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The last few posts have followed the lives of the children of my great great grandparents Daniel and Mary Ann Roe, after their deaths in 1870. We’ve seen that John Richard Roe died just a few years after his parents, at the age of sixteen, while Daniel Ellis Roe spent some time in the army and then in civilian life as an engineer, before dying after a fall from a ladder at the age of thirty-six. Kezia Eliza Roe married frame-maker Edward Temple but they seem to have had no children, while Mary Ann Blanch Roe married actor Leonard Kew and made a name for herself on the stage as ‘vocal comedienne’ Blanche Vincent.
Soho Parish School, 23 Great Windmill Street, built on the site of the house where Joseph Priestley Roe was born, which was demolished in 1870 (author’s photograph)
In this post I’ll explore the life of Daniel and Mary Ann Roe’s youngest child, my great grandfather Joseph Priestley Roe. Born in 1862 at 23 Great Windmill Street, Soho, Joseph was just eight years old when his parents died. In 1871, while his brothers and sisters were being looked after by their grandmother Keziah Blanch in Broad Street, Soho, nine-year-old Joseph was in the care of his uncle and aunt, Thomas and Eliza Parker, at their home in Albany Road, Camberwell. Eliza Parker née Roe was his late father Daniel’s sister.
At some point in the next ten years, Joseph went to live with another aunt and uncle in Grange Road, West Ham. Emma Trader née Blanch was the sister of Joseph’s late mother, Mary Ann Roe née Blanch. Her husband, Walter Trader, worked as a butcher, and it’s possible that Joseph’s move to West Ham was motivated by a need to find work. The 1881 census finds him living with the Traders and working as a butcher’s assistant, presumably with his uncle Walter.
Marriage certificate for Joseph Priestley Roe and Eliza Bailey
Two years later, on 25th November 1883, Joseph Priestley Roe married Eliza Bailey at St Anne’s church in Limehouse, which was, as we’ve noted before, a favourite of Joseph’s family: his parents Daniel Roe and Mary Ann Blanch had married there in 1848, as had his grandparents John Blanch and Keziah Holdsworth in 1827. At the time of their marriage Joseph was twenty-one and Eliza was eighteen. They both gave their address as 56 Church Row, which was close to St Anne’s church and may have been an address of convenience to enable them to marry there. Joseph signed his full name, but Eliza made her mark. Joseph was working as a carman, i.e. the driver of a horse-drawn vehicle. The marriage was witnessed by Eliza’s father, William Bailey, a labourer, and by Flora Blanch, who was Joseph’s cousin, the daughter of his mother’s brother John Holdsworth Blanch. Flora seems to have been looked after by her grandmother Keziah Blanch from an early age; in 1883 she would have been just fourteen years old.
Barking, Wall End and East Ham in J. Cary’s Map of Fifteen Miles Round London, 1786 (via motco.com)
The Baileys had lived in Barking and worked as farm labourers for at least two generations. The earliest record we have for Eliza Bailey’s father William is the 1841 census, which finds him, aged sixteen, living with his parents and family in North Street, Barking (not far from Cowbridge Lane: both roads still exist). From this record we know that William was born in about 1824 and that he was the eldest of the four children of John Bailey, who was born in about 1801, and his wife Eliza, born in 1802. Like his father, William worked as an agricultural labourer. His younger brothers and sisters were Sarah, born in 1828; John, 1831; Mary, 1834; and Louisa, 1837.
William’s father John Bailey must have died before the 1851 census, which finds his widow Eliza, aged forty-eight, living at Mumdays Rooms, close to Barking High Street. With her are daughters Sarah, twenty-two; Mary, eighteen; and Louisa, fourteen. All except Louisa are described as field labourers. We also learn from this record that, though the children were all born in Barking, their mother was originally from Bishops Stortford.
By 1851 William, now twenty-six years old, was married to Elizabeth, twenty-five. They were living at Wall End, Barking Road, East Ham, with their children Louisa, two, and John, one month. William is said to have been born in Barking and his wife and children in East Ham, so it’s likely they had been living at this address since they were married, probably in about 1848. Both William and Elizabeth are described in the census record as agricultural labourers.
The Baileys’ immediate neighbours in 1851 were also farm workers, although a few doors away lived a police constable, and beyond him one Jabez Abbott, a farmer of 105 acres employing eleven labourers (was William Bailey among them?). At the time Wall End was a hamlet on the Barking border, linked to East Ham High Street by Barking Road.
Ten years later the Baileys were still in Wall End, though they appear to have moved house. Now they were two doors away from the Duke’s Head pub, separated from it only by the home of forty-eight-year-old Halifax-born Chelsea Pensioner William Barrand. The Duke’s Head still exists in Barking Road, though it was rebuilt early in the twentieth century. In addition to Louisa, twelve, and John, ten (who despite his young age ‘works in fields’), they now have two other children: Thomas, eight, and William, four.
Map of East Ham and Barking from 1894-1896, with Wall End and Duke’s Head pub visible in the centre, and fields still existing between the two towns.
In 1871 William and his family seem to be at the same address, though the house between them and the Duke’s Head (where the lodgers include three unnamed circus performers) is now occupied by retired Norfolk fisherman High Campbell (whose household includes visiting Swedish tailor John Stare). Besides William and Elizabeth, both aged forty-seven, the Bailey household consists of John, twenty, Thomas, eighteen, William, fifteen, and Joseph, ten, all of them farm labourers like their father – as well as Eliza, my great grandmother, whose age could be read as either five or eight, but is almost certainly the latter, given that she is said to be seventeen years old in the 1881 census record. This means that she was born in either 1863 or 1864.
Young women working in a jute mill (via news.bbc.co.uk)
The most surprising revelation in the 1871 record is that, at eight years old, Eliza was already working in a jute factory. Jute is a vegetable fibre that can be spun into coarse, strong threads. The Barking Jute Works opened in 1866 and according to the local authority’s website:
The majority of the jute workers were young females, usually single and often away from the control of their families. Determined to enjoy themselves they developed a reputation for drunken brawling at weekends and bank holidays which made the town notorious in the 1880s and 1890s.
The website claims that the youngest worker was ten years old. However, Eliza’s involvement may be explained by this note:
Outwork was provided for local Barking women and children in the form of sack sewing. The cloth was cut to size in the factory and carried home along with hanks of tarred twine. The sacks were sewn at home and then returned to the factory for payment.
By 1881 the Bailey family address appears to have changed again. Their address is given simply as ‘Cottage, High Street, Wall End’. Chapel House and Abbotts Farm Cottage are to one side (the Baileys’ neighbour John Archer is said to be the foreman at Abbotts Farm), but there is no sign of the Duke’s Head. The Bailey household consists of fifty-six-year-old William and Elizabeth, their son John, twenty, a general labourer, and seventeen-year-old Eliza, who is still working as a jute spinner.
Eliza Roe née Bailey and Joseph Priestley Roe
Two years later Eliza married Joseph Roe. By the time of the 1891 census, just eight years after their marriage, Joseph and Eliza already had six children: twins Joseph William and Mary Elizabeth, both born in 1884; Emma Kezia, 1886; Walter Ellis Roe, 1887; Richard Roe, 1888; and Flora Eliza, 1889.
The census record finds them living, together with Eliza’s parents, at 36 Denmark Terrace, East Ham, which I assume was close to the Denmark Arms on the corner of Barking Road and East Ham High Street. Joseph is now working as a dock labourer, but his sixty-seven-year-old father-in-law William Bailey seems still to be working as a farm labourer.
By 1901 Eliza and Joseph had two more children – William Thomas, born in 1892, and John, born in 1895 – and had moved, together with Eliza’s parents, now aged seventy-five, to 313 Barking Road. William is still working and is described in the census record, like his son-in-law Joseph and sixteen-year-old grandson Joseph William, as a ‘general labourer’’ Joseph and Eliza Roe’s youngest child, Minnie Louisa – my grandmother – would be born on 20th April 1902.
Junction of Barking Road and East Ham High Street, early twentieth century (via pubs history.com)
I don’t know when William and Elizabeth Bailey died, but they were no longer living with Eliza and Joseph at the time of the 1911 census, so I assume they had died at some point in the first decade of the century. The census record finds Joseph, forty-eight, and Eliza, forty-seven, living at 92 Oakfield Road, East Ham, with their son Richard, twenty-eight, a general labourer; Flora, twenty-two, a laundress; Elizabeth, twenty, also a laundress; William, eighteen, and John, seventeen, both office boys at John Mowlam Construction; and Minnie, eight.
The names given to their children by my great grandparents Joseph and Eliza Roe offer clues as to the significant people in their lives. It’s clear that Joseph William Roe was named after his father, and his maternal grandfather, William Bailey. His twin sister Mary Elizabeth must have been named after her two grandmothers, Mary Ann Roe and Elizabeth Bailey. Emma Kezia was probably named after Joseph’s aunt Emma Trader, with whom he lived as a young man, while Kezia may derive from his maternal grandmother, Keziah Blanch née Holdsworth, or from his older sister with the same name.
Walter Ellis was probably named after Joseph’s uncle Walter Trader, for whom he had worked as a young man, while his middle name reflects the close ties between the Roe, Blanch and Ellis families that I explored in this post. Flora Eliza bears the name of the cousin who was a witness at Joseph’s wedding, while her middle name probably derives from her mother. Elizabeth, William and John were important Bailey names: the first two were the names of Eliza’s parents, but she also had brothers named John and William, and a grandfather named John. The latter was also the name of Joseph Roe’s older brother.
Joseph and Eliza Roe
Joseph Priestley Roe died in 1947 at the age of eighty-five. His wife Eliza lived for another twelve years, in the home of her daughter Minnie, my grandmother, at 24 Oakfield Road, East Ham. I have faint memories, from the early years of my childhood, of going to visit my Nan and Grandad and being aware of a very old lady who lived upstairs. Apparently my great grandmother couldn’t get used to my name – Martin – and insisted on referring to me, using my father’s name, as ‘Little Peter’. Eliza Roe née Bailey died in 1959 at the age of ninety-six.
In the next post I’ll explore what became of Joseph and Eliza Roe’s children.
In the two preceding posts I’ve written about the children of my 3 x great grandparents, Bethnal Green shoemaker John Blanch and his wife Keziah Holdsworth: firstly about their eldest son, Joseph James, and then in the last post about three of his sisters – Keziah Sarah, Eliza Maria and Emma Louisa. As I’ve mentioned before, the story of the eldest Blanch sister – my great great grandmother Mary Ann Blanch – will be the subject of a later post. In this post, I want to focus on the youngest of the Blanch siblings: John Holdsworth Blanch.
John was born in Bethnal Green in 1844 and at the time of the 1851 census, when he was six or seven years old, was living with his parents at No. 2 Green Street. Ten years later, when he was sixteen, John was working as a ‘shop lad’ in his parents’ shoemakers’ shop in Soho.
Five years later, on 30th December 1866, John Holdsworth Blanch married Elizabeth Brooks at St Anne’s church, Limehouse, where so many other members of the family had been married. At the time they were living in Salmon Lane, Limehouse and John was working as a carpenter and builder, like his older brother Joseph James. The two witnesses at the wedding were both from John’s side of the family: his father John and his sister Emma Louisa.
Old photograph of Kelmscott (via kelmscott.org.uk)
Elizabeth Brooks had been born in 1844 in Kelmscott, Oxfordshire, a village that would later become famous for its associations with the writer, artist and social reformer William Morris. She was the daughter of farm labourer Richard Brooks, from nearby Clanfield, and his wife Jane. When the 1861 census was taken, seventeen-year-old Elizabeth was a ‘house servant’ in nearby Bampton. At some point in the next five years, she must have moved to London, perhaps to take up another post in domestic service, though her family seems to have remained in Clanfield.
John and Elizabeth Blanch’s first son, John Richard, was born Clanfield in 1867 and christened on 31st March in the village church. The parish register gives his parents’ address as St James, Westminster. This suggests both that Elizabeth had returned to her parents’ home to give birth, and that she and John had already moved to the address in Great Pulteney Street, Soho, where they would be found at the time of the 1871 census. Curiously, census records claim that their daughter Flora Sophia, born two years later, was born in Priory Road, Bromley-by-Bow, though in the same year John and Elizabeth had a second son, James Robert, who was born in the parish of St James, Westminster. This part of London was familiar territory for the Blanch family: John Holdsworth Blanch’s grandfather James had lived in Compton Street as a young man, and his uncles Thomas and David Blanch had owned a coachbuilding business in Great Windmill Street. In addition, as we shall see from later posts, his parents John and Keziah Blanch had moved, with his sister Mary Ann and her family, to nearby Great Crown Court, at some point in the 1850s.
Part of Soho, from Weller’s 1868 map of London (via london1868.com)
Another daughter, Elizabeth Kezia Jane Blanch, often known simply as Kezia Jane, or just Jane, was born to John and Elizabeth Blanch in Clanfield in 1872. This suggests another visit home by Elizabeth, since their next four children, Emma Sarah (1875), Edith Eliza (1876), Sophia Alice (1878) and Walter Thomas (1880) would all be born in Westminster. These five children were all christened at St Martin-in-the-Fields in 1881: Sophia and Edith in February, and Walter, Emma and Kezia Jane in March. By this time, the family was living at 4 Sherwood Place (which I think was off Sherwood Street), where they could be found when the 1881 census was taken.
The family of John and Elizabeth Blanch in the 1881 census (via ancestry.co.uk)
This census record includes the mysterious description of Elizabeth, under ‘rank, profession or occupation’, as ‘British Slave’ (see image above). Some of my fellow family historians think this might be a joke on the part of the enumerator, while others believe it could be a transcription error. Either way, it’s distinctly odd, and I’d be interested to know what readers of this blog make of it. On the night of the census the household included, besides John and Elizabeth and their seven children, a visitor by the name of Mary Brooks, who was born in Kelmscott and must have been a relative of Elizabeth’s.
John and Elizabeth Blanch would have three more children in the next ten years. Mary Holdsworth Blanch was born in 1883, Flora Helen Blanch in 1888 and David Holdsworth Blanch in 1889, all at Sherwood Place. In the case of Mary and Flora, the Blanches again opted for a joint baptism at St Martin-in-the-Fields, in 1888; I’ve yet to find a christening record for David.
In 1889 John and Elizabeth’s eldest son John Richard Blanch married Louisa Lloyd; they had a daughter Elisabeth Louisa two years later. It’s very likely that they were living with John’s parents throughout this time, since the 1891 census finds them all together in Sherwood Place, where their neighbours on either side are tailors: from Germany, Hungary and Poland. John senior and Elizabeth are now forty-seven. Their sons John, twenty-four, and James, twenty-one, are both carpenters and joiners like their father (they were probably working with him), while sixteen-year-old Emma is working as a general domestic servant and eighteen-year-old (Kezia) Jane is a tailoress.
The 1891 census enumerator seems to have been prone to errors. He gives the birthplace of Elizabeth Blanch, her son John Richard and daughter Jane, as Bedfordshire, when in fact it was Oxfordshire. He also records the birthplace of John Richard’s wife Louisa as Preston, Lancashire, when in fact it was Stafford. Then there is the following curiosity. A male visitor, whose age looks to be eighty-four (though it could just as easily be read as ninety-four), and whose name has been transcribed at Ancestry as Richard Norman, though it looks more like Archibald Holman, is staying with the Blanch family. He is described as a street inspector ‘par’ (parish?), and his birthplace is given as ‘New York, USA’. I have no clue as to the identity of this person or his connection to the Blanch family. However, it’s possible that he was simply a visitor at the time that the census official called, and had no family relationship with the Blanches. I understand that street inspectors or street-keepers were a kind of constable or watchman employed by the parish vestry.
By the time the next census was taken, in 1901, John and Elizabeth, now fifty-seven, had moved out of central London and were living at 163 Bollo Lane, Acton, not far from where John’s mother and sisters had been living in Ealing. With them are their son David, twelve, and granddaughter Edith, two, though I’m not entirely sure who the latter’s parents were. The 1911 census finds the couple back in London and living, by themselves, at 42 Essex Street, off the Strand. They are now both aged sixty-six, and John is still working as a house carpenter and Elizabeth as a housekeeper for ‘offices’. Since she is said to be working from home, I assume that she and John had a flat in the office building.
John Holdsworth Blanch died in Uxbridge in 1923, at the age of seventy-eight. Elizabeth Blanch née Brooks died in Ealing in 1937, at the age of ninety-two.
This is what became of the children of John Holdsworth Blanch and Elizabeth Brooks, to the best of my knowledge:
Walter Thomas died in infancy, in 1881, while Sophia Alice died in 1882, at the age of four. I’ve found no definite records for Flora Helen Blanch after her birth in 1888.
As already mentioned, John Richard Blanch married Louisa Lloyd in 1889 and they had a daughter Elizabeth Louisa in 1891. By 1901 the young family had moved, like John’s parents, to Acton, and in fact were living in the same street as them, at 135 Bollo Lane, where John was working, almost certainly with his father, as a carpenter. By 1911 John and Louisa, now in their early forties, were living in Southall, where John was working as a carpenter and joiner for a hotel company. In 1913 their only daughter, Elizabeth Louisa, married seaman George Trotman, who would serve in the Royal Navy during the First World War. John Richard Blanch died in 1935 and his widow Louisa in 1942, both of them in Islington.
I mentioned Flora Sophia Blanch in the previous post. For some reason, she seems to have lived with her grandmother Keziah Blanch from an early age, and then with her aunts. In 1881, at the age of twenty-two Flora was living with her aunts Emma and Eliza in West Ham, working as a waitress, and ten years later she was with Emma, Eliza and Kezia at the latter’s boarding house at 7 Oxford Road, Ealing, working as a barmaid. The 1911 census finds Flora, now forty-two, at 40 Oxford Road and employed as a housekeeper to sixty-three-year-old Walter Chater, a monumental letter cutter and clearly also a boarding house owner, since there are six boarders at the same address. The census record described Walter Chater as married, but if that’s so then he must have been widowed or divorced by 1917, when he and Flora would marry. She was forty-eight and he would have been sixty-nine. The electoral register for 1930 finds the couple living in Harrow. Walter Chater died in 1937 at the age of eighty-eight and Flora in 1951 at the age of eighty-two. Walter and Flora are buried together in Ealing and Old Brentford Cemetery.
James Robert Blanch, who worked as a carpenter and joiner like his father, married Fanny Eliza Diamond in June 1895. In 1901 they were living in Rothschild Road, Ealing, and in 1911 in Montgomery Road, Acton Green. They had five children: James Albert, Frederick Sidney, Winifred Ethel, John Oliver and Robert James. James Robert Blanch enlisted in the Royal Engineers at the outbreak of the First World War, when he was thirty-nine years old. His wife Fanny died in 1945, at the age of seventy-five, and James died in 1951, at the age of eighty-one. They are both buried with James’ mother Elizabeth Blanch in Acton Cemetery.
Burial record for Elizabeth Blanch née Brooks, her son James and daughter-in-law Fanny (via ancestry.co.uk)
Elizabeth Kezia Jane Blanch married William Hoffman, a ‘traveller’ in Acton, in 1902, when she was twenty-nine and he was thirty-four. The couple gave their address as 163 Bollo Lane, which was the home of Kezia Jane’s parents. William Hoffmann may be the German national of that name who is listed in a catalogue of civilian deaths during the Second World War; he was injured at a hospital in the Fulham Road and died as a result of his injuries at a hospital in Windsor, in February 1941, at the age of seventy-three. This William Hoffman had a wife named Elizabeth Jane and they lived at Essex Street, off the Strand, which is where Elizabeth Kezia Jane Blanch’s parents had been living in 1911 (see above). I’m fairly certain that she is the ‘Elizabeth K. J. Hoffman’ who died in the same year, at the age of sixty-seven, in Lambeth.
Emma Sarah Blanch married fruiterer Percy Rainier Arter at Ealing in August 1902, when they were both twenty-eight years old. In 1911 they were living with their daughter Emily Blanch Arter in Talbot Road, West Ealing. I’m not sure when Percy died, but Emma died in 1933 at the age of fifty-eight and was buried in Ealing and Old Brentford Cemetery.
Edith Eliza Blanch (photograph via BrendaMaeMcD’s family tree at ancestry.com)
In 1891, as I noted in the last post, two of John Holdsworth Blanch’s daughters – Edith Eliza Blanch, fifteen, and Mary Holdsworth Blanch, six, could be found visiting their sister Flora, at the address in West Ham that she shared with their aunts Emma Louisa and Eliza Maria Blanch. In 1898 Edith married Herbert Roger Holder, and they had three children, Edith Blanch Elizabeth (also known as Blanche), Alice Florence and Alfred Roger, before emigrating to Montreal, Canada, in 1905. Edith died there in 1969.
Mary Holdsworth Blanch married William George Hoerr, a cabinet maker and the son of German immigrants, at St Pancras in 1906. William and Mary would have three children: Wilhemina (Minnie) May in 1907, Blanche Elizabeth in 1910, and George Holdsworth in 1919. When the 1911 census was taken, they were living in Stanhope Street, Regents Park. Wilhemina and Blanche seem to have lived in Canada at some point, perhaps with their aunt Edith (see above); neither seems to have married. George emigrated to New Zealand, where he died in 2001. William Hoerr died in Edmonton, London, in 1951, and his wife Mary in Hendon in 1975.
William Hoerr with his daughters Minnie and Blanche (via BrendaMaeMcD’s family tree at ancestry.com)
John Holdsworth Blanch’s youngest son, David Holdsworth Blanch, married Ellen Elizabeth Pleasants in Acton in 1910. Both were aged twenty-one and living at 38 Colville Road, not far from David’s parents’ home in Bollo Lane. They were still there in the following year, when the 1911 census was taken: David was working as a carpenter, like his father, and Ellen as a laundress. There is some evidence that David and Ellen also lived in Canada for a while, though I have no information about any children born to the couple. They may be the David and Ellen Blanch buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto: David having died in 1972 and Ellen in 1973, at the ages of eighty-two and eighty-three respectively.
The second of the children of my 4 x great grandfather James Blanch to marry was his namesake, James, the third surviving child of his first marriage to Jane Barlow. Born in Soho in November 1784, James Blanch junior was living in Mile End Old Town, and probably already working as a Custom House officer, when he married Sarah Empson at the parish church of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney, on 2nd September 1813. The names of the half dozen or so witnesses to the marriage are blurred, but they appear to include ‘James Blanch senior’, the groom’s father, and Mary Ann Blanch, his half-sister. Sarah’s origins are unknown, but we can deduce from later records that she was born in 1791. This means that she was twenty-two years old and James twenty-eight when they were married.
Custom House, London, in 1820
Just five months after the wedding, on 16th February 1814, James Blanch would appear in the dock at the Old Bailey, indicted along with his Custom House colleague John Brennan ‘for feloniously stealing, on the 20th of January, ten yards of Russia duck, value 30s. the property of our Lord the King’, as well as on a second count ‘for like offence, stating it to be the property of George Hall,’ and two other counts ‘stating it to be the property of other persons.’ Russia(n) duck is a kind of cloth, apparently a fine white linen canvas. James Blanch and John Brennan had both been stationed on board George Hall’s ship, the Lord Harlington.
The transcript of the trial is worth reproducing in full:
GEORGE HALL. I am master of the ship the Lord Harlington, from St. Petersburgh to London. I brought a general cargo, among other things Russia linen. My vessel laid in the London Docks for being unladen. The two prisoners were Custom-house officers stationed on board my ship.
Q. About what time was your cargo delivered – A. She was cleared the 9th of this month, and in the course of delivering the goods I was two pieces of Russia duck deficient. The bale was opened for the purpose of getting it out of the place; it was stationed in my state-room; it was too large to get it out whole, therefore they took it out by pieces, and on my finding that I was two pieces of Russia linen deficient I mentioned it to Blanch.
JOSEPH BECKWITH. I am an apprentice on board the Lord Harlington.
Q. Were you in the docks in that ship in the month of January – A. Yes. On Tuesday the 18th, Luke Rochford was clearing the forecastle, I saw the two pieces of Russia duck in the shot locker; this bag was underneath the two pieces of Russia linen in the shot locker. About eleven o’clock in the forenoon I saw it again in the same place in the shot locker.
Q. What time was it you saw it first – A. A little after breakfast, and I saw it again between three and four in the afternoon in the same place. I saw part of it in the same place; part was gone; about half a piece apparently was gone.
Q. When was it you saw a half piece – A. On the 19th, the next day. I perceived a piece and a half was left, and that half a piece was gone. On Wednesday I saw the other half piece underneath the bed cabin. It was about one o’clock I saw it underneath the bed cabin. I first saw a piece and a half, the next day I saw the half piece.
Q. About what o’clock did you see the half piece – A. About one o’clock I saw the half piece underneath the bed cabin in the forecastle; that was a few yards from the shot locker. On Wednesday I mentioned it to Blanch; the other prisoner was on shore. I told him on Tuesday I saw the two pieces underneath the shot locker, that it had been removed. Blanch said Brennan was on shore; we should tell him of it; he added that it would be better to tell the captain, and we should not be blamed, and then they would make a seizure of it. He said there were two boys who had run away, it might be imputed to them, and they would be transported for it. We waited till Brennan came on board; Brennan came about twelve o’clock; then Brennan sent a man to call me in the cabin; I went into the cabin; I found the two prisoners in the cabin. Brennan said they would take the two pieces of Russia linen; they would give me a few shillings out of it, and they would do the best they could with it.
Q. How soon afterwards did you miss the Russia duck out of the place where you saw it – A. Directly after this conversation I went to the place where I had seen it, and found it was missing.
GEORGE NORTH. I am mate of the Lord Harlington. I was informed where the Russia duck was; I was directed by the Captain to watch who should take it away from that place; for the purpose of seeing that, I placed myself close to the bulk head, forward; I then commanded a view of the sleeping place of the two prisoners; they were in bed at the time I was stationed there. I saw Brennan get out bed. I saw one of the prisoners take the Russia duck from under the bed cabin; he placed it in the clew of his hammock. The other was by at the time. Then Brennan got on his back; he was partly dressed. I cannot say which of them laid it on his back; they were both together. Blanch tied his breeches with rope yarn; the waistband would not meet.
Q. Then the Russia duck was in the waistband of his breeches – A. Yes. I then went on deck, and sent for a police officer; the officer came, and found the duck on his person.
Mr. Alley. Smuggling is done as secret as possible – A. Yes.
MR. CLARK. I am a Thames police constable. The captain came for me. I took this piece of Russia duck from Brennan’s back; it was fastened round his waistband with rope yarn. This is the half piece I took from his back; the other has not been found. When I found it upon Brennan he said it was the first thing he had done ever since he had been in the employ.
Q. to Captain Hall. Was that the Russia duck that was on board your vessel – A. Yes; it is ten yards.
Blanch’s Defence. This piece of Russia linen the two boys that run away from the ship, they said they bought it in Russia; they asked us to buy it; we gave them twelve shillings for it.
Brennan said nothing in his defence.
Brennan called five witnesses, who gave him a good character.
BLANCH, GUILTY , aged 29.
BRENNAN, GUILTY , aged 32.
Transported for Seven Years.
Having been convicted, James Blanch and John Brennan were confined in the prison hulk, the Retribution, moored at Woolwich. The records state that Brennan was pardoned in 1818, but James Blanch was transported to Australia on the Mary Anne on 7th July 1815. He actually arrived in Sydney on another ship, the Fanny, on 18th January 1816.
Having served his time as a transported convict, James gained his Ticket of Leave in February 1821 and chose to remain in Sydney. His extremely patient and loyal wife Sarah sailed out on the Brixton and joined him there in 1822.
Julian Holland, in an article in the Australian Metrologist which first alerted my fellow researcher, the late Robin Blanch*, to our ancestor’s remarkable life-story, narrates the next stage of James’ career:
Blanch set up business in Pitt Street [Sydney] as a mathematical and philosophical instrument maker, brass founder, brazier, plater and general worker in silver and brass. By February 1822 he had moved to ‘a more commodious and centrical situation’ at 78 George Street. ‘J.B. makes, and has always for Sale, brass and plated harness furniture, parlour and chamber candlesticks, copper tea-kettles, brass cocks of all sorts, locks and hinges of every description, scales, beams, weights and steelyards, wire fenders, hand bells, ivory and wood rules, &c.’ He also advertised ‘Sextants, Quadrants, Compasses, Telescopes, and other Nautical and Optical Instruments repaired and accurately adjusted.—Umbrellas and Parasols made and repaired; Musical instruments repaired; and every article in brass, copper, silver or ivory, made to any pattern.’ Such were the diverse means by which Blanch began to prosper. By this time Blanch was aided in his work by assigned convicts, and before 1822 was out he was seeking an apprentice. His address then was 71 George Street, and in time he also acquired the adjacent properties, nos. 69 and 70.
The range of his goods and services suggests that his skills as a mathematical instrument maker played a minor part in his business. While he could not have made a living at this alone, his skill was unique in the colony, and was on occasion valuable to the government. At the beginning of 1823 we find him being paid for the repair of compasses at the government dockyard and the following year he received 32 Spanish dollars and 50 cents for repairing mathematical instruments in the Surveyor-General’s Department.
How James Blanch was able to engage in this highly skilled trade, and achieve such remarkable success, is a mystery, given that he was previously employed as a Custom House Officer. To date, no record of an apprenticeship has come to light. Meanwhile, James and Sarah had started a family in Sydney. In 1822 their first child Maria Jane was born, in the following year they had a son James, in 1824 another daughter Sarah, and in 1827 another son William, who died in infancy.
James Blanch and family in the New South Wales muster of 1828
In 1826 the Blanch family appear to have been joined by James’ half-brother Joseph, aged seventeen, who had arrived in Australia on the London. It’s possible that Joseph worked for his brother James’ company. The 1828 muster or census for New South Wales finds James, forty-four, Sarah, thirty-seven, Maria, six, James, five, Sarah, four, and Joseph, nineteen, all living together in George Street, Sydney.
George Street, Sydney, in the early nineteenth century
Julian Holland resumes the story of James Blanch’s career:
With the passing of the Bill for preventing the use of false and deficient Weights and Measures in August 1832, a more substantial piece of precision work came to Blanch. ‘It then became a question whether the old or New English Weights and Measures Should be declared the Standard in New South Wales [Governor Bourke informed Lord Goderich in the Colonial Office in London], which question was decided by its being found upon enquiry that no Authorised Set of weights and Measures of the Old Standard could be procured; but, from the Commissariat, a standard Set of Imperial Weights and Measures, Sent out by the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury, has been obtained, which, being lodged in the office of the Colonial Treasurer, are declared the Standards of New South Wales, by which all Copies and Models are to be compared and verified.’ Bourke added that a Standard Yard had been obtained from the Surveyor-General’s Office.
Seven sets were required each consisting of a series of weights (1, 2, 4, and 8 drams, 1, 2, 4, and 8 ounces, 1, 2, 4, 7, 14, 28, and 56 pounds), a series of volume measures (half gill, gill, pint, quart, half gallon, gallon, peck, half bushel and bushel) and a standard yard.
Blanch had these ready by February 1833. Then balances and scales were required for ‘making a proper comparison of weights’. The provision of these also fell to Blanch, ‘the other Iron Mongers in the Town declined furnishing the Articles no one of them being able to make the same’. A note records the result: ‘The Surveyor General reports that the Colonial Architect considers the articles to be of as good quality as can be made in the Colony & the prices reasonable’.
Sets were distributed to police offices in various regional towns – Parramatta, Windsor, Bong-Bong, Goulburn, Bathurst, Maitland – as well as one to the police office in Sydney. In the end the production of the weights and measures, and their distribution to the various towns, amounted to £323.11.6, rather more than the sum allocated, but no one seems to have complained.
The late 1830s have been described as ‘a period of dazzling but false prosperity’. Blanch shared in this, acquiring farms at Kissing Point, Brisbane Water and Illawarra in addition to the George Street properties. Blanch died on 27 October 1841 intending the various properties to provide for his wife and three children. His widow, Sarah Blanch, believed the value of his estate did not exceed fourteen thousand pounds.
Detail of Standard Yard made by James Blanch in Sydney in 1833 (private collection) – via ‘The Australian Metrologist’
James Blanch was fifty-six when he died. For what it’s worth, he is rated at No. 182 in a list of the all-time richest Australians. Quite something for a man who originally came to Australia as a convicted thief, and quite a contrast with his half-brother John, my 3 x great grandfather, who worked as a shoe and boot-maker in Bethnal Green.
(*Note: I’m indebted to Robin, and to Jan Addison, for sharing their original discovery of James Blanch’s conviction and his subsequent success.)
1780 Gordon Riots in London
1786 Sarah Holdsworth marries Edward Porter
1788 King George III’s mental illness brings about Regency crisis
1789 French Revolution
1791 Restrictions on freedom of press in Britain
1792 William Holdsworth marries Lydia Evans
Joseph Holdsworth marries Margaret Miller
1793 Britain declares war on France
Godfrey Holdsworth marries Diana Cam
1794 Habeas Corpus suspended
1795 Famine year
Joseph Holdsworth senior dies
1797 John Holdsworth marries Mary Webb
1798 Battle of the Nile
1799 Death of Edward Porter
1801 William and Lydia’s daughter Eliza born in Mile End Old Town
1804 John and Eliza’s daughter Keziah born in Oxford
1803 Sarah Porter née Holdsworth marries William Parker
1805 Battle of Trafalgar
1809 Death of Elizabeth Holdsworth