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.

Link

antoinewalsh

Anthony (Antoine) Vincent Walsh

At this day, 22 January, in 1703, my 5th great-grandfather Anthony (Antoine) Vincent Walsh was baptised in the cathedral in Saint Malo, Brittany France. In terms of my own family history he is quite a significant and controversial figure.

The city of Saint Malo, where he was born, is definitely on my list of place I wish to visit. It is situated on the English Channel and on the right bank of the estuary of the Rance River. It is described as having the old walled city standing on a granite islet that is joined to the mainland by an ancient causeway and by an avenue bridging the inner harbour. The city was named for Maclou, or Malo, an Irish monk, born in what is now known as Wales, who fled to Brittany, making his headquarters on the island in the 6th century. Saint Malo Cathedral church is the city’s centrepiece dating from the twelfth century and with its spire still the tallest building in the city.

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Saint Malo

Saint Malo was a long way from the traditional Walsh family home in Kilkenny. Anthony’s Jacobite grandfather James had forfeited his estates of Ballynacooly in the Walsh Mountains in about 1665 in the face of protestant William of Orange’s war in Ireland. Anthony’s father Philip, had been a merchant in Waterford, but then established himself in Saint Malo by about 1685 as a shipbuilder. He came to prominence being recorded as having transported the defeated King James II on board his ship from Kinsale, County Cork to France in July 1690 after the Battle of the Boyne and the unsuccessful bid to reclaim the throne of England. This started the family connections to the Stuarts and was Anthony’s heritage.

Antoine served in the French navy before settling in Nantes, which had emerged as France’s chief slaving port and where there was a large close-knit Irish community. In 1741 he married Mary O’Shiell, a French-Irish businesswoman in Nantes.

In 1744 he commissioned a new French privateer the Du Teillay  of 18 guns, in Nantes. She played a central role in the Jacobite rising of 1745, ferrying Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) to Ardmolich with supplies and funds to support his cause.

doutelle2

‘Action on the 9th of July 1745 between the Lion of 60 guns, Captain Percy Brett / and the Elisabeth of 64 guns, the Doutelle [le Du Teillay] in the distance making / her escape with the Pretender on board./ Painted for Admiral Lord Anson’. Inscription by the painter, Samuel Scott(1702-1772)

In recognition of his support and his noble Irish ancestry, in 1745 James III bestowed upon Anthony the title of Earl Walsh.

Much has been recorded and written about Antoine and the life he led as a successful merchant, a major figure in the slave trade and wealthy sugar plantation owner in the Caribbean. He was instrumental in the triangular trade between Europe, Africa and the French West Indies in Martinique, Guadeloupe and Saint-Domingue.

‘Aeneas McDonald describes him in 1745 as “an eminent merchant of Nantz … This Mr. Welch chiefly trades to Martinico. He has 24 merchantmen and provateers” (The Lyon in Mourning, Scot. Hist. Soc., vol. i, p.293)’

In his book Murder, Mutiny & Mayhem: The Blackest-Hearted Villains from Irish History, Joe O’Shea‘s suggests that this exiled Irishman:

“…had personally bought and sold over 12,000 African slaves and launched 40 cross-Atlantic slave voyages. He was the greatest – or worst – of the Irish-Nantes slavers…”

He died at Cap Francais, San Domingo (now Haiti), on 2 March 1763 and his Jacobite peerage passed to his second and only surviving son, Antoine Jean Baptiste Paulin Walsh.

Today it is difficult to reconcile his slave trading with our world. But while not excusing it, those were obviously different times when it seems to have been viewed almost as a legitimate business activity. It is ironic that his grandson Thomas Walsh (see my post of August 28, 2017) would father a daughter with a descendant of an African slave.

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.