Henry Finch Pte. SS/14260 18th. Labour Company, A.S.C.
SDGW: Born Revelstoke, Devon. Enlisted, London. Abode, Newlyn East, Cornwall.
Henry Finch was born in the summer of 1867, the 8th of 13 surviving children, to William and Susanna Finch, nee Horton.
His birthplace was the Keepers Cottage on the Membland estate, set among neighbouring farms in the parish of Revelstoke, Devon. Revelstoke Churchwarden’s account book 1861 for the Parish Rates has an entry for William Finch’s house and garden. Its Rateable Value is £2..13s..4d. and the Rate of 2d. in the pound gives the sum due as 5d. In 1871 Revelstoke covered 1541 acres and had 464 inhabitants. A National School for girls and boys was built in 1844.
To modern view, this would seem an ideal childhood setting in the wooded combes of Devon, never far from the coast.
Most people lived in the large fishing village of Noss Mayo on the River Yealm estuary, where crabs, lobsters, herrings and other fish were caught. The remainder lived by owning and working the land.
The principal landowner, Lord Revelstoke, employed Henry’s father and other men as gamekeepers, charged with protecting & raising all creatures that could be hunted for sport and food. The prey was hung in the game house, an octagonal stone building by the keeper’s cottage.
Ordnance Survey First Series, Sheet 24 showing Noss Mayo, Membland & Revelstoke. 1809 Scale 1:63360
“This work is based on data provided through www.VisionofBritain.org.uk and uses historical material which is copyright of the Great Britain Historical GIS Project and the University of Portsmouth”.
Like most workers on the land a gamekeeper’s life was hard. When sport was poor a keeper suffered the criticism of his master if the lack of game disappointed the visiting sportsmen. His was a 24 hour day and a 7 day week. He hung and butchered the game to prepare it for the owner’s table (with the bonus of supplying his own).
The same animals, rabbits, deer, game birds, could be considered as pests by farmers who saw crops damaged by their attacks: they were also a forbidden source of food for large, poor families.
Consequently the gamekeeper was not a popular figure in the countryside.
He carried a gun, and stalked the land at night in the hope of catching poachers. These could turn on him and injure him, and he had to bear witness against his neighbours who were caught poaching.
When Henry was 10 years old, his father William brought a case against Charles Harris and Richard Quick, of Newton Ferrers, and Samuel Collier.
At the Modbury Petty Sessions they were “summoned by William Finch, gamekeeper at Membland, to find sureties to keep the peace; and Samuel Collier for assaulting him on the 19th. inst. Quick was bound over in £10 to keep the peace for six months. The cases aginst Harris and Collier were dismissed.” DISTRICT NEWS. 01 June 1877 – Western Times – Exeter, Devon.
Edward Baring, William’s employer, had bought Membland Hall, situated in a peaceful hamlet just over a mile east of Noss Mayo, in 1877.
He was a very rich London banking merchant, the Baring of Baring Bank fame. He and his wife, the former Louisa Bulteel, made great improvements to the Hall and its buildings on the 4135 acre estate. Mrs. Baring thought of the plan for the Nine Mile Carriage Drive. It ran from Membland Hall down to Bridgend, through Noss Mayo and along the estuary where it curved eastwards along the cliffs towards Stoke before descending down to Membland again. It enclosed a large area of the estate and provided outstanding views towards Wembury and the sea.
Monmouthshire Merlin. 17th September 1880:
“A new parish church for Revelstoke, a romantically situated village, near the mouth of the river Yealm, is about to be built at the sole cost of Mr. Baring, of the London bank firm of that name, whose Devonshire seat, Membland, is in Revelstoke Parish. The foundation stone has been laid by Mrs. Baring, who was presented by the parishioners with a trowel, level, and mallet, the woodwork of which was made of oak from the ancient Parish church which has gone to ruin.”
The new church of St. Peter was erected in 1882 at a cost of £32,000, donated entirely by Edward Baring; he became Lord Revelstoke in 1885.
Life on the estate was enlivened in 1883 by the purchase of the Rev. “Jack” Russell’s famous pack of harriers consisting of sixteen couples!
In 1887 foreign royalty was entertained:
“The royal yacht “Victoria and Albert” brought the Crown Princess of Germany and her three daughters, the Princesses Victoria, Sophie, and Margaret to Plymouth. The party were then taken in the Admiral’s steam yacht to Noss Mayo. They visited Lord Revelstoke’s seat at Membland, Mr Mildmay’s domain at Flete, and Mr Bulteel’s place at Pomflete, returning to Plymouth in the evening by road.” The Tenby Observer 8th September 1887.
A report in the Barry Dock News of 6th. December 1889 descibes Membland:
“Lord Revelstoke’s beautiful place in the South Hams district of South Devon, Memblaud Hall, which is a creation of the last thirty years, is now one of the finest domains in the county, and he intends that the park shall have the most imposing entrance in the west of England. The gates are of hammered metal-work, with immense granite piers, which are to be surmounted by colossal representations, in red Corsebill stone, of the Baring supporters – a muzzled bear and a rampant bull. The two stones from which these animals are to be carved weigh nearly seventeen tons. Membland is near the sea, on the Erme estuary. Lord Revelstoke was attracted to the district owing to his wife being a daughter of the late Mr. Bulteel of FIete and Lady Elizabeth Bulteel. Flete, which is a grand old manor-house, standing in beautiful grounds which are intersected by the Erme, now belongs to Mr. Mildmay, who also married into the Bulteel family, which is one of the oldest in the west of England.”
All went well, with Henry joining his father and brother Frederick as a gamekeeper.
On the 4th. May 1889 Henry, age 21, married Ellen Horton, age 19, in the new St. Peters Church, Revelstoke.
According to the marriage entry in the Church Register Ellen came from Holbeton. Her father William was a farm bailiff; Henry’s father a warrener.
A year later their eldest son Mark was born and in the same year a financial crisis stemming from investments in Argentina forced near insolvency on the famous Barings Bank.
Closer to home, a natural disaster struck in the spring of 1891.
It had been a very mild February, but the first two weeks of March had been very cold but dry. When the great storm came it was not just the high winds and rain which the south-west was accustomed to – the wind was accompanied by heavy snow.
IN PARK AND FOREST.
“At Membland, Lord Revelstoke’s place ten miles from Plymouth at the mouth of the Yealm, the devastation and havoc caused by the storm of the 9th of March are indescribable.
“The appearance of the house on the Wednesday following, the 11th, will not easily be forgotten by its inmates. That Wednesday was a glorious day of sunshine. The house was entirely, to all appearance, snowed up to the top storey; the wind in its fierceness having flung the snow against the house, where it froze on the windows, giving a weird look; a pane of glass here and there coming out in relief, and prismatic colours darting across, in and out of the snow where the sun shone in full power.
“Where the ivy covers the north side, the effect was very beautiful : each leaf covered as it were with a bell of crystal, and festoons of crystal hanging down in every direction. Outside the front door the snow was fourteen feet deep. From eight to ten on that memorable Monday evening when the storm was at its height, the gardener, Mr. Baker, stood out and saw the trees right and left, here rooted up, there felled down with the rapidity and report of a volley of musketry. Over a thousand trees are down, among them the finest trees surrounding the house, and which can ill be spared, such as the Insignis, the Ilex, &c. Every orchard is laid low.
“The two plantations near the house present the appearance of hundreds of trees felled down for the advance of an invading and cruel enemy. On the carriage-drive you come across a huge tree torn up by the roots, leaving the whole road cracked as from an earthquake! By the side of this devastation, at every turn, you see the most curious sight of all, a tree frail from age or extreme youth left untouched! The drift at the lodge was from fifteen to twenty feet deep. The lodge-keeper took one hour and three-quarters getting from the lodge to the house, on Tuesday, the 10th; a distance under three-quarters of a mile. Mr. Methyrell, a tenant of Lord Revelstoke’s, residing one mile from Membland, lost fifty of his sheep. Lord Revelstoke was fortunate in not losing more than seventeen sheep and one black lamb. The village of Noss Mayo, situated in the estuary of the Yealm, in the parish of Revelstoke, has sadly lost in beauty and picturesqueness from the destruction of trees, these falling headlong in some instances on the boats of the inhabitants, and causing distress and ruin.
“Lord Revelstoke was in London – Lady Revelstoke was alone in the house with her niece, Miss Bulteel; the experience of being cut off from all communication with the neighbouring villages, the impossibility of procuring the services of Dr. Adkins were it a matter of life or death, the cessation of all postal or telegraphic communications, being told the last portion of flour was exhausted – this lasting from Monday until Saturday – all the different incidents arising from this “Great Un-foreseen” are recollections which will never be effaced from the memories of the inhabitants of the parish of Revelstoke.” pp 124-127
The Membland staff were fully occupied in the restoration of the estate. As well as their wages the cost of restoration and some loss of income would have added to financial difficulties.
With reference to the crash of 1890-91 there is a rather cynical comment in the South Wales Daily News, 16th. May 1892:
“Lord Revelstoke, who for a week past has been lying seriously ill at his South Devon seat, Membland Park, was up to quite lately the managing chairman of the great house of Barings, which certainly created more sensation in its fall than in its rise. Lord Revelstoke’s successes were won in Egypt, where his brilliant financial services led to his peerage. He found his financial Waterloo in Argentina.”
In October of that year Lady Revelstoke died at Membland.
Lord Revelstoke put Membland Hall up for sale in 1895 and he died in London in July 1897.
(There was a cadet school at Membland Hall during the War.)
By 1899 Henry had Ellen, five boys, and a girl to support. The family moved to Cornwall and Henry became one of the gamekeepers to Lord Molesworth of Trewarthenick. Perhaps he answered this advertisement:
Royal Cornwall Gazette — Thursday 8th. March 1900:
WANTED an UNDER GAMEKEEPER for the Trewarthenick Estate. Two others kept. – Applications, stating age and references, should be sent to Mr. JAMES HOAR, Trewarthenick, Grampound-Road. 7th. March, 1900.
The Finch home was Trelasker Cott in Cornelly. It was a good position; Henry’s name appeared in Kelly’s Directory of Devon & Cornwall for1902:
Only the death of his eldest, Mark, at the end of 1900 marred their family life.
Cornishman – Thursday 29 November 1900:
FINCH – Nov. 21, at Lower Trelaskar, Cornelly, Mark, eldest and dearly-loved son of Henry and Ellen Finch, late of Revelstoke.
Almost a year later on the 10th. October 1901 Frank Horton was baptised in the Cornelly church of St. Cornelius; Henry is a gamekeeper.
By 1906 the family had moved to Hendra, Ladock.
Circumstances seem to have delayed the Christening of Henry and Ellen’s next three children.
Their Baptisms at the Church of St. Ladock are all recorded on 10th. April 1906 for:
Ivey Kathleen Minnie born 7th. September 1903,
Iris Mabel Eveline born 4th. August 1904,
Stanley George born 2nd. July 1905.
The next year on the 3rd. of May Ruby Constance, born 2nd. August 1906 was Christened, followed by Elsie Laura Ellen on the 27th. March 1908. This was a private ceremony; Elsie was born less than a month before on the 16th. suggesting she may not have been very strong. Henry is described as a gamekeeper in all the entries.
By 1908 Henry and Ellen had increased their family by four girls and two boys.
In 1909 Lord Molesworth owner of Trewarthenick died and the estate was broken up. Yet again men who depended on the work provided by the estates and manors lost home and income.
(Lt. Gilbert Molesworth Welman who succeeded to the Trewarthenick Estate on the death of his aunt Lady Molesworth commanded the Royal Navy submarine HMS/M A7. She was one of the very first boats built for the fledgling Submarine Service at the beginning of the 20th Century. The small craft sank in Whitsand Bay in Cornwall on the morning of January 16th. 1914 while practising mock torpedo attacks on a Royal Navy vessel. All 11 men aboard her died; Lt. Welman was 25 years old.) http://www.worldnavalships.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-2400.html
In 1911 we find Henry and family some 15 miles from Trewarthenick, in Butts Hill, St. Newlyn East, a mining and farming area. The census form was filled in by his wife Ellen. Now he and two of his older sons, Herbert Lewis and Ralph Bernard are Rabbit Trappers. The many farmers in the area would be glad of their work. Rabbits were considered as much a pest as rats but had the advantage of being edible with a useful coat. There were advertisements offering to buy their skins and those of other small animals: mole, fox, otter, hare and even cats. Under Miscellaneous Wants dealers in the wholesale market, Nottingham, promised Good Prices for fresh young rabbits and the Sheaf Market, Sheffield, appealed ‘Rabbits Wanted’. Thousands of rabbits were trapped and delivered to markets. The job gave them a fair income, and there was always something for the pot.
But Herbert Lewis, Henry’s eldest son, must have been considering wider horizons and opportunities.
Mines in Cornwall were less profitable at the beginning of the C20th. although there were still ores to be found in the Cornish depths. The worked-out mine near Newlyn East, Wheal Rose, had held, unusually for Cornwall, deposits of silver and lead. Cornishmen as ever looked for work abroad.
The usual route for travellers from the Southwest to the Americas had been by train to Liverpool to board the emigrant liners. A more convenient route was enabled by the Port of Bristol Authority. The old Avonmouth dock was too small for the new class of luxury liners and in 1908 the much larger Royal Edward Dock was opened by King Edward VII.
Newspaper advertisements of the Canadian Northern Steamship Line described the opportunities in Canada. These also promised the fastest and most comfortable voyage for all classes of travellers.
On the 6th. May 1914 Herbert boarded the C.N.R.S.S. Royal Edward, captained by Peter Millman Wotton R.N.R.. Herbert went 3rd. class which was still far better than the usual ‘steerage’ for emigrants. He described himself as a miner en route to Cobalt, Ontario, * one of the largest silver producing areas in the world. Had he worked at mining as well as trapping rabbits in Newlyn East? Two companions were also miners, Edwin Geach and William Bate. The voyage was notable for the birth of baby Delbert Edward Christian Scarrott.
*The discovery of silver in Cobalt is the theme of a “Murdoch Mystery” -All That Glitters.
Meanwhile in Butts Hill, Newlyn East, Henry and Ellen cared for their remaining eight children, Ellen no doubt thankful there had been no additions since Elsie Laura, born in 1908.
At the outbreak of WW1 Henry was in his 48th. year, Ellen 47. Throughout Cornwall there was a relentless drive for volunteers from the authorities and those who held positions of authority . The Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry marched through the county and held rallies. Harangues in newspapers accused young men of cowardice for not enlisting and fathers with more than one son at home were targeted. One Cornish response was: “We are not all fools down here to join up and fight!”
But men did come forward – not just the young who were appealed to, but their fathers also. According to the service records of some in the 18th. Labour Company, they were past their prime – “broken down old men” was the description by the R.A.M.C. men on board the Royal Edward. Henry Finch’s record is missing – was he still active and healthy from his outdoor life. Did he think his skills at stalking and shooting would fit him for killing the enemy?
He left Newlyn East on the Newquay line joining men from St. Columb, Roche, and Bugle, to catch the London train. A great crowd of clay-workers had boarded at St. Austell – the party was almost complete.
The family he left behind.
But poor Ellen! Her next eldest son, William Percy, who might have been a support, left to be married to Violet Beadle in the early summer of 1915. In the same year on September 21st., she gave birth again: William Percy was replaced by baby Reginald George who was never to know his father.
In that year there were ten remaining children aged between 20 years and three months.
As often happens in desperate situations unhelpful rumours spread. Because the men had been in the army for a short time and were labourers, not fighting men, the right of dependants to a pension was queried.
9th. September 1915 – West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser – Truro, Cornwall:
CORNISHMEN ON THE ROYAL EDWARD
HOW ARE THE DEPENDENTS OF
LOST MEN TO BE ASSISTED?
“During the last week or so a good deal of discussion has taken place as to whether or not any provision is to be made by the Government for the Cornishmen belonging to the labour section of the Army Service Corps who were lost when the Royal Edward was torpedoed in the Aegean Sea. We understand that immediately after the receipt of the news that the boat had gone down, Miss Margaret Smith, of Treliske, the esteemed hon. secretary of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Families Association in the Truro District, wrote to that Association asking what provision would be made for the widows and children. The Association communicated with the War Office, and Miss Smith was informed she would have a reply shortly. Miss Smith states that the widows will continue to recive their separation allowance for 26 weeks, and that, in all probability, they will after that get their pensions, but she has not receieved definite information to this effect. She hopes to do so in a few days.”
The next week’s edition announced:
ROYAL EDWARD DISASTER
WIDOWS & CHILDREN ELIGIBLE FOR PENSIONS.
With reference to the question of pensions for the dependants of A.S.C. men lost in the Royal Edward disaster, we are officially informed. through Mr. T. Medland Stocker, J.P. that the men who have joined the Labour Companies are enlisted soldiers, and as such their dependants are entitled to the same treatment as those of any other soldier. That is to say, when the wife receives notification from the War Office that her husband died on service she continues to draw her separation allowance, and does so for 26 weeks pending the decision as to what pension she will be entitled to.
Ths official intimation should dispel any doubt which has existed in the district on the matter.
Mr. T. Medland Stocker, St. Austell, has also written to Mr. W. G. Goodfellow, Truro, to the same effect, adding:- “If you should get any cases in which the separation allowance of a woman has been stopped you should wrte to the Secretary of the War Office, and mark the envelope A/cs 3. Give the man’s name and regimental number and the company to which he belongs. The Accounts Department will then communicate with the Paymaster responsible.”
Miss Margaret Smith, of Truro, the local hon. secretary of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Families Association, yesterday received the following letter from the Assistant Secretary of the Association:-“In reply to your letter of August 18th. regarding Pensions Schemes for widows of men who are labourers in the Army Service Corps, I am now informed by the War Office that the widows and children of these men are eligible for pensions from Army funds, subject to the usual conditions.”
16 September 1915 – West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser – Truro, Cornwall.
T. Medland Stocker was the managing director of the West of England China Clay Company.
He organised the recruiting of hundreds of clay workers; there were many in the 18th. Labour Company.
W. G. Goodfellow, Mayor of Truro.
Ralph Bernard, the eldest may have left home, but Ellen would not have received maintenance for him nor for Hilda and possibly not Russell. She would continue to receive the separation allowance for 26 weeks after Henry’s death. As the widow of a Private, Ellen was granted a minimum pension of 13s. 9d. weekly. She was left with at least* seven ‘underage’ children to rear.
The Ministry of Pensions weekly allowance rates for children under 16 years were:
For a first child …………..5s..0d.
For a second child. . . . . .4s..2d.
For a third child …………..3s..4d.
For each child after the third . .2s..6. *Russell Harold was just 16 in 1915.
There was a Gratuity not exceeding £5 to meet expenses consequent on or caused by the soldier’s death in addition to any pension and children’s allowances (when the death of the soldier occurred on or prior to July 1, 1916.)
The Soldier’s Effects Record for Henry has:
Widow Ellen & children £4..9s..4d. Gratuity to Widow Ellen £3..0s..0d.
In February 1920 Ivy Kathleen M. died age 16.
Death. Ivy, the dearly loved daughter of Ellen, and the late Henry Finch, St. Newlyn East, Grampound Road. Thursday 04 March 1920 , West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser , Cornwall
Ellen moved down the road to 4, Quintrell Terrace, Quintrell Downs, Newquay.
Five more of her brood married and moved away. Two boys – Frank Horton in 1923 to Emily R. Pollard and Russell Harold in 1943 to Edith Francis Winifred Coaker: three daughters – Hilda Elvena to George H. Wilton in 1922; Ruby Constance to Walter J. Wilton in 1932; Iris Mabel E. in 1938 to Reginald J. B. Lander.
Ruby Constance was left a widow in 1933.
I have not found marriages for Reginald George, died at Plymouth age 68; Stanley George, died age 60; Elsie Laura, died age 85.
Elsie, and later Ruby, lived with Ellen.
The two eldest boys in the U.K., William Percy and Ralph Bernard were old enough to join up. William may not have been in good health as he died early in 1925. There is a Medal Index Card for a Ralph B. Finch: Pte. 23931, Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. Without service or pension records it is not possible to link this man to Henry’s son.
Both were Rabbit Trappers and this was an important enough job to defer enlistment. A report of the St. Austell War Tribunal in 1917 says the appeal of the military against the exemption of a rabbit trapper was dismissed. “He is extremely important. It is impossible to take away the only trapper, especially where, as in the case of this man, he kills 10,000 a year.” 25 Aug. 1917 Exeter and Plymouth Gazette – Exeter, Devon. Advertisements by farmers for rabbit trappers appear thoughout the War, with “Cottage, garden, and usual privileges.”
As for Herbert, either due to failure in Cobalt, or the outbreak of war, three months after arrival he applied for admission to the U.S.A. through Port Huron, Michigan. He was accompanied by two other Cornish miners and all stated their last residence was Cobalt:
Harry Trevena age 38 from Redruth, married to Henrietta still in Cobalt, and James Sanders age 22 whose mother Fannie was in Bolingey, Cornwall.
Their destination was Bisbee, Arizona, and Herbert was to join a friend William Bate, his companion on the May voyage.
His U. S. Civilian Draft record, 5th. June 1917, says he is of medium height and build. He has dark brown eyes and light brown hair and no disability.His address was still Grass Valley, and he is a miner working for the Empire Mines Development Company.
According to the U.S. census Herbert married after 1920 but was widowed before 1930 when he is a Boarder with Richard and Esther Tremaine at Berriman Street, Grass Valley, Nevada. He is not naturalised and is a miner in a gold mine working on his own account . There are many Cornish among his neighbours.
Ellen died age 88 at 4, Quintrell Terrace, Quintrell Downs, Newquay. Probate was granted to Ruby Constance Wilton, widow, who was to equal her mother’s years.