Val’s Day at the National Archives

We have been playing detective for almost 20 years.  The best clues in our Search for WJ have almost always come from visiting archives.   In October, 2011, we were in London and London houses the daddy of all the archives – The National Archive at Kew.  “1,000 years of history in documents” is a great incentive to make the trip to London.  We just could not resist taking a day to go and soak up the experience of seeing and touching the paper that recorded contemporaneously the events that touched their lives of our forebears.

Our archive experience started on a high note right from day 1 in Hobart in 1994.  We didn’t know anything but we blundered our way into finding gold on WJ.  We started digging in the Tasmanian Archive with only the name of my great grandmother and a rough idea of when she was born.  Within hours we we found our very first record.  It was WJ’s ‘Permission to Marry’ record which allowed him as a convict to marry Ann Carey on the 17th April, 1854.

What Val was about to experience in London was special.  She was about to hold the actual paper record of the court martial of WJ.  It was recorded by the court scribe on the 30th March, 1843 in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. It was signed off by Dr AS Kane who said WJ was fit to undertake any punishment from flogging to hard labour.  It was signed off by Captain Richard French who chaired the proceeding and by Captain Evelyn K.G. Packlington who had the role of Deputy Judge Advocate for the hearing.

My Readers Ticket for the National Archive allowed me to order the records online the day before, to cut down our time at the Archive without records. The 5 sets of documents were ready for us in the document reading room lockers when we arrived and seat 6G had been allocated. We were ready to roll.

We brought the archive box to our desk, removed the ribbons and took the lid off.  There was WJ’s Court Martial record right on the top of the box, just as I had left it a year earlier. Nobody had looked in the last year.  When I first found this record in 2010, I placed the court martial records for WJ, Kennedy and Keefe on the top of the box of records.

Opening the National Archive file box

Val opened WJ’s Court Martial record up and made her way through it.  It is definitely easier to read the transcription, but nonetheless a great experience working through the original.  When Val had finished WJ’s trial record, she then read through the trial records of fellow escapees Keefe and Kennedy.

Val looking at WJ's Court Martial

I went through other items in the archive box and found another 2 Court Martial hearings for the 52nd regiment in Fredericton. I couldn’t resist taking copies of them for review to further understand the context of WJ’s trial. The interesting thing about these other desertions is that both of these poor wretches tried to make it to America and were both caught at one the Deserter Posts near Woodstock.  Bob Dalison from the historical society in Fredericton had told us about Deserter Posts and here was the proof.

I wanted to make sure that I tried to find new material, since I was at the Archive and it is an awful long way to come to look at material already seen.  I wanted to find how long the 52nd Regiment stayed in Canada after WJ’s expulsion from it.  I went through 6 set of Regimental Muster Rolls and Pay-Lists to find that the regiment stayed on until the Spring of 1847.  It took 2 document requests to order up the documents.  Amazingly it only took 30 minutes for each of those sets of records to be retrieved and delivered to my reader’s box for reading. What a great system! And for free!!!

Box WO 71/350 - WJ's Record on Top

The other thing I wanted to look for was any record of George Luther Hatheway being paid for the capture of WJ and his 2 fellow deserters. And eurika – I did! Voucher No 75 of the Pay List for the period April to June 1843 was for payment to “Mr Hatheway for apprehension of deserters”.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t found the amount. The Pay-List is a summary, so I had to be happy with that find.

I think I could move into the Archive.   But my attention was called back to reality by a text from Lynette letting me know that our taxi to Heathrow had just picked her up from Andrew and Megan’s house and would be picking me up in around 45 minutes. Thud!!  I won’t be moving into the Archive, I will be going back home and really soon.

Val’s Day at the Archive was over – now back home to Australia to transcribe, to interpret and to share.

The Home Town of WJ

After the christening of William Oscar at St John the Evangelist Church at Crosscanonby we took the coastal route alongside Solway Firth into the sleepy little town of Maryport. The original town was based around a Roman fort which was intended to prevent invaders from the north avoiding Hadrian’s Wall by using Solway Firth.

In the 1800’s Maryport developed as an industrial centre with a busy port. In WJ’s day, this industrial development would have kept the Turners busy with their High St whitesmith shop.

Maryport Harbour

In the early 1900’s Maryport became a ghost with the development of a port elsewhere, coal strikes and a failure to compete with other centres. It now has a population of around 11,000 and is still sleepy. But you can buy Thai, Chinese and Pizza and more importantly, there are plenty of English pubs and these are absolutely my favourite place to go to.

Maryport has had a couple of notable residents including Fletcher Christian of Mutiny on the Bounty fame and it now has an annual blues festival that has been attended by some notables like Chuck Berry and Jethro Tull. There is great coverage of Maryport in Wikipedia.

Andrew and Megan had resisted the attractions of Maryport a few years earlier whilst travelling the UK.  They didn’t know that it was the home town of ancestor William Lighfoot Johnston who became Andrew’s 4th great-grandfather.   But on this occasion, we were on a mission, so they were prepared to have a look around while we waited for the church service to start. We had a lovely tea, some shortbread and Irish butter at a café down at the Maryport Marina.

Megan, Will and Bill having tea and fine biscuits at marina at Maryport

This low area of the town was where WJ’s dad, John Johnston and other seaman would have moored there boats, carried out repairs and sail services, lived and had their entertainment.

The port of Maryport

We had a short walk up the High St to get the feel for where a whitesmith shop might have been 160 years ago, been but there wasn’t a clue to be had. We did have one clue, however, which we used to deduce reasonably close to where it might have been. There was an incident which resulted in a death of William Brown at the hands of George Turner in 1830.

Looking down John St Maryport from High St

We know that occurred outside of Sarah Turner’s house in John St Maryport. Her house was around the corner from High St.

Corner of High and John St Maryport

We think the Thirlwell Turners whitesmith shop was close to the John St intersection with High St but we just don’t know whether it was up High St or down High St. The death of William Smith incident will be covered in a future blog, A Bad Days’ Work.

View up High St Maryport

From High St we could see out into Solway Firth. A notable feature is the banks of wind-generators in the sea. They stand in rows. We saw them from the air when we flew from Liverpool to Belfast. There were lots of them.

Looking out to the Irish Sea from High St Maryport

One thing that came home to me, whilst looking back east from Carnlough in Ireland was just how close Scotland comes to Ireland. The land that we could see across Solway Firth from High St Maryport was Scotland and that the land we were seeing from Ireland was the end of the land bounding Solway Firth from the Scottish side. No surprise that John Johnston came from Ireland and that the McClintocks from County Antrim in Ireland think they have Scottish ancestry.

The entrance to the marina area in Maryport is a little more sophisticated that what John Johnston would have sailed into and out in his coastal barque. I found it interesting that the boats had flat bottoms and at low tide simply rest on the mud and float again at high tide. Getting that tide right really matters!

The sea entrance to Maryport

After a delightful Sunday Lunch at one of the pubs that could have been Bowell’s Public House in 1830, we headed back to Bowness-on-Windamere to explore Beatrix Potter country.

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