From Our Own Correspondents

By Michael Blakstad For Meon Matters Oct 2016

The history website regularly receives enquiries about their East Meon antecedents from people all round the world. We try to help them: History Group member David Hopkins in particular has uncovered much fascinating material.

Many of those who contact us provide us in return with information about members of their family whom they have been researching. Michael Saunders told us about his great great grandfather: “William Ray b.1811, who died in 1872, was an industrious farmer at Riplington Farm in the beautiful Meon valley. He had a very poor opinion of his only son William John. In his will where he bequeathed him £5000 outright [over £500,000 in today’s money]…. he also bequeathed the sum of £7,000 new three% annuities upon trust to pay the annual produce [interest] thereof unto my said son William John Ray for his natural life or until he shall be outlawed or be found or declared a bankrupt”. Michael’s grandmother Florence described her father as a“wealthy, educated, and an idle, womanizing drunkard!

The First Fleet in Botany Bay

Several of our correspondents live in Australia, and Ros Otzen of New South Wales told us of her relative, Tom Harmsworth, who signed up as a marine in Portsmouth in 1787 and sailed, guarding the convicts, in the ‘First Fleet’ to Australia with his wife Alice and two children. One son, John, died during the journey on the Prince of Wales but another boy was born “during a horrendous storm in the ‘Roaring 40s’ between Cape Town and Australia …”: the baby was also named Thomas and “died of a feaver” a month after the Fleet arrived in Botany Bay; Tom himself died two months later “of a fever and flux att the hospital”.

According to Ros, “Alice was involved in the case of a terrible hanging of several marines for stealing food, during the second year of the colony. The supplies ship hadn’t made it past Cape Town and the colony was starving. A group of marines developed a clever way to rob the stores, which involved the use of a key which Alice had given to the ringleader.  Most of the men were hanged.” Alice seems to have escaped prosecution and later married another Marine; they stayed on when his contract ended and he became “a prosperous farmer on Norfolk Island which was then the back-up food source for the very hungry colony at Sydney. He built a farm on this tropical island, and had many children with Alice, but when the government closed the island settlement, the family was taken to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in 1808 and had to start all over again.”

David Hopkins helped trace another branch of the Harmsworth family, who lived in Froxfield, then part of East Meon parish; in 1779 William Harmsworth, a substantial farmer, married Elizabeth Eyles, daughter of East Meon’s most prosperous landowner who lived in Glenthorne House and owned the Bereleigh estate. David also responded to Andrew Suter whose ancestors “lived, worked, and died in East Meon and surrounding villages for at least 200 years up to about 1930. According to the 1841 census one of my ancestors William Suter b1778 was a Publican at the Queens Head, Langrish St. East Meon”.

Church Farm Langrish

David replied that the Queen’s Head was in Langrish and “became The Farmer’s Joy, to become Church Farm after the Squire, John Waddington closed it down in the 1850s ‘to prevent his sons accessing demon drink’ (but I think there is a rather exaggerated folk memory there!)”. Today, it is a private residence, Church Farm, on the left as you head towards the A272, just before the triangle.

There are many more such fascinating snippets of life in East Meon, brought to our attention because people researching their family histories have contacted us, prompting fresh research at this end but also contributing the results of their own investigations. This correspondence can be found in the People/Families section of www.eastmeonhistory.org.uk.