Those who go down to the sea in ships ...

Those who go down to the sea in ships * have for centuries been at the mercy of the sea and its unpredictable moods. Although more famous shipping disasters such as the sinking of the Titanic get all the publicity and are imbued with much tragic romanticism, there are a multitude of other shipwrecks that can be just as heart-rending. One of these featured in the life of my late husband Peter’s great-great-grandfather.
He was Joseph Darch, born in Stratton, Cornwall, in 1842. At the age of 9 (1851 Census) Joseph and his family lived in the Catsbridge Cottages, now just Bridge Cottages, Stratton. These houses date from the 17th Century, are still standing and heritage listed.

His father was an agricultural labourer and by the age of 18, Joseph seemed destined to follow in his footsteps as in the 1861 Census he is also described as a farm worker, but he was soon to change careers.
Perhaps he was after adventure or had a fondness for the sea and by age 22 he was Mate on board the small coast…

Nurse, pass me that meat hook ....

This amazing newspaper report in Nottingham Evening Post of 5 August 1927 of an operation at sea in harrowing conditions captured my attention (full transcription follows) and I wondered who this admirable young doctor was, as well as his able lady assistant. (Merchant navy crewmen are notoriously difficult to trace so I already knew the likelihood of of finding anything on the patient and the cook would be minimal.)

  Details of a feat of surgery off Cape Horn, carried out under almost incredible conditions with scissors, a safety-pin, bent spoons, clothes-pegs and meat hooks implements, but ending in success were told to Mail reporter by the officers and crew of the Commonwealth and Dominion Line steamer Port Auckland, yesterday, as she moved into dock at Woolwich.   The central figure is a young New Zealand surgeon who was on his to England for the first time. He is Dr. A. S. Hethringt…

A Victorian family, tragedies and farce

It's surprising the stories that can be discovered from a random image. This one comes from the Facebook and Instagram pages of Tansley & Co., vintage merchants in Maldon, Victoria, Australia.

It is a prize presentation plate in a book entitled "Heroines of the Household" * given by the Ladies' School of Fitzroy (Melbourne) to a Miss J. Gillett for "General Improvement", and dated is Christmas 1869.

Jane Gillett was born in Melbourne on 5 October 1853, and baptised at St Peter's Church, Eastern Hill, on 12 March 1854. That record shows that her father, Edward, had the occupation of "Land Owner" and her mother was Eliza.  The family's address was Napier Street, Collingwood. Further research shows the family continued to live in Napier Street for many more years and that it was later incorporated into the suburb of Fitzroy.

Edward Gillett is often simply described as "Gentleman" in various records. He was born in 1809 in Waterford…

Curse of the Black Dog

In the past, the condition now known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) went by various other names - shell-shock, battle or combat fatigue, even hysterical neurosis. It was rarely treated, being considered shameful, something to hide and never admitted to. Untold thousands of men who had been through the trauma of war would have been impacted by it to some degree. Combine this with a genetic tendency to depression, plus a perfectionist or conscientious personality, and there is a recipe for major difficulties at some stage.

Inspired by a death notification discovered while indexing archives for, I went in search of the life story of one man who reached the tipping point after an impressive career military duty and service but who probably feared loss of control above everything.

Quite a lot about a person's background - and even character - can be discovered by something as simple as the details on a marriage entry - in this case, that of his parents.