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Monday, January 02, 2006

A trip into the past - with updates. A large part of this information, except of course the photos, I have got from public records via the internet.

Augustus Kirk 1838-1923 Posted by Picasa

I've been delving into the lives of some of my ancestors recently. My grandfather Augustus Kirk was born in 1838 and he had a milliner's shop in Leicester, a fair sized city in the English midlands. His shop was in the High Street, employing ten assistants and an apprentice. He also employed a general servant and a nursemaid.

Augustus married Clara Weston,

Clara Kirke (nee Weston) 1844-77 Posted by Picasa

a pretty woman six years younger than him, in September 1874 and had two children – my father and his younger sister Iva. I have no photo of Iva, but here is my father:

Cecil Kirke about 1876 Posted by Picasa

Dad was born in June 1875 and his sister Iva in May 1877.

Sadly, Augustus' young wife Clara died less than a month after giving birth to Iva – perhaps from puerperal fever, a common thing in those days. Augustus was left with the task of bringing up two very small children with the assistance of their nursemaid Eliza Adams.

Fortunately for him and for the children, Augustus' sister Olivia,

Olivia Kirke, 1837-1909 (later Olivia Gilson). Posted by Picasa

a year or two older than him at age 40, lived with them, and she took over the mothering. Olivia was unmarried, although a good looking woman, and the family grew up over the shop in Leicester High Street until my father was thirteen, when Olivia then aged almost 52, received a proposal of marriage from a well-to-do farmer in Twyford, a village a few miles out of Leicester. His name was John Doughty Gilson, a widower then aged about 67, whose first wife, Catherine (known as "Kate") had died the year before aged 64, having given him five children.

John Doughty Gilson about 1870-80 Posted by Picasa

and he farmed 170 acres of land with the assistance of five labourers and a boy.

Olivia and John were married in early 1889, and my father and his sister Iva moved out of Leicester to live in the farm house at Twyford with Olivia and her husband.

Here it becomes complicated. It is possible that John D. Gilson was a cousin of Augustus, as his great-grandmother was Mary Doughty and Augustus' great-aunt Catherine Kirk, daughter of Mary Doughty, born 1788, married one William Gilson, born 1780. John may well have been the son of William Gilson (the evidence for this is purely circumstantial, but the name "Doughty" supports this). John would then have been Olivia's first cousin once removed, or “niece in cousinhood” as they say in some parts of the world, and John's sons would be Olivia's second cousins.

To back up this speculation, Catherine died in Twyford on 9 April 1865. Olivia's great-aunt may have become her mother-in-law!

Olivia's marriage did not last long. Tragedy again overtook the family and John Gilson died after less than a year of marriage, leaving his sons Arthur, Alfred and Herbert (young men in their twenties) and, possibly, a daughter, of who I have a photo captioned, tantalisingly, “S. Gilson”. That this young woman is John Gilson's daughter is guesswork on my part.

Selina Gilson
Posted by Picasa

In this photo she is a pretty young woman (difficult to guess her age), and I can find no other information about her. I am guessing that her first name was probably Sarah, as there were many Sarah Gilsons around that neighbourhood at that time.

Note: Since I wrote that last sentence, I have found out that John D. Gilson had two daughters; one, Selina, born in 1858. this would make her about 20 when the photos were taken, and fits exactly with them, so I am sure she is John's daughter - Olivia's stepdaughter and Dad's step-cousin.

Selina married twice, but so far as I can find out had no children. Her first husband was a lace maker from Nottingham, John Steere Hardy, and she lived with him in Nottingham for fourteen years. After he died in late 1891, she married again two years later to James Neville Tompson, a commercial traveller in timber, also living in Nottingham, and she lived there with him. Less than six years later she died aged just 42 and was buried in Wollaton Road Cemetery. She was my second cousin twice removed.

I also found out that John was described in the 1851 census as a "farmer of 83 acres employing 2 labourers", and in the1871 British census as a "grazier, 80 acres". So he had expanded his farming business by 90 acres and several men in the ten years between 1871 and 1881.

Here is another photo of Selina:

Selina Gilson about 1870-80 Posted by Picasa

After her husband's death Olivia and the two children returned to Leicester and in 1891 they were living with Augustus at 19 St. Nicholas Street, Leicester. I guess the two sons had been bequeathed the farm, and probably John had left Olivia some money. Augustus had evidently sold his millinery business and was "living on independent means" according to the 1891 Census report. He does not seem to be employing any live-in servants, but a niece of his wife, Florence Mastyn or Mastin, aged 23, is living with them as housekeeper

Some time between 1891 and 1901 Augustus, Olivia and Iva moved to 39, Nightingale Lane, Streatham (then a suburb of London), where Olivia died on 19 October, 1909, aged 72.

Dad's sister Iva married a clergyman, John Anthony Sturton, and he obtained the position of Vicar at Market Lavington in Wiltshire (his father was a clergyman, too.) I still have a pocket Bible he gave me as a christening gift. They lived in the big Vicarage house in the village, and Augustus moved there (I don't know the exact date) and the Vicarage became home for my father's children by his first marriage - though they did visit him in China on occasion. Augustus died there in 1923 and was buried in St. Mary's churchyard there. I still remember that big old house in its large garden: in about 1978 it appeared much as it had been in my childhood forty years earlier; but the Vicar's residence is now elsewhere.

Dad went on to join the China Consular Service in 1898, first as an interpreter, later appointed vice-consul and in due course posted to many different towns in the course of the years 1906-1932 finishing his career as Consul-General for the provinces of Yunnan and Kweichow. from 1927-1932.
He married first Mabel Wilson from Alnwick, Northumberland: she died at sea in 1927 after giving him two sons and two daughters; two years after her death he married my mother, Sybil Sandys, a missionary working for the Church Missionary Society and a descendant of the seafaring families of Hood and Nelson. I was born in China and left that country at the age of two.

Sybil Kirke (nee Sandys) 1900 - 1989

Cecil Kirke about 1938

Dad retired in 1932, and died in 1959. His beloved sister Iva, with whom he had a closer and more durable relationship than with either of his wives, died a year before him and he told my mother shortly before his death that he was not afraid to die, as his sister Iva had appeared to him and she had told him she was waiting for him. He was buried in the churchyard at Market Lavington near his father's grave.

To finish off, here is a photo of my great-grandfather William Henry Kirk, Augustus' father:

William Henry Kirk 1809-1872

There is also some more information that has come to hand about my great-grandfather William Henry Kirk. In the 1861 census he is described as "Artist and Woolsorter", living at 20, Friar Lane, Leicester. Wool production was a substantial industry in Leicestershire at that time. Probably John D. Gilson had many sheep.His two children and his "niece" (probably 2nd cousin once removed) Ellen (or Eleanor) lived there with him.


  1. thank you for sharing...I really enjoyed that Malcolm :)

    *hugs* my friend...and happy new year to you and your Clan :)

  2. This is an awesome post. Kudos to you for getting your family history down...and the fact that you have such beautiful, old pictures is wonderful. It's a great gift for your child, and a nice way of remembering your ancestors! Happy 2006!

  3. Fascinating. I have a number of pictures of my mother's family, when my GREAT grandmother was still a young girl, and unfortunately I do not know who any of the other people are, and there are no family members left to ask. I found a whole bunch in a steamer trunk in my mom's basement a few years ago.

    Happy New Year to you and Rose!

  4. Storm, NOW is the time to sort out some recent photos into a small family collection and LABEL and DATE them. And a Happy New Year to you and all your family!

    Thanks, xariklea. I never met my grandfather as he died before I was born. My maternal grandfather, too, was too old for us to know one another. My son Claude was born 111 years after his paternal grandfather: I have had seven children over a period of 41 years.

    Anissa, a Happy and Eventful New Year to you and your Clan, too!

  5. Malcolm... this is amazing!!! I really love to read families history, and the way you did it is almost like a novel... I deeply appreciated the short time it took me to read it... ;-)
    Thank you!!!

  6. Fascinating to read this as I am your brother! Just looked up Cecil Kirke (Dad) in Google and got this blog. Excellent! I especially liked the pictures which don't occur in the diaries.
    With love!


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