Friday 28 June 2013

Sir James Henry Sproule Rivett-Carnac, Spendthrift Extraordinaire

I was really very surprised to find that one of my Sproule uncles had been in Bombay in the early 1800s, and that his daughter had become Lady Rivett-Carnac. It was totally unexpected! Up to that point I had been researching a County Tyrone farming family and this new finding really put spice into the search for the family history.

How did the Sproule Rivett-Carnac connection fare, I wondered? I would love to be able to report that this injection of Sproule farming blood had proved a successful addition to the Rivett-Carnac family. Alas, no! For the duration of the Sproule Rivett-Carnac bloodline, the family took an unfortunate turn for the worse!

The Successful Rivett-Carnacs

The Rivetts, as they were first known, were a very old English family and they had a history of public life. Thomas Rivett was mayor of Derby in 1715 and his son was MP for that same town in 1748.1 The “Carnac” name was added by James Rivett in 1801. James was living in Bombay, as was his brother-in-law, General John Carnac. General Carnac had no children, and he made James Rivett his heir, with the request that he adopt the name Carnac, hence the Rivett-Carnacs.2

Sir James Rivett-Carnac
The newly named James Rivett-Carnac had a son, also called James, who was born in Bombay in 1784. This James was close friends with my great, great uncle Samuel Sproule. They were cadets at the same time in the East India Company in the very early 1800s.  In his will of 1828, my uncle talks fondly of James Rivett-Carnac and he referred to him as “my esteemed and proven friend”. 

James Rivett-Carnac seemed to have been successful in everything he touched.  He had a
distinguished career in the military, and he then became a Director of the East India Company. He was elected Chairman of the Company in 1836 and was made a Baronet in the same year. Sir James was elected Member of Parliament for Sandwich in England, and was appointed Governor of the Bombay Presidency in 1839.3

The Rivett-Carnac’s star was still rising when his son John married Samuel Sproule’s daughter, Ann-Jane, in 1840. Then in 1846 it all went horribly wrong! Their son, James Henry Sproule Rivett-Carnac was born.

The Exploits of James Henry Sproule Rivett-Carnac

At the tender age of 23, my cousin James Henry Sproule Rivett-Carnac was in the bankruptcy court in London!  The famous jewellers Emmanuels were suing him for non-payment of a quantity of jewellery.  James Henry is reported to have said that he was not sure what had happened to the purchased jewellery, some of it he gave away and some was pledged.  He argued that he would be coming into money when his mother died. Not only was mother Ann Jane only 44 years old and not planning to die, but James Henry had already borrowed heavily on the strength of this inheritance.  He was actually put in jail, but later released.4

Since there is no mention of his affluent parents at this event, I would guarantee that this was not the first time that James Henry was in financial trouble! Did he settle down? Not at all!

James Henry was back in the bankruptcy court again in 1888.5  Both of his parents were dead at this stage and he was now Sir James Henry Sproule Rivett-Carnac. He had come into his inheritance. However, I believe that both of his grandfathers had left their money in the form of trust funds. James Henry could only get hold of a limited amount of the fortune, and he had no difficulty at all in spending all of this!

The Grab for the Family Silver

Sir James Henry went to Court in 1885 to try to get his hands on the family silver!  He asked if he could sell a vast quantity of plate and other items that had been presented to his grandfather, Sir James Rivett-Carnac. Those opposed to him argued that all of this should be owned by the Baronetcy and that James Henry had no right to sell it. Sir James Henry won his case, and presumably he stripped the cupboard bare!6

I did get a moment of hope when I found that Sir James Henry Sproule Rivett-Carnac had written a book! Perhaps my profligate cousin had some redeemable qualities! But my excitement was brief. The book was called “Fans and Fan-painting on Silk and Satin” and it was 26 pages long.

The End of the Line

Sir James Henry had only one son, Claud James, and therein lies another tale for another time! Claud died without issue. The Sproule bloodline in the Rivett-Carnac family was now at an end.  Let both families breathe a heavy sigh of relief!


1 The assembled Commons; or, Parliamentary biographer, with an abstract of the law of election, by a member of the Middle Temple 1838; London Scott, Webster and Geary p. 49
2 Debrett’s The Baronetage of England revised, corrected and continued by G.W. Collen; London William Pickering; 1860 p. 102
3 Dod's Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage, of Great Britain and Ireland (Volume 1865) p.163
4 Morning Chronicle of Halifax Nova Scotia Nov 10th 1868  under ‘Fashionable Bankrupts’
5 The London Gazette Nov 9th 1888 Petition for Bankruptcy
6 The Teesdale Mercury Wednesday 8th July 1885, “The Carnac Heirlooms”
7 Fans and Fan-painting on Silk and Satin by James Henry Sproule Rivett-Carnac (Sir.) 1877 26 pages

Painting: Sir James Rivett-Carnac by Henry William Pickersgill, British Library

Thursday 20 June 2013

Samuel Sproule, President of the Medical Board of Bombay

It is a long, long way from the green fields of the Sproule farm in County Tyrone, Ireland to the hot, humid streets of Bombay. In 1797, when the 21 year old Samuel Sproule of Tullymoan first made the journey, it would have taken over three months in a rolling sailing ship to travel the four and half thousand miles from Liverpool to Bombay.

The young Dr Samuel Sproule, recently qualified Member of the Royal College of Physicians, was a cadet in the service of the East India Company. He was going to take up his first position in the Bombay Medical Service.1  Samuel Sproule, brother of my great, great grandfather Andrew Sproule of Tullymoan, Urney, County Tyrone, was to finish his career at the very top of the medical world there, as President of the Medical Board of Bombay.2

Samuel's Early Career

The Honourable East India Company began as a co-operative of powerful merchants who eventually controlled all of the trade on the Indian sub-continent. It was a private Company that grew to become ruler of India with its own armies and with control of all administrative functions. The Directors of the East India Company were the elite, and they became rich and powerful men.

It was into this world that young Dr Samuel Sproule arrived as an assistant Surgeon in 1797. In June 1803, he was promoted to Surgeon3, and in 1808 he distinguished himself by driving a major campaign to test small pox vaccination in the area of Kattywar, in Gujarat.4  The expedition to Kattywar was led by a Major Alexander Walker, from Scotland,  who was to become one of Samuel’s life-long friends.5

Mixing with the Elite

Despite having come from a modest farming background in County Tyrone, Samuel Sproule seems to have survived well in the social world of the East India Company Raj. He was a member of the Literary Society of Bombay and of the Asiatic Society.6  His friend Alexander Walker had become an influential General and another friend, Major James Rivett-Carnac, became a Director of the East India Company.

General Alexander Walker retired in 1812 and went back to live on his recently purchased estate called Bowland, near Edinburgh in Scotland.7  Alexander Walker had in his charge Eliza Walker, daughter of his late brother William. Samuel Sproule travelled from Bombay to marry Eliza, the niece of his friend, at the Bowland Estate on 10th November 1818 8.  The newly married couple returned immediately to live in Bombay. Eliza and Samuel had several children but only one survived, Ann Jane Sproule born in 1819 in Surat, India.

The Summit of Dr Sproule's Career

By 1821 Samuel was  on the Medical Board of Bombay, and that year was appointed ‘Third Member’.10  The East India Company had divided India into three ‘Presidencies’, and Bombay was one of these. So effectively, the Medical Board of Bombay controlled one third of British India.

Samuel Sproule became first Member of the Medical Board of Bombay on November 11th 1826, with the title of President11. He was at the top of the tree, he had achieved the most senior medical position in the Presidency of Bombay.

Unfortunately, Samuel’s career at the top was a short one. Within a year of his appointment, in November 1827, his wife Eliza died at just 31 years old.12  She was at their home in Cheltenham in England at the time of her death and I can only speculate that they had left for England due to her illness. It was in Cheltenham just 18 months later that Samuel himself died on 30th May 1829, aged 53. 13

The Legacy of Samuel Sproule

The only daughter of Samuel and Eliza, Ann Jane, went on to live in Bombay. Samuel’s good friend James Rivett-Carnac became Chairman of the East India Company and then Governor of Bombay.  Ann Jane Sproule married his son, Sir John Rivett-Carnac on 19th December 1840. 14  

The grandson of Dr Samuel Sproule was the heir, Sir James Henry Sproule Rivett-Carnac, the 3rd Baronet.

1  Joined Bombay Medical Service, 10th March 1797, British Library, Bombay Med Svce; bond & covs 30 Mar 1797; O/1/4 ff.4-7
2  The Oriental Herald and Colonial Review [ed. by J.S. Buckingham].‎ - Page 429 James Silk Buckingham - 1826
The Asiatic Annual Register, For the Year 1804 By Lawrence Dundas Campbell p.166
4  S. Sproule, Surgeon, Report Relative to the First Introduction of Vaccination in Kattywar, 22 February, 1808.
5 The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register, Volume 7, p206 – Major Alexander Walker in Kattywar
6  Glimpses of old Bombay and Western India, with other papers (1900),   by Douglas, James, 1826-1904,  reference Asiatic Society in August, 1823
    Transactions of the Literary Society of Bombay. - London, Longman 1819-23 p.553
7  The East India Company Man: Brigadier-General Alexander Walker by Ken Hall 
8  The Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany, Volume 82, July to Dec 1818
9  Bombay Almanac    1820 Birth date 29 Sep 1819 . FIBIS, Families in British India Society
10  The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Miscellany, Volume 11‎ - Page 192 Asia – 1821
11  The Oriental Herald and Colonial Review [ed. by J.S. Buckingham].‎ - Page 429 James Silk Buckingham – 1826
12  Gentleman's Magazine (Bombay) Date Nov 1827
13  Gentleman's Magazine (Bombay) Date June 1829
14  The Gentleman's Magazine, Volume 97, Part 2; Volume 142, p 475

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Thursday 13 June 2013

The Hunt for the Next Level Up - the First Surprise!

The history of my Sproule family had so far centred on the Tullymoan farm, in Urney, County Tyrone. I was now looking at the generation who were born at the end of the 1700s, and it was here that the surprises began!

I had gathered quite a bit of information on my great grandfather James Sproule and his family.  But who were the parents of James Sproule? I knew that James was born in 1816, but I had no hint as to James’ parents or his peers. Now began the serious searching.

First Steps in Family History Research

The wonderful County Tyrone Genealogy website was my tutor.1  It not only provided me with valuable pieces of information, but it taught me how to find more. It was on this site that I learnt about  the 1857 Griffiths Valuation, a type of census which listed households, tenants  and land owners. I located James Sproule and he had 187 acres of leased land in Tullymoan at that time.

I found out about the earlier tax, the Tithe Applotment tax,  in roughly 1825. James Sproule was only a child at that time, so it was unlikely that he would appear on this list. Sure enough, there was a different Sproule in Tullymoan in 1825, an Andrew Sproule. Surely, this must be the father of James?

Indeed, it proved to be so. I had found for the first time, Andrew Sproule of Tullymoan, my great, great grandfather.

Births, Marriages and Deaths

There were a lot of names and dates on the County Tyrone Genealogy website coming from two local Newspapers  of the eighteen hundreds, The Londonderry Sentinel, and The Strabane Morning Post. The births, marriages and deaths sections of these Newspapers were available for sale, so I purchased a copy of each.  

There were lots of Andrew Sproules in these lists! The Sproules in Tyrone all used the same first names, and they repeat them in every generation to this day. I have lists full of Roberts, Andrews, Samuels and Williams - very confusing!  I narrowed the search, looking for  both ‘Sproule’ and ‘Tullymoan’.

I found no Sproules from Tullymoan in the birth sections, nor in the lists of marriages. I found just four entries in the deaths sections:

DIED Sproule,  January 15, 1833
On Friday, the 4th inst. Miss Sproule of Tullymoan, aged 30.
The Strabane Morning Post 1812 – 1837

DIED Miss Sproul, February 28th 1835
On the morning of the 19th inst., Miss Sproul, daughter of Mr. Andrew Sproul, of Tullymoan, near Strabane.
The Londonderry Sentinel 1829 – 1869

DIED Matilda Sproule, May  5th 1838
At the residence of her father, on the morning of Sunday, the 29th ult., Matilda, youngest daughter of Mr. Andrew Sproule, of Tullymoan, near Strabane.
The Londonderry Sentinel 1829 – 1869

Three daughters of Andrew Sproule, three sisters of James Sproule,  all died within 5 years. They were adults, not children. What happened? Another mystery for another day.

I had found no record of Andrew Sproule himself, not his birth, marriage nor death. Many months on now, I have files and files of information on the Tullymoan Sproules and their connections,  but  I still don’t have this basic data on my great, great grandfather. 

The Wife of Andrew Sproule of Tullymoan

For a long time,  I could also find no record of Andrew’s wife. But then I had the idea to go back to the list that I had compiled of the Sproules from  the newspapers of that time. I didn’t do a search on this occasion. I worked meticulously through every Sproule entry, line by line. I am not sure what I was looking for,  I was just fishing.

And then I found it! Hello, great, great grandmother!

DIED Rebecca Sproule, February 5th 1858
At Tullymean, in the neighbourhood of Strabane, on Monday, the 1st inst., Rebecca, relict of the late Mr. Andrew Sproule, aged 84 years. 3

This was my first meeting with Rebecca, wife of Andrew Sproule. Since then I have learnt that she was Rebecca Mackey, born in 1774 in Lismontigley, Raphoe, County Donegal. I now had the next layer up in the Sproules of Tullymoan, Rebecca and Andrew.

The Door that Flew Open - The Fourth Entry

On that very first foray into family history research, there was one other entry that jumped out and bit me! There amidst the lists of farmer Sproules, doctor Sproules and tradesmen Sproules of Tyrone was a very strange Sproule indeed.  It was as if the door of County Tyrone had just flown open and the farming Sproules of Tullymoan had started walking out!

This was the  fourth entry that I had found in the death sections of the newspapers:

DIED, Samuel Sproule,  June 16, 1829
On the 30th of May, at Cheltenham, Samuel Sproule, Esq. recently First Member of the Medical Board at Bombay, and formerly of Tullymoan, Parish of Urney.
The Strabane Morning Post 1812 – 1837

2 The Strabane Morning Post 1812 – 1837
The Londonderry Sentinel 1829 – 1869

Ploughing with Two Horses by J. Michael Benington; National Museums Northern Ireland

Thursday 6 June 2013

Big Henry Sproule and the Famous Fight

My father was a strong, gentle kind of a man.  He was a peaceful homebird, not much of a drinker, and very rarely raised his voice. It appears that at least one of his uncles was a Sproule of a very different type! Henry Sproule, born in 1879 and the twin of my grandfather Robert, was renowned as a fighter in their neighbourhood of Clady, County Tyrone.

The Ballad of Big Henry Sproule

The story we were told was that Henry had been in a serious fight with another man in Clady, and because of this, he had left Tyrone and went to live in Dublin.  The fight was famous in the neighbourhood, even giving rise to a song, ‘The Ballad of Big Henry Sproule’.  I hunted for this ballad for a long time without success. Thanks to a kind lady who saw this blog, I now have the elusive ballad, and the story of the infamous uncle who was known here by the more familiar, ‘Big Harry Sproule’.

Bye the way, there was a view in the family that Henry had actually killed his opponent, though my father said that this was not true. If it was true, can I apologise to the nice lady who showed me the ballad, as she is a relative of Mr McKinney!

The Sproule & McKinney Fight by Johnny Burns

It was on a winter’s night somewhere on Clady street
That two of Ireland’s champions in a great contest did meet
These Irishmen were drinking for some time at the bar
When after some hot argument they agreed to have a spar

McKinney went out like a policeman on patrol
To decide the fate of him so great, I mean Big Harry Sproule
Harry he went out with one great tiger spring
For Irishmen were always first and foremost in the ring

Before the fight began Sproule said, "remember John"
"I never was the man to run when fighting must be done"
"Well", said John "Now Harry I may now tell you straight
There never came from Tullymoan a man I couldn't beat"

At this the battle started and for awhile they fenced
When after some manoevuring a brutal fight commenced
McKinney he went rushing in and tried a left hand clinch
But Harry stood determined not staggering half an inch

Harry somewhat lost his head and putting out his foot
He landed in poor McKinney a brutal uppercut
McKinney he fell senseless upon the frozen ground
And the look on Sproule did terrify the lads who stood around

Harry fought so quickly he did his hands control
I thought it was Jack Johnston and not big Harry Sproule
Though McKinney was knocked out he fought with skill and pluck
He was active as Jim Corbett till the fatal blow was struck

So Irishmen be careful wherever that you be
Never say you can fight until you try and see
Always keep your temper and don't lose self control
For in a simple contest you might meet a Harry Sproule

Strabane & West Ulster In The 1800s: History From The Broadsheets: Selections from The Strabane Morning Post 1812-1837 [Paperback]
Thanks to Maeve Rogan for finding this ballad.