I am a bit of a pedant and so I got slightly annoyed recently with a number of small inaccuracies that I found in a copy of a 1908 will and have wondered if the solicitor for my great-great-grandfather knew him at all and whether my ancestor actually read the will that he signed three months before his death!
I have got hot under the collar because I had sent off for my forebear’s will. The story is that recently, while looking around the Ancestry.co.uk site, I discovered, within the National Probate Calendar for England & Wales, a listing for my 2x great-grandfather Henry Thomas Thorne. I was aware that he had died in 1908 in Dartmouth, Devon, but until then I had no idea that he had left a will. He was the son of a boatman and one time cordwainer from Dartmouth. Henry had moved, in his youth, to Portsmouth to work in the Royal Naval dockyard as a ropemaker.
It was here that he met and married his wife Ellen Malser, the daughter of a Master Mariner if the records are to be believed. Henry and Ellen soon moved back to Dartmouth where Henry obtained a job, in 1864, as the steersman of the railway ferry that crossed the Dart from Kingswear to Dartmouth. He was to eventually became the Captain of the steamer, called the Dolphin, that replaced it.
Henry Thomas Thorne spent 40 years working on that vessel and even had the privilege of sailing King Edward VII & Queen Alexandra across the Dart, when they came to lay the foundation stone for the Royal Naval College. From that time on the townsfolk nicknamed Henry “The Admiral”, according to sources that I have read.
With the details, from the National Probate Calendar, I was able to download a form (PA1S) from the Government’s Justice website and send off my cheque to the Postal Searches and Copies Department, which is in Leeds.
When the will arrived, on my door mat, I was somewhat confused to find that it contained some interesting errors.
Henry Thomas Thorne was listed as a retired “Ropemaker”, an occupation that he had pursued in his youth in Portsmouth. But surely, with 44 years as the steersman and then Captain of the railway steamer across the Dart, it would have been more appropriate for the solicitor to have identified him as a retired mariner? No matter, I thought, and read on.
Next Henry appoints his wife Helen, along with the solicitor to be executors.
Helen, I wonder, who was this wife called Helen? It was, of course Ellen.
The will goes on to mention his “free-hold house situate at Victoria Road, Dartmouth, which had me looking on a map as all his census records show him living on South Ford Road and his death certificate mentions Fernleigh. From the map I can see that a Ferndale is an extension of South Ford Street and it overlooks Victoria Road. Using Google Street View I could see that Ferndale was not navigable by the Street View car and is a sort of walk rising up the hill. So perhaps I can assume that his house at Fernleigh was indeed in the area of Ferndale, but was it on Victoria Road?
He bequeaths money, in trust, to his daughter Florence Melzer Thorne. She was named after her mother’s family, Malser and not Melzer. In fact she was actually named Ellen Florence Malser Thorne, but I digress!
So it is a lesson to us all to take what is written down in any record that we find, even a will, as not necessarily being completely accurate. Check several sources before you can be sure of any fact.
In this case I wondered if the solicitor was new to the area. However a check of the census, in 1901, shows me that he would have been 33 in 1908 and had been born in the town. As such he would have, no doubt, been ferried across the river by my 2x great-grandfather on any occasions that he had need of catching the GWR train as Dartmouth had no railway lines itself. He must have been familiar with the character called The Admiral, who had been in the same job on the water from before the solicitor’s birth!