In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the life of the average English worker was extremely harsh, with low wages, poor housing, limited access to education, and with few opportunities of improving his lot for either himself or his family. As far as the rural worker was concerned his accommodation often went with his job. If he was not happy with his employment he not only had to find another job but another place to live. There was no welfare system as a safety net apart from the workhouse. The conditions in Newton Abbot Workhouse had a reputation for being harsh and despite reforms, one absconder from there in 1903 described “the stuff they got in there is worse than pig’s food”. He added that he would rather spend time in prison than in Newton Workhouse. His request was duly met with a sentence of 14 days. For many, emigration to either North America or one of the Dominions, was seen as the best way of bettering their lot.
Several people from Kingsteignton upped sticks and went abroad to carve out a new life in a new country. Some succeeded, but for others it went tragically wrong.
Listed below are the stories of some who left Kingsteignton in search of a better life overseas.
John Hubert Reginald Cook
John Hubert Reginald Cook was born in 1888 in Kingsteignton, son of William Cook and Eliza nee Hobbs. In 1891 he was living in Church Street, Kingsteignton. However in 1911 he sailed on the Otway to Australia. His occupation was then recorded as a salesman. Also sailing with him on the Otway was his former school chum from Kingsteignton, Tom Whitear.
He settled in Australia at Liverpool, near Sydney, and found employment as an overseer on a sheep and cattle station in the Tumberumba district some 360 miles away.
Sadly on the 10th September, 1936, an inquest recorded that whilst attempting to drive some cattle across a flooded creek in the waters of Mangus Creek, Tumbarumba, New South Wale, he fell into the water and was drowned. It was not until a fortnight later that his body was recovered and conveyed back to Liverpool, where another brother, William Cook, resided. The cash he possessed was just £11.
Only three months earlier he had lost his 17- years old daughter. He left a widow and two sons.
John was the third son of the late Mr William Cook, of Gestridge and at the time of his death his aged mother resided with her youngest son, Frederick at Blindwill Farm. Kingsteignton.
Henry was born at Horsemills Cottages on the outskirts of Kingsteignton parish in 1882. Although Horsemills fell with the civil parish of Kingsteignton, for ecclesiastical purposes it came within the parish of Chudleigh Knighton which explains why he was baptised there (the ecclesiatical parish of Chudleigh Knighton was created in 1880 and carved out of Hennock and Kingsteignton). Henry was the son of William and Anne Maynard and, perhaps not surprisingly, his father William worked as a claycutter. He first attended school at Chudleigh British School, but in 1887 he, his brother George and sister Emma, were enrolled at the Kingsteignton British School, the family having moved to Sandygate.
In 1902, Henry moved to Australia, sailing on the SS Leura and seems to have settled in or around Brisbane working as a labourer. He joined up to serve in the 2nd Australian Tropical Force on 10th December 1914 in Brisbane and left for Britain on 29th Jan 1915 on the SS Eastern . After arriving in Liverpool he was transferred to the 17th Btn AIF on 1st March 1915. On 26th July 1916 he was wounded in action in France and sent back to Britain for treatment for what was described as a back injury. On 15th March 1917 he was back in France where he was promoted to Corporal on 3rd May and to Sergeant on 1st August. On 5th November 1917 he was wounded in action again, this time suffering a severe injury to his left knee. He was sent back to Britain on the Hospital Ship Pietar de Conick to be treated at Eastboune. In April 1918 he was admitted to hospital in Birmingham suffering from nephritis (an inflammation of the kidneys - no doubt caused by his "back injury" of July 1916. He returned to Australia still suffering from nephritis and was discharged from the Army on 12th December 1918 as unfit for active service.
In 1920 he was staying in Vancouver, Canada, with an old friend from Kingsteignton, Mrs Mary Rabjohns (nee Bickham), who had emigrated to Canada several years before, when he succumbed to nephritis and died on 29th September.
Thomas Henry Whitear was born in 1887, the son of Samuel and Sarah Whitear (nee Furze). His family lived in Dicker’s Court (now known as Dicker’s Terrace) and his father worked as a clay cutter. As a boy Tom attended Kingsteignton Church School.
The 1901 census shows that his father Sam had become the manager at one of the local clay works and his elder brother Sam (jnr) had started work as a clay carter. This was often the career progression for village boys, starting as a carter before moving on to clay cutting in open pits then on to underground mining.
Ten years later his father was living at Townend Farm and combining his job at the clay works with part time farming. The main work on the farm seems to have been carried out by Tom’s younger brother Bill. His elder brother Sam was working as an engine driver on one of the stationary engines used at the clay works for hauling clay.
Tom was a person of considerable physique and it may have been the cramped and claustrophobic conditions of working underground, not to mention the dark and damp, which persuaded him to turn his back on, not just clay mining, but living in Britain full stop. He decided that a better life beckoned in Australia and on 3rd February 1911 he left these shores on the SS Otway bound for Sydney. The passenger list noted him as a miner.
Tom had been living in Australia for just 3 ½ years when what was to become the most terrible war the world had ever seen war broke out in Europe. He enlisted in Australia’s 4th Infantry Battalion on 31st August 1914 and on 20th October set sail for Britain on the Transport ship Euripides.
In 1915 Tom found himself at Gallipoli where he suffered a serious injury to his right arm losing most of his right hand. He returned to Australia and was discharged from the army as unfit for active service on 10th June 1915.
For a one handed man, looking for work involving manual labour was a daunting prospect, so Tom decided to come back to Blighty and do what he could to help out on the family farm.
He developed a milk round taking milk around the village on a custom built handcart, a sight which many elder natives of Kingsteignton can still remember. They also remember him assisting in the roasting of the ram at the annual Ram Fair, resting the pole of the long basting ladle across his injured right arm as he performed the task with his left hand.
Mary Elizabeth Bickham
Mary Elizabeth Bickham was born on 3rd April 1852 at Ware Cross, then described as a hamlet a quarter of a mile from Kingsteignton. She was one of eight children born of William and Mary Bickham of whom three died in infancy. Her father was a mason by trade but by 1861 had swapped that occupation for that of a lighterman on one of the local canals. Whilst her mother was a washerwoman.
On 28th August 1870 she married Levi Rabjohns, a native of Sampford Peverell, at St Michael’s Church Kingsteignton. Levi’s trade was that of a steam sawyer. The 1871 census shows them living at King Street, Exeter with their new born son William Thomas.
The couple moved to Plymouth at some time between 1871 and 1879. Their son William died at the latter end of 1879 and his death was registered in East Stonehouse. Arrangements were made for William to be buried in Kingsteignton churchyard on 1st January 1880. The family’s address in the burial register is shown as 130 Union Street, Plymouth.
It seems likely that it was the death of William that persuaded the couple to emigrate to Canada in 1880 to seek a new life. Another attraction was the fact that at the time the Canadian Pacific Railway was busy offering settlers, in the undeveloped west of Canada, land at bargain prices from its original 25 million acre land grant.
The couple settled in the Burrard district of Vancouver where Levi found work first as a labourer and then as a machinist for the Canadian Pacific Railway. As Vancouver grew the couple sold off land to developers.
Sadly, Levi died in 1909 leaving Mary a widow. She still maintained her Kingsteignton connections and in 1920 welcomed an old Kingsteignton friend, Henry Maynard, who was suffering from the effects of wounds suffered in WW1. Henry passed away on that holiday and is buried in Vancouver cemetery. His grave bears a CWGC headstone to mark the fact he died on his war injuries. In 1919 when HMS New Zealand called at Victoria, a number of the crew jumped ship, enticed by work offers from persons in the town. Even though all shore visits were cancelled Mary managed to arrange a trip ashore for one of her nephews, who was a crew member on the ship, so that she could meet him. He had been born after she emigrated and this was their first meeting.
Mary died in 1928. A cablegram delivered the notification to her relatives in Kingsteignton.
William Henry Bowden
Bill Bowden married Emily Louisa Vallance of Chudleigh Road in 1909 not long before they both emigrated to Canada and set up home in Toronto. In WWI he answered the call of Empire and joined up in April 1916 to serve with the Canadian Infantry. With many of his adopted countrymen he journeyed back to England to undergo training before being posted to France. Whilst in England he regularly visited his in-laws in Chudleigh Road. He was killed on 21st August 1918 and is buried in Hillside Cemetery Le Quesnel.
Frederick Courtier was born in Newton Abbot and had emigrated to Canada prior to the war. He volunteered for the Canadian Army on 12th Novenber 1914 and was sent to Britain to help in the defence of the Mother Country.. On one of his trips to visit relations in Devon he met and married Kingsteignton girl Edith Hibberd and set up home with her in Fore Street, Kingsteignton.
Fred was killed in September 1918 just after the Third Army had taken the Drocourt-Queant line. He was killed by a bomb dropped on the site where his unit was camped. The following letter was sent to his widow Mrs Edith Courtier of Fore Street Kingsteignton:-
Canadian Field Artillery
Dear Mrs Courtier
Your husband had won a very high place in the estimation of the whole battery by his faithful work and cheerful disposition. His good work in our football team was a great help and the team suffers a very material loss in his death. I cannot say too much in his praise. He was a soldier and a thorough gentleman, well liked by every man in the battery, and his example was an inspiration to all of us. You will probably be anxious to know the circumstances of your husband’s death. He had just moved the guns forward on the evening of the 3rd and the reams had returned to the wagon lines, when a German aeroplane, without warning, dropped a large bomb which fell close to your husband, and from which he suffered fatal wounds. He did not live long, but remained cheerful to the end, and I do not think he suffered any pain. Your husband was buried in the village of Cagincourt on the afternoon of the 5th. A Large number of his comrades attended the service, which was conducted by one of our chaplains. A cross now marks his last resting place.
Assuring you of our sympathy
Lieut. R R Sparling
Mary Jane Joslin
Mary Jane Joslin was born in Kingsteignton in 1885, the daughter of Thomas & Lydia Joslin (nee Cornelious). Tom Joslin, like many men in the village, was a clay-worker; he was also a member of St Michael’s Church bell-ringing team and assisted with the roasting of the ram on Fair Day. Mary's uncle was Sidney Joslin who served Kingsteignton Parish Council for several years, both as a member and as Clerk to the Council.
Mary married a Canadian soldier, Frank Burt in May 1915 at Abbotsbury Church, Newton Abbot. Frank had come over in October 1914 with the first wave of Canadian troops who had answered the call of the Mother Country following the outbreak of WW1 in August. After landing at Plymouth he went to Salisbury Plain for training.
How Frank met Mary is unknown but he may have come to Kingsteignton on weekend leave with a number of other ex-pat Kingsteignton men who had joined the Canadian army. After initial training on Salisbury Plain, Frank was posted to Shornecliffe Barracks in Kent prior to being posted to France in August 1915.
In March 1916 Mary and Frank were blessed with a son, Victor William Allen, who lived with Mary and her parents at 1 Victoria Terrace Kingsteignton.
In September 1916 Frank was part of The Canadian Corps that began Canada’s participation in the Battle of the Somme. On 24th September Frank died after being hit by a large piece of shrapnel. His widow received the standard matter of fact telegram notifying her of his death via Kingsteignton Post Office, together with a promise that a letter would follow.
Frank Burt, never saw his infant son and is remembered on Kingsteignton’s War Memorial. Mary Burt was left a widow with a baby to bring up.
In June 1918, Mary was married again at Abbotsbury Church, to another Canadian soldier, Thomas Henry Lee. They had a daughter Olive who was born in Kingsteignton.
At the end of the war Tom was recalled to Canada and Mary and her two children Victor and Olive went with her across the Atlantic aboard the steamer Scandanavian to find a new life.
Mary had two more sons in Canada, James Henry and John (Jack) Joseph. Jack was killed in August 1944 when the Wellington bomber he was travelling crashed in Derbyshire.
Mary lived the rest of her days in Canada.
(information courtesy of Larry Lee)
Kingsteignton born Frederick Mander who, before embracing a new life in Canada, lived at York Terrace and worked as a baker’s assistant. He emigrated in 1908 and on 3rd April 1909 married his Newton Abbot born sweetheart, Bessie Matthews. They began a new life as homesteaders in Clayburn, British Columbia. Together they had four children.
Fred signed up on 10th June 1916 at New Westminster B.C. and was posted to the 1st Ontario Regt. He was transferred to the 47th Bttn CEF and served as a stretcher bearer.
Whilst on leave in England he visited his family in Kingsteignton and in November 1917 gave a talk at the Congregational Church about the work of the YMCA in France. In 1918 he was wounded in the Battle of Amiens and died of his injuries on 12th August. He is buried with other Commonwealth troops at Boves West Cemetry near Amiens.
Sid Ponsford was born in Kingsteignton in 1896, the son of James and Jane Ponsford (nee Cook). Sid’s father was a claycutter. His mother’s family also had strong connections to the local clay industry, she being the daughter of William and Mary Cook (nee Scott) who for many years worked Gestridge Farm. It was from Gestridge Farm that her father set up a haulage business that became known as Cook’s Transport, hiring out his farm carts to haul clay from the Kingsteignton pits to the local canals.
In 1913, when aged only 17, Sid decided to emigrate to Canada, leaving Britain from Southampton on the Ascania. He arrived in Canada on 23rd June and settled in London, Ontario.
Sid had only been in Canada barely a year before the outbreak of war in August 1914 and in September 1915 he volunteered for the Canadian Expeditionary Force to fight in Europe. His occupation was given as a “shipper”. News of him volunteering was published across the Atlantic in the Mid Devon Advertiser.
After the war Sid returned to Canada and resumed his working life which saw him join the London (Ontario) Fire Department. By the time he had retired he had reached the rank of Deputy Fire Chief. He was also a member of the Royal Canadian Legion, (Duchess of Kent Branch). Sid died at Victoria Hospital on April 16th 1978.
The same edition of the Mid Devon Advertiser which heralded Sid Ponsford’s return to these shores also reported that Sid Sharp, another ’Teigntonian who had emigrated to Canada, had answered the call of Empire to fight for the Mother Country. Sid had lived at Pottery Cottages and worked in the brickworks opposite where many of his family also worked.
Sam grew up in Honeywell Road, the son of George and Mary Withycombe. Like many village boys Sam was the son of a claycutter. The hype of the possible riches to be found in the Yukon goldrush must have seemed an exciting alternative to that of working as a clay miner when he left for Canada in 1898. Unfortunately, the story of Sam’s adventure did not have a happy ending; there was to be no pot of gold waiting for him. In July 1918 he was drowned in one of the fast flowing streams found in that region. News of his death was posted in the Alaskan Daily Empire dated 27th July 1918 but it was another month before the news reached his relatives in England.
Frederick William Burrow
Fred Burrow was born in the hamlet of Ashcombe in 1886, the son of William and Sarah Burrow. By 1901 the family had moved to Kingsteignton and were living at Ware Cross, then described as a hamlet a quarter of a mile from Kingsteignton. He and his elder brother George were both engaged as carters for a local road contractor.
By 1911 Fred had found work involving another sort of transport in this case as a lighterman taking clay barges along one of the local canals and the Teign Estuary to ships at Teignmouth. The following year he married Newton Abbot born Laura Holland, whose family was by then living in Church Street, Kingsteignton. Fred’s sister Laura Ellen had married clayworker Sid Joslin in 1907.
Sid’s elder brother Alf had emigrated to the USA in 1903 where he was carving a living farming cattle. Alf persuaded Sid and Fred that a better life than mining and transporting clay could be found in America, so Fred, Laura, Sid and Laura Ellen decided to take Alf’s advice and seek a new life across the Atlantic. The two couples set sail from Southampton on the White Star Line’s RMS Oceanic on 26th March 1913 and arrived in New York on 3rd April. Fred’s papers show he was to be met at the arrival port by Alf Joslin.
Fred and Laura settled in Waverley, Tioga County, New York and found a job as a tool assembler at the Ingersoll factory, just over the state border in Athens, Pennsylvania.
On 6th October 1915 Laura gave birth to a son Leonard, whom the couple named after Laura’s brother who was serving in the Royal Navy on HMS Indefatigable.
In September 1918 Fred received his War Draft registration but thankfully the war’s end was just two months away.
Two years later the family had moved to Bradford, Pennsylvania where he spent the rest of his life. He passed away in July 1962.
Samuel Henry Couch
Samuel Henry Couch was born on 2 March 1871, in Kingsteignton, the son of Edward Couch and Sarah Ann Couch (nee Widdicombe).
In 1881 the family was living in Fore Street and Edward was employed as a farm labourer. An interesting note in the UK census entry of 1881 is that a William Coombe, aged 6, was living with the family and is described as a “nurse child”. It appears that after William’s father died Edward and Sarah adopted him and he took their surname. At the time of the census the family were planning to emigrate to the USA, which they did later that year, eventually settling in Massachusetts.
In 1896 Samuel applied for US citizenship and two years later, on 11 October 1898, married Elizabeth Coleman in Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States. They had two daughters, Elizabeth & Emma.
The 1900 US census shows him engaged in the manufacture of telephone equipment and it was the burgeoning telephony industry which provided Samuel with the opportunity to set up his own company which traded under the name S H Couch. Census entries for his adopted brother William indicate that he was also engaged in the business.
Samuel went on to become one of the leaders of the Independent Telephone Movement in the USA and by 1921, he was also a Director of the Quincy Trust Company, a position he retained until 1953, the year before his death. Early S. H. Couch products included the 1898 (SIC) Intercom, the 1908 IBX (Intercommunicating Branch Exchange), the 1910 Inter-Phone, and several other design innovations for which he was awarded patents. An additional patent filing in 1931 shows the evolution of "private" telephone systems for use in apartment houses, businesses, and offices.
Samuel’s mother Sarah returned to Britain in 1899 to visit relatives in Plymouth and sadly died during her stay. She was buried in Kingsteignton churchyard.
In 1929 when the church bells of St Michael’s were recast, Samuel and his brother William made the gift of a new bell in memory of their mother.
Samuel died on 28 September 1954, in Milton, Norfolk, Massachusetts, United States, at the age of 83.
Alf Joslin was born in Kingsteignton in 1874, one of nine children of Henry and Jane Joslin. His father Henry worked as a lighterman on the Hackney & Stover Canals. His mother Jane (nee Scott) came from a family where many of the men also worked on the barges taking clay down the Teign.
Alf attended the Church School and left at age 11 ½ having attained the required level of literacy, but continued his education by attending evening classes which his former headmaster had started. At age 14 he left home and went to work in Teignmouth in the stable of a large house owned by a gentleman who kept horses to drive and ride. His master also liked to ride to hounds and Alf often accompanied him to hunts.
It was at Teignmouth that Alf met a carpenter from a ship. They got round to discussing the future and Alf told him that he was thinking of going to South Africa. The carpenter told him that his prospects would be better in the USA and in New York State in particular. He gave Alf the contact name and address of a Rev Thomas Carter, who had left Devon in 1900 and now was the pastor of a Baptist church in Mclean, Tompkins County, NYS. Alf duly contacted the Rev Carter and arrangements were made for him go to America. He left Liverpool on the RMS Celtic on 18th March 1903 and arrived in New York ten days later where he was met by the Rev Carter. Alf lodged with Mr Carter and his wife, who like Alf, came from the West Country, the Rev Carter having been born in Newton Abbot and his wife inTruro.
Alf secured a job as a farm hand working for Morris Francis and later married his boss’s daughter Mary (Mae). They had two children Winfred and Joseph. Sadly, Mae died in 1916. Alf remarried in 1918, to a Miss Helen Ward. That year also saw him get his draft papers for the army where he is noted as a farmer. Over the years he acquired considerable knowledge of cattle and was often called upon to judge cattle at shows both in the US and Canada.
After he gave up farming he ran a general store in Dresserville until he retired. He died in June 1967.
(information courtesy of Sue Walker)
Winfred Bertha Joslin
The hand of fate dealt Bertha Joslin a number of cruel blows before she decided to seek a new life abroad. Born in 1876, the second daughter of Henry and Jane Joslin, she attended Kingsteignton Church School. After leaving school she found a position as a housemaid in a large country house near Helston, Cornwall. Also working there as a butler was a young Edwin Swain, who hailed from Plymouth.
A romance blossomed and they became engaged. However, a bitter row between them, over what transpired were false rumours, led to them breaking off their engagement.
Bertha left her employment and obtained a new post at the other end of the country at Swanley in Kent. There she met and married Percy Standford in 1900. Percy was a railway signalman and together they had four children. Tragically Percy died in October 1911, just one month after his fourth child was born. Bertha moved back to Kingsteignton to live with her parents and enrolled her children at the Church School.
In 1913 she was persuaded by her elder brother Alf to follow him to the USA. On 13th August 1913, she along with three children left Southampton on the White Star Line's RMS Olympic (the sister ship of the Titanic) for a new life in America. For some reason her eldest son stayed behind before joining them just over seven years later.
Bertha settled in Casenovia in New York State where her brother Alf had found a post for her. She met and later married a local farmer, Welby D Ward, and had two more children. Sadly, Bertha was widowed for a second time in 1936.
Several years later her brother Sid was attending a Trade Union Meeting in Penzance where he bumped into Bertha’s first love, Edwin Swain, working in the hotel in which Sid was staying. Edwin, by now a widower, related to Sid how he very much regretted what had happened between him and Bertha all those years ago and that he still had a place in his heart for her.
Sid wrote to Bertha telling her how he had met her first love in Penzance and a reunion was arranged at Sid’s home in Exeter Road, Kingsteignton. That meeting rekindled their old love and at the age of 70 Bertha married her first love at St Michael’s Church, the church where she attended Sunday School as a child, and had married her first husband in 1900. She and Edwin lived in Plymouth for two years before she was widowed for a third time.
Losing Edwin persuaded Bertha to return to the US where she settled again in Auburn near her children. She died in February 1962.
(information courtesy of Sue Walker)