James Rowe and Catherine Jaco; fishing, family and faith in 19th century Newlyn

James and Catherine were my great-great-great grandparents and lived together in West Penwith area of Cornwall near Land’s End: Newlyn, Penzance and Mousehole.

James was born c1833 in the reign of William IV but by the time Catherine was born in 1839 Queen Victoria was on the throne.

Photo of Mousehole Harbour, Cornwall

Mousehole Harbour, Cornwall

James was the son of a William Rowe, a shoemaker, later cordwainer, and Alice Daniel.  Born in the small fishing village of Mousehole, he was the youngest of their nine children and his mother was 42 when he was born; sadly she died aged only 51, when James was still only 9 years old.

Within the Rowe family I’ve found that men become either sailors or shoemakers, and James chose the sea over shoes.  By the time he was 17, in March 1851, he was working as a boy on the Brittania, a fishing boat owned by Richard Tonkin and crewed by 7 Mousehole men.

He married Catherine, a girl from neighbouring village Newlyn, just round the corner along the shore.  She was the daughter of master mariner Benjamin Jaco and his wife Priscilla Tonkin, and they married in October 1859 in Paul parish church, she was 20 and he 24.  As far as I’m aware she was one of six children; I’m still to explore her family line.

Their first child Benjamin arrived on 22 January 1860. Despite the hurry to get married, from what I know of his character it was hopefully a marriage of at least affection, and they went on to have seven more children together. Curiously it was Catherine who registered Benjamin’s birth when he was a month old, maybe James was working away as a merchant mariner. They were living in Street-an-nowan area at the east, lower, end of Newlyn.

In 1861 James was definitely away as the census finds him working as an Able Seaman on the Beryl, captained by Scillonian Charles Ellis and found in Neath, Glamorgan, Wales.

James and Catherine’s second child was a daughter, Alice, born on 9 July 1862. Catherine was baptised in the Trinity Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, in Newlyn, into a faith James practised for the rest of his life.

Baby James arrived in April 1865, followed by Frederick in October 1866.  Sadly baby James died in early 1870 after Catherine had just become pregnant with their fifth child; the new baby was born in late September 1870 and as it was a boy he was again named James for his father and late brother.

For once the census, in 1871, found James home from the sea, he, Catherine and sons Ben, Fred and James were living with her parents Benjamin and Priscilla Jaco in Chapel Street, Newlyn. Daughter Alice was living/staying with her aunt and uncle so maybe the house was very full…

Two years later in August 1873 the house got even fuller with the arrival of baby Edwin.  In early 1876 Catherine gave birth to their sixth son (7th child), but sadly baby John died within a month.

In late 1879 their youngest child Catherine ‘Katie’ was born; they were still living on Chapel Street at that time.

Newlyn Harbour by Phil Richards, Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/philwirks/

Newlyn Harbour by Phil Richards, Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/philwirks/

The 1880s and 1890s were a busy time for family matches, hatches and despatches.  Oldest son, fisherman Ben, was the first to get married; in summer 1884 he married Mousehole girl Martha Quick.  Sadly they didn’t have much time together.  James and Catherine became grandparents for the first time with the arrival of Mary Martha who was baptised in 1885, Ben and Martha may have had another daughter, Martha, in 1885, but Ben’s wife Martha died in 1887, aged just 22.

Seven years after the birth of their younger daughter, their older one got married. Alice married Jabez Ash in January 1887 and they lived together in Street-an-Nowan.

In May 1889 fisherman son Fred married Mary Ann Stephenson and Minnie was born c1890. Sadly Minnie’s younger sister Bertha, born c 1894 died in infancy, as did their brother Frederick Jnr, born c1896. They were followed by Edwin and by Phylip.

In April 1891 the census found James and Catherine still in Chapel Street, Newlyn.  Edwin and Catherine were still at home; their 6-year-old scholar grand-daughter [Ben’s daughter] Mary Martha was also living with them.  I have lost track of young Mary Martha after that, can’t find her in any records…

On 20 December 1891 Ben married his second wife, Susan Sullivan [my G-G-Grandmother], and they had their first child together in spring 1893, Susan, then my great-grandmother Catherine in summer 1896.

Another fisherman son, Edwin, married Elizabeth ‘Bessie’ Harvey Moon in 1894; they had Catherine, the first of their six children c1896 followed eventually by Anne Cotton, Bessie Harvey, James, Alice and Lizzie Cotton.

I believe their youngest daughter Katie married ‘Billy’ King and they had two children.

James and Catherine’s son James was a shoemaker.  I have seen an unconfirmed suggestion that he married Elizabeth Johns but I can’t’ find any evidence online.  This James died on 6 June 1897, aged only 26.

One day, around 1897, when James Senior was up in Bristol he was in an accident: he was knocked down by a cab and broke his collar bone, becoming quite frail for a few years.

In around 1898 James and Catherine’s daughter Alice Ash was bereaved; she mended fishing nets to pay the bills.

Photo of lugger by Steve Parkes, Flickr

Photo of lugger by Steve Parkes, Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/kasper_veste/

James started recovering, and four years later was fishing in his son Ben’s boat, a lugger of 18 tonnage called the Eleanor, although he was only able to carry out light duties, doing only what was usually done by boys.

On Thursday 7 December 1905 the Eleanor was tied up in Newlyn Harbour, the fourth ship from the North Pier. The crew hadn’t finally decided whether or not to go out to sea, but James decided to go on board and prepare, to light the fire in readiness in case they went out.

At about 2pm James was standing on the ladder down into the cabin, leaning on the companion, as witnessed by to George Kelynack from the next ship out, the El Dorado. Minutes later George was crossing the Eleanor to get to his ship when he heard the noise of someone falling; he looked down into the Eleanor and saw James lying on the floor.  George called for help and was assisted by Edward Cotton; Ben was sent for but James died in Edward and George’s arms before he could get there. They sent for Dr Wilson, who arrived between 4-5pm, after that James was taken home to Chapel Street.

At the inquest the next day, held at the Wesleyan vestry, it was learned that James had consulted Dr Wilson for pains in his head and stomach.  Although James had struck a nut on the boiler and fallen and struck his head the skull was not fractured and there was nothing to suggest anything other than natural causes: the death was attributed to heart disease.

Even though the boat was tied up in the harbour, James’ death counted as a death at sea and was recorded as such; the record tells me the Eleanor fished from Newlyn, was registered in Penzance and was a sailing ship of 18 tonnage.

James was buried in the cemetery at Paul following a service in the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel.  His  funeral was recorded in the Cornishman [from the British Newspaper Archive]:

“The late Mr J D Rowe was of a gentle nature, quiet disposition, and much esteemed by his townsmen, and for many years was a valued member of the Wesleyan Church.  Although latterly on the fishery, he was in the merchant service for a number of years, his long service being recognised by the election to a pension of the Royal Alfred [Aged?] Merchant Seamen’s Institution.”

James and his son Ben had worked together daily for many years.  After his father died Ben didn’t fish for much longer. By 1911 he owned a bakers shop in Newlyn.

Catherine continued to live in the Meadows, and her widowed daughter Alice was boarding with her in April 1911 for the census.  Catherine lived on until 1928, and died at the grand old age of 88. She was laid to rest in Paul Cemetery with her husband and their son James.

© Lynne Black, 30 May 2015
First published: https://starryblackness.wordpress.com/2015/05/30/james-rowe-and-catherine-jaco-fishing-family-and-faith-in-19th-century-newlyn/

11 thoughts on “James Rowe and Catherine Jaco; fishing, family and faith in 19th century Newlyn

  1. Pingback: Alice Daniel Rowe – mending fishing nets in Farmer’s Meadow | starryblackness

  2. Schalene Dagutis

    I’ve discovered a similar pattern with my Scottish ancestors. Births were not registered in the most timely fashion, sometimes weeks or a few months later and often by the mother. Perhaps, it had something to do with the fact that the registry office wasn’t open when the men were working? Deaths, on the other hand, were registered the same day or the day after.

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