In 1975 I wrote in an autobiography for school that: “Nana’s family originally came from Scotland and Portsmouth. My great great grandpa James Graham became a Captain in the Merchant Navy. During a stay in Portsmouth he met Jessie Clark, a daughter of a maker of blinds. They had no children for nine years, then they moved to West Mersea, where they had nine daughters. James’s father, because of something he did, was awarded the freedom of America. His children and his children’s children were also awarded it, so my great grandmother could have claimed it, but my nana couldn’t. Some of the children did go to America.”
Unravelling the history has indeed led back to Scotland but in a less than straightforward route.
The Graham girls and mother Jessie:
It took some time to find great great grandpa James Graham as in the 1881 Census he is no where to be found. As expected, Jessie and the first 4 daughters were living at the Coast guard station at West Mersea.
Great great grandma Jessie was, as expected, born in Southsea, Portsmouth. Prior to the 1891 Census being available online, I searched the film for West Mersea in my local LDS centre. James Graham was at home this time with wife Jessie and, by now, all nine daughters; Ada, Lydia, Agnes, Jessie (my great grandma), Alice, Emily, Kate, Clara and Edith. James was 46, a chief boatman with the coastguard but not born in Scotland. The birthplace was tantalisingly difficult to read; C?????? America British subject. 10 years later viewing the film image on line, Canada is easy to read. The 1901 Census confirmed that James wasn’t born in Scotland; James was 57, a naval pensioner, blind and born in Kingston America.
Fortunately the IGI had James and Jessie’s Marriage from the Parish Records of St Mary’s Portsea, May 30th 1869. The Certificate gave James’s age as 25 and Jessie’s, 21. Her father, James Alexander Clarke was a cabinet maker (Whites 1873 directory lists James A Clarke, cabinet & blind maker). James’s father was also James Graham and, according to the Certificate, a silversmith. James himself was a Seaman onboard HMS Minotaur. Witnesses to the Marriage had been Jessie’s father and a Jessie Graham.
So, great great grandpa James Graham was a Naval man but Royal Navy rather than Merchant Navy. He had married a daughter of a blind maker from Portsmouth. He had had nine daughters ,all born at West Mersea; the eldest Ada had been born in 1876 not quite nine years after the Marriage but close. There was also an apparent link to America. But what about Scotland?
In 2005, through some judicious googling, I found a cousin of Nana’s. Then aged 91, he added some stories told to him by his mother, James’s daughter Clara. James was a Scot; his father was William Graham, a baronet who had left Scotland for Jamaica. James had desperately wanted a son to carry on the title (hence nine daughters!)
The title had never been used but James had cherished the papers. Born in Jamaica he had joined the Royal Navy there as an ordinary Seaman, serving in New Zealand at the time of the Maori wars. Contact with James’s daughter Emily’s granddaughter uncovered a story that James’s descent was from James Graham, Marquis of Montrose!
James’s Naval Record from 1 January 1873 was found and downloaded from The National Archives online documents. Finally the birthplace was confirmed, Kingston, Canada, 27th June 1843. He had transferred to the coastguard at West Mersea on 1st April 1874 and was pensioned 30th June 1893. A visit to National Archives at Kew uncovered the previous records.
James had enlisted on 30th September 1857 at Portsmouth as a boy 2nd class. At that time he was 4’ 11” with brown hair, hazel eyes and a ruddy complexion. He signed with a neat well-practised signature for a ten-year period from the age of eighteen. On 26th April 1872, James re-enlisted for another 10 years. By then he was 5’ 6”, had gained a scar on his right cheek and had been promoted to 2nd Captain 2nd deck. Later that year, he moved to Captain of the Mast.
Alas no Jamaica, but the stories of New Zealand rang true. In 1859 James was on HMS Iris, the flagship of Captain William Loring, Commander of the Royal Navy’s Australian Station. In 1862, he transferred to HMS Orpheus. On 7th February 1863, as the Orpheus tried to enter Manukau Harbour, she struck a sand bar. Sails were lowered with only the foretopmast staysail left to keep her steady. Guns, shot and anything else heavy was jettisoned but to no avail. Two boats carrying 24 men with all the ship’s papers and money were lowered and landed safely. The launch with 39 men was swamped by the waves, drowning all but 3. Only one other boat was safely lowered and landed. As the Orpheus heeled over and was breached by the sea, many men who had rushed to the rigging, fell as the masts broke, were caught by the surf and drowned. 190 men and boys perished with only 70 survivors. Was James one of the 37 safe in a boat that landed or one of the 33 plucked from the sea? Either way luck had been on his side.
Temporarily on board HMS Miranda, James then moved to HMS Curacoa where he received a campaign medal for his part in the Battle of Gate Pah, at the end of April 1864. Either experience could well have left the scar on his right cheek.
The 1851 Census showed a James Graham, aged 7, born in Canada with his family in Portsea, Portsmouth. The father was also James Graham as expected from James’s junior’s Marriage Certificate but his occupation, Chelsea pensioner, was far from a silversmith and his birthplace, Canterbury, far from Scotland. Three children had been born in Canada, Christian, Emily and James, two in Portsea, Jessie (witness to James junior’s Marriage) and Clara Jane.
Two further sons were born by 1861, Henry and Frederick Gradwick. Witnesses to James’s daughter Agnes' Marriage in 1900 included Henry and Frederick Graham; surely this had to be James’s family despite the father’s occupation. James’s Birth Certificate, found in the Army register of births provided the confirmation: born on 27th June 1843 at Kingston Canada, baptised on 27th August, son of James and Mary Ann Graham, James senior being gunner and driver with the 2nd Battalion Royal Artillery. Perhaps he had turned his hand to silversmithing to supplement a pension or perhaps James junior had exaggerated a little on the Marriage Certificate to match Jessie’s father’s trade of cabinet maker.
Scotland still beckoned though.
A descendant of James’s sister Jessie had a copy of a report on her Death in 1931. She was referred to as the daughter of James Graham of Collessie Fife. The same descendant was also in possession of a scrap of paper written in Collessie on 4th February 1811: “James Graham son of James Graham born the 7th January 1753 extracted from the Register of Births in the Parish of Collessie County of Fife by …’ unreadable signature.
Great great Grandpa James’s father, James Graham’s discharge papers were found in the National Archives catalogue online and copies ordered. James senior, great great great grandpa, had been discharged at Woolwich 19th September 1845, due to chronic rheumatism, considered to be a result of James becoming extremely wet on the march from Montreal to Kingston in May 1830. On discharge he was 5’ 8¾” with red hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion. Born in Canterbury, Kent, he had enlisted in the Royal Artillery at Cupar, Fife on 30 September 1822. Sixteen years and two months of his service had been spent in Canada. He had been promoted to Bombardier and Corporal on 15th August 1834, but then unfortunately demoted through Court Marshal due to being drunk when paraded for guard on 1st February 1842.
Parish Records from St Mary’s Northgate, Canterbury, Kent show James Graham christened 5th June 1803 son of James and Christian Graham. Parish Records from Cupar, Fife, show a Marriage, 7th December 1800; James Graham of the Royal Artillery and Christian McIntoch of this parish.
Had James married Christian, been posted to Canterbury where the Army must have been in preparation incase Napoleon invaded, and then returned to Fife prior to 1822 when son James followed his father into the Royal Artillery?
Monument inscriptions collected by Henry Rae-Arnott and originally published in 1911 detail an inscription in Collessie churchyard: ‘A.D. 1822. Erected in memory of James Graham who died 1815 age 63 years and Margaret Stewart his spouse who died 1798 age 42 years and Christian Graham their daughter who died 1822 age 27 years.’
On the reverse is inscribed: ‘ In memory of James Graham, Sergeant Royal Artillery, who died August 8th 1827 age 51 years.’ James Graham and Margaret Stewart had had a son James christened in Ceres Fife 25 September 1774, having been Married in the same Parish 27th August 1774! Although apparently two years too young, if James Graham Sergeant Royal Artillery wasn’t James and Margaret’s son, what was his memorial doing on the reverse of theirs?
Had I finally found the Scottish connection? Evidence, though compelling, was circumstantial. The only other clues would lay in the Royal Artillery records in the National Archives at Kew; visits that have to wait until odd days snatched from school holidays.
Unfortunately the Royal Artillery Service Records are not indexed, and only some are alphabetical. Great great great grandpa James Graham’s Royal Artillery record was found in the fifth book of the 2nd battalion. It confirmed the details given in his discharge in 1845. He had enlisted initially into the 3rd battalion, moving to the 2nd in September 1842. His service in Canada had been from 23rd June 1829 to 29th August 1845. Apart from the unfortunate occasion of being drunk when paraded for guard, his character had been very good. He was left with a pension of 1 shilling and 1 penny a day.
The monthly muster and pay rolls gave more detail.
In 1823 stationed at Woolwich pay varied between 2 shillings and 4 pence, and 2 shillings and 7 pence. In September 1823, James was sent with the recruiting party back to Cupar Fife; some local knowledge and contacts no doubt facilitated more recruits. By July 1829 in Quebec Canada pay had increased to £2-1-11¾.
Returning to Kew the following holiday, I searched for the previous generation. So far I had great great grandpa Royal Navy James Graham born Kingston Canada, great great great grandpa Royal Artillery James Graham born Canterbury Kent and now I was after great great great great grandpa James Graham whom I was fairly sure was also Royal Artillery.
Searching the Royal Artillery muster records June 1803 for a James Graham stationed in Canterbury, I found Bombardier James Graham of Captain Charles Newhouse’s company 3rd battalion. The service records of the 3rd battalion were written into the books from 1830; too late for great great great great grandpa if he was the James Graham Sergeant Royal Artillery who died 1827. Monthly muster rolls would have to offer more clues.
The second half of 1803, James was stationed at Deal though still paid at Canterbury where most of his company was stationed. On 20th December 1803, he was promoted to Corporal in the 8th Battalion and joined Captain Hugh Fraser’s company at Woolwich. He remained at Woolwich until the company moved to Warley Essex for June and July 1806 before moving onto Downs in August, Plymouth in September and then on board defence transport for October, November and December.
Details against James name showed he enlisted 7th January 1793. From January 1807 they were stationed on Malta and James was promoted to 1st class. James’s pay was reduced for his wife from October 1806 through to December 1807, when I presume she and son James (born 1803 Canterbury) joined him in Malta. My Kew visiting time ran out and I had to leave James in Malta at the end of 1808 until next school holiday.
Armed with those clues, though some successful searching online uncovered more evidence. Using Hugh Wallis’s IGI batch numbers, I found Jane Elizabeth Graham baptised at the Scots Church, Woolwich 30 June 1805 with parents James and Christian Graham. The Regimental Birth Indices Supplement gave three children born to Royal Artillery personnel surname Graham in Malta between 1808 and 1817, Christian, Mary and George. It also gave James Graham born 1803 Canterbury to Royal Artillery personnel. I had never considered looking for great great great grandpa’s Birth other than in Parish Records, but here was a chance I could actually have a Certificate of it, confirming his father as James Graham Bombardier Royal Artillery! Duly ordered I continued following clues.
Assuming that the whole family had returned to Scotland after Malta, I searched the 1851 census for Christian born 1812 in Malta. Christina Dewar, age 38, born Malta, married to Michael Dewar, a coachman, was with her family including eldest son Michael in Barony Glasgow. In 1841 she was, age 25, with Michael, a servant, neither born in county, at Clyde Stables Old Monkland Lanarkshire. Twin sons Michael and James were with them and also Christina Graham age 71, all not born in county either.
The Parish Record of Michael and Christian’s Marriage confirmed her parentage: ‘Edinburgh parish 12th April 1841. Michael Dewar servant residing at 27 Jamaica Street St Stephens Parish and Christian Graham residing sameplace and parish, daughter of the late James Graham pensioner parish of Collessie.’ Christian’s Death Certificate finally tied the clues together: ‘ Christian Dewar age 59 married to Michael Dewar stableman died 20th October 1871. Parents: James Graham, Pay and Colour Sergeant Royal Artillery deceased, Christian Graham (McIntosh) deceased.’
Christian, daughter of James Graham, Sergeant Royal Artillery of Collessie and Christian McIntosh had been born in Malta. Her father James was surely the same James followed through the muster rolls from Canterbury 1803 who with Christian had a son James Graham in Canterbury 1803.
Nana’s stories had been right, James Graham had come from Scotland, just not the generation she had thought. Her grandpa may never have set foot in Scotland, despite sailing to the other side of the world and back. Her great grandpa wasn’t born there but was there for a while between Malta and Canada. But her great great grandpa was from Collessie, Fife, his memorial on the reverse of most likely his parents’ memorial. As to the stories of William Graham baronet, perhaps some truth will unfold, again not in the generations expected and then of course there’s the Marquis …… ?
Postscript: Great great great grandpa’s Birth and Baptism Certificate from the Army registers arrived. Date and place of baptism and names of parents were as expected, Birth was 22nd May 1803, but James the father was described as a Sergeant! I had found and followed a bombardier. There was no signature of the chaplain nor the Adjutant verifying the entry; had a mistake in the rank been made? Or was there another James Graham in the Royal Artillery in Canterbury June 1803, who was also in Woolwich 1805 and who then moved to Malta by 1812? Nothing but a check through the rest of the Royal Artillery battalions in Canterbury June 1803 will answer that.
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