Monday, February 1, 2016

Notes on the Cooke Family of Tawstock

St Peter's, Tawstock, Devon in 1906
As far as I know, there is no connection between Thomas Cooke (1741-1802) of Tawstock, Devon, and my ancestor, George Cooke (1742-1821) of nearby Langley Barton in High Bickington. But while exploring the possiblility of a connection, I uncovered a number of fascinating stories about Thomas Cooke's descendants, in particular, his grandchildren Charity Cooke and John Lovering Cooke.

Charity Cooke

Charity Cooke, was baptised at Tawstock on 6 Oct 1816. Her father George Cooke (1789-1873) was an agricultural labourer. In 1815, George married Jane Lovering (1797-1868) of Georgeham, Devon. Charity was the first of 13 children.

Thomas Cooke (1770-1841)
George's parents were Thomas Cooke (1741-1802) and Charity Richards (1738-1833). George's father had been appointed sexton of St. Peter's, Tawstock in 1785. A sexton's primary task was the digging of graves, although he was also responsible for cleaning the church and maintaining the churchyard.

After his father's death, George's older brother Thomas Cooke (1770-1841) became sexton. Thomas's gravestone is located in a prominent position near the south porch of the church and records that he was sexton for forty years, had two wives, and 14 children.

At the age of nine, Charity Cooke was bound as an apprentice to George Lovering of Tawstock. George was a recently married yeoman farmer living at Fishley Barton. He later moved to nearby Chapelton. Despite having the same surname, there does not appear to be a connection between George and Charity's mother, Jane Lovering. Charity was bound until her 21st birthday, so it is likely that Charity worked for George Lovering until 1837.

Charity Cooke's Apprenticeship Indenture
Until the passage of the Poor Law Amendment Act in 1834, individual parishes were responsible for the relief of the poor. The English Poor Laws, dating back to the reign of Elizabeth I,  allowed for children "whose parents shall not ... be thought able to keep and maintain their children" to be apprenticed to a master or mistress by parish officials, subject to the consent of two justices of the peace. Doing so removed the child as a financial burden to the parish, since the master or mistress became responsible for the child's board and lodging. In return the child worked as an unpaid servant. Children as young as nine could be indentured, and girls were bound until the age of 21, or marriage. When a parish wanted to bind a poor child, the parishioner they had chosen as master or mistress had to take the child or pay a fine.

Chapelton, Tawstock, Devon
In addition to Charity Cooke, two other child were bound as apprentices to George Lovering in 1825: Mary Brimble, aged 12, and Richard Madge, aged 9.

Apprenticed children had little protection from ill-treatment or overwork, and were, in effect, a cheap supply of labour for farmers who needed agricultural workers. How they were treated depended on the master.

So what kind of master was George Lovering? There are three clues. The first is a short article from the North Devon Journal reporting on the Petty Sessions held at Barnstaple on March 19, 1829:
Mr. Lovering appeared to answer the complaint of John Jones, shoemaker of Tawstock. Complainant stated, that his daughter had been in service to Mr. Lovering, at the commencement of whose servitude, her mother made an agreement with Mrs. Lovering, for one shilling a week, but that she replied she though that too much, and that thirty shillings a year would be the full value of her services; and that she had at two different periods, paid her mother 7s. 6d. each time, as a quarter's wages for her daughter's services. Mr. Lovering was ordered to pay her wages at the rate of thirty shillings a year, to the time the girl quitted his service.
The second is his obituary that appeared in the North Devon Journal in 1866:
DEATH OF MR. GEORGE LOVERING.—It is with deep regret we announce the death of the above much-respected gentleman, which took place at his residence, Chappletown, Tawstock, on Saturday morning last. Deceased was well known in the neighbourhood as a diligent, consistent, and zealous preacher of the gospel. His style was clear, plain, and impressive; a style which the uneducated could well understand, while the educated could not carp at it. As a "good minister," he was very useful in his day and generation, visiting and relieving the sick and the poor, enlightening the ignorant, strengthening the weak, comforting the afflicted, and warning the impenitent and unruly. In him every sect and denomination of Christians found a faithful and warm-hearted friend, and his house was ever open to receive and entertain them. As a neighbour, he so demeaned himself as to gain the respect, honour, love, and esteem of all classes. His death will be deeply deplored, especially in his locality where, some years since, he built a neat and commodious chapel (with a burying ground attached), of which he was pastor. A school-room was added by his munificence and a neat cottage and garden purchased by him for the residence of a master and mistress. His attachments to the place was strong and unwavering, and he leaves a satisfactory testimony that for him to die was gain.
The final clue is contained in a book about the life of Robert Cleaver Chapman. Robert Cleaver Chapman (1803-1902) was a pastor, teacher, and evangelist with the Plymouth Brethren.
One of the places in Pugsley’s neighbourhood was called Tawstock. Here the Wreys, a distinguished family with an ancient baronetcy, have a beautiful estate. The antique church, nestling beneath Tawstock Court, is full of well-preserved monuments to the ancestors of the Wreys. Sometimes members of the family have been rectors of the parish. It therefore caused widespread comment when one of the members of this family—a daughter of the rector himself—was baptized by Mr. Chapman. This happened within twelve months of his arrival in Barnstaple. His culture and gracious bearing commended him to people of all classes. He never sought the patronage of the wealthy or influential, but he did seek to bring them to a knowledge of salvation. With Pugsley living in the neighbourhood of the Wrey estate, contact with the family had been made possible, and Miss Wrey had seen her position as a sinner before God. Trusting Christ in simple faith for salvation, she had experienced the new birth and, in consequence, though she knew that her decision would set tongues wagging and make her father’s position difficult, she had felt bound to ask for baptism.

It was a remarkable scene that was enacted on the day of her baptism. She stood on the banks of the river, side by side with a farmer’s son who was to be baptized on the same occasion. As she stood there she could look up over the woods and pastures of the Wrey estate, and she was conscious of the curious eyes on either bank, for many had come to see the rector’s daughter baptized. When the simple service was over, Chapman went back to Barnstaple convinced that the work of God in Mr. Pugsley’s neighbourhood had been helped forward by the events of that day. And undoubtedly they were, for Miss Wrey’s conversion made many think seriously, whilst the farmer’s son—George Lovering—carried on Christian work for over thirty years in North Devon, founding chapels at Swim-bridge, Atherington, and Little Hill.
Chapman's cousin Susan Chapman had married Thomas Pugsley of Barnstaple, Devon and in April 1832, Chapman moved to Barnstaple. George's baptism likely occurred later than year.

Charity married Robert Vodden of Alverdiscott in 1839. Robert was a carpenter, and he and Charity lived first in Tawstock and later in Atherington, Devon. They had five children. Robert died in 1874. Charity continued living in Atherington until her death in 1903.

John Lovering Cooke

While Charity's life was rather ordinary, the same cannot be said for her brother, John Lovering Cooke. Not content with becoming an agricultural labourer, John joined the Royal Artillery, and served in India during the Indian Rebellion of 1857, also known as the Sepoy Mutiny. In 1873, Rev. Charles Henry H. Wright wrote and published John's memoir.

John Lovering Cooke was born on April 30, 1834. Unlike his sister, he was able to attend school, although was frequently truant. Despite this he learned to read and write well enough to later keep a journal. John left school at the age of 11 to work as an agricultural labourer. Although Wright does not name John's first employer, he is described as "a farmer and also a Baptist preacher." This suggests George Lovering. In February 1854, after working as a railway navvie for a year, he enlisted in the Royal Artillery.

On April 18, 1857, John's company was sent to Hong Kong on board the Moorsfoot. They arrived in Hong Kong on August 8, having rounded Cape Hope in early June and surviving several storms crossing the Indian Ocean. Three days after their arrival in Hong Kong, they were ordered to Calcutta.

After their arrival in Calcutta on September 17, John's unit proceeded upriver by steamer to Allahabad. At Allahabad they were armed with mortars and attached to the forces proceeding to the relief of Lucknow.

The Relief of Lucknow by Thomas Jones Barker
National Portrait Gallery
The Seige of Lucknow was a key event during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. From the end of June until mid-November, rebels forces besieged the garrison of British and Indian soldiers. The defence was centred on the Residency. With the garrison were over one thousand British civilians, mostly women and children. 

In September, a first attempt to break the siege failed to evacuate the Residency. The relief force joined the garrison and the siege continued. A second relief force, commanded by Sir Colin Campbell, and including John's company, successfully evacuated the Residency.

John's unit departed Allahabad on November 4 and arrived at Cawnpore six days later. Four months earlier Cawnpore had been the location of another key event of the Indian Rebellion. In June, forces of the East India Company surrendered to the rebels after a siege of three weeks. As the British withdrew to Allahabad under a promise of safe passage, they were attacked and massacred at the Satichaura Ghat. The surviving British woman and children were taken into captivity and moved to the Bibighar, a villa in Cawnpore, where they were later joined by other captured refugees. In total 206 woman and children were kept prisoner in the Bibighar.

When East India Company forces retook Cawnpore in July, they discovered the Bibighar empty and blood-splattered. The captured woman and children had been hacked to death with meat cleavers, and their stripped and mutilated bodies thrown down a dry well.

The British troops were horrified and enraged. At Cawnpore, captured rebels were forced to lick the bloodstained floor of the Bibighar before they were hanged. Other rebel prisoners were "blown from cannons" a method of execution described by George Carter Stent of the 14th (King's Light) Dragoons, in Scraps from My Sabretasche:
The prisoner is generally tied to a gun with the upper part of the small of his back resting against the muzzle. When the gun is fired, his head is seen to go straight up into the air some forty or fifty feet; the arms fly off right and left, high up in the air, and fall at, perhaps, a hundred yards distance; the legs drop to the ground beneath the muzzle of the gun; and the body is literally blown away altogether, not a vestige being seen.
There is no evidence that John witnessed this form of execution, or indeed any executions, however, "Remember Cawnpore!" became a war cry for the British soldiers for the rest of the conflict.

Aftermath of the Siege of Lucknow
Imperial War Museum
John's unit departed Cawnpore and joined up with Campbell's main force near Lucknow. They began shelling the enemy the evening of the 15th. On the 17th, Campbell's forces reached the beleaguered Residency and began evacuating the non-combatants. A few days later Campbell began to withdraw his own forces.

Meanwhile, rebel forces were again threatening Cawnpore. Campbell moved to reinforce Cawnpore with his cavalry and artillery. John "manned the guns" during the opening stages of the Second Battle of Cawnpore. Unfortunately he contracted dysentery and was admitted to hospital on December 5th, and thus missed the decisive British victory on December 6th.

John was released from hospital a month later and rejoined his unit. Later that month John was charged with insubordination when he lost his temper with one of the officers. He was sentenced to three months hard labour. John remained with his unit but was tasked with unpleasant duties such as burying dead bullocks and camels.

Once John had served his sentence he participated in a number of minor actions against the rebels before going into garrison near Lucknow.

While at Lucknow, John began attending Methodist prayer meetings, and soon became a fervent Wesleyan Methodist—a process which Wright describes in detail. On April 30, 1861, John wrote:

This is my birthday. I am twenty-seven years old. Twenty-five years I served the devil, only two out of twenty-seven have been given to my God.
John was in India for eight years. Most of this time was spent in garrison near Lucknow, then Futtehgurh, and finally Mohar. John was frequently in hospital while at Mohar and was invalided on November 17, 1865. Two months later he left India.

After a "tedious and uneventful" voyage, John disembarked at Netley on the Thames on July 1, 1866.

While in India, John had began a correspondence with Emma Plumridge of West Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, the niece of a friend. At first the letters were written on his illiterate friend's behalf to Emma, who was writing on her uncle's behalf. Eventually John began to write letters directly to Emma. This continued for the next six years. After John was discharged on August 14, 1866 he hastened to West Wycombe where he and Emma were married less than a month later.

After a visit home to his parents in Devon and a brief period of employment as an agricultural labourer, John obtained employment with the London Metropolitan Police force. His first child, Wilfred, was born in 1867.

Emma, Wilfred, and John Lovering Cooke
While a police officer, John also volunteered as a lay preacher and temperance missionary. He found police work "irksome" and the "opportunities for doing good limited." In March 1869, John was offered the post of lay agent at the British Sailors' Institute in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France.

British Sailor's Institute
The British Sailor's Institute had been established the previous year, "for the purpose of providing English seamen in that port with a place where they could read the newspapers and hold social intercourse with one another, without the debasing associations of the public-house." A few months later John also became caretaker of the Wesleyan chapel in Boulogne-sur-Mer.

The British Sailors' Institute in Boulogne-sur-Mer later became the parsonage for Holy Trinity Anglican Church. It was destroyed during World War II but was rebuilt afterwards.

In the spring of 1871, John and Emma lost their second child, Francis, who had been born the previous year. Six months later Emma passed away. She was 28.

The following year John began suffering headaches and severe ear pain. He travelled to London to consult a specialist, but began to have difficulty breathing as well. Rev. Wright, having been acquainted with John since he was a police officer, visited him on his death bed, and was entrusted with his journals. John Lovering Cooke died on 26 Dec 1873.

John's surviving son Wilfrid was raised in an orphanage in Bristol, spend several years in Cardiff, emigrated to Canada in 1910, and settled in Toronto where he died in 1930.


North Devon Journal
, 26 Mar 1829

North Devon Journal, 8 Feb 1866

Frank Holmes, Brother Indeed: The Life of Robert Cleaver Chapman, 1956

Charles H. H. Wright, Memoir of John Lovering Cooke, with a sketch of the Indian mutiny of 1857-58, 1873

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