The last chime faded away as Mary’s mind awoke. It was three O’clock in the afternoon of that sunny Sunday and the house, the street, the town were all asleep. Lying in her bed facing the large bay-window in her large semi-detached Victorian villa, Mary’s memories began to play…

They knew the men were coming. The reception had been weeks in the planning. When the cry (in truth they were coded bird-calls) went out that unrecognised boats were heading to the mouth of Loch Shell all moved to their positions. The men stood listlessly and languorously in small groups, in pairs or alone. The women, with babes in arms and infants at their skirts, approached the landing site. The official party was met in this manner and, when the women’s patience was exhausted, the Factor, the Sheriff and the would-be evictors were chased to their craft and sent back with their tails drooping bedraggled in the waters of the loch. Twenty year-old Mary had been one of those who had seen them off, but shortly after her turning twenty-one the party had returned and this time were met by none but those left to tend the crops.

The whole community had already embarked on their enforced exodus; roofs stripped of thatch and the precious timbers loaded onto boats, other boats held household chattels and a human cargo of the elderly and infirm. The droving parties had departed, taking the beasts to pastures new and, finally, the foot-party of walking women and children, with infants held breast-tight, turned and looked for one last time at the hills of Pairc and the remains of their loch-side homes. No fires, no roofs, the short walls with their grass-topped cavities lying-low within the landscape never again to resonate with the sound of human habitation.

Mary’s hand, beyond conscious control, closed tightly on the blanket and a tear formed in her eye.

Steinish. Her memory had jumped, taking the family in an instant to their new home. No familiar hills, no sight of the Shiant islands, no father. A husband. Children. Stornoway.

Life was never easy but she had chosen well. Malcolm was a quiet man, sober in his habits, respected by his adopted town but who only really came alive when he was at sea. The sea. It had given her grandfather his living burning kelp (and taken his sight in exchange), it had nearly taken one of her sons not once, but twice, and it was fitting that the man who’s photograph she held had been consigned to lie forever beneath its waves.

News of the first shipwreck, in 1890, had come with the arrival of the vessel’s owner at her door. Murdo had first been to tell Alex’s wife the news and had then hurried through the wind and rain to let his Master’s mother know that her son was safe, whilst the ship and its cargo had been smashed upon the rocks. Malcolm had merely said that, as a Harris man, he should have ignored his wife and piloted their son through the Sound of Harris and Mary silently thought that if that had been the case she could have been facing a double-tragedy that January evening. Alex came ashore at the spot where his grandfather had been born.

The clock ticked on.

A few years later she had given-up on trying to prevent the old man from adventuring with their son and so it was that news reached her in 1898 that Malcolm was no more. The trip to Ireland in December was bound to be difficult but the 76 year-old wasn’t going to let Alex face it without him. They had enjoyed several years of coastal trading together aboard the vessels that Alex had owned and the Crest had given good service ever since they collected her from Tobermory and had made Stornoway her home.

Two days into the voyage Malcolm’s health had started to give Alex concern and he decided to make for Oban to give his father a rest. In the Sound of Kerrera, at the Horseshoe Sound, Malcolm’s diseased heart gave its final beat on the 15th of December 1898. An inquest was held in Oban, the Master and Owner Alex had to wait both for it and the arrival of a crewman from Stornoway so it wasn’t until the end of the year that they were able to proceed to Belfast. Carrying Malcolm with them until, when Alex’s telescope revealed a glimpse of the hills of Harris on the horizon, his body was given to the sea.

Mary’s thumb gently stroked the image and a second tear began to form.

The clock was ticking beyond her hearing and her mind led her to 1903 and the second wreck. Crest. Alex. Kebock Head. Loch Shell. It was the 18th of April when she was lost, driven by the gale onto this isolated, cruel headland and the men had trudged through the night the four treacherous miles that led to the nearest lights. They were those of Orinsay, the place where Mary had been born and from which she had been driven just two months short of sixty years before.

The clock was ticking.

The Sun, lying low in the West and reflected by the wavelets of Bayhead, was casting ripples onto the curtains, the light gently caressing the lids of Mary’s eyes. The rippling became that of the waters of Loch Shell and the sound of children playing, of laughter and singing, reached Mary’s ears. The photograph slowly slipped from her fingers and was replaced by a familiar hand. She felt his grip and, as the clock reached twenty-past three on March the 22nd 1908, Mary knew that she was now reunited with Malcolm forever…

The people, places and events described are based upon fact but with embellishment.
Mary and Malcolm were my grandfather’s grandparents.
Documents 16-22 in the link below describe the Loch Shell clearances:

Commander Henry Charles Otter’s Host in 1851

I mentioned that Captain Otter and his wife were in Portsea visiting a General in the Royal Engineers.
The Roll of Honour site provides a photograph of the General’s memorial at All Saint’s Church, Crondall, Hampshire ( and the inscription reads:

IN 1793, 94 & 95
BORN 1776 DIED 1856
BORN 1815 DIED 1841
A remarkable career from the age of 17 to 35. The General’s 35 year-old son, Captain Thomas Francis Birch RN, was also present so there are plenty of reasons to speculate as to why the Otter’s were paying them a visit at this time. I cannot find any reference to Captain Birch’s involvement in the surveys of Scotland but he appears to have spent several years prior to 1851 serving in China and I have seen one mention of him regarding a chart of Shanghai.

What would George Thomas think…

…if he knew that in 2007 a survey that he had made in 1843/4 would be cited in an accident report?

If you click on the link and search for ‘Mastiff’ you will see the reference:

It is a reminder of how dangerous the seas remain and how much more dangerous they were in the days before men like Lieutenant Commander Thomas made charting the waters around our coasts their life’s work.

With him at the time were his son, Lieutenant FWL Thomas, and his future Son-in-Law, Surgeon James McBain.

The Bousfield/Thomas Family of London & Leith

This is a summary of the 12 members of these two families that came together in 1827 when the widower George Thomas and the widow Elizabeth Dingley were married. The wedding of only-child Frances Sarah Thomas Bousfield to eldest-child Frederick William Leopold Thomas in 1841 further strengthened the bond. Where a range of dates is given, or a ‘?’ shown, I have been unable to establish the event with certainty but I am reasonably confident that the two Thomas children for whom I can only find their Birth recorded died, probably in infancy, not least as their names were each used for a second time.

GEORGE THOMAS (b. 1780s?- d.1846?)
PRISCELLA FRIMBLY (b.? – d. 1825-27

GEORGE WILLIAM BOUSFIELD (b. 1798 – buried. 9 Mar 1823 St Peter, Frimley, Surrey)
ELIZABETH DINGLEY (b. 1798 – d. poss1852)

The Thomas’s had six children, the Bousfield’s just one, and only one grandchild.
All twelve people are listed here by the year of their Death:

George Howard Thomas b. 1816 d. ?
Ellen Dinah Thomas b. 1819 d. ?
PRISCELLA FRIMBLY b. ? d 1825-27
GEORGE THOMAS b 1780s d. 1846?
George Hurd Thomas b. 1820 d. 1848 Single
George Bousfield Thomas b1844 d 1850 Rose Cottage, Trinity, Leith
ELIZABETH DINGLEY b. 1798 d. 1852?
Ellen Sarah McBain (MS Thomas) b. 1825 d. 1877 North Leith
(James McBain b 1808 Kirriemuir d. 1879 North Leith) No children
Frederick William Leopold Thomas b. 1816 d. 1885 Rose Park, Trinity North Leith
Frances Sarah Thomas Beckett (MS Bousfield) b. 1821 d. 1902 Craighouse, Edinburgh
(m. 1st FWL Thomas m. 2nd James Flowers Beckett 1902, who had no children)
Georgiana Martha Thomas b. 1823 d. 1904 Newington, Edinburgh Single
(1901 28 Sciennes Road, Newington, Edinburgh)

It does seem remarkable to me that in less than 90 years both of these family lines had ended but as only three of the children married (and only one of these outside of the two the families) perhaps it is not altogether surprising. James McBain had been George Thomas’s Surgeon on HMS Mastiff and very likely with him when he died but, despite marrying into the family, he left no issue. Frances Sarah, when she remarried, chose a man she had known since early on in her many years living in Edinburgh but he too died childless. There are a couple of nieces that might prove a link to the present but otherwise Georgiana’s death in 1904 marked the end.

However, the work they left behind them in the form of pioneering hydrographic surveying, archaeological investigations and supporting the development of Harris Tweed, Stocking Knitting, the building of the Free Church at Tarbert and the Manish Victoria Cottage Hospital should ensure that their memories will live on…

Note: Summary of the seven children in order of their Birth:
George Howard Thomas1816-? No further record
Frederick W L Thomas 1816-1885 Married Frances
Ellen Dinah Thomas 1819-? No further record
George Hurd Thomas 1820-1848 Single
Frances Sarah Bousfield 1821-1902 Married Frederick
Georgiana Martha Thomas 1823-1904 Single
Ellen Sarah 1825-1877 Married James McBain – No children

Survey Ships of George & FWL Thomas

Here are some notes on four vessels intimately connected to the lives of George and FWL Thomas and their part in the surveying of the coasts of Scotland.:

HMS INVESTIGATOR 1811-1857 Survey Brig Armament 16 121 tons
1811 Commander George Thomas
1815 Frith of Forth Chart published
1821 In commission and employed on voyages of discovery and survey duties.
1825 10th November Whilst employed surveying the coast has been severely damaged in the gales which have swept the North Sea in recent days, her bulwarks being stove in, and her boats washed away, and it is feared that her tender has foundered with all hands.
1827 FWL Joins at the age of 10 or 11
1830 Shetlands as a Surveying Vessel
1835 January FWL passes Mate exam
1836 George Thomas and FWL Leave after 25 and 9 years service, respectively

HMS MASTIFF 1813-1851 Gun-Brig Armament 12 184 tons
1837 Commander George Thomas and Mate FWL Thomas join
1840 29th March Woolwich the Mastiff and the Fairy surveying vessels, and the Violet and Woodlark tenders, are to leave for their summer survey on the 7th of next month
1840 20th of November arrived Woolwich from survey duties at the Orkney Islands
1841 9th April Woolwich, will he paid to-morrow, and sail for the North Sea, to resume her surveying duties during the season.
1841 3rd July Mate J. A. St. Leger, Mastiff, promoted to Lieutenant
1841 August Mate & Assistant Surveyor FWL Thomas promoted to Lieutenant. It is not clear at what point he joined the accompanying tender Woodlark.
1841 4th September Mate E. J. B. Clarke (1834), of the Mastiff, promoted to Lieutenant.
1841 13th November Woolwich, arrived from the Orkney Islands, and remains here during the winter.
1841 27th November Acting Master Wells, of the Mastiff, promoted to Master.
1841 11th December Second Master —– Wells acting Master of the Mastiff, promoted to Master.
1841 17th December Assistant-Surgeon J. Macbean promoted to be Surgeon, and reappointed to Mastiff. James McBain was to later marry Ellen Sarah Thomas, George’s daughter and FWL’s sister.
1846 George Thomas dies aboard returning from Orkney Isles

WOODLARK 1821-1863 Survey Vessel’s Tender
1840 29th March Woolwich The Mastiff and the Fairy surveying vessels, and the Violet and Woodlark tenders, are to leave for their summer survey on the 7th of next month
1841 13th November Woolwich, arrived from the Orkney Islands, and remains here during the winter.
1845 Lieutenant FWL Thomas appointed as Master
1848 20th December Tender to Mastiff, survey vessel
1850 In Alloa, according to letters from FWL to Petrie regarding archaeology of Orkney Isles
1857 East Loch Tarbert Chart Lieutenant FWL Thomas
1860 January FWL promoted to Commander
1860 Tender to Fisgard, Guardship at Woolwich
1861 In Harris – Master James Sutherland from Orkney (Porcupine in Portree)

HMS PORCUPINE 1844-1883 Armament 3 382 tons Displacement 556 tons Paddle 285 hpi 132 hp
1845 Captain Otter Surveying West Coast of Scotland
1857 Sound of Harris Chart (FWL surveying for East Loch Tarbert Chart)
1858 Transatlantic Telegraph Cable (Otter’s piloting saved the cable from foundering off Newfoundland)
1860 Surveying Western Isles Captain Otter
1861 Portree (Captain Otter in Dagenham visiting his brother, Woodlark in Harris)
1864 FWL Thomas retires aged 48. I don’t think he served ON the Porcupine, but he certainly served in accompaniment WITH her.

I have combined several snippets of information in compiling these notes in order to give as full a picture as possible of who was doing what, where and when. Discovering James McBain aboard the Mastiff on the 17th of December 1841 was an unexpected bonus!

I happenstanced upon this wonderful online resource whilst searching for information on HMS Investigator and have yet to explore it in detail.

Charting the Coast of Scotland

These charts cover the 50 years of Marine Surveying from the careers of George Thomas and his son FWL Thomas. I have included a few of those from Henry Otter as evidence of his continuing presence in the area and made some comments:

Frith of Forth 1815 – George Thomas
George served from 1810 until his death in 1846 aboard the Mastiff. I believe he was buried at sea. Oh, and ‘Frith’ is what appears on the chart!
(Stornoway Harbour 1846 – Otter)
(Lochs Erisort,etc 1848 – Otter)
(West Loch Tarbert 1849 – Captain C G Robinson)
(North Minch 1849 – Otter)
Orkney Islands 1850 – G Thomas & FWL Thomas
Showing what work was being done in the Western Isles during the 1840s, the period when father and son were completing their work in the Orkneys.
East Loch Tabert 1857 – FWL Thomas
(Sound of Harris 1857 – Otter)
I made reference previously to the fact that these two areas were being surveyed simultaneously.
Sound of Harris to Aird Bhreidhnis, including Lochs Tarbert & Resort 1860 – FWL Thomas
This chart is especially interesting as it shows the Shop, School, Mill and Inn in An-t-Obb, putting the Inn at foot of road to Rodel which contradicts with the position shown on an earlier map. I recommend comparing the chart with Google Street view to spot which buildings remain, and those built during the intervening 150 years!
Monachs etc 1860 – Otter
Hebrides or Western Isles 1865 – Otter, FWL Thomas
The last chart in the collection that is attributed to FWL Thomas and the 1871 census shows that he had retired six years after this chart’s publication.

I hope that this brief summary gives an impression of the extent of the work that was being performed around the Western Isles by these men but the best way of appreciating their dedication and craftsmanship is to look at the charts online, which can be done by clicking the link provided.

Fishing in Fife

My previous entry left us with Frances Bousfield and Georgiana Martha Thomas in Deptford.

By 1851, Frances had become Mrs FWL Thomas and the recently bereaved couple, although normally living at Rose cottage in Trinity, Leith were lodging in Culross. I felt it only fair to see what had become of Georgiana and was pleasantly surprised to find the following household:

Jas Mcbain, 43, Surgeon RN Half Pay, Park Place, Elie, Fife, b. Kirriemuir, Forfar
Helen Mcbain, 26, Wife, b. England
Elizabeth Thomas, 53, Widow of Commander RN, Mother-in-Law, b. England
Georgina Thomas, Daughter of Commander RN, Sister-in-Law, b. England
Ann Smith, 14, Scholar, Niece, b. Pitlochry, Strathtay, Perthshire
Elizabeth Campbell, 26, House Servant, b. Pittenweem, Fife

‘Jas’ is James McBain, ‘Helen’ is Ellen Sarah (Thomas), Elizabeth is FWL’s mother and Georgina is his other sister. What is slightly confusing is why Priscilla Thomas has changed her name to Elizabeth?

As far as I can tell, this places all the known surviving members of FWL’s family in Scotland in 1851 and only about 40 miles apart from each other.

I think that’s a fair day’s catch from the East Coast!

But I have left the biggest fish until last:

Back in 1827, on the 30th of January in the church of St Mary at Lambeth, a widower called George Thomas of St Paul, Deptford, married a widow called Elizabeth Bousfield. You may recall that I was bemused by Frances Sarah Bousfield being baptised for a second time on the 30th of March 1827 at the church of St Mary at Lambeth? Now, at last, all is clear!

Her mother remarried and Frances added the surname of her stepfather, Thomas, to her own. The Elizabeth Thomas of 1851 was the same Elizabeth Bousfield who gave birth to Frances and who became the step-mother to George Thomas’s children. Fred and Fanny were not introduced by his sister, because for 14 years prior to their marriage they had been step-brother and sister!

Confirmation that I am correct is provided by the entry on Fred’s Death Certificate where the informant, clearly confused by the connection, states that his widow was born Frances Sarah Frimbly, ascribing to Fanny neither the surname of her father (Bousfield) nor her mother (Dingley) but that of Fred’s mother (Frimbly).

I have come across some tangled webs before in my researches, but never one that fallen into place quite so completely, or with quite such complexity, as this one has just done.

To reiterate:

George Thomas m Priscella Frimbly and had several children including FWL Thomas
George Bousfield m Elizabeth Dingley and had one child, Frances Sarah Bousfield

George Thomas m Elizabeth Bousfield (MS Dingley)
Frances baptised for a second time as Frances Sarah Thomas Bousfield.

FWL Thomas m Frances S T Bousfield

I hope that’s clear – I need a lie-down!

How Fred Met Fanny

I have been exploring a bit more into the backgrounds of Captain FWL Thomas and Frances Sarah Bousfield and a rather romantic penny has just dropped.

Frederick, unlike only-child Frances, had several siblings:

Children of George Thomas and Priscella Frimbly (m. 20Nov 1810 St George the Martyr, Southwark)
Frederick William Leopold bap. 2 Jun 1816 St George the Martyr, Southwark
d.25 Oct 1885 Rose Park, Trinity, Leith
George Howard bap. 2 Jun 1816 St George the Martyr (TWINS, cannot find his death)

Ellen Dinah bap. 10 Feb 1819 St Paul, Deptford, Lewisham (cannot find marriage or death)
George Hurd bap. 13 Mar 1820 St Paul, Deptford – Buried 30 Jul 1848 Kensington, London
Georgiana Martha Thomas 12 Feb 1823 St Paul, Deptford
Ellen Sarah bap. 13 Apr 1825 St Paul, Deptford ( m. James McBain, Surgeon RN, 13 Jan 1846 at St Paul, Deptford)

Firstly, of course, we notice the fact that FWL had a twin brother. As is the case with the first sister called Ellen, I have been unable to find him again in the records but the repetition of the names George and Ellen is perhaps indicative that George Howard and Ellen Dinah did not survive for very long? The second brother, George Hurd, died at the age of 28 in 1848 but I have not found a record of him marrying.

However, it is Fred’s sister Georgiana who provides the link with Frances for, in the 1841 census I had previously identified as living at Broomfield Place, St Paul, Deptford, Kent:

Sarah Bousfield, 30, Governess, b. elsewhere
Frances Bousfield, 20, Independent b. elsewhere (ie Surrey)

But I hadn’t paid any particular attention to the next person on the census return:

Georgiana Thomas, 15, Independent b. In this county

Fred’s sister was living with Frances, whom he would wed on the 2nd of December of that same year at St Paul, Deptford. I am allowing myself to imagine that it was on a visit to his sister, living away from her family (quite possibly at the Benevolent Home for Girls, the 1841 census is not clear on such matters!), that the uniformed young Royal Navy officer met the orphaned young lady who would soon become his companion for life…

Porcupine and Woodlark

I was hoping that following these two Royal Navy Survey vessels might assist with my research into the work of Lieutenant FWL Thomas who in 1845 was appointed as Master of the Woodlark.
This was the ship that he was using to survey the Western Isles whilst Captain Henry Otter had HMS Porcupine engaged on the same task. Prior to this, Fred Thomas had been surveying the Orkney Isles with his father, George Thomas.

Unfortunately the key records, those of 1851 are non-existent, but I think the two may have been in the Atlantic on work associated with preparations for the first Transatlantic Telegraph Cable. It has been pointed-out to me by my kind correspondent that there are letters from Captain FWL Thomas confirming the Woodlark’s presence in Alloa (a mere 10 miles upstream from Culross) in the late 1840s and 1850. Once again, I am most grateful to her for bringing the significance of this to my attention. Captain Otter was in Portsea visiting a Royal Engineer and as this was the branch of the Army that dealt with surveying we can assume that they were discussing matters relating to their work.

However, by 1861 an Orkneyman, James Sutherland, 44, was Master of the Woodlark and he, together with his wife and three children, were aboard her in Harris. This reveals not only a new Master but also her continued presence in Harris. Even better, he has his family with him showing us that Lieutenant Thomas having his wife Frances in tow was not unique. The Porcupine was in Portree with her two Second Masters aboard. Captain Otter was in England with his wife visiting his brother in Dagenham..

By 1871 the Porcupine is in Sunderland (the Woodlark elsewhere) and in 1881 both vessels are at Minster on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. In this year and in 1891 the Woodlark’s Master, Mark Aaron, has his wife and children with him continuing the trend that at least two earlier Masters had set.

Overall I think that these little snippets of information are helpful in giving us just a little more insight into the role of these vessels and the lives of those who were in charge of them – not forgetting the children who must have had a wonderful, if somewhat unusual, education!

NOTE: I have new information regarding these two vessels: This Woodlark was disposed-of in 1863 and the Porcupine in 1883. Clearly the Woodlark of 1881 and 1891 cannot be FWL’s ship, but I’ve left this piece as written not least as a reminder that there are still plenty of red herrings in the sea!

Manish Victoria Cottage Hospital

In 1901, 29 year-old District Nurse Sally Macleod from Assynt in Sutherland was the only resident of this establishment. It had been built and endowed by Mrs Frances Sarah Thomas to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897.

I must thank a kind correspondent who brought an obituary of Mrs Thomas that was written in 1902 to my attention, for it contains the only reference to this institution that I am aware of. It is not labelled on the 1903 OS 1:10,560 map which was the first to be published after the hospital had been built. However, there is a building shown on that map that is not evident on the 1-inch map of 1896, and an examination of it on Google Streetview leads me to consider it to be a prime candidate for the Cottage Hospital. It lies up a short track from the Golden Road, itself completed in 1897, at Grid Reference NG101895.

If anyone has any information on Manish Victoria Cottage Hospital, a building that is surely of historical significance on Harris, I would be most grateful to learn of it.