READER STORY

Dr Michael Bar­nish counts Charles Dar­win among his dis­tant fam­ily, but the tan­gled lives of his closer re­la­tions have also proved fas­ci­nat­ing. Gail Dixon dis­cov­ers more

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Dr Michael Bar­nish dis­cov­ers the tan­gled love lives of his an­ces­tors

ichael Bar­nish, trainee GP from Black­pool, be­came hooked on ge­neal­ogy when he was 11 years old. “A cousin in Canada sent us a book of our fam­ily tree and I found it in­trigu­ing,” he ex­plains. “I de­cided to carry on re­search­ing the Bar­nish fam­ily and had over­taken my cousin by my early teens. He was older than me and re­mem­bered fam­ily sto­ries about grand­par­ents and great grand­par­ents who we didn’t know. The book was a gold­mine of in­for­ma­tion about for­got­ten gen­er­a­tions.”

It re­veals that both Michael’s 3x great grand­par­ents Charles and Sarah had the birth sur­name Bar­nish. “It’s an un­usual name but there are a few of them around the Stafford­shire pot­tery towns where they lived. It’s pos­si­ble that Charles and Sarah were se­cond or third cousins but I’ve yet to prove it.”

Sarah Bar­nish was born in 1834 in Burslem, Stafford­shire. A di­rect an­ces­tor on her fe­male line is Mary Wedg­wood, and Michael’s 7x great grand­mother.

Mary’s father was Aaron, who was cousin to Thomas Wedg­wood, father of the fa­mous Josiah, who founded the Wedg­wood pot­tery com­pany. Josiah was the father of Su­san­nah Wedg­wood, the mother of Charles Dar­win, a dis­tant link that has par­tic­u­larly de­lighted Michael.

De­spite such il­lus­tri­ous con­nec­tions, Sarah Bar­nish’s fam­ily were poor. Her father Wil­liam worked as a pot­ter and died in 1851 af­ter be­ing ad­mit­ted to Stafford Lu­natic Asy­lum. “I dis­cov­ered this when Ances­try up­loaded asy­lum records last year. Ac­cord­ing to the ad­mis­sion reg­is­ter, Wil­liam died af­ter less than a year as an in­mate, so I won­der what they did to him? I’m keen to ex­plore his casebook, if it’s held at the lo­cal re­search cen­tre.”

Sarah mar­ried Charles Bar­nish at Wol­stan­ton Reg­is­ter Of­fice, Stafford­shire, in 1854. Charles was a pot­ter, as was his father be­fore him. They had two chil­dren, Henry – Michael’s great great grand­fa­ther – and Sarah Ann. “This is where the story gets re­ally in­trigu­ing,” says Michael. “On Christ­mas Eve 1857, Charles joined the Army in Liverpool and was re­cruited to the 44th Es­sex Reg­i­ment of Foot. He was only 23 at the time and was leav­ing be­hind him a wife and two chil­dren.”

This wasn’t a tem­po­rary mea­sure. Charles spent the fol­low­ing 20 years in the Army, serv­ing mostly in Madras, In­dia, and China dur­ing the Se­cond Opium War from 1856- 60. Charles also saw ac­tion in Africa dur­ing the Abyssinian Ex­pe­di­tion of 1868.

Why did he leave?

Michael has been baf­fled by this cu­ri­ous turn in his fam­ily his­tory. “Why would Charles leave a young fam­ily be­hind him and go to the far cor­ners of the world? It’s like a life sen­tence! All I can do is spec­u­late, but per­haps Sarah and Charles weren’t happy and they made a de­ci­sion that he should join up and move away. They could also have had money prob­lems.

“Charles be­came the an­ces­tor I was most fas­ci­nated with. He was elu­sive, how­ever, and I strug­gled for years to trace him. I think he was a non­con­formist and there’s very lit­tle his­tor­i­cal de­tail about them in Stafford­shire.”

Two years ago, Michael sub­scribed to Find­my­past.co.uk and this gave him a big break­through. “I found Charles’s mil­i­tary ser­vice record and it was a trea­sure trove of in­for­ma­tion. I love all the de­tail it pro­vides. Charles was 5ft 6in tall with a 34in chest. He had dark brown hair, hazel eyes and no small­pox marks. The record even gives his pulse rate and a res­pi­ra­tory rate of 20.

“Be­ing a doc­tor, it’s fas­ci­nat­ing to read such facts. Charles was a foot sol­dier and I’ve seen il­lus­tra­tions of the uni­form that he would have worn with the red coat.

“Army life clearly suited him be­cause seven years af­ter he leaves Eng­land, he vol­un­teers to join the 45th Foot. His ser­vice record also re­veals that he con­tracted syphilis while in In­dia, so we know that he was sex­u­ally ac­tive there. He de­vel­oped fi­bro­sis, which is scar­ring of or­gans or tis­sue, and was hos­pi­talised with con­tu­sion from a chair leg in a brawl. Oth­er­wise his Army con­duct was good and he was awarded three medals: the China Medal for du­ties in Hong Kong, the Abyssinian Medal and an­other for gen­eral ser­vice. I’d love to see th­ese, but I don’t know if they’re still in the fam­ily.”

Charles spent most of his mil­i­tary ca­reer in In­dia, where it was very cheap to live. “I’ve read that most of the sol­diers who were sta­tioned there long term took lo­cal women as wives. There’s a ru­mour in the fam­ily that one of our fore­bears fa­thered chil­dren in In­dia, which fits with Charles’s story. I’m keen to dis­cover more about this pos­si­ble fam­ily in In­dia, al­though it will

Why would Charles leave a young fam­ily and go to the far cor­ners of the world? It’s like a life sen­tence!

I won­der how the fam­ily re­acted when Charles re­turned af­ter 20 years

be dif­fi­cult be­cause it’s un­likely that they would adopt the name Bar­nish.”

Mean­while, what had hap­pened to Sarah who had been left at home in Stafford­shire, bring­ing up two chil­dren on her own? Her life was not with­out drama or in­trigue, as Michael was to dis­cover.

A sur­prise popped up in 1860, three years af­ter Charles had left, when Sarah gave birth to a son, Sa­muel. “What was go­ing on – Charles was liv­ing on the other side of the world?” Dig­ging deeper, Michael or­dered the birth cer­tifi­cate, which listed Fred­er­ick Lit­tle­ton as Sa­muel’s father and Sarah Lit­tle­ton, “for­merly Bar­nish”, as his mother. Ini­tially, Michael thought that be­cause Bar­nish was Sarah’s maiden and mar­ried name it might be easy to get away with. How­ever, in 1864 she mar­ried Fred­er­ick in the same reg­is­ter of­fice in Wol­stan­ton that she mar­ried Charles in, stat­ing that she was a widow.

“This was af­ter Sarah and Fred­er­ick Lit­tle­ton had had two fur­ther chil­dren, Pru­dence and Mary El­iz­a­beth. They went on to have three more, Han­nah, Jane and Fred, all born be­fore 1875. What had hap­pened to Charles? Was Sarah re­ally wid­owed at this point?”

In 1876, Charles and Sarah’s son Henry Bar­nish mar­ried and on the cer­tifi­cate he gave his father’s cor­rect name and pro­fes­sion as sol­dier. Charles is not listed as be­ing de­ceased on this cer­tifi­cate, so even though Sarah stated that she was a widow when she mar­ried Fred­er­ick, clearly the fam­ily knew that Charles was alive. “That was the mo­ment I re­alised that she had mar­ried big­a­mously,” says Michael. “Di­vorce was al­most un­heard of in the 1860s and Sarah had been left on her own with chil­dren to raise, so I’m cer­tainly not go­ing to judge her. Life must have been hard for a woman of lim­ited means in the Vic­to­rian pot­tery towns.”

The drama doesn’t end there be­cause in 1877 Charles Bar­nish re­turns to Eng­land and is dis­charged from the Army a year later. “Ac­cord­ing to the mil­i­tary record, Charles had chronic rheuma­tism af­ter the voy­age home and wors­en­ing vis­ual im­pair­ment. He had a sal­low com­plex­ion and his symp­toms

were ag­gra­vated by “in­tem­per­ance”, or heavy drink­ing. I’ve read that it was safer to drink gin than wa­ter in In­dia, which is why so many peo­ple drank al­co­hol in the trop­ics.

“Charles re­turned to his fam­ily in Burslem af­ter a 20-year ab­sence over­seas. I won­der how the fam­ily coped with his ar­rival. Did they feel bit­ter about his ab­sence? Was it a bit­ter­sweet re­turn? Did Charles know that Sarah had moved on with her life, mar­ried Fred­er­ick and had six more chil­dren?”

The en­try on the 1881 census re­vealed the as­ton­ish­ing an­swer. “I couldn’t be­lieve my eyes. Sarah and Charles were liv­ing to­gether once more and she had be­come a Bar­nish again, as had all of the chil­dren from the Lit­tle­ton mar­riage!”

“What on earth had hap­pened? Did they have an agree­ment that Charles could leave the fam­ily and re­turn later when his Army ca­reer was over? Did Sarah al­ways love Charles and pre­fer him to Fred? Or did she feel obliged to take her first hus­band back be­cause she had bro­ken the law?

“Un­like many bigamists, Sarah didn’t move out of the area, so her neigh­bours would have got a shock when Charles re­turned. Did they know the story about him dy­ing over­seas or did they just turn a blind eye? Frus­trat­ingly, I’ll never know the an­swers to th­ese ques­tions and can only spec­u­late.

“Poor Fred Lit­tle­ton ei­ther left or was chucked out. He re­mar­ried a few years later and de­scribed him­self as a wid­ower, so he com­mit­ted bigamy as well.”

Charles and Sarah lived to­gether in Burslem un­til they died, Charles in 1905 from bron­chi­tis and Sarah in 1919 from se­nil­ity. “I’d love to dis­cover more about the Bar­nish fam­ily, how­ever, the records on­line are lim­ited and there is no birth record for Charles. I’d also like to know whether trac­ing an In­dian mis­tress and fam­ily is pos­si­ble and whether there were ever any records for this be­hav­iour in In­dia.

“Charles and Sarah’s is an epic story in my fam­ily’s his­tory. It has been a won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence get­ting more of a feel for their lives.”

Plates pro­duced by Michael’s an­ces­tor, Josiah Wedg­wood, were dec­o­rated at Gladstone Pot­tery

Michael with Charles and Sarah Bar­nish’s mar­riage cer­tifi­cate from 1854

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