Geoffs Genealogy Update 4 April 2015

Saturday April 4th, 2015 | Geoff

A couple of weeks ago Helen and I got up before dawn had cracked on a Saturday morning, to catch a 6.25 am train to Euston. Neither of us had been on a London research trip for several years, so to us it was worth getting up at an unearthly hour to get to the capital. Our train was delayed en route by about half an hour, due to a problem with the line, but we still got to The National Archives at Kew by about 9.30 am, and after getting our new reader’s tickets we set off to the Map Room, bent on cramming as much research as we could into the day.

Both Helen and I had ordered three Court of Chancery documents to look at in advance of our visit, so that we could get stuck into some research as soon as we got to the search room. Helen’s items were all waiting for her, but mine were not, which was rather frustrating. Something had gone wrong with the system. I therefore had to re-order these pieces and join Helen looking at her first few documents.

So far as Helen is concerned there is one person on the Bankes Pedigree who is of far more interest to her than anybody else, even though he is not our direct ancestor. Those of you who came to our Bankes Descendants’ Reunion a few years ago will know that this person is Dr Robert Hanham Collyer (1814-abt 1890) (RHC). We had identified a Court of Chancery cause dating from 1873, in which RHC was the defendant, so Helen made a bee line for that. This was a box of some 24 pages of typescript, of regular size, so fairly easy to handle and read. I cannot go into the case in depth at the moment, but according to the claim the impecunious Dr Collyer had received a sum of money from a certain Mr Edward Lee Robertson, to enable him to take one of his inventions to the 1872 Moscow exhibition, In return he had granted the plaintiff a quarter share in the Russian patent for the invention. If the sum in question was not repayed to Mr Robertson within six months, the agreement apparently said that the ownership of the English, French and Belgian patents would also be pass to him.

As was the case with pretty much everything that Dr Collyer got involved with the waters became rather muddied, and a dispute arose over the ownership of the patents; that was the basis of the action. There is lots here to read and assimilate, and much to add to our knowledge of RHC and his life. However, the papers do not tell us the outcome of the case, which is a trifle frustrating. We did not read the whole file at Kew, but photographed the pages for later study, and moved on to the next piece.

The fact that the RHC file was so easy to read and handle was a real bonus, as most of the Court of Chancery documents we have handled in the past were anything but easy to read and handle. The other Chancery documents we looked at during this visit dated from the eighteenth century, the earliest being from 1707 and the latest dated 1769. The documents were written on parchments of widely varying size. Some of them measure about 4 feet 6 inches x 3 feet, while others are considerably smaller. The writing has faded on many of them, and most of them have the accumulated dust of several centuries on them, so they hare very difficult to work with, and to decipher accurately. Notwithstanding this, they can be a real treasure trove of information about our forebears, and many of them bear the signatures of Bankes descendants. No matter what the difficulties involved in dealing with these documents, I am constantly filled with wonder that I am able to hold and study these documents, which were actually signed and handled by our ancestors all those years ago. It is amazing that they have survived.

To read these documents properly in the few hours that are available to us when we visit Kew is an impossible task, so in the past I have contented myself with scanning the pages and noting passages that seem most interesting from a genealogical point of view. That way I have collected much valuable information, but at the same time I have always been aware that (a) I have only been scratching the surface of the content and (b) inevitably there is a danger that I sometimes get things out of context. This time Helen and I set ourselves to photograph the documents, and not worry too much about trying to read them on the day, and this is what we did. Most of the documents had to be photographed in sections, with the aim of joining them together when we are back at home, but there were a few that we could photograph as one image. The wonders of digital photography!

In preparation for the trip I had reprised my previous work, and picked some of the Chancery documents that I had seen previously to photograph on this trip, and we did that. We also had traced a few causes that were new to us but seemed as though they may be interesting in the context of the Bankes Pedigree, and we also photographed those. Two of these were causes that involved John Bankes, Citizen & Haberdasher of London (c1652-1719) either as plaintiff or defendant, and we are hoping to learn more about Bankes and his life from these. There was also a cause dated 1707, in which Nathan Travis (c1669-c1711) was named as one of many defendants. A quick scan of the document tended to show that Nathan probably featured little in the cause, but there were several parchments that made up this piece, and little time in which to look at them, so I can still hope!

I have already started the job of joining the images of the various sections of documents, to make up a single picture of each parchment, but this is going to be a lengthy process as, for a variety of reasons that I won’t bore you with, joining up the images is rarely a straightforward matter. However, once done, we shall hopefully be able to decipher a large amount of the content in the comfort of our own homes, and create a full record of these very valuable documents.

All told we photographed 9 Chancery bundles, some consisting of one page and others comprised of multiple pages. Plenty there to keep us busy over the forthcoming months until we can visit Kew again!

All that work with Court of Chancery documents can be quite tiring, and by 4 pm we were feeling a mite fatigued, so Helen & I decided to give ourselves something different to look at for the last hour. We opted to look at some records relating to the bankruptcy of Antonio da Costa (c1784 – 1850), a nineteenth century London merchant whose first spouse was a Bankes descendant – Sarah Love Hunt (1792-abt 1821).

These records were quite fascinating. Antonio had been born in Portugal, and we do not know when he came to live in London. However, we do know that for quite a lengthy period he had what appears to have been a prosperous international trading business, operating out of Token House Yard in the City of London. However, his business evidently failed in the late 1820s, and he and his business partner – Manoel Antonio De Freitas, became bankrupt. As an alien and a bankrupt, there were extensive enquiries into the finances and business of Antonio da Costa, and the papers we briefly looked at result from these enquiries. The documents contain a great amount of detail about these matters, and we did not have time even to photograph all the many pages. We contented ourselves with photographing about a dozen pages, and made a note to return to this source next time we go to The National Archives.

When will that be?

We hope to go again in about a year’s time. As it was we arrived home at about 9 pm, tired, but well pleased with a most successful day.

Apart from the trip to Kew, most of my available research time this month has been spent on filling in gaps on the Osborne line. I still haven’t made any progress on Thomas Osborne (c1758-1801) who married Mary Hunt (c1764-aft 1830) at Walthamstow in 1789, but I have found out quite a lot about the descendants of this couple, using online resources. Maybe I’ll tell you more on that subject another time.


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