Thursday, September 13, 2018

Revisiting Huguenot London

You would be forgiven for walking around Soho Square, London, trying not to trip over a workman eating his lunch on the pavement, and not realising that the building in this picture is a church. You have to look skywards to see the cross.
French Protestant Church Building, Soho Square, London
Although I was deliberately looking for this church on a recent trip to London, I had to examine the doorway sign at close quarters before I knew I was in the right place. 
Entrance Sign, French Protestant Church, Soho Square, London
The entrance to the building is designed attractively and exudes a certain French style, at least to my eyes.
Entrance Doorway, French Protestant Church, Soho Square, London
Those with good eyesight might be able to read the inscription above the black door:
To the glory of God and in grateful memory of
H.M. King Edward V1 who by his Charter of 1550
Granted asylum to the Huguenots from France
This Tympanum was set up in the year of our Lord 1950
French Protestant Church Tympanum, Erected 1950
Travel really does broaden the mind, as I then had to look up the meaning of Tympanum. Wikipedia tells me it is 'the semi-circular or triangular decorative wall surface over an entrance, door or window, which is bounded by a lintel and arch. It often contains sculpture or other imagery or ornaments.'

Soho Square is located at the top end of today's Charing Cross Road, near Oxford Street and east of Dean St, Soho. I imagined the lifestyles of my Pierssené forebears in this part of London 300 years ago. The family had arrived in London from Dieppe by 1687 and appear first in the parish records of the French Church in Threadneedle Street. By the 1700s many family members were recorded in the parish records of St Giles in the Fields and St George's Bloomsbury. This area was very 'French' at that time and well described in British History Online, in a section referring to developments after Aggas drew his map of London in 1560:
In this map all the country to the north of Charing Cross and west of Chancery Lane is still entirely devoted to country life and uses, and the Hospital for Lepers, dedicated to St. Giles, stood in the fields, with nothing between it and the spot where now stands Leicester Square. The line of St. Martin's Lane was, however, occupied by buildings on both sides as far as St. Giles's Church.
Soon after the Restoration [in 1660] increasing prosperity led to a rapid increase of dwellings. The parish of St. Martin had so enlarged its population that "numerous inhabitants were deprived of an opportunity of publicly celebrating the divine offices," and the result of an application to Parliament was that a separate parish was formed, and a new parish church was built, dedicated to St. Anne, mother of the Virgin.
Around this (in what is now known as Dean Street, Soho) buildings clustered, and within fifty years the parish contained 1,337 houses, according to Maitland. He adds the following information about the prosperity of the parish:—"There are of persons that keep coaches seventy three," and there "is a workhouse for the reception of the poor;" and then he goes on:—"The fields in these parts being lately converted into buildings, I have not discovered anything of antiquity in this parish;" many parts so greatly abound with French that it is an "easy matter for a stranger to fancy himself in France."
This is a characteristic of the parish that has not altered. Strype, in 1720, speaks of the "chapels in these parts for the use of the French nation, where our Liturgy turned into French is used, French ministers that are refugees episcopally ordained officiating; several whereof are hereabouts seen walking in the canonical habit of the English clergy. Abundance of French people, many whereof are voluntary exiles for their religion, live in these streets and lanes, following honest trades, and some gentry of the same nation."
It's this aspect of travel which appeals to me - stepping into the footsteps of my various forebears, trying to erase the modern streetscape from my mind and imagine a place as it was back in their day.

Not that my Huguenot (French Protestant) forebears would have worshipped in this building in Soho Square - but tracking down this symbol of the mass French migration to London to escape religious persecution evoked past times for me. It's rather sobering that we continue to see these problems today - there is always a religion that another group does not like and tries to eliminate from its midst. In the case of the Huguenots 350 years ago, their skills contributed to England's gain and France's loss.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

A New Tapestry: Australian Huguenot Families


The Huguenot Society of Australia has a new book. 

A New Tapestry: Australian Huguenot Families adds new families to those included in the Society's first book, The Hidden Thread, Huguenot Families in Australia, published in 2009.

The new title cleverly picks up the theme of the first title. Although many Huguenot families (such as my own Pierssené forebears) did not congregate in London as the weavers of Spitalfields, enough did so to make this an obvious overarching theme for the book's editor Robert Nash, the energetic Secretary of the Society. Both books can be purchased direct from the Huguenot Society of Australia or online through the Society of Australian Genealogists. 

Families covered in the new book are André, Arabin, Azire, Beuzeville, Bosanquet, Cazaly, Chamier, Chauvel, De Boos, Dède, Delahoy, Delamere, Desbois, Des Reaux, D'Esterre, Duchesne, Duterrau, Fourmy, Fontaine, Guilletmot, Juchau, Le Sage, L'Oste, Niquet, Perdriau, Petitjean, Pierssené, Rivière, Teulon, Vatas, & Vautier.

For all of you Pierssenés out there, the new book contains a chapter on Herbert Pierssene (nee Herbert Pierssené Fatt) who founded the Australian branch after his arrival in Western Australia in the late 1880s, his wife Angela Elizabeth Piferrer and their descendants. It updates, expands and enhances the chapter in my book Pierssené, a Huguenot Family of London, published in 2007, a few copies of which are still available online through BookPOD. My book also contains a great deal of information about the Fatt family descended from Thomas Fatt, 1745-1773, who married Ann Pierssené in London in 1766.

Books like these make a great Christmas gift for someone special.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

DNA Proves Pierssené Family Origins

Since my book Pierssené, a Huguenot Family of London was published in 2007 (still available through BookPOD), the family in England has proved its roots. 

We have to thank Ronald Pissens of Belgium for researching the link. He organised high-level DNA tests on a number of men, using the 111 marker tests which compare two male persons genetically. Ronald’s strongest DNA link was with Gordon Pierssene in London, showing a clear and close relationship between the Pierssene family in England and the Pierssens family in the region of Europe known as Flanders. Statistics calculating the TMRCA (time to the most recent common ancestor) estimate that their common ancestor was born after 1321, or roughly at the beginning of the 14th century.

As far as the actual paper trail goes: 
  • Ronald has traced Pierssens forebears to 1560 at Hulst, north west of Antwerp in Belgium and just within today’s Netherlands. (Ronald’s research is on his website De Zoon Van Pieter.) 
  • He has found Pierssene forebears living in 1460 at Sint Pauwels, about 10 km south of Hulst, in today’s Belgium. (Sint Pauwels is highlighted on the map below.) The Pierssene name turned up again in Beveren, closer to Antwerp, by the 1570s, followed by a record of an Emanuel Pierssene in Dieppe in 1610. 
  • A direct forebear of Ronald Pissens died in 1623 at Belsele, 17 km to the south of Hulst and just beyond Sint Pauwels, also in today’s Belgium. 
So the overall conclusion is that the Pierssens family in Hulst, the Pierssene family of Sint Pauwels/Beveren/Dieppe/London and the Pi(e(r)ssens family of Belsele are branches of the same family, with the high-level DNA testing organised by Ronald Pissens indicating that the common ancestor for Gordon and Ronald lived in Flanders west of Antwerp between 1322 and 1466, with a confidence level of 95%. 

The lack of documents for the 1300s and 1400s makes it unlikely that the identity of the common ancestor will ever be discovered, so it won’t be possible to join up the European and English family trees into a common pedigree. 

In more recent times, the only thing which is not yet paper-trailed is the step taking the Pierssene family living in Beveren in the 1570s to their location in Dieppe in 1610. Since the Ps of Dieppe were merchants, the link was most likely created via business connections and a sea journey from Antwerp down the English Channel. The Ps had moved to London from Dieppe by 1678, the transition documented in Pierssené, a Huguenot Family of London

Thus the forebears of the English branch of the P family were originally Flemings. However, says Robert Nash, Secretary of the Huguenot Society of Australia, ‘that doesn't stop them from being Huguenots by the end of the 17th century. Quite a few families in France who identified with the Protestant minority were in fact of Dutch/Flemish origin, and living in Dieppe makes this more likely. A good example is Crommelin, who are definitely regarded as Huguenot, but the name was originally Cromelink and is definitely Flemish in origin. The Protestant registers for La Rochelle are full of Dutch names.’ 

The last I heard, Ronald Pissens intended publishing another book about the P family, but it’s in French and Dutch, not English.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Thomas Persene, Norwich, 1600

The book 'The Walloons and their church at Norwich: their history and registers 1565-1832', by William John Charles Moens, page 106, contains the following entry for a tesmoinage, in which one of the participants was the (unnamed) wife of a Thomas Persene:

Sara, fille d'Antoine S, Tem. Walerian Marcsal [et] Jan Lieuin; la femme de Jan Deareumauix [et] la femme de Thomas Persene. 29 Juin 1600

Huguenot Registers identify Sara as Sara Six, daughter of Antoine.

Thomas Persene is of particular interest because the name Thomas appeared early in the Huguenot branch of the Pierssene family, in London. Google provides no further clues about Thomas Persene; he may simply have been passing through Norwich, as the Walloon Registers make no further reference to him. But if he lived there for a while, then possibly he paid taxes in Norwich, or received charity payments, or was a tradesperson or merchant there, or left a will, etc. Archival sources in Norwich might hold some very useful information. I'm hoping that members of the Pierssene family living in Norfolk might one day be able to follow up this avenue of research.

No clues have yet surfaced via the other families participating in the above tesmoinage. Men named Jan Lieuin and Jan Deremaux had large families christened at the Walloon Church in Norwich from the late 1590s and their wills, if they exist, might be illuminating. The surname Marcsal was probably Marisal, but I have found nothing more about him.

In Europe, research by Ronald Pissens has found a Jacques/Jacob Piersens who was active in Reformed Church affairs in Beveren in 1584 and was subsequently a religious refugee in Antwerp before it too fell to Catholic forces. Jacob moved to Amsterdam where he was a merchant but he left there as a bankrupt in 1598. It seems that he may have eventually moved to Dieppe, but did he go to a relative in England for a period? The record above proves that the Thomas Persene in Norwich on 29 June 1600 (or, rather, his wife) was definitely part of the significant French Protestant population there at that time.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Gordon Pierssene Milestones

Gordon Pierssene was the inspiration for my book Pierssene, a Huguenot Family of London. As I explained in the introduction to that book, he found me on the internet via my entry to the AFTC Huguenot Surnames Index and contacted me at the end of June 2001. We then began a long correspondence. Our families met socially several times in London. Gordon generously supplied much of the information contained in the first half of the book, the results of his research.
It therefore seems entirely appropriate to feature Gordon and his wife Kathleen celebrating several important milestones during 2012 - their 65th wedding anniversary and Kathleen's 90th birthday. Their daughter Barbara sent me these lovely photos, taken in London and proving that they have both aged very gracefully!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Herbert Pierssené's Outback Adventures

Page 159 of my book Pierssené, a Huguenot Family of London (available through BookPOD) mentions Herbert Pierssené's period of residence in the Kalgoorlie district of Western Australia during the second half of the 1890s.

Andrew Pierssené has recently discovered some fascinating old photos among the papers of his late brother, Jeremy, and kindly sent me copies from England. The photos, taken by the Greenham & Evans photographers of Perth & Coolgardie, were passed down by their father Sir Stephen Pierssené, who was Herbert's nephew. They carry several handwritten inscriptions mentioning Mount Jackson, Enuin and the Eileen mine, thereby providing insights into some of Herbert's outback adventures.

The following newspaper excerpts tell the story of the Eileen mine, operated by the Nil Desperandum Company from around August 1895 to November 1901. The story begins in the Western Mail, Perth, Fri 2 Aug 1895, p 4, col a:

MOUNT JACKSON. (FROM AN OCCASIONAL CORRESPONDENT.) Mount Jackson as a reefing district is coming into great prominence. Although out of the beaten track and away from the more fashionable Coolgardie, it will assuredly in time make a name and fame for itself.  Modern maps show Mount Jackson's location westwards of Coolgardie and north of Southern Cross. 'Mount' is a relative term in the world's oldest, flattest continent - the top of this hill is 621 metres above sea level.
The article specified the location of the Eileen Mine: There are no phenomenal finds in its neighbourhood, nor do the reefs carry hundreds of ounces to the ton, but the reefs are well developed and traceable for miles and have down to the depths at present sank been proved to carry gold and to make into larger bodies of stone. The Big Blow reef and the Black reef are traceable for miles and give splendid results at the several depths they have been sunk upon; and the Victoria Reef in the Victoria mine at the 75ft and 100ft has given good prospects. Another new line of reef has been found about seven chains to the west of and parallel to the Victoria, carrying good gold, and has been opened upon at three points some thirty chains apart, all showing fair results. The reef has been christened the Eileen.

Eileen Mine, Mount Jackson
The site had the advantage of a supply of underground water, essential for mining operations: The Nil Desperandum Company seem to have only to sink anywhere to get a golden reef. A new reef altogether was discovered when starting to sink a new shaft to cut another line of reef carrying visible gold. Water, too, will never be much of a trouble to the several companies that will eventually be scattered over this field, as at the Nil Desperandum they have got a bountiful supply at the 135 feet level, and at the Victoria, at 110 feet, they have struck a fair supply.

The mine site looked very primitive in the photograph, an observation supported by the following statement: But what this field suffers from is a dearth of capital. The several parties prospecting have not the wherewithal to give the several reefs a proper prospecting, and the field is not suited to small parties at all. It wants capital to develop it. The reefs are here, the gold is here, but it is only under the battery that it can be obtained, and I would never advise parties without a bit of money behind them to come out to this field. The present finds are limited to about two miles by a mile of country, but the country is about two miles wide by several long; reefs cropping up in hundreds, only waiting for capital to prove their value.

Water remains a severe limitation in Australia's outback, where stranded travellers can still die of thirst. Don't be fooled by maps such as the following, containing lake beds coloured in blue. Certainly, the lakes reflected low-lying land, but more often than not these were dried-out salt pans, only containing water after seasonal rains. Surface water was particularly important in the 1890s, when transportation was horse-powered and it took many days to travel the vast distances involved: A new road is getting out from Southern Cross cut, which will materially shorten the distance, and will also be better watered than the other road.
This road would have been better described as a dirt track. The following photo indicates that it passed through a place Herbert Pierssené described as Enuin, but shown in the centre of the accompanying map as Ennuin. (Mount Jackson is near the top of the map.) Since a professional photographer took the photo, Herbert was presumably one of the five businessmen featured in the photo. A later photo of him as a small and rather lean man (on p 161 of my book) shows similarities to the man sitting second from the left.

The road to Mt Jackson - Breakfast at Enuin
It was frontier territory: We want a mail service, although, thanks to the kindness of people coming out and in, we get letters fairly regularly. We ought to have a proper mail service. We ought also to have some one here appointed a Justice of the Peace to swear affidavits in connection with mining, &c. A cricket club has been formed, and the north end of the field has played the south end. By the way, Sunday afternoon is the day those test matches are played. The population at present is about 70, all able-bodied men, and two females, but as soon as the Nil Desperandum and Victoria companies get properly to work the population of the field will be largely augmented. The dearth of women is a reminder that after gold was first discovered near Kalgoorlie in 1893, the goldfields of Western Australia became the wild west, and brothels abounded in Kalgoorlie.

Everyone was optimistic and struck by gold fever: There are several other properties that are in the process of formation and on the eve of selling, ……. a nice property at the, at present, extreme south end of the field; and Messrs Holmes Bros. and Magor Bros. have their leases at the extreme north end, over two miles and a half dividing them from the Mount Jackson Syndicate. They are also on good gold and are still sinking, and are very jubilant over their prospects. Bateman and party have a nice reef looking well, whilst the Southern Cross syndicate have two splendid shows, one to the south of the Victoria gold mine, and one on the Big Blow reef and the Black reef. They are down 87ft, and have just cut the block reef carrying a splendid show of gold. George Cheeseman, the original prospector on the block reef, has good gold, and the stone shows more gold the deeper he gets. Hall and party have a good reef; they have sunk on it over 100ft., and the stone at grass from that depth shows first-class prospects. Several other claims are in the prospecting stage, but all have excellent prospects of obtaining good stone.

Although Kalgoorlie was connected to Perth by a narrow gauge government railway line from 1896, an article in late 1898 confirms that developing the outback of Australia was a tough business: MOUNT JACKSON. The weather has been very warm lately, the thermometer registering as high as 110 deg. in the shade. Water is scarce on the field, and the inhabitants have to depend solely on the supply from the Mount Jackson Gold Mines dam. The main road between Southern Cross and Mount Jackson is in a very bad state. Travellers can obtain water only at Golden Valley, which is 60 miles from here. This has caused the teamsters to increase their freight charges, and is putting the inhabitants to a lot of inconvenience. (Inquirer & Commercial News, Perth, Fri 16 Dec 1898, p 1, col e)

In 1896 a remarkable infrastructure project began, the Goldfields Water Supply Scheme, a pipeline pumping potable water hundreds of kilometres across the desert from Perth. It opened in 1903 and still operates today, making life in the arid Australian inland possible for large towns like Kalgoorlie. Places away from the pipeline, like Mount Jackson, had to cart in their drinking water.

In 1899 Herbert married in Kalgoorlie and by 1900 he was living (briefly) in the outskirts of modern Perth.

The next year the Eileen Mine was sold to the owners of the massive Great Boulder goldmine at Kalgoorlie, described as the richest square mile on the planet: DAVYHURST. Mr. Hamilton, manager of the Great Boulder mine, has secured two months' option on the Eileen mine, Davyhurst. The price agreed upon is £10,000, of which the vendors have received £1,000 cash deposit, the balance to be paid if further development of the property within the time specified warrants the completion of the sale. The Eileen is located a mile from Davyhurst township, and has been opened up for a depth of about sixty feet. The mine possesses a fine body of stone, averaging 8ft. thick, from which 1,500 tons have been raised and treated for a return of 22dwt. per ton. (Western Mail, Sat 23 Nov 1901, p 50, col b)

Herbert profited by his mining experience, as advertisements for his publication 'Telegraph Code for Wardens Court & Mines Department' appeared for several years. But he'd already moved on. He was a householder residing in Katanning (see the first map) when he supported another man's application for a licence to run a boarding house in May 1901. (Albany Advertiser, Fri 17 May 1901, p 2, col c). This is interesting, as Herbert was later buried in Katanning.

He soon popped up again in another mining town, at Ravensthorpe (near Hopetoun, on the first map), where he was elected as Chairman of the local Hospital Board in May 1902. The family lived here until at least June 1911, and Herbert's name appeared regularly as the local agent for the Commercial Union Insurance Company from November 1904 to June 1908.

By early 1913 the educational needs of his three children meant that he'd found himself employment near Perth, as agent of the Government Savings Bank of Western Australia at Kelmscott. (Sunday Times, Perth, 2 Feb 1913, p 2S, col e)

By the way, my book (p 162) gives the date of Herbert's death as 4 October 1923 (a published transcription from his headstone) but recently available 'Family Notices' material on the Trove website for old Australian newspapers gives the date as 14 October 1923.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Keeping the name alive

During a social outing today, someone mentioned how keen she was to keep her link to the Huguenots alive by using her long-ago family surname as a second given name for her daughter.

It reminded me that Ann Pierssené (pictured left, looking so wonderfully French although born in London) had the same thought back in 1766, when she married Thomas Fatt at St George's Bloomsbury in London. Ann's surviving children were baptised as Thomas Pierssené Fatt and Stephen Pierssené Fatt. Two of Stephen's Pierssené Fatt grandsons later dropped the Fatt surname and reverted to Pierssené as the family name.

It's food for thought. It's far too late for anyone in my own family to use Pierssené as a given name - until the next generation comes along. But other descendants of the Pierssené family might like to consider this unforgettable and rather distinguished French name as an option when naming their children.

Remember, the book Pierssené, a Huguenot Family of London is available through BookPOD.