Category Archives: General Interest

Death on the railway

At a visit to St Michael’s church, Kirk Langley, in Derbyshire, I was intrigued by this sad memorial.

The Meynell family are well known in the area, having held land there since the reign of Henry I, and the church is full of their memorials. But what was the story behind the death of John Meynell?

According to the Leeds Intelligencer of the 24th May, John Meynell was travelling home with his wife on the London to Leeds train, which normally left London at 5pm.[1] The train was fifteen minutes late arriving at Derby, and it then stopped at Duffield, Belper, Ambergate and Wingfield. The stops at Duffield and Wingfield were unscheduled as technically the stations were already closed, and this caused a further delay. The train travelled through the Clay Cross tunnel at about 25 mph on an uphill stretch of line. Just after passing through Clay Cross station at the northern end of the tunnel the driver, John Sheldon, heard a noise and decided to stop the train (which took 200 yards to accomplish), telling the fireman, ‘Hold on! There’s something wrong here’.

Sheldon got down from the engine and diagnosed a broken pump rod, by which time the guard had walked from the rear of the train to find out what was wrong, and one or two passengers were looking out to find out why the train had stopped. The train crew all knew that there would be a goods train following the express, but it was not due at Chesterfield until fifty minutes after the passenger train. The express was due at Clay Cross at 9:41, and the ‘luggage train’ not until 10:31.

John Sheldon did not have any kind of watch or timepiece and usually calculated station arrival times according to experience and the speed they were doing, which usually averaged 30 mph.

The Clay Cross tunnel is 1,784-yard (1,631 m) long and there were signalmen at either end whose job it was to telegraph when a train had passed the signal box and to set the signals accordingly. There is a curve on the line after the tunnel at the northern end that meant the driver of the goods train had very little time to react to any signal as he emerged from the tunnel. Normal operating rules following an unscheduled stop would have led the guard of the passenger train to walk back down the line and set the nearest previous signal to danger, or to get the signalman to do so. However there was no-one on duty at night at Clay Cross station, nor enough time for the guard to walk back several hundred yards in the dark to set the signal himself before the driver called out that the problem was already fixed.

It had taken only a matter of four or five minutes for Sheldon to fix the problem, but as he was finishing and calling to the fireman to help pack up the tools and put them back in the tender, the fireman shouted ‘Jack, there is something coming into us’!

In the dark he could see the glow from the firebox of the approaching train. As Sheldon was hastily climbing back onto the engine and it was starting to move the following train crashed into the rear of the passenger express.

The heavy engine of the goods train smashed into the rear three carriages of the passenger train converting them instantly into matchwood. The first class carriage where the Meynells were sitting was at the rear of the train, and John Meynell, who had been looking out of the carriage window to see why the train had stopped, was thrown out onto his face and his legs were run over by the carriage wheels. He died instantly.

Several other passengers suffered severe injuries. A Mr Blake, a file manufacturer from Sheffield, died shortly afterwards while being taken to Chesterfield. John Todhunter of Dublin had fractures of both legs, and his brother Joshua was also injured; the Rev. Dawson Dane Hather had a severely injured ankle. An American called Tennant was travelling with his wife who suffered a badly fractured upper femur. Mr Fox, a wine and spirit merchant, had a lucky escape. He had been sitting between Mr Blake and John Todhunter, but although he was thrown out of the carriage he only suffered bruised knees and severe shock. Most of the other passengers sustained some form of injury.

Word was immediately sent to Chesterfield and doctors and other assistance arrived quite quickly. The news was also telegraphed to Derby and a special train was immediately sent to Clay Cross containing various officials of the Midland Railway company. Mr Rickman, one of the company directors, was sent to Langley Hall to alert John Meynell’s father, Godfrey, to the accident. Another special train then carried three of the company directors, Godfrey Meynell and Miss Meynell to the site of the accident.

John Meynell was buried at Kirk Langley on May 27th. [2] It is not clear whether his wife Sarah had recovered sufficiently to attend the funeral, since newspaper reports mentioned that she had also been injured. The couple had been married for less than nine years and already had six children, the eldest just seven and the youngest of whom, Francis William, had been baptised only two weeks before the accident.[3] He would grow up to become vicar of Stapenhill.

The now widowed Sarah Brooks Meynell was the daughter of Dr William Brooks Johnson of Coxbench Hall (c.1763-1830) who had been noted for carrying a message of support from Derby to Paris, along with Henry Redhead Yorke in the early days of the French Revolution. Her twin sister, and only sibling, Eleanor Franceys Johnson had died of consumption in 1842, and their mother a year later, leaving Sarah Brooks Meynell as heir to Coxbench Hall among other property.[4] [5] Ultimately she clearly made a good recovery from her injuries since she lived until 1890, dying on 18 December aged seventy-four.[6]

The only response of the railway company to the accident was to forbid train drivers from making unscheduled stops to set passengers down at closed stations.


[1] Leeds Intelligencer. (1851) Dreadful Accident on the Midland Railway. Leeds Intelligencer. 24 May 1851. p.8a. http:www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk : accessed 26 June 2017.

[2] Burials (PR) England., Kirk Langley, Derbyshire. 27 May 1851. MEYNELL, John. Ancestry. Collection: Derbyshire, England, Church of England Burials, 1813-1991. http://www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 18 October 2017.

[3] Baptisms (PR) England, Brimington, Derbyshire. 04 May 1851. MEYNELL, Francis William. Ancestry. Collection: England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975. http://www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 18 October 2017.

[4] Deaths (CR) England., Holbrook, Derbyshire. RD: Belper. 1st Qtr 1842. JOHNSON, Eleanor Franceys. Vol. 19. p.350. No.477.

[5] Derbyshire Courier (1843), Derbyshire Courier. Saturday 04 February 1843. p.3f. http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk : accessed 19 October 2017.

[6] Testamentary records. England. 16 February 1891. MEYNELL, Sarah Brooks. Principal Probate Registry. Calendar of the grants of probate. p. 301. Collection: England & Wales, National Probate Calendar, 1858-1966. http://www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 19 October 2017.

In search of a Husband – Judith Weston’s Journal

Fort William, Calcutta in 1754 by Jan van Ryne

Sometimes we are lucky enough to find that kind of genealogical gold, which illuminates the lives of our ancestors and brings to life those lists of baptisms, marriages and burials.

Judith Weston’s Journal of her voyage to India rests now at the British Library for anyone to read, although at the time she wrote simply for friends and family. It appears that some of the manuscript is missing, nevertheless Judith’s intrepid character shines through – and yes she did find a husband.

In December 1727 Judith was twenty-six years old and the youngest daughter of John Weston of Ockham in Surrey. The Weston family had been in Sussex and Surrey since the days of William the Conqueror, but John Weston, who had been a Receiver of Taxes under Queen Anne, left the estate greatly impoverished and in 1710 he sold it, dying a few years later. Judith, who was one of nine surviving children, probably had very little by way of a marriage portion but made up for it by her spirit of adventure. Her brother William was already in India, a junior merchant of the East India Company.

Two other young women, Elizabeth and Mary Russell, travelled out with Judith, also in search of husbands, along with two unnamed women.

In the following extracts I have sometimes added punctuation to aid reading, but have left Judith’s spelling unchanged.

Judith was lucky that she was a very good sailor unlike some of her companions.

10th de[cembe]r.

In the Year 1727 I left the Downs in the Ship Stretham Capn. Westcot Commander for Fort William in Bengall. There was four women passengers besides my self we had not sailed twelve hours before a contrary wind & High Sea obliged us to turn Back when by the next night we reached Falmouth. It was hazey dark & as a rock lyes in that harbour we were forced to send a Lanthorn with a Boat & the Rock that we might steer clear …We stayed at Falmouth ten days where I saw nothing remarkable, the Wind coming favourable we with great Joy went aboard at Noon & made all the sail we could for the Bay of Biscay. Our ship was surrounded with a number of Porpoises wch in the Sea appear like Black hogs. Contrary & various Winds Continual Storm & of consequence Mountainous seas were our fate.

For three weeks in wch time extream sickness was suffered by all the women except myself wch was naturally following consequence of their sickness was extream fear wch was increased by the frequent Loss of small masts, which Bustle naturally shocking justly alarmed freshwater sailors. For one fortnight we never pulled off our cloths or Lay in a Bed. We could neither sit Lye or stand one Minute in a place.

The chief difficulty to me was to satisfy Hunger for as the sea air agreed perfectly with me I had a constant appetite & while my companions were groaning with Sickness & calling for proper Utensils I was striving to get to a Hamper in wch was a fine cold Buttock of Beef wch the Capn had placed there for our relief till the Weather would admit of a regular meal.

After many efforts & no other purpose than many a roll back again I at last attained the desired hamper wch was lashed to the Ground, the difficulty now was how to keep my hold & yet cut sufficient to satisfy my hunger. Here two pair of hands would have been of wonderfull service but I made my knees act their parts by pressing them as hard as I could into the matt while with all my might I held the Hamper with one Hand & cut with the other till I was weary. A delicious repast it was & was well washed down with some warm Flip wch as the weather was wet & cold was not disagreeable.

…At three weeks end it pleased God to favour us with a steady Gale wch calmed the sea restored my sinking companions & enabled us to clean our persons & comfortably to enjoy plentyful meals & tolerable Quiet nights. In the midst of our solacing a sail was observed astern wch as we were in a Pirate Sea alarmed the Capn who ordered our forad lights immediately to be put up that no light from us might guide the other …

Early in the morning we fortunately got into the open sea wch no sooner was accomplished but a violent Gale right in to the Cape Sprung up wch lasted a whole fortnight & we heard afterwards three Dutch Ships were lost there at that time. Our Capn often declared He would not have been then at the Cape for any consideration. Here a new Scene ensued for we were so used to peace and Plenty in the Trade Wind that the Bay of Biscay was in a manner forgot. The Cape Sea is remarkable in Bad weather for Higth & Violence. My companions suffered so much that twould appear ridiculous to endeavour to describe it the Eldest Miss Russel with extream reaching broke some vessel in the Her Stomach whc was the cause of Her death tho three year after.

Eventually the coast of India was in sight.

….The nearer you are to Land the more anxious you are to get Sight of it & every League seems ten wch made us Tease our Capn Every hour to know how long & would be before we were to be set at liberty, wch He bore with great civility and good Nature. By break of day we were told Land was near – all hands up in a Minute & to the Belconie we fled but was some hours before we could be sensible of anything but a dark cloud – wch [illegible] till we could perceive Trees.

…About one a clock we moored about two mile from the Factory when we all prepared for going ashore wch our Capn was against our doing till evening, but being a much better sailor than a proper Judge of Land customs he submitted to our request & ordered Boats & Cattamarans to attend us for by this time we had plenty of all sorts round the ship. The Boats are extraordinary in their kind being Built so high you can but just look over when you stand upright, sewed together with cokar bark of cokar trees & made thin enough to ply & twist with the waves or they would be overset in a high surfe.

Just before we were ready to go ashore Mr Stratten, my Brother’s attorney, came aboard to carry me ashore in the evening – but we were too eager to be gone to regard his advice as he only seemed to fear the heat of the weather. Here we wanted our Comodore who would have told us how much we should alarm the Town by going at so improper a time of day, as it is the General Custom in the East to go to bed as soon as dinner is over & not to appear till the cool of the Evening. No sooner were we in our Boats (for not above two could go together) but our Capn. complimented us with a salute of nine guns wch caused great confusion ashore – they soon guessed at our Captns mistake & all hurryed to see the new Ladys land.

Much to her surprise Judith was immediately commanded to visit the Governor

 …The nearer we came to the Govrs the more my heart fluttered – sometimes I was ready to cry & as often laugh. The sight of the Govrs Guard & larger attendance made me shake – but as we entered the Gate I plucked up my courage & was resolved He should not perceive the least fear.

The Governor was seated in a Large Hall & when He had saluted me He asked me (I thought in a Gruff manner) for the Letters I had brought Him. Letters said I – yes Letters He says I mean letters of recommendation that your friends no doubt in England have wrote to me of you – recommendation thinks I, what does he take me for a servant, what does He mean by that, but with a humble curtsie I assured Him I had none at wch He laught & turned my ignorant friends justly into ridicule, for were I to send out a young woman experience has taught me that she ought to have a letter from proper people to every Govr instead of which they generally are loaded with ridiculous ones to private persons who are very unfit to serve them I mean Bachelors. I will leave anyone to judge how these letters of recommendation are received by men Given up to business & pleasure without of visible woman belonging to them.

I took the Govrs treatment in High dugeon & was determined to be on my guard but as he had lost his Limbs with the Gout I could not conceive what it was I had to fear tho overwhelmed with it …

I thought I was got to an odd market but was determined I would make the best I could of it but could not well relish the merchandile way of disposing of goods. When I least expected it the Govr asked me if I knew How He came to ask me to be with him. I told Him I was at a loss to Guess.

It turned out the Governor had simply wanted to assist Judith in finding decent accommodation since there were none of the respectable inns she had expected to find.

An English reader may imagine me very conceited to feel any uneasyness at being distinguished in so extraordinary a manner – but as I was at an extraordinary distance in an extraordinary country remarkable for Levity & Seraglioes had had a thousand misrepresentations in England of the Scarcity of White women etc pray who can wonder at my jealousies & feeling I cannot tell how till I was fully informed of the reason of my being so honoured. I slept better than could be expected – was summoned to breakfast at seven – I found the Gvr agreeably situated in a Virando toward the Garden. He received me very civily & told me He had just heard the Miss Russels were obliged to Lye in a Punch House wch He was very sorry for & wondered that their cousin’s attorney had not taken more care of them that as their father had been Govr of Fort Wm had not wrote to Him He thought he had nothing to do with them but that if they were had provided by right He would endeavour to accommodate them. He said He had invited all the new Ladys of many of the Factory to dinner & that we were to have a Ball at night. All my difficultys were over & I was merry at heart.

The women found the Governor’s manners very uncouth, but Judith decided the only thing to do was to stand up to him.

The Govr who had more Wit than Manners attacked us strongly at dinner. I observed the eldest Miss Russel through sickness misfortunes & natural modesty was incapable of answering Him – that she was ready to sink – while he was putting us all to sale like a Hog merchant – the whole company was silently gratified for there is a vast deference paid to Govrs. I found the only way to stop His Honours mouth was to Joyne with him & as I was within a weeks Voyage of my Brother cared for no one.

The Govr had stated our case in a very melancholy Manner as that there was no men likely to marry worth having, that we were all bound for the Bay but that He feared we should be baulked there for that we were but coarser goods but he would do his utmost to get some of us off that Madrass. I looked very [illegible] & told Him that I was very sorry to hear so bad an account, that it was hard to come so far for nothing but desired to know what His Honour thought of putting us up at outcry next day. The Govr took it very merryly & from that time never attacked us.

After two weeks being entertained by the Governor, Judith set off again to join her brother, despite the Governor’s attempts to marry her off at once!

The Govr … found it was not in his power to settle me then to advantage therefore proposed sending me to Visacapatam to Mr Davies who was chief of a factory then dependent on Fort St George. Mr Davies had long given him commission to Consign a Lady to Him. The Govr proposed this strongly to me – I as strongly opposed it. On serious subject no man could reason better – but I could not relish being tossed about like a bale of goods & as I was so near my Brother was resolute not to dispose of myself till I had seen Him.

…. The Govr told me He feared I should repent but wished me well & after twelve days our whole cargoe packed off undisposed of – a sure Instance of the market being over stocked..

Judith Weston found herself a husband in Calcutta, and although it is not clear exactly when or how she met John Fullerton, they were married there on 16 August 1728. The Miss Russells also found husbands. Elizabeth married Samuel Greenhill on the 18th of  September 1728, and her sister Mary married Josiah Holmes on the 13th of November 1728.

Judith and John Fullerton remained in India for several years while he built up a small fortune. In the summer of 1732 they decided to travel back to England and as Judith was already pregnant she went on ahead. Their son John was born on board ship while she was still three weeks out from England, and John Fullerton himself was delayed in reaching home when the ship he was travelling on lost several masts, he eventually arrived back in England in August where the couple remained for the rest of their lives.

Judith’s Journal is with the Fullerton papers at the British Library.

Mss Eur B162. WESTON (Judith )
Account by Judith Weston, later Mrs John Fullerton, of a voyage to Madras in the East Indiaman `Stretham’ under Capt George Westcott, East India Company commander 1720-47, to join her brother William Weston.  14 folios 1727 – 1727.

Welcome to the Quandary Genealogy Blog

Welcome to the Quandary Genealogy blog. A place for occasional articles about genealogy and family history.

I am extremely lucky that my mother’s family were interested in their origins, and my grandmother’s aunts had recorded what they knew. This gave me a great start when deciding to research my family history.

When I did so I was also very glad that, as a teenager, I had asked my father about his family and the names of his more than fifty cousins. By the time I came to do my research he was no longer able to remember them.

It is by no means impossible to research your family without being given such a head start, but it does help!

The picture above shows my great aunt Phoebe in her mother’s pony cart, out demonstrating for women’s suffrage before the First World War, with the full approval of her mother.