…not to mention her efforts, for she is prepared to live and die for the islands…
Who is this lady? – The wife of Commander Thomas of the Royal Navy – an English lady.’
(Reverend Roderick Mackenzie, Free Church Minister of Tarbert, Evidence to Napier Commission 1883)
At 11:20 pm on the 7th of September 1902, Frances Sarah Thomas Beckett died in Craighouse, Edinburgh at the age of 82. Her usual place of residence was ‘Arondel’, Hollington Park, St Leonard’s On Sea, England. Her parents were George Bousfield, a Solicitor, and Elizabeth Dingley and we know all this because the Solicitor and Agent to her Husband, who hailed from 23 Havelock Road, Hastings, said so when he registered her death three days later on the 10th of September. We also know because Scottish Death Certificates are positively bursting with details such as these!
George Bousfield had Married Elizabeth Dingley on the 29th July 1820 at St Mary’s, Aldermanbury in the City of London. She was from the Parish of St Paul’s, Deptford in Kent .St Mary’s was gutted during the Blitz and the remaining stones taken to Fulton, Missouri and rebuilt as a memorial to Sir Winston Churchill. Thanks to her Death Certificate, we can be pretty confident that this was her parents marriage,
She was Baptised Frances Sarah on the 27th June 1821 at St Peter, Frimley, Surrey and the family home was in Frimley York Town, probably best known today as the home of Sandhurst Royal Military Academy.
On the 2nd of December 1841, Frederick William Leopold Thomas, a Lieut. RN, and Frances Sarah Thomas Bousfield were wed in the Parish of St Paul, Deptford. She signs her name ‘Frances S T Bousfield’. His father was George Thomas, Master and Commander, RN. Their ages are each described as ‘Full’. The marriage took place in the Established Church by Licence, i.e. NOT by Banns, which reduced the waiting time to 3 weeks. But that is not what grabbed my attention. It was the addition of her third name, ‘Thomas’, for that was not included in her Baptism.
On the 30th March 1827, a Frances Sarah Thomas Bousfield was Baptised in St Mary at Lambeth. She was the daughter of a deceased Solicitor, George Bousfield, and his wife Elizabeth. The family home was in Kennington Lane, Lambeth. This young lady has all the names in place, her father was a Solicitor, but she appears to be too young to be described as of ‘Full’ age fourteen-and-a-half years later.
So I appear to have two ladies, one with the correct set of names but Baptised far too late and the other spot-on apart from missing the third name. To add to the mystery, in 1826 the church of St Peter in Frimley had been rebuilt, albeit on the same ground as its predecessor. What I am thinking, and it’s a bit of a ‘fudge’, is that the widowed Elizabeth might have had her daughter Baptised for a second time a little before her 6th birthday and after the rebuilding of St Peter’s?
I really do not know, but a George William Bousfield, 25, was buried on the 9th March 1823 at St Peter, Frimley, Surrey, the only such burial I can find of a George Bousfield that fits, and, as he cannot be the father of a child 4 years later, a second Baptism might explain the discrepancies.
I cannot find a Solicitor called George Bousfield in the 1841 Census, neither can I find an Elizabeth Bousfield with a family in-tow, but I have located these two ladies; Sarah Bousfield, 30, Governess and Frances Bousfield, 20, Independent; residing in Broomfield Place, St Paul, Deptford, the parish that the wedding of December that year was to take place within.
George Bousfield Thomas was Baptised on the 31st of July 1844 at St Paul Deptford, London. He died on the 1st of July 1850 in the Parish of St Cuthbert’s Edinburgh. A devastating personal event and possibly compounded for I do not believe Frances and Frederick to have had any further children. This loss was, I think, the turning-point that shaped the course of the rest of their lives.
In 1851, Frederick W L Thomas, 34, Lieutenant Royal Navy, and Francis S T Thomas, 29, Officer’s Wife are in lodgings at South Street, Culross, Perthshire. Culross was a small seaport at this time.
The Stocking Knitting Industry on Harris was started by Catherine Murray, Countess of Dunmore, and Mrs Thomas in 1857 and the Countess had begun the Harris Tweed industry over a decade earlier. Or those are the usual stories. The Countess had certainly opened an Embroidery School some eight years earlier, but the true nature of her involvement in the development of woollen-wear is far less factually based. By way of an example, the 5 censuses that took place from 1841-1881 find the Countess in London (1841) and at Dunmore Park (1861) but otherwise absent from the records.
By 1861 Fred W S Thomas, 44, Commander RN & Marine Surveyor, and Francis S T Thomas, 39, Wife, are living at Trinity Crescent No 8, North Leith and they remain in Leith for the remainder of his life. The record for 1871 shows Frederick W L Thomas, 54, Captain Royal Navy Retired, and Frances S Thomas, 49, Officer’s Wife, at Trinity Road Rose Park, N Leith whilst that of 1881 has Frederick W L Thomas, 60, Retired Captain RN, and Frances S Thomas, 59, Wife, at Rose Park, North Leith.
On the 25th October 1885 Frederick W Thomas died at Rose Park, Trinity, in Leith. Alex Sutherland(? – the surname is unclear) states that he was married to Frances Sarah Frimbly * and that his parents were George Thomas, Commander RN and Priscella Frimbly. (*The error with Frances’s surname is merely a confusion with Frederick’s mother’s maiden name, although she did originate from the similar-sounding village of Frimley.) He had been born on the 2nd of May 1816, when his father’s occupation was given as ‘Surveyor’, neglecting his maritime connection! Captain Frederick WL Thomas’s Service Record is held at the National Archives (Kew) and dated 1st Feb 1847 which may reflect the date of his first Commission?
Frances remained in Scotland until at least 1887, by which time she had been working with the women of Harris for some thirty years, and in 1888 a two-page article on Mrs FWL Thomas called ‘Women’s Work in Harris (Hebrides) ‘ appeared in ‘The British Friend: A Monthly Journal’ which was published in Glasgow.
She remarried on the 2nd of July 1890 in the Parish of All Saints, Paddington. Her husband was James Flowers Beckett, a Retired Royal Navy Staff Commander and widower. He had lived in Leith with his first wife and their family 40 years earlier.
In 1891 we find Frances S Beckett, 69, Wife, at ‘Arondell’, Hollington, East Sussex and a decade later as Frances S Beckett, 79, Wife, of ‘Arondel’, Hollington St John, E Sussex
During that same decade, three accounts of the textile activities on Harris were composed. In 1895 Mrs S Macdonald, wife of the Farmer and Merchant Roderick, wrote her piece that appeared in a Scottish Home Industries booklet and was referred to in the Scott Report of 1914. Another piece from the same source was written by an Alice Leslie (who I have been unable to accurately identify although there was a Lady Alice Leslie in Scotland at that time). In 1899 The Land Magazine published the Duchess of Sutherland’s article on The Revival of Home Industries and even the 7th Earl himself wrote a short (but unfortunately undated) piece on his mother’s endeavours on the island. He did however, backdate her work, and the origin of the industry, to the absurdly early date of 1839 which was the very year that the people living on the three Borves were having their livelihoods removed from them by Duncan Shaw, the Factor that the Dunmore’s themselves had appointed! Seilibost had been cleared the previous year and Taransay would be in the year following. The facts do not fit the fiction. ‘Women’s Work in Harris’ pre-dated all this apparent flurry to produce a ‘history’ of Harris Tweed and yet, as far as I have been able to ascertain, it has not been subject to previous examination.
In the autumn of 1902, having returned to Edinburgh after an absence of 15 years, Frances Sarah Thomas Beckett (MS Bousfield), also known as ‘Mrs Captain Thomas’, left this World, leaving behind a legacy that I think owes her rather more credit than has been to granted.