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Saturday, 30 July 2011


I don’t know how I am related to Charles de Noé, only that I must be! His mother Frances Caroline Halliday is, somehow, at the heart of the closely knit circle of Hallidays, Tollemaches and Delaps from which my 6x great grandmother Rebecca Delap emerged. Frances’s connections by name, through wills and property are too numerous to be coincidences, but as far as I know, no one has been quite able to pin her to any specific part of the Halliday tree. There have been suggestions that she was the illegitimate daughter of Francis Delap Halliday and Frances Tollemache; but that would make her eventual marriage to the Count Louis Pantaléon Judes Amédée de Noé, a member of the French aristocracy, a socially unlikely union.

That said, scandal was never far from that generation of Tollemaches. Frances Tollemache’s sister Jane eloped with Francis Delap Halliday’s brother John (see my earlier blog about Jane); and Frances Caroline Halliday’s marriage to the Count was witnessed by another Tollemache sister, Louisa. It seems entirely possible that they might all have closed ranks over an illegitimacy in order to see Frances Caroline married off, and married off well at that.

Charles Amédée Henri de Noé (1818-1879)

Charles Amédée Henri de Noé was the fifth son of the marriage, and could therefore have little expectation of inheritance. He was expected to go out and work for a living, and was lined up for a career in engineering after education at an institut de technologie. Instead, he went to painting classes led by Paul Delaroche and Nicolas Charlet and began a hugely successful career as a satirical cartoonist.

In the same way that Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi adapted his initials to sign his work Hergé (the sound of R.G. in French), Charles Amédée took the pen name Ch-Am – Cham. Since his surname is the French for [son] of Noah, Cham was also a  jokey reference to Ham son of Noah. Probably not a belly-laugh even in the 1840s, but perhaps enough to trigger a smile which might become a laugh as you read his cartoons.

"Noah and his family prepare for the rainy season."
Cham wasn’t above inserting his own image into his drawings.
From the rear: Charles, his brothers Franck and William,
and as Noah himself, Charles’s father Louis de Noé

Cham’s strength was as a social rather than a political commentator. In a career lasting 40 years he is credited with over 40,000 drawings, an invaluable resource in the twenty-first century for studying the French nineteenth-century middle class and what one reviewer, R.L. Mayer, describes as “all eccentricities of the moment.”

If your French is better than my schoolboy understanding, you will enjoy a blog dedicated to Cham’s memory.

Cham, son of Noah

Saturday, 23 July 2011


It doesn’t take long to build up a detailed picture of the prominent Tipperary families of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I have direct lines through the Coopers, Sadleirs, Chadwicks and Massys, who are united frequently by weddings, sometimes in successive generations. The ruling class, the Protestant Ascendancy as they are known, were a tiny self-contained minority in Ireland for hundreds of years. They kept within their own social and political circle of course and so it’s no wonder that the same families repeatedly intermarried. Other names, although not my direct relations, are also interwoven through those lines; and I can’t help but become curious about another family which seems to be an integral part of the same circle as my own.

Captain Robert Johnston Barton (1839-1879)
of the 2nd Coldstream Guards
commanded the Frontier Light Horse at Hlobane

So it is that I now have a large Barton family tree on file. None of my direct ancestors were Bartons; but for example my 5x great grandfather Hugh Massy’s cousin Grace Massy married William Barton, and Hugh’s wife my 5x great grandmother Rebecca Delap’s aunt Margaret married Thomas Barton. I’m fascinated by such connections – but even I have to admit that it’s a tenuous justification for writing today about Margaret and Thomas Barton’s great grandson Robert Johnston Barton.

Robert’s modest entry in the Barton tree – “killed in action in Zululand 28th March 1879” – does not begin to tell his story. 1879 was the year of the Zulu War, a year which began disastrously for the British with the events depicted in the films Zulu and Zulu Dawn. 28th March was the date of the last of three morale-sapping massacres inflicted on the British by the Zulu army.

The slopes of Hlobane
tough on foot, tougher still on horseback
(photo by Neil Aspinshaw)

He was part of a foiled attack against a 3000-strong Zulu stronghold on a plateau called Hlobane Mountain. The British approach, under cover of darkness on the night of the 27th March, was hampered by the difficult terrain – steep, boulder-strewn slopes – and by a violent storm whose lightning flashes illuminated the British advance to the Zulu guards. At dawn it became clear that the Zulus were fully prepared for the attack with barricades and a network of caves and tunnels from which they were able to attack the British troops with ease.

Despite heavy casualties, the British fought their way onto the plateau. Barton was dispatched with 30 men to bury those who had died on the ascent. As he rode off, his commanding officer was horrified to see in the valley to the south a massive column of Zulu warriors, estimated at 22,000, moving quickly towards Hlobane. Retreat to the north was impossible because of even steeper slopes and the British were faced with having to fight their way back down through the very Zulus whose defences they had breached on the way up – Zulus now much emboldened by the approaching army of reinforcements – and towards the huge force now approaching them.

Massacre on Hlobane Mountain
(known to Zulus since 1879 as “Stabbing Mountain”)

Barton and another officer, Weatherley, joined forces, and with their combined cavalry of some 220 men, tried in vain to find another way off the mountain before forming a line and charging the defenders. Under a hailstorm of assegai spears, only 20, including Barton, survived. They fled down into the valley, straight into the arms of the advance party of the Zulu column. 15 more of them died then. Barton was injured, his horse too; but he paused to scoop up a wounded fellow officer before attempting to outrun the fast-moving Zulu army. After some miles the horse collapsed and they continued on foot; but escape in their condition was impossible.

A year later, with the war won and peace with the Zulus established, a British escort party was led to Barton’s body, still lying where he fell, by the very Zulu who had killed him; and Colonel Wood, who had planned the Hlobane raid, buried him at last.

A great deal has been written about the Zulu War. There are several accounts of the Battle of Hlobane, including vivid descriptions by JohnYoung, and by William Watson Race & Jon Guttman. Whatever you think of warfare, or imperialism, or even the Irish Protestant Ascendancy, there are tales of selfless, hopeless heroism at Hlobane which cannot fail to move you.

Saturday, 16 July 2011


Sometimes it seems to me to have been an absolute rule: the eldest daughter was saddled with the role of housekeeper or nursemaid to her elderly parents. There are many examples of this apparently inescapable destiny in my family tree. I sometimes wonder just how explicit the obligation was, not to get married but to remain on the shelf caring for your surviving widowed mother or father. Was it the ordered custom of the day? Or was it a self-imposed fate, simply the inescapable sense of duty and responsibility that any eldest child feels, combined with the passive and nurturing role fostered in women in the 18th and 19th centuries?

Anne Gurney Salter (1839-1925)
daughter and artist

My great great aunt Annie was the eldest daughter of my great great grandfather the Rev William Augustus Salter, and she spent her whole life in the service of her parents. I have no doubt that she had been helping her father out at his parishes in Brentwood and Amersham. In 1863, at the age of 23, she stepped up with her sisters Emma and Maria to help him run the school attached to his new chapel in Clarendon Street, Leamington Spa. They taught reading, arithmetic and singing to infants and young girls.

There was one paid teacher (Miss Baker, who worked for less because she was still studying for her certification) and one 13-year old pupil-teacher (paid a nominal sum to supervise the younger children). But the unrewarded labour of the Salter sisters will have made a huge difference to the school’s finances in the days before state provision of education. Parents paid a modest fee (between 2d and 9d) for their children to attend, so the temptation was always to increase the school’s population. But overcrowding at the Clarendon Street school was counter-productive as it often resulted in the withdrawal of the small state subsidy which the establishment received.

Clarendon Street Chapel, Leamington Spa
built for Rev William Augustus Salter in 1863
(a proposed reconstruction of 2009)

By the end of 1863 the school was regularly attracting around 150 children, although it was only permitted to teach 91, based on a calculation of 8 square feet per child. The pupil-teacher Miss Wyatt became ill with the responsibility of looking after them and had to drop out, increasing the workload of the Salters. They learned their teaching skills on the job, and better teaching was also good for the school’s finances. Pupils were regularly tested by external examiners, and poor results could lead to the withholding of part of the grant.

The demands on Anne and Maria increased in 1867 when Emma too became seriously ill. She died that November. Their younger sister Sarah could not help out, having got married earlier that year; and their youngest sister Emily was only 11. In 1869 the school lost almost all its grant because of overcrowding, and another year it received nothing at all because of understaffing.

The graves of William and Emma Salter, and their daughter Emma
in Warwick Cemetery (photographed Nov 2010)

The Rev Salter, perhaps worn out himself by the strains of keeping school and chapel alive, died in 1879. It was probably a blessing that he didn’t live to see the establishment of the Leamington School Board in 1881, which took over the struggling Clarendon Street school and quickly closed it down. Soon afterwards Anne, Maria and Emily moved to London with their mother (also called Emma). But when she died in 1893 (when Anne was 53) and was buried near Leamington beside her husband and daughter Emma, the surviving sisters took rooms again in the town. They never married, and as far as I can tell they lived out their days in the familiar surroundings of those intense years in education.

Their father had at least left them well enough provided for in his will, and I like to think of them passing their days in useful charitable work amongst the former pupils and parishioners of Clarendon Street. Emily was the last of them – she died before I was born, but lived long enough to pass on some family lore and treasure to my father and my uncle, from whom in turn I inherited it. One of my most prized possessions is a set of beautifully hand-painted coffee cups and saucers, decorated by the three maiden aunts with pictures of wild flowers. It’s just the sort of genteel, acceptable activity which one could imagine three conventional spinster sisters pursuing, to while away the long bright hours of the evening of life.

Coffee cups and saucers
 hand painted with pictures of wild flowers
by Anne, Maria and Emily Salter, spinsters of the parish

Saturday, 9 July 2011


In 1800 the Acts of Union abolished the Irish parliament in favour of direct rule from London. 26 new peerages, the so-called Union peerages, were created in Ireland to ease the passage of the bill, and one of the very last peers to be so elevated – on 27th December 1800 – was my 6x great uncle Eyre Massey, 1st Lord Clarina of Elm Park in Co. Limerick. (There was already another Lord in the family, so after 1800 Eyre added the e to distinguish his lordship from that of his brother Hugh, 1st Lord Massy of Stagdale.)

It’s claimed that Eyre sought the honour not for himself but for his wife, in an attempt to console her for the early death of their eldest son George. And the title that he sought was not Clarina but Niagara. Not in Limerick but in North America. Why, you may ask?

The arms of the Barons Clarina
incorporates two Grenadiers of the 27th Foot,
Eyre Massey’s regiment of 60 years

As the youngest of six Massy brothers he had lived his life with no prospect of inheritance, and had therefore had to work for a living. This he did by a distinguished military career, serving for over 60 years with his regiment the 27th Foot, the Enniskillings. He fought campaigns in the West Indies, Spain and Scotland with them and in 1757, on secondment to the 46th Regiment, he sailed to North America as Major Massy, their second in command.

Britain was embroiled at the time in the Seven Years War (1756-1763) – a world war fought by the forces and allies of Britain and Germany on the one hand and France and Austria on the other. It was conducted on several fronts, in Europe, Scandinavia, Western Africa, India, Central and North America. The diplomatic causes of the war were complex, but the expanding British and French Empires of the time frequently collided in the jostle for control of new overseas territories. This was particularly true in what France was calling New France, the lands of the Ohio Valley and the Great Lakes, which both powers saw as the gateway to further acquisitions in the West.

New France in 1750

Hostilities had been rumbling on in the region since 1754, largely with French success. But after early British setbacks, the tide turned. Britain was in general more willing than France to send troop reinforcements overseas instead of relying on locally recruited militias. Eyre’s arrival was part of this policy, which resulted two years later in the besieging of a French base on the south shore of Lake Ontario at the mouth of the river Niagara.

There is considerable dispute about who really won the Battle of Fort Niagara for the British. General John Prideaux, the British commander at the beginning of the siege of the fort, was killed early in the siege by shrapnel from one of his own guns. Sir William Johnson, a war hero and former major general who had commanded provincial auxiliaries rather than British Army regulars, assumed command and insisted on retaining it even after a more junior but regular army officer arrived. The fate of the fort was decided by a skirmish on 24th July called the Battle of La Belle-Famille, which Johnson is supposed to have planned or even led. But there is some question as to whether he was even present and to what extent he overstated his role and abilities in official reports.

left: Major General William Johnson
(in 1756, after a portrait by T. Adams)
and right: Major Eyre Massey
(in 1803, then a general, by Robert Hunter)

Eyre Massey claimed in his (let's face it) self-promoting memoirs that he, not Johnson, was the commander and tactician of the victory, which prevented a much larger French relief force from reaching the fort and resulted in its surrender two days later. It was a decisive engagement, and it allowed Britain to attack the French heartlands of Quebec from the west as well as the east. No doubt Eyre’s desire to become Lord Niagara on his elevation 41 years later was an attempt to cement his claim; and no doubt his elevation instead as Lord Clarina reflects the lack of documentary proof of that claim.

New France fell in September 1760, and Quebec (renamed Canada) began its long relationship with the British Empire and Commonwealth. As I write, 251 years later, the future British king and his new bride are in the middle of a Canadian tour, their first as a royal couple, which began with their celebration of Canada Day.

Saturday, 2 July 2011


The Verralls of Lewes in Sussex, cousins of mine by marriage, were prominent local auctioneers for five generations, selling everything from wine to houses to the highest bidder – and sometimes that bidder was themselves. By the fifth generation most of the auction house branch of the family had transferred their skills to the more specialised world of horse-racing, or as it’s called in England the Sport of Kings (of queens too, although Elizabeth II has just failed, at time of writing, to become the first monarch since 1909 to own an Epsom Derby winner with her horse Carlton House).

George Henry Verrall was the youngest of five brothers, the sons of John Verrall the fourth-generation auctioneer. Apart from George, John senior took the unusual step of naming all his sons John. Presumably they were known by their middle names! Second son John Marcus picked up the auctioneers’ hammer but the eldest, John Frederick, pursued a career as manager of Lewes Races, Clerk of Croydon Racecourse and a successful racing journalist.

The Grandstand, Lewes Racecourse, 1900

Third son John Claudius compiled an indispensable annual publication, A List of Horses in Training in England. John the fourth, John Hubert, was what the National Archives of Great Britain describe in their records as the black sheep of the family, a pigeon fancier. And then there was George.

George succeeded John Frederick (who died young in 1877) as Clerk of the Course at Lewes, where he was also a partner in Pratt & Co, a firm of turf accountants. George was also Clerk at the Gatwick and Lingfield courses, and he moved in 1878 to Newmarket, then as now the epicentre of British racing. Here he made his mark not only as a racing official but as a county councillor and (briefly) as Conservative MP for Newmarket.

Tabanus sulcifrons, the horse fly

His lasting legacy however arose from his lifelong enthusiasm for entomology. He joined the Entomological Society in 1866 at the age of 18, and in 1899-1900 served as its president. Entomology (not to be confused with etymology, the study of words) is the science of insects, and George’s particular passion was diptera – flies.

George seems to have spent most of his leisure hours in the observation of them, and his interest was almost certainly a factor in his move to Newmarket. In the triangle formed by the towns of Newmarket, Ely and Cambridge lies the irreplaceable natural habitat which is Wicken Fen. Wicken Fen, a wetland world, is an entomologist’s paradise, home to over 4000 species of insect alone. Charles Darwin collected specimens there in the 1820s, and George Verrall was one of many who recognised the area’s importance.

Sedge Cutting in Wicken Fen
(Robert Walker Macbeth RA)

By the end of the nineteenth century, the Cambridgeshire fenland was under threat. The traditional industries of sedge and peat cutting, which had served to preserve the habitat, were becoming obsolete. The process of draining the fens to put them to more productive use had already begun elsewhere. And then, in a remarkable wave of collective environmental conscience, Wicken Fen was gradually saved, by the separate acts of generosity and concern of many men.

On 1st May 1899, the National Trust bought two acres of Wicken Fen, a first act of rescue which created Britain’s first ever nature reserve. George Verrall was at the forefront of a band of entomologists who knew the value to the nation’s natural wealth of the place, and who began to buy up further parcels of fenland and donate them to the National Trust. Thanks to Verrall and his colleagues the National Trust’s holdings were expanded by more than 55 additions. Wicken Fen, now a UK National Nature Reserve, UK Site of Special Scientific Interest, European Special Area of Conservation and on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance, extends in 2011 to over 1600 acres. Part of it is still called Verrall’s Fen.

Stratiomyidae and succeeding families
of the Diptera Brachycera of Great Britain (British flies, Vol 5)
Frontispiece (1909)

Besides saving Wicken Fen for the nation, George Henry Verrall made significant contributions to the sciences of entomology and botany. In his exploration of the fens he rediscovered many species of flora previously declared extinct. He published two books on different families of dipterae in collaboration with his nephew James Edward Collin. Between them the pair described over 550 species for the first time, and their collection of specimens (donated to Oxford University in 1967) is the most important in Britain, greater than that of the Natural History Museum in London. If you care about flies, the Verrall-Collin is your Bible of British Flies.
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