27 Nov 2011

Part 15: The end of an eventful life

William and Elizabeth Swinfield, my great-grandparents, married in Aldershot church, Hampshire, just before the end of his lengthy service of nearly 20 years in the 60th Rifles. He had now to settled down to life as a civilian which must have been a very different experience to that as an active soldier.
          1881 census of the Staff Hotel

By 1881, we find them at the Staff Hotel, Camberley, Surrey. They lived in a cottage adjacent to his place of work. He described himself as a gentleman’s servant and pensioner of 40. His wife was recorded as “Edith”. By then, she had produced two sons. The elder, William Thomas, was then 2. The second, Joseph, was born and died in 1880. Was this occasioned by the diseases contracted by the father during his army career?
From "The Story of Camberley 1798-1992" by Gordon Wellard  
1891 census of Camberley
On 27th March 1883, their last child, my grandfather Arthur was born at Barossa Common, Frimley, not far from the Staff Hotel. William was still earning his living as a servant. They were still in that area on the night of the 1891 census living on the London Road, what is now the A30, that very old coaching road which runs through Camberley from the West Country. William was 50 and a domestic servant and Elizabeth worked as a dressmaker. There two surviving sons were with them.

By the time of the 1901 enumeration, a double tragedy had befallen William! Firstly, his oldest son, William Thomas, then aged about 20, was severely wounded at the Battle of Glencoe, Natal, on 20th October 1899 during the Boer War, whilst serving with the 1st Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps. He died two days later. He was one of the many casualties suffered during that engagement.
Secondly, just over a year later, on 21st November 1900, his wife died in the Farnham Union Workhouse in Surrey . She was just 55 and died of “morbus cordis”. William was then a gardener of Frimley. It appears that this double loss had a profound effect on William.

By the time of the 1901 census, William and his sole surviving son had moved back to Earl Shilton in Leicestershire where they were lodging with his married sister, Sarah Raven. However, shortly afterwards he was on his own as Arthur left home.

In 1905, William had returned to Camberley where he had spent most of his married life. In very early January, he was found homeless by an acquaintance, Albert Smith, who took him back to spend the night at his home at 55 Park Street.  Albert's mother was awakened in the night by a noise and found William lying dead at the foot of the stairs. The report of the inquest in the Camberley News describes how William had fallen and broken his neck.
So ended the very dramatic and sad life of my favourite ancestor.      

20 Nov 2011

Part 14: A life in the Queen's service

We left my great-grandfather, William Swinfield, in Part 5. His father had left home at least two years before his birth in 1841 at Earl Shilton. As we know, Thomas, was to settle for a while in Calverton, Nottinghamshire, where he became a Chartist, fathered a child, and emigrated to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, with his new “wife” and daughter in 1854. Our recent visit to America has resolved the story of his life there and his final resting place.

Sarah Swinfield nee Hewitt, his estranged wife, now lived with Thomas Brown, the life-long bachelor, who would be her partner for many years until she died in 1862. Young William had left home too by 1851 when he was a 9 year-old coal miner at Bagworth. What did he do the rest of his life?
We find him in 1861 serving with the army as a private soldier of just 20. He was stationed at Winchester Barracks. His “soldier’s documents” record that he enlisted at Leicester into the 60th of Royal Rifles on 24th or 25th August 1859 aged just 18. He was just over 5 foot 5 inches tall with straight light brown hair and blue eyes. He was immediately sent to Winchester where he was treated in the middle of 1860 for that most common of soldier’s ailments, gonorrhoea, before his 20th birthday. After his first 4 years, all spent in England, he was posted to the East Indies where he spent time, more than 8 years in all, at Meerut, Calcutta, Madras, Ramandroog, and finally Bellary. He suffered from a range of diseases inflicted by the climate, a blow from a cricket ball causing “contusis pedis” and completed the set of STDs in 1868 when he was treated for syphilis! The MOs gave him a wide range of treatments which included tonics, iodine bandages, purgatives and leeches.

He returned via Aden to Shornecliffe and spent a further 8 years at Chatham, Winchester, Aldershot before being discharged, after a total of 19 years and 4 days in the Queen’s service, on 25th November 1878 at Colchester. His name appeared 20 times in the regimental defaulters' book and he was once tried by court martial. He avoided any wounds and was generally a good soldier.

Just before he was discharged, William finally married at the age of 36. The ceremony took place on 14th Novembe 1877 in Aldershot parish church, Hampshire. His bride, who was to become my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Postlethwaite, was 30 and the daughter of a postman. William did acknowledge Thomas Swinfield as his father. Surprisingly, after all his array of illnesses, the couple were to have three boys including Arthur, my grandfather.

More of his later life is still to come.

16 Nov 2011

Part 13: The mystery of Family 4!

As related in Parts 7 & 8 of these accounts of the Swinfield family and its branches, Families 3 and 4, which settled in NSW, Australia, descended from two brothers from Wolvey in Warwickshire, born in the first decade of the 19th century. William and John emigrated in 1848 and 1853 respectively with their young families. Our Australian cousins, their descendants, live there today.

1841 census of Mancetter
John’s eldest child, Edward Swinfield, baptised in 1834 at Mancetter church, Warwickshire, was with his family at the time of the 1841 census but was not living with them just before they left these shores. He did not go with his family for some reason and the £10 advance paid for his travel was refunded in 1856 on the grounds that he was “unable to emigrate”. What became of him when he was stayed behind? It is clear that he married Emily Rowley on 13th December 1866 at Atherstone. What happened to him then?  Thereby hangs another mystery!
Marriage of Edward Swinfield in 1866

Six current members of the Swinfield Genealogy & DNAGroup can trace their immediate ancestry back to George Alfred Swinfield and Naomi Henshaw who married in Leicester Register Office on 30th December 1916. The groom was then serving as a driver in the army during WWI and living in Fulham, London. He recorded his father as Edward Swinfield, boot repairer. The witnesses to the ceremony were Frederick Alexander and Florence Gertrude Swinfield. It would appear that these were his brother and sister-in-law although no reference to their union can be found in the national marriage indexes for England and Wales. Frederick Alexander died in 1968, aged 80, and Florence in 1972, both in the Leicester district. She was born on 1st July 1889.

George Alfred was born, according to the informant of his death in 1970, on 1st January 1888. Were he and Frederick twins? If so, neither of their births appears in the indexes of that time. Several members of the family have been told the story that there were twins, that their original surname was Higginbotham and that they had been “adopted” by the Swinfields. Amazingly, neither boy was registered under any variant of that surname either and they cannot be found in any census taken from 1891 to 1911.
Edward Swinfield, who George Alfred acknowledged as his father, does not appear in any census after 1841 and there is no death for him. Where was he before and after his marriage in 1866? Emily, his wife, can be traced through each of the censuses of 1881 to 1911, continually stating that she was a widow. What had become of her husband? If he was dead by as early as 1881, how could he be the father of the twins born in 1888?  Emily did have two children who lived with her in 1881. Both had been born at St Kitts in the West Indies. Why had she been there shortly after her marriage? What had taken Edward there and did he return? The marriage record of 1866 would appear to show him to be a planter. Was that what took him to the other side of the Atlantic?

1891 census for Emily Swinfield and her two children

Are the English members of Family 4, like myself, not “proper” Swinfields, bearing the surname but not having ancestors who were true descendants of whoever assumed the name way back in the past? Genetic tests may again answer many of these unresolved questions! 

5 Nov 2011

Part 12: Thomas settles down?

1191 Islington Street from the railway line
and off Barberry Lane
We have now returned from our three week and 2,500 mile drive around NE America and into Canada. Having found and visited both the house and grave of Thomas Swinfield, I now had a better idea of his life in Portsmouth during the 40 years that he lived in that delightful town.

The deeds of Rockingham County show that he had purchased the land, where the houses on Islington Street still stand, in the early 1870s. The other boundaries of the site, set out in a document of 1874, were what is now Barberry Lane to the east and the Concord & Portsmouth Railway (later the Boston & Maine Railway) to the rear. There he built the first house which he was to leave to his daughter and grandson in his will. The second house constructed on the land was to become the residence of William Warburton and his family by 1920. It is a pity that no-one was at home at 1207 Islington when we visited. I must contact the current residents to see if they can send me images of its interior to see where he lived. The lady, who now lives at no. 1191, knew little about its early history and no. 1205 is now occupied by high school students.

City directories record Thomas G. Swinfield as a pedlar at what was then numbered 71 Islington from as early as 1861. He later appeared consistently as a resident in that road, sometimes called “Creek” as that is where it leads, working as a farmer to his death in 1893. I still have no idea what became of his “second” wife Amy. 
Divorce of Thomas
and Chrlotte Swinfield 1887
By 1886, his “third” marriage appears to have broken down as his wife Charlotte was boarding away from the marital home at 48 Pleasant Street near the middle of town. In fact, Thomas divorced her in January 1887 on the grounds of “abandonment” (the pot calling the kettle black?). This discovery was made in the NEHGS Library in Boston. Sincere thanks to David Dearborn for his tour of its extensive collections.    

1900 census of Pleasant Street, Portsmouth, showing Charlotte Fraser

Charlotte Swinfield was no longer listed after 1892, reverting to her previous surname of Fraser. At the 1900 census, she was 85 and still lived at that address with her son by her first marriage and her daughter-in-law. They had left Canada in 1850.  

Morley Button Factory,
Islington Street, Portsmouth















Whilst buying flowers to put on the grave, at a florist just off Islington Street, we were intrigued by a large building now converted into a studio for artists. On enquiring what it had been used for, we were told that it was the old button factory. Amazingly, both William John and Edwin Swinfield Warburton, Thomas’s grandsons, worked at Morley Button Factory and William died on the premises in 1930!  Another fortuitous and great discovery!