JOHN HOARE'S FAMILY HISTORY
The Cornelius Cheesman line
Minor corrections 2.3.2015, new section 2.2.2016
My grandfather's name was Cornelius John Childrens CHEESMAN. This is a pretty magnificent name, so good in fact that my family used it with minimal variation for four generations!
The first was Cornelius CHEESMAN CHILDRENS, born in 1801, the eighth child of John CHEESMAN the baseborn son of Barbara CHILDRENS, who appears to have been from a very poor country family, and was perhaps in service to a CHEESMAN in Brighton or Shoreham. Despite his humble birth John prospered as did his fourteen children. Cornelius appears in the Brighton Trade Directories as a builder. Through the generations some of his relatives would climb high on the social ladder, but his line was left behind somewhat, and after many years I now think I know why! I have discovered that Cornelius was declared bankrupt in November 1825. In January 1826 the records show that one of his brothers (I can't find out which one) offered to 'supercede' the bankruptcy, offering creditors seven shillings in the pound on condition that all Cornelius' estate and effects were made out to him. Until I find out more I cannot tell whether this was a generous offer to uphold the good name of the family or a predatory strike. I have posted links to the primary sources of this information at the borttom of my Cheesman builders page.
Second came Cornelius John CHILDRENS, born 1823, third child and only son, as far as I know. He is sometimes recorded as 'journeyman carpenter', which in today's terms would be 'self-employed', but in those days was an insecure and far from comfortable way to earn a living.
Third came Cornelius CHEESMAN, born 1844. He was again a carpenter, and apparently had seven sons and four daughters.
Interestingly, the fourth Cornelius John Childrens CHEESMAN wasn't the first born, but the third, born 1870 and my Grandfather on my mother's side. Sometimes his name is spelt 'CHEESEMAN'. By this time, nobody in the family knew where the origins of the name 'Childrens', and the rather implausible family story was that it had come about because the registrar was drunk! He was the fourth of eleven or twelve children. When he was eight years old the family converted to Catholicism apparently led by his mother. Some of the children born after the conversion seem to have grown up quite strong in the Catholic faith, but my line of the family returned to the Church of England. More information here
I knew from my mother that Grandfather, who died a couple of years before I was born, was a seafarer who spent most of his adult life as a ship's steward working on the HMS Edinburgh Castle sailing between Southampton and Capetown via Madeira, and that he was awarded the Mercantile Marine Medal, which was given to Merchant Seamen who served at sea for more than six months of the first World War. Furthermore Cornelius was working on the same ship, the Edinburgh Castle, on the same run from Britain to Capetown via Madeira until he was forced to retire, much against his wishes. He was a ships steward all this time, and enjoyed the life so much that he never wanted to move on. This much has proved true. When it comes to census returns, he is notably absent after 1881. Perhaps he was at sea. He was a bachelor living in London when he married in 1908, aged 37. The marriage certificate gives his employment as 'barman'. He died in 1943 aged 73.
I have now established that before serving on the 'Edinburgh Castle' Cornelius was on the 'Glengorm Castle'. This ship was an intermediate class steamer of 6763 tons, originally named the 'German' and commissioned in 1898 just before the Union and Castle lines merged. At that time the owners had a cunning system, which was that all their ships of a given design were named using the same initial letter. The name was hastily changed to 'Glengorm Castle' in 1914 for obvious reasons, and the ship saw military service during the first World War.
There were three ships named Edinburgh Castle, cruise liners flying under the flag of the Union Castle line. Cornelius served on the second, classed as a mail steamer, of 13,326 tons, which was commissioned in 1910. She was at sea between Capetown and the UK when the First World War broke out in 1914, and was immediately put into war service. She saw service in the North and South Atlantic. She went back to her original purpose sailing between Southampton, London, and Capetown via Madeira in 1919 after the end of hostilities: General Smuts was amongst the passengers on the first voyage in August. My family moved from London to Southampton around this time.
The 'Edinburgh Castle' ultimately suffered from the onward march of progress: in 1938 the contract for mail delivery between Britain and South Africa was tightened to fourteen days, which was beyond the capacity of the ship. It was withdrawn from service and spent a few months moored off Netley in the Solent. It was requisitioned by the military in 1939 and used for floating accommodation for the duration of the second world War. At the end of the war it was of no further use and suffered the indignity of being used as target practice when it was scuttled 60 nautical miles off Freetown, Sierra Leone on November 5th 1945.
Until recently I knew virtually nothing about Grandfather and my mother kept almost no family memorabilia, although I have recently realised the significance of a Union Castle eggcup I found in her cupboard (illustration on the right). However, there are records of Merchant Seaman in the National Archive at Kew and I found him there. Most importantly, there was a photograph attached to his records; I have now seen the original in the Southampton city Archives, and it is reproduced above. I now know that he was 5' 6 ½" tall with brown hair and grey eyes, and of a fair complexion. Most interestingly, he had tattoos of a bird on each arm, and a woman on his forearm!
Who was this man, descended from skilled tradesmen in the building industry in Brighton, with lawyers, property owners, ship-owners, builders, and an architect amongst his relatives, who spent his whole life as a ships steward without ever looking for betterment? Was he the 'black sheep' of the family? I have a sturdy sea chest which family folklore says was made for him by his father, which suggests they were on good terms. My mother said there was a serious rift in the family, but she either never knew or never said what it was. When my mother was very old and frail she described to me an old family photograph of Cornelius with his friend in his frock coat and top hat on the main street of Capetown. Sadly, of course, this photograph had vanished long ago.
The more affluent family members had invested in ships from the 1830's, and there were several Captains named CHEESMAN in the Brighton area who may have been distant relatives of ours. Perhaps one of them helped Cornelius get away from some serious family problem. In view of the Capetown connection, and the assortment of South African artifacts that were around when I was growing up, I wonder if Cornelius was involved in the Boer War? By one of those strange coincidences I have just found that Cornelius' cousin Alfred fought there. If you come back to this page in a year or two you may find that I have filled in the gaps in the story.
© John Hoare 2006, 2014, 2015
I came upon this excellent photograph on the Southampton Memories page of Facebook. It shows the Edinburgh Castle docked in Southampton, taken when my grandfather was working on it. The accompanying text is also worth reading.
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