15 Jan 2012

Part 17: Working in the West Indies

Previous editions of this account of the Swinfields (parts 7, 8 & 13) have described that part of the family which settled in New South Wales, Australia. Those branches descend from the two brothers who left Wolvey, Warwickshire, in the mid 19th century. I have recently heard, through what I have written, from Ruth Cuff of Tasmania. She is the great-granddaughter of Mary Swinfield, born in 1838 at Mancetter, as one of the daughters of John and Mary Ann, who arrived on the ill-fated voyage of the Beejapore. The mother died whilst in the quarantine station leaving John to bring up his four surviving children. John quickly remarried to Eliza Hartley and, apparently due to their dislike of the step-mother, the four issue by his first wife left for Tasmania where they all married. Mary and her two sisters, Caroline and Mary Ann, produced many children of their own and consequently have many descendants who still live there. The only son, John William, has no known issue and so the name of Swinfield is not to be found on the island.   
Amongst family papers, Ruth has two letters which were written in 1861 by their brother, Edward, who was “unable to emigrate” with his parents and siblings in 1853 and his emigration fee was refunded. They were addressed from St Kitts in the West Indies. You will remember that Edward married Emily Rowley at Atherstone in Warwickshire in 1866 when he described himself as a planter. He must have returned from his work there to marry and then he and his new wife went back to the island.

It is known from the 1891 census of Bolehall and Glascote in Staffordshire that Emily, a widow and professional nurse, was living with her two children, then in their 20s, who had been born on St Kitts. She claimed to have lost her husband by as early as 1881 when she was back in Tamworth.
1881 Tamworth showing Emily Swinfield as a widow 
The London Family History Centre holds
microfilm copies of most of the indexes and actual returns of births, marriages and deaths for St Kitts. Not only were the births of the two known children, Mary Emily in 1867 and Edward Arthur in 1868 confirmed, but Edward and Emily had produced another son, Irvine John, who died aged just 7 months in 1871. Edward was working as the manager of Willetts Estate at St Paul’s at the north of the island.

Registrations of births at St Paul's, St Kitts, in 1870 
Not only that, he was acting as the Registrar of births and deaths for the parish during the whole period and recorded all four events for his family members. It remains a mystery what became of Edward as his death is not registered there from 1871 to 1925. Where did he go and did he or his wife really have twin sons as late as 1888?
They are not included in the birth indexes of that date under Swinfield or anything which looks like Higginbotham either. I am told by family members that they were of a very dark complexion and had curly hair!