ireland in the 1930s.  My Nan was a Nottinghamshire lass but found herself working in Ireland as a lady's maid for the brewing side of the Guinness family.  It was in Ireland that she met and married my Grandad in 1929.  At the time of the marriage Grandad was a bus driver and family lore tells of how he took a fancy to my Nan and used to give her free lifts in his bus.  From pictures I've seen of him as a young man, I can fully understand why she would accept them!

My handsome grandad in his driver's uniform

A year after their wedding, their eldest child was born.  He was followed by four more children in the space of five years.  The three eldest, including my mother, Mary, were born in Longford, where my Grandad came from.  Their fourth child, my Uncle John, sadly died when he was a tiny infant.  He had been born in Carlow.  The youngest child was born in Dublin.  This was a family that obviously moved around a lot as it was a case of going where my Grandad found employment.

Russborough House
After his stint as a bus driver he stayed in the same line of work and in the 1930s became a chauffeur.  And it was in this capacity that my mother and her siblings found themselves living in the grounds of a grand Palladian style mansion, Russborough House, in beautiful County Wicklow.

Russborough House was built in the 18th century by Joseph Leeson, a property developer and important art collector, who later became 1st Earl of Milltown.  His art collection was so substantial that when it was bequeathed to the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin at the beginning of the 20th century, they had to build a new wing to house it.

The workers flats at Russborough.
The house stayed the property of the Earls of Milltown right down to the 6th Earl's nephew, who then sold it in 1931 to Captain Denis Daly.  This is where my Grandad came into the picture as, for a few years in the mid to late 1930s, he was Captain Daly's chauffeur. My Grandad and his family moved into one of the worker's flats above the garage.  Russborough, at this time, must have seemed a million miles away from the troubles in Europe.

The Russborough estate and distant Wicklow Mountains
The house is set in a very quiet part of Wicklow.  With a view of the distant Wicklow mountains and nearby Blessington lakes it must have been a blissful place to grow up for four small children. My aunt's nickname, which has stuck with her to this day, is Trixie, due to her, then, tomboyish nature and the fact she got up to 'tricks' all the time.  What a lovely image to imagine these tiny terrors romping together over the estate, getting under the gardener's feet, hiding behind their mother's skirts when the master of the house strode into view, and generally getting up to 'tricks'.

But they weren't to stay in this idyllic location.  By 1938 most of the family had upped sticks and moved to Central London where they were to stay for many years to come.  The Irish accents that the children would have brought with them were to be sacrificed in an effort to fit in and not appear too 'different' to their peers (unlike me 40 years later).  The family never lived in Ireland again and its only in the last couple of years that I was to pay my first visit there.  I made sure I visited Russborough to see where my mother had spent her childhood years.  Rest assured, the quarter of me that is Irish is determined to go back.

Tiny terrors - my aunt, uncle and mum at the front

Saturday, 10 March 2012

The Persian: Typhus Ship

This is a tale of two halves: one tells of the sad fate which befell a small number of Scottish immigrants travelling to make a new life for themselves in Australia, and the other tells of a forgotten cemetery in a small corner of Tasmania.

On 24 July 1857 a ship with 325 immigrants on board left Liverpool bound for Hobart in Tasmania.  The majority of passengers were former residents of the Isles of Lewis and Coll.  On her arrival in Hobart, it was found that the ship, the Persian, had fallen victim to a deadly outbreak of typhus.  She was immediately quarantined.

The Hobart Town Mercury, Monday 2 November 1857

The decision was made to send the ship to Impression Bay, about 100 km away on the Tasman Peninsula.  In the late 1840s and 1850s the convict station at Impression Bay had been converted into an invalid depot for prisoners in "a most wretched physical condition, blind, maimed, infirm, and debilitated from age, accident, or disease". For the imminent arrival of the Persian, the convict prisoners were moved elsewhere and the depot became a quarantine station with a one mile exclusion zone surrounding the wards.

The Persian left Hobart on the 4th November, and by the following day, the passengers had disembarked.

The Hobart Town Mercury, Friday 6 November 1857

That week the mood appeared to be optimistic as care was taken to ensure the patients were looked after and there was hope that the disease could be halted in its tracks:

The Hobart Town Mercury, Monday 9 November 1857

Despite reports in the coming weeks that the typhus had not yet dissipated - new cases of the disease had become a daily event - by the end of December, events had taken a turn for the better.  New cases were noted as being of a milder form:

The Hobart Town Advertiser, January 1858

Finally the Persian was released from quarantine, free from infection, and allowed to sail away from Impression Bay for journeys new.  And the last remaining patients were on the mend.  After a disastrous and inauspicious beginning, the immigrants were able to start their new lives.

The outbreak had left its toll though. In Impression Bay, now known as Premaydena, there lies a small cemetery sited on private ground.  A short walk up a disused road leads to a headland where one can find the graves of the unfortunates who succumbed to the disease.  It's a peaceful yet blustery spot, surrounded on all sides by the windy waters of Norfolk Bay.  The cemetery feels forgotten, isolated, lost in history.  But the graves of 11 victims of this typhus outbreak lie in this beautiful place.  These are the unlucky patients who did not recover from their illness whilst hospitalitised at Impression Bay.

Alfred Driver - died aged 19 (photo below)
John McKinnon - aged 40 (photo below)
Donald Morrison - aged 38
John McDonald - aged 42 (photo below)
John Morrison - aged 45 (photo below)
Elspeth Morrison - aged 42
John McKinnon - aged 3 days
John McDonald - aged 36
Mary Ann Piper - aged 24
John Spencer - aged 7
Susannah Lee - age 29

The cemetery at Impression Bay

Here are photos of just some of the graves.  If I had been more forward thinking on my visit there, I would have taken photos of all of them.

The grave of John McKinnon
The grave of Alfred Driver
The grave of John Morrison
The grave of John McDonald

These people endured an arduous journey across the world, only to end up overwhelmed by a grievous illness.  They were never to start a fresh life in a new land.  But this new land provided their final resting place.  If you should visit Premaydena, be sure to pay them a visit.  Let them see they are not forgotten.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

My Convict Ancestor - Joseph Cullip 1806-1888

About a year ago I signed up to Twitter.  As a complete novice it took me a while to decide on what to call myself but after several incarnations I settled on @stoleasheep.  It just seemed right.  And the reason for that is because it is a direct reference to my Great Great Great Grandfather, Joseph Cullip.

I'm sure it is the same with everyone who is researching their family tree, but there always seems to be an ancestor or two that, no matter how distant in time or how tenuously attached, jump out and attach themselves to one's psyche. For me, Joseph is one of those people.
  I've become incredibly fond of him for his determination, strength and tenacity.
Tempsford, Bedfordshire
Born in 1806, Joseph was one of seven children born to John Cullip and Mary Wilson in Tempsford, a small, agricultural village in rural Bedfordshire, England.  Life must have been tough for this family of farm workers; three of Joseph's brothers were to travel north, following the path of the Great North Road to find work and a new life in Leeds.

From a young age Joseph was a seasoned poacher.  In 1823 at the age of 16 he was to serve a three-month term at Bedford Gaol for being found in breach of the game laws.  As you'll soon learn, this period of incarceration was not to deter him from future offending.  His prison record describes him as only 5ft 2in tall with hazel eyes (must be in the genes!) and already showing signs of grey in his hair.

Two years later at the age of 18 he married Mary Williamson, a local lass from Tempsford, and together they had nine children.  Sadly, their first born was to die at less than a year old.  Joseph made his living working on the land - he could operate a plough - though life would have been hard and it would have been a struggle to find enough to sustain his large family, particularly in the winter months.

It was in 1844 that life was to change forever because, on the night of 27th April, Joseph stole a sheep.  At this point sheep stealing was considered to be a hugely serious offence.  If Joseph had been caught just a decade earlier, he would have been hung.  However, by 1844, sheep stealing carried with it the mandatory sentence of transportation.  What drove him to his crime?  Was it the need to feed his family or did a chance arise to make a quick buck?  I am, of course, biased in his favour and believe his sole purpose was to provide meat for the table, no matter what the risk.

At his trial at the Midsummer Quarter Sessions in Bedford, Joseph pleaded guilty, stating he had a large family and ‘hoped for mercy’.  His plea fell on deaf ears.  He was sentenced to transportation for ten years.  So it was that on 11th August 1844, convict 14697 Joseph Cullip set sail on the William Jardine, one of 270 convicts bound for Van Diemen's Land [Tasmania].  Now aged 38, he is described as just under 5ft 7in tall with a ruddy complexion.  He left behind seven children and a pregnant wife.

Impression Bay, Tasmania
Three months later Joseph arrived in Hobart.  He immediately undertook 15 months of 'gang work' at Impression Bay [now Premaydena] on the very lovely Tasman Peninsula.  This probation station had been established three years earlier in order to produce food for Port Arthur and to make timber pit props for the infamous Coal Mines.  Thank goodness Joseph wasn't sent to either one of those establishments which were punishment stations for hardened, repeat offenders.  I suspect that, given Joseph's 'ag lab' background, he was set to work producing food.  I was lucky enough to visit Premaydena last year and found it to be a beautiful and very peaceful part of the world.  Little remains of its convict past.  But I wonder whether the convicts noticed the stunning environment they were in, or whether they were too inured to their lot to notice.

In February 1846 Joseph 'emerged' from his gang work and was hired to work for a Mr G Smith in Muddy Plains, now known as Sandford, in the south of the island.  I've been unable to find out the exact nature of his employment, though it's likely that he would have been employed on public works or possibly as a farm labourer.  He worked for Mr Smith from 1846 to at least 1849.

In November 1849 Joseph was granted a Ticket of Leave. This meant that he could earn his own wages and live independently, as long as he regularly reported to the authorities. I was pleased to learn that "Ticket of Leave men were seen as the elite workforce. The convict was required to be sober, honest and industrious" (quote courtesy of NSW State Records). It's good to know that Joseph was considered to be of good enough character to be granted this privilege which only only 10 percent of convicts were given.

Joseph's Ticket of Leave was followed in March 1852 by a Conditional Pardon.  Six months later he was able to buy passage to Melbourne and from there continued on to Britain to be reunited with his family.

But what became of his family?  What happened to them whilst he was on the other side of the world?  The short answer is they ended up in the workhouse.  His wife Mary was unable to support her large family, especially as she was pregnant at the time of Joseph's sentencing.  Mary and six of the children ended up in two separate workhouses; their eldest daughter went into domestic service and their eldest son joined the militia.  The family had been torn apart.  Tragically, one of their children, Ann, died at the age of ten, and even more sadly, Mary's youngest boy, named Joseph after his dad, was also to die having lived much of his short life in the workhouse and having never known his father.  He was 8 years old.

But Mary and Joseph were reunited and returned to their lives in Tempsford. Joseph lived out his days as an agricultural labourer and died of old age, aged 81, in 1888.

So why am I so enamoured of Joseph?  For a start I have a gut feeling that he was a pretty solid bloke.  And I like that trait in him.  He didn't re-offend in any way, big or small, whilst he was in Tasmania, as his convict conduct record attests.  He was employed by the same person for several years following his gang work which, for me, speaks volumes about his dependable character.

And yes, he did wrong, he stole a sheep!  However, poaching would have been a way of life for him, just one of those things to do to get some extra food for the table.  But he was to pay a big price for his crime.  His family were scattered, ending up in the ‘poor house’; he lost a daughter, and a son that he never even knew.  It must have been a heart-breaking reunion when he returned.  And that’s the main reason that I like him.  Because he came back!  He braved a perilous three month sea journey to return to his family.  The lure of home and kin must have been overwhelming.  There are so many stories of men and women transported overseas who left behind their spouses and children but who didn't return.  Joseph did.  And for that reason alone he’ll always have a very special place in my heart.