Saturday, August 21, 2010

Who Do You Think You Are with Rupert Penry-Jones

I was fascinated by the BBC programme episode shown last night (Friday evening) of Who Do You Think You Are with Rupert Penry-Jones, the actor.

It was interesting to see the part played by a medical unit in a World War II battle, and I hadn't appreciated either the size of Monte Cassino or the height at which it lies. Rupert's ancestor, William Thorne and his men, clearly saved many lives through their actions in the battle of Monte Cassino – what heroes !

More fascinating was the story that one of his ancestors was Indian.
Rupert followed the trail from his' great great grandfather, Theophilus Thorne, his marriage to Sarah Todd in 1885; Sarah's birth record; Thomas and Louisa Todd's marriage in South India in 1866; Louisa's father, Thomas Johnstone, whose name is on the Quarterly Alphabetical Nominal Rolls of the whole of the Europeans of the 1st Madras Fusiliers in 1857 - he left England in 1842. The 1st Madras Fusiliers was an East India Company regiment that ruled British colonial India until 1857. Thomas' regiment was stationed in Allahabad during the Indian Mutiny/War of Independence in 1857.

The researcher has discovered letters he wrote to his wife, Louisa - amazing that they survived and could be found. Louisa was born on 25th Feb 1832, maiden name Smith. Rupert searches on Family Search and finds two entries, follows the first one, (http://www.familysearch.org/eng/default.asp) discovers that her mother, Susanna, was described as an Indo-Briton, born in 1817 in Nagpore; and then visits All Saints Church in Nagpore and finds a birth record relating to Susanna's mother, Elizabeth, who was fully Indian.

However, I wonder whether the researcher's looked at the second entry on the Family Search results which shows the mother as Susanna Callum, however it also shows Louisa's death in 1836. Clearly, if Louisa died at the age of 4, she can't be an ancester of Rupert. Did the researchers validly ignore this ?

Apparently the East India Company, which ran the colonial parts of India before 1858, encouraged their staff in the 17th and 18th centuries to marry Indian women to alleviate homesickness and keep the staff in India, by giving them a bonus of a pagoda coin for each birth, but by the time Louisa was born, the practice had stopped; there were also restrictions on financial assistance and employment opportunities for Indo-Britons. These pagodas were small gold coins issued in Madras and other places, worth about 3½ rupees or about 7 shillings (35p). That might not seem much today, but in the Borders in the 1840s, 7 shillings would have been half a week’s wages for a wright, or a week’s wages for a weaver; and in India it would have had much greater purchasing power.

Families In British India Society  and Indiaman Magazine look like useful resources, if you can put up with the pop-ups and instant audio of the Indiaman Magazine.

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