John Rowe, b1817 and his eventful family life

photo of Paul Church

Paul Church

John was the eldest son of William Rowe, a shoemaker living in Newlyn, Cornwall, nine miles from Lands End, and his wife Alice Daniel, a blacksmiths daughter. He was baptised in Paul Church on 24 August 1817; this is two years after the battle of Waterloo and three years before the death of King George III and the birth of Florence Nightingale.

Of William and Alice’s nine children he was the only one to live in neighbouring (and rival) town Penzance.  This could be because when in 1837, three months after Queen Victoria took the throne, when he was 20 he married a girl from Penzance (Madron parish) called Sarah Sampson. She was a butcher’s daughter who was one of eight children, having six sisters and a brother.

Their first of their own seven children, daughter Elizabeth, was born in 1840; she was followed in 1843 by Catharine Anne Sampson and in 1844 by Sarah.


Madron Parish Church, by GrassRootsGroundswell on Flickr, Creative Commons

However soon after her birth they headed east to Devonport, [Plymouth] in Devon where their first son Thomas Henry was born in early 1848. I suspect that they left the girls back in Penzance with Sarah’s father rather than taking them along too.

John and Sarah were back in Penzance by 15 November 1849 when Thomas was baptised in Madron Parish Church, Penzance. This is the first occasion where John’s trade is specified: he is a mason which could explain why he was in Devonport, looking for work perhaps, I know from another branch of my family that there were many quarries in the area. John and Sarah had another daughter c1850 called Alice Emma, named for John’s late mother who had died in March 1845.


The 1851 census found them living centrally in Penzance in Market Jew Street (pictured in a postcard taken c1910), with John again listed as a mason. Market Jew Street led to neighbouring Marazion. One interpretation of the name Marazion is understood to be a blurring out of the name Marghas Yow or Jew (Thursday Market).  A statue of Penzance’s most famous son, Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829) gazes down from the top of Market Jew Street. He was a chemist and Chair of the Royal Society during the enlightenment, his most famous legacy was the creation of the Humphry Davy Lamp, a miners’ safety lamp which would change colour if dangerous gases were present and would extinguish if no oxygen was present, saving many, many, miners’ lives.


St Mary’s Church, Penzance

During John’s time Penzance was a busting market town, and the opening of the railway in 1849 strengthened this position. In 1852 he and Sarah had another daughter there, Anne Sampson Rowe.

It wasn’t long before the family moved again, presumably for John to find work, for their next child, John Daniel was born in summer 1859, in Lower Solva, Whitchurch, Pembrokeshire, in the west of Wales.

At the end of that year John and Sarah became grand-parents when their unmarried oldest daughter Elizabeth gave birth to Annie Tripp Rowe.  The family lived on for a couple of years there, with Elizabeth working as a washerwoman in 1861, and Sarah likely to be looking after both her young children and her first grand-child.  However on 20 March 1862 Elizabeth married a Philip Kemp Tripp back in Penzance, Madron Chapelry and John was one of her witnesses.

John’s first wife Sarah had died at some point after 7 April 1861 and John re-married on 17 December 1865 in Madron parish.  His second wife was a widow called Cecilia Alder (nee Stevens) who had three children of her own living with her after a few years living round the far side of the world.  John was recorded as being a stone cutter at that time. In July 1864 John’s daughter Catharine had married a carpenter called George John Miller.  One of her witnesses has the surname Alder so either John and Cecilia were in touch at that point or maybe met at the wedding.

By the time of John and Cecilia’s marriage in December 1865 his oldest child Elizabeth Tripp had had two more children, boys called Samuel and George. Within two years of the marriage Elizabeth and Philip had moved away.  At some point after the birth of her last child Philip in 1867 in Southsea, Hampshire in or just before 1869, Elizabeth died.  In 1869, while his youngest must only have been about 2 or 3 and motherless, Philip Snr walked out of his children’s lives, never to return.

John’s second child, Catharine Miller, had also moved to Portsmouth, Hampshire where she and George had sons George in summer 1867 and John in spring 1868. A few years later the family moved to Wales where it appears they moved round, probably looking for work for carpenter George.

John’s shoemaker father William Rowe died in December 1869, aged 81, in Newlyn, the next village.

In April 1871 stone mason John and Cecilia were living in Leskinnick Place, Penzance. Making up their household were John’s son John, their young orphan grandchildren Annie and Samuel Tripp and Cecilia’s son James Alder. They also had a boarder to bring in some extra money.

In the early 1870s, news came about Philip Tripp, Elizabeth’s widower.  He’d actually died at Wurdah in the East Indies [India] in January 1870. With effects worth less than £100 Philip’s will, proved on 8 January 1872 “granted at Bodmin under the usual Limitations to John Rowe of Penzance Mason the Grandfather and Guardian of Annie Tripp Spinster and Samuel Tripp Minors and of George Tripp and Philip Tripp Infants the Children and only Next of Kin.”

I’m sure that John and Cecilia would have been horrified and – not knowing where their two youngest Tripp grand-children were – feared they were living in poverty or had died. However they must have set to work looking for them.


Anvil, by Doctor_Bob

In the 1870s John’s youngest daughter Alice was going through hard times and may have fallen out with her family, or at least become homeless. In April 1871 she was unmarried, several months pregnant and living in Penzance Union workhouse. Her daughter Elizabeth ‘Lily’, named perhaps for Anne’s late sister, was baptised on 30 June 1871 in Madron Church [up above Penzance]. It may be that she had already met and started an affair with widowed Madron blacksmith William Henry Jenkin as on 13 January 1874 the older of her twin sons was baptised William Henry, and on 7 March 1877 her daughter Sarah Jane Jenkin Rowe gave a very obvious indicator of their relationship.

John’s son Thomas Henry married a fisherman’s daughter from Mousehole in 1872 called Phillis Harry Wright. The wedding took place back at Paul Church where John had been baptised over 50 years before.  They went on to have four, possibly five, children together, the last in 1876, but stayed locally in Penzance. However as Thomas wasn’t home for the 1881, 1891 or 1901 census (although Phillis described herself as married rather than widowed for each) either he spent a lot of time working away from home,  or it’s possible that he had disappeared from their lives.
[Update: In January 2020 a descendent of John and Phillis’ contacted me to let me know that Thomas Henry had travelled to South Africa where he died in April 1901 – the power of blogging! 🙂 ]

John’s sixth child Annie Sampson married fisherman John Blewett in St Mary’s in May 1873. Within a few years they had moved to Killamarsh [then] in Yorkshire and John Blewett had changed from fishing to working as a sawyer.

In April 1880 John’s youngest daughter Alice married her blacksmith lover and father of her children William Henry Jenkin in Madron Church.

John and Cecilia are in living 11 Taroveor Terrace, Penzance, on 3 April 1881. That evening two Rowe grand-children – 11-year-old Thomas and 9-year-old Sarah, their stone mason son Thomas and Phyllis’ oldest children – had run along and up the road from Alma Place to see them and were recorded in both households’ census returns.  By this time John’s grandson Samuel Tripp was in the navy and away on HMS Invicible.

That same night Annie Tripp was visiting James Dees Alder [Cecilia’s son], his wife Elizabeth and Annie and Hettie their baby daughters, so links between the step-families seem to have been strong.

The 3 April 1881 census is the last record I have for John and he had died before the 2 April 1891 census.

However hopefully he lived on long enough to meet one of his two missing Tripp grand-sons.  They had been  tracked down to North Bristol, Gloucestershire.  By April 1871 6-year-old George and 4-year-old Philip had been placed in The New Orphan Houses at Ashley Down, in the north Bristol area in Gloucestershire, far away from everyone they knew. It appears that George died aged 7 in the orphanage only about 3 months after his father’s probate hearing, in spring 1872.  Philip was still at the orphanage in 1881, listed as a scholar.  So shortly after that his grand-parent(s) must have found him and brought him home to Penzance. Cruelly Philip didn’t have much time with his family as he died in early 1884, when he must have been approx 17 years old.

In 1882 John’s daughter Annie Blewett and family had moved back to Penzance, where they suffered the deaths of several children in infancy, including twins.  In spring 1884 they had another son, who they named James Dees Alder Blewett, after Cecilia’s son, Annie’s step brother.

In April 1891 Cecilia Rowe was living with her son and daughter-in-law James and Elizabeth Alder, and their daughters Annie and Hettie.  She died in early 1894.

Text © Lynne Black, 1 May 2016;
Stone image from MorgueFiles
Madron Parish Church image by GrassRootsGroundswell on Flickr, Creative Commons license
Nelson photo by Phillip Capper on Flickr, Creative Commons license
First published:

8 thoughts on “John Rowe, b1817 and his eventful family life

  1. Pingback: Alice Rowe, the Workhouse and the Venerable Blacksmith | starryblackness

  2. Pingback: Anne Sampson Rowe later Blewett, Cornwall, Yorkshire & back again | starryblackness

  3. Pingback: Thomas Henry Rowe, wherever he went, and Phillis Harry Wright | starryblackness

  4. Pingback: Catharine A S Rowe b1843, mason’s daughter, carpenter’s wife | starryblackness

  5. Pingback: Elizabeth Rowe, c1840, whose life tripped up | starryblackness

  6. Pingback: Cecilia Paynter Stevens, later Alder later Rowe | starryblackness

  7. Pingback: William Rowe, Cornwainer of Newlyn and Alice Daniel of Sancreed pt2 | starryblackness

  8. Pingback: William and Alice Rowe: flaming torches, stinky fish and older years in 19C Cornwall pt4 | starryblackness

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