The Worthy Doctor of Filey

William Smithson CORTIS, firstborn son of Richard (Thursday’s post) and Jane SMITHSON, married Mary Jane GREEN in Wintringham in June 1843 when he was 23 years-old. Their first child, Jane Maria, was born in Filey about eighteen months later. I don’t know what accidents or designs brought him to this small and undistinguished town but he didn’t just look after the health of its people – he saw a bigger picture. He took a deep interest in the history of the area and, perhaps not surprisingly for the son of a master mariner, did all he could to better the lot of local fishermen and all who sailed the dangerous waters off the Yorkshire coast.

In Scarborough Town Hall in November 1857 he read a paper about the recent discovery of Roman artifacts on “Car-Naese” and in the same year began to campaign for the building of a Harbour of Refuge in Filey Bay. This appeared in the Scarborough Mercury on 22 October 1859: –

The Cortis Testimonial.

FILEY.

It will be in the recollection of most of our readers, that during the inquiry before the Royal Commission appointed to obtain evidence as to the best site for a National Harbour of Refuge, on the North East Coast of England, Dr. W. S. Cortis, of Filey, displayed considerable talent and persevering energy during a period of eighteen months, in searching out and obtaining information to lay before the Commissioners relative to the advantages possessed by Filey Bay for such a Harbour. Dr. Cortis had also during the sitting of the Parliamentary Committee on Harbours of Refuge in 1857-8, rendered much service by developing the merits of Filey Bay, and, in consequence, rendered himself deserving the esteem of a large circle of friends and those who are intimately concerned in the Shipping interest. To shew their gratitude for this persevering labour, on the part of a private individual, a public meeting was called at Foord’s Hotel, Filey, some time back, when a number of gentlemen were appointed to receive subscriptions for the purpose of presenting Dr. Cortis with a suitable Testimonial. The committee for carrying out this object, have so far succeeded as to be enabled to purchase a very handsome and richly chased silver breakfast service, consisting of kettle and stand, with lamp, a coffee-pot, tea-pot, sugar-basin, and cream ewer, all en suite, and which are to be presented by the inhabitants of Filey to the worthy Doctor, on Friday next, the 28th instant. The testimonial bears the following somewhat lengthy but appropriate inscription:-“Presented with-guineas, to W. S. Cortis, Esq., M.D., by the inhabitants of Filey and the neighbourhood, as a testimonial of their appreciation of the services which he rendered to the maritime interests of the coasts, and to the cause of humanity, in advancing the claims of Filey Bay as the site of a National Harbour of Refuge, by the able manner in which he searched out evidence and laid it before the parliamentary committee, by the clear and lucid way in which he developed its advantages before her Majesty’s commissioners, and by the talent, energy, and perseverance with which he conducted the whole case.

October, 1859.”

The blank left in the inscription will, we believe, be filled up with the amount of money intended to be given with the Testimonial-the sum, we understand, will be between 159 and 200 guineas. A large number of merchants, and shipowners, in Hull, have also testified their appreciation of Dr. Cortis’s labours in bringing to a successful issue a question of such vast importance; they have therefore purchased a large massive salver, twenty inches in diameter, to be presented at the same time, on which is a faithful and well executed engraving of the beautiful Bay of Filey, shewing the long projection of rocks, called the “Brig,” as well as the handsome buildings which characterise the improvements on the South Cliffs. Under the view is the following inscription:-“Presented to William S. Cortis, Esq., M.D., Filey, by his friends in Hull, as a token of their recognition of the services rendered by him to the commerce of the east coast of England, by his indefatigable advocacy of the formation of a National Harbour of Refuge in Filey Bay. October, 1859.”

The whole of these exquisite pieces of workmanship have been entrusted to the skill of Messrs. Jacobs and Lucas, silversmiths, of Hull, and are now being exhibited at Mr. Suggitt’s, grocer, Filey, previous to the presentation. We understand that a public dinner will be given after the presentation, at five o’clock.

The effort to make the harbour of refuge a reality continued for many years and ultimately failed, but reprint copies of William’s book, Losses of Ships and Lives on the North-East Coast of England, and How to Prevent Them can still be purchased online.

William Smithson Cortis, no date, Sawyer, Bird & Foxlee, 87 Regent Street,
courtesy H F Morrice Collection

William is remembered on the stone marking the grave of his wife and their infant son Henry Liddell in St Oswald’s churchyard.

Also, WILLIAM S. CORTIS M.D., husband of the above, died at Manly N.S.W., 15 Sep. 1906, aged 86 years.

Mary Jane died in the summer of 1858 aged 36. Four years later William married Susanna HEWSON in Louth, Lincolnshire. In 1878 their names appear on the Victoria Inward Passenger List of the vessel Hankow, their final destination Sydney.

The Will of Dr Cortis can be found online and the codicil caught my eye.

It is dated 1901 and I need to go back to my notes to see if there are reasons for William Richard losing the silver. (He outlived his father by just over two years.)

Measure of Man 42 ·Evron Centre

I wonder what William Smithson would have made of SARS-CoV-2. I think he would have lined up with the good doctors.

Dr. Cortis Speaks

On this day in 1857, at possibly his first meeting in the Town Hall after being elected Mayor of Scarborough, Henry SPURR introduced William Smithson CORTIS to the gathering. The good doctor of Filey read a paper about the recent finds of Roman artifacts on Carr Naze, following a landslip caused by heavy rain. I haven’t yet found a transcript online – and accounts of the more recent excavations of the Signal Station are not freely available either. Some of the brief online references to the discovery say Dr. Cortis led the excavation and gave his talk to Filey antiquaries. Neither “fact” seems to be true.

Dr. Cortis credits “a painter belonging to Filey, named Wilson” as the finder of the revealed objects. Filey Genealogy & Connections identifies Jeffrey WILSON as the man of that moment. He was about 65 years old at the time but still working in 1861 so could have been sprightly enough to descend “at some risk…down the falling cliff” to retrieve what he initially thought were pieces of jet. He died aged 76 in October 1872.

Carr Naze was then the property of the Reverend Richard BROOKE  of Gateforth and it was he who organized the excavation. It is not clear from the talk if Filey’s doctor got his hands dirty or was merely an interested observer at the dig.

You will see from Today’s Image how narrow the spine of Carr Naze is now. The Information Board at the site gives an indication of how much of the promontory has been eroded since the Romans left Britain.

RomanSignalStation

The five stone blocks found at the base of the tower can be seen now in Crescent Gardens, and the “hunting scene” of the Information Board is described by Dr. Cortis as “a dog chasing a stag”. Over the years I have looked for the animals a number of times. I think they may still be visible if the light is favourable, but perhaps not as clearly as in this old photograph of poor quality and unknown provenance. (There is a more recently taken image here.)

Dog&Stag

William Smithson CORTIS is on the FamilySearch tree.

Henry SPURR, born Doncaster in 1795, died 30th May 1865 at Westfield House, Scarborough after a short illness. He has at least two nascent pedigrees on FST, both generated by “the system”. One gives his parents and the other his son, James Frederick, by first wife Eleanor WHITE. Eleanor died age 48 in 1844 and Henry married Louisa Amelia BLIGHT almost four years later, in East Stonehouse, Devonshire.

“Jeffry” WILSON is also unmarried on FST. His granddaughter, Mary WILSON, married the grandson of the William PASHBY who died suddenly in Friday’s post – but you will have to go to Kath’s Filey Genealogy to see that Connection.

Quote

Setting a Record Straight

The firstborn son of master mariner Richard CORTIS, (yesterday’s post), married Mary Jane GREEN, daughter of William GREEN and Maria TAYLOR. There are two versions at least of Mary Jane on the FamilySearch tree but in one she is a plain Jane.

GREENmaryjane_FST

GREENmaryjaneV2_FST

Although I am confident I have correctly identified Mary Jane’s parents, for reasons that will soon become clear, putting them on FST is not straightforward. They had three children at least, so each parent has two, perhaps more, duplicate records. Merges ahead.

It bothered Maria TAYLOR Green so much that her firstborn was incorrectly entered in the Holy Trinity church register that she wrote a letter that has been preserved and, getting on for 200 years later, digitized. Unfortunately, the FST “system” has dutifully captured only the original christening entry, ignoring a minister’s explanatory note, as well as Maria’s letter.

It isn’t clear when Maria noticed the error but Mary Jane was over thirty years old when her mother requested that it be corrected, and had just a few more years to live. (It appears that an Act of Parliament may have made it easier for such a restitution to be made.) The letter was witnessed by Robert Milford TAYLOR, JP, East Riding of York. (At the 1881 census a 70-year-old man of that name was listed as the widowed Vicar of Hunmanby. I hope to uncover his relationship to Maria sometime.)

Here is the letter, via Find My Past, a partner to FamilySearch.

1823_GREENmaria_LETTER