Saturday, 29 November 2014

Tragedy after tragedy

The Radcliffe family are one of my most interesting and charismatic lineages, but among the tales of court battles fought and surprising wealth are stories of devastating tragedy. From reports of road fatalities and spousal assault, to charges of fraud and fratricide, this family has acted as a magnate for misfortune. It is no wonder the bloodline was said to have been cursed.

The most recent tragedy found in relation to the family was discovered only last Sunday morning, when Jacqi Stevens, author of A Family Tapestry, read last week’s post on Peter Radcliffe and kindly drew my attention to the California Digital Newspaper Collection. Jacqi thought I might find some snippets from Peter’s daily life recounted in these old newspapers and she was not wrong.

Inputting the words ‘Radcliffe’ and ‘Melvin’ in the search field, I hoped to find mention of Peter Radcliffe’s marriage to Fannie Melvin in August 1903, but no such announcement was found.  Instead, the first article listed was entitled ‘Maniac shoots wife and child’.  You can imagine my astonishment when it turned out that this disturbing account actually referenced my ‘cousin’ Peter and his wife.

Branch Insane Asylum, Napa, California
Wood engraving by F. Wyatt, published in The Builder, London, 30 August 1873*

Peter’s father-in-law, Nathaniel Melvin, a retired foreman at the Mare Island navy yard, was mentally ill. On the morning of October 6, 1905, he was at home in Vellejo, California, on temporary release from the Napa Insane Asylum, when the unthinkable happened. Fannie Radcliffe, accompanied by her mother, was returning inside, having just waved good-bye to Peter who was heading back to work as a boatswain in the US Navy, when her father, still wearing his night-gown, and wielding a revolver, knife and baseball bat, appeared at the door and without warning shot her mother twice. Fannie pleaded with him for mercy, but he merely turned on her, cursed, and fired his last bullet, hitting her just below the heart. He then returned inside and threatened to kill anyone who followed him. The poor man believed his family were trying to take his life.

Neighbours and police officers were on the scene within minutes. They followed Nathaniel inside and found him barricaded in his room, trying to cut his own throat with a bread knife. Luckily, the knife was blunt and the sight of the blood brought him to his senses. After a three-hour stand-off, Nathaniel was finally arrested, placed in a straight-jacket and brought back to hospital. Only a week before the tragedy, Fannie’s brother had written to the hospital asking for the permanent discharge of their father. This request was still pending at the time of the incident, but I’d say it was later denied.

While initially it was not expected that Mrs. Melvin would survive, both women recovered from their ordeal, physically, at least.  

Sources: San Francisco Call, 7 October 1905, 10 October 1905; Los Angeles Herald, 7 October 1905. * Image credit: Wellcome Library, London  under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0.

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© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy

Friday, 21 November 2014

Friday’s Faces from the Past: Peter Edward Radcliffe

Peter Edward Radcliffe (c.1863 – 1928)

Peter Edward Radcliffe is one of the more interesting Aussie ‘cousins’ identified during the course of my genealogy research.  He was the son of Thomas Radcliffe from Malahide, Co. Dublin and his wife Mary Minogue, and an elder brother of Tom and Joe, discussed previously in the post entitled ‘Murder in the family?’ Peter was born about 1863-64, presumably in Melbourne. He shared his name with his paternal grandfather  my fourth-great-grandfather – Peter Radcliffe from Malahide.

The first time I came across my first cousin four times removed was in an obituary for his father, Thomas Radcliffe, published in a Melbourne newspaper in June 1905. It listed ‘Peter Radcliffe, United States Navy’ as his eldest son.[1] Mary (Minogue) Radcliffe’s obituary, nearly twenty years later, claims she was the mother of ‘Lieutenant P. E. Radcliffe, (United States Navy)’.[2] When Peter’s death was registered with the authorities in Victoria, his parent’s names were again confirmed as Thos Radcliffe and Mary Minogue.[3] Thomas and Mary had married in Victoria in 1863, but, no record of the registration of Peter’s birth has so far been located.[4] 

Peter was, it might be said, a spirited child and it would seem he drove his parents to the end of their tether. On 13 February 1878, when he was thirteen years old, his father even went so far as to have him arrested and committed to a reformatory school. Peter, a native of Melbourne, was declared ‘uncontrollable’. His father Thomas was described as being ‘well off’, a plasterer and a publican by trade. Peter was to serve his sentence, with other ‘criminal and neglected children’ until he was sixteen years old, nearly three years later. This must have come as a major shock to the young teenager. However, after just one month, on 13 March 1878, he was discharged back into the care of his father, more than likely on the understanding that he behaved himself, or be recommitted. Talk about tough love![5]

On 9 April 1887, the steamship ‘Catalonia’ docked in Boston harbour, in the United States, having taken on passengers at Liverpool, England and Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland. Peter Radcliffe, a twenty-four year old seaman from Australia was named in the passenger list.[6] Six months later, on 7 September 1887, Peter Edward Radcliffe, a mariner living in Philadelphia, joined the US Navy.[7] He gave his place of birth as San Francisco and his age as twenty-three years and nine months – making him a year older than the limited earlier evidence suggested. From then on, he consistently placed his birth in California, on or about 13 November 1863. But San Francisco! In 1863, his parents were in Melbourne, more than 7,500 miles away. At first, I thought there may have been two Peter Radcliffe's in the US Navy, but now, I am convinced all references are to my cousin. Claiming Californian birth may have been his attempt to bypass US citizenship controls or perhaps it was necessary for his promotion prospects in the Navy.

On 14 August 1903, when Peter E. Radcliffe was forty, he applied for a licence to marry Fannie A. Melvin, in the county of Solana, California.[8] They lived together in the San Francisco Bay area for twenty years and Peter continued his career as a boatswain in the US Navy. The couple do not appear to have had any children.[9] In 1913, they took a trip back to Australia, presumably to visit Peter’s mother and brother in Melbourne.[10] Sadly, ten years later, in July 1923, Fannie died of cancer.[11]

The following month Peter applied for his first US passport, with a view to spending a year in Australia. In his application, he ‘solemnly swore’ to a whole bunch of what I can only believe were untruths.[12]  Unfortunately, this casts doubts on the accuracy of all the fascinating information contained in his application. Peter produced no actual proof that he was born in the US, relying on the fact that he was a commissioned officer in the Navy as evidence of citizenship. He claimed his father came to the US from Ireland in 1847 and resided there continuously until 1873. This was certainly not entirely true; his father was documented as being in Melbourne, at least from 1863 onward and his obituary suggests he arrived in the town about 1855.

Peter E. Radcliffe, US passport application, 1924

Peter also swore he had never resided outside of the United States, except as an officer in the US Navy, undoubtedly, another untruth as there is documented evidence confirming him a native of Melbourne in 1878.

So, was his father Thomas ever in New York or California?

This is a most exciting prospect. Thomas arrived in Australia around the same time as his elder brother John, my third-great-grandfather, probably in the late 1850s. John Radcliffe married a woman named Mary, who gave birth to my great-great-grandmother, Anne, about 1849. Neither their marriage record, Anne’s birth/baptism record, nor Mary’s maiden name, have been found and apart from a potential sighting in Liverpool at the time of the 1851 census, they could have been anywhere. New York and California are new places to search – if only I could believe a word of Peter’s story.

During the Christmas holidays, in Australia visiting his brother, Peter Radcliffe, the retired lieutenant of the US Navy, was tragically killed in a car crash. The accident took place near Gisborne, on 16 January 1928, on route from his brother’s hotel in Baringhup to Melbourne. The car, in which he was a passenger, suffered a tyre blowout, skidded across the road, struck an embankment and overturned. Peter died instantly.[13]

In April 1929, the reading of his will caused some wonderment in the Australian press, specifically the clause: ‘I declare I have no children, but in the event that any claim to be such, I hereby give and devise to them, and each of them, the sum of one dollar.’[14] I wonder if Peter had any other Radcliffe relatives at the time of his death. As far as I know, his brother Tom was the very last of our Radcliffe lineage and he died in 1932.[15]  

Peter E. Radcliffe, Reading of will, 1929


[1] The Argus, 26 June 1905, p. 1, Trove.
[2] The Argus, 9 March 1925, p. 1, Trove.
[3] Australia Death Index, 1787-1985, Peter Edwd Radcliffe, 1928, Ancestry.
[4] Australia Marriage Index 1788-1950, Thomas Radcliffe, 1863, Ancestry.
[5] Ward Registers, no. 12, p. 384, Radcliffe, Peter [reg. no. 10622], Public Records Office Victoria
[6] Boston, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1820-1954, index and images, Peter Radcliffe, 1887, Ancestry.
[7] US Naval Enlistment Rendezvous, 1855-1891, index and images, Peter Edward Radcliffe, 1887, FamilySearch.
[8] California, County Marriages, 1850-1952, index and images, Peter E Radeliffe and Fannie A Melvin, 1903, FamilySearch.
[9] US Census, 1920," index and images, Peter E Radcliffe, FamilySearch.
[10] California, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1882-1957, index and images, Peter Radcliffe, 1913, Ancestry.
[11] California, Death Index, 1905-1939, images, Fannie Radcliffe, 1923, FamilySearch.
[12] US Passport Applications, 1795-1925, index and images, Peter Edward Radcliff, 1923, Ancestry.
[13] Chronicle, 21 January 1928, p. 49, Trove.
[14] Mirror, 20 April 1929, p.14, Trove.
[15] Australia Death Index, 1787-1985, Thos Ernt Radcliffe, 1932, Ancestry.
Photograph of Peter E. Radcliffe from 1924 passport application form.

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© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Abbey Graveyard at Malahide Castle, Co. Dublin

Anne (Sarsfield) Radcliffe (c.1799 – 1866), Malahide
Anne Radcliffe (c.1799 – 1866)
Interred, Abbey Graveyard, Malahide Castle

Many of my ancestors are, no doubt, buried in the Abbey Graveyard adjacent Malahide Castle.  There was never a sexton attached to the graveyard and the location of burial records, if indeed records were ever kept is unknown.  In 1877, the Talbots obtained a court order limiting the number of burials to eight in any one year. The graveyard is now closed completely and its gates are locked, so public access is difficult. However, I remember from my childhood that there were two headstones for my Radcliffe ancestors still standing there.  

Michael Egan transcribed the memorial inscriptions on the headstones in the graveyard and published them in his Memorials of the Dead, in 1996. My fourth-great-grandmother, Anne (Sarsfield) Radcliffe was interred there in 1866 and her son, my third-great-granduncle, Christopher Radcliffe followed in 1872.

Michael Egan’s transcription of Anne’s headstone reads:
‘IHS | Erected | by | Peter Radcliffe | of Malahide | in memory of his beloved wife | Anne, who departed this life | Decr 18th 1866 | Aged 67 years.’

Egan also describes the condition of her headstone, in the mid-1990s. It was made of limestone with a granite base, in good condition, but lying on its face. At the top, above the inscription, there was a Maltese cross on the IHS, with a ‘large sunburst’.

Christopher’s headstone was transcribed as:
‘Erected | by | Mrs. Mary Radcliffe, | of Malahide, | in memory of her beloved husband | Mr. Christopher Radcliffe, | who departed this life | on the 15th day of March 1872, | aged 31 years. | May he rest in peace. Amen. | Not gone from memory, nor from love, | But gone to our father's home above.’

Egan’s mid-1990s description of the condition of his headstone advises it was made of limestone and was in fair condition, but also fallen forward. Above the transcription was an ‘elaborate equal-armed cross’ and shamrocks.

Chances are that my fourth-great-grandfather, Peter Radcliffe, was also interred in the Abbey graveyard. He died on St. Patrick’s Day, 17 March 1887, aged about 90 years. Even though his name was never added to the headstone, I’d like to think he shares a grave with his wife, Anne. He fought in the courts for the right to be buried with her, so it would certainly have meant a lot to him.


Source: Michael Egan, Memorials of the Dead, no. 9, 1996, p. 153.

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© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy


Saturday, 8 November 2014

In Remembrance: Philip Camillus Wynne

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
  Loved and were loved, and now we lie 

In Flanders fields[1]

Last November, I introduced you to my Granda Kevin’s first cousin, Philip Camillus Wynne, who was born in Dundalk in May 1895. This Remembrance Day, I can tell you some more about our family’s WWI soldier and even show you his photo. It seems that he preferred the name Camillus to Philip. He enlisted in the British Army during World War I, joining the Royal Irish Rifles, and fought and died during the Battle of Bellewaarde, in Flanders, in June 1915. This photograph shows him proudly wearing his uniform, before heading to the front and was presumably treasured by his family when he did not return.

Philip Camillus Wynne (1895-1915)

Earlier this year, the National Archives of Ireland published his last will, albeit with his name misstated as Cornelius, not Camillus, in their index. The will reads:

WILL 15706
‘In the event of my death
I give the whole of my
property and effects to Mrs
Francis Stowell of,
St Mary's Road,
Dundalk,
Co. Louth,
Ireland,
Jan. 30/1/15,
Signature Rifleman C. Wynne,
15706,
2nd Battalion,
R.I.R.’ [2]

Camillus wrote this will on the designated page of his army-issued pocket book, on 30 January 1915, less than six months before he died. He left all his possessions to his elder sister, Mrs. Frances (Wynne) Stowell, who had married the master mariner, Captain Robert Stowell, in 1908. Frances was the third child and second daughter of John Wynne and Margaret Armstrong/Ward, born in Dundalk in June 1881.

Camillus probably had no property of any value when he was killed. His whole estate may well have consisted of the eight pounds, thirteen shillings and six pence due to him by the Army in unpaid salary. When the War Office received a copy of the will in 1918, his salary had already been paid to his father, John. John Wynne, then a widower aged 67 years, was surprisingly found residing in Glasgow, Scotland, with a Mrs Walters. The letter the War Office then sent to Frances Stowell, to inform her of her entitlement, still survives in family-papers today.[3] 

Mrs. Francis (Wynne) Stowell, Dundalk
1918, Letter from War Office to Mrs. Francis Stowell

See also: Philip Camillus Wynne - Killed in Action in World War I

[1] John McCrea, In Flanders fields, and other poems, New York, 1919, p. 3.
[2] Soldiers Wills, [Camillus] Wynne, National Archives of Ireland.
[3] Photograph of Camillus Wynne and Letter from the War Office to Mrs Francs Stowell, courtesy of Gabrielle, a Stowell descendant.  

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© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday, 1 November 2014

The O’Connell Monument Fund and our ancestors

Peter Radcliffe, Contribution to the O’Connell monument, Dublin
Daniel O’Connell Monument, 
O’Connell Street, Dublin
In January 1863, Peter Ratcliffe of Malahide contributed two shillings towards the erection of the O’Connell monument in Dublin, and his name was printed in the newspaper.  This was probably my great-great-great-great-grandfather, born about 1797. He lived in Yellow Walls, Malahide, Co. Dublin until his death in 1887. Else, it was his son, also Peter (1833-1891), who was my great-great-great-granduncle. 

The public appeal for funds to erect a memorial to Daniel O'Connell, the Catholic Emancipator, was first advertised in the Freeman’s Journal in September 1862. Monies were collected from all over Ireland, as well as abroad. As was typical of the Victorian era, they even wrote a report about their endeavours. The Report of the O'Connell Monument Committee, was published in 1888 and is now freely available online.

A subsequent search of the Report for the period in early January 1863 revealed that Peter's two shilling donation was recorded there too, with his surname given as the more usual nineteenth-century variant, Radcliffe. The report provides a complete history of the origin and erection of the O’Connell monument in Dublin’s O’Connell Street. It also contains an appendix, listing, by location, all the subscribers to the monument fund, in chronological order, from September 1862 to July 1880. Thousands of names, addresses and sometimes occupations are listed  – a true Irish census substitute.

Malahide Subscriptions, O’Connell Monument Fund
The Report of the O'Connell Monument Committee (Dublin, 1888)

Names of the Malahide Subscribers to the O’Connell Memorial Fund, January 1863:
M. S. Hussey, Esq.; Rev. J. Gaffney, C.C.; Mrs. Davis; Mr. Thomas Gaffney; Mr. J. Archibald; Mr. John Gaffney; Mr. John Kindelan; Mr. Pat Gaffney; Captain Begg; Mr. Thomas Reynolds; Mr. Joseph Seaver; Mr. John Tierney; Mr. James Cave; Mr. Walter Cave; Mr. Peter Radcliffe; Mr. Richard Owens.

So, next time you walk by the O'Connell statue, you can think of Peter Radcliffe and our other ancestors from Malahide, whose contributions are included in the small sums amount of eighteen shillings and ten pence, and all our ancestors from across Ireland who contributed their pennies towards the cost of the monument. 

Sources: Freeman’s Journal, 3 January 1863; John O’Hanlon, The Report of the O'Connell Monument Committee (Dublin, 1888), p. 70.

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© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy