Wednesday, 18 March 2015

“Not aggravated by vice or intemperance”

I have been examining the 1854 medical discharge paper written about my great great grandfather.  His name (at that time!) was John Wheare and he had served just over 21 years in the 7th Regiment of Foot (Royal Fusiliers).  This did not include the three years when he deserted and then re-joined but that’s another story!

The army surgeon describes John as being five foot ten and a quarter inches in height, with brown hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion and this exactly matches the description on his enlistment attestation.
He then describes the symptoms from which John Wheare is suffering.  Apparently he had chronic catarrh and dyspnoea (difficulty) breathing.  The surgeon believed that this was caused by long army service and exposure to climate.  John had served in Gibraltar, Dublin, Barbados and Halifax, Nova Scotia.  I was relieved to read that his ill-health had not been aggravated by vice or intemperance!

Retiring aged 46 on an army pension, John Wheare narrowly missed embarking for the Crimea.  He was able to take a job with the Coastguard but sadly died 6 years later.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The Murder in Half Moon Yard

In late July 1882, the peace of a warm afternoon in Kings Lynn, Norfolk was violently disturbed by screams of, “Murder.”  Just before 3 pm Harriet Fox, who had been living in a two room dwelling in Half Moon Yard with fisherman Park Twaits, threw open the window and called to Martha Backham in the yard below, “Oh Martha, I’m murdered.”  Seeing blood streaming from Harriet's head, Martha ran for help, while Mrs. Mary Ann Ward, who lived next door, ran into the house, and got to the foot of the stairs just as Miss Fox fell headlong to the bottom.  Taking her into her arms she carried Harriet into the yard, laying her down on the stones.  As she did so, the dying woman repeated the words, "I am murdered," and then became unconscious.  Meanwhile other neighbours crowded into the house, and, hearing groans in the room above, some of them also ran for the police.

Superintendent George Ware of the Lynn Police force, my great grandfather, was nearby at the Dock Police station so he responded immediately to Martha’s request for help.  Closely followed by PC Laws he ran to Half Moon Yard where he found Harriet Fox.  At the inquest he reported, “She was alive, but insensible, I noticed that she had a wound on the left side of the head near the ear and another on the left breast near the region of the heart.”  In the bedroom, the two policemen found evidence of a dreadful struggle.  According to the Illustrated Police News, “The bed was saturated with blood and the wall and floor were bespattered with it.”  Superintendent Ware found Park Twaits unconscious on the floor and in his hand was a large spring-backed knife, with the blade opened, and there was blood on it.  The knife, which was 10 inches long with a blade of 5 ½ inches, bore the name of “J. Irwin" on the handle.  Twaits had a large wound just above the region of the heart and he died about five minutes afterwards.  Mr Barrington, a surgeon arrived shortly, but despite his efforts, Harriet died within ten minutes.

Half Moon Yard was in the heart of the North End of Kings Lynn, a close-knit fishing community of poor, hard-working families, but this particular yard was considered one of the lowest localities in the town.  Twaits' house, which was a wretched hovel at the bottom of the yard, contained two rooms, the furniture in the lower one consisting chiefly of two old chairs and a table, whilst in the bedroom there was a dilapidated French bedstead, a chair, a woman's dress or two, and some seafaring clothing.

Park Twaits was from a very old fishing family in Lynn and he was the owner-skipper of the Wave, used for mussel fishing. He had married and had two sons but had abandoned his family. Despite owning his own boat he was well known to the police, having been taken to court on 16 occasions. At the age of 48, he was about 5 foot 10 inches in height, powerfully built, and weighed about 15 stone. He wore whiskers around the chin and face, and had plenty of thick brown hair. Over a period of 10 years he appeared before the Lynn magistrates for being drunk and disorderly, for using abusive language, for several cases of assault and for neglecting to maintain his wife.

Twaits was a jealous man who had become passionately in love with Harriet.  They lived together for almost 12 years but there were frequent quarrels between them and these led to blows and other acts of violence on his part.  Neighbours stated that disputes between the two were so constant that they looked upon them as "a matter of custom.”  Journalists discovered that on one occasion the woman was seen covered with blood as a result of an attack by Twaits, who was a man of ungovernable temper, and had, for some time past, been the terror of the neighbourhood. “He had often been heard to utter his intention to "do for" Fox, and, in the course of their quarrels, he repeated these threats to her.”

Their relationship worsened when Harriet took a job as servant at the Horse and Groom public-house, with board and lodging and became acquainted with another man, John Altham. She still was friendly with Twaits, continuing to sleep regularly with him. His jealousy, however, was aroused by her familiarity with Altham, especially when he heard she was about to marry his rival.  Caroline Kirby, wife of the landlord of the Horse and Groom, stated at the inquest, which was held in the Dock Tavern, that, “I knew that Harriet Fox was going to marry a young man named John Altham, who has left the town. He left because he said his life was in danger. He now lives in Suffolk, where he is working on the line.  I have heard quarrels between Harriet and Twaits about her having left him and gone with Altham, and I have heard him threaten her, and he told me he would buy a revolver and shoot her rather than she should marry. The last time I heard him threaten her was a month last Sunday.”

Harriet had been so worried that she had called on Superintendent Ware in his own home to ask for his protection, but finding him absent, Twaits “wheedled" her round again.  Twaits had recently borrowed the knife, with which the deadly wounds were inflicted, from John Irwin, Ostler, telling him that wanted it to cut a piece out of a sail. 

The post mortem examination conducted by Mr Barrington and Dr John Lowe established that Park Waite’s wounds were self-inflicted.  The jury were convinced that Harriet Fox was a victim of wilful murder by Park Twaits.  They were directed by the Coroner to consider whether Twaits could have been of sound mind to commit such a foul dead and their decision was that he took his own life while suffering from temporary insanity.

Mrs. Kirby, opened a subscription list, which enabled her to, “give the dead woman a decent burial,” and Twaits was buried at the expense of a brother and sister.  The funeral took place two days after the inquest. The coffin containing the corpse of the woman was borne to the grave on a bier carried shoulder high by fishermen. It was covered with a pall, on which were laid wreaths of bright flowers. A small train of her friends followed, and then came the hearse containing the coffin of Park Twaits.  Several hundred people watched the procession, and a large crowd followed it into the Cemetery.  Anticipating this, Superintendent Ware had posted policemen to prevent crushing at the cemetery chapel. The plates on the lids of the coffins bore the text—"The spirit shall return unto God who gave it," and the words "Park T. Twaits, died 20th July, 1882, aged 46 years, Harriet Fox, died 20th July, 1882, aged 41 years."

Friday, 6 February 2015

Honour and comradeship in Gottingen

Towards the end of the Second World War, my mother, who was in the ATS, was stationed in Gottingen in central Germany.  Gottingen is famous for its university so it is perhaps not surprising that she brought back two pictures of students.  But these pictures were silhouettes drawn in the 1850s in black, white, silver and blue.  They wore the uniform of one of the university Corps or fraternities.

From 1840 to 1860 in particular, loyalty to your Corps was essential to the higher echelons who chiefly enrolled as students at the university.  They were intelligent young men capable of study but they also socialised and most importantly engaged in the practice of Mensur, fencing with razor sharp two edged blades.  Wearing protective clothing and goggles they were expected on at least three occasions to fight against a fellow fraternity member before being awarded the coloured sash shown in the pictures.  After these three occasions they could stop fencing or carry on as Otto van Bismark did, fighting 32 times in one term.  The young men were often injured, particularly gaining facial scars of which they were very proud. 

Mark Twain described the sword fights while he was in Germany in his book “A Tramp Abroad.”  He was impressed that even when badly wounded they made no sound and how after their own fight they would stay in bandages to watch the next duel.  He was glad that a surgeon was always present to look after them.  These matches occurred twice a week.

One of these pictures, dated 1856 is of P. Bachmann.  I believe he was Paul Gustav Heinrich Bachmann, a Mathematician.  He lived from 1837 to 1920.  He began his studies at the University of Berlin but in 1856 he followed his professor to Gottingen. He produced five volumes on number theory in which he introduced Big O notation which was important to Babbage in his development of computer science.  He was also a talented musician, spending his later years composing, playing the piano and writing as a music critic for several newspapers.

In the mid-20th century hotels and museums exhibited collections of student silhouettes as shown in this postcard.

If you follow this web link you can read about the continues student customs in Germany

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Courage and Carnage- The taking of the Telemaque in 1757

Amongst the treasures we found in my grandmother’s chest brought with her when she moved from Rotherhithe, hidden under the photographs and post-card albums, was a 16 page document with an accompanying letter.  This was addressed to Admiral Sir Edward Hawke and the text is the narrative of the career of an unnamed naval officer.  By examining the detailed testimony I was able to find the ships, with dates, on which he served and after searching through the Ship’s musters at Kew, I was able to establish that the author was John Strachan.
Greenwich Hospital

John Strachan was the son of Patrick Strachan Physician of Greenwich Hospital.  He wrote of his previous career during a period in the 1760s when he had no post and therefore no income.  His exciting and detailed description tells of his actions during the Seven Years War. Today I am concentrating on an event on July 8th 1757 when Strachan was Captain of the Experiment.

In 1757 the merchants of Marseille were frustrated by the blockade of their port by British ships so they used public subscription to pay for 5 large privateers to be fitted out for their protection.  The largest of these was the Telemaque commanded by Commodore M. Beaupart de Contrepont.  On seeing Strachan’s vessel, the Experiment, off Alicante, the Commodore decided to engage with the British ship, knowing that it was smaller and had fewer crew members aboard.

John Strachan wrote;  the Commodore,
 “had upwards of 460 men; his Order of Battle was, his ships being longer and higher than mine, to lay me, alongside; and to board me in that position.”
The Telemaque engaging with the Experiment
As the Experiment had a crew of only 142 men, they appeared to be in considerable trouble, but hoisting his Colours and giving three cheers, Strachan fired three of the foremost guns into the Telemaque at pistol range, as it approached, and then put his “helm hard to Lee, laying the Experiment under the Bowsprit of the Talemache” (Telemaque).

This meant that only a few French soldiers at a time could board the Experiment, making combat easier for the British sailors.  There were, however, 14 killed and 30 injured from the crew of the Experiment.
“The Captain of the (French) soldiers, a fine brave fellow, jump’d on my Quarter Deck and received his death from me by a pistol shot.  I closed in with my Marines to the main Shrouds; there and on my Decks the French suffered.”
William Locker
Strachan then ordered Lieutenant William Locker to take a party aboard the French ship.  With “briskness and alacrity”, he obeyed.  Down came the French colours and the Telemaque was captured.  The French had also lost at least 125 men, killed in action and many were injured.  Locker described events in a letter to his uncle:-

Captain Strachan sailed to Gibraltar, Lieutenant Locker sailing the Telemaque.  Despite the heroism of the officers and crew of the Experiment, there was no public acclaim or award given for the capture of the ship, perhaps because the Telemaque was a privately funded Ship of War rather than part of the French navy.

In later years William Locker gained fame as the mentor of Horatio Nelson, who wrote,
"I have been your scholar; it is you who taught me to board a Frenchman by your conduct when in the Experiment; it is you who always told me ‘Lay a Frenchman close and you will beat him;’ and my only merit in my profession is being a good scholar. Our friendship will never end but with my life, but you have always been too partial to me."

In 1865, after further naval service and personal illness, John Strachan became a baronet and he died in Bath in 1777 leaving the baronetcy to his more famous nephew Admiral Sir Richard John Strachan.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

The last bulk shop in London

The Old Fish Shop at Temple Bar, 1846
Mention “bulk shop” to anyone today and they think of ordering large quantities of goods online, but the original London bulk shops were built to replace the dangerous jettied shops after the Great Fire in 1667.  Since goods could not be displayed behind leaded panes, shopkeepers were to use hinged shelves or counters attached to the shop-front, rather than using stands which took up too much of the path.  Above the shelf they were later ordered to maintain a roof, at least half way across the footpath, to protect pedestrians from rain.  Soon they were directed to allow paupers to sleep under these roofs and the narrow eleven inch shelves were replaced with twenty inch ones so that the beggars did not roll off during the night.

The last bulk shop a poulterer's in Gilbert's Passage, Clare Market
There were many of these bulk shops in the area of Temple Bar to the north of the Strand and several were bookshops.  The Old Fish Shop at the top was taken over by Reeves and Turner, booksellers, but the building came down when Temple Bar was removed. The last bulk shop, a poulterer's in Clare Market, was destroyed in 1878.

Clare Market (top) on the edge of 6 acres of sordid courts and alleys replaced in 1882 by the Law Courts