Some of you are aware that I’m very keen on genealogy and family history. Genealogy is the simple collection of names, dates and places and building a family tree; family history takes a deeper look at the people, the times, social events, working conditions and other more personal aspects of what life might have been like for our families throughout history. Typically you end up “reading around” these subjects… for example, you have a female ancestor who was born in Lancashire and worked in the cotton industry. Online sources will explain what her job involved, the hours, the conditions and the pay. If you’re lucky you might find a site with photos of the mill and photos of the type of machinery she would have used, you can also probably find social information on the area in which she lived, what the conditions were like, if the buildings are still standing today. Other searches will likely show the dress code and fashions of the day, newspaper reports of strikes, natural disasters, medical epidemics, wars etc, etc. All of this will help you build up a picture of what life was really like for your ancestors, whether they were wealthy or as poor as church mice. It matters not that in all of this searching you will rarely find any direct reference to your ancestors, the point of this exercise is to understand how they lived, what life was really like for them. Occasionally you’ll find records for them, perhaps an inquest after they died in unusual circumstances, or maybe they were some of the striking or rioting workers demanding fairer pay or better working conditions, you may also find them in criminal or transportation records, military records and possibly even little snippets in the newspapers of the day. You will rarely find lots of information and a complete biography, just small pieces here and there to help fill in the gaps.
It was this family history that kept me away from blogging during the Christmas break, and it’s still consuming most of my thoughts during the day. I’ve been tracing my husbands family recently, mainly the Clarks from Rye in Sussex. They interested me simply because of the occupation they had chosen, the vast majority of my lot were coal or tin miners, with the odd cotton worker here and there and one carpenter! So when I found that the Clarks were employed in The Coastguard Service I was fascinated to find out the details of their lives and the role that they played in defending the shores of England. The only downside was that there’s an awful lot of coastline in the UK and the families were moved around frequently, so even doing a simple census search was often painful as they were never in the same place twice, the same applies to searching for birth, marriage and death certificates too. Coalminers don’t tend to move around too much, and when they do, it tended to be major moves, such as assisted passage to Canada or Australia or the US. The Clarks were becoming a challenge, and I do like a good challenge!
I’ve known about the Clark family from Sussex for about three years, I’ve known they were a Coastguard family for the same length of time, I’ve also had a few little snippets of their lives for a couple of years too, mainly from census records and one family wedding write up in a local newspaper. Suddenly during the Christmas break, due to a visit to the local library where I can get free access to one of the major online holders of records, and the fact that The National Archives have freely made available their Coastguard records for download, all of the pieces started falling into place and a three year brickwall was finally broken down. It continued this week too when even more details were made available to me after I posted a query on a forum.
So, for anyone still interested enough to continue reading, here is a potted history of my husbands Gt Gt Grandfather James Clark 1832 – 1913.
The Coastguard Service has undergone many transformations and has had many masters over the years, its beginnings were a far cry from how we perceive the service in the modern world. Initially it was a sub department or division of The Royal Navy and its main task was to curtail the rampant smuggling that occurred all around the UK at the time. All goods and services entering the UK were subject to a Revenue Tax by the government and the amount of tax lost on smuggled in loads was so great that an entire new division of the RN was created just to deal with it, it was estimated around 1780 that between 55% – 65% of all alcohol consumed in the UK came from black market sources. It was a dangerous job and a number of CG/RN personnel were murdered by the smugglers when they tried to halt or board vessels they suspected of illicit activities. In these early years, the entire personnel list of the CG were recruited directly from the RN. Over the years, the RN has been able to recruit from the CG during times of conflict and as smuggling was dying out in the 1850s and 1860’s the emphasis had shifted to shore and boat protection, and the seed of the modern CG Service had been planted. A very good, and quite short, write up is available here, as well as a much more comprehensive history available here.
But back to James. He was born on 22 March 1832 in Eastbourne, Sussex, the youngest son of George Clark from Rye and his wife Maria and was baptized at St Marys in Eastbourne on 29 April 1832. George Clark was also in the Coastguard Service and I’m actively looking for his early records too. After James, one more child was born to George and Maria in Eastbourne, Eliza in 1835, although due to her fathers posting to Cornwall in July of 1835 she was actually christened at St Just in Penwith on 11 October 1835. The 1841 census found the family still in St Just with additional siblings Edward c1824, William, c1827, Henry c1829 and Louisa c1830, birthplaces were not noted in 1841 just a yes/no for birth inside the county, so tracking the births of the earlier siblings is going to be interesting!
James appears to have followed in his fathers seafaring footsteps and joined the RN, although I know not where or on which date! He is completely missing from the 1851 census though, I’ve searched and searched to no avail and think he was offshore somewhere. August of 1853 saw the outbreak of the Crimean War and here is where I found James again, serving on board HMS Edinburgh as an officer. Along with HMS Bulldog the Edinburgh was one of the ships active in the blockade of the Baltic Sea, stopping supplies reaching Russia from Finland and other Scandinavian countries. The Edinburgh was also involved in the shelling, from deck canons, of the Finnish forts along the Baltic Coast, most notably, Bomarsund on the Alend Islands, for which James was entitled to The Baltic Medal. This painting depicts HMS Bulldog shelling Bomarsund Fort, this must have been the exact location and outlook James had at the time from HMS Edinburgh.
And this is The Baltic Medal and Ribbon he would have been entitled to, I have no idea if he actually claimed it or not.
On returning to the UK James continued with his RN service, being assigned to Revenue Cruisers patrolling the coasts, but the emphasis for the RN had moved away from smugglers and illicit goods so I’m not sure what role they played during this period. The muster rolls for the ships he worked on are at The National Archives and are not available on line, it’s maddening knowing I could extend my knowledge of his Naval career if I could spend a day or two at Kew!!
Early in March of 1858 in Dover, James married Eliza Grant, herself the daughter of a CG serviceman. Although born in Dorset, Eliza grew up in Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, East Sussex and finally Kent where she met and married James! I can’t imagine a life like that, they moved the personnel around as frequently as every 8 months. From their marriage certificate, which arrived just before Christmas, I finally found out James fathers name and occupation, prior to that, James lineage was a complete brickwall. I was astonished and delighted to find he was also in the CG service and hit the local library with this knowledge over the break, finding siblings for James, a Mother for him and some other snippets from census information. The 1851 census found George Clark, wife Maria and youngest daughter Eliza at home in Dover, St Marys Parish. George was now retired from the Service and I now wonder if James and Eliza met because of the shared occupations of their fathers? Perhaps they were stationed together at one point, but I’ve yet to track the Grant CG records.
Newly married, James transferred to the Coastguard Service from the RN Revenue Cruiser “Lion” on June 18th, 1858 and was immediately transferred to Hartlepool on the NE coast of England. Here his first child, a daughter named Selina, was born in December of 1858 and christened on January 9th, 1859 at St Hildas, Hartlepool. James was then removed (transferred) to Bridlington on June 31st, 1860 where his second daughter, Louisa Alice was born in late 1860. His next move was south to Dungeness in Kent on March 28th, 1862, and it was here in early 1863 that his third daughter, and my husbands Gt Grandmother, Henrietta was born. The family was soon on the move again, this time to Dover and to what looks like a huge old barracks building called Casemates on May 20th, 1863. The history of this building looks interesting and is another avenue to persue at a later date! For all of this service so far he was listed as a Boatman, the lowest of the four grades assigned to each CG station. On June 1st, 1865 James was awarded a third Good Conduct Badge (although I can find no reference to the first two!) and another daughter was born to James and Eliza, Kate Matilda in 1865. Then on June 11 1867 James was promoted to the rank of Commissioned Boatman, one step up the ladder from Boatman. This promotion though prompted yet another move along the coast to Folkestone on 20 June 1867 where he enjoyed a relatively long stay of eight years. He was promoted again during his stay in Folkestone and he was now a Chief Boatman. His last two children were also born here, his only son William Henry in 1867 and another daughter Ada around 1873, although her birth has so far completely eluded me. The family once again suffered the upheaval of the CG life when James was transferred further West along the coast to Hastings in Sussex on June 8th, 1875, and it was here where he achieved the highest rank possible for him on May 29th 1876, that of Chief Officer, James was 44 years old and would now be in charge of whatever CG station he was assigned to, his pay as Chief Officer was 6/. a day (30p). Another transfer swiftly followed the promotion and the family found themselves at Atherfield, on The Isle of Wight, on July 12th 1876. James and his family made their final transfer on January 16th, 1878 when they all moved to Ventnor on the Isle of Wight which is where he was to end his Naval/CG career when he retired on March 31st, 1892, aged 60.
[The Coastguard Station at Hastings.]
[Coastguard Cottages at Ventnor, IOW]
While living on the IOW the family lived in private accommodation, Orient House in Ventnor. This house was part of a small terrace of largish villas, high above the little town with a commanding view out to sea, and has since been torn down, but the Archives Office on the IOW provided these pictures of the property and its location, the photos were taken about 1900, not long after the Clark family vacated it. The location is marked by the white circle on the second photo.
[Orient House, Ventnor]
From the records available from The National Archives I was able to download his personal service record for a small sum. This record confirmed the information in the free records which just listed what CG stations he’d been assigned to, and gave the extra information contained here, such as dates of promotion, rates of pay and the date of his retirement. It also listed details of his physical appearance, so although I have no photo of this man I do now know that he was 5ft 8″ tall with auburn hair, hazel eyes and a fair complexion. He also had no visible marks or scars.
I only have three more references on the Isle of Wight for James, the first was the marriage of his daughter Henrietta (known as Nettie) on August 7th, 1894 to Ernest Palmer; the second was the write up in the local newspaper for Netties wedding where James was listed as Retired RN; the third and final reference was when he attended the funeral of a John Kirk Howe in Ventnor and was listed as a Retired Chief Officer, Coastguard in May of 1896. James and his wife Eliza moved to Southsea, Portsmouth between 1896 and the 1901 census and he lived there until he died in 1913 aged 81.
And what of his children? Selina married George Lane from Buckinghamshire on the IOW in 1888, they raised two boys and two girls and eventually settled in Warickshire after previously living in Devon and Staffordshire. Louisa married Edward Robinson from Bath, in 1894 in Cardiff where they raised their family. I’m in contact with Loiusa’s grand daughter Mary, she is the only other person I’ve come across who is researching this particular line. The photos of Orient House were provided by her after she visited the area. Mary now lives in Cornwall. Nettie, as we know, married my husbands Gt Grandfather Ernest Palmer and they had three sons together. Their story however did not have a happy ending as they put all of their money into an Ironmongers shop in Stamford, Lincolnshire, but Ernest had not been an astute businessman! The books had all been cooked, the shop folded and they lost everything, penniless they moved to a two up two down miners terraced house in Abergavenny, South Wales. Poor Nettie, the daughter of a CG Chief Officer, who had employed a maid and a cleaner and had been used to hardly lifting a finger to do anything in her life was suddenly living in a tiny house in South Wales with an outside toilet! Apparently she never got over this sudden change in circumstances. Kate, William and Ada so far remain un-researched.
My current line of enquiry revolves around George Clark, James father. As he was also a member of the CG Service I have been able to download his records and I’m currently working backwards through them to find all of his postings. I’m sure that will keep me out of mischief for quite a while to come! And if I ever get bored, there are also the three other children of James and Eliza to research, not to mention Georges siblings and parents, plus Eliza’s fathers CG records will also be on line too!