Francis Drocus Lempriere, rector of Newton St Petrock

May 17, 2015


When Francis Drocus Lempriere performed the burial rites for my 3x great grandfather, Joseph Davey of West Hole, on 10 August 1835 he would have had no idea that three decades later he would rescue, marry and finally baptise one of Joseph’s granddaughters.  After all, Francis had already celebrated his fortieth birthday on 11 November of the previous year and was the father of four sons. Francis himself was the second, but first surviving, issue of John Lempriere by his first wife Lucy née Willince. He had been born 11 November 1794 in Abingdon, eight miles from Oxford’s Pembroke College where John had earned his BA (1790) and MA (1792) and would later complete a BD (1801) and DD (1803).

When Francis was born his father was headmaster of the Abingdon Free Grammar School and was known in academic circles as the author of a classical dictionary which was to become widely used in schools throughout the English-speaking world. This Biblioteca Classica (1788) explains the proper names cited by the ancient authors. It has been regularly republished right up to the present day. During Francis’ childhood his father continued his studies with success but was forced to take on other activities to support his growing family. The headmastership at Abingdon, then an affiliate of Pembroke College, was one such enterprise but not one to which he was suited. He was no administrator and during his tenure enrolment declined. This caused the then Doctor of Divinity to take drastic measures. For a fee of twenty guineas he sold scholarships to Pembroke College. This resulted in his dismissal. During Francis’s youth his father also held the living as vicar to Abingdon St Helen with St Nicholas.  Francis, like his father, was to be an avid student, to take a living in a parish but to dabble as well in teaching at a grammar school. It was John Lempriere’s receiving the living for the parish of Newton St Petrock just before his sudden death in 1823 that opened the door for Francis to inherit it.

John LempriereThis is a portrait of John Lempriere which recently came to my attention through the web. I intend to investigate its provenance and authenticity. Having known about him for many years I had the image of a bearded, underfed ectomorph in my mind’s eye. This portrait bears no resemblance to the man I imagined.


Towards a History of Abbots Bickington, Bulkworthy, Milton Damerel and Newton St Petrock

January 24, 2010

How Canadian Consanguinity Concerns Put Us on the Path to Four North Devon Parishes

We had one grandparent.  I mean we had only one who survived long enough to share our lives occasionally and to give us the wonderful sense that there had been lives before our lives. Lives which were fascinatingly different from our own.  We lived five hundred miles from where my parents grew up in London Ontario. Gram came once to visit us in Montreal. That was in the 1950s.

Jack Jr.,Donald & Jane taken 23 June 1950

We visited her most every year until she died in 1961. The five of us would set out for the two-day drive on the two-lane Highway No. 2 west to London stopping for ham sandwiches with strong mustard at Napanee and for the night in a motel at Belleville.

By the afternoon of the second day we would at last turn onto the tree-lined Beaconsfield Ave. and race excitedly up the front porch steps of No. 67 and scramble noisily through the front door and always feel very very welcome at the end of such a long journey. Aunts and uncles would soon arrive from around town and there would be a feast followed by a game of hearts. There was a candlestick telephone on a private line whose number was then only five digits, 23118; there was still an icebox in the kitchen, no refrigerator, and there was a coal furnace in the basement.  When Florence Jane died, in 1961, we attended our first funeral and it was during her burial at Woodland Cemetery in London that I became very curious, some would say obsessed, to learn more of our family history.

Gram was buried in a large family plot which had an imposing granite obelisk at its centre. That was where we discovered our great grandparents, the pioneering Hannah and Samuel who had been buried there in 1909 and 1915.

If Samuel died in Ontario in 1915, what records, I wondered, would there be and what might I learn from them? So we wrote to the Office of the Registrar General for Ontario who, for a fee, extracted information from a vital record.  We  had sent away for an extraction of Samuel’s death record.  What we received was somewhat disappointing.

Of the twelve items which could have been provided,  six were stated in the extraction to be “Not Recorded” for Samuel. We had hoped to learn when and where he was born. We were really  no further ahead because we already knew from the obelisk that Samuel was 85 years of age when he died.

There were three essential pieces of information we had learned from our father about his Davis grandparents.

First was that there was a Devon connection.  He remembered as a youngster in Ontario hearing the expression, “I be Devon, what be you?”.  He still recalled this eight decades later with confidence, as though he had heard it just the day before.

Secondly Dad said that his grandfather, Samuel, had married a second time.  That marriage happened the year before our father was born but Dad knew that this second marriage had not been what the family expected or desired. The family would have been Samuel’s children. When I look at the facts and see that this marriage took place after the death of Hannah, Samuel’s wife of 54 years who had died in 1909, I say ” Thank You Sam!  You opened the door to our past!” And Thank You Dad for remembering and sharing this key piece of family history.

Thirdly, and just as importantly, as it would turn out, Dad knew that Samuel had “changed the family name”.

It turns out that Dad was right on all three counts but it was when we tracked down Samuel’s Ontario marriage record that we hit the genealogical jackpot.

Ontario Marriage records were much more detailed after 1897

If 81 year old Samuel had not married a second time we might never have found our way to Newton St Petrock and Milton Damerel and Abbots Bickington because it was only after 1897 in Ontario that the mothers of the brides and grooms were first recorded. This was, we are told, a step in determining that the two persons marrying were not too closely related. Not that this would have been a concern for the health of the offspring of this widower in his ninth decade of life and his widow bride in her eighth!

It was on this document that we learned that Samuel’s mother was Grace Fishley.  This was most fortunate because the Fishley name is not common. An unusual name is like gold when tracking ancestors. It was Samuel’s Fishley mother who made it possible for us to find where in Devon Samuel had started life.

Years earlier we had corresponded with the Devon Record Office who pointed out that there were over 400 parishes (454 according to Hoskins) in Devon so searching parish records for the baptism of our Samuel only knowing the name of his father and approximately when he was born would not be feasible. It was suggested we “have a search made of the Devon Census Returns, as these returns give the birthplace and date of persons listed”.

But now, with Samuel’s 1911 marriage certificate, we have Grace Fishley as a guide.  And guide she did!  The International Genealogical Index offered up one Grace Fishley and two Grace Fishleighs in the British Isles who had ever married Williams. These three marriages, coincidentally, all took place at about the right time to be Samuel’s parents.

Results for: Grace Fishley, British Isles
Spouse: William
Exact Spelling: Off
International Genealogical Index / British Isles – 3
Select records to download – (50 maximum)
1. GRACE FISHLEIGH – International Genealogical Index
Gender: Female Marriage: 02 JUN 1823 Milton Damerel, Devon, England
2. GRACE FISHLEY – International Genealogical Index
Gender: Female Marriage: 05 APR 1824 Newton Saint Petrock, Devon, England
3. GRACE FISHLEIGH – International Genealogical Index
Gender: Female Marriage: 31 MAR 1835 Milton Damerel, Devon, England

The grooms’ surnames were Blight, Davy and Lock.  Davy!  So Dad was right again.  That was the name “change” which he had heard about.

So did William Davy and Grace Fishley have a son Samuel born around 1830?  We couldn’t navigate the screens fast enough!

Results for: Samuel Davy, Any Event, 1828 – 1832, British Isles
Father: William , Mother: Grace
Exact Spelling: Off
International Genealogical Index / British Isles – 1
Select records to download – (50 maximum)
1. SAMUEL DAVY – International Genealogical Index
Gender: Male Christening: 19 JUN 1831 Newton Saint Petrock, Devon, England

So there he was.

And here he is with his family in 1841.

Little Hawkwill, Newton St Petrock, 1841, Page 7

It had not been easy to trace Samuel back to his parish of origin but once we had found him, thanks to Grace, it was relatively easy to track him through eight successive decennial censuses, four in the U.K. and four in Canada.  While we had felt cheated, when we began our research, that Samuel was born just six years before civil registration was implemented we were very fortunate that his timing was perfect in relation to the census.

The 1841 and  1851 Census of Newton St Petrock failed to record the parish of birth so it was not until the 1861 Census that Samuel’s mother Grace’s birthplace, Milton Damerel, was finally recorded in a census. By that time William, 66, and Grace, 56, were living at Fraud’s Meadow Cottage in Newton with their youngest son Caleb, 21, and his wife Susan, 21, and their 3-month-old son William.

Because the Milton Damerel parish records were  transcribed in 1952 by T.L. Ormiston and because these records were then deposited at the Exeter Library where they were soon filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah it meant that Milton baptisms were extracted for the IGI. Our IGI search was, thanks to Mr. Ormiston, once again productive.

Results for: Grace Fishley, Birth/Christening, 1802 – 1806, British Isles
Exact Spelling: Off
International Genealogical Index / British Isles – 1
Select records to download – (50 maximum)
1. GRACEY FISHLEIGH – International Genealogical Index
Gender: Female Christening: 26 FEB 1804 Milton Damerel, Devon, England

Samuel’s father William’s place of birth also became known to us in the 1861 census.  He started life in the neighbouring parish of Abbots Bickington and was baptized at Bulkworthy.

William of Abbots Bickington and Grace of Milton Damerel at Newton St Petrock in 1861

So tracing Samuel across the Atlantic led us to four parishes straddling the river Torridge in a part of creation which must have been heartbreaking to leave.