Category Archives: O’Bryen

A deeper look at the Will of William Henry Burke (1792-1870) part 4, Burke v. O’Bryen

A little over a year ago, I came across this in the national Archives catalogue,  ” Cause number: 1872 B246. Short title: Burke v Keith.”  Basil and Harriet O’Bryen were somehow involved in the case. I registered for a reader’s ticket, given the required notice because the records were stored off site, and was booked in for a visit to the National Archives in Kew.

National Archives, Kew

My original plan was to see if anything about Burke v. Keith could shed any light on Burke v. O’Bryen. It was a rather odd experience. Very close, in fact only a few stops on the Overground. Almost airport-style searches for entry into the reading rooms, and then a collection of the materials ordered via a rather strange two-way locker system.  Everyone else seemed to be either collecting books, or A4 box files, or even large heavy-duty brown envelopes. What I seemed to be collecting was larger. “Ah, the large order” was what the lady at the desk said ” I’ll bring the trolley round to your locker. It’ll probably be best if you take the boxes out one at a time, and return each one before you collect the next.”

What turned up was three cardboard archive boxes, each tied with rather elderly bits of string, and after a lot of looking through irrelevant, unrelated cases. I found this

1872-B-No 246 Filed 28th November 1872 pursuant to order dated 1st November 1872

In Chancery

between

William Henry Burke – plaintiff

and

Wilson Keith

Basil William O’Bryen, and Harriet Matilda, his wife

Mary Ann Burke, the wife of William Henry Burke.

and

William Donald Henry Burke

Edmund John Burke

Kate Alice Burke (spinster)

Sarah Elizabeth Burke (spinster)

Walter Keith Burke

all infants

Defendants

So Burke v. Keith and others is a case where Henry Burke is in a legal dispute with his sister, and two brothers-in-law, [Wilson Keith is Mary Ann Burke’s brother] and his wife, and children are also defendants in the case. What follows is fairly full and verbatim:

The joint and several answer of Wilson Keith, Basil William O’Bryen, and Harriett Matilda, his wife, three of the above-named defendants to the amended bill of complaint of the above named Plaintiff.

In answer to the amended said bill we, Wilson Keith, Basil William O’Bryen, and Harriett Matilda O’Bryen, say as follows-

  1. We believe the statements contained in the first eight paragraphs of the Plaintiff’s Bill of Complaint are correct.
  2. The said William Henry Burke the testator in the Bill named made his will dated the 6th day of May 1870 and thereby after making certain bequests and devises he gave all the residue of his real and personal estate to his daughter the defendant Harriett Matilda O’Bryen then Harriett Matilda Burke absolutely and he appointed the defendant Harriett Matilda O’Bryen and George William Wood and the defendant Basil William O’Bryen, executrix and executors of his said will.
  3. The said testator died on the 17th July 1870 without having revoked or altered his said will except so far as the same was revoked or altered by a codicil thereto which did not affect the disposition of residue or the appointment of executors in the will contained.
  4. Upon the testator’s death a caveat was entered by the Plaintiff William Henry Burke  against the proof of the said will and codicil. The said caveat was however withdrawn and the said will and codicil admitted to probate upon an arrangement being come to between the Plaintiff and the defendant Harriett Matilda O’Bryen then Harriett Matilda Burke. The said arrangement was embodied in the following agreement which was duly signed by the solicitors of the parties on 19th November 1870.

“Miss Burke to assign Green’s mortgage debt and the West Drayton mortgage and the securities for the same”

“Miss Burke to take upon herself payment of Mr and Mrs Shea’s annuity”

“Mr Burke to provide for the child Rhoda and to pay Messrs Jenkinsons’ and Mr Lovejoy’s charges and expenses in respect of Green’s mortgage.”

“Miss Burke to pay all debts and charges out of residue, The household furniture, plate, linen, brougham, and horse and things in and about the house and premises not to be considered residue but to be the property of Miss Burke.

“Miss Burke to be entitled to retain out of residue £200 and £500 to dispose of as she sees fit.”

“The balance of the residue (if any)to be handed to Mr Burke.”

“Miss Burke to execute deeds in accordance with drafts marked, A,B, and C. Mr Burke to execute deed in accordance with draft marked D.

“If residue insufficient to pay the debts and charges including the £200 and £500 Mr Burke is to make up deficiency to the extent of £1000 to be paid in equal instalments in one and two years. If the deficiency should not exceed £500 to be paid within one year and if not exceeding £250 to be paid on demand.

It’s not Burke v. O’Bryen, in fact it seems to be rather the reverse. An out-of-court settlement between Henry Burke and his younger sister, which seems to be very much in his favour. Harriet does get most, if not all, of the house contents, but by and large, Henry Burke seems to have got his way regarding the residue.

It still leaves the question about what exactly Burke v. O’Bryen in 1871 was about. It must have happened between the 1st February, when Harriet and Basil were married, and 8th August 1871 when the notice was published in the London Gazette. 

There are two other major questions raised by Harriet and Henry’s settlement. First,  why does Henry agree for “Mr Burke to provide for the child Rhoda.” Who is she, and why does she need to be provided for? Secondly, who are Mr and Mrs Shea, and why does Harriet ” take upon herself payment of Mr and Mrs Shea’s annuity” ?

The other person who doesn’t really seem to appear much is Elizabeth Sarah Burke. In 1870, she was forty years old , and had been married to Alfred Edwardes for fourteen years, all five of their children had been born, and their eldest son was about eleven years old. Both Elizabeth and Alfred seem to have avoided the dispute.

But the next step is to look in greater detail about what Burke v. Keith can tell us.

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A deeper look at the Will of William Henry Burke (1792-1870) part 3, the court cases.

Part of the William Henry Burke story  [If you haven’t seen part 1 and part 2 use the links here]  was always going to come from what the court case was. Quite early on, I had come across this cutting from the London Gazette.

So it’s quite clear that there has been some sort of argument about the will. Given the title of the case referred to “Burke against O’Bryen” and that George Wood is “one of the defendants and executors”, it must be the case that either Basil or Harriet O’Bryen, or, most likely, both, were also defendants. The only close adult member of the Burke family likely to be the claimant is (William) Henry Burke, and it appears from this notice that he had some sort of dispute with his sister, and a brother-in-law. So the search was on for what the case was about. We knew from the details in the ” Illustrated London News “ in January 1871 that WHB left about £ 18,000. The only figures in that clipping were that Henry Burke received shares worth £ 6,070 ” beyond any other provision made for him “. We also know that he made “provision and settlement for his two daughters, and daughter in law,” , and that Harriet received £ 500 to give to charity as she saw fit, and that she was the  “residuary legatee of both his real and personal estate “. So the bulk of the estate, almost two-thirds in fact, are either settled on the daughters, and daughter-in-law, or part of the residual estate. Harriet also seems to get the family home, and potentially other property as well.

32 Thistle Grove [now Drayton Gardens] in South Kensington was a fairly new-built house, construction had started in 1845, with the majority of the houses completed by the end of the 1850’s. It had probably cost in the region of about £ 600 to build. So not a bad thing to inherit. All in all, Harriet and Basil seem to have done fairly well from her inheritance, certainly well enough for Henry Burke to feel hard done by.

The next step was to try to track down the details of Burke against O’Bryen. After a lot of fruitless searching, I finally came across something in the National Archives catalogue, having searched under O’Bryen. The following came up:

Cause number: 1872 B246. Short title: Burke v Keith.

Plaintiffs: William Henry Burke.

Defendants: Wilson Keith, Basel William O’Bryen, Harriett Matilda O’Bryen his wife, Mary Anne Burke (wife of William Henry Burke) and William Donald Henry Burke, Edmund John Burke, Kate Alice Burke spinster, Sarah Elizabeth Burke spinster and Walter Keith Burke.

The title of the court case isn’t Burke v. O’Bryen exactly, but it’s definitely a court case involving Henry Burke, his sister Harriet, and Basil O’Bryen. It had to be worth looking at, so a little over a year ago, I’d registered for a reader’s ticket, given the required notice because the records were stored off site, and was booked in for a visit to the National Archives in Kew.

A deeper look at the Will of William Henry Burke (1792-1870) part 2, Basil and Harriet.

For reasons I’m not entirely sure why, there has been a large increase in interest in the post I did just over two years ago about the will of William Henry Burke (1792-1870).  This got me to look at him again, and to see what else could be put together. This is the second of a series of posts that should explain a lot more. If you haven’t read the first one you can find it here. My starting point for looking at William Burke was one of his sons-in-law Basil O’Bryen. But everything is much more complicated than that.

To re-cap slightly.

William Henry Burke and John Roche O’Bryen [Basil’s father] were neighbours in South Kensington. Both men drew up new wills in May 1870, and died in July that year. What raised my curiosity was the fact that neither of WH Burke’s elder children, or their spouses were made executors, and he chose his youngest daughter, and her twenty-two year old fiancé Basil. Basil O’Bryen had stood out very early on. Mostly, because he is a wrong’un; he married three times, at least once bigamously [at least according the English law] in Australia. He abandoned his son from his marriage to Harriet, and his second wife and their two children, and moved to Australia, where he married his third wife. There is also signs of at least one court case, with reference to a court case Burke v. O’Bryen in a London Gazette notice in August 1871.

So on with the story.

There’s something about the Basil and Harriet story that I just can’t get at the moment. In brief, it reads like the plot of a novel. They marry when he is twenty-two, and she is thirty-three. I still can’t work out whether it’s love, money, or both. His father left  £1,000 [present-day value £750,000] to the trust Harriet was a beneficiary of when he drew up his new will. The other parties to the settlement being his daughter Corinne, and Basil’s step-mother Celia. Presumably, there were already funds in the trust, initially I thought it seemed to be a Marriage Settlement, but I am beginning to think that it was a settlement to provide income for both Corinne, and Harriet. John Roche O’Bryen’s will is very detailed, quite long, and very specific with regard to provision to the children of his second marriage to Celia Grehan. There is a great lack of detail about any of his adult children, apart from the reference to the settlement.  The reason, I now think, it may be a settlement for adult female members of the family is the will very clearly states that any sums provided for daughters should besettled upon daughters in manner following, that is to say. Upon trust, to pay the income thereof respectively to such daughter for her sole and separate use, free from the control of her husbands.” But this doesn’t really help with where Basil got any money from, and when. The best guess is that there was money from Eliza Henderson [ JROB’s first wife], his mother, and that both Henry Hewitt, and Basil had benefitted from that already.

The marriage lasted just thirty-one months, and Harriet was dead by the end of August 1873, leaving Basil a twenty-five year old widower, with an eleven-month old son Basil John. All very tragic, but Basil bounces back, and is re-married within nine months of Harriet’s death. He is now twenty-six, and his bride Agnes Kenny is twenty-three.

Basil and Harriet’s marriage also raises questions about who the families are. The main one is why were they married by the Archbishop of Westminster? Marrying in the pro-Cathedral makes sense because it is fairly close to Thistle Grove, and was probably the parish church at the time. Archbishop [later Cardinal] Manning seems to be a rather grand celebrant for the wedding, particularly as Harriet had been christened as an Anglican, at St Leonard’s Shoreditch, as had her brother, and sister. But perhaps, as Manning was a convert himself, he looked fondly on bringing Anglicans to the true Church. Elizabeth Burke, Harriet’s sister also married a Catholic.

What is interesting is how connected to the Burke family he seems to remain, at least initially. Or possibly more correctly, how connected to Burke property he is. According to the London Gazette  William Henry Burke of No 32 Thistle grove South Kensington, had his will proved by amongst others, Harriet Matilda Burke of No 32 Thistle grove  and Basil William O’Bryen of No 28 Thistle grove. So in December 1870, they each gave their father’s addresses as theirs. On the census date, April 2nd 1871, they both were listed at his step-mother’s address No 28 Thistle grove, where they were described as “visitors”. But the probate record for Harriet – slightly strangely not proved until 30th August 1875, two years after her death, gave her principal address at the time of her death as No 32 Thistle grove, which was also the address that Basil gave when he proved the will.  So five years after William Henry Burke’s death, and two years after Harriet’s, her widower is apparently still connected to the Burke family home. Even though during that time, Harriet had given birth to their son Basil junior in Torquay, and she died at 34 Cavendish Place, Eastbourne. Her probate record recorded her as “late of 32 Thistle grove”. She left just £100.

The next nugget came from a small story in “The Tablet” [The International Catholic News Weekly.]

THE PRO-CATHEDRAL—A pleasing addition has lately been made to the Pro-Cathedral of Clifton. The side chapel, dedicated to St. Joseph, has been entirely renewed and decorated, and a marble altar erected, the reredos of which was executed in Belgium. The whole has a very pleasing effect. It is the gift of Basil O’Bryen, esq., as a memorial of his late wife Harriet Matilda O’Bryen, who died August 23, 1873, and whose remains are buried in the cemetery at Fulham.  [Page 18, The Tablet, 5th February 1876.]

This is also very curious. There doesn’t appear to be any family connection between the Burke family, and Bristol. In fact, far from it. William Henry Burke gave his birthplace as the “City of London”, and Sarah Burke (neé Penny) and all the children were recorded as being born in London in the 1841 census when they were living in Noble Street in the City. [Noble Street is north-east of St Paul’s]. There is an O’Bryen Bristol connection, John Roche O’Bryen had practiced medicine there from at least 1841, and Basil himself was born there, and his mother, and six brothers and sisters, are buried in the city. But by the time Basil was 10 the O’Bryen family were in Liverpool, and by 1861, when he was 12, the family were in London, and he was at boarding school at Ratcliffe College.

It’s an interesting public gesture, and all the odder for the eccentric choice. A memorial in the Pro-cathedral in London would have seemed more obvious, given that Basil and Harriet got married there, or a memorial at St Thomas of Canterbury in Fulham, where John Roche O’Bryen, Basil’s step-brother Walter, and Harriet were buried; followed twenty-five years later by his step-mother Celia, and, later still, by another step-brother Philip. Perhaps Basil felt the need to try to repair his father’s somewhat sullied name in Bristol.

But there is still the question about why Basil and Harriet were her father’s executors, and more particularly, in a rather patriarchal age, WHB didn’t choose either his son, or a long-established son-in-law.

The Burke children were

  • Elizabeth Sarah (1829 – 1889)
  • William Henry ( 1835 -1908)
  • Harriet Matilda (1838 – 1873)

In 1870, the eldest daughter Elizabeth Sarah was forty years old , and had been married for fourteen years, all five of her children had been born, her eldest son was about eleven years old. In one of those nice twists, and coincidences, Elizabeth and Alfred Edwardes’ second son, nine year-old, Henry Grant Edwardes would go on to marry Lucy Purssell, whose sister Gertrude married Basil’s step-brother Ernest O’Bryen in 1898. So Basil’s nephew was his step-brother’s brother-in-law.

His only son William Henry, known as Henry, was thirty-five, had been married nearly nine years, and was the father of four children, with another one on the way. Yet the choice of executors was the youngest unmarried daughter, and her much younger fiancé.

 

So is the answer to be found in Burke v. O’Bryen ?

A deeper look at the Will of William Henry Burke (1792-1870) part 1.

For reasons I’m not entirely sure why, there has been a large increase in interest in the post I did just over two years ago about the will of William Henry Burke (1792-1870). In fact there has been a 375% increase in views this year, compared with 2016. Neither the post about his will, nor another one about him posted about the same time give many, or indeed any, clues as to why it is there. Both posts were very early ones in the history of this site, and like a lot of the early posts are almost like cuttings in a scrapbook, not clearly explaining themselves. This is the first of a series of posts that should explain a lot more. My starting point for looking at William Burke was one of his sons-in-law Basil O’Bryen.

William Henry Burke and John Roche O’Bryen [Basil’s father] were neighbours in South Kensington, both living in Thistle Grove [now Drayton Gardens, not to be confused with the current Thistle Grove, parallel with Drayton Gardens]. Both men drew up new wills in May 1870. On the 6th May in  William Henry Burke’s case, and ten days later  on the 16th May by JROB. William Burke witnessed John Roche O’Bryen’s will, and John Roche O’Bryen’s youngest adult son from his first marriage, Basil O’Bryen, was one of the executors of William Henry Burke’s will, along with WHB’s daughter Harriet, and an accountant. JROB also drew up a Deed of Settlement on the 13th May 1870, in favour of Harriet Burke, with his wife Celia, and daughter Corinne [Basil’s older sister] as trustees. This was presumably a Marriage Settlement as Basil O’Bryen and Harriet Burke married in 1871.

So far, it all appears fairly straightforward. Two families who have grown close, and about to be linked by marriage. But something about it just niggles slightly, and has almost from the start. The closer one looks the more of a story there seems to be.  For a start, both men were dead within months of drawing up the wills, and trust settlements. With almost perfect symmetry, William Henry Burke lasted seventy-two days, dying on the 17th July 1870, at Queenstown [now Cobh] in Cork; John Roche O’Bryen lived a day less, dying seventy-one days after signing his will, on 26th July 1870 at home in Thistle Grove in London. William Burke was seventy-eight years old, and JROB was sixty.

So both men may have just been putting their affairs in order, and a forthcoming marriage, and the need for a marriage settlement may have just prompted the work, or it might have been something else.

This prompted me to look at the families, and to who in each family was doing what. John Roche O’Bryen had a lot of children, well more accurately had had a lot of children. In total, he had sixteen, starting in 1833, when he was twenty-three, and finishing thirty-four years later in 1867 at the age of fifty-seven. There were ten children from his first marriage to Eliza Henderson, of whom only three survived to adulthood, and six children from the second marriage to Celia Grehan, of whom five survived to adulthood. At the time he drew up his will, JROB had three adult children, and six under the age of twelve, the youngest being two and a half.

William Henry Burke’s family is easier. He had three children with Sarah Penny, who he married in 1827. All of William’s children were over thirty, and at the time of his death, his eldest daughter was forty.

Both men had three adult children to choose from as executors, and trustees, and they appeared to make some slightly odd choices, given the possibilities. The Burke children were

  • Elizabeth Sarah (1829 – 1889)
  • William Henry ( 1835 -1908)
  • Harriet Matilda (1838 – 1873)

and JROB’s adult children were

  • Henry Hewitt (1835 – 1895)
  • Corinne Margueritte (1837 – 1907)
  • (William Gregory) Basil (1848 – 1920)

So the next step was to look at the trustees and executors. The Illustrated London News, on  Jan 14, 1871, told us that William Henry Burke’s will was proved by “Miss Harriett Matilda Burke, his daughter, George William Wood, and Basil William O’Bryen, the joint acting executors.” John Roche O’Bryen’s will was proved eighteen days after his death by his widow Celia, and Rev. Henry Hewitt O’Bryen D.D. the executors. This seems perfectly suitable, Henry is the eldest son, thirty-five years old, a doctor of divinity, and a Catholic parish priest just outside Wigan. How close the relationship between father and son was is never really that clear. Henry started training for the priesthood in his late teens, and aged twenty transferred his sponsoring diocese from Clifton, where the family home in Bristol was, to Liverpool. He then studied, and was ordained in Rome, before returning to Liverpool in 1858. Their paths crossed for a couple of years in Liverpool between 1858 and 1860, when JROB practised as a doctor there, but by 1861 John Roche O’Bryen and his family with Celia Grehan [Henry’s step-mother] had moved to London.

William Henry Burke’s executors are much odder. Here’s part of the reason why

WHB’s executors are his youngest daughter, her fiancé Basil, and an accountant. This always seemed to be slightly strange. William Henry Burke had three children, and at the time he wrote his will, his eldest daughter Elizabeth Sarah was forty years old , and had been married for fourteen years, a mother of five, her eldest son was about eleven years old. His only son William Henry, known as Henry, was thirty-five, had been married nearly nine years, and was the father of four children, with another one on the way. Yet the choice of executors was the youngest unmarried daughter, and her much younger fiancé.

Right from the start, this raised the question – Why these two? Basil O’Bryen had stood out very early on. Mostly, because he is a bit of a bounder, to put it mildly. Basil married three times, at least once bigamously [at least according the English law] in Australia. The legal position in Australia was more complicated. Apparently re-marriage after seven years of no contact with a previous wife was legal in Australia. What is beyond dispute is that he abandoned his son from his marriage to Harriet, and his second wife and their two children, and moved to Australia, where he married his third wife.

So with the benefit of hindsight, Basil does appear to be a wrong’un; which brings us back to WHB’s will, or more specifically, at this stage to the probate notice. Two things stand out, the first is that Basil is described as an accountant, and the second is his address is given as 18 Gunter Grove.  In 1870, Basil is twenty-two, and four years into an apprenticeship with Charles Rowsell, an accountant based in Walbrook, in the City, just down from the Mansion House. So maybe he is just being economical with the truth, he is a sort of accountant. But the Gunter Grove address is very confusing. It’s about three quarters of a mile away from Thistle Grove, but it does seem peculiar that he is not in the family home. He’s fairly young, as yet unmarried, and it seems unlikely that he would bother living away from the family home. 18 Gunter Grove, if he was living there, is a big house. The next piece of the jigsaw came from in a notice in the London Gazette

The London Gazette, December 9, 1870

WILLIAM HENRY BURKE Esq Deceased

Pursuant to the Act of Parliament of the 22nd and 23rd Vic cap 35 intituled An Act to further amend the Law of Property and to relieve Trustees

NOTICE is hereby given that all persons having any  claim, debt, or demand against or upon the estate of William Henry Burke late of No 32 Thistle grove South Kensington in the county of Middlesex Esq (who died on the 17th day of July 1870 and whose will with a codicil thereto was proved in the Principal Registry of Her Majesty’s Court of Probate on the 3rd day of December 1870 by Harriet Matilda Burke of No 32 Thistle grove South Kensington aforesaid Spinster George William Wood of No 4 Sambrook court Basinghall street in the city of London Accountant and Basil William O Bryen of No 28 Thistle grove South Kensington aforesaid Accountant are hereby required to send in the particulars of their claims debts or demands to the said George William Wood one of the said executors at his office No 4 Sambrook court Basinghall street in the city of London on or before the 1st day of February 1871 after which day the said executors will proceed to the assets of the deceased among the parties entitled thereto having regard only to the claims debts or demands of which they shall then have had notice and the said executors will not be liable for any part of such assets to any person or persons of whose claim debt or demand they shall not then have had notice Dated this 7th day of December 1870.

WILLIAM GILLS Solicitor, No. 26, Old Broad –street, E.C.

So perhaps the National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations) entry is wrong, but it is surprising that a formal legal document would get something so basic wrong, and also then place Basil O’Bryen quite so geographically close. By the time of their marriage, both Basil and Harriet are described as being in Thistle Grove again.

The Medical Press and Circular Advertiser Feb 8 1871

On the 1st inst at the Pro Cathedral Kensington, by his Grace Archbishop Manning, assisted by the Rev Fathers Foley and Conolly. Basil, second surviving son of the late John Roche O’Bryen Esq MD to Harriet Matilda, youngest daughter of the late William Henry Burke; both of Thistle Grove South Kensington.

They marry almost exactly six months after JROB’s death, and therefore six months and two weeks after William Burke’s death. This would be the expected period of “full mourning” after the death of a parent, but still relatively soon after both fathers’ deaths. It might explain the somewhat low-key, and under-reported, wedding. Having said that, one or both of them are sufficiently well-connected for them to be married by the Archbishop of Westminster himself. The Pro-Cathedral was, what is now Our Lady of Victories on Kensington High Street. But there is still the nagging question about the age gap. Basil is twenty-two, and Harriet is thirty-three. The marriage does seem to have been approved of by both fathers, or at least one can surmised that from the deed of settlement drawn up by John Roche O’Bryen in May 1870.

The next step came from the London Gazette

This looked interesting. It was something to hunt for, given the names involved, it’s a dispute about William Henry Burke’s will, and as George Wood is one of the defendants, someone is suing the executors. Are Basil and Harriet too good to be true?

HMS Dart and the capture of Dutch ships in 1799, and the Désirée in 1800

HMS Dart and La Désirée, 1800

HMS Dart was built in Redbridge, Hampshire, on the fringes of Southampton in 1796, and broken up in Barbados in 1809. She had the same bow and stern and could anchor from either end. She was so sharp in her construction that the midship section resembled a wedge. This resulted in poor stability, and she was unsafe in a wind. Hence her fairly short career as this version of the ship. There were later Royal Navy ships given the same name.

The Zuiderzee in the centre of the map. About 580 sq miles are now reclaimed land.

Around the end of August 1799, Dart captured the sloop Jonge Jan off the Dutch coast. Dart also shared with gunboats DefenderCracker, and Hasty in the proceeds of the capture of the Hell Hound. Notices calling for claimants for the prize money were placed in the London Gazette on 7th January 1803. On 7 October 1799, the DartDefenderCracker, and Hasty, and the schuyt Isis cut out four gunboats from their moorings in the Zuiderzee. Three of the gunboats were schuyts, [A schuyt is a flat-bottomed sailing boat used in the Netherlands, originally for fishing or carrying light cargoes. In the 17th century, they were rigged with two masts like a ketch, but by the 19th century, had adopted a single mast like a sloop] but one was a new, purpose-built gunboat armed with two 18-pounder guns in her bow and two 18-pounder carronades in her broadside. The three schuyts also carried four guns and carronades each. The vessels had crews ranging in size from 20 to 30 men. The British suffered no casualties [ Naval Chronicle, Vol. 3, p.141 ].  The behaviour of Messrs. Hall and Winter, midshipmen, were particularly commended.  Rob Hall was also a midshipman on the Dart, and at least the City of Cork thought he deserved an award. He was twenty-one years old.

The following year Rob had been promoted, and had been gazetted a lieutenant on 14 June 1800. Less than a month later, HMS Dart took part in the Raid on Dunkirk, which was being blockaded by the British. The Channel ports were well suited for the French frigates that attacked shipping in British waters whenever they could escape the blockade.

HMS Dart, captured Désirée on 8 July 1800, in a night raid into Dunkirk harbour. Désirée was armed with 40 guns, those on the main deck being 24-pounder guns, and had a crew of 250 men under the command of Citizen Deplancy. However, a number of her crew were on shore. Dart lost one man killed and 13 wounded, including two officers badly wounded. Although several other vessels that participated in the raid had some wounded, Darts capture of Désirée was the raid’s only real accomplishment. This capture resulted in Campbell’s promotion to post captain and command of the frigate Ariadne. French casualties were heavy. One account states that all the French officers, save a midshipman, were killed, and that casualties amounted to almost 100 men killed and wounded. Lloyd’s List reported on 11 July that the “Grand Desiree”, prize to the Dart, had arrived in the Downs, and that the French captain and about 50 men had been killed, and nine wounded.  The French commander was capitaine de frégate Lefebvre de Plancy, and French records show that he was mortally wounded in the action.

The Royal Navy took Desiree into service, and many British vessels shared in the proceeds of the capture.In 1847 the Admiralty issued the Naval General Service Medal, with clasp “Capture of the Désirée” to all surviving claimants (only 21 surviving men) from the raid.[ Fonds Marine, p.235., and The London Gazette. 27 September 1800. p. 1123 ]

Captain Sir Robert Hall 1778 -1818

This is the start of a slight Hornblower moment or two. Robert Hall is Mary Roche’s (neé Verling) son by her first marriage to “Captain Hall”. She is 4 x Great-Granny  He is John Roche’s step-son.

The starting point for this post was coming across a couple of cuttings from the Irish Times, and the Irish Independent.

City of Cork Freedom Box

Irish Times, Saturday 22 January 2005.  A rare Irish silver freedom box, right, giving the Freedom of the City of Cork dating from 1808 is up for auction at John Weldon next Tuesday (25th January 2005)  with an estimate of €10,000-€15,000. The square box is hallmarked Dublin 1808 and is inscribed with the City of Cork arms and an inscription. It was presented to a Captain Robert Hall on August 22nd, 1809 for gallantry for his part as a midshipman on board The Dart in battle with four Dutch gunboats in 1796 and with a French frigate in July 1800.

The inscription reads: ” With this box the Freedom of the City of Cork in Ireland was unanimously given to Capt Robert Hall for his gallant conduct in his Majesty’s Navy the 22nd day of August 1809 “.

Irish Independent; 3 Apr 2015 – A Cork Freedom Box, made in Dublin in 1808 and given to the naval officer Captain Rob Hall for gallant conduct in the Napoleonic wars, sold at John Weldon Auctioneers on March 24 for €5,500.

So some local recognition of a local naval hero. But we need a little more. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography (edited) we can get the following:  HALL, Sir ROBERT, naval officer; baptized 2 Jan. 1778 in County Tipperary (Republic of Ireland); his father remains unidentified, while his mother is known only through the probate of his will, where she appears as “Mary Roche, heretofore Hall”;  Robert Hall’s early years have not attracted the attention of naval biographers. It is known, however, that he was gazetted a lieutenant in the Royal Navy on 14 June 1800, a commander on 27 June 1808, and a captain on 4 March 1811.

HMS Dart and La Désirée

The Canadians go on at some length about Rob Hall’s career and achievements in Canada, but seem to have missed his early “gallant conduct”. The information with the presentation of the freedom box is for his “gallantry for his part as a midshipman on board The Dart in battle with four Dutch gunboats in 1796 and with a French frigate in July 1800”. So what was this early gallant conduct. It turns out to be the capture of Dutch ships in the Zuiderzee in 1799, not 1796, and a French frigate in 1800.

Rob Hall, later Sir Robert Hall [ 1778 -1818 ] is Mary Roche (neé Verling) son by her first marriage to “Captain Hall”. He is John Roche’s step-son, and John Roche O’Bryen’s step-uncle. He seems to have had a distinguished  naval career, and the Dictionary of Canadian Biography closes its entry on him as follows ” An affable, gallant, and cultivated officer, Hall in his Canadian posting had proved himself a conspicuously fair-minded, innovative, and efficient administrator. His heirs were a natural son, Robert Hall, born in 1817 to a Miss Mary Ann Edwards, and his mother Mary Roche, who was his residuary legatee. The son, baptized on 2 Nov. 1818 by George Okill Stuart, rector of St George’s Church in Kingston, became a vice-admiral in the Royal Navy and died in London on 11 June 1882 after having served for ten years as naval secretary to the Admiralty. “

I really like the fact that he acknowledged and provided for a bastard son, and was happy for it to be acknowledged in the family, and according to the Pedigree of the Verlings of Cove by Dr. Gabriel O’Connell Redmond, ” An obelisk was erected to his memory in Aghada Wood by his stepfather John Roche of that place.”;  so they certainly weren’t ashamed of him. There is more work  to be done on the early life, but there is certainly evidence that his step-sister Mary Roche seems to have been born in Ireland in 1780, and died in 1852, according to the obituary notice “Mary O’Brien, relict of the late Henry Hewitt O’Brien, aged 72,”. Her probate notice spells the name O’Bryen, but notes the will spells it O’Brien. So it seems highly likely that Mary Hall (neé Verling) had re-married as a widow with a son under the age of two, and that John and Mary Roche brought up three children. Mary’s son Rob Hall, and then Mary Roche junior, and, finally, John Roche junior, who was one of the parties to his sister’s [Mary Roche junior] marriage settlement in 1807.

So back to the Canadians.

It is known, however, that Robert Hall was gazetted a lieutenant in the Royal Navy on 14 June 1800, a commander on 27 June 1808, and a captain on 4 March 1811. He attracted attention for sterling service in the defence of a fort on the Gulf of Rosas, Spain, in November 1808 while in command of the bomb-ketch Lucifer. On 28 Sept. 1810 he enhanced his reputation when, as commander of the 14-gun Rambler, he captured a large French privateer lying in the Barbate River, Spain.

This does provide one slight problem if the inscription on the freedom box is correct. The inscription reads: ” With this box the Freedom of the City of Cork in Ireland was unanimously given to Capt Robert Hall for his gallant conduct in his Majesty’s Navy the 22nd day of August 1809 “. If the inscription is right, then the Canadians are wrong because they don’t make Rob a captain until 1811. If the Canadians are right, then the City of Cork has promoted him early.

More from the DCB.  In September 1811 Hall was appointed to command a flotilla entrusted with the defence of Sicily against naval forces operating from French-occupied Naples. He achieved a major success at Pietrenere (Italy) on 15 Feb. 1813 in a raid on a convoy of about 50 armed vessels, French supply ships escorted by many Neapolitan gunboats. With only two divisions of gunboats carrying four companies of the 75th Foot he neutralized the enemy’s shore batteries and captured or destroyed all 50 ships. In recognition of this feat he was made a knight commander in the Sicilian order of St Ferdinand and of Merit. Permission to accept this honour was granted by the Prince Regent on 11 March, at which time Hall was described as a post-captain and a brigadier-general in the service of Ferdinand IV of Naples.

The DCB goes into rather greater detail once Rob Hall arrived in Canada. It is probably considerably more interesting to Canadians so there is a link to the full entry here. My version is edited from the full version.  On 27 May 1814. Hall was designated acting commissioner on the lakes of Canada, to reside at Quebec; his actual headquarters would be the naval dockyard at Kingston, Ontario. [Kingston is at the junction of Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River, and was the main naval headquarters for the British Great Lakes fleet].  He was not immediately available and did not report for duty in Kingston until mid October. His new assignment involved a dual responsibility: to the commander-in-chief on the lakes, Sir James Lucas Yeo, for the building, outfitting, supply, and maintenance of naval vessels, and to the Navy Board in London for the administration of the navy yard at Kingston and its dependencies on the Upper Lakes and Lake Champlain, and all naval victualling and stores depots in the two provinces.

Burning the White House, 1814

The British and the Americans were in the middle of the War of 1812 [which actually lasted from 1812 – 1815]. Robert Hall’s arrival in Canada was at an interesting time; almost eight weeks earlier, a British attack against Washington, D.C., resulted in the “Burning of Washington”. On August 24, 1814, after defeating the Americans at the Battle of Bladensburg, a British force led by Major General Robert Ross occupied Washington and set fire to many public buildings, including the White House, and the Capitol. It marks the only time in U.S. history that Washington, D.C. has been occupied by a foreign force. The new commissioner’s immediate concern was the implementation of Yeo’s plans for a decisive campaign against the Americans in 1815. These involved the completion or construction of five frigates, two ships of the line,  a number of gunboats, and brigs, To this ambitious program Hall made an important addition: a scheme to rid the naval units of transport duties He sent this proposal to the Navy Board, but all plans for a campaign in 1815 became redundant when the Governor  was notified of the ratification of an Anglo-American peace signed at Ghent (Belgium) on Christmas Eve 1814.

The peace posed immediate and serious problems for Hall and his staff. The yard and its dependencies had incurred expenses of some £40,000 in wages alone in 1814, the building of  the St Lawrence had been immensely costly, and a huge outlay was required to pay for the ships under construction. Prudence dictated the maintenance of a strong fleet for the time being. In March 2015,  Hall was dispatched to England for consultations with the Admiralty about the future naval establishment in the Canadas.

Hall remained in England for more than a year, during which time the British government was engaged in negotiations with the United States which eventually led to the Rush–Bagot agreement of April 1817 to demilitarize the lakes. On 29 Sept. 1815 Hall was named commander on the lakes and resident commissioner at Quebec, thus combining the two senior naval appointments in the Canadas. The first authorized him to style himself commodore; the second confirmed him in the post of commissioner. He was knighted on 15 July 1816 and, distinguished with the additional honour of a companionship in the Order of the Bath, returned to Kingston on 9 September 1816.

He was seriously ill with a lung infection in October 1817, recovered sufficiently to return to duty for a few weeks at the end of the year, but died of this disease at his quarters at Point Frederick on 7 Feb. 1818. An affable, gallant, and cultivated officer, Hall in his Canadian posting had proved himself a conspicuously fair-minded, innovative, and efficient administrator. His heirs were a natural son, Robert Hall, born in 1817 to a Miss Mary Ann Edwards, and his mother Mary Roche, who was his residuary legatee. The son, became a vice-admiral in the Royal Navy and died in London on 11 June 1882 after having served for ten years as naval secretary to the Admiralty.

Why it was a good idea to join the Navy.

There seem to be some professions that run through the family again, and again. One that I hadn’t really paid much attention to until recently was the navy. It is an almost completely Irish thing, and is largely members of the family who were born, brought up, and lived in co. Cork.  Starting furthest back [great grandpa x 5] Henry Hewitt was a Customs Officer, specifically at one time Captain of the Beresford Revenue Cutter. Then the Verling family pick up the strain.  Bartholomew Verling of Cove, co. Cork and Anne O’Cullinane,[also great grandparents x 5] had five children, both daughters married naval captains, and of the three sons, Edward was a “Staff Captain R.N”, another Garrett “died at sea”, and the eldest son John Verling didn’t appear to go to sea, but his second son was James Roche Verling (1787 – 1858) who was a naval surgeon, and attended Napoleon Bonaparte on St. Helena. John Verling and Ellen Roche also had a daughter Catherine who married Henry Ellis “Surgeon R.N.”. 

Cobh Harbour

Edward Verling, the “Staff Captain R.N”, had three children The eldest son Bartholomew Verling (1797 – 1893) was another naval surgeon, and Mary Verling married Capt. Leary R.N. Edward Verling’s sister, another Mary Verling married first a Captain Hall, and the secondly John Roche of Aghada [great grandparents x 4]. Mary Roche (neé Verling) had the distinction of being the mother of a Commodore, and grandmother of a vice-Admiral, albeit a bastard grandson. Finally, their nephew, another Bartholomew Verling (1786 – 1855) was Harbourmaster of Cobh, and also the Spanish Consul there.

So a lot of boating. What this did pose was the question why the navy? The logical answer was why not?  It is estimated that around a quarter of the Royal Navy crew present at Trafalgar were Irishmen.  It was regarded as a profession certainly at officer level, and was well paid. In 1793 a captain’s pay rate ranged between £100 – £336,[£128,000 – £433,000 at today’s value] and by 1815 this had risen to £284 – £802.[£212,000 – £600,000 at today’s value]. After 1806, a naval surgeon’s salary  was set at 10s. per day for less than 6 years experience, up to 20s. per day for over 20 years  experience £182 – £ 365 [£164,000 – £328,000 at today’s value]. So, apart from the minor problem of being killed, it was very well paid. But in addition to the pay ( especially if you were an officer) was the prize money paid for capturing enemy ships.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, captured ships were legally Crown property. In order to reward and encourage sailors’ efforts at no significant cost to the Crown, it became customary to pass on all or part of the value of a captured ship and its cargo to the capturing captain for distribution to his crew. Similarly, all warring parties of the period issued Letters of Marque and Reprisal to civilian privateers,[essentially legal pirates] authorising them to make war on enemy shipping; as payment, the privateer sold off the captured booty.

This practice was formalised via the Cruisers and Convoys Act of 1708. An Admiralty Prize Court was established to evaluate claims and determine prize money, and the scheme of division of the money was specified. This system, with minor changes, lasted until the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

If the prize were an enemy merchantman, the prize money came from the sale of both ship and cargo. If it was a warship, and repairable, usually the Crown bought it at a fair price; additionally, the Crown added “head money” of £ 5  per enemy sailor aboard the captured warship. Prizes were keenly sought, for the value of a captured ship was often such that a crew could make a year’s pay for a few hours’ fighting. Hence boarding and hand-to-hand fighting remained common long after naval cannons developed the ability to sink the enemy from afar.

All ships in sight of a capture shared in the prize money, as their presence was thought to encourage the enemy to surrender without fighting until sunk.

The distribution of prize money to the crews of the ships involved persisted until 1918. Then the Naval Prize Act changed the system to one where the prize money was paid into a common fund from which a payment was made to all naval personnel whether or not they were involved in the action. In 1945 this was further modified to allow for the distribution to be made to Royal Air Force (RAF) personnel who had been involved in the capture of enemy ships; however, prize claims had been awarded to pilots and observers of the Royal Naval Air Service since c.1917, and later the RAF.

The following scheme for distribution of prize money was used for much of the Napoleonic wars, the heyday of prize warfare. Allocation was by eighths.

  • Two eighths of the prize money went to the captain or commander, generally  making him very wealthy.
  • One eighth of the money went to the admiral or commander-in-chief who signed the ship’s written orders (unless the orders came directly from the Admiralty in London, in which case this eighth also went to the captain).
  • One eighth was divided among the lieutenants, sailing master, and captain of marines, if any.
  • One eighth was divided among the wardroom warrant officers (surgeon, purser, and chaplain), standing warrant officers (carpenter, boatswain, and gunner), lieutenant of marines, and the master’s mates.
  • One eighth was divided among the junior warrant and petty officers, their mates, sergeants of marines, captain’s clerk, surgeon’s mates, and midshipmen.

The final two eighths were divided among the crew, with able and specialist seamen receiving larger shares than ordinary seamen, landsmen, and boys. The pool for the seamen was divided into shares, with:

  • each able seaman getting two shares in the pool (referred to as a fifth-class share),
  • an ordinary seaman received a share and a half (referred to as a sixth-class share),
  • landsmen received a share each (a seventh-class share),
  • boys received a half share each (referred to as an eighth-class share).

An example of how large the prize money awarded could be was for the capture of the Spanish frigate Hermione on 31 May 1762 by the British frigate Active and sloop Favourite. The two captains, Herbert Sawyer and Philemon Pownoll, received about £65,000 apiece,[£115m.at today’s value] while each seaman and Marine got £482–485. [£854,700 – £860,000 at today’s value]

Robert Hall would definitely have benefited from prize money. He was involved with the capture of the French frigate Desirée in Dunkirk in 1799, and later he captured a large French privateer lying in the Barbate River, Spain in 1810.