Saturday, 19 March 2011

Great Grandfather No 1 (First in a series of four!)

Richard Henry Brown is my paternal grandfather's father. I feel I owe him a great deal.  It was the large family portrait that he had taken of himself, his wife and their 11 children that inspired me to start my family history.  Over the years I have come to like him very much (which is daft - he could have been a complete tyrant) and I see myself in him.  (I have this photo courtesy of one of the cousins I "found" during my family history research.)

Henry (he didn't use Richard, which was his grandfather's name) was born on 16 April 1853 in Stapleton, Bristol.  His parents, William and Martha ran a dairy, but Henry didn't follow his father into the business - he had his own ideas, and for the first twenty years of his adult life he followed a series of occupations.  I don't know if he couldn't succeed in his ventures or whether (like me) he simply got bored rather easily.  Whatever the reason, Henry became a sailor, serving in the Merchant Navy, a police fireman, a tramdriver, a corn factor and eventually a pork butcher.  He stuck to his final career for the last twenty years of his life and two of his sons, and one of his brothers, followed him into this line of business.  He married Ellen Warren, a barmaid 12 years his junior who I surmise he met while he was a police fireman - her uncle's pub was a few doors away from the main police station in Bristol. 

I have decided that Henry was a good egg.  Why?  Just snippets of information gathered over the past few years really.  Firstly, he just looks so proud of his family - the big family photo I have shows a man who loved his kids and wanted to capture his family around him for all time (I now think that he had the picture taken just before his eldest son emigrated to Australia, shortly followed by another to Canada).  And, it wasn't just his children he was close to - when he opened his first shop it was just around the corner from his parents' dairy. 

Secondly, my cousins in Australia have a watch given to Henry by his siblings.  It is engraved on the back with gratitude for the way in which he dealt with their parents' will - so clearly he didn't grab all the money for himself which apparently he could have done.  Another cousin has a letter written to Henry and Ellen by one of their boys during WW1 - he is describing his journey to try to reach one of his brother's deathbed.  He writes with love and affection, no stiff Edwardian formality to distant parents. 

Finally, Henry died on 29 June 1920, not two years after the end of WW1, from which three of his sons did not return.  I think he just couldn't stand the loss. 

Well, that's my spin on Henry Brown - I won't ever meet him, but I feel I know him.


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