The Fall and Rise of William Henry Eyes, Part 1

Sometimes, when researching your family history, some discoveries can shock you to the core. The story of my first cousin, five times removed was certainly an example of this.

William Henry Eyes

William Henry Eyes

William Henry Eyes, the son of Charles Eyes and Lucinda Ann Robinson, was born in Liverpool on 23rd October 1821. Due to his father’s position as a South American merchant and ship owner, William Henry had quite a privileged upbringing and was educated in Knutsford, Cheshire. He later found employment at Gladstone and Sergeantson, cotton brokers (Gladstone being the first cousin of Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone) where he would remain until 1838.

On 28th February 1839, William Henry Eyes embarked on a journey that would change the course of his entire life. Leaving Liverpool on the Heber, he set sail for Australia, stopping off at the Cape of Good Hope on May 28th before finally arriving at Port Jackson, Sydney on July 27th. Unlike the five children who died en route, William Henry arrived safely and ready to start his new life.

In 1841, he travelled overland to Melbourne, a journey that took four months, with cattle and horses. On his return to Sydney, he entered into partnership with a Mr. Lord, a stock and station agent, in a cattle station near Bateman’s Bay, in New South Wales. This, however, was not a successful investment.

Three years later, on April 22nd 1844, William Henry Eyes made the newspapers, but for all the wrong reasons…

Rosina Thomas, aged 9, had, along with her younger brother, left the family home at Wollongong, New South Wales, in order to look after their cows. During the journey of about half a mile, they were joined by Eyes who proceeded to accompany them into the bush. After sending her brother away to play on the beach, he assaulted the young girl.

The following day, Rosina reported what had happened to her mother who, along with Dr. Edward Boot, examined the young girl. Boot, a member of the College of Surgeons of London, concluded that no rape had been committed although there was some evidence of inflammation. He did admit, however, that this could have arisen from other causes.

On Wednesday 3rd July, William Henry Eyes was indicted of assault and a jury, without retiring, found him guilty; there was not enough evidence that the capital charge had been committed. On being asked if he had anything to say why sentence should not be passed on him, in a written statement, he noted his, “want of moral and religious observation.”

Parramatta Gaol

Parramatta Gaol

The judge expressed his abhorrence of the crime the prisoner had committed and his regret at the inadequacy of the law as it now stood, there being no medium between transportation for life for the capital offence, and that of imprisonment for the assault. Eyes was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in Parramatta Gaol, the first week in every month to be in solitary confinement.

The story did not end there, however, as on 24th June 1845, William Henry Eyes received an absolute pardon, less than a year after his conviction. The pardon was signed by George Gipps, Governor of New South Wales. The circumstances behind the pardon are not known.

This was not the last time that William Henry Eyes would appear in the press. It was, however, for an entirely different reason…

Killed by a Train

After experiencing the untimely death of his mother who was drowned in the Pelorus River, ( Herbert Wilmor Eyes almost certainly hoped that the rest of his life would be uneventful. This, however, was not to be the case…

Born in Picton, New Zealand, in 1888, the eldest son of Septimus Eyes and Emily Cecelia Jones, Herbert Wilmor Eyes started to put the tragedy of his mother’s death behind him when, the following year, in 1912, he married Dorothy Thorpe of Rai Valley at St. Mark’s Church. The ceremony was reported in the Marlborough Express on 11th May 1912.

The church had been tastefully decorated by friends of the young couple. The bride, who was given away by her mother, wore a dainty white silk dress, trimmed with a silk fringe and lace, and wore a wreath and veil, and carried a shower bouquet… After the ceremony a small reception was held at the residence of the bride’s mother, to a few relatives of the bride and bridegroom. The happy couple left during the afternoon to spend their honeymoon in Blenheim and Picton.

Spending a number of years as a farmer, at some point during the 1920s, Herbert began working as a baker, establishing a bread making and delivery business in the centre of the town of Levin. Due to deliveries being made both in the town and the country, the business proved to be quite profitable.

Level Crossing at Palmerston North where the accident took place.

Level Crossing at Palmerston North where the accident took place.

On February 17th 1928, Herbert set off to make a bread delivery, his wife Dorothy accompanying him in the passenger seat of his van. On attempting to  pass over the railway line at Palmerston North, it would seem that he did not notice the oncoming north-bound New Plymouth express nor heard the sound of the whistle. It was noted, at the time, that the level crossing was a particularly dangerous one, the road running parallel with the train line for over 500 feet before turning sharply across it.

A few seconds before the collision, Dorothy, who was nearest the train, did notice it and grasped her husband. It was too late, however, and the train hit the van in the middle, wrecking it instantly and carrying the engine over 250 feet past the crossing. Dorothy received severe head injuries and died instantaneously; Herbert, however, was carried along with the van wreckage before being thrown clear.

The grave of Herbert Wilmor Eyes and his wife, Dorothy, at Levin Old Cemetery.

The grave of Herbert Wilmor Eyes and his wife, Dorothy, at Levin Old Cemetery.

The first people to reach the scene of the accident were passengers on the train – Hon J. A. Young (Minister of Health), Dr. T. H. A. Valintine (Director-General of Health) and Constable Tocker. They provided medical assistance until the arrival of L. J. Hunter, a doctor from Levin. Herbert was suffering from serious head and shoulder injuries so Hunter, under Valintine’s supervision, placed him in the guard’s van and took him to Palmerston North Hospital.

Sadly, Herbert Wilmor Eyes would never recover from his injuries and, the following day, passed away at the hospital he was taken to after the accident. Herbert and Dorothy left behind three small children and were buried together at Levin Old Cemetery.

An Eighteen Year Search!

A lot of people think that researching your family history is a case of searching a few websites and downloading relevant information. If only it was that easy! Sometimes it can take years to find an elusive document and, frequently, a ‘brick wall’ refuses to be broken down. Recently, a lot of hard work finally paid off as I discovered another interesting branch of my family – here are the steps I had to take to prove my connection!

Holy Trinity burial register

Holy Trinity burial register

My four times great grandmother, Mary Green, married Edward Eyes on April 20th 1811 at St. Peter’s Church, Church Street, Liverpool. They had three children: Mary Ann, who died aged only eight months; Edward, my three times great grandfather, and Sarah, who would go on to marry the head of the Liverpool Stock Exchange. For many years, the only other information I could find out about Mary was gleaned from her gravestone – she died in May 1818 and was buried at Holy Trinity Church, Wavertree. Records show that she was aged 35, making her born in about 1783.

Fast forward about eighteen years when I managed to locate a copy of the ‘license bond and allegation’ for their 1811 marriage. Although, at this time, unlike modern marriage certificates, there was no requirement to name the father of the married couple, a name other than those getting married was given – Thomas Green, watch maker. Was this Mary’s father?

Baprism of Mary Green, 12th June 1781, St. Anne, Liverpool

Baprism of Mary Green, 12th June 1781, St. Anne, Liverpool

A look through parish records turned up the baptism of a Mary Green, daughter of Thomas Green, watchmaker. This had to be her. The only problem was the date of birth – two years out from the information gained from the burial register. Although this was not a huge difference, I was still not prepared to accept this Mary as ‘mine’ just yet!

A further look through parish records revealed several more children of Thomas Green, all born in Liverpool: Thomas, born 1780; William, born 1782; Catherine, born 1787 and Charles born 1793. Thomas Green’s marriage was also located: he married Ann Hardy at St. Anne’s Church on 27th April 1778. Records revealed that Thomas was born in about 1748 and that Ann, his wife, was born in Snaith, Yorkshire in about 1753. All useful information but it still didn’t get me any nearer to determining whether this was my family.

Credited to 'Wyke and Green, Liverpool'

Credited to ‘Wyke and Green, Liverpool’

It was at this point that I decided to look a little bit into the life of Thomas Green – if he was a watchmaker, he would surely appear in local trade directories so a trip to the Liverpool Record Office was needed. The first time he appeared was in 1781 when a ‘Thomas Green, watchmaker, 7 Temple Street’ was listed. This tied in with the details on Mary’s baptism record – I was on the right track. In the next directory, 1787, his career had changed slightly as, this time, he was recorded as a ‘Watch and Clock Tool Manufacturer’ of Wyke’s Court, Dale Street. He would continue to be listed in trade directories until 1811, giving me an estimate of when he died.

Thomas Green, it would seem, was quite well known in the world of horology due to his partnership with John Wyke, a well-known Liverpool clock maker. A google search of John Wyke provides numerous hits showing the extent of his work. This research method also revealed some of Thomas Green’s work and also brought to light a book – Catalogue of Tools for Watch and Clock Makers. This catalogue, issued by John Wyke and Thomas Green of Dale Street, Liverpool, is the earliest known English printed source illustrating the extensive range of tools then available for watch and clock makers. It is, therefore, of great importance to anyone researching 18th century horology.

It stood to reason that Thomas Green would have left a will but I searched to no avail. No burial record could be found either – a dead end. I did, however, manage to find an obituary for him in The Gentleman’s Magazine in 1811:

At the Talbot Inn, Bristol, after three days’ illness, Thomas Green, esq. of Wyke’s Court, Liverpool; an honourable tradesman and an accomplished gentleman.

This, at least, proved that he had died in 1811, sometime after the marriage of my four times great grandparents. I then returned to the trade directories to see if his wife was listed at the same address after his death. At the same address, 1 Wyke’s Court, Dale Street, in 1813,was an ‘Elizabeth Green, watch and clock tool maker.’ This was not the wife of Thomas so who was it? I continued to trace her through directories and found that the last time she appeared was in 1825 when she was listed as living at 17 Cases Street.  I located a burial for this Elizabeth, on 14th September 1824, at St. Anne’s, where her age given on the register as 46. This put her birth at about 1778, so could be a possible daughter of Thomas. The newspaper marriage announcement for Mary Green and Edward Eyes said that Mary was the ‘second daughter of Mr Green’ so this would also support my theory.

Catherine Green and Thomas Hughes marriage

Catherine Green and Thomas Hughes marriage

A will search, this time, proved fruitful and I applied to the Lancashire Record Office for a copy. This gave me the breakthrough that I needed. One of the beneficiaries of the will was Elizabeth’s sister, ‘Catherine Hughes, wife of Thomas Hughes.’ If I could find a marriage of a Catherine Green to a Thomas Hughes, it may give me a clue. On 2nd April 1815, at St Nicholas Church, there it was: Catherine Green married Thomas Hughes, three of the witnesses being William Green, Elizabeth Green and …Mary Eyes! I had found my connection!

This goes to prove how researching your family history isn’t the quick hobby some people think it is. Now there’s just the small task of a lottery win so I can purchase one of Thomas Green’s watches or clocks…



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.

Charles Minnigerode and America’s First Christmas Tree

Nicholas Duckworth, husband of Lucinda Ann Eyes.

Nicholas Duckworth, husband of Lucinda Ann Eyes.

Sometimes, when researching your family history, you chance upon a story that is quite momentous. I had one of these moments when researching the Duckworth family – a family of cotton merchants who married into my family on 1st January 1839 when Nicholas Duckworth married Lucinda Ann Eyes at St. George’s Church, Everton, Liverpool.

Nicholas and Lucinda had thirteen children, one of whom being James Alexander Duckworth, born on 26th February 1854 in Rose Hill, Claughton. He married twice, first of all to Emsie Minnigerode on 4th May 1881 in St. Paul’s Church, Richmond, Virginia, USA. Emsie’s father, Charles Minnigerode was born in 1814 in Westphalia (in modern day Germany). A Lutheran, he studied law at the University of Giessen where he became heavily involved in politics. He was termed a ‘radical’ and spent four and a half years in prison, reading only the Bible until his release.

Charles Minnigerode

Charles Minnigerode

He set sail for America in 1839, settling in Philadelphia. Managing to learn English in three months, he became a language teacher teaching Greek, Latin, Hebrew as well as German. Three years later, in 1842, he relocated to Williamsburg becoming professor of humanities at the College of William and Mary. Whilst at Williamsburg, he befriended Judge Nathaniel Beverly Tucker who invited him to spend Christmas with his family at St. George Tucker House.

Whilst there, he spoke to Tucker’s children, telling them of the German tradition of decorating a tree at Christmas. It is said that Minnigerode went into the woods, cut down a small pine tree and took it into Tucker’s home. He helped the children to decorate it with colourful paper balls and popcorn and cut down candles to affix to the tree. The children danced as the candles were lit one by one.

St. George Tucker House, Williamsburg.

St. George Tucker House, Williamsburg.

The following year, many Williamsburg residences contained a Christmas tree and, today, a small tree is placed on the Tucker house porch to commemorate Minnigerode.