One of the advantages of living here in Antigua – besides the azure crystal waters, white sandy beaches and the simplicity of life – is that I am not bombarded with mainstream media. We have no cable TV pumped into our house, by choice I may add. I have to search out my news via The Internet and I get a giggle out of the occasional magazine or printed newspaper left at our house. Just a quick note on that – to my dear lovely eclectic group of friends, I will never read Chat Magazine or its like. I really don’t care whose boobs have been pumped up to the size of space hoppers nor do I care which Z-list celeb has fucked a donkey at dawn down a dark alley in Magaluf – you get my drift.
This reliance on the internet could of course lead to confirmation bias, but I like to read all angles on issues that take my fancy and have even been known to spend a few hours reading through some violently unpleasant websites and forums where the angry, dispossessed and down right lunatic fringes of society vent their frustrations.
My relative isolation from the mainstream means I have been spared the British Monarchy’s PR operation via The BBC regarding last weekend’s Royal nuptials. I can only imagine the run up to the event; the mass hysteria, the ginger themed street parties and an endless loop of ‘experts’ slapped and put in front of TV cameras to give their so called informed insights into The Royal Family, right down to the correct pronunciation of scone* or some such nonsense. Apparently one of the biggest Google searches during the run up was, ‘How to make cucumber sandwiches’. Unless someone mistakes their dildo for a cucumber I don’t think making sandwiches can go too far wrong, or if you do get confused at least wash the dildo first.
Thankfully my brush with The Royal Wedding was minor. Some friends and acquaintances went into hyper-drive on their social media accounts and that’s fine. Whatever floats your corgi? As you can guess I’m not a monarchist. That’s not to say I wish the individual humans who make up The House of Windsor any ill. I don’t know them; they may be really nice people. It’s the concept of Monarchy I find distasteful. The fact two people have found love with each other, feel the need to marry and set up home together is wonderful, great, ‘triffic etc etc, but why Prince Henry/Harry through accident of birth is any more special than an other human on this planet is beyond me. We are all here through an accident of birth. We get no say from which vagina we fall. Through historic privilege the Prince has had more of a chance of survival and marriage than many throughout history and this leads me to the point of my subdued rant today.
In 1864 there was another wedding. It was a quiet affair. Samuel Warren Bone married Mary Ann Bastin in a church in Devon. I doubt that any of Samuel’s relatives were in attendance, as I shall explain. Samuel was twenty-one years old and Mary Ann was twenty years old. Samuel and Mary Ann were Cornish by birth. He was a sailor in the days where ships still had sails and voyages could take many years. I know from research that Samuel was here in Antigua in 1862 on The HMS St George under the charge of Captain Francis Egerton. Samuel at that time was a Boy, First Class. The voyage was from 1860-1864, which would suggest Samuel met Mary Ann shortly after his arrival home and they soon married. After 1864 all of my research suggests he never went to sea again and instead after achieving the status of Master Mariner, he became a coastguard in Northumberland, first on Lindisfarne, Newton-by-the-Sea, then Embleton and Crastor, finally retiring to a large house in Gateshead where he was pensioned with his family. Samuel and Mary Ann had fifteen children, thirteen of whom survived to adulthood.
Samuel’s survival hinged on a simple letter and his virtue of birth, albeit an incredibly humble virtue. Samuel Warren Bone’s parents both died in the 1840s cholera epidemic that swept Cornwall. He was one of seven surviving children, who all ended up being taken to a workhouse. It would seem from the documents I have that Samuel’s father William was also in The Navy which meant he inherited an entitlement to attend The Royal Hospital School in Greenwich. In order to achieve relief from the workhouse there had to be proof of entitlement. This is where his sister Mary Jane steps into the story. It is clear Mary Jane could see no hope for herself and her siblings; the workhouse was not a place where people thrived, especially children. In a last ditch effort she wrote letters to The Royal Hospital School seeking her brother Samuel’s admittance. I have a copy of a letter she wrote along with her father’s naval record and various letters attesting to the authenticity of her claim that her brother should qualify for the school.
“Sir, I thank you kindly for sending me to enquire about the respective ages of my brothers and sisters but all the references I have to there (sic) ages in this piece of paper I inclosed (sic) to you with other documents. But we are seven in number. One older than myself and rest younger now a living. I trust it will be taken in consideration for my dear orphan brother to take him from the union, god knows my anxious feelings about him and all the rest of my dear brothers and sisters in a bad state of health not able to take myself of them off the parish, I remain your humble servant, Mary Jane Bone, Torpoint Union (workhouse) 9th June 1854.”
What can’t be seen in this text are the water smudges and stains. Were these tears as she was writing or just stains because of the age of the document? I will never know the truth, but the romantic in me pictures Mary Jane writing this in desperation, her parent’s are dead and thinking that there was no earthly future for her or her young siblings.
Samuel was admitted to the school. I have no idea what happened to his brothers and sisters, even Mary Jane. I have a feeling they will be buried within the grounds of the Torpoint workhouse, in unmarked graves, their lives for most part unrecorded other than as long forgotten scribblings in some dusty workhouse register.
So who was Samuel Warren Bone? Why have I devoted so many years researching this one person? He is my husband John’s Great Great Grandfather.
John had very little knowledge of his ancestry beyond his Grandparents. We had no idea his Great Great Grandfather had been in Antigua when we bought this house and made the decision to move our lives here, and why would we think there was any connection? To the best of John’s knowledge his ancestors had been miners and agricultural labourers who lived a hand-to-mouth existence.
My fascination with Samuel Bone has become an obsession. I have learned so much from aged, long forgotten historic records. Gradually I have built a picture of a man who left the sea when he married. Maybe his own lack of family led him to be a passionate family man who did not want his own children to suffer in the same way he did? I know that the picture atop of this page, of the elderly man and his wife is nothing more than a snapshot in time. I know it is easy to project when gazing at old photographs, but I see great kindness in Samuel’s eyes, and the manner in which Mary Ann is clasping her hands together positioned towards Samuel, implies a deep affection after all those years. I see strength and pride too. Goodness knows it cannot have been easy. John and I visited one of the cottages Samuel and Mary Ann lived in on Lindisfarne. I can only assume they all slept in shifts! How thirteen children and two adults lived in three small rooms is beyond imagining.
So if I am to look for love, meaning and purpose I do not look to The British Royal Family. Instead I look to people like The Bones. A couple who saw two of their children die in infancy, who saw two sons killed on the first day of The Battle of the Somme, who ensured all of their children could read and write at the very least.
Their history is not celebrated, their descendants are many; my amazing husband just one of hundreds alive today. All of this is because of that letter written by a shaking desperate hand from a workhouse in Cornwall in 1854.
*It’s scone to rhyme with gone, no debate. I’ll slap your face with jam if you question me, not nice jam either, but the shit apricot stuff that sits at the back of the cupboard. The insipid orange goop you bought in January because you promised yourself that in 2018 you would channel your inner Mary Berry and ice all of your own cakes and become a baking Goddess – it’s already May, it’s probably mouldy now.