Monday, June 21, 2021

Found! John Gregory

After a considerable amount of diligent searching over several weeks, I'm very happy to be able to say that John Gregory's baptismal record -- as well as the marriage record of his parents -- have been found! The christening record was located first, with the assistance of Juliette Pochelu and Margaret Stanley. Margaret, in particular, did the valuable work of checking through all the records of 1805/1806 to be sure there were no other John Gregorys about. The result of this work was to identify a John Gregory born on 22 September 1806; his parents were listed William and Fanny (the latter a nickname for Frances). Everything matched, but there was one puzzle: the christening took place at St. Michael's, a "chapel of ease" (a place where more convenient church ceremonies could be held for those who lived at some distance from their parish church) -- and it was located in the district of Angel Meadows, the city's most notorious and squalid slum!

It was hard to imagine our John Gregory having grown up in such adverse circumstances, but the answer to the mystery was hinted at when Juliette sent me John Gregory's parents' marriage record; it turned out they had been married at Manchester Cathedral. Then, just recently, local family history expert Gay Oliver found records of William Gregory listed as a grocer on Chapel Street in Salford, a respectable middle-class trade in a respectable mercantile town. Since he signed his own name in the register, he was certainly literate, and doubtless his son learned to read and write as well.

Rev. Joshua Brookes
But why marry in the Cathedral and then have your firstborn baptized in a poorer neighborhood? The answer lies in Manchester's unusual ecclesiastical arrangement: while people could have baptisms at any church, weddings could only be held at the Cathedral -- specifically its Collegiate Church -- since it was the only official parish church of the entire city of Manchester and environs. The Wardens and Fellows of the Collegiate Church jealously guarded their sole right to conduct marriages, along with their fee of three shillings sixpence. This of course meant an extraordinary number of marriages, which were often conducted in "batches," often including as many as a dozen couples; William and Fanny were in a more modest batch of four. Presiding over all these ceremonies was the well-known divine Joshua "Jotty" Brookes, who had the duty from 1790 to his death in 1821; of him it was said that he conducted more marriages than any cleric in the history of England before or since!

All of which explains why William and Fanny were married at the Collegiate Church, but opted to have their son christened at a "chapel of ease," where the fees would be far more modest. Salford in their day was a growing, prosperous town -- it has since been entirely absorbed by the City of Manchester -- and Chapel Street was more or less its main thoroughfare. 

On a whim, recalling that my own ancestor -- James Clarke, my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather -- was born in Salford in 1804, two years before John Gregory -- I looked up his and his siblings' records. To my astonishment, I found that their address was also Chapel Street! It's a long street, of course, but it's wonderful to imagine my ancestor and John, only two years apart, passing each other on the pavement and perhaps knowing one another. James Clarke even had a sister, Frances, who was known as "Fanny," and also named after his mother -- and indeed we know that, John Gregory honored his mother's name by giving it to a daughter. And to add icing to the cake, James's parents were married in the same church as the Gregorys, and also by Brookes!

The Arctic shores of King William Island, where John Gregory's skull lay for more than a century and a half, are very far indeed from the streets of Salford -- but back in the early 1800's, my ancestor and he were almost neighbors. It certainly makes his death feel a bit more personal to me.


  1. Hi Mr. Potter,
    I just wanted to say thank you for all you do. I know this particular of your blog posts is not necessarily the most relevant in which to post my message, but all the same, I figured it would be okay.

    As a kid in the 80's, I was enamored of the Shackleton expedition. Long before I was old enough to understand everything involved, I read Endurance, and it has led me to a lifelong love of "real life adventures."

    I've always loved the mystery surrounding the Franklin expedition. Something about it enthralls me. Really, any polar mysteries does the trick for me - my favorite horror (The Thing) and favorite RPG games almost all involve the arctic regions.'

    I've only recently decided I want to pursue a more scholarly discussion and affair with Franklin, and have found your site and been reading past posts of yours to catch up on the latest information (I read Woodman's book a a few years ago, but as it was before the finding of Erebus & Terror, I'm very behind on some things), and this site has been a blessing.

    Anyway, no real point to this other than to again say thank you, and you've found yourself a lifelong reader (your book is currently on my stand to read next).


    (And I apologize if this ends up coming through twice now, my browser didn't like the blogger verification process and I had to re-do this in a second browser)

    1. Hi Brandon, many thanks for your comments and your kind words. Shackleton and Franklin buffs have a lot in common, and several times I've been to the annual Shackleton Autumn School where they've welcomed me and others whose work is in the Arctic rather than the Antarctic. And of course, as the song goes, Shackleton "never lost a man," while Franklin lost all his men). I'm sorry for the delay in approving your comment; Blogger's notification system has changed lately, and I'd stopped receiving alerts!

  2. Hi Brandon - I volunteer as a transciber of grave stones at Nunhead cemetery in south London. Today I came upon a head stone which intrigued me - Sacred to the memory of John Gregory, chief engineer of H.M.S. Erebus, Capt. Sir John Franklin, which sailed on the fatal expedition to the North Pole in May 1845.
    Also of William Gregory, son of the above, who departed this life on 30th June 1854 aged 22 years. It also mentions two children, Louisa and Alica Hays who died in infancy and Alfred Hays who was perhaps older on his death. I wondered if you might be able to shed any light on why this memorial might be in Nunhead and if you know anything about his son William. A bit random I know but worth a try!
    Many thanks