Eliza Thomasina (Walsh) Briscoe (1808-1875)

Among my less recent female ancestors, Eliza is one who stands out in my mind.

It is a fact in history, and particularly genealogy, that we tend to know less about the women in the past than about their fathers, husbands and sons. As a result, much of what we know about Eliza comes to us through the records associated with the men in her life. But when we can discover details about the lives of our female forebears it can be all the more rewarding.

It appears that much or Eliza’s life centered around her own and her extended family although she didn’t have a very auspicious start. Census records show that Eliza was born in the West Indies, a long way from the British Isles where she spent most of her life.

She was the daughter of Lt. Col. Thomas Walsh of the 56th British Regiment. Thomas came from a very distinguished Irish Jacobite emigre family who had made their home in Brittany, France after their association with the Stuart insurrection led to the confiscation of their large estates in Kilkenny. For a number of generation before Thomas, his family had had a close relationship with French royalty as privateers, merchants and particularly slave traders. Thomas had turned his back on that latter “family business” and opted for a career in the military.

While Thomas was stationed in Jamaica with the 56th British Regiment and as Deputy Adjutant to Sir Eyre Coote the Governor of the island, Eliza was born on 8 March 1808, the illegitimate daughter of one A.E. French. All indications from the wording of Eliza’s baptism records are that A.E. French was not only of European but also of African descent, ironically the descendant of a slave. In his will (part of which is below) Thomas not only acknowledged his daughter but also made provision for her future back in Ireland (seemingly illustrating his desire to firmly establish a home there and distance himself from France).

Thomas Walsh part will (dated 1809)

His will indicated Thomas’ desire for Eliza to be returned to Ireland when she was four years old and to be cared for by his friends and relatives Peter and Sarah Walsh of Belline, Kilkenny. We do not know exactly when Eliza did travel to Ireland, but by that time her father would have been dead, killed in an accidental fall from a gig in Surrey, England in 1810. Peter Walsh had converted from Catholicism to become a Protestant but whatever his religious beliefs he was regarded as a complete gentleman with a cultivated taste and appreciation of the arts as well a patron. At Belline Eliza would have had a comfortable upbringing.

Belline, Home of Peter Walsh in Pilltown, Kilkenny

The next record of Eliza is when the Waterford Mail announced that she had married Henry Harrison Briscoe of Cloncunny on 2 June 1830. Both the Walsh family of Belline and the Briscoe family of Cloncunny had close relations with Lord Bessborough in Kilkenny among the Protestant gentry. Eliza was twenty-two years of age and Henry ten years older when they married and the date may have been specially chosen because it was also Henry’s birthday.

Over the next fifteen years the couple had six children. Thomas Anthony was born in 1831 but died shortly after. Then there were five other children: Edward William, Caroline Elizabeth Henrietta, Alfred Philip, Henry Harrison jr. and Thomasina Marian.

As well managing the Cloncunny estate, Henry was a local magistrate and became an Inspector of Poor Laws. It is assumed that the latter role was at least partly to provide additional income as the economic and social changes in Ireland at the time made living off the land less sustainable. It appears that he was an absentee landlord for much of the time and away in the Poor Laws role in County Mayo and County Clare between 1848 and 1852 during the latter part of the Great Famine.

Earlier in 1846, Henry is recorded in the Slater’s Directory (under Nobility, Gentry and Clergy) living in The Crescent, Onchan on the Isle of Man indicating that this could have been the family’s usual residence. Their youngest child Thomasina was christened in Onchan in 1845 and both Eliza and Thomasina were still at The Crescent, mentioned in the 1851 census living with her father-in-law Edward Briscoe at Onchan on the Isle of Man presumably while Henry was in County Clare. It is not known how long Eliza stayed with Edward but it may have been to care for him as he died there in October 1851.

Henry subsequently took up the role of Superintendent of Poor Laws in Scotland from 1857 until his death in 1864 and he was buried in Inverness. The 1861 census for Inverness shows a Marion Briscoe as a scholar, aged 16 years, which if it is our Thomasina Marian suggests that Eliza was with Henry during his years in Scotland.

After Henry’s death, Eliza spent some time in Devonshire with her older daughter Caroline but she was back living in Cloncunny with Thomasina Marian when she died in 1875. Her other four surviving children were spread far and wide with Edward living in Surrey, Caroline in Devonshire, Alfred a sea captain and Henry in outback Australia. Thomasina was still living at Cloncunny when she died in 1881.

One of my own memorable family history experiences was locating Eliza’s grave in Kilkenny. Within the deserted Church of Ireland churchyard at Graigavine the memorial stands proud indicative of the family’s love and the esteem in which Eliza was held.

Grave of Eliza Thomasina (Walsh) Briscoe
Old Graigavine Churchyard, Kilkenny

Sacred To the Memory of Elizabeth Thomasina Relict of the Late Henry Harrison Briscoe Esq. Of Cloncunny Co. Kilkenny And daughter of the Late Lieut. Col. Walsh of H.M. 56th Regt. Died 13th February 1875 in her 66th Year. and below  
Also to the memory of Marion Thomasina Briscoe Youngest Daughter of the Above Who Died at Cloncunny in Her 35th Year Feb. 6th 1881

My great great grandmother, Eliza Thomasina Walsh, will always have a special place in the Briscoe-Walsh branch of our family tree.

Ann Eloisa French (1787-1835)

On this day, October 13 in 1835, Ann Eloisa (or later Eliza) French, who is believed to be my 3rd great-grandmother died in Spanish Town, Jamaica.

I say ‘believed’ because although it can not (yet) be proven conclusively all indications, including the advice from a professional Jamaican genealogist, are that this is the right person who was the mother of my 2nd great-grandmother Eliza Thomasina Walsh. This Eliza was born in Spanish Town on March 3, 1808 and her mother was A.E. French.

Ethnically, Ann Eloisa was a quadroon, being of mixed race, the grand daughter of an African who was undoubtedly a slave. Her parents were Jane Charlotte Beckford, a free mulatto and George French, one time Crown Solicitor/Clerk of the Jamaica Assembly and later the High Court, Assistant Judge, Solicitor for the Crown and Clerk of the Peace in Spanish Town. Jane was George’s mistress and they had six children together.

Eliza Thomasina’s father was Thomas Walsh, an Irish officer in the 56th Regiment of the British army serving in Jamaica and who acknowledged Eliza as his daughter in his 1809 will. In that will Thomas had requested that Eliza Thomasina should be returned to Ireland when four years of age. Thomas had returned to England by 1809 and he died in an accident the following year but his wishes regarding Eliza were carried out and she eventually married Henry Harrison Briscoe in Ireland in 1830. It is not known what part, if any, Ann Eloisa had in this decision or in Eliza Thomasina’s life before her return to Ireland.

Jane Charlotte ran a lodging house on the corner of White Church and Ellis Streets in Spanish Town. This was later known as Miss French’s Lodgings presumably after Ann took over running of the establishment when Jane Charlotte died in 1825. The building that stands on that corner today I likely to be the same

Ann Eliza French (as she was then known) was the administratrix of her mother’s will and presumably also the beneficiary.

Currently no more is known about Ann’s life except that she died in 1835 and was buried in St. Catherine’s churchyard in Spanish Town.

Thomas Walsh (1777-1810)

ON THIS DAY, August 28, in 1810 my 3rd great-grandfather Lt. Col. Thomas Walsh was buried at St. Andrew’s Church, Farnham, Surrey. He was only 33 years old.

Thomas is one of my most interesting and hence favourite ancestors largely because of his family’s history but also because of the chase he led us on to discover his story.

Born of Irish stock (Walsh being about the fourth most common name in Ireland), it was surprising to discover after much searching and false clues, that Thomas was born in France and christened Francis Thomas Joseph David Walsh.

His family was exiled to France after his 2nd great-grandfather James Walsh was dispossessed of his lands in the Walsh Mountains of Kilkenny in the mid-1600s. Along with other Irish families they sought refuge in the St. Malo area of Brittany. Here they became quite prosperous providing naval services to the French, in ship-building, as privateers and even slave trading. His great-grandfather Phillip was captain of the ship that conveyed the defeated James II from Kinsale Ireland to France, after the former King’s unsuccessful bid to reclaim the throne of England. For services rendered by the family Phillip’s son Anthony Vincent Walsh was named as Earl Walsh by the titular King James III. Thomas’s father Anthony John Baptist Walsh was the second Earl Walsh who after a successful career in the service of the King of France and being honoured as Count Antoine Walsh, knight of the military order of St. Louis, retired to the West Indies where he died in 1798.

From: A Royalist Family Irish and French (1689-1789) and Prince Charles Edward, translated from the French by A.G.Murray McGregor, 1904.

Thomas was born in 1777 in St. Georges-sur-Loire, France and at the age of sixteen despite the anti-British family history, had already embarked on a career in the British army, most likely with the Walsh Regiment of the Irish Brigade in the West Indies. He was later described as displaying “early professional promise” and by 1798 he was a Lieutenant in the 88th Regiment under fellow Irishman Major General Eyre Coote, serving (against the French) in Egypt during the Napoleonic wars. In 1803 he published, the “Journal of the late campaign in Egypt: including descriptions of that country, and of Gibralta, Minorca, Malta, Marmorice and Macri”.

By 1805 he had been promoted to Lt. Col. and again served under Coote this time in the 56th Regiment in Jamaica until about 1808 or 1809. It was during this period that his liaison with A.E. French produced a daughter, Eliza Thomasina, who was born in Spanish Town, Jamaica on March 3, 1808. Eliza’s mother was most likely Ann Eloisa (or later called Eliza) French who was a”quadroon”, or one quarter African, of slave descent. In Thomas’s will be see (below) his desire for Eliza to be raised in at home, in Ireland.

Thomas Walsh part will

Thomas returned to England as assistant adjutant general under Coote, but on August 23, 1910 he was killed by a fall from a gig near Guildford in Surrey. Family members in Ireland were deeply touched by his death and arranged for a monument to be erected at St. Andrew’s Church in Farnham. (Fuller details are set out in the Eyre Coote Papers held in the William L. Clements Library University of Michigan).

In accordance with his wishes, the young Eliza was returned to Ireland and presumably grew up with Walsh relatives at Belline in Kilkenny before marrying Henry Harrison Briscoe in 1830.

The family tree below shows that Thomas died “s.p”  ([Latin]sine prole; without offspring or died without issue) which we now know is not correct.

Thomas Walsh’s Family Tree, from A Royalist Family Irish and French (1689-1789)and Prince Charles Edward, translated from the French by A.G.Murray McGregor, 1904.