(Getting closer to the end of the search!)
The last few months have seen some exciting discoveries, including finding several living descendants of the Blackmore family.
It was clearly going to be difficult to get back any further with the family beyond the parish records at Ashreigney (1650s), since earlier registers were lost and the earliest existing one is quite difficult to decipher. Also, as I was not able to visit Devon again it was not really possible to follow that line of research.
I therefore decided to see if I could trace the family forward at all. The major work was related to the descendants of William Blackmore (1826-1920), but through a wonderful bit of luck I have also been able to follow up on his two siblings.
I was already in touch with one descendant of his sister, Grace Baker Blackmore, and so had much of her family line (Symons and Butterfield). Through having their names on Genes Reunited I was contacted by Louisa who is the great granddaughter of Grace’s son, John Symons.
Louisa has been an inspiration in terms of spurring me on to find out more, including sorting out a family myth. But she also has copies of some notebooks written by John Symons, which include a lot of letters that he wrote.
Every family member I make contact with has the story passed down that this Blackmore family is closely related to Richard Doddridge Blackmore, the author of Lorna Doone. One story goes as far as to say that Grace Baker Blackmore was his half sister. Well, after checking both trees closely, it is abundantly clear that this is not the case. However, there must have been an ancestor who started the story and it caught on and has remained with every generation since. If there is a connection at all it is through a female line somewhere, or through a marriage several generations earlier. As for Grace Baker – her father was called William, but RDB’s father was John. So there is no possibility that she was as closely related as being a half sister.
But now there is one likely connection, but not a family one. I have managed to obtain a copy of the book “R.D. Blackmore Author of Lorna Doone – A Biography” by Waldo Hilary Dunn. In there it mentions one of RD Blackmore’s half sisters, Jane Elizabeth and her son A H Davis. I looked for Jane on various censuses and was absolutely shocked when I found her. Her husband was the Rev Samuel Davis, the Vicar of BURRINGTON. In fact one of the entries was on the same page as some of my William Blackmore’s cousins. I now believe that the truth of the story is that our Blackmore family KNEW the half sister of R D Blackmore, as she was the vicar’s wife and lived in the same village.
Whilst asking Louisa about the sources of the myth about Grace she sent me a copy of one of the letters written by John Symons. This referred to RD Blackmore and his book and then went on to say that John, one of Grace’s brothers, had emigrated to Australia in 1851, during the gold rush and had even named a mine Lorna Doone. I still wonder if misunderstanding and retelling of this story led to the myth about the connection.
No wonder I could not find any hard evidence about John Blackmore after his marriage to Alice Handford at Fremington in 1849! I had never researched family history in Australia before and so this was to be a real journey of discovery. Much of the success is really down to a lot of really helpful people on various Rootsweb email lists. I first found out that a John and Alice Blackmore had arrived at Port Phillip (Melbourne) in September 1849. Was this the right family and so was John Symons correct about John Blackmore emigrating? After asking for information as to how to carry out research in Victoria and New South Wales, I was inundated with information – birth and marriage entries and also details about the ship they travelled on. Since then I have traced the family forward to mid 1900s and even spoken to two descendants of John and Alice (I am still hoping that one of them will send some more information on later generations.
John and Alice left Plymouth on 7th June 1849 on the ship Courier – 4 months after their marriage – and arrived at Port Phillip on 11th September. The ship weighed just 1060 tons and the master was Mr G Melling. John was certainly involved in gold mining, but whether there was a mine called Lorna Doone is still unknown. John and Alice had nine children and many, many grandchildren (61 at the last count!). They settled in Maldon which is about 100 miles north west of Melbourne and quite close to Castlemaine. I have a copy of the newspaper reports of the marriage of one of his daughters and also his death. The death certificates for John and Jane (1900 and 1893 respectively) are extremely detailed and give details of their parents and their children, where they are buried and so much more. This information gave the proof that this was certainly the right John Blackmore, and also confirmed the information I had on Alice’s parents. I now have nearly 200 descendants listed for John. See all the details on www.jearnshaw.me.uk/tree/2407.htm
Children of William Blackmore (born 1826).
In total there were eight children of William and Ann (Muxworthy). I already knew a lot about my great grandmother, Eliza Ann Blackmore, who was his first child and so concentrated on the other children.
Equally, I was in contact with a friend of George Frederick’s grandson who is now 90 years old. This is a very small branch and will end when this grandson dies. George Frederick (the third child) had two daughters and only one got married and had one son. He has no children. Unfortunately, it was not possible to obtain information from him about the rest of the family.
Elizabeth Ellen (the seventh child) had died in Ilfracombe at the age of 31 and was unmarried. She is buried with her father.
To date I have found nothing more about Florence Mary (last child) other than her married name was Boxall or Boxhall. It appears that she did not marry in England or Wales, unless she married more than once.
Lucy Grace, the sixth child, married Frederick Garnish and they had two children. Frederick already had two children from his previous marriage. Other than some very minor information, I have not yet added much knowledge about this family who had an outfitters shop at 5 Church Street, Ilfracombe. Lucy’s son Reginald Blackmore Garnish was still alive in 1950 as he attended the funeral of his uncle Samuel John Blackmore. Her stepson, Frederick John, died in 1955 and is buried at the Score Cemetery in Ilfracombe with his father.
It would be lovely to trace a descendant of Lucy, since William Blackmore bequeathed his family bible to her. Hopefully, if this bible still exists it will document a lot about the family.
Now for the remaining three of his children.
Thomas was the fifth of the eight children and he remained in the Barnstaple area all his life. He became a carpenter and undertaker living and working in Pilton Street. He married Matilda Hedden in 1886 and they had two children. Matilda died in 1894 and he then married Martha Garnish. Martha was the sister of Frederick Garnish who married Thomas’ sister Lucy.
Thomas received nothing from his father’s will because he had obviously borrowed heavily from him. His son, also Thomas Albert, died in 1905 at the age of 17. Thomas himself committed suicide in 1929 because he was worried about his business running down. Martha was obviously distraught, as she died six months later in Exminster Asylum. There is no mention in the will of either Thomas or Martha of the daughter, Bessie Gertrude and so I have to surmise at this time that she had also died.
William Henry was the second child of William and Ann. I knew from the notice of his father’s death that he was living in Bath in 1920. He had married Mary Ann Holman in Hammersmith in 1880 and I had no information about him after that time.
It was interesting that both Mary Ann Holman and Ellen Elizabeth Browne (who married William Henry’s brother George Frederick) were born in Norfolk. From searches of censuses, BMDs and with help from people on the Norfolk Rootsweb list, I eventually discovered that these two girls were second cousins.
Searching the death registers for William Henry and Mary Ann Blackmore from 1920 I found a likely Mary A in 1931 and a possible William H in Weston Super Mare in 1939.
The certificate for Mary Ann suggested a reason why I couldn’t find them after their marriage – she was described as the “wife of William Henry Blackmore - Railway Official Federated Malay States (retired)”. Even though the names matched, it wasn’t convincing evidence that this was the correct person.
The certificate for William Henry added little and didn’t really prove one way or the other whether this was the same William, other than to say he was a railway inspector. The informant was R.A. Skyrme, son in law. I eventually managed to also obtain a copy of William Henry’s will and this named his daughter as Dorothy Skyrme. This is where luck came in. With such an unusual surname I looked in the telephone directory and found that there were a few entries for the name still in Weston. After telephoning them it seemed almost certain that this was the same family – William Henry had lived in Bath, Mary Holman was his wife (and one child had the middle name Holman), the names of most of the children were very similar to those of other family members and William’s father was buried in Ilfracombe. But the real decider at that time was when I was told that the family had “a mortar and pestle that was inscribed William Blackmore 1788”. Such an item was stated in William Blackmore’s will as being bequeathed to William Henry.
I have since visited the family. On entering the room I immediately saw a photograph of William Blackmore – the same one that I have a copy of. Apparently it was taken in 1917 when William was 91. Although I need to visit again to find out more about the descendants, I learned a huge amount that day, through other documents that they have. The mortar and pestle is a lovely object, made of brass, and presumably belonged to William Blackmore’s father (William Blackmore senior was baptised in 1789). Mounted in the same frame is the photo of William is a photograph of his wife “Ann Guard aged 56 in 1907”. This is somewhat of a mystery as there is no evidence that he married again. I took a picture of this photograph when we visited my cousin Geraldine, as I thought I had seen it before somewhere. She had the identical picture and has loaned it to me. I have had the photograph dated and it appears that it is likely to have been taken around the late 1860s. The person in the picture is approximately in her 20s and so, hopefully, it is actually a photograph of Ann Muxworthy (b 1831) and was taken just before William went to work overseas.
Two bibles had been passed down from the Holman family and the information contained in them confirmed what I had found out over the previous year about Mary Ann, her brother and her parents.
The startling revelation came in a prayer book that was annotated by William Blackmore in 1862. This prayer book had originally belonged to John Arnold who was the first husband of Ann who married William Blackmore senior. Her maiden name was Ann Baker, the daughter of John and Joan Baker. Ann had married John Arnold in 1818 at Burrington, but John had died later that same year. William Blackmore married Ann Arnold in 1819.
At last I knew why their daughter was called Grace Baker Blackmore. The middle name was her mother’s maiden name. Finally, things were slotting into place.
Later in the week I visited the Devon Record Office in Exeter and found the marriage and burial information for John Arnold and also the baptism of Ann Baker in Kingsnympton. At last! William Blackmore had helped me to learn something about his family! – All previous attempts seemed to have been thwarted somehow, such as his being out of the country for many years and even his grave was hidden in dense undergrowth.
William Henry Blackmore left the country soon after marrying and, like his father, travelled the world as an engineer. Firstly he went to Ceylon, building railways. He was probably there with his father who had also spent time in Ceylon. Two of William Henry’s children were born in Ceylon before he returned briefly to London where his third child was born. His next job was in Bombay where he was involved with the building of the docks. Finally he went on to the Federated Malay States where he was again working on railway construction and this is where his fifth and last child was born. They returned to the UK soon after that due to the illness of their youngest child and settled in Bath.
Whilst talking to the Skyrme family and asking about other Blackmore relations, I was told about “Uncle Sam and Aunt Nell” who lived in Ilfracombe. Could this have been the fourth child, Samuel John Blackmore?
Samuel John had married Ellen Elizabeth Ashley in Chelsea in 1884. He was listed in the censuses as being a career soldier and there were three known children – including one who was also born in Ceylon. Beyond that, all I knew was that he was living in London in 1920 when his father died.
I found two entries in the death registers for Barnstaple – Ellen E Blackmore in 1931 and Samuel J Blackmore in 1950 (aged 90). The certificate for Samuel John said that he was a retired Inspector of the London County Council and was indeed living in Ilfracombe. So it might be the right person, especially as his brother George Frederick also worked for London County Council. The informant was F.G. Blackmore, daughter – who was this? Was there a fourth child.
The Skyrme family tree showed only the same three children I was aware of. So another child was unlikely. At the Devon Record Office I found the electoral register for 1945 with Samuel J and Nellie G Blackmore living at the same address as in 1950. The assumption has to be that the certificate was incorrect and should have said N G Blackmore.
I now have a copy of the entry placed in the Ilfracombe Chronicle after his funeral and this definitely confirms it is the correct Samuel. The main reasons for saying that are that it states he was from Norwich; he had been in the RAOC for 26 years; and it named two surviving daughters, one being N G Blackmore. The final reason is that one of the mourners was his nephew, Mr R Garnish (Reginald Blackmore Garnish). Samuel was buried at the Score Cemetery in Ilfracombe.
The museum at Ilfracombe provided the newspaper cutting and they said that there is a project going on to record as many of the people buried at Score as is possible from the three sets of information available. They are also trying to photograph as many graves as possible and that may mean some clearance of the undergrowth.
As I said last year the cemetery is terribly overgrown and I was only able to reach one of the Garnish graves. Hopefully this project will make the cemetery a little more accessible. But it was sad to hear that the current owner has cashed in on the chapel and that it is being renovated as a private house.
It was also said that some clearance of the churchyard of the parish church was on-going. So hopefully I would soon be able to see the grave of William Blackmore. Two weeks later the Ilfracombe Museum sent me a photograph of William’s grave and it is in an almost perfect condition. So a huge thank you to the volunteers and to the staff at Ilfracombe Museum.
I had been told, many years ago, by my mother that her grandparents lived at Yarner, near Bovey Tracey and that her grandfather was the head gardener of the estate. Her cousin told this same story to her son.
This year I met my first cousin Geraldine for the first time in 35 years and she asked about Lustleigh, where her father used to visit as a child. Apparently the family loved their holidays there, explaining why my mum took my dad there when they were courting and also why we returned there in the 1960s, with a permit, to see the woods and to visit Becky Falls.
Other than the stories of Yarner passed down through the grandchildren, I had no evidence that Joseph Henry Thorne had been there since every address I had for him was in Fremington or Barnstaple.
My first task at the Devon Record Office this year was to look at the electoral registers for Bovey Tracey. There was no sign of them before 1915 or after 1922 (and there were no registers for 1916 or 1917), but I found them at three different addresses from 1918 to 1922 – Drive Bungalow Yarner, Rachel Cottages and Reddafird Bungalow. Phil Page of English Nature has provided the locations of these houses and hopefully I can visit soon to find them, and in particular the one that mum and uncle Tom remembered visiting (I vaguely remember seeing it in about 1963).
Yarner Wood lies to the north west of Bovey Tracey and is now a National Nature Reserve, open to the public and owned by English Nature (grid ref SX 786789). Yarner House is privately owned, run as a conference centre and lies just off the B3387 to the west of Bovey Tracey.
Louisa has very kindly lent me the notebooks that her great grandfather, John Symons, wrote out in the 1940s and 1950s. They are almost entirely made up of transcripts of letters he has written or received. John Symons, as the son of Grace Baker Blackmore, is the closest there is to a first hand account of the Blackmore family in the second half of the 19th century. I am slowly going through them to work out who is who and what it tells about them. I will write up a synopsis later. But already I’ve learned
- About his time at the Ripley Orphanage and what happened to his father
- That William Blackmore returned to the UK on at least one occasion whilst he was working abroad and visited the Symons family in Lancashire.
- That John went to St Johns College in London – the forerunner of St Marks and St Johns College in Plymouth that one of my sons attended.
- trace any Blackmore’s still in Ilfracombe
- trace any Garnish’s still in Ilfracombe
- visit Weston Super Mare again
- complete the search of Australian records
- another attempt to trace the Boxall/Boxhall line
This will probably bring this massive exercise to a conclusion. I dare not try to add up the hundreds, or even thousands, of hours that this quest has taken.
If you recognise any of the people referred to, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, as we are probably 2nd, 3rd or 4th cousins.
In case you came here straight from a Search Engine then you can see the entire family history site at www.jearnshaw.me.uk . If you came from my site then just close this page.