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).

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The mysterious Miss Jewell and her Prince

At time of writing, one of the most popular films on the planet is The Greatest Showman which is very loosely based on the life of P.T. Barnum. While it is a fabulously enjoyable movie, it shouldn't be relied upon for historical accuracy, although no doubt the infamous "King of Humbug" himself would have approved of its ability to hoodwink and entertain the masses.

There were several other similar showmen during this era and one of the lesser-known was Frank Fillis (b. London 1857 d. Bangkok 1921) whose circus company toured throughout the world, in particular the UK and far-flung corners of the British Empire. 

Every bit as colourful and outrageous as P.T. Barnum, having had three wives and children with links to the stage and movies, he is worthy of a blog post in his own right, but is probably best remembered in South Africa where he came up with the idea for the spectacle Savage South Africa that he brought to Britain at the turn of the previous century. 

Image in TROVE

Here is an early moving image of the arrival of the cast at Southampton docks, 1899 prior to its debut at Earl's Court.

But it was events that took place during the tour of Savage South Africa when two individuals were destined to become notorious celebrities and which, in the moralistic and racist attitudes of those long-ago days, created a huge scandal.

An attractive white woman, Florence Kate ("Kitty") Jewell, supposedly a respectable piano player and teacher, daughter of a Cornish mining engineer, had met and fallen in love with the star performer. His name was Peter and he was touted as a Prince, a son of Lobengula, King of the Matabele. When the couple tried to get married in London all hell broke loose.

The Evening News screamed that there is something inexpressibly disgusting in the idea of the mating of a white girl and a dusky savage. The Daily Mail added to the fire stating that such behaviour would weaken and lead to the downfall of the Empire. The snootier Vanity Fair proclaimed the New Woman was unable to tell a savage from a savant ... and so on. The Reverend who had been going to take the marriage service got cold feet and found an excuse not to marry them (the groom was likely to have other wives left behind in Africa).

Searches of old newspapers online will provide many similar reports on the scandal.

In the book by Ben Shephard, Kitty and the Prince, the story is described in great detail and it is -
"A heart-breaking tale, a real mystery, and a window into Victorian attitudes to race, the beginnings of tabloid journalism, and feminism, in the 1890s. In short, a true story that has everything."
It makes absorbing reading for anyone who wants to know more of the historical background to the couple's relationship, how they were forced to abort their first attempt at marriage in the glare of media, their public and violent spats, passionate reunion and marriage, acrimonious parting and divorce.

The cancelled entry in the parish records for the first marriage:

The second marriage was a low-key affair at the Holborn Register Office on 28 February 1900. It didn't make waves, possibly because of the Boer War raging in South Africa taking up most of the print space, although Kitty did manage to return to the headlines when she staged a suicide attempt by leaving some of her belongings, plus a "letter of a tragic character" addressed to her husband, on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal. Some of her other letters to Peter (whom she called "Blackchops") were reproduced in the newspapers of the day - even as far away as Australia - see TROVE.

Copyright National Archives UK

In Kitty's divorce petition of 4 November 1901, she accuses Peter of adultery with two other women and also that he bit and kicked her, gave her "two black eyes" and even tried "to stab her with an assegai". Peter did not defend the case, but the press had a field day with justification for the case against mixed marriages, lecturing white women not to marry "natives", that they would only have themselves to blame when they were treated badly.

After Kitty left the divorce court in February of 1902, she completely disappeared from all the records and was never heard of again, leastwise not as Kitty Jewell or Kitty Lo Ben.

The true character and ancestry of the Prince has been questioned by historians although the truth went to the grave with him when he died in 1913 aged 38. Some say he was an imposter, his persona created by the showman Fillis to draw the crowds, others say he could well have been a son of one of King Lobengula's lesser, or non-official, wives. Peter had married an Irish woman and settled down in Salford where he was reduced to menial jobs. Three of his four children died young and a son, also Peter, lived until 1977 but does not appear to have any descendants. 

Here is another Youtube video about Peter Lobengula from SalfordOnline (contains some errors of fact - Kitty and Peter definitely did marry and later divorce, also Kitty did not commit suicide).

Kitty is a mystery waiting to be solved by some family historian. Although Shephard could confirm her birth in Redruth, Cornwall in 1873, he had difficulty in verifying certain aspects of her past and was unable to trace her movements accurately - nor was he able to confirm beyond doubt that her father, Joseph Jewell, was a Cornish mining engineer in South Africa.  Some newspaper reports said Kitty was Jewish, which is doubtful, but other American reports state her father worked in mines in Mexico, not South Africa.  

A public Ancestry family tree for the Jewells reveals that others in Kitty's family skirted around scandal involving Princes, as can be seen by a divorce petition brought in 1895 by John Corrie Woolston, the husband of one of Kitty's sisters, Emily Jane, with one of the named co-respondents being none other than the claimant to the French throne, Louis Phillipe Robert, Duc d'Orleans !

Copyright National Archives UK

From that family tree, it appears Emily had an interesting life as well with another marriage and divorce in Canada. The case against Prince Phillipe was dismissed, but was it a complete fantasy? Did she really snag the attention of the French Prince, and how? Did Kitty start her romance with the "Black Prince" in order to gain a bit of oneupmanship over her sister?

Then to add another layer of intrigue, Kitty's only brother was also a bit of a shady individual. In 1893, Joseph Stanley Jewell  was sentenced at the Old Bailey to 18 months' hard labour for deception and fraud.

All of this suggests that perhaps Kitty herself wasn't quite the "respectable" young lady she made out to be and may have had a colourful past she needed to cover up. 

Kitty's mother, Frances Jewell, is in the 1911 Census Return as a widow and sole lodger of "private means", aged 69 and living at 41 Trinity Square, Lambeth. She declares that she had 4 children, one of which is dead. Without delving deeper into family research (another sister Alice Maud is said to have lived to the age of 102), it cannot be known which child this was, but perhaps Kitty was "dead" to her mother after what happened.

There is every possibility Florence Kate ("Kitty") Jewell also decided to put all the turmoil of her relationship with Prince Lobengula behind her and went on to completely reinvent herself somewhere else in the world. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

More women of the Mutiny

Here is a selection of some newspaper items, mostly obituaries, about women with links to the Indian Mutiny. Whatever else I have been able to find out about them from available genealogical or other online sources are also included.

Each woman had her own unique tale to tell, such as being wounded at Lucknow or loading guns - and one remembered seeing her father write a letter in his own blood! (Intriguing, even more so if such a letter still exists.) A more prosaic story involves providing breakfast for Lord Roberts and the dashing and legendary John Nicholson.

There is always the likelihood that some of their names (or ages) were incorrectly recorded, that some of their reminiscences are exaggerated, or not even true, but they are all still interesting examples of the experiences of those from various social classes who negotiated the many dangers of life in 19th Century India and managed to reach old age. 


Woman wounded in Indian Mutiny
Death at Age of 95

A survivor of the Indian Mutiny, Mrs. Margaret Quaid, of Sandford Road, Aldershot, died last night at the age of 95.

Mrs. Quaid, who during the siege of Lucknow, was wounded in the shoulder, had spent 50 years in India.

Her husband served in the barrack department and when he died at Peshawar in 1872 he left her with four young daughters.

She spent many years nursing in India, and on her return to England 39 years ago the British Government granted her a free passage.

Dundee Evening Telegraph, 22 February 1933

A very detailed interview with Mrs. Quaid describing her family connections appeared in 1910 in the Australian newspaper, The Daily News, Perth and can be read on this TROVE link.

Eastward Ho, Henry Nelson O'Neil,
a famous image of troops departing England in 1857 for India


Saw Father Write Letter in Blood
Woman Survivor of Indian Mutiny Dead

Mrs. Emma Osborne of Kimberley Road, Gillingham Kent, whose funeral took place to-day, had no more thrilling experience in all her 93 years than she had in India as a girl.
She was an Indian Mutiny survivor.

Daughter of Captain Wilkinson, who died during the Mutiny, she was one of a party of refugees who were driven underground to await relief by the Gordon Highlanders.
She once saw her father write a letter home in blood taken from his arm.

When she was 17 she was brought to Britain by missionaries and given into the care of her grandfather.

Dundee Evening Telegraph 27 May 1936.

Emma Wilkinson married George Edward Osborn [without an "e"] in Kent in 1877. They had three children who lived until the 1950s-70s and one baby who died in 1881.

From various Census Returns, it is apparent they never moved from Gillingham and George worked as a Coal Wheeler or Stoker in the Gas Works. George died in 1935, a year before Emma.



Mrs. Skelton, widow of Canon Skelton, of Lincoln, who died at Horsell, near Woking Surrey yesterday, aged 88, was one of the few women survivors of the Indian Mutiny of 1857.

Portsmouth Evening News 20 January 1922

This was Matilda Skelton born Matilda Linning Birrell in Calcutta in 1834. Her father, David Birrell, later became a General in the Bengal Army.
In 1859, she married Thomas Skelton, also born about 1834, in Bengal.
He had been a fellow of Queen's College, Cambridge, and has the following entry:
1858-1859 Thomas Skelton, M.A., B.D. S.P.G. Missionary at Delhi. Professor and Principal of Bishop's College, Calcutta. Lecturer at St Augustine's College, Canterbury, Principal of the Missionary College at Burgh, Lincs. Rector of Hickling, Notts., Prebendary of Lincoln and of Southwell. d.1915.
In 1911, they both lived at "The Grove", Lincoln. They'd had five children, one of whom had since died. 


Lady Veteran of Indian Mutiny Dead

A lady veteran of the Indian Mutiny (Mrs. Glen) who has just died at Hastings, was eighty-two years of age.

Her first husband was Captain Goldsworthy, who at the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny was brigade-major of Lucknow and commissary-general to Lord Clyde.

The lady just managed to escape being shut up in Lucknow, but upon its final capture by Lord Clyde she was able to rejoin her husband and her brother, General Anderson Connor, who went through the siege. With Lord Clyde’s Army, she proceeded to march to Simla.

Eastbourne Gazette 29 September 1909.

Margaret Lillias [Lilian/Lilliss] Anderson was born in 1827 at Prince of Wales Island, Bengal (later to be known as the Straits Settlement and now just Penang). 

It appears she had at least two children by her first marriage to Fitz Thomas Goldsworthy - a daughter Lilly born in 1855 and son Thomas Clyde Goldsworthy in 1859, who also served in the Indian Army.

I can find no mention of anyone called Fitz Thomas Goldsworthy serving in the important positions mentioned at Lucknow although there is one Thomas Goldsworthy, a humble private, in the Indian Mutiny medal list. The real Goldsworthy at Lucknow was Sir Roger Tuckfield Goldsworthy who went on to have an illustrious colonial administration career and was married to someone else.

Nor does a "General Anderson Connor" appear anywhere either. Possibly this may be a mistake in reportage and should refer to Margaret's brother Thomas Carnegy Anderson who, according to his Probate documents of 1876, had been Barrack Master at Fort Calcutta.

There are a number of records associated with Margaret's second marriage to John Gray MacCowan Glen, of the Indian civil service, including 1881-1901 Census Returns showing they lived in Park Road, St Leonard's on Sea. They appear to have had just one son, who died in Cairo aged around 27.

This is evidence of either an old lady who got her facts mixed up, or someone else in the family not knowing who-was-who or even showing off to the reporter family connections that weren't correct.

Home Again, Henry Nelson O'Neil,
the 1858 companion painting showing the troops returning from India



Mrs. Jane Gordon Cotton, who died at Leyland, Lancashire, yesterday, was the widow of the late General Reginald Stapleton Cotton, at one time commanding the 47th Regimental District, Preston.

The deceased lady participated in the Indian Mutiny, being locked up in the Presidency at Peshawar. Her father in law, General Sir Sydney Cotton, commanded the North Western Frontier.

She was in constant association with Lord Roberts and General Nicholson, and provided breakfast for the latter on his departure of Delhi, where he was killed.

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer 9 January 1923.

A few errors in this report. Jane Gordon Inglis (born Scotland about 1831) was not married to General Reginald but to Lynch Stapleton Cotton (b. abt 1828 at Connaught Square, London, son of Sydney Cotton). Another similar obituary article correctly names her as Mrs. Lynch Stapleton Cotton, daughter of James Inglis of Fairley, Aberdeenshire, but gives her age as 98 when she was probably about 5 years younger.

Jane married Lynch S. Cotton of the 22nd Regiment of Foot in India, in 1855. 

Her father-in-law, Sydney Cotton, had an extensive record in service throughout the Empire, and is particularly remembered in Australia during the convict era, as per this entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography



The death took place at Pitlochry, Perthshire, on Wednesday night, of the Dowager Lady Outram, of Indian Mutiny fame.

Lady Outram was in her 99th year, and survived her husband by 48 years. She had lived under six sovereigns.

Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail 14 July 1911.

A reasonable summary of her connection to the Mutiny in this article from the New Zealand newspaper Evening Star of 22 September, 1911.

Margaret Clementina Anderson was born in 1813 in Lambeth, the daughter of merchant James Anderson of Bridgend, Brechin, Forfarshire.

She was married in 1835 to her cousin Sir James Outram and appears to have only had one child Francis Boyd Outram who had a large family of his own and thus many descendants. 
Sir James was so highly esteemed that he has a statue on the Thames Embankment and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

As is often typical of wives of important men of that era, Lady Outram seems to have lived out her long widowhood without drawing much attention to herself apart from her brief experience in the Indian Mutiny. A clergyman from of the era arriving in Lucknow described her as:-
 "... one of the best specimens of an English lady I ever met; so unaffected and natural; so glad to have a clergyman once more. She takes the greatest interest in everything for the good of the people - natives and Christians ..." 


Birmingham Woman’s  Great Age 

102nd Birthday Celebrated.

(Transcript) Mrs. Elizabeth Hyde, an inmate of the Western Road Homes, Birmingham, yesterday attained the age of 102 years. The Lord Mayor (Alderman Sir David Brooks) sent the following message to Mrs Hyde:- “I am pleased to hear that you are celebrating your 102nd birthday. I congratulate you heartily on attaining this ripe old age, and trust that you will live to hear peace declared after a victory for the Allied arms.”

Mrs. Hyde was born on September 24, 1816, and for the purpose of obtaining the Old-Age Pension secured the following statement which she treasures and proudly shows her visitors:- “Elizabeth Echo was born on the Alexandra Mary in the Welsh Dock on September 24, 1816, at 7.15 p.m., the daughter of Benjamin and Elizabeth Echo. - (Signed) Dr Parry Gibbs.

Speaking to a representative of the press, Mrs Hyde said that her husband was a horse doctor, and after he was crushed so badly that he could work no more she worked as a “doctress” and midwife. She vividly remembers the Indian Mutiny, and took part in loading the guns for an officer to fire.

She can read German, French, Italian and Welsh, but confessed she “would want a few lessons before doing it in public.”

She retains all her faculties, and recounts with pleasure her many visits to China, India, Italy, Germany, France, and other countries as “the adopted daughter of a colonel in the Indian Army.”

Birmingham Mail 25 September 1918

In spite of the information in the article and a report of her death a few months later in February 1919, this woman proves to be a real mystery.

If it's true that she could speak many languages, including Welsh, it suggests her maiden surname "Echo" may have been spelled some other way or was incorrectly recorded in the statement signed by the doctor with which she claimed the Old Age Pension. (Cross-checking something that long ago was probably impossible at the time.) 

Also being born on board ship is a problem, said to be the vessel Alexandra Mary, but neither can a ship of this name be pinned down with any certainty, nor is it known which "Welsh Dock" applies as there was one at Bristol and also Liverpool, and possibly elsewhere.

Where her husband worked, or which unit he served in as a horse doctor is unknown, nor is it known where she loaded guns during the Mutiny.


She Remembered the Indian Mutiny
Woman’s Death at Cawnpore

Mrs. Amelia Margaret White, 83, who was four years of age when the Indian Mutiny broke out and had a vivid memory of the fighting, has died in Cawnpore, thus severing the last human link between that historic city and the 1857 revolt.

Mrs. White was the widow of a mutiny veteran. She herself saw the mutiny in Agra, and was sheltered with her parents and brothers in the fort there. She said that she remembered the firing of the first cannon shot from the fort.

It was a Sunday afternoon. Wounded soldiers were returning into the fort after the fight, calling for water, which I and other girls gave them to drink. My brother, Lowther, enlisted in the Agra Militia, and went out to fight the rebels. After peace was restored I returned home to Sikandra with my parents, only to find that everything was plundered - even my father’s two horses.”

Mrs. White’s husband, Mr. James Alfred White, who died in 1927, was the grandson of Mr John White, a veteran of Lord Lake’s army of Nepal.

Mr. J.A. White started his military career as a drummer boy in the 37 Bengal Infantry, in which was father was drum-major.

His regiment was at Benares when the mutiny broke out. It was disarmed, and Mr. White was sent with his father to Allahabad Fort and twice marched to Cawnpore with the relieving forces.

The Government of India granted Mrs. White a special mutiny pension of Rs.60 per month after the death of her husband.

Nottingham Evening Post 24 April 1935

Another woman on whom it is difficult to find much. Her maiden name is not given in this article and perhaps more can be found in India-specific genealogical sources.

She does appear in the 1911 UK Census Returns as a "visitor" born in Bombay, India and staying with the Jordan family in Leeds. Her age is given as 42, having been married 11 years, but she had no children of the marriage.

Her husband's connections to the 37th Bengal Infantry may have stretched way back into the 18th Century. Lord Lake, chief of the East India Company military, died in 1808. 


Mabel Lady Crossley Dies at Age of 90

Well known for her charitable work in Manchester and Altrincham, Mabel Lady Crossley has died at her home, Glenfield, Altrincham, at the age of 90.

Widow of Sir William John Crossley, founder of the well-known Manchester engineering firm and Liberal M.P. for Altrincham, she was one of the few remaining people who remembered the Indian Mutiny. Her father was Inspector-General of Hospitals in India, and her elder son, Sir Kenneth Crossley, told the Manchester Evening News today that his mother was rescued from a burning church during the mutiny.

She leaves another son, Major Eric Crossley. Mr A.C. Crossley, who was Conservative M.P. for Stretford and was killed in an aeroplane crash in Denmark, was her grandson.

Manchester Evening News 1 May 1943.

Mabel Gordon Anderson was born in Bengal in 1853. She is shown in the 1871 Census as a pupil at Hill House School in Belstead, Suffolk, an example of a child would have been sent "Home" from India at a young age to be educated.

Hill House School in 1873, by M. Conway

On 20 April 1876, she married engineering businessman and politician William John Crossley at Notting Hill, London, and had five children, two daughters who died in infancy and three sons. 

(One public family tree suggests that she had two children prior to marrying Crossley. This seems most unlikely as they would have been illegitimate and highly scandalous for the era - even more so considering the Crossleys were a devout Christian family. Searches of the General Register Office Indexes show no such children born to any Mabel Anderson or Crossley in the years shown ... and this is a good example of always checking the primary sources in connection with any family trees one finds online!)

Sir William J. Crossley was also known for his philanthropy. This extract from Grace's Guide to British Industrial History shows the extent of his, and his partner brother's commitment to their faith being " ... committed Christians and strictly teetotal, refusing to supply their products to companies such as breweries, whom they did not approve of. They adopted the early Christian symbol of the Coptic Cross as the emblem to use on their road vehicles.

Combermere Manor was the home of the Crossleys who were famous for their cars. One of Mabel's granddaughters was Fidelia, an early aviatrix - read about her here.

No image of Mabel herself can be found, but she did leave her mark on the Together Trust, which still continues in Britain today.

Foundation Stone, Together Trust


 Woman Who was in Indian Mutiny
 Saw her Relatives Killed, but lived to 98

Mrs. Fanny Rumley, one of the last survivors of the Indian Mutiny, has died in Bath at the age of 98.

She was the widow of Mr. Henry William Rumley, an Indian Civil Servant, and was in Cawnpore with her husband when the outbreak took place. She escaped the worst horrors of the Mutiny, but her cousin, Major Larkins, and other relatives were butchered by the Sepoys.

Her husband, who was the youngest son of General Rumley, of Sidmouth, died in 1857 on his way back to India.

Cheltenham Chronicle, 10 February 1923

Fanny Larkins was born about 1826, the daughter of William Larkins of Sidmouth, Devon, and there is a record of her marrying Henry William Rumley in Honiton, Devon, in 1851. 

(Her relatives were Major George Larkins, wife Emma Ewart (nee Carnochan) and three children who all died at Cawnpore during the most infamous massacre of the Indian Mutiny. Due to his wife Emma's last letter that survived the massacre and was widely reproduced in the press, the names of the Larkins family can be found in a number of reference works and books on the subject.)

From the Indian Medical Service listings as of 1841, some interesting information about Fanny's husband who was not just any civil servant, but a qualified surgeon, also that they were only married 8 years, as he died on his way home in Paris in 1859, and is buried at Montmarte.

1366.  Rumley, Henry William. b. 20 September 1817. M.R.C.S. 1839. A.S. 25 December 1840. Surg. 1 Feb. 1855. d. Paris 10 Dec. 1859. First Sikh or Sutlej War 1845-46. Mudki (horse shot), Firuzshahr, and Sobraon, medal with two clasps. Second Sikh or Panjab War, 1848-49. Ramnagar, Sudullapur, Chilianwala, and Gujrat, medal.

To conclude this collection, here is the letter written by Emma Larkins, reproduced in a series of British Empire newspapers in 1900:

Week (Brisbane, Qld. : 1876 - 1934), Friday 14 September 1900, page 10

Mother's Farewell.Last Letter out of Cawnpore.
The following intensely pathetic letter, the last that ever got out of Cawnpore (says a London paper), possesses tragic interest. It was written by Mrs. Emma Larkins, wife of Major George Larkins, Bengal Artillery, and only reached England a year and nine months after it was written.The packet was intrusted by Mrs. Larkins to her ayah, who managed to escape out of Cawnpore and slip through the Sepoy lines. The ayah made her way to Calcutta, and went straight to the address given her. The gentleman to whom the letter was addressed was busy at the time and refused to see her, giving no credence to her tale.Bursting into tears the ayah drew forth the packet and gave it to the servant; then lifting up her arm she called Heaven to witness that she had been faithful to the trust her mistress had reposed in her, and had discharged her task. Weeping, she turned away, and was never heard or seen of more.The intense pathos of this tender mother's farewell to her children in England will touch every heart. We are indebted for this exquisite document to Mrs. Alice Pelly, the "Alice " of the letter."CAWNPORE, June 9, 1857."I write this, dearest Henrietta, in the belief that our hour of departure is come. The whole of the troops rose here and we took refuge in a barrack. We are so hemmed in by overpowering numbers that there seems no hope of escape. Only about 40 Europeans are left of 120 men! A sad, sad number to hold out against such an overpowering enemy. Many joined the cavalry and infantry, and they have six guns against us. The walls are going."This is an awful hour, my darling Henrietta. Jessie, Emily, and Georgie (her children) cling to us. Dearest George (her husband) has been well up to to-day, but he is, I grieve to say, now obliged to abandon his post. This is to me a grief. Many brave men have fallen to-day. The siege has lasted four days!"Oh ! let this be a warning to your Gov-ernment never again to place British officers and men in such a pitiable position; only 120 European soldiers at Cawnpore!! It is sad and painful to reflect on that our lives are tobe sacrificed in such a condition."Give my love to my sweet girls. Tell them that there is but one thing needful: Tell them to seek sorrowing that faith sure and steadfast, an anchor of the soul."Connie, darling, your mamma has longed to see and know you. (She had been left behind in England when aged 3 ½ years.) Seek your God and Heaven in spirit."Alice, my sweet child, remember your Creator in the days of your youth, seek Him till you can say 'I have found Him.'"Ellen, my little lamb, I must not see you again in the flesh, but remember I will look for you where sorrow and disappointment can never enter.""Harry, dear boy, my heart yearns over you. Oh! dear boy, if you saw the position your little brother and sisters are in at this moment you would weep over ever having pleased your own desires. Seek your God and heaven, and serve and please Him, and always hate whatever is sinful."Dearest Henrietta, we leave them all in the hands of God and your tender watching."My dear love to all my dear friends."Peace, dearest Henrietta, which passes knowledge be with you; my gratitude to you is unchanged."(In envelope): "I have given this to nun-nah who hopes to escape, and" —the rest is undistinguishable. 

The Angel of Cawnpore