Archive for February, 2013

My ancestor’s little sister, Jane Evans, moved to the booming town of Bideford, Devon, England, that was on the rise in the heady days of the Industrial Revolution at the same time as her birth place, the once-booming market town of Hartland, Devon, England, had become a rural parish with few options for a young woman in search of a bright future. Jane’s story was quite common for mid-1800’s England, from her moving from a rural parish to an increasingly urban one, to her starting out her working career as a domestic servant in Bideford. Bideford’s rising importance was signaled by it being appointed the town around which the new Poor Law Union – and consequently the new statutory registration district – had been formed, yet her birth town of Hartland had formerly been so important that the old governmental Hundred had been named after it. However, by this point Hartland was in the tail end of its long decline in regional importance, the town that the railroad literally did not reach.

Despite Jane’s very common name I was able to connect the Bideford Jane up to the Hartland Jane, primarily because their father lived out the last years of his life with Jane’s family and died at her family’s home in downtown Bideford. Jane had married William Copp, a man with an occupation that would soon be all but extinct in the face of the Industrial Revolution; he was a basket maker. Jane and William had one surviving child, a daughter they named Josephine. Josephine grew up in Bideford and married into the Redcliffe family, a large extended family that lived in the East-the-Water area of Bideford.

The Redcliffe extended family’s story was the story of the dawn of the 20th century in England, a family that slowly spread out around the country and then around the world. Josephine and her husband Frederick Albert Redcliffe left Devon, moving around a bit before settling in Hereford, Herefordshire. Frederick was listed as a Brewer’s Cashier on the 1911 census. By the time he wrote his final will in 1947 he described himself as an Accountant, which is not particularly inconsistent with the census description, so perhaps he remained in the brewer industry his entire life. Frederick, Josephine, and their three surviving children were apparently happy in the Hereford area, as they all eventually died there.

Josephine’s brother-in-law was John Penhorwood Redcliffe, given the middle name of his mother’s unusual maiden name. John and his wife Phoebe Elston had two surviving children, Percy John Penhorwood Redcliffe and Elsie Mary Redcliffe, who appear to have been twins. Phoebe and John had moved from Devon to London – a very common move in the late 1800’s – where Phoebe gave birth to Elsie and Percy, and the family had then moved back to Devon, eventually settling in Bideford, where John and Frederick’s widowed father James was living with John’s family in 1901. According to the 1901 census, John had followed his father James into the “Earthenware Manufacture” industry; both are listed as employers on that census.

John died in 1903, leaving Phoebe a widow with two children to raise. John was buried in the neighborhood where he had grown up, East-the-Water in Bideford. What the family initially did after John’s death is not clear from the records I have viewed to date, but by the 1911 census Phoebe does not have an occupation listed, Elsie’s occupation is listed as “Home,” and Percy is a 16-year-old listed as working as a “Telegraph Messenger,” presumably supporting his mother and sister. The census states that Phoebe had only had two children, and sadly it lists that she has been married 17 years next to her status as a widow. Was she still actively grieving her husband, dead for 8 years by that point?

Soon the Redcliffes’ world would come crashing to a halt as war broke out across Europe. On 4 October 1915, Percy John Redcliffe went to Exeter and enlisted in the British Territorial Force for a term of 4 years. He listed his home address as “No 3 Torridge Mount / East-the-water Bideford.” Though the document does not list his age, Percy was 20 at the time. Luckily for him, he survived the war, unlike so many of his young British counterparts. The corner of his enlistment paper is stamped, “Entitled to bonus under A. O. 54 of 1919.” Looking up Army Order 54 of 1919, I discovered that the bonus was for the “armies of occupation.” So Percy was still in the British military when the order was passed in May 1919, meaning he likely completed his full 4-year term and was likely in Continental Europe at the time the law was passed. Since Percy is not related to me personally, but rather to my cousins who descended from my ancestor’s first cousin Josephine (Copp) Redcliffe, I have not tried to locate his military file to date, though I believe many British World War I military files were destroyed during the heavy bombing of World War II anyway.

I next find Percy three years later, leaving London on the Esperance Bay on 1 August 1922, listed as “P.J.P. Redcliffe,” his last address imperfectly typed as “2,Forridge Mount, Bidiford.Devon.” – likely really 3 Torridge Mount, Bideford, the same address at which he had been living when he enlisted in World War I. Percy had decided to leave his homeland and his widowed mother Phoebe and twin sister Elsie behind. Percy was bound for Brisbane, Australia, and the column headed “Country of intended future permanent residence” leaves little doubt as to whether he was planning to live in England again: Every other person on the passenger list page has a ditto mark of the first person’s answer,  “A U S T R A L I A.” According to an article in the The Sydney Morning Herald (12 June 1936, p. 8), this was the Esperance Bay‘s first year of service, and at the time the Australian Commonwealth government owned it. The ship would eventually go on to repatriate Indonesians in 1945 in a disputed event that made headlines. I wonder if as Percy read or listened to news of the ship and the controversy, he thought of how he had first come to his adopted homeland on the same ship.

But that was 23 years in the future.

By 1925, Percy had settled in Innisfail, Herbert, Queensland, and was registered to vote. The electoral roll lists the same occupation for “Percy John Penhorwood Redcliffe” as the passenger list, the generic “labourer.” As a working-class young man, it had only been while Percy was in the military that he had gotten the right to vote in his home country of England, a right which his sister Elsie wouldn’t get till her 30th birthday; the Representation of the People Act was passed in 1918, giving the right to vote to almost all men 21 and older, almost all women 30 and older, and women 21 and older who were householders or married to a householder.

By 1930 the electoral roll listing has changed – the exact name, occupation, and exact location are all different:

Electoral roll scan

Percy John Redcliffe, greengrocer, listed in a 1930 Innisfail, Herbert, Queensland, Australia, electoral roll. Scan courtesy of Ancestry.

While there is historical backing for Percy being listed as “Percy John Redcliffe” – such as on his enlistment – and the name “Percy John Redcliffe” was not at all common, as a researcher I cannot assume that a name that is uncommon is never duplicated. However, newspaper research provides evidence that Percy John Penhorwood Redcliffe the labourer and Percy John Redcliffe the greengrocer are the same person, and that Percy was likely still living in Innisfail in 1932:


For failure to furnish income tax returns and information to the Deputy Commissioner of Taxation, Mr. H. L. Archdall, C.B.E., C.P.M., in the Summons Court, imposed a fine . . . For a similar offence each of the following was fined £2, with 3/6 costs: . . . Percy John Penhorwood Redcliffe, greengrocer, Innisfail; . . .

[From the metropolitan courts column in The Brisbane Courier, Wednesday, 20 July 1932, p. 12. Article courtesy of Trove.]

Whether his income tax return woes were a symptom or a cause of troubles, or had nothing to do with anything, the electoral rolls show that by 1936 Percy John Penhorwood Redcliffe had moved to Paddington in the Brisbane metropolitan area and had returned to being listed as a “labourer.”

For reasons unclear to me, Ancestry has multiple copies of the Queensland electoral rolls for some years, including 1925, the first year I have found Percy in them. They are not identical copies. Initially this doubling does not make much of a difference in researching Percy, as Percy’s entry is identical in the early duplicate rolls. But by 1937 his listing is different in the two copies. He is listed as Percy John Penhorwood Redcliffe both times, once at the same address as in 1936, the other time at a different address. I have found no evidence to date that there were two people named Percy John Penhorwood Redcliffe registered to vote in Queensland, and the addresses in 1937 suggest that the two rolls on Ancestry were compiled at different times of the year. The apparent first 1937 listing is also the first time a second Redcliffe appears on the same roll as Percy, a Percival Richard Redcliffe. Percival appears to have moved around a lot. Appearing three times in the Queensland electoral rolls around this time, every time Percival is in a different town, and then Percival seems to drop off the rolls altogether. Percival’s relationship, if any, to Percy is unknown at present.

In the apparent second 1937 electoral roll, Percy had moved from Paddington to Merthyr, another town in the Brisbane area. After this, the trail gets murkier and murkier. In 1943 a Percy John Redcliffe, labourer, is on Brisbane’s electoral roll. While this is likely still the same Percy, moving around the Brisbane area working as a labourer, to date no evidence has been located proving it. Percy would have been 48 at this point, certainly a plausible age to still be working as a labourer. But it is simply plausible, not definite.

In 1949, a Percy John Redcliffe, garage attendant, is listed on the Griffith, South Brisbane, Queensland, electoral roll. A second Redcliffe is listed at the same address, Hilda, tailoress. Percy and Hilda move around as a unit: In 1954 they are both registered in Ryan, Ithaca, Queensland, Hilda still listed as a tailoress, Percy now listed as a garage hand; in 1958 and 1963 they are both registered in Carina, Bowman, Queensland, Hilda still listed as a tailoress, but Percy now in a new occupation, “wardsman.”

Was this Percy John Penhorwood Redcliffe and a relative named Hilda, perhaps a wife or daughter? So far no articles or other evidence have been located so far to indicate one way or the other. It is just as possible that Percy John Redcliffe was a grown child of Percy John Penhorwood Redcliffe, named after his father, and that Hilda was his wife or sister. It is also possible that Percy John Redcliffe was a cousin or an unrelated person who happened to have almost the same name as Percy John Penhorwood Redcliffe. The more specific job than “labourer” suggests it may have been another person early in their working life, rather than Percy John Penhorwood Redcliffe late in his, but it is not conclusive.

Exactly what a wardsman would have been in 1958-1963 Australia is not entirely clear to me, but an internet search provided this suggestion: “On enlistment he gave his occupation as Wardsman which in 1998 was defined as someone who is required to undertake limited duties associated with the care of patients such as preoperative shave, bathing of patients, general assistance in wards and cleaning duties. One can supposed [sic] that his role would have been similar in the 1930s.” While it is possible that Percy John Penhorwood Redcliffe was working as a wardsman in 1963, when he would have been around age 68, it seems more likely that by this point a second Percy John Redcliffe was the person working. Tailoress Hilda’s accompaniment from move to move suggests it is the same Percy in  these disparate places, but which Percy it is – or whether it is two Percys – remains unclear. It is quite possible that someone with more Australia research than I have (which is to say, more than a teeny bit) would know of resources I don’t know that would quickly answer these questions.

Whether or not the last few electoral roll listings were Percy John Penhorwood Redcliffe, Percy John Penhorwood Redcliffe died in Queensland in 1964, on 8 May according to the index. His death index listing gives his father as John Penhorwood (apparently leaving out the surname Redcliffe) and his mother as Phoebe Elston. Since he is related to my cousins who descend from Josephine, not to me, I have not ordered his death certificate, which might provide some evidence as to whether he was the Percy moving around and what his relationship, if any, was to Hilda Redcliffe and/or the likely second Percy John Redcliffe. Some of Percy’s twin sister Elsie’s records give her birth date as 8 May 1895. If these and Percy’s death index listing are correct (and if Percy wasn’t born just before midnight the day before or just after midnight the next day), Percy died on his birthday.

On 5 April 1955 Percy’s twin sister Elsie followed many post-War Britons before her, setting sail for Brisbane on the Stratheden. Her address in the UK was listed as 3, Torridge Mount, Bideford, North Devon, and her occupation as Machinist. Elsie and the Stratheden had both seen war come and go. Like her brother 33 years before her, she listed her intent as settling permanently in Australia. But unlike Percy, Elsie changed her mind. In 1958, she left Australia on the Strathnaver, a sister ship to the one on which she had arrived, returning to London on 26 October. Her intended address in England was listed as the familiar, again imperfectly rendered, “3,Torridge Mount,East-the-River, Bideford,N.Devon.” Elsie died in Devon, the land she had not been able to permanently leave, at age 84.



I received a photograph of John and Phoebe (Elston) Redcliffe’s gravestone in what it calls “East-the-Water 2 Cemetery” from Gravestone Photographic Resource Project. The site appears to have nicely cataloged two East-the-Water cemeteries’ monuments and I suggest others researching East-the-Water check to see if their research subject(s) has/have surviving monuments as well.

For anyone researching Hartland, I recommend visiting the Hartland Forum website and the Hartland GenUKI page, and reading the detailed book titled The Book of Hartland by R. P. Chope (Torquay: Devonshire Press, 1940; reprinted in 2006 by the Friends of St. Nectan’s).

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