The Mystery of Robert Snarr

In my limited experience as a taphophile, it is unusual to find someone remembered on a headstone who isn’t family. Perhaps there are thousands of such people “out there”, but how many have had their story told by a great writer?

Robert SNARR died this day in 1849 and at the end of the following year, Charles Dickens published an article, The Sea-side Churchyards, in Household Words. You can read it in full at Dickens Journals Online but here is Robert’s Story:-


What was the great man doing in Filey? I met someone at the grave by chance a year or so ago and the stranger told me that Dickens had a brother who lived not far away, in Malton. I don’t know if this is true.

The tragedy would have been fresh in the minds of local people and I suspect Dickens would have had no difficulty finding sources for the story. The reported exchange between Robert and “mother “ is such that  Dickens must surely have spoken with Mary Cammish (née SUGGIT). Other details should perhaps be challenged because they are at variance with contemporary local newspaper accounts. Robert may not have been an engineer and he may not have been journeying to Northumberland to start a new life.

What is certainly untrue is the assertion that Robert’s bloody corpse was brought back half an hour after his last words to Mary. It takes little more than five minutes to walk from the churchyard to Filey Railway Station so he could have thrown himself under the first train passing through, thus giving the Dickens version some veracity. However, Robert’s life ended near Seamer, a rail journey via Scarborough of about twelve miles.



Why did Robert act foolishly?

I imagine he left his beloved’s grave in great distress.When he caught the train to Scarborough his intention may have been to return home to York and the bosom of his birth family, and to continue his career in the architect’s office. With the balance of his mind disturbed, maybe an idea came to him as he watched the telegraph poles zip past the carriage window. He was the seventh of ten children born to William and Elizabeth (née BLADES), aged 69 and 65 at the time of his death. I think he made his extinction look like an accident, hoping to lessen his family’s grief. The inquest jury and coroner did not, it seems, consider suicide.

We’ll never know his final thoughts, but the fact that he is with Elizabeth for eternity is wonderfully romantic.


Also ROBERT SNARR of York, who departed this life March 12th, 1849 aged 31 years.

On FamilySearch Tree:-  Robert, Elizabeth, Charles. (Beware the bogus Dickens pedigree.)

AB George Lewis

The headstone in St Oswald’s churchyard that remembers George LEWIS ( 1846 – 1918) and his wife Mary Jane née COWLING also asks us to think of…

…their beloved grandson, drowned in Falmouth Harbour while serving his King and Country, March 10 1918, aged 20 years.


Another seaman, Deckhand William CUTHBERTSON, drowned with young George but I have been unable to determine exactly how they died. The Lewis family headstone gives the wrong year for whatever accident befell them. The war was over; it was 1919.

One report says they were found floating in Falmouth Harbour, having fallen from their ship, HMT Emmanuel Camelaire, or perhaps from the dockside.

Emmanuel Camelaire
Photographer unknown, no date, Imperial War Museum

George was a “Trimmer Cook” – two clearly separate jobs. The first required him to get his hands dirty in the boiler room, and the second to keep them reasonably clean in the galley. I don’t know how long he had served in the Royal Naval Reserve but Lives of the First World War gives his birth date as 14 October 1896. His birth was registered in Scarborough, December Quarter 1898, so perhaps he was too young to join the service and lied about his age. He was fifteen when the war began.

He left a widow at their home in Grimsby, Christiana, four months pregnant with their first child. Annie LEWIS was born on the 9th of August and I photographed her stone in the churchyard this morning.


The LEWIS family is a work in progress on FST.


HMT ‘Cobbers’

The Royal Navy requisitioned FV Cobbers at the beginning of the Second World War and on this day 1941 she was patrolling the North Sea, a few miles east of Lowestoft. German aircraft attacked and sank her and eleven of her crew were killed. The bodies of Second Hand Leonard Herbert BEAN of Milford Haven and Seaman Albert STRANEX were not recovered and are remembered at the Royal Naval Patrol Service Memorial in Belle Vue Park, Lowestoft.

CammishJ2Among those taken home for burial was John ‘Jack’ CAMMISH, baptized in St Oswald’s on 25th October 1916 His father’s name is not recorded and, given the year, it seems his mother, Winifred, may have had a brief encounter with a soldier billeted in the town.

Jack’s War Grave marker is associated in the Crimlisk Survey with plot F72 and the East Yorkshire Family History Society, Part Three, 1835,  page 18, adds the post-1977 burials of Winifred and her husband  Thomas NEWLOVE (Jack’s stepfather).


For reasons unknown to me, the CWGC memorial has been placed about 15 grave plots away in Area E, in front of the now fallen stone remembering Margaret, Robert, and Annie Elizabeth CAMMISH. Robert, known as “Chorus”, was Jack’s second cousin 3 times removed from common ancestor John CAPPLEMAN and third cousin twice removed from William CAMMISH and Elizabeth WRIGHT.

I went along to the churchyard this morning to photograph the family headstone.


I found Winifred on FST a couple of days ago and allocated Jack a PID [LBQL-H6S]. He has a number of living descendants so I will leave the family to add wife Evelyn and make the connections to her JOHNSON family.

I discovered this afternoon that Jack’s pedigree goes way, way back.  Though he may not have known who his father was, and died an “ordinary seaman”, he has some astonishing forebears – if the information presented on FST  can be verified, that is.

“History would be a wonderful thing – if it were only true.”

Leo Tolstoy

In a couple of previous posts, I have referred to hitting a motherlode pedigree on FST, and know that once you meet an ancestor from the upper echelons of society you will soon enter the realms of kings and queens. If you are curious and have an hour to spare, start with Jack and see where following your nose takes you. It will be more enjoyable if you don’t take your skepticism along for the ride.

I don’t want to spoil the adventure by suggesting who you should look out for but, if you have missed him by the time you arrive in the Holy Land at the time of Christ, you might want to backtrack to check out “El Cid”, Jack being a warrior and all.

Men Overboard

On this night in 1925, Robert Haxby JOHNSON fell from the steam drifter G.E.S. and efforts by other crew to rescue him were unsuccessful. The fishing boat was 36 miles East by North of Scarborough.

Twenty-two years earlier, and about five miles from Scarborough, a sudden squall capsized the herring coble Wild Rose and it began to sink.

…Two of the crew, Thomas H. Cowling, the skipper, who is 70 years of age, and T. Holmes, had just time to scramble into their small boat before the Wild Rose went down. Jenkinson Cowling, another of the crew, swam alongside the coble, and the fourth man, John Willis, went down with the vessel. His more fortunate companions were of the opinion that he was thrown against the halyards by the lurching of the boat, and, being unable to clear himself in time, was dragged down with it…

Aberdeen Press and Journal, 4 February 1903

The three were rescued by the crew of another coble, Romeo and Juliet, which just made it into Scarborough harbour “in a sinking condition”.

Robert Haxby JOHNSON was 36 years old and is remembered on the gravestone of his maternal grandparents Richard HAXBY and Hannah née CAMMISH.


In Loving Memory of ROBERT, the beloved husband of ELIZABETH JOHNSON, who was drowned Jan 29th 1925 aged 36 years.

Robert isn’t on FamilySearch Tree yet but his Filey Genealogy & Connections pedigree is extensive.

John married Ann Watkinson DAY in 1894 when he was 21 years old, and the couple had 5 children in their short time together. FamilySearch has three of the children but one, Harry, was fathered by Walter WILLIS, a textile worker in the West Riding. Again, FG&C is currently the more reliable source for this Willis branch pedigree.


In Loving Memory of JOHN WILLIS, died Feb 26, 1919, aged 20 years.

Also JOHN WILLIS, father of the above, who was drowned at sea Jan 29, 1903, aged 30 years.

We shall meet again


A Mother’s Son

Ann BAXTER was 24 years old and unmarried when she gave birth to a boy she named Frank. He is Francis in Filey Genealogy & Connections and you will have to go to Kath’s database to see his forebears. His grandparents, Richard BAXTER and Jane CAMMISH, are on the FamilySearch Tree with some of their children but they haven’t been brought together yet. Frank was six in 1861 and if he is with his mother at the Census he is hiding as “Thomas”, Richard’s grandson. (Jane had died before Frank was born.)

Mother and son form a household in Chapel Yard in 1871. “Francis” is  16 and working as a fisherman. Eight years later he drowned from the coble Mary Ann about 25 nautical miles south of Filey. His body was recovered but ten days passed before he was buried in St Oswald’s churchyard. While he slept his mother lived out her long life, seemingly alone. Her death registration in 1912 gives her age as 81, the inscription on her headstone has 82.

In affectionate remembrance of FRANK, the beloved son of ANN BAXTER of Filey who was drowned from the Coble Mary-Jane off Atwick on the 27th of Nov. 1879, aged 25 years, and was interred here Dec. 7th 1879.

Also of the above ANN BAXTER who died February 15th 1912, aged 82 years.

He’s gone, the one I loved so dear

To his eternal rest

He’s gone to Heaven I hope and trust

To be forever blest

His morning sun went down at noon

Death cut him off just in his bloom

Prepare for death while you have time

For God called me just in my prime

Farewell mother and friends so dear

We now must part, I can’t stay here

For none can stay when God does call

So farewell mother, farewell all.


Three Score and Ten

John Cammish CRAIK was baptized at St Oswald’s, Filey this day 1853. He was the first and last child of James Craik and Rachel CAMMISH – because his father died before the marriage was three years old.

When the 1861 census was taken, John C was 8 years old and described as a Lodger in the household of retired mariner John RUDDOCK and his wife Mary Ann née RICHARDSON. (John will appear centre stage in a post some day, simply because he went to the Arctic twice with Captain PARRY.)  John C’s mother was a few doors away in Queen Street with her widowed father, Thomas CAMMISH, and a 17-year-old servant, Sarah JAMESON. The Ruddocks had a servant too, Mary CAMMISH, aged 50 and, as far as I can tell, a distant cousin of Rachel’s. It is impossible to ascertain who the poor boy looked to for love and guidance.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the next census, 1871, John C was a “servant” to Christopher RICHARDSON, Innkeeper at the T’Oard Ship (sometimes T’Awd Ship) in Queen Street. John Ruddock had departed this life and his widow Mary was in residence at the Inn and, again, young John’s mother was living a few yards up the street with her father. Another source states that John C Craik was working as an ostler at the Inn so it isn’t a stretch to find him in the 1881 census described as a “farm servant” but living in the household of fisherman Castle JENKINSON. That Mary Ann Ruddock, now 83 years old, was there too suggests that it was she, rather than Rachel, who had been a mother to him.  (Rachel had died in 1878 aged just 47.)

The Craik name now disappears from Filey. It was introduced to the town by John C’s grandfather John, born 1799 in Langton, Berwick, Scotland, a customs officer and later coast guard. He died in 1854, followed by his son James, John C’s father, in 1855. The two men are buried in St Oswald’s churchyard and the headstone also remembers wife and mother Eleanor née CROW.


John C had three sisters and a bunch of nephews and nieces in and around Filey but the census of 1891 finds him, age 37, working as a labourer in Walkington, near Beverley. Cue the X Files theme music, not because Gillian Anderson caused a stir some years ago by visiting the village but because of its infamous institution. John C was just one of many who slept there on the night of Sunday, April 5th. Sadly, it seems then to have swallowed him up. In 1901 he is a “patient” without occupation in the Broadgate Mental Asylum and still there ten years later, a “general labourer but above able to do work”.

He endured for another 12 years or so, his death registered in Beverley in the first quarter of 1924. So, he made his three score and ten but spent half of his life in the asylum. I wonder if his sisters, brothers in law, nephews and nieces ever visited him there.

Filey Genealogy & Connections deprives John C of his  Aunt Isabella, mistakenly making her the daughter of a William CRAIK – but correctly hitching her to station master Richard Richardson HARRISON. You can follow Rachel’s CAMMISH line back four generations.

FST needs some work done! Scots John is on the World Tree but not yet connected to his unfortunate grandson. I’ll try to remedy the situation in the next few days.


Love & Grief

Robert SNARR’s betrothed, Elizabeth CAMMISH, died this day 1848 of consumption. For six months or so he often visited her grave in St Oswald’s churchyard. On the 12th March 1849 he said farewell to his lost love and spoke for the last time with her mother, Mary. Charles Dickens has left an account of this bitter-sweet encounter and I wrote about it in Romance and Railways.

I was much affected by the story and sought more information about Robert. The son of William Snarr and Elizabeth Blades, he followed his father’s trade as a bricklayer. In 1841 brothers William and Thomas were also bricklayers, George a butcher, and the youngest two, James and Henry were apprenticed to a cooper and a glass cutter. There were two sisters. They lived in York, hard by the Minster.

Robert was born in Appleton Roebuck in 1817 and was, therefore, about ten years older than his beloved. Dickens wrote that Robert “continued to regard [Elizabeth’s] parents as his own” but her father, Robert, had died five years earlier, in 1844. If the courtship had been a long one it must have begun when Elizabeth was sixteen or so.

That Robert Snarr was devastated by her death is not in question. Dickens gives us a sense of foreboding and then delivers his bloody corpse. But he says the body was brought from the railway line within half an hour of speaking to Mary Cammish – a clear case of artistic license – and the reference to Robert quitting Filey for an engagement in Northumberland may not have been true at all.

It appears the poor man walked to Filey station, traveled to Scarborough and there boarded the York train. If his intention was to say goodbye to his family before heading north it would appear he changed his plans.  Approaching Seamer station he did something puzzling and his life ended violently in the blink of an eye. The coroner’s inquest decided it was an “accidental death”. I’m not so sure.


Robert Snarr’s body was brought back to Filey and he was laid to rest beside Elizabeth on the 16th March.


The bizarre nature of his death seems to have delayed registration until the third quarter of the year.  (1849 Sep Q Scarborough Volume 24 Page 418.)

FamilySearch Tree Robert SNARR, Elizabeth

The CAMMISH pedigree is more extensive on Filey Genealogy & Connections but Kath has Elizabeth reaching a significantly greater age. If you choose to roam the Cammish byways you may soon find familiar names from a recent post – Elizabeth is the 4th cousin three times removed of Ruth Charlotte PRUDAMES; common ancestors John CAMMISH and “Mrs. John CAMMISH”.