Friday, January 25, 2019

Matthew and Ann, a love story

The recent announcement of the discovery of the grave of Captain Matthew Flinders (1774-1814) during the excavations at Euston Station brings to mind the romantic and poignant love story of him and his wife, Ann Chappelle, from whom he was separated for most of their married life. (There is also some irony that the archaeological skills used to find and identify his body will owe much to the methodology established by Flinders’ famous grandson, the archaeologist William Flinders Petrie.)

Ann Flinders (right) with her half-sister Isabella Tyler (left)
standing is her daughter Anne (later Petrie)
(Copyright unknown)

Ann Chappelle was a little older than Matthew, being born on 21 November 1772. Her father John Chappelle had been a merchant navy captain who died of illness in the Dutch East Indies in 1776 and as a result Ann had been reluctant to tie herself to another mariner. But her love for Matthew won out and they were married by Ann's step-father, the Rev. Wiliam Tyler in St Nicholas Church at Partney, Lincolnshire, on 17 April 1801. Just three months later Matthew sailed on HMS Investigator to commence his famous circumnavigation of Australia.

Extract from Parish Records for St Nicholas Church, Partney, Lincs.

Matthew had wanted Ann to sail with him and brought her onto the ship but the Admiralty was furious and wouldn’t permit her to remain on board. She would not see her husband again for nine years, for six of which he was held prisoner of the French in Mauritius.

He returned to England in 1810 and they lived in a number of rented houses in London while he prepared his Voyage to Terra Australis for publication, and their only child, Anne, was born in 1812 (baptised St. Giles, Middlesex, on 1st April), when her mother was forty years old.

The Design & Art Australia website states that Ann was apparently blind in one eye “by lancing due to smallpox” but she had “above average mental powers, considered clever, with a sweet and perfect temper, beloved by all who knew her, witty, generous, nervous, with aptitudes for poetry, literature, singing, verse, and painting flowers from nature”. The DAAO also mentions that her watercolours of flowers have been shown in exhibitions, although none of these appear to be available on the internet.

Matthew named Mount Chappell/Chappelle in Bass Strait after Ann.

After Matthew’s death, Ann lived on for almost another forty years and would have seen many changes in that time. When she died in February 1852, the once remote continent of Australia was booming with an influx of settlers and gold-seekers. Her husband Matthew’s charts of the route around the coast continued to be used until well into the 20th Century.

There is a box of sentimental mementoes belonging to Ann in the State Library of New South Wales. It contains locks of hair from family members and pressed flowers from their grave sites.

State Library of New South Wales

Discover more about the romantic love story between Ann Chappelle and Matthew Flinders in the historical novel My Love Must Wait by Ernestine Hill and Letters to Ann by Catherine Retter and Shirley Sinclair.


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Inspiration for "Brave New World"?

As this blog has a focus on historical women who have not been properly acknowledged for their achievements or contributions, this recent article from The Guardian captured my interest:-
 "forgotten feminist dystopian novel, a story of eugenics and newspaper manipulation that is believed to have influenced Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four, is coming back into print for the first time in a century, complete with pages that were suppressed in 1918." (Read article in full here.)
Rose Macaulay may not be as well-known today as she once was, and her arcane writing style can be dense and difficult for modern readers.

Still, if her themes did influence some of the most famous dystopian novels written by men, then it is good to know that she is now being given her due.

The Towers of Trebizond is considered her masterpiece but I have lost count of the number of times I have picked it up and then persevered to a certain point where it defeats me because I have lost patience with its privileged characters and/or their religious arguments. Clearly, I’m too much of a philistine to truly appreciate Macaulay - and thus hover around a B- in her A to C Ministry of Brains - but many others do appreciate and enjoy her work.

The new version of What Not has now been published by Handheld Press.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

A family connection to "The Lady in White"

A few days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, my mother sailed into Durban on SS Tegelberg, a Dutch vessel that had left Batavia [now Jakarta] on 15th November. She had transferred there from another vessel, SS Tjisadane, which had sailed from Shanghai on 17th October, one of the last passenger ships to escape the Chinese city before the Japanese took control. 

It was a bold risk she was taking; leaving behind her family and all she knew, travelling across a dangerous war-time ocean to a foreign country to marry a man she had not seen for some years. 

First voyage on SS Tjisadane

SS Tjisadane

Passage ticket for second part of journey Batavia-Durban 1941

SS Tegelberg

As my mother sailed into Durban, she would have been thrilled  - and relieved no doubt - to see her future husband waiting for her on the wharf. One wonders what she would have made of the woman who was also there singing her heart out with the aid of a megaphone.

The story of Perla Siedle Gibson will be well-known to South Africans and many servicemen and merchant navy personnel who served during World War II and transited the port of Durban. 

All images Vintage News Stories (link below)

She was born Perla Marie Siedle in Durban in 1888, the daughter of Otto Siedle, originally a London watchmaker turned prominent businessman and shipowner. Her mother Mary served for a time as Deputy Mayor of Durban. Perla had two brothers, Karl and Jack. Karl died in World War I but Jack Siedle became a famous cricketer.

Perla had a voice with a register somewhere between soprano and contralto. She had studied singing in Europe, but did not follow a professional career for long as she married and raised a family in South Africa.

It is said that when World War II was intensifying, she had seen off a young Irish friend at the harbour and as the ship pulled away from the quay, the young man shouted down to Perla to sing “something Irish”. She immediately burst into “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” and it was a big hit with the departing sailors. After that, she made up her mind to greet and farewell all ships that entered Durban Harbour for the duration of the war.

She could see the daily shipping movements from her house on a hill, and she’d jump in her car and drive down to the docks. She always wore the same costume - a white dress, red hat and necklace. Her distinctive (and ample!) figure could be spied from a long way off and she became known as “The Lady in White”.

Between April 1940 and August 1945, it has been estimated she sang to more than 5,000 merchant and navy ships and more than 250,000 servicemen. She even sang her husband (Clement Walter “Jack” Gibson) and two sons and daughter off on war service. When she received a telegram to say that her son, 2nd Lt. Clement Roy Gibson had been killed at Anzio in March 1944, even though her heart must have been breaking, that didn’t stop her and she continued singing to the ships.

Post-war - two very different "Forces Sweethearts" - Perla and Vera Lynn

There don’t appear to be recordings or films of Perla’s singing available on the internet, and I wonder what she sang that day as the SS Tegelberg arrived bringing my mother to her new life? Sarie Marais? Auld Lang Syne? Land of Hope & Glory? Maybe all of them, and more. 

Ironically, I made a similar reverse journey to that of my mother when I sailed out of Durban 30 years later also to start life in  a new country with a new husband. There was no operatic send off by that time. Perla had in fact died just a few months previously in 1971.

Statue to Perla at Durban, unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II in 1995
Now removed to the Durban Maritime Museum 

Perla had written an autobiography, and there are a number of articles and blog posts about her online. 

With many thanks to major source: Vintage News Stories - The Lady In White

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Hush WAACS - Secret service women in the family tree

Since the lifting of the official secrets embargo on the history of code-breaking during World War II, there have been numerous books written about Bletchley Park, plus a number of documentaries, TV series and films, many of them about female code-breakers.

What is much less known is that women were also involved in a similar service during World War I. They were called the “Hush WAACS” but the information on them is rather scanty. Rather than describe here what they did in too much detail, see this link:-

GCHQ page on the Hush Waacs 

Imagine my surprise and delight, then,  while doing family research I would discover that two of the 17 only known Hush WAACS were distant cousins of my late husband and they came from the same area of Tyneside that features strongly in both our family trees.

WAACS off to help with the war effort

The two women were sisters, Violet Munby (1884-1974) and Gladys May Munby (1887-1955). Neither sister ever married. 

Their names appear on this list Hush WAAC Roll of Honour as follows, showing the dates they were associated with the intelligence services in WW1.

Name: Gladys Mary [sic] Munby
Age in 1918: 30
Arrived I(e)C: October 1917
Departed: November 1918
Notes: Pianist educated in Germany; YMCA work before 1917
Name: Violet Munby
Age in 1918: 33
Arrived I(e)C: March 1918
Departed: November 1918
WAACS off duty in France
Their parents were John William Munby (1855-1946) and Anne Bates Walker (1849-1915). John William Munby was a prominent figure in North Shields/Tynemouth area.

Anne Bates Walker's mother, also Anne Bates (1816-1853), was the sister of my husband’s great-great-grandfather, Matthew William Bates (1820-1860). (See below for the story of how she died and also an uncanny link to my own ancestors.)

The Munby family lived at 16 Northumberland Square, North Shields, considered to be a quality address described as “the closest thing on Tyneside to the iconic Georgian squares of Edinburgh, Dublin, London and Bath.” Sadly, No. 16 has only just been demolished in 2017 - read here.

Northumberland Square, c. 1960s

There are many references to J.W. Munby and his services to the community in the local newspapers from 1904 when he first stood for council, culminating in him becoming Mayor of Tynemouth in 1923, although he appears to have kept working in various capacities until he died aged 90 in 1946.

North Shields store owned by the father of Gladys and Violet Munby

Family vault of Annie Bates and J W Munby, Preston Cemetery, North Shields

The two sisters clearly received fine educations, being fluent in languages and talented musicians. There are a number of newspaper references to both of them being awarded prizes for their piano playing. 

Gladys studied musicianship in Germany and returned to England at the outbreak of World War I. She advertised lessons in the local Tyneside newspapers and after the war was over, appeared to do a fair bit of travelling. She made the news columns when she arrived in Sydney, Australia, in 1923. This from the Sydney Morning Herald of  29 December 1923:

Miss Gladys Munby arrived in Sydney during the week as the last English musician to put in an appearance during 1923. 
This young artist was trained at the Dresden Conservatorium as a pianist under Miss Rappoldi, a venerable virtuoso who studied under Liszt, and also with Emit Kronke, a pupil of Grieg, with whose works he is much identified. 
After 18 months at Dresden the war broke out, and Miss Munby beat a hasty retreat to her home in Newcastle-on-Tyne, where she studied with Mr. E.L. Bainton, and took her A.R.C.M. [Associate of Royal College of Music] by examination. 
Her musical career was then submerged by the calls of her country. She first went to Etaples, the great reinforcement base for the British army, and did canteen work with the Y.M.C.A [Young Men's Christian Association] until the authorites were apprised of her fluency in speaking German. Miss Munby at once joined the Q.M.A.A.C. (Queen Mary Army Auxiliary Corps), and was attached to the Intelligence Department at St. Omer to decode German wireless.This department was colloquially designated the "Hush Waacs". 
After the Armistice the pianist was transferred to the British Army of Occupation on the Rhine and was employed in the Censor's Office to read Germany correspondence. 
Miss Munby then left on a visit to friends in New Zealand and now proposes settling in Sydney, where her knowledge of music and languages should be of the utmost service to her.

Gladys was appointed Music Teacher at the prestigious Sydney Presbyterian Ladies College and in 1926 was transferred to the new PLC in Orange, New South Wales - that school is now known as Kinross-Wollaroi.

She continued to pop up in Australian news reports over several years, with descriptions of her playing at recitals in places like Gunning and Goulburn, New South Wales, and she is even listed in programs for Sunday night concerts on Radio 2BL in Sydney.

The last we hear of Gladys in Australia is this report from Sydney Sun 16 March 1930:

Gladys Munby 
Further study on the Continent is the mission of Miss Gladys Munby, who is leaving immediately for Paris and Vienna. 
For the past six years Miss Munby has successfully taught pianoforte playing and music in leading schools of Sydney and country districts, and she has much excellent work to her credit, her students having given proof of this by results at examinations .... 
... Miss Munby is an associate of the Royal College of Music, London, and she has already had four years' study with eminent masters at Dresden and elsewhere on the Continent.

So where did Gladys go after that? Did she really do further study in Europe as stated in the article? Although she popped up on Australian Electoral Rolls during her stay in that country, there is no sign of her in the English ones. 

Nothing else can be found for her until the 1939 Register in which she is listed as a School Teacher living at a boarding hotel in Montague Street adjacent to the British Museum.

In the 1939 Register next to her entry there is handwriting - "QM[sic]MAC Administration Temporary Unit". This suggests her previous war experience with the Queen Mary Army Auxiliary Corps may have come to the notice of someone. Did she then go to Bletchley Park or somewhere similar to do translation or other covert work?

Gladys died in 1955 in a nursing home in Cinderford, Gloucestershire, which is a long way from her family connections in North Shields. She left an estate valued at £14,000 (at least £300,000 today) and her executors were her half-brother Robert Pickering Munby and sister Violet Munby. 

Meanwhile, Violet Munby had a similar background to Gladys, with a few newspaper reports of her piano playing locally on Tyneside, but she is even more mysterious. 

The passenger ship records show that after World War I, Violet travelled back and forth across the Atlantic between the UK, France, Italy and New York regularly. Her occupations are as numerous as the  crossings she made. She's a "maid", or "journalist", "housekeeper" or "housewife", "companion" or "governess", even a "proof-reader". Her addresses on arrival are rarely the same either and they 
included flats in Kensington and Hampstead in London as well as 317 West 45th Street, New York, an apartment complex originally built by Vincent AstorOthers are just shown as Washington DC, or random places such Birmingham or Crookham in the UK. 

By 1955, she gave the address of her brother, Dr. William Maxwell Munby, who lived at 12 Mill Grove, Tynemouth. There is also only one passenger list showing her sister Gladys heading for New York to stay at the W. 45th Street address. 

Violet also acquired an American Social Security Number, likely to have been issued in New York some time after 1936 and before 1951. 

Name:Violet Munby
Last Residence:
800 (U.S. Consulate) London, United Kingdom
BORN:25 Apr 1884
Died:Dec 1974
State (Year) SSN issued:New York (Before 1951)

What was she doing going back and forth so frequently and doing different, rather humble, jobs? Could she have been some kind of courier? 

The most telling evidence that Violet may have been involved in some sort of covert travel is this extract from 1943 of a rare Pan American Airways manifest of people flying from Darrell Island, Bermuda, to New York. 

Violet is accompanied by another woman and both are described as "Civil Servants" with their Bermuda address as "Imperial Censorship Bermuda".

So this proves that during World War II Violet continued to be involved in similar work to that she did in World War I. 

Most of the censors were women, called Examiners or "Censorettes", with the majority being older spinsters chosen for their world knowledge and language skills ... one wonders if Gladys might also have been there? Other censors included:

... a Swiss florist, the former manager of the Anglo-Czechoslovakian Bank of London and a Cambridge University professor with a command of 30 languages including rare Indian dialects.
Others who have worked for the Imperial Censorship in Bermuda are Val Gielgud, a BBC producer, Eric Maschwitz, author of Balalaika, a doctor who was at Dunkirk, a biographer of obscure French philosophers and a Scottish girl with a command of 10 languages. Age was no issue with several eminent language scholars over the age of 80.

Read more here
Censorship Department in Bermuda
Bermuda's Espionage Role
The Man Called Intrepid - the "boss" at Bermuda

It may well be that Violet even crossed paths with Elizebeth Friedman, recently the subject of a fascinating book  by Joseph Fagone entitled The Woman Who Smashed Codes  - read my book review here.

Princess Hotel, Bermuda, HQ of the WW2 Censorship Department

Violet died in North Shields in 1974, her last address being the same as that of her brother, William Maxwell Munby. Her estate was just over £53,000 [around £600,000 today], so either she came into family money from her father or she earned a very good income doing whatever it was she did.

From what I have discovered about these two spinster sisters, it may be that there is a book waiting to be written on them!

My research into Gladys and Violet is ongoing as there is probably much more to be found on them in the archives of the intelligence services but which are not easily accessible to hobbyists like me and it will require the skills and contacts of an investigative journalist to really find out what the pair of them were up to. 


As to the family connection:

The mother of Anne Bates Munby, Anne Bates Walker,  ran a shop selling flour at 154 Buckingham Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, where she was blown up in a gas explosion in 1853 when her daughter was only about 4 years of age. 

The inquest found that Anne's husband William Walker was to blame as he obviously wasn't very smart, having gone looking for a gas leak with a lighted candle! 

Anne’s brother, Matthew William Bates, my husband’s ancestor, rushed to her aid but she died soon afterwards. 

By a truly bizarre coincidence, my own g-g-grandmother Julia Atkin (1803-1861) lived just a few doors away from that very shop around this period and no doubt she may have known Anne Bates Walker or even bought supplies from her. She may even have been a witness to the explosion.

See this relevant page of the 1851 Census. Little Anne Bates Walker on the first line, my own g-g-grandmother [sic. Judith Aikin] fourth from the bottom.

One final twist in this uncanny tale of family connection is that Violet appears to have lived out her later years with her brother, Dr. William Maxwell Munby, at 12 Mill Grove, Tynemouth.

In the early 1960s when I was a teenager, and many years before I met my husband or had the slightest inkling we had ancestors who'd once lived close to one another, I'd just started my first job in Newcastle on Tyne during which time I lived briefly in a rented house in Tynemouth with my parents prior to us moving to Canada to live. 

I can't now recall the exact number, but the house was a corner one in Mill Grove, possibly quite close to, maybe even right across the road, from the Munbys. 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Remarkable Women. Queen's House, Greenwich

For those lucky enough to live around London and able to attend, a series of lectures on Remarkable Women is taking place for National Women's History Month, March 2018, at Queen's House, Greenwich, London. Some of the women are already very well-known, but a couple less so. 

If I had the chance to attend, I'd be particularly interested in these two sessions to learn more about Sarah Sophia Banks, another woman in the shadow of a monumental historical male, being Sir Joseph Banks, and also the unknown architect, Mary Slade.

8 March
From Out of Her Brother’s Shadow: The Life and Collections of Sarah Sophia Banks (1744-1818) – Arlene Leis
The British Museum’s Trustees Report dating February 12, 1819, notes that John Thomas Smith, the Keeper of Prints and Drawings, was preparing a “catalogue of Miss Banks’s truly interesting collection of visiting cards and Co.” The collection to which the report refers is that of Sarah Sophia Banks (1744-1818), sister of the well-known botanist, collector and President of the Royal Society Sir Joseph Banks. During the two centuries since her death, Sarah Sophia, also an avid collector has remained for the most part in her brother’s shadow. However, as my talk will demonstrate, Sarah Sophia was an active collector in her own right, and to regard her projects as mere offshoots of her brother’s ventures would be to grossly underestimate their independent importance. At the time of her death, her stockpile of paper items boasted well over 19,000 articles; now housed at the British Museum and British Library, it comprises admission tickets, playbills, fashion plates, political caricatures, satirical prints, ballads, political prints, watch plates, trade cards, newspaper clippings, bookplates and visitor cards, amongst other items. Sarah Sophia also collected coins and medals: over 9,000 specimens are divided between the British Museum and Royal Mint.During Sarah Sophia’s life, her large collection was stored alongside her brother’s herbarium, library and printing press in the house that she lived in with Sir Joseph at 32 Soho Square, London, a thriving scientific hub where natural history specimens where collected, studied, and exchanged.Focusing on Sarah Sophia’s collection of printed materials alongside her surviving hand-written inventory, my talk will explore Sarah Sophia’s complex and innovative collecting practices and methodologies. Importantly, it will consider the Banks siblings’ collections as meaningfully interconnected but also distinct, reclaiming Sarah Sophia’s place in the house as an authoritative collector and ‘curator’. In doing so, it will demonstrate that women participated in and helped shape scientific and cultural pursuits in ways often undocumented by traditional narratives of the eighteenth century.  
Sarah Banks, The Royal Mint Museum

22 March
Working Women in Eighteenth-Century Deptford – Margarette Lincoln
This talk will focus on Mary Slade, often confused with her namesake, the cross-dressing female shipwright who also lived in Deptford. Slade was related to the greatest naval architect of the age, Sir Thomas Slade; she had relatives in high office in the naval dockyards, and was a considerable businesswoman in her own right, constructing properties that still stand today. Why is her achievement so little known? Based on research for a larger study of maritime London in the age of Cook and Nelson, this session offers insights into the neglected lives of local women who contributed to London’s maritime power in the time of those celebrated heroes.
Click here for more information, times, ticketing details, etc.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

An unknown needlewoman

Since it began, this blog has featured the stories of many women from history, some little-known and others with minor claims to fame, but all of them left enough tantalising traces to make them worth investigating and then writing about.

As part of my interest in family history, I do indexing for various archival institutions, and I am currently transcribing a series of Southern African births, deaths and marriages records. Each certificate has a story to tell - if there was only time to delve into them all!

I’ve come across many entries for men and women who lived a precarious existence in tough and harsh conditions in the towns, mines and in remote areas of the veld; families with 15 or more children and interrelated to a degree that might raise eyebrows. I've come across girls as young as 13 being married off to widowers old enough to be their grandfathers, surprising interracial marriages before the strictures of Apartheid, and just too many who died far too young from infections, child-birth, accidents, and even murder.

There are also individuals who were incarcerated on Robben Island (best known as where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned). A leper hospital was founded on the island in 1845. Originally, this was not strictly controlled and lepers arrived and left more or less on a voluntary basis. However, by the 1890s, a Leprosy Repression Act was introduced and the detention and movement of lepers became tightly controlled. During 1891-1893, close to a thousand lepers were admitted to the island. Their inevitable death notices are stark reminders of those times gone by. 



One example that I transcribed today had me wondering about just this one woman lost to history, who died in the Leper Ward at Robben Island on this day (3 February) in 1897. No doubt she was lost to her family as well, as leprosy was a curse that no-one wanted to be associated with and families often cut all ties to the afflicted, out of both fear and shame. Often, they were never mentioned again and even all memory of them wiped from family records.

This particular death entry is for Helena Johanna Cornelissen, place of birth unknown, parentage unknown. Age is put at 71 years and 11 months (so there must have been some evidence of her actual birth date). Status is Married and her occupation “Needlework” but her husband is not named and no children are listed. She had no known property. The certificate was signed by the Medical Officer in Charge, Walter H. Thurston.

"Cape Malay Woman Crocheting", Copyright Lucy Mary Wiles

Further investigation of the actual death certificate via Ancestry, shows that she had suffered other complications apart from leprosy. She was a Widow, but also a Cape Coloured [i.e. mixed race, also possibly identified as Cape Malay]. 

The Leper Graveyard, Robben Island

What kind of needlework did Helena do? Did she sew dresses, knit or make fancy lacework for privileged white residents of Cape Town? What had her life been like before she fell ill? Was it an ongoing struggle, or had she been able to make ends meet due to her skills? Did anyone else in her family suffer from leprosy? It will be impossible to answer such questions. 

If we believe that all lives matter, then I hope that Helena's life did have some positive aspects, that she had her share of happiness and that she shouldn't just be defined by a faded old document and a disease that caused her to be feared and shunned by others.

 (The novel "The Island" by Victoria Hislop is worth reading to gain some understanding of what it was like for families afflicted by leprosy.)

Here are some links about Robben Island.

A Handbook On Leprosy (contains many graphic images of Helena's contemporaries, fellow sufferers whom she may have known - they are black, white, and mixed race).