We kniw very little about our early family histories, other than what we can glean from records. From these, we have to try to piece together some sort of story of their life. Some records are too-the-point, others sketchy – but very occasionally they can be gems that give us very intimate glimpses into who they were. My Great Grand Uncle, Henry Moorsam Pickhills, is one such. He lived for a very short 25 years, yet I feel I know him well.
Henry was born in Halifax, Yorkshire in 1840, just in time to be included in the very first census held in England. The second-born son of Rickinson Pickhills & Elizabeth Appleyard, he was given his Great Grandmothers maiden name – Moorsom – as a middle name. Apart from being included in the 1851 census, where he resided in Manningham, Yorkshire along with two additions to the family – Catherine, and Charles Edward, this is all we know of his first ten years of life.
We hear nothing more about him until 14 October, 1847, when he volunteered for service with the Admiralty. Getting Henry’s Admiralty papers was a true find for several reasons – it gives us a description of him,, tells us his ranking and ship, who the captain was – and a statutoty declaration from Rickinson & Elizabeth, written in Rickinson’s hand, giving him permission to join, Henry being only 16 years-old at the time.
We know from this record of 3 pages that he enlisted on HMS Hastings. He was born on the 19 December 1940. He was 5’43/4″ tall, with a fresh complexion, light hair, and blue eyes. He has a scar on his left temple. His ranking is Boy, 2nd Class, and he has joined for 10 years from the age of 18. The actual Boy Certificate is signed by Rickinson, Henry, the Captain and 2 medical officers.The statutory declaration gives the Captains name as Captain Mends (William Robert, as per research). It tells us, rather unnecessarily, that at that time the ship was lying at Rock Ferry near Liverpool. Rickinson had mistakenly given Henry’s birth year as 1842. Henry was born at The Fold, in Northowram (Yorkshire). Rickinson goes into quite a starement in legalese towards the end of the declaration. Was he showing off? As an Articled Clerk training to be an Attorney did he want the readers of the declaration to know that he was a learned man? The reasoning is unknown, though it seems a quite unnecessary addition to the statement.
Our next encounter with Henry is on the 19 December 1858, in the UK Royal Navy Registers of Seaman’s Service, where he is noted on the Hastings.
We next hear of Henry at the 1861 census, where he is counted amongst those “at sea”.
We finally encounter Henry on the 8th April 1866. He had died onboard the SV Aracan, from Cholera, at Calcutta, Bengal. He was buried on the 9th October 1866 in Calcutta. £3/13/1 is owing to the family. Other goods sold. He was 25 years-old.
- Captain William Robert Mends GCB (27 February 1812 – 26 June 1897), was a British admiral of the Royal Navy, son of Admiral William Bowen Mends and nephew of Captain Robert Mends. William Mends was born at Plymouth into a naval family. He married Melita, daughter of Dr Joseph Stilon R.N. on 6 January 1839. From 3 April 1857 to 1 February 1860 he was captain of HMS Hastings on Coast Guard service. He moved to take command of HMS Majestic on 1 February 1860 when she replaced Hastings on coast guard service and was then appointed deputy controller general of the coast-guard in 1861. He spent May 1862 to February 1883 as Director of Transport at the Admiralty. Mends retired at the rank of rear-admiral on 1 January 1869, was promoted to vice-admiral on 1 January 1874 and then a full admiral on 15 June 1879.
- HMS Hastings was a 74-gun third rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy. She was built in Calcutta for the Honourable East India Company, but the Royal Navy purchased her in 1819. The Navy sold her in 1886. Hastings was built of the highest quality “saul”, “sissoo”, “Pegue”, and “Java” teak wood, following Sir Robert Seppings’s principles, which resulted in a vessel both longitudinal and transverse support. Her construction cost Sicca ruppees (Sa.Rs.) 8,71,406 (£108,938), which the merchants of Calcutta and other patriotic individuals subscribed via shares. The full cost of getting her ready for sea was Sa.Rs. 8,71,406 (£116,375). Captain John Hayes sailed Hastings from Calcutta on 28 March 1818. She reached Madras on 13 April, and Port Louis on 2 July. From there she reached St Helena on 15 September, and arrived at The Downs on 3 November. The Ship’s figurehead is now on display at the Merseyside Maritime Museum.
- SV Aracan; nationality: British; purpose: transport; type: fully rigged ship; propulsion: sailing ship; date built: 1854; tonnage: 864 grt; dimensions: 56.8 x 9.8 x 6.6 m; rigging: 3 masts full rigged; IMO/Off. no.: 1080; call sign: HGMW H G M W; about the loss cause lost: collision; date lost: 09/03/1874; casualties: 0; builder: Whitehaven Shipbuilding Co. Ltd., Whitehaven; owner: Brocklebank T. & J. Ltd. – Thomas & John; captain: Charles Hartwood.
- The Brocklebank family who owned the Aracan that traded between England, India and China from the opening of Chinese ports in 1858. She was sunk in collision with the SS American at 10 p.m. on 9th March 1874, 16 miles off Portland Bill, England, with 116 men on board. All survived and were taken on board the SS Syria that was being towed by the American on a 0.25 mile long hawser. I still have a presentation case containing two Worcester dishes, as was given to 1st class passengers, and a copy of the newspaper articles about the accident and the subsequent court cases that found the captain of the American solely to blame.The Aracan was for many years known as the unknown vessel as it took 18 years after the wreck was found in 1996 by diver Grahame Knott of Weymouth. The wreck is now a prime dive site and attracts many divers. Unfortunately it sits in the middle of a military bombing range and can only be accessed during cease-fire periods.
Photo curtesy of Jonathan Clarke-Irons
- Rock Ferry is an area of Birkenhead on the Wirral Peninsula, England. Administratively it is a ward of the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral. Before local government reorganisation on 1 April 1974, it was part of the county of Cheshire. At the 2001 Census, the population of Rock Ferry was 13,676 (6,444 males, 7,232 females), increasing to 14,298 (6870 males, 7,428 females) at the Census 2011.. In the 17th century Derby House, an occasional seat of the Minshull family, covered most of the grounds covered by present-day Rock Ferry. Thomas Oakshott, Mayor of Liverpool, lived there in the 19th century. The house, located on Rock Lane West close to the New Chester Road, was demolished in the early 20th century. Residential building did not really happen until the early part of the 19th century, the rise of the ferry and the railway, and the establishment of the Royal Rock Hotel and bath house in 1836. Between then and 1870, the area received an influx of luxurious housing, the villas of Rock Park and many other large houses around the Old Chester Road making Rock Ferry one of the most desirable addresses in the North West. In the later part of the 19th century, Rock Ferry expanded due to the need to house the increasing population of workers, especially at Birkenhead’s Cammell Laird shipyard. By 1901, the population stood at 2,971. In 1910, the Olympian Gardens were opened adjacent to the Royal Rock Hotel. These pleasure gardens were considered a great attraction and customers travelled from the whole of Wirral and, using the nearby ferry terminal, from Liverpool. The gardens hosted classical piano concerts and also slapstick comedy shows, with performers including Arthur Askey and Tommy Handley. At times the gardens held a prestige similar to the more famous Vauxhall Gardens in London. Shows were held in a large tent set amongst the trees and shrubs of land owned by Charles Boult. The gardens closed in the late 1920s after Mr Boult’s death. The decline of local industries in the 1950s took its toll. Many of the splendid buildings were dilapidated and unrestored. This decline was reflected in the loss of the Royal Rock Hotel, as well as many of the shops in the Old Chester Road and Bedford Road; whereas before Bedford Road had supported a wine merchant, a jeweller, two tailors, three banks, and two bookshops, most shops stood vacant. Large-scale regeneration work in the 1990s, which involved the demolition or restoration of many such derelict properties, and the building of new housing, means that the area has improved considerably, although many buildings of considerable character have been lost.
Tim Alderman 2016