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.

1 comment:

  1. Not uncommon for names to be misspelled in the Censuses. My GGM Amina had her name misspelled as the nickname Mena on the 1881 British Census. This misspelling followed her to the Gravensteins in the States.