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John Green and Ellen Meaker of Liverpool

John Green and Ellen Meaker married 30th of January 17o4, in the parish of St Nicholas in Liverpool.

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We have very little information on them, but we know that they had a son, James, in March 1714.

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Francis Martin- the disappearing custom and excise officer.

This is the story of a very respectable man, with a surprising ending.

Francis Martin was born on the 25th of May 1815, in Stenton, East Lothian. He was the child of William Martin, gamekeeper to the ancient estates of Biel and Archerfield William had been born in Worcestershire, the son of a market gardener, but had moved to Scotland in 1795, as did two of his brothers, also gamekeepers to large Scottish estates. He married local girl Janet Temple and together they had five daughters and nine sons, of whom Francis was the sixth born and sixth son.

To be born into such a huge family, in the early 19th century could easily have been a great handicap. But the Martin family were extremely lucky in their employer, Mrs Fergusson, who helped all the family find suitable positions. So that is how Francis found himself clerk to the Customs and Excise warehouseman, stationed at Greenock in January 1837 and earning a substantial starting salary of £80 per annum.

Francis clearly kept in touch with East Lothian, because in 1839 he married Elizabeth Sinclair, the youngest of four children of a corn miller, from Knowemill in East Lothian.

 

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The marriage banns were read in Greenock and the wedding took place in Prestonkirk.

By October of the same year, Francis has been promoted to “second clerk for general business” and is earning the very healthy salary of £90 a year.

The couple’s first child does not appear until May 1841, when their first daughter, christened Elizabeth, is born. Perhaps as a result of becoming a father, Francis receives a pay rise and in August of 1841 his annual income is £100. But in October it is increased still further to £120 pa and he becomes “clerk of the long room”, which is not just an increase in money, but in seniority, meaning he was in charge of the customs and excise for goods coming into the very busy port of Greenock.

Hutcheson's Greenock Register, Directory and General Advertiser
Hutcheson’s Greenock Register, Directory and General Advertiser

In 1841 the family are listed as living in Dempster Street, Greenock, which was a street of classic Scottish tenement flats, many of which have now been knocked down. The flats would have been new in 1841, or there may have been unrecorded older housing.

dempster
A view of Dempster Street from the 1970s, before demolition was carried out.

Sometime between the census 1841 and the birth of their first son, William, in 1843, Francis is given a new posting to the port of Grangemouth, on the Firth of the Forth. They probably move after the sad death of their first daughter Elizabeth (I should really call her “the first Elizabeth” as there is another!) But this posting does not last long, because in March 1844, he becomes sub collector at Arbroath, earning £150 pa and by July 1844, he has become Collector to the Exchequer, meaning he is not just in charge of goods, but money too, a very trusted and respected position in the community. His salary is now £200 per annum. That September, a son is born and called after his father, Francis. William Martin, Francis’s father dies in Whitekirk this year too.

The next year, his brother Thomas dies and in 1846, a son, Thomas Sinclair, is named after his uncle.

francis martin 1846 Angus and Mearns directory and almanac 3
1846 Angus and Mearns directory and almanac
Hannah Street, in a photograph from the 1970s, now mostly demolished.
Hannah Street, in a photograph from the 1970s, now mostly demolished.

In January 1847, Francis donates to a local soup kitchen, giving 2 shillings and sixpence, as opposed to the lady listed next to him, who gives a load of turnips!

Francis Martin Montrose, Arbroath and Brechin review; and Forfar and Kincardineshire advertiser. - Friday 15 January 1847
Montrose, Arbroath and Brechin review; and Forfar and Kincardineshire advertiser. – Friday 15 January 1847

In January 1848 the second daughter called Elizabeth is born. This is a period of great expansion for the port at which Francis is working. In 1846, 89 vessels were registered to the port of Arbroath. By 1851, 118 were registered, making it a busier port than nearby Montrose for the first (and last) time. The beginnings of the railway to Dundee meant that raw materials for the jute and linen trades were being landed at Arbroath and transferred to Dundee. Between 1841 and 1846, £58, 000 was spent on upgrading the harbour. In 1846 731 boats not registered at Arbroath docked there, 56 of which were from the colonies or foreign (mainly Baltic with timber or flax). This was a prosperous time for Arbroath and as a result, Francis was in a very trusted position.

But, in what should have been a happy period for the family, in April 1846, but months after the birth of his sister, little Thomas dies of bronchitis. Francis requests the “best small mort cloth”, which wrenches my heart. The address is given as Bellrock Yard, I suspect this may have been part of Hannah Street.

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In 1849 another daughter, Jessie, is born. In 1851, the couple are listed in the census as living at 7 Hannah Street with four children and two servants. Francis is appointed to the School Board in Arbroath. But later that year, Francis is promoted and the family move to Ireland. He is still only 36.

Montrose, Arbroath and Brechin review; and Forfar and Kincardineshire advertiser. - Friday 18 July 1851
Montrose, Arbroath and Brechin review; and Forfar and Kincardineshire Advertiser. – Friday 18 July 1851

In Ireland, tragedy strikes again. Young Francis dies age 7. His father is distraught, family records showing designs he made for a joint gravestone.

In 1852, a new son is born and he is christened Thomas Patrick. Imaginative names seem not to have been a Martin thing!

The next time the family appear is more curious. In 1853, in the Montrose, Arbroath and Brechin review, the announcement of youngest daughter Fanny is made. Apart from keeping rather interesting company, the announcement is interesting because she is born in Whitehaven and Francis seems to now be Controller of Customs there. The connection with Arbroath is clearly still strong, no other announcement is made.

Montrose, Arbroath and Brechin review; and Forfar and Kincardineshire advertiser. - Friday 09 September 1853
Montrose, Arbroath and Brechin review; and Forfar and Kincardineshire advertiser. – Friday 09 September 1853

I can find no record of the family between Fanny’s birth and the last child to be born, James, on 22 April 1857. In Arbroath! Francis and Elizabeth must, therefore, have been together in July 1856. He may have returned to Arbroath with her, but there is no record of this. He is, quite simply, never seen or heard of again. His daughter, Fanny, was quoted as saying as a grown up that he had run away. But I can find no record of his death anywhere in the world and she was only 3 when he was last heard of. Fanny does not sound like the best possible witness and all sorts of family stories may have grown over the years.

A Francis Martin appears in the New York census of 1870, with a partner called Emmeline. I can find no record of a marriage for this couple. Could it be him? The birth date is similar and US Francis was born in Scotland. But he is listed as being a bookbinder, a skilled trade and an unlikely one to make up.

By 1861, Elizabeth is listed as staying with her sister Helen and family in East Linton. She has Jessie, Thomas Patrick, Fanny and James with her. Her marital status is given as “widow”.

My guess is that Francis did disappear. But I can no newspaper story of Elizabeth looking for him and so it is unlikely she didn’t know where he had gone. Nor is it likely that he drowned at sea on a boat that vanished, or many of the other possibilities.

In August 1857, in many UK newspapers, the regular listing of arrivals in India is carried. One of those is “Mr Martin, Customs officer”. My guess is that this is him and that the family returned to Arbroath, where they had spent longest, whilst he settled in India and found a home for them and Elizabeth gave birth to their child. The dates certainly fit. Did they hear from him again? Perhaps Elizabeth decided she was just not prepared to make the journey. Every time they had moved they had lost a child. Or perhaps Francis did die and it just took a very long time for the information to get back to the UK.

Cork Examiner - Monday 17 August 1857
Cork Examiner – Monday 17 August 1857

As grown ups, both Thomas and William settled for a time in India. Thomas married and started a business there. Perhaps they went looking for their father? But the 1880s, even if he had been there, it was very possible that there was no trace to find.

Francis Martin 1815- ?

Elizabeth Sinclair 1816- 1883

Elizabeth 1841-1844

William 1843- ? married Elizabeth Tormey

Francis 1864- 1851

Thomas Sinclair 1846-1848

Elizabeth 1848-1930 married Thomas Martin Hardie

Jessie 1849-1909 married William Gauldie

Thomas Sinclair 1852- ? married Muni Jan Mussamat

Fanny 1856-1949

James 1857 – ? married Jane Findlay