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Dear Reader #115

Dear Reader,

Published this week, The Olive Tree: Leaves, part three of my Spanish Civil War saga. This story focuses on Dr Martinez’s attempts to protect his daughter, Espe, from the advancing fascists, and journalist Bernie Miller’s efforts to smuggle pictures of fascist atrocities out of Spain.

More details here 👇

I’ve discovered a hairdresser in the family. In 1790, my 6 x great grandfather Thomas Meek was educating an apprentice while fashioning the hair of the wealthy ladies of Gloucester in the style of Marie Antoinette, pictured here in the same year, 1790.

Known for being straight-laced, especially in photographs, here a Victorian couple reveal a playful side to their nature.

The son of Thomas Thompson Dent and Dorothy Hornsby, my 3 x great grandfather Richard Davis Dent was born in Bowes, Yorkshire and baptised there on 19 August 1839. Along with his parents and four siblings six year old Richard set sail for New York on the Rappahanock, arriving on 24 June 1846 before making his way to Canada.

In Canada, Richard and his family settled in Halton County where he worked on his father’s farm. Richard remained on the farm until his early twenties when he decided to leave.

Leaving must have been a big decision for Richard because the farm was prosperous, he was living amongst family and this combination offered a degree of security. That said, two of his sisters had died shortly before he made his decision and maybe their passing was a factor.

Richard returned to Britain, to London’s Docklands, where he found employment on the docks and on ships that were looking for crew members. Maybe his boyhood voyage on the Rappahanock hadsowed a seed for Richard. Not content to work within the confines of a farm he sought the freedom of the open ocean.

London Docks, 1845.

In London, Richard also found a wife, Sarah Ann Cottrell. Sarah Ann was born on 24 June 1848 in Bethnal Green, London to Matthew Cottrell and Sarah Gadsden. Matthew was a market porter while the Gadsden’s hailed from Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire. Matthew and Sarah married on 9 January 1843 in St Mary, Haggerston, after the birth of their first two daughters.

Between 1870 and 1882 Richard and Sarah produced six children including my direct ancestor Jane, born 10 September 1870 in Whitechapel. You can read Jane’s story here https://hannah-howe.com/ancestry/dent-yorkshire-canada-london/

In 1881 Richard and Sarah were living in Hackney with their children. Richard worked on the docks while Sarah was a housewife. Life for a docker was hard. Colonel G. R. Birt, the general manager at the Millwall Docks, gave evidence to a parliamentary committee, on the physical condition of the workers: 

“The poor fellows are miserably clad, scarcely with a boot on their foot, in a most miserable state … These are men who come to work in our docks who come on without having a bit of food in their stomachs, perhaps since the previous day; they have worked for an hour and have earned 5d.; their hunger will not allow them to continue: they take the 5d. in order that they may get food, perhaps the first food they have had for twenty-four hours.”

These conditions led to the notorious dock strike of August 1889, which resulted in a victory for the 100,000 strikers. That victory led to the establishment of trade unions amongst London’s dockers and is widely considered to be a milestone in the development of the British labour movement.

Manifesto of the South Side Central Strike Committee, issued during the strike.

With pay and conditions at the docks poor, Richard found employment on a merchant ship, the Stadacona, a name associated with a sixteenth century Iroquoian village located near Quebec City. 

Richard’s Stadacona was registered in Cardiff, Wales although a ship of the same name was launched by the Canadian navy in 1899. Thirty-five year old Charles Stocker mastered the Stadacona and with a crew of nineteen, including Richard, he set sail from Pensacola, Florida heading for Cardiff. Sadly, the Stadacona never arrived. On 13 March 1883 a shipping register recorded that the ship foundered, location unknown. and that all hands were lost.

Stadacona, 1899 version.

In the 1800s icebergs from Canada and Antarctica drifted into the waters off Florida, and it’s possible that the Stadacona stuck one of them. Equally, a storm might have caused the disaster. Whatever the reason, the sinking of the Stadacona must have been a horrific scene.

Richard’s tragic fate calls to mind this beautiful song by Mark Knopfler, ‘The Dream Of The Drowned Submariner’.

Lyrics: We run along easy at periscope depth

 Sun dappling through clear water

 So went the dream of the drowned submariner

 Far away from the slaughter

Your hair is a strawflower that sings in the sun

 My darling, my beautiful daughter

 So went the dream of the drowned submariner

 Cast away on the water

 From down in the vault, down in the grave

 Reaching up to the light on the waves

 So she did run to him over the grass

 She fell in his arms and he caught her

 So went the dream of the drowned submariner

 Far away on the water

 Far away on the water

A widow, Sarah Ann faced the daunting prospect of keeping her family fed and housed. The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 stated that widows were entitled to outdoor relief, meaning that they could receive assistance from outside the workhouse in the form of money, medical services, food, coal, and/or clothes. However, this assistance only lasted for the first six months of their bereavement.

In 1891 Sarah Ann was ‘living on her own means’, which suggests that she might have received a pension. More likely, her family were supporting her. Her son, Arthur Davis Dent, was living with his mother and he had secured a good job as a market porter at Billingsgate. 

When Arthur married, Sarah Ann lived with her father, Matthew Cottrell, an eighty-four year old widower. Sarah Ann supported herself and her father through employment as a charwoman, the Victorian name for a part-time domestic servant. This might sound like degrading work, and in some instances it was, but from my knowledge of elderly relatives, some of whom were charwomen, pride was often involved; to them, doing a good job was important, and they held their own in terms of their social standing.

London street dealer, 1877.

In 1911 Sarah Ann’s lived with her son Arthur, at thirty-eight already five years a widower, and his four children, aged six to fourteen. Obviously, she took on the mother’s role for these children. That task complete, Sarah Ann moved to West Ham in London. She died there during the summer of 1934 aged eight-six.

Although I have no letters to prove that the Dents in Canada corresponded with the Dents in London, it’s natural to assume that they did. And despite the fate that befell Richard, two of his children decided to make a life for themselves in Canada. On 27 September 1896 twenty year old Eliza Dent arrived in Philadelphia bound for Ontario. What a journey. What an adventure. Two years later she married Francis Gowan, originally from Ireland, and the couple produced three sons. They farmed land in Nottawasaga, Simcoe North, Ontario. Eliza died there in 1963, aged eight-seven.

Eliza’s brother, Robert Dent, arrived in Ontario in the early 1900s. He married Edith Eugenia Mollett. More about Robert next time.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

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