A Heroic Action

Robert Ainsworth, my great-great grandfather, was born in 1838 in Liverpool. Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, he was a shipwright, plying his trade on the banks of the River Mersey.

Clarence Dock, Liverpool

Clarence Dock, Liverpool

On 19th January 1878, Robert was carrying out his work when a man suddenly fell overboard after apparently suffering from a seizure. Without thinking of his own safety, Robert jumped into the water of the Clarence Dock and managed to rescue the man. He was commended for his bravery and received a £1 reward.

A Case of Animal Cruelty

There has been a lot of justified outrage in the past week concerning the trainee solicitor who left her dog locked up in a kitchen only for it to die a long, cruel death. Sadly, animal cruelty is something that often rears it ugly head and, upon reading this story, I was reminded of a tale from my own family’s past.

The Great Eastern, Mill Street, Toxteth, where Henry Mills was a beer house keeper.

The Great Eastern, Mill Street, Toxteth, where Henry Mills was a beerhouse keeper.

On March 23rd, 1862, my great-great-great grandfather, Henry Mills, beerhouse keeper in Mill Street, Toxteth Park, heard loud coughing and neighing sounds coming from the stable he rented to John Thornton, a car driver and proprietor. Upon looking through a gap in the shutters, he saw two horses lying on the floor. He did not enter the stable but, the following day, he opened up one of the shutters on the stable window and sent someone in to see the condition of the horses. Subsequently, Henry entered the stable himself and was shocked by what he saw. The horses were lying on the floor, the fore foot of one of them being over the halter by which it was tied. The horse’s eye was injured as a result of it striking itself against the manger. The animals were both in a horrendous state of exhaustion and emaciation. In an attempt to improve the health of the horses, Henry prepared and gave them some bran mash.

The following Tuesday morning, Henry once again looked into the stable and, to his shock, found one of the horses had died. He removed the animal and placed the other horse in the stall.  For the following four or five days, he tried to raise the surviving horse but it was all proving too difficult due to its severe ill health.

Henry sent for John Thornton, who arrived in a state intoxication and did not attempt to provide any relief for the horse. Henry decided it was time to call in the authorities. On examining the animal, veterinary surgeon, Mr Briscoe, stated that it was in need of proper nourishment. It had large abscesses on the left side of its body, legs, face, cheek and knee and was reduced to a complete skeleton. It was also suffering from diseases of the lungs and liver. Mr Briscoe stated that this was the worst case of neglect he had witnessed in his career.

Thornton was charged under the 13th section of the act of Parliament for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals with having wilfully neglected and abused two horses. He was fined £5 and costs and, in default of payment, would be imprisoned for two months.


A Series of Unfortunate Events

My grandfather, the grandson of Mary Ann Seager.

My grandfather, the grandson of Mary Ann Seager.

My grandad always had a sarcastic sense of humour. When joining the Royal Navy as a young man, he was asked a series of questions regarding the medical history of his family. “What did your grandmother die of?” he was asked. His response? “She died on the Wall of Death in New Brighton!”

When I started researching my family history, I recalled this tale and began to wonder who this woman was and why my grandad had been so sarcastic with his answer. I soon discovered that the grandmother in question was Mary Ann Irwin (nee Seager) and that she had died in Wallasey in 1916 at the age of 74. Presumably, as she had survived into her 70s (an achievement for a working class woman in the Victorian era), my grandad saw this as a stupid question so responded with an equally stupid answer.

I had never been able to find out much about her upbringing until recently when I chanced upon a newspaper article referring to her parents. Since reading this, I have been able to piece together details of a traumatic life which, thankfully, for her, ended in more pleasant surroundings.

Marriage of William Seager and Elizabeth Davis.

Marriage of William Seager and Elizabeth Davis.

Mary Ann Seager was born on August 16th 1841, at Thomas Place, Bayhorse Lane, Liverpool, the eldest child of William Seager and Elizabeth Davis. William and Elizabeth were unmarried when their first child was born, not marrying until October 10th 1842 at St. Nicholas Church, Liverpool. William’s profession was that of a patten maker, under-shoes made from wood and metal which were strapped underneath shoes to protect them from mud and other dirt on the streets. As the nineteenth century progressed, however, the advent of paved streets and improved sewerage meant that pattens were becoming obsolete; William had to look for a new job.

Seager family, 1851 Census.

Seager family, 1851 Census.

By 1851, William had become a cotton porter, a less skilled job which probably paid less. The family now consisted of three children as, in addition to Mary, they now had Elizabeth, born in 1846, and Emma, born in 1849. They were soon followed by the family’s first son, William, on March 21st 1852.

Money was in short supply and the birth of another child, Alfred, on June 29th 1858, only exacerbated the problem. By this time, Elizabeth had started drinking heavily and, to raise enough funds to feed her habit, had begun to pawn her belongings. This was to lead to a tragedy that would tear the family apart.

On Thursday November 26th, at about 6.45am, Elizabeth Seager left the family home at 81 Gordon Street, Everton after an argument with her husband. He had accused her of pawning a sheet in order to fund her drinking habit and had ordered her out of the house, telling her that she would not steal from him any more. Taking her young son, Alfred, with her, she wandered the streets for a while, drinking,  before going to the house of a friend, Ellen Brown, at 3 Back Mansfield Street. An hour later, Elizabeth was asleep, still clutching her baby.

Alfred Seager's death certificate.

Alfred Seager’s death certificate.

At about 5am the next morning, Elizabeth awoke and looked at her child. To her alarm, Alfred was not breathing. Later that morning, she returned home with the dead child still in her arms to inform her husband about what had happened. The jury at the following inquest found that Alfred had been accidentally suffocated in bed by his mother whilst in a state of intoxication. They expressed their disapprobation of the conduct of Elizabeth and attributed the death to her negligence. Alfred was buried at St. Mary’s Church, Walton.

St. Mary's Church, Walton, the burial place of Alfred and William Seager.

St. Mary’s Church, Walton, the burial place of Alfred and William Seager.

The Seager family seemingly never got over the tragedy and it sparked a series of unfortunate events. A year later, on 16th November 1859, William Seager (senior) died at the family home in Gordon Street with his daughter, Mary Ann, in attendance. Cause of death was given as ‘apoplexy, 11 hours.’ Like his son, he was also buried at St. Mary’s, Walton.

The death of their father meant that the daughters needed to find a source of income to prevent them from being sent to the workhouse. The only option available to them was to enter domestic service so this is what they did. Mary Ann, the eldest, found work  with the Wood family at 37 Clare Street; Elizabeth became a house servant for the Okill family at 29 Brunel Street and Emma, still only a child herself, went into service with the Briscoes at  6 Crown Place.

But what of Elizabeth, the mother? Things went from bad to worse for her as her drinking began to take its toll. On 11th February 1861, she was admitted to Liverpool Workhouse for the first time, spending two and a half months in the surgical ward. Her son, William, then aged 8, entered the workhouse with her but was discharged a month later and sent to Kirkdale Industrial School. He remained there until his mother left the workhouse when he was sent back to live with her.

Kirkdale Industrial School

Kirkdale Industrial School

This happened several times as Elizabeth’s illness obviously took hold. Eventually, on 10th March 1865, according to the records of Liverpool Workhouse, William was deserted by his mother and, at the age of twelve, he too entered into service, working for Richard Reid, a surgeon from Merton Road, Bootle.

Elizabeth continued to be admitted to and discharged from Liverpool Workhouse and, between 1861 and 1867, she was resident there on twenty separate occasions, often for months at a time. By 1874, it seemed as though she had managed to turn her life around as on 1st June, she married for a second time, to Henry Stott, a widower, at the same church she had married her first husband. This was not the happy ending she envisaged, however, as three years later, on 22nd February 1877, she died of pneumonia at 18 Sheridan Street, Liverpool.

For two of William and Elizabeth’s daughters, life became greatly improved after they married. Mary Ann Seager, my great-great grandmother, married George Washington Irwin, a pilot on the River Mersey, in 1867 and Elizabeth Seager married Samuel Nuttall, a plasterer, in 1871. For Emma, though, things did not improve.

Emma Seager never married and continued to work as a domestic servant in the Everton area of Liverpool. Times were apparently hard, however, and she fell foul of the law on several occasions. In 1892, she was found guilty by Liscard Petty Sessions of drunkenness and was sentenced to seven days imprisonment. The following year, she was found guilty of being riotous and was sentenced to seven days hard labour by the Liverpool Petty Sessions.

Ann Sweetman's prison record, showing a career in theft.

Ann Sweetman’s prison record, showing a career in theft.

Things got worse, however, in 1894 when Emma and another woman, Ann Sweetman, were charged jointly with breaking and entering at the home of Margaret Jane Purcell, her employer. On 19th April of that year, Emma was accused of taking  two toilet covers, two towels, one sheet and two aprons. Four days later she was accused of stealing one chemise and one toilet cover and the following day of taking one sheet and one pillow. They were tried on 8th June but the outcomes were to be very different for the two women. Ann Sweetman, Emma’s co-defendent,  pleaded not guilty and was acquitted. Emma, on the other hand, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two months hard labour at H.M. Prison, Liverpool. Emma could be forgiven for feeling hard-done-to as she had no previous record for theft whereas Ann Sweetman had seemingly made a career out of larceny.

Things obviously never improved for Emma Seager as, when she died in 1917, she was living at the Salvation Army House in Everton. She is buried at West Derby Cemetery in a public grave.

Thankfully for Mary Ann Seager, my great great grandmother, she ended her life in much more pleasant surroundings, at the home of her son, Harry Irwin, in Seacombe. She was buried alongside her husband at Anfield Cemetery.

There are still so many aspects of this family’s history that remains unknown, especially with regards to what became of William Seager the younger after he left the employment of the Bootle surgeon. Hopefully, as more records become available, I will be able to lay the Seager family to rest.

Drowned in the River

Septimus Eyes, 1859 - 1947, husband of the dead woman.

Septimus Eyes, 1859 – 1947, husband of the dead woman.

On September 17th, 1911, Septimus Eyes, proprieter of the Rai Falls Accomodation House in the Rai Valley, New Zealand, retired to bed as normal. Waking at approximately 4.20am, he struck a match to ascertain the time then went back to sleep, noting that his wife was also still awake. At 7.20am, he woke for a second time and realised that his wife, Emily Cecelia Eyes (nee Jones), was no longer there.

He woke up his family and started to search the house and the surrounding vicinity but there was no sign of her. They even searched further afield into the nearby bush areas to no avail; Emily was missing. Septimus immediately became concerned for his wife’s wellbeing as, in addition to her complaining of headaches and noticing a decline in her health over the past three months, the area had been inundated with flood waters from the Pelorus River and the water had become too deep for coaches to pass through.

Search parties were deployed led by Constable O’Grady and the local newspapers reported the details of the missing woman but, by September 21st, still no trace could be found. By now, it was assumed that she had fallen into the swollen river but, due to the increasing water levels, the authorties had been unable to conduct any dragging operations.

The Pelorus River, where Mrs Eyes died, was a location used in 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'The Hobbit' films.

The Pelorus River, where Mrs Eyes died, was a location used in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ films.

On October 5th, William Twidle, a farmer from the Pelorus, had just started to milk his cows when one of his boys noticed an object floating on the far side of the river. He got into a dinghy and went to investigate. On pulling the object into the dinghy, he found that it was the body of a woman, so travelled to Havelock to make contact with the local police.

The family was summoned and Septimus identified the body as his wife by a ring she was wearing. Their son, Harry Dean Eyes, viewed the body and also confirmed it was his mother. He told the following inquest that, on the night before her disappearance, he had spoken to his mother at about 10pm but had not noticed anything strange about her manner. The body was also identified by Herbert Spencer Jones, Emily’s brother, who corroborated statements regarding the declining health of the dead woman.

The jury at the inquest did not take any time to conclude that Emily had lately been troubled by her health, resulting in bouts of insomnia. The verdict was recorded as ‘death by misadventure.’ She was buried at Havelock Cemetery on October 6th, 1911.

The William Roscoe connection

Poet, historian, botanist, politician, philanthropist, abolitionist… All words  to describe one of Liverpool’s most famous, sons, William Roscoe. I was always aware of Roscoe and his role in the cultural society of Liverpool but was amazed when I found a connection to my family.

Roscoe's Birthplace in Mount Pleasant, Liverpool.

Roscoe’s Birthplace in Mount Pleasant, Liverpool.

Born on March 8th, 1753, in Mount Pleasant, he left school at the age of twelve after developing an interest in literature and poetry. At the age of fifteen, after working for a short time in a book shop, he became articled to John Eyes, a solicitor, my 7x great-uncle. He remained with John Eyes for six years and described this time as, “the most painful part of my life.”

As part of the conditions of his apprenticeship, Roscoe was sent to board with John Eyes’ sister, Emblin. Emblin’s husband, James Sherman, was a captain in the slave trade who had retired on his savings. In a letter to his sister-in-law, Mrs Moss, in 1831, Roscoe recalled a particularly troubling time:

I had not been domesticated there long before I was disturbed at midnight by cries and shrieks proceeding from the bedchamber of the captain and his wife. When rushing into the room, I found the captain struggling to get through the window, restrained only by his wife, who was nearly exhausted by the effort. Our joint efforts prevailed, however, to retain them in the room, when he proceeded to put on his clothes and taking a candle in his hand, set out on an excursion to visit his neighbours… after having knocked to no purpose at the doors till a late hour in the morning he returned home.

William Roscoe

William Roscoe

Roscoe goes on to say that, at the time, there were rumours of a war on account of the Falkland Islands and that Sherman feared being press-ganged. He continues, though, by saying that Sherman had also aquired a habit of drinking ‘ardent spirits’ and that this sort of behaviour was a regular occurrence. At the age of sixteen, Roscoe also prevented Sherman from committing suicide by stopping him from cutting his throat – he had already partly succeeded.

The arrangement ended abruptly as, in 1770,  James Sherman died. This was followed the following year by the death of John Eyes who, according to Roscoe, was also ‘an unfortunate victim of intemperance.’

Despite Roscoe’s unhappy times whilst apprenticed to John Eyes, it is Eyes who has been credited with discovering Roscoe’s talents after finding some verses he had written on Shenstone the poet. He introduced Roscoe to the Academy of Arts – Eyes had been one of the founding members of the institution which became the Liverpool Academy of Arts.

Roscoe would go on to be member of parliament for Liverpool in 1806, creator of the Liverpool Botanic Gardens and would write pamphlets against the slave trade. He died in 1831.

Lest We Forget

On Remembrance Sunday, my thoughts have turned to the members of my family who fought for their country, never to return. I have already written about my grandfather’s cousin, Hubert Stanley Denson, who died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme http://unearthingtheskeletons.wordpress.com/2013/07/06/battle-of-the-somme-a-tragic-tale/ and I would like to share another story of an ancestor who died in World War One.

John Stephen Mills, my great-grandmother’s brother, was born on 18th December 1890 and, due to his father being a manager of a public house, he spent the early part of his life moving from house to house, living in the Liverpool areas of Bootle, Everton and Kensington. By the age of 20, he was still living at the family home of 67 Kensington, working as a restaurant porter.

North Lancashire Regiment

North Lancashire Regiment

On the outbreak of World War One, John decided to join the armed forces and was attested at Seaforth on 9th September 1914, becoming a private in the 8th battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire regiment. After moving to Boscombe, Bournemouth, back to Boscome and then finally to Romsey, on 22nd May 1915, he was promoted to Lance Corporal in an unpaid capacity and a month later, was in a paid position.

On 25th September 1915, just over a week after being posted abroad (to Boulogne), John did what other members of the armed forces did and wrote a will in the event of him not returning. These handwritten wills were kept in the pocket service books of the soldier and tucked into their uniforms. John’s read:

In the event of my death, I give the whole of my property and affects to my mother and if my mother be deceased at the time of my death I bequeath the whole of my property and affects to my brother Edward and if he be deceased at the time of my death to my niece Margaret Mills. Signed the 25th day of Sept 1915, John Stephen Mills, L Corpl. No 15429 8th North Loyal North Lancs.

Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais

Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais

Sadly, the instructions in this will had to be carried out as John Stephen Mills was reported missing on 21st May 1916 and, later the same day, was declared killed in action. He is remembered on the Arras Memorial in Pas de Calais. His mother, Annie Florence Mills, later claimed his medals – the 1914-18 Star, Victory Medal and British War Medal.

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The Hexthorpe Rail Accident

On Friday 16th September, 1887, Doncaster and the surrounding area was teeming with crowds, all hoping to witness the winner of the Doncaster Cup, a race that had been established as far back as 1766.  At 11am, the Midland train left Sheffield and by 12.15, it had arrived at the special ticket platform at Hexthorpe.

While the tickets were being collected, another train was fast approaching, travelling at what was estimated as 35-40 m.p.h. On seeing the train in front of him, the driver of the Liverpool, Manchester and Hull express, applied the brake and put his train into reverse. It was too late, however, and soon ploughed into the rear of the stationary train.

The Hexthorpe Rail Disaster, 16th Se.ptember 1887

The Hexthorpe Rail Disaster, 16th September 1887

The rear carriage was completely smashed and another carriage was shattered by the engine of the express. The sound of steam escaping from the engine was mixed with the screams of the injured and dying. Chaos ensued as people tried to escape the carriages and, within an hour, fifty people had been removed from the train and were being treated on the platform by doctors and surgeons from the neighbouring towns. It was decided that most of the injured should be sent to Doncaster Infirmary and carriages were soon being used to transport the more seriously injured.

Within four hours, twenty three bodies had been recovered from the wreckage – an arduous task as, due to the nature of the accident, the bodies were packed tightly together and needed to be removed with saws and hatchets. Traumatised survivors witnessed body parts rolling onto the bank as the carriages were taken apart.

One of the injured was John Goldsmith, the second husband of Lydia Atkin (nee Hollingsworth). John, the landlord of the Royal Oak in Cemetery Road, Sheffield, had a compound fracture of one leg and a simple fracture of the other and was taken to Doncaster Infirmary with the rest of the injured. He remained in hospital until December 15th when he was moved back home, accompanied by a police inspector and two constables.

All Saints, Ecclesall, Sheffield.

All Saints, Ecclesall, Sheffield.

Goldsmith appeared to be recovering well and was attended to by Doctors Barber, Jackson and Dyson. He took a turn for the worse, however, and at 9.45pm on Tuesday 6th March 1888, he died at home as a direct result of his injuries, making the number of fatalities from the accident rise to 26. He was buried six days later at All Saints Church, Ecclesall, Sheffield.