Thursday, 3 November 2016

Horatia, a hero's daughter

I love what I can discover when I keep my eyes and mind open on my walks. England is so rich in history I am constantly amazed. For instance, only yesterday I decided to walk to Pinner village. I wanted to return to the church to take photos for another post (flat battery when I went there the first time) On the way there I passed Paines Lane Cemetery (appropriately enough on the intersection of Paine and Love Lane). I wasn’t too hopeful of anything too interesting as the commentary at the church had been very clear that Pinner church, while a solid architectural example, had no remarkable embellishments. That was because Pinner had never been home to anyone rich and powerful enough to want to impress with gilded angel ceilings or carved screens at their local place of worship. But it was a sunny autumn afternoon, and the graveyard was pleasantly sited.

Armed with my trusty smart phone and my “all you can eat” data from 3, I was able to google Paines Lane Cemetery and find… wow… Horatia Nelson Ward and some other family members are buried here. Then switching to the 'find a grave site’ I was able to quickly identify the grave from photos.

Why was I excited? For those of you whose only contact with the name Horatio is from Miami CSI of the (Shelton girls, for shame! What do they teach kids at school these days?) let me elucidate. My interest in naval history means that the first Horatio* to spring to my mind is Horatio Nelson, victor of Trafalgar. His exploits as a rising naval officer during the Napoleonic Wars made him the darling of the nation despite his scandalous public love life. Although married, the love of Nelson’s life, Lady Emma Hamilton was married to someone else! The British Library has on display the letter Nelson was writing to her on the eve of the battle of Trafalgar.

Emma bore him a child out of wedlock: the said Horatia. She was only a child when her father died at Trafalgar. She was brought up by her mother in straitened circumstances, because the nation preferred to show its admiration to the dead father by erecting grand monuments like Nelson’s Column rather than paying a pension to support his only child. Sadly Horatia was proud of her famous father, but never accepted that Emma, who brought her up, was actually her birth mother.

My writing time is up for today: more on Horatia/Horatio another day…

*Not forgetting Horatio, Hamlet’s bestie; Horatio Hornblower; Horatio the schoolboy killed by  a  polar bear; or the original Horatio who kept the bridge.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Jessie Archer Coulson: My Indomidable Grandmother

Jessie Archer Coulson’s arrival In New Zealand.

As many of you may know, I am currently on an extended gap year (now in its third year) in Europe. This is wonderful from a history inspiration point of view, but not quite so hot when wanting to refer to all those genealogy notes back in the understair cupboard at home in Leamington, New Zealand.

Despite this lack I wanted to get a few notes down on paper (or rather, uploaded to the cloud) about my maternal grandmother, Jessie. (I welcome any comments and corrections, and additions)

Jessie was the fourth child in a run of daughters born to John Archer Coulson and his wife Jane Jacklin. It took me many years of genealogical research to realise (doh!) she was named after her mother. Jessie is a pet form of Jane, and seems to be interchangeable with Janet and Jean in many of the Scottish and north of England censuses. (or should that be censi?) And of course her middle name honours her father. This seems so appropriate because although she spent most of her long life separated from them, her family were a central foundation for her life.

As I understand it, Jessie stayed on in Strathcona, Alberta for several years after her parents and younger siblings left Canada. One of her tasks was to wind up the family’s business affairs in the town. She was also studying and working as a student teacher, and in 1916 was living with her married eldest sister, Bertha.

In this time, World War I had broken out, and as in New Zealand, the loyal Canadian colonists were eager to enlist. Jessie had several regimental keepsakes from young men who went off to war, and she always kept a locket with the photo of one who never returned. My auntie Ruth has a poignant letter we believe to be from this man, written on leaving Jessie as his regiment departed for the fighting in Europe.

I believe Jessie made the trip to rejoin her family at the end of the war. By this time they had moved from Western Australia to New Zealand. My mother told the story of Jessie making the Pacific crossing, arriving in New Zealand and catching the train to the Wairarapa area, where her family were based, all on her own. Brave woman. And on arrival at the railway station, there was no one to meet her, so she just got on with it and carried her bag up and over the hill to the farm house. Not just brave, but indominable!

She soon secured a teaching job at the Rongomai School, near Eketahuna. This school no longer exists, and even the local hall, a rural social hub in its time, has disappeared. (was it moved or demolished?). The new teacher with the funny accent needed somewhere to live of course, so she boarded with Charlie and Kate Evans, whose house was on the other side of the road. She ended up marrying Charlie’s youngest brother Frederick John (but always called John), my grandfather. It’s hard to believe when you stand at this country crossroads that this location was so important to our family history. There is no remnants of human habitation visible there: my great uncle Charlie’s house is long gone too.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Remembering the random


When writing yesterday’s post I had the niggling feeling that I recognised the name of the sculptor, Cibber. Did a little research and found Caius Cibber, originally from Denmark, settled in England where he had a (mostly) successful career. But that wasn’t why I recognised the name. Cibber had a larger-than-life actor son Colley who was also a writer, and was Poet Laureate to George II. But still it rang no bells for me. Next I find the sculptor’s grandson Theophilus Cibber, also an actor/manager at Drury Lane. Still nothing… then jackpot! I find that Theophilus married Susannah Arne in 1739.

I am familiar with the name Cibber because Susannah, already an acclaimed singer, continued to perform under her married name. I had no idea Arne was her maiden name: of course she is sister to the English composer Thomas Arne. We all know Arne for his composition, “Rule, Britannia!” His sister starred in the premier of "Alfred" in which "Britannia" features as the grand finale. (1740)

So finally I have puzzled it out, using some good old genealogy and Wikipedia (!) The name Cibber was familiar because of Susannah Maria Cibber, an acclaimed actress and singer, protégée of Handel. She was conveniently (for a performer) born near Covent Garden in 1714. The contralto solos in Handel’s Messiah were specifically written for her and include one of my favourites, the heartwretching “He was Despised”.  I have always thought that the contralto gets the best female solos in Messiah, and now I know why. Susannah also acted alongside the famous David Garrick, so now I am off to research whether there are any paintings of Cibber by Zoffany. I love these connections.

On a side note, as Messiah premiered in Dublin (1742), Susannah must have crossed the Irish Sea on at least one occasion. Her estranged husband Theophilus met his end on a similar crossing in 1758 on his way to start the season on Dublin.