This week I thought I would be perverse and talk about sources at the Public Record Office (PRO) [Ed. Now of course The National Archives or TNA]. It is partly because somebody's just sent me the reference for the 1881 census for the Island of Heligoland (CO 122/37) which I've been looking for - though heaven knows why as I have no Heligoland ancestry.
The main reason however is that I've found a notebook of references to PRO material mainly relating to officers in the Army and Navy which is full of some interesting oddities. It seems to have been compiled by a Miss E.H. FAIRBROTHER at about the time of the Second World War. The notes have been typed up and placed in the SoGs Armed Forces tracts box.
PRO references have been included in brackets just in case you want to check out the material for yourself. Most of the material seems to come from the Colonial Office (CO) lettercode which confirms my long held belief that these records contain much of interest to family historians but are impenetrable to all but the most dedicated researcher.
Do you suffer from Asthma? Well this might help: 'Get some blotting paper and saturate it well in strong solution of saltpetre take out and dry it then take a piece [the] size of your hand. On going to bed light and lay it upon a plate in your lodging room, however badly afflicted persons will find that they can sleep almost as well almost as ever they did in their lives.' (CO 199/12 27 Nov 1844). Are you deaf? - CO 153/8 may offer a cure.
Did you know that George WASHINGTON apparently 'drew his last breath in the last hour of the last day of the last century' that is 31 December 1799 (CO 258/2), that NELSON and WELLINGTON were descended from Edward I (CO 53/34), or that Rev John WRAY the first Christian missionary to British Guiana was born at Skirlaugh near Hull on 1 December 1779 (CO 116/5), or that in 1798 'Lord' John Machon DERWENTWATER a sergeant in the 31st Foot claimed to be the only lawful protestant heir to the throne through his mother (T 1/813/266)[but see below], and lastly that in 1831 Mrs MCKENDRICK was aged 102 she emigrated to Prince Edward Island sixty seven years ago from 'Argarlshire' (CO 231/1).
Details of the marriage of Peter THOMISON and Mary SULLIVAN who were married on board HMS AMERICA in San Francisco Bay on 7 August 1845 is in ADM 8/1946. Indeed the whole of piece CO 53/11 is apparently full of 'facts for the curious' perhaps rather like this column!
During the Irish Famine of the 1840s 'Amidst the din of battles and the wild hurrahs of victory the wail of distress from his native land reached the Irish soldier on the remote banks by the Sutley [India]... Within a few days the Irish soldier subscribed no less than 840 to the relief of their suffering fellow countrymen...' (CO 115/2) A most remarkable action considering how extremely poorly paid the ordinary soldier was at the time.
For anybody interested in the Battle of the Somme the following words of the Duke of Wellington will particularly apposite: 'I have found that raw troops however inferior to the old ones in the manoeuvring are far superior to men in down right hard fighting with the enemy: at Waterloo the young Ensigns and Lieutenants who had never before seen a battle rushed to meet death as if they had been playing at cricket.' (CO 53/12) Nothing seems to have changed in a hundred years except on 1 July 1916 young officers substituted soccer balls for cricket bats.
The First World War also enters into the last extract. CO 116/3 describes a prophecy which predicted the fall of the Ottoman Empire for 13 June 1844 'It appears that the downfall of the Empire will be the signal for universal war and will prepare the way for the return of the Jews to their own land.' The Great War, in part at least, was caused by instability in the Balkans resulting from the break-up of the Turkish Empire in Europe. The war led to the Balfour Declaration in 1918 which established a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Spooky, eh!
Incidentally John Machon DERWENTWATER seems to have had no claim to his title let alone to the throne of Britain. According to the 'Complete Peerage' the third and last Earl of Derwentwater was found guilty of high treason and executed on Tower Hill on 24 February 1715/6 having sided with the Old Pretender during the 1715 rebellion. In a footnote the editor 'GEC' writes 'Even at this distance of time it is difficult to read without emotion his touching and chivalrous speech from the scaffold.’