Sunday, May 23, 2021

Who was John Gregory (Part 2 of 2)

While we may never know exactly which of the several candidates for John Gregory's birth is the right one, there's a good deal more we can say about him. Perhaps most significantly, he has a listing in the Royal Navy's earliest volume recording the service of engineers; so far as I know, this entry hasn't been seen or cited by anyone researching his career.

Unfortunately, rather than recording his age, service, and character, the entry simply contains a statement, written across both pages of the ledger: ""This Engineer was recommended by Messrs. Maudslay to serve in the Vessels employed on the Arctic Expedition having been accustomed to locomotive engines his pay to be double of that allowed to 1st class Engineers (Woolwich 6th May 1845) ... Appointed 13th May 1845 Admiralty "Erebus" 1st acting ... Apptd. 1st Class Assistant 6 June 51." So we now know for a fact what we previously only inferred -- that he was recommended by his employers, Maudlay, Sons, and Field; we also know that he was specifically appointed with double wages. I checked the ledger, and a nearly identical statement is written in the record for James Thompson, who served as engineer aboard HMS Terror, but as with Gregory, there are no personal details.

Yet we do know one other thing about John Gregory, thanks to the envelope containing his lone surviving letter: we know his address was 7 Ely Place, St. George's Road. The location is a fascinating one; scarely a stone's throw to the east of the old Bethlehem Lunatic Asylum (now, perhaps fittingly, the Imperial War Museum), it also had an interesting neighbor for the first few decades of the nineteenth century: a large cylindrical shed used by Henry Aston Barker and his successors to paint new paintings for the Panorama in Leicester Square -- among them depictions of three Arctic expeditions: Franklin and Buchan in 1818, James Ross and James Clark Ross discovery of "Boothia" (1829-33), and James Clark Ross's search for Franklin (1848-49) -- it's the circular structure just to the southwest of Ely Place. This map, made circa 1800, shows that there was, originally, a row of small flats along the eastern side of Ely Place at the time. They seem likely to have been modest, townhouse-style flats; it would have been solidly respectable --- though somewhat cramped -- housing for John's wife Hannah and their six children. It was also within walking distance of John's employers.

These humble homes, alas, didn't stand for long; in the 1880's they were replaced by the West Square School for Boys, Girls, and Infants; its building still stands and is presently the Charlotte Sharman Elementary School. The building reduced Ely Place to more of an alleyway than a street; in 1934, after the land and buildings of the nearby asylum were purchased by Viscount Rothermere (then owner of the Daily Mail), the land on the opposite side of Ely Place was turned into a park named after his mother, Geraldine Mary Harmsworth. At around this time, it seems, the name of the street was changed to match, becoming Geraldine Street -- a name which the UK gazetteer tells me is unique in Britain. This image from Google Earth shows the view looking down Geraldine Street; the school building is on the left and the park is on the other side of the brick wall on the right.

I've already mentioned that John and Hannah's children were accomplished people -- several generations of them worked as engineers, with the exception of grandson Edward John Gregory, who became a noted painter. As to Hannah herself, she seems to have remained in the neighborhood, if not at the same address; in the 1870 census she appears to be living with her in-laws on South Street (modern Greenwich South Street) in Lambeth, but at her her death in 1873 she was apparently resident in the parish of St. Saviour's Southwark, a bit further north and closer to the river. I still hope to locate her grave, and will update this post if I do!

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Who was John Gregory? (Part 1 of 2)

As the news spreads around the world that John Gregory of HMS Erebus has become the first member of the Franklin expedition whose remains have been identified using DNA, many personal details about him have emerged. One them, or so it seems, was the fact that he married Hannah Wilson on the 14th of  April, 1823 at St. Michael's church in Ashton-under-Lyne, part of Manchester. And yet, the original record, now presented here thanks to parish sleuth Margaret Stanley, raises questions. For one, Hannah's name was originally recorded as "Ann," though in the top of the entry this has ben corrected. Second and more puzzling is the fact that neither John nor Hannah signed their name, instead making only a "mark" -- an "x" -- which generally in this context means the named person was illiterate. And yet, as we know from John's letter to Hannah sent back from the ships, he was at that time a literate man, one in fact with particularly neat and fine handwriting, a man who used words such as "circumference" and "jocosely." I find it nearly impossible to imagine that he was illiterate in 1823.

There are other possible reasons for the "x," however. Sometimes, if the minister simply assumed that the parties weren't literate, he may have instructed the bride and groom to simply "make a mark." Gregory, after all, was still a teenager, and since his and Hannah's first child was born a mere two months later, the circumstances of their appearance before the Curate may have not been particularly comfortable. Indeed, our best evidence that this John Gregory is the right one comes from the ages and dates of this children. As compiled by Juliette Pochelu (based on Margaret Stanley's researches), they were:

1. Edward, baptised June 15th 1823. Family resident in 'Town' 
2. Emanuel, baptised on August 21th 1825. Resident Stalybridge.
3. Frances, baptised June 17th 1827. Resident Stalybridge.
4. James, baptised on Decemer 20th 1829. Resident Stalybridge.
5. Rebecca, baptised September 23rd 1832. Resident : Town - so back in Ashton.
6. William, baptised October 12th 1834. Resident Manchester.
7. Eliza, baptised on July 9th 1837
8. John Jr., said to be 7 months old in the census, and the only one born at that address.

A ninth child, Frederick, was born on December 7, 1844 and baptized the following January; by the that time the family were living at Ely Place -- he was doubtless the baby John asked his wife to kiss! From the 1841 census, we can see that not all of these children were still living: Edward (18, though the census rounds this down to 15), Frances (13), James (11), William (6), and Eliza (4); Emmanuel and Rebecca died in childhood; the future fate of John Jr. is less certain.

We get a lively picture of this growing family, but some questions still remain. In the 1841 census, Hannah (once again, as she was in the marriage register, mis-recorded as Anna) is listed as 40 years of age and John as 35. Apparently, it was the practice of census takers then to round down to the nearest 5-year interval, which would explain Hannah being listed as 40 when she was probably 41. John, for the same reason, could have been any age shy of 40 and been listed as 35. We have her christening record from 1801, but with John, his name being far more common, we have a crowd of candidates. The most likely seems to be a man born in 1805 and christened at St. Michaels (not the later parish church of St. Michael and All Angels, but a small "chapel of ease" in Manchester); his parents were Ralph and Elizabeth.  According to research by Michael King Macdona, both Ralph and Elizabeth signed their names. There is also a candidate from 1798; his parents were Mary and Joseph, and his father's profession was given as "cordwainer" (shoemaker). 

And there are others: the noted historian of the non-officer classes of Franklin's men, Ralph Lloyd-Jones, has located a candidate born in 1790, although Stenton et., al. say they have a record of the death of that same person from 1791. Mr. Macdona has also located a candidate born in Eccles (on the other side of Manchester), baptized in January of 1802. In order, these candidates would give John Gregory an age in 1841 of 51, 43, 40, or 36; only the last of these matches the census record (and census records could be wrong, of course). 

By any measure, Mr. Gregory, who would have been at least 40 when the ships sailed, was among the older members of the expedition; Franklin was 59, and Crozier (the next oldest) 48; Osmer the Purser was 46; Thomas Blanky and James Reid, the Ice Masters were 45 and 44 respectively. One would think that, having already had a career as an engineer and a family, John Gregory would have left behind some more definite trace -- and in my next installment, I've more to tell! Certainly, though, he was well-remembered by his family, so much so that when his grandson, the artist and Royal Academician Edward John Gregory died in 1909, his grandfather's service in the Franklin expedition nearly as much space as the deceased himself!

UPDATE 5/24/21: Juliette has located a likely grave for the Eccles candidate, who I think we can now eliminate.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

The backstory of John Gregory's Skull

The news came this week that one of the skulls found at the site of the Schwatka reburial at Erebus Bay on King William Island has been identified using DNA as that of John Gregory, who served aboard HMS Erebus as an engineer; the story has reverberated around the world, and rightly so. His are the very first human remains to be identified using DNA by a team led by Dr. Doug Stenton, which has been able to extract DNA from dozens of bones in their work over the past decade, but had never found a match -- until now.

And yet one thing that hasn't been widely reported is that this skull, catalogued as "cranium #80," was actually not discovered recently -- indeed, though its wasn't brought back from stony shores of Erebus Bay until 2013,  it had first been spotted by Barry Ranford twenty years earlier. It's the same skull that he showed to the CBC's Carol Off when she was there for a short television documentary in 1995 (you can watch her original story here)

How can I be so sure? Well, Andrew Gregg, who was the cameraman on that occasion, also took a number of still photos, including this one:

Photograph © 1994 Andrew Gregg

As one can see, this skull -- when rotated to an upright position as I've done in the first image above, is an exact match for Keenleyside, Stenton, and Park's "cranium #80," the same now known to be Gregory's. The indentations associated with the missing teeth are identical, and so is the shape of the distinctive injury to the right maxilla. You can even see the small circular dot or indentation just above where the nasal bones meet the frontal bone.

The other skull, the one atop the reburial, had grown quite mossy, as can be seen in another of Gregg's photos, quite a different situation from its bleach-white brother:

© 1994 Andrew Gregg

In 1997, the two crania on the surface, along with a nearby femur, were placed in a metal box for protection and cached on the site in a new cairn, by Ranford's friend John Harrington. Ranford himself had committed suicide the previous autumn, but Harrington was to return on at least six more occasions, continuing the search for Franklin remains that his late colleague had begun. A few years ago, John and I attended a lecture by Diana Trepkov, who did facial reconstructions of this and the other skulls found nearby. "Let's go have a look at an old friend," I'd suggested to him.

Back in 1993, when Ranford first came upon the skull, he was nearing the end of a long trek down the western coast of King William Island. His travelling companion had become so sick that he'd had to haul him along in the wheeled garden cart they'd brought for supplies, and time was growing short. At first, he'd thought it was a plastic bleach bottle, it was so white, but on coming closer he realized his error. It was to be a fateful discovery.