Chapel St Leonards Convict Deported to Australia

A Chapel St Leopards man was once deported to Botany Bay after being convicted of manslaughter during a brawl in a local public house. The story is related in a glimpse back at the village of yesteryear.

Family associated with Chapel St Leonards for over 180 years

Mrs Ruth Bell

A number of fascinating details have come to light as a direct result of a recently printed photo showing the small building in the grounds of the White House, Sea Road, Chapel.

Regular readers will recall that a recent article quoted Mr Len Short as believing that his father had been a pupil at the small edifice which Len had thought was once a ‘Dame’ school. Since then, there have been other suggestions as to its origins and uses but our most recent informant appears to have conclusive evidence as to its identity!

Our story unfolds with a telephone call received from Mrs Ruth Bell of Skegness who read our article and sent it on to her brother Mr George Dawson, who lives in Wiltshire. Ruth was born at Willow Farm, Chapel and was trained in GPO work at Chapel Post Office between 1937 and 1938. It is from George that Ruth has learned a great many details about their ancestors and their family’s long association with the village, spanning more than 180 years. We are grateful to them both for spending time helping us to Put their reminiscences together and for the photographs which add so much interest to their memories of Chapel St Leopards.

David Brown, Ruth’s great-grandfather was born in 1792 and died in 1872. He had three brothers, Bartholomew, Edmund and Hedley (or ‘Eardley’). Bartholomew died in 1867 at the age of 67 and Edmund died in 1871 at 58 years.

Life at Alexandra Cottage with the Browns.
Life at Alexandra Cottage with the Browns.

David, Bartholomew and Edmund built three cottages on Sea Road: ‘Oak, Ash’ and Alexandra’. The three lived in the cottages, David making `Alexandra’ his home. Our photograph shows the family posed at the front of the cottage, outside the boundary hedge and in fact by the time this was taken David’s son George, who was Ruth’s grandfather, had added another storey, presumably to accommodate his very large family when he eventually moved back into the family home.

Wash house

The back garden of Alexandra Cottage — and Noah's Ark. From left: Mahala, Emma, Ruth, Eardley with beast, plus a visitor.
The back garden of Alexandra Cottage — and Noah’s Ark. From left: Mahala, Emma, Ruth, Eardley with beast, plus a visitor.

Close inspection of the photograph will reveal on the right-hand side and almost obscured by shrubs, the small building which has lately been the subject of so much friendly controversy! Ruth’s brother assures us that grandfather George built this as a wash-house and so it remained for many years.

Much later, after the death of George and his wife Emma, their daughter Mahala Brown took over the cottage and lived there until she died in 1952, at the age of 86.

Mahala was perhaps, a very early seaside ‘landlady’ on the East coast and she rented out the cottage to select visitors during the summer. Then, the only time that the little outhouse had any other use was when Mahala moved into it whilst renting out her own home. Eventually, she had a wooden chalet built in the garden in which she lived during summer months, and the outhouse reverted to its original use.

Noah’s Ark

Ruth says she has no idea what went on in the back garden of the cottage at the time our other picture was taken! Recently, we heard about ‘Mount Sinai’ — well, on the right hand side of the Picture can be seen a thatched shelter which for reasons unknown, Ruth and George say was called ‘Noah’s Ark’! They assume, no doubt correctly, that it housed animals — in twos?

It was not until the death of Mahala that the present owners acquired Alexandra Cottage when both its name and appearance were changed. It is, of course, now known as The White House and Noah’s Ark has disappeared for ever! Nowadays, the garden is delightfully informal and beautifully maintained.

We have come up to date rather quickly and must now go back well over one hundred years to hear about the fourth brother whose name, it is believed, was Eardley. This man was apparently a very jovial character and it was his habit to greet his friends and acquaintances by giving them a light ‘cuff about the head.

Botany Bay

Following a sea rescue, about which we have no information, it appears that survivors and rescuers were gathered in the Vine public house when a brawl broke out. Eardley, it seems, gave a rather heavier ‘cuff’ than usual to a fellow-drinker and broke the man’s neck.

He was found guilty of manslaughter and deported to Botany Bay, since when there has been no conclusive evidence as to whether or not he survived or raised a family of his own.

However, following the disastrous flood of 1953, Ruth’s mother received a parcel, via the WVS, which had been sent from America and was addressed to the family. The brief note enclosed in the parcel expressed the hope that everyone was safe and well. “There was always the suspicion”, says Ruth, “that this might have come from a branch of the family descended from great uncle Eardley”. Unless the Skegness News travels much further than Wiltshire, I’m afraid we may never know!

I have heard it said more than once since travelling round the village that ‘You are not a local unless your granny is buried in the churchyard!’ Well that surely makes Ruth one, because most of her family are buried there and our story about the Browns and the Dawsons does not end here. Many of you will remember Ruth’s father, William Dawson of Willow Farm, and the most suitable ending to this saga must be — “to be continued…”

Postcard sent from Skegness to the Brown Family at Alexander Cottage, Chapel St Leonards  in 1912
Postcard sent from Skegness to the Brown Family at Alexander Cottage, Chapel St Leonards in 1912

Picture of the White House (formerly Alexander Cottage), situated at the junction of Wilton Avenue and Sea Road, Chapel St Leonards.

Special thanks to Karen Hall, Nick Walton and all our Facebook Friends who helped locating the White House.