Richard Atkinson & Elizabeth Gwillym – Part Two

Continued from Part 1

We pick-up part two of this story with the knowledge Richard Atkinson was born about 1796 in Rotherhithe Surrey (now part of the London Borough of Southwark) the son of Richard Atkinson a pilot.
A search of the International Genealogical Index revealed a possible marriage for Richard’s parents; Richard Atkinson married Elizabeth Pashley on the 31 March 1778 at St Mary’s Rotherhithe. A copy of the marriage record provided two clues; the marriage witnesses were Christopher Pashley and Elizabeth Frazer.
The only Anglican place of worship in Rotherhithe until 1838 was St Mary’s Church and after several attempts to locate a baptism entry for Richard I conceded the entry was likely to be on a page which was no longer readable. However I did find four baptism records for his siblings.

My next step was to find out what records were available for pilots?

The Corporation of Trinity House was responsible for licensing pilots on the Thames River. Pilots came into being in the earliest times of maritime trade principally to provide ships with safe passage through unfamiliar or dangerous waters. On the 20th May 1514 Henry VIII granted a charter to the Corporation of Trinity House to ensure safe regulation of shipping on the Thames River. The Corporation also provided charitable relief to mariners and their families and later established and maintained lighthouses and other navigational aids.

Although pilots were self employed Richard would have been examined by the Corporation of Trinity House for proficiency in navigating the Thames and would have received a licence. Richard’s initial qualifications would have allowed him to work between London Bridge and Gravesend. While most of Trinity House’s records for the 18th century were destroyed during World War II there are some valuable records that have survived. Unfortunately I didn't find a record for Richard but I did learn two of his grandsons became pilots. Included in the details of the warrant (licence) were personnel descriptions including hair colour and height.

Family lore suggested the family had come from Kent. Armed with this thread of information I began checking various parishes along the Thames.  I turned my attention to the parish of Greenwich and I was rewarded with a baptism. Richard was baptised on the 11th April 1754 the son of William Atkinson a waterman and Sarah. However I had no documentary evidence to prove this Richard Atkinson was the same person who became a pilot. The Atkinson surname is one of the top two hundred most popular surnames in England.

Sometimes serendipity can play a part
When searching Kent parish records at WAGS I came across an unusual occupation “Chirurgeon”. Curious to discover what this old occupation was I went to look up the meaning in a book on occupations and I stumbled upon a book which had been incorrectly shelved called “Trinity House Petitions”. The title caught my attention and I began to browse the pages. This book contains a surname index of mariners and their dependants who petitioned the Corporation of Trinity House for financial assistance. The index gives the volume number in which to locate the petition. I turned the pages to the alphabetical listings and it wasn’t long before I located an entry for Richard Atkinson of Rotherhithe. Further checking also revealed an entry for a Christopher Pashley of Rotherhithe. The Trinity House petitions are on microfilm and are available via the LDS Family History Centres.

Due to Richard’s failing health he was no longer able to work and on the 3rd of October 1815 he petitioned the Corporation of Trinity House to grant him a pension. At the time Richard and his wife were living at 16 Church Street. The Corporation of Trinity House had at its disposal charitable funds to be used for the benefit of seafarers and their dependants. In 1818 over 7,000 pensioners were receiving benefits from Trinity House. The pensions were paid the first Monday in every month, at St Catherine’s, Wapping, Shadwell, Ratcliffe, Limehouse, Southwark, Rotherhithe and Deptford. To be eligible for benefits elderly merchant seamen must be 50 years of age or over, unless maimed, wounded or blind, and their widows over 45 years of age, unless having young children under 12 years of age. All persons had to produce a petition on the printed form, along with supporting documents as to their age and service. Richard stated he was aged 61 years and his wife Elizabeth was aged 63 years.

The petition revealed Richard had served a seven year apprenticeship aboard the Prince of Orange and was afterwards mate and master of several other vessels as stated previously in a former petition and until June last he had been a pilot for 21 years.

Richard’s petition was supported by other documents.  The curate of St Alfege Church in Greenwich J.P. George provided an extract of Richard’s baptism confirming he was baptised on 11th April 1754 to William and Sarah Atkinson. Richard also provided extracts of his marriage along with Elizabeth’s baptism confirming Elizabeth was also baptised at Greenwich the daughter of Christopher and Mary Pashley.  

On the 19th October 1815 Richard was granted a pension of 10/- per month. Richard died two years later and was buried in St Mary’s churchyard. Several years earlier I had recorded some Atkinson entries from the St Mary’s registers. At the time I had no knowledge of the importance of this entry; Richard Atkinson, of Church Street, a pilot, aged 63 years, was buried on the 14th August 1817.

Elizabeth’s father Christopher Pashley was employed in the fishing and coasting trade to Norway. His petition gave a good account of his work history but didn’t contain any supporting documentation to assist me with my family history research.

Since learning Richard’s father was a pilot I have been able to trace his ancestry back through the Greenwich parish registers to the latter part of the 17th century.
There are many books just like “Trinity House Petitions” waiting to be discovered in the WAGS Library. Perhaps they to will hold the key to unlocking your family’s ancestry.

 PS. By the way a chirurgeon is a surgeon.

Guides & references:
Trinity House Petitions 1787-1854, Society of Genealogists (WAGS)
Guildhall Library Manuscripts; Corporation of Trinity House
My Ancestor was a Merchant Marine, Christopher T and Michael J Watts
Saint Alfege Greenwich, parish registers, baptisms, LMA, X094/110, p.427
St Mary’s Rotherhithe, parish register, marriages, LMA, X046/008, p.159
St Mary’s Rotherhithe, parish registers, baptisms, marriages & burials, LDS films
Trinity House, Commander Hilary P Mead
Corporation of Trinity House; Pilots licenses 1808-1855, LDS film 1966991
Corporation of Trinity House; petitions, LDS film 0395555

Published: Vol 11 No 1, Western Ancestor Mar 2009


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