It’s the year 1797 and Britain is about to be invaded for the last time by a foreign force. The location, the towns of Fishguard and Goodwick in Pembrokeshire, Wales. The invaders, the French.
Now anyone who knows the area will tell you it’s a quiet place with a nice walk along the parrog at Goodwick and the old harbour of Fishguard. At the time of the invasion the area was deeply agricultural (as it is today) and small fishing vessels would have been out and about.
So how did this come about? Well it’s was a kind of past time that the French had a go at the British and we had a go back. On the 22th February 1797 it was the French’s turn. They thought if they invaded the people of Britain would join forces with them against the nobility and land owners in an attempt to gain more rights. The French people had successfully done this in the late 1780’s early 1790’s during the French Revolution.
The French were under the command of Colonel William Tate, who incidentally was of Irish American ancestry, and disliked the British as some of his family were killed during the American Revolution. What better way to get back at us than to invade. He had 4 ships loaded with around 1400 soldiers, around 600 regular troops and the rest were ex and part time soldiers as well as criminals. He anchored his ships 2 miles from Fishguard and the landing parties began.
There was panic amongst the people as you can imagine. They took up arms under the command of Thomas Knox who was a local landowner. They used any weapon they could find including the scythes from the land and what guns they had.
The French were busily looting in the surrounding areas and farms where their main target so they could get food and steal what valuables they could find. In one instance a French soldiers shot a grandfather clock thinking it was a person. As a side note the clock still exists with its hole. By the second day of the invasion it was reported that many of the French soldiers were rather merry on the wine and beer they had found.
The locals had had enough and moved to where the French were with their makeshift weapons and began capturing them. It’s said that the local shoemaker Jemima Nicholas who was in her late 40’s captures 12 soldiers using only a pitch folk and marched them back to Fishguard. She allegedly later brought 2 more to the town, one under each arm (well she was described as a well-built lady).
Now Colonel Tate was at an impasse. His ships had returned to France as he was convinced of his success, but the locals were closing in on them. He then got the shock of his life when he saw British armed soldiers heading in his direction. What he actually saw was Welsh women in the traditional costumes who from a distance could be mistaken for soldiers by their hats (there is some debate about whether this is true but I love the story).
As a result the Colonel surrendered that night to the British commander Lord Cawdor. The next day the people of the town gathered to watch the capture of the remaining soldiers. So by 4pm on the 24th February 1797 it was all over. The jovial French set off to walk to Haverfordwest and the prisons and churches (which were used as an overflow prison). The prisoners remained in the area until the following year when they were returned to France, Tate included, under a prisoner exchange.
So in just 3 days the last invasion of Britain was over. The French were defeated and no one would try and invade our lands again. Jemima Nicholas was the heroine of the day and she lived until 1832 when she died aged 82.
If you go to Fishguard there is a tapestry depicting the events of the invasion. It was made in 1997 and is designed along the same lines as the Bayeux tapestry. It can be seen in Fishguard town hall. There is also a video made of the recreation of the capture of the French which was done in 1997 (I’ve seen some of it, but homework called!), the lady playing Jemima certainly gave it her all.
I know it’s an unusual birthday to celebrate but in the field of genealogy/photography Henry Fox Talbot is an important man. He was born on the 11th of February 1800 in Dorset, England. He could be regarded as one of the fathers of modern photography as the practices he developed allowed for the modern processes we use today to be developed.
Now Henry did not invent photography but he did develop new methods for making more stable pictures. He discovered ways to treat the glass plate in the camera so that with the long exposure times required the image would not be lost if too much sunlight entered the camera lens. Thus hours of work were not lost. Also he developed a process which allowed a photograph to be taken in bright sunlight in just a few minutes. His greatest development was discovering a process which would allow a negative image to be printed multiple times on to paper and thus allow for mass availability of an image. So if you can make mass images from one negative you can sell pictures of important events such as the monarch seated on their throne. Also if the event was outside images could be taken quickly so an image of a disaster could be taken for future reference. For example from 1864 there are photos of the devastation caused by the Great Sheffield Flood. This could have been examined to find out why the dam wall failed and thus may have prevented another dam from collapsing.
It should be pointed out that other scientists were also making the same developments and other innovations at same time and thus who invented the processes first is debatable but Henry Fox Talbot’s work in the field cannot be ignored.
So I’ve discussed in the past how important photography is to genealogy as through old photos of our ancestors we truly get an image of the past. But one way that photography helped out ancestors and thus modern genealogists was through post mortem photographs. Now this does not mean the images taken at crime scenes or of murder victims. It was the taking of photographs of loved ones after they had died so you had a permanent memento of them.
Warning! Post mortem image
This is an image of a girl with her parents taken after she had died. Now some may not like the idea of such a photo being taken, but this could be the only way for the parents to remember their daughter. If you didn’t know you would think it was just a family photo, but in this image if you look closely you can see something is not quite right. The girls image is totally crisp and sharp where as her parents have a slight blur to them as if they didn’t remain perfectly still for the exposure of the image.
Post mortem images were very often tastefully done, especially with young children. In these images the child is usually placed in such a way as they just looked like they were having a nap either in bed or in their parent’s arms. Although there are exceptions to this. There is a picture form the 1940’s of a Syrian bishop seated on his throne at his own funeral.
So to all the men and women who had a hand in developing the camera, negative, lens and final photograph thank you. You may not have realised it at the time but you opened the world of genealogy up by letting us see the faces of our ancestors no matter what stage of their life they were in.
Many of you will have Scottish ancestry and as such you may be part of a clan. But what really are the clans and how do they work.
Well from the start let me state that I have ancestry in the Buchanan Clan. I am descended from ancestors called Dow and as such am part of the Buchanan clan. My Scottish ancestors came from Govan in Scotland but the furthest back I’ve got is to the late 1700’s in a small village called Lorn which used to be on the banks of Loch Lorne. My 5 times great grandparents were Duncan Dow and Mary McIntyre. According to their son Archibald Dow’s death certificate from 1855 Duncan was a shepherd.
So what is a clan? In basic terms a clan is a group who come together as a sort of family. Many started out as villages or regions under the control of a laird or chieftain. They usually share a common bond and have sub groups who come under their flag. They usually share a tartan to denote they are of the clan so they can be easily identified. The use of tartan is also a way of showing who your fealty to a clan chieftain.
Clans are usually headed by the most powerful family of the clan, although they may not carry the clan name surname, so just because you are chieftain of the Buchanan Clan doesn’t mean you have to be a Buchanan. The 6th chief was McBeath McCausland. Since the 8th Chief they have carried the surname Buchanan. The current chief is John Michael Baillie-Hamilton Buchanan.
The clans in some respect were like states or counties. They set their own local laws and the members would pay taxes to the chief. The Chief would hear grievances from the clan’s people and act as a sort of judge and jury. The Chief would also have soldiers who would defend the clan’s lands from attack from other clans which happened when other clans decided to use this method to expand their territory. Chief’s also used marriage to expand their lands. They would marry their children to into other clans in the hope of the marriage bringing another clan under their control.
The role of the clans changed after the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. This was when Charles Edward Stuart the Young Pretender or Bonnie Prince Charlie tried to get the throne back for his father James Edward Stuart the Old Pretender. James Stuart was the eldest son of the deposed King James II/VII (depending on if you’re using the English or Scottish regnal number although now I think we’re supposed to use the VII) of Great Britain and his second wife the catholic Mary of Modena. James was deposed due to his Catholic faith as Great Britain was a Protestant country. He was replaces as King in 1688 to be replaces by his daughter Mary II and her husband William III.
During the rebellion Bonnie Prince Charlie led his troops in battle against the British army to try to force William and Mary to give the throne back to his father. The rebellion failed but the clans came under great scrutiny for their role in the rebellion. May of the clan chiefs powers were revoked including that of passing laws. Also the wearing of tartan was banned but this was repealed later in the century.
Today the wearing tartan by those descended from the Scottish clans began in the Victorian era. It became fashionable to be descended for the clans and people wanted to show they had a Scottish heritage and all things Scottish. Whether the fact Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had just bought Balmoral had an impact on this I don’t know, but you would think it had. This even continues today. Any Scottish city you visit you’ll find a shop where you can trace you Scottish ancestry and purchase tartan, scrolls, and clan badges showing your lineage. I know I went in one as a kid and have a badge that states my clan in Buchanan.
So the Scottish clans today may not be the powerful groups they were in the past but they do still exist and you can trace you ancestry to them. They are famous throughout the world and new tartans have been developed to show the diversity of Scotland. The Sikh’s of Scotland have their own tartan. Which is the most famous of the clans, well it’s probably the McDonald’s, but not for they clan heritage, more for the burgers.
In the course of genealogy you may come across jobs that you don’t know what they are. It may be that they were not uncommon, it’s just that they no longer exist for what ever reason.
So what were some of these jobs?
Well one I’m glad doesn’t exist anymore is a knocker up. I have nothing against the people who had this occupation, it was just what they did. A knocker up was someone who you paid to wake you up in the mornings. They were a human alarm clock. In the industrial towns it was important that you got to work on time. If you didn’t you may be expected to work the entire day for no pay. This meant it was vital to get to work on time. So you paid a knocker up, probably only a penny or two a week, to wake you up. They used various methods from knocking on the house door to using a long bamboo stick to tap on your bedroom window. One lady in London even used a pea shooter to aim at the windows to wake people up.
Another job that’s gone is that of a lamp lighter. We all take for granted that when dusk comes the street lights come on automatically and then go off in the morning. In the Victorian era this wasn’t the case. People’s job was to go round lighting the gas lamps in the streets and then putting them out in the mornings. They were imaginatively named. Now they’d probably be known as illumination specialists or something. But they did a really vital job. Can you image walking the streets of Whitechapel in the 1880’s without the gas lamps, it was dangerous enough without it being dark as well.
Another job which technology got rid of was the type setter. Before the advent of typewriters if you wanted to print something you had to load the individual letters into a holder to produce the page you wanted. This was a highly skilled job as you had to put everything in the holder backwards and led to the phrase getting hold of the wrong end of the stick, as if you started from the wrong end then the text came out back to front. Also the person doing the job had to be literate. Imagine if someone wanted a book printed, you would have to place each letter by had until you had a page and then print the page and then do the next page and so on.
Going further back in time some of the jobs were just horrible and thankfully they have gone in this country.
How would you fancy being a leech collector? Doctors were using leeches to bleed their patients as they felt this would keep them healthy. So they needed leeches to use. People would go to the marshy areas where the leeches lived and catch them. They didn’t use a net. It they were canny they used an old animal. They would stand them in the marsh and take the leeches of the animal’s legs. It they couldn’t afford an animal they used themselves! They stood there and let the leeches attach to them and then pulled them off when they’d had their fill after about 20 minutes. They probably continued to bleed for several hours after so it wasn’t a particularly healthy occupation.
The final job we should all be thankful has gone was that of a gong farmer. They had the nastiest jobs ever. They dug out, buy hand, the cesspits and the toilets. They would remove the waste and take it away. That is a job no one should have had to do. But it did have some advantages. If anything went down the loo that shouldn’t have they could keep it. Also they were paid quiet well as well you would have to be to do the job.
So our ancestry is full of different jobs to those were do now, but really would you want to do some of them. Getting up early in the morning to wake people up or spending all night digging in poop. Sounds like having kids to me! But for society to function they were needed.
Hello and thank you for taking the time to read my Family History Ramblings on genealogy and history in general. I hope you find it informative and hopefully funny!