Friday, 3 September 2010

The devil is in the detail with Devon dabblings

We have come a long way in terms of knowing more about the origins of Elizabeth Mashford (Lewis) Atkins and I only hope we can do the same with Edward Atkins. But the devil is in the detail when it comes to finding information.

Of course it is wonderful when a family line can be traced back through countless generations but I am not sure it proves much. It is interesting to know the origins of one's family and names, dates and places of birth in order to have a better feel for the genetic and experiential inheritance.

But, the genetic inheritance becomes diluted over time with two becoming four and four becoming eight and eight becoming sixteen and sixteen becoming thirty-two and thirty-two becoming sixty four by the time you reach great-great-great-great grandparents or grandparents 4X removed. At this point you have 126 ancestors which makes my head spin a tad. It is impossible to trace them all conclusively.

Which is why ancestry research tends to head in a particular direction and focus on 'some' not all of one's ancestral inheritance. The goal of this research is to discover Charlie Ross's Greek origins and that is the main focus.

The detours have however been necessary so far and interesting. I knew nothing about the Mashfords except the name, the illegitimacy and the supposedly 'noble' links. The research has thrown up information we did not have and photographs we never expected to see.

While the 'finer details' can be hard to put in place, it is fascinating to explore the 'bigger picture' of the times in which my ancestors lived. If poverty sent my Mashford's to Australia I suspect it was war which sent them to Devon... although it could also have been poverty. The Mashfords are thought to belong to one original family, established in Lincolnshire, which sent off a Devonshire 'branch' sometime in the 17th  or 18th century.

I suspect the reason for that may have been the English Civil War in 1643. The citizens of Lincolnshire and Devonshire were, in the main, on the side of Parliament. Very early in the piece the Royalists took Lincolnshire and held it for the duration of the First Civil War.

Between 1642 and 1651, Lincoln was on the frontier between the Cavaliers and Parliamentary forces. The city 'changed hands' a number of times but basically the Royalists held sway. The city of Lincoln was badly damaged  and as a result, while the rest of the country prospered as the 1700's arrived, Lincoln continued to suffer.

Did our Mashford decamp south to Devonshire hoping to continue the fight against the Royalists?  Was there a difference of opinion in the Mashford family with our man siding with Parliament and his brother or father siding with the Royalists? There is no doubt that the English civil war split families as well as country.

But there are no Mashfords ....or Partridges for that matter ..... in the Zeal Monachorum Protestation Returns of 1641-2 in the early days of the war. By the end of 1640, King Charles I had become very unpopular. Parliament forced him to make changes in the Constitution which gave them a bigger say in how the country was governed. From then on, Parliament was split into two factions - Royalists (Cavaliers) who supported the King and Parliamentarians (Roundheads) who wanted political and religious reform.

On 3 May 1641, every Member of the House of Commons was ordered to make a declaration of loyalty to the king and to Parliament. This was ratified next day by the House of Lords. They called it their Protestation against 'an arbitrarie and tyrannical government' and another order was made that every Rector, Churchwarden and Overseer of the Poor had to appear in person before the JPs in their Hundred to make this Protestation Oath in person.

It was to be a declaration of their belief in the 'Protestant religion, allegiance to the King and support for the rights and privileges of Parliament.'

The war would drag on untill 1651 claiming nearly one million lives, many of those dying from disease, famine and from religious genocide.  King Charles I was beheaded on January 30, 1649 for high treason against the realm and people. His son (the future Charles II) would continue the war untill 1651 untill he was defeated at Worcester and fled to France.

In 1660 Charles II returned to London in 1660 with popular support. He was crowned in May 1661. As was the way, he sentenced to death the surviving men who had voted to execute his father.  An uneasy peace settled on the land but it marked a turning point in history - never again would a monarch confront parliament in any real sense.

No doubt some divided families made peace and others did not. Perhaps our Mashford was long settled in Devon, or perhaps not. He may well have only left Lincolnshire at the end of the 17th century or early in the 18th because times were tough in Lincolnshire?

Either explanation may be right or neither explanation may be right. However, a John Mashford was certainly living in the parish of Zeal Monachorum in 1723. Zeal Monachorum was a nearby parish to Coldridge and Mashfords were registered in both during the 1841 census.

The Devon and Exeter Oath Rolls of 1723 show that a John Mashford registered and signed his allegiance to the king. Nearly one hundred years before  the illiterate Elizabeth Mashford (Lewis) Atkins was born, here is a Mashford who could sign his name. It's an indication that our Mashfords may have gradually slipped down the social ladder during the 18th century.
The oaths were sworn at The Blue Anchor, Crediton on September 23, 1723 before Bampfylde Rodd and John Gibbs esq.Along with John Mashford some twenty-five Partridges also stepped up to pledge allegiance to King George I.

These Rolls were compiled in the aftermath of the Jacobite Atterbury plot of 1720-22 and contain the names of over 25,000 Devonians, amounting to some one in five of the adult population of the time. Both men and women signed the Rolls in front of Justices of the Peace.

There is no sign of any Mashfords on the pre: 1723 rolls and no sign of any Mashfords in Winkleigh. The fact that one Mashford appears in the midst of more than two-dozen Partridges does indicate that the Mashford presence in Devon was far more recent than the Partridges. And given the preponderance of Mashfords in Lincolnshire at the time it is a very good bet that the Mashfords made their way to Devon in the early 1700's.

Whatever the reason the Mashfords, at least on our side, were showing themselves to be willing to take a risk in their bid for a better life. Although, perhaps by the time our Mashfords left for South Australia the circle was turning and the Mashfords, like so many others, were leaving the worst of poverty behind. In White's Register for Zeal Monachorum in 1850 there are no Mashford's listed.

LEFT: Village life in 19th century Devon.

While in White's 1850 register for Coldridge there is a Josiah Mashford, shoemaker and a Joseph Mashford, schoolteacher.

There's a good chance that these Mashfords form some part of the family tree and the fact that one of them is educated enough to be a schoolteacher stands in stark contrast to our illiterate lot.

A Reed and William Partridge are listed on the same register as farmers ... but not as owners. Perhaps now it was the turn of the Partridges to slip a little down the ladder. By 1893 there are no Mashfords listed in Coldridge (Coleridge) but there is one Partridge :  A Mrs Frances Partridge, farmer and miller of Park Mill.

Coldridge is a small parish situated on the River Taw, 10 miles (16 km) north-west of the ancient market town of Crediton between Brushford and Nymett Rowland.  It is situated deep in the heart of Devon, and still remains pretty much a country village. The hamlet of East Leigh which lies ½ mile (3/4 km) south of the parish is also part of Coldridge.

In 1801 the parish had 697 people; in 1851, four years after Elizabeth and her family had left, the number was down to 607 and by 1901 it was nearly half that and parish numbers wouldstill hovers around this point  today.

And one of the local Mashfords, another John Mashford, possibly our own but possibly not,  has popped up in my search as: Bigamist of Ugborough &Truro! But bigamy was not uncommon at the time given the divorce laws which made it easier to simply 'walk away' and marry again and hope that the paucity of records would keep your secret safe.

Devon, or Devonshire is bounded on the north by Briston Channel; on the north-east by Somerset; on the east by Dorset; on the south-east and south by the English Channel and on the West by Cornwall. The only English counties which are larger in size are Yorkshire and Lincoln.


ABOVE: Clay mining was a part of life in 19th century Devon.

The landscape is varied from mountainous in the east, to rocky along the coast and lush, green rolling hills and valleys across the centre. It is a land of rivers, springs and brooks ... very different to northern South Australia where Elizabeth would make her home. But, like South Australia, Devon was also a place of mines; tin, copper, lead, iron ore, silver, gold, cobalt, manganese and coal.

And, like much of South Australia Devon is a place of clay soils ranging in colour from yellow to pure white and from heavy to light with areas of rich loam. It was the rich loam which made Devon a land of rich produce and an agricultural 'basket' for England.



LEFT: Fishing off the Devon coast.

In the 18th and 19th centuries it was agricultural in the main with good fishing along the coast. Just like South Australia when Elizabeth and her family arrived.

Living in Wirrabarra Forest it was highly unlikely that the Atkins family spent much time fishing.

Daughter Mary Atkins would of course marry a fishmonger but living in Gladstone, so far from the coast, they would not have gone fishing either. Or perhaps she accompanied Charlie Ross when he went to buy his fish to sell and they sat on the docks at Port Pirie, casting a line, while waiting for their goods to be sorted and loaded.

Perhaps Elizabeth went with them to care for the children while Charlie and Mary loaded the fish which would be taken back to Gladstone to sell. Did the sight of the port bring back good memories or bad? It is impossible to know. I like to think that she was content with her life and her family in South Australia. Her children and grandchildren seemed to grow up as reasonably sensible people and that's always a sign of reasonable parenting which as often as not results from a reasonable level of contentment.

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