It was on this voyage that Darwin made the geological and zoological discoveries which later formed the basis of his famous book The Origin of the Species, by Means of Natural Selection, published in 1859. If any of your ancestors were seamen in the Plymouth area and may have sailed on Darwin’s epic voyage, the Dartmouth Beagle Project in Plymouth would love to hear from you.
The Project organisers plan one day to build a replica of HMS Beagle. They are keen to set up a genealogy centre and website and hope to trace some of the descendants of the crew. After an initial appeal to the Devon Family History Society a genealogist in Croydon helped to unearth a pay book at The National Archives in Kew which lists some of the Beagle’s 74-strong crew.
Among the crewmen from the Plymouth area were Thomas Ash (22), James Bennett (22), Thomas Billet (18), James Blight
(19), John Blight (23), John Borsworthick (29), Elias Davis (23), Richard Harper (32), Thomas Henderson (37), John Johns (19), John William Johns (20), James (or Jonathan) May (31), George Philips (24), John Rensfry or Remfry (31), William Robertson
(20), James Rogers (32), David Rowe (24), Joseph Smith (26), William Williams (28) and William Wills (28). If any of these men, or other candidates ring a bell with you then Jeanne Brooks, volunteer administrator of the Dartmouth Beagle Project, would like to hear from you on 01752-556857, or by email on.
I am indebted to Mike Davey of Uttoxeter in Staffordshire for this information. His father spotted an article on the Project in the Plymouth Evening Herald on 24 January 2004 and sent it to Mike, who very kindly passed it on to me.
Darwin in 1854, before he grew the beard.
A nautical poser
Now here’s another cry for help. Kathleen Hollingsbee of Tilmanstone in Kent, a regular contributor to these columns, has been in touch to say that a friend – the industrious Kent transcriber and indexer Ruth Nicol – has been stumped by a nautical abbreviation in working on her Mariners’ Index. She hopes that someone can provide the full name from which this abbreviation is derived. The abbreviation is linked to one George Blackader Divers (now there’s a name to conjure with!) who died aged 25 years on 4 July 1851 at the family hotel in Dover. Under ‘Occupation’, George is recorded as ‘Pilot in the H. C. M. Marine’. The ‘H. C. M.’ is repeated in a death notice published in the Dover Telegraph dated 5 July 1851:
Death: July 4, at the residence of his mother Dover Castle Hotel, Dover, beloved and esteemed by all who had the pleasure of knowing him, Mr G. B. Divers, H. C. M., eldest son of Mrs E. A. Divers, surviving his youngest sister by only two months.
I do hope someone can resolve this seagoing mystery.
White gloves for the parson
My recent rankings about funerals and what I consider to be suitably respectful forms of observance and dress for these sad occasions have not been universally dismissed as out of touch. Indeed there are readers out there who actually agree with my rather old-fashioned views! June Humphreys of Chapman’s Hill near Halesowen very kindly got in touch to say how touched she was at her father’s funeral – an event that took place some time ago – to see a man remove his hat and stand still on the pavement as the cortege passed by. She can still remember her feeling of gratitude and appreciation towards this unknown man that he should take the time to respect her father’s death.
All that I can add is that we live in changing times, and what really brought this home to me was a note from Julie Goddard, whose name will be familiar to regular readers of FTM. Julie sent along details of funeral dress and haberdashery from a Newbury store which is still trading, though not in funeral attire – from 1804, 200 years ago.
At funerals in those days the store supplied:
A hat band with white gloves for the clergyman, crepe bands and black cloaks for the mourners, bands, gloves, cloaks and one pair of worsted hose each for underbearers and similar for hearseman, coachmen, clerk, sexton and carpenter `Funerals for the well-off were grand affairs in those days,’ adds Julie.
Loaves of death
I’m clocking off this month with a humorous extract from The Daily Graphic dated 10 September 1890 and reproduced with grateful thanks to Laura Finch of Barking in Essex, who sent it to me:
There has been much alarm caused at Reading. It arose this way. One lady discovered a skull and crossbones faintly but distinctly printed on her quartern loaf Another found Resurgam’ on hers. Finally one in the bloom of youth and health got a loaf with ‘Died on the 20th September’ on it, and she concluded at once she had only a short time to live. She would, perhaps, have brought about the fulfilment of the prophecy by dying of fright had not the cause of these warnings been discovered. The baker’s oven wanted fresh bottoming, and he had very improperly applied some old tablets in a disused churchyard for that purpose. Though nicely polished by the wear of years, they had retained enough of their inscriptions to give some faint impressions to the bread, and some very strong ones to the purchasers.
Perhaps I should have mentioned that the newspaper’s piece was headed ‘Baked on a Tombstone’.