Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Facts can sometimes ruin a good story

Old records - where it all begins
A few months ago I started writing a book about Susan Mason and her family. In a way, I've already written most of her life story on this blog, but it's quite fragmented. I wanted to draw together all the information I've discovered about her into a continuous narrative. She's such an interesting character, and her life, while not remarkable in any historical sense, provides insights into many different situations and places. It's a great story.

I've just finished the first draft, and now I'm in the process of rewriting and editing it. But I found myself with a dilemma. Some time ago I discovered a record on ancestry.com that seemed to indicate that in 1876, while the family were stationed in Ireland, Susan had given birth to a child, a boy named Charles. The child wasn't David's.

The father, named on the record as Charles Newman, was a soldier from David's regiment, the 50th. The record gave the date (October 1 1876) and the place of birth, and it seemed quite feasible that it could be true. The child's birth (but not his parents names or the date) was also included on the the index to the Irish Civil register on Ancestry and the British Nationals Armed Forces Register of Births on Find My Past.

An affair with another soldier would certainly add colour to the story, but should I be revealing such details about Susan or the Newmans? (You've probably guessed by now that the reason I'm telling you this is that it isn't actually true.) And besides, the more I thought about it, the more I felt that something about the record didn't seem quite right.

Bantry, Co Cork, where David Whybrew
was stationed in 1876.

© Copyright Pam Brophy and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Susan was in the right place and could have had another child in October 1876 after giving birth to Alice late in the previous year. But the two births would be quite close together, and Rose Whybrew was born only fifteen months later. The soldier's wife, Mary Newman, on the other hand, had one child who was two years old at the time and she had another child two years later. Charles' birth would fit neatly into her family. From later censuses I knew that Charles Newman had been brought up by the Newman family in Bristol after his father left the army.

There was also no image of the actual documents available. It was just a transcript, details copied by someone at some time. Where had the information come from? The army's records? The Irish Civil Register? How reliable was it?

I posted that question on the British Genealogy forum, which is always a good place to get other opinions and advice. "Get the original documents from GRO (the General Register Office in England) and the Irish Civil Register" was the predictable response, along with some equally predictable "hmmphing" about the reliability of sites like Ancestry. Someone also provided me with helpful advice about how to go about ordering the documents for the least expense.

To be fair, sites like Ancestry and Find My Past are now providing access to more and more  images of original documents on-line and not just transcripts, as was once the case. The original hand-written census documents, army enlistment and medical records, church registers of baptisms, marriages and burials, convict records and ships' passenger lists can all be seen and checked against the transcripts provided (which are occasionally quite inaccurate.) It's not Ancestry's fault if people don't check the original documents and think about the plausibility of information before adding it to their family trees.

So I sent for certified copies of the information on the registers. The Irish Registry Office hasn't replied, probably because they couldn't find any record of a birth with the details I provided. The GRO sent me full details from the Army Register of Births, Baptisms and Marriages, which show that not only was Susan Whybrew not the child's mother (Mary Newman is named as mother) but the date of birth was also different from the on-line transcription (July 1, 1876, not October 1). The father's name and regiment are the same, so it seems to be the right child.

It's possible that whoever transcribed the details of the birth from the Army Register inadvertently copied Susan's name from the previous entry. Few army wives travelled with their husbands when they went overseas, and it may well be that Alice Whybrew was the last child born to a family from the 50th regiment in Ireland prior to the one in question. Or at least her entry appeared on the same page.

I'm pleased to know that Susan didn't have a love child in Ireland, even if it does remove a potentially interesting chapter from my book. But it did serve to remind me how important it is to check facts with reliable and original sources when you're doing family history research.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Disturbing the peace - the Salvation Army

As I've mentioned before, William Beales and his family were dedicated members of the Salvation Army in Colchester. Recently I've been reading more about the history of the Salvation Army. It's not only fascinating in its own right, but also includes some intriguing links with our family history, both in Australia and England.

Catherine and William Booth
William Booth, a Methodist minister, began what was to become the Salvation Army as a mission in the slums of the east end of London in 1865. His focus was on bringing the gospel to the vast numbers of working class and underprivileged people who had no connection with the established churches. His unconventional methods, which included allowing women to preach and holding open air meetings with bands playing catchy tunes, created controversy but proved very effective.

The Christian Revival Ministry, as it was then known, soon extended its work of gospel preaching and started providing education, food relief and "penny banks" for the poor and destitute. The name was changed to the Christian Mission and then in 1878 it became known as the Salvation Army. It adopted an army-style uniform for its workers and began using military terminology for many of it's activities. Ordained ministers became "officers", it's local congregations "corps", and its buildings "citadels" or "barracks". William Booth remained the General. His wife Catherine was actively involved in both ministering and preaching.

The organisation soon spread beyond London to other parts of what William Booth referred to as "Darkest England". The first meeting in Colchester was held towards the end of 1881 in the Assembly Rooms in Queen St. When the local skating rink was put up for sale in 1882 it was purchased by an agent on behalf of General Booth and soon became the local  meeting place. General Booth himself visited Colchester and preached to large audiences on several occasions.

Initially the Salvation Army faced a lot of opposition in Colchester as elsewhere. The uneducated heckled and threw rocks and bottles, while the better educated tossed off letters to the editor such as this one to the Essex Standard in July 1882:
Sir, -- A short space in your columns, if you please, for a few valueless remarks of a simpleton.
We have in Colchester sixteen Churches, besides a Roman Catholic Chapel, and Meeting Houses, I don't know how many; and I suppose to these buildings are attached between thirty and forty Clergymen and other Gospel ministers; nor am I the one to say, or even think, that any individual member of that staff is negligent or his duties toward either God or man. Each, I hope, is serving his Master and his fellow-men to the best of his ability. So that to me it seems, there was no need whatever for a Salvation Army to march into this town with trumpet and drum, and flying colours, as if we were destitute of religious instructors, and it lead me to think, sir, that if General Booth, who I take to be commander in chief of these quasi-military forces, had ordered his obedient regiment into such as town, for instance, as Northampton, where it seems the Gospel preachers much have been utterly neglectful of their duties, where infidelity and atheism is riding paramount, they would have been doing much more real service in the great cause which they profess to support, than by disturbing the peaceable inhabitant of this town by their disorderly, and certainly most irreverent behaviour.
Perhaps the residents of Northampton had a different view. In any case, the Salvation Army's right to hold meetings both at the rink and outdoors was upheld by the local mayor and magistrates.

The Salvation Army in South Australia 

Individual members of the Salvation Army soon began to arrive in Australia as immigrants. Two early converts, John Gore and Edward Saunders, established the first official Corp in South Australia in September 1880, leading their first meeting from the back of a cart in the Botanic Gardens. The following week they held an open air meeting in Light Square, notorious for being the gathering place of prostititutes and larrikins, and this became a regular occurrence.

Members of the Salvation Army band
in Adelaide, c 1890
When the first officers, Captain Thomas Sutherland and his wife, arrived in Adelaide in February 1881 they were met by 68 people associated with the Corp. Within 3 years there were 32 officers and 12 Corps in South Australia. Meetings were held every night in a building in Morphett Street off Light Square, attended by hundreds of people. Though most saw the benefits of the Salvation Army's methods, not all were impressed. On July 30, 1881, the South Australian Register carried this report from the City Police Court:
Thomas Sutherland, "Captain" of the Salvation Army, was charged, on the information of Denis Sullivan, Inspector of Police, that in a certain place situated in the City of Adelaide — to wit, King William street — he did unlawfully disturb the peace, contrary to the statute in such cases made and provided.
The defendant, who appeared in a species of dark uniform with a silver S on the collar, pleaded not guilty. Mr. Pater opened the case by stating that the defendant was the so-called captain of the Salvation Army, a religious body who were in the habit of parading the streets in the evening, singing, screaming, and shrieking. On the occasion in question they had seriously frightened the horses on the cabstand and in the street, besides crowding passengers off the footpath by reason of the throng... 
...John Piper, commercial traveller, of Adelaide, gave evidence as to hearing very indecent language used in the crowd with the army on the night in question, on Sunday, July 24, and that the mob nearly jostled him off his feet. The army was singing 'Will you go,' each one trying to shout louder than the other. By the defendant— Saw the leaders of the army sawing up and down in the air with their arms. Did not know they were keeping time. Considered it a disgraceful exhibition.
Sutherland was fined one shilling, which he refused on principle to pay, and he was sentenced to being imprisoned "until the rising of this court".

A "Special" reporter for The Adelaide Evening Journal provided a more sympathetic if slightly bemused description of one of the Salvation Army meetings in May 1883, too long to include here, but worth reading.

The Salvation Army in Adelaide, as elsewhere, had a strong ministry to women and girls involved in prostitution, and those at risk of falling into it. In England the Salvation Army were at the forefront of a campaign to raise the age of consent from 13 to 18. In South Australia they opened several homes for "rescued girls", providing accommodation and assisting them to return to their family where appropriate. It's not outside the realms of possibility that they had some involvement in Harriet Whybrew's return to her parents in England, though I have no evidence of this.

Meanwhile, in 1882 the newly married Captain James Barker and wife Alice left Colchester and arrived at Port Adelaide to join the work in South Australia. But due to a labour strike on the docks, they had to keep going to Melbourne. They decided on arriving and looking around that they would establish their ministry there instead. The Salvation Army expanded its work rapidly, not just in Victoria but throughout Australia, as a result of the Barkers' pioneering activities.

My grandmother, Rosina,
in her Salvation Army uniform
The Barker family eventually returned to England in 1890. Their daughter Evalina, born in Victoria in 1884, became a Captain and in 1909 she married Albert William Thomas Orsborn.  Orsborn later became the 6th General of the Salvation Army, as well as the author of many of the songs in the Salvation Army song book.

Albert and Evalina employed William and Eliza Beales' daughter Rosina as a servant at their home in Ipswich during her teens. This photograph of Rosina in her Salvation Army uniform, must have been taken about this time.

Once again I'm struck by how different her life must have been after she married and moved to Lancashire, leaving behind not just her family and Essex but the Salvation Army background of her childhood.