|Relationship to me:||Grandmother "Gran Smith"||Gen -2||
"Gran Smith" as I remember her; at Wendy's wedding in 1964. Myself on the left, Mum on the right and Dad behind.
|Born:||2nd December 1874, Birmingham Warwickshire||???|
|Died:||22nd December 1969, Harborne, Birmingham|
|Father:||Robert Kilpatrick Wake||1848 - 1892|
|Mother:||Adah Rhodes Nelson||1849 - 1921|
|Sisters:||Adah (Bessie) (m Wall)||1872 - 1963|
|Annie Margaret (m Stocks)||1876 - 1970|
|Nicholas (m Blackwell)||1881 - 1961|
|Gladys||1884 - 1885|
|Married:||(1) George Richards m. 4th Apr 1899||c1868 - c1902|
|(2) Dan Smith m. 11th Oct 1905||1878 - 1934|
|Children:||Robert Richards||1900 - 197?|
|Margaret Helena (m. Newman)||1907 - 1965|
|Phyllis (m. Evans)||1910 - 1986|
Note: Helena Smith was a remarkable woman. The basis of her family tree was given to me by my second cousin Oliver Suffield which has been supplemented by information provided by other relatives including descendants of her sisters and aunts.
Four sisters c. mid-1950s: L-R: Margaret Stocks, Bessie Wall, Mary Helena Smith and Nin Blackwell
India played a dominant role through much of Gran Smith's life, having also played an important role in her family before she was born. Her grandfather Horatio Nelson took his family out there in 1858 (at the time of the Indian Mutiny) and died there of cholera the following year. Gran herself lived in India from around 1901 to 1922 and again from 1938 to 1944 (or 1946).
Helena (as she preferred to be called) was born
On 4th April 1899, Helena married George Richard Richards at St. Agnes's church, Moseley in Soilhull (see marriage certificate). George was then aged 30, living in Bedworth near Nuneaton where he was working as a school master. His father Richard Richards was recorded as retired. Helena, 24 appears to have been unemployed at the time, but she was then living in Woodstock Road, Moseley which must have been her mother's home. Witnesses at the wedding were Helena's brother-in-law John Edwin Wall, her sister Ann Margaret Wake, Arthur Frank Heath and Edith May Adnaus(?).
In 1900 Helena gave birth to her only son, George Robert Richards (Dick) who was to become a contemporary of H.E.M. Newman in the Madras Sappers and Miners some 25 years later. According to the 1911 census records, Dick was born in East Dulwich, London, however the 1900 birth register shows him to have been born in Camberwell, London. Either way, it may be presumably the family was living in South London at the time.
No record has been found
for Helena, George or son George in the 1901 census. Perhaps they were staying
with George's parents, but it is possible that they had packed their trunks
and sailed to
The actual date of the family's departure from England remains uncertain. The "Life and Times of Karachi Grammar School" (page 36) states that George and his wife arrived at the school from England in April 1902. It goes on to say that George and Helena's appointment as headmaster and headmistress (or Assistant Mistress) of the school came at a very difficult time, the previous headmaster having left to form a new school in competition with the Grammar School, taking a number of its pupils with him. Thus "when his successor, Mr G. Richards and his wife arrived from England in April 1902, they faced a situation that was even more dire than it had been at the end of the previous year. Student numbers were in free fall, the salary of the new Assistant Mistress was reduced to Rs.20 per month, there was no gymnastics instructor, the school was paying 8% interest on its bank overdraft and members of the Management Committee felt obliged to put forward interest-free loans amounting to Rs.5000. Mr. & Mrs. Richards left Karachi on 10th July - they were probably glad to go - and sadly he died a day or two later on the train to Lahore." A scan of the above text can be found here.
Helena describes the death of her husband George Richards in the transcrpt of her recorded interview below. She told how she had to take him off the train after he fell ill and that his temperature rose rapidly to 108oF causing the doctor to proclaim that nothing could be done to save him. He died in the station master's office within a few hours and was taken away for immediate burial. However she did not say where they were travelling to or the place where they had disembarked from the train, nor the sickness that he had succumbed to so quickly. Helena's granddaughter Wendy Thomson confirmed that baby Dick Richards was travelling with his parents at the time of the tragedy. She also suggested that the train was crossing the Sind Desert when George Richards contracted bubonic plague, but if this was the case then there appears to be only one railway line across the desert - a lonely single line track between Hyderabad and Samdari in Rajasthan built sometime between 1893 and 1909. If the railway had been completed by 1902 and if it was the railway that they were travelling on, then they could not have been headed for Lahore. However they would have been heading in the direction of Delhi and towards Mussoori where Helena recalled that she ended her journey.
Prior to her second marriage in 1905, Helena had moved several hundred miles south to the Nilgiris where it seems that she was headmistress at a school for the daughter of "other ranks" in Ootacamund, probably in Lovedale. Her marriage certificate shows her residing at 'Lovedale Nilgiris' some 2000 miles from Quetta where her groom Dan Smith, (newly arrived from the North of Scotland), was then living (see map below). Wendy Thomson recalled that Helena founded a school for English girls in Bangalore to help her survive after her first husband died, and whilst this seems unlikely (Bangalore being some 300km from the Nilgiris), it may be the case that Helena founded the school where she worked in the Nilgiris.
At any rate, one can only speculate where and how Dan and Helena met when they were living so far apart, but after their marriage they settled in Karachi where Dan built up a pharmacy business with a Scottish partner by the name of Willam Campbell (see. Dan Smith's page).
Dan and Helena's marriage produced two daughters, Margaret (1907) and Phyl (1910), both born in Karachi, and the family appears to have continued living in Karachi for another decade or more. Their names do not appear to have been recorded in the 1911 census, so presumably they were in India at the time. However the 1911 census does have a record of young George Robert Richards who was staying with his Grandmother Adah in Mosely where he was presumably attending school.
Helena was known as "Mousedear" and Dan was known as "Pop" as evidenced in the two photos below taken in 1922, the notations being in my father's handwriting. The photos appear to have been taken in India, which suggests that she and Dan did not leave India until that year at the earliest.
Helena and Dan returned to England in or after 1922, moving into a large house called Mylesdown at 44 Mayfield Road in Sutton, Surrey (SW London) from where my parents were married in 1929. They lived there until Dan's death in 1934 (see below), when Helena moved to a house in School Road, Moseley,West Midlands (near Birmingham) around 1935.
Helena returned to
Her final years in Harbourne were spent listening to the daily news bulletins and TV shows, sitting so close to the television that it was hard to imagine it being possible to see anything on the screen. She enjoyed grumbling about what she saw as the deterioration of English diction on TV and radio.
Her death in 1969 followed quickly after a fall which broke her hip.. Prior to the fall, it appeared that she would sail past her century in fine fettle, but she had to make do with 95 which she was adamant was longer than she really wanted. She was a wonderful lady who I still miss dearly.
I grew up with Gran Smith living in Churchland Farm with my parents. I therefore knew her very well and have many fond memories of her even though she maintained the rather strict facade of a school-teacher and was never a "doting" grandmother. However she was generous and could always be relied upon to hand out crisp white £5 notes to us children at Christmas and birthdays (quite a large sum in those days). She was a great story-teller and often entertained us with tales of travel and adventure which no doubt influenced both my sister and I to seek adventure abroad.
I have only two recollections of Gran Smith telling me about her relations: (a) she had a relative who came from Dumfries (which happens to be where I was married); and (b) that she had a relative who was Captain of the Great Eastern steamship when it laid the first Atlantic telegraph cable (in around 1876).
Oliver Suffield provided me with the facts behind these memories: (a) her great grandfather Robert Wright was a baker from Dumfries; and (b) it was Robert's Wright's sister-in-law Agnes Anderson's son, Sir James Anderson, who captained the Great Eastern steamship. He must therefore have been Gran Smith's first cousin once removed.
Gran must have been very familiar with this side of her family, because amongst the many people she mentions in the taped interview with Michael shortly before her death, she mentions a William Costen Aitken who was born in 1817 and died in 1875. William Costen Aitken was the husband of Robert Wright's daughter Elizabeth.
(The above combines my own childhood memories with notes made during a conversation with my father in Australia during his last visit in 1986 or 87. Supplemented also by the taped recording with Gran Smith in 1969 transcribed below, and information obtained by Nadine Price, and given to me by Oliver Suffield).
The following is my abridged transcription of a 45 minute Tape Recording of 95 year-old Gran Smith (G:) made by Michael Evans (M:) on 10th Feb 1969, just 10 months before her death:
(1) M: The book that I have here is one
with drawings by Alexander Munro. In the front is a letter from Randolf Churchill;
G: The letter has nothing to do with book. There must be a lot of odd
letters that I just put it there. Randolf Churchill had something to do with
the Birmingham Conservative Association, because my father was very keen about
politics. M (Read the letter: "From
(2) M: Another letter: "from Birmingham Town Clerk's office dated 12 May 1875 to Mrs Aitken, Mayfield, Hanver(?). By the direction of the council of this borough, I beg to transmit to you the accompanying resolution adopted by the council yesterday, of sympathy and condolence with you on your recent sad bereavement by the death of Mr Aitken. Permit me to add the expression of my own personal regret at the event that has deprived you of an affectionate and devoted husband, and of myself of a much esteemed and honoured friend. I am, dear Madam, yours very truly E.G. Hayes, Town Clerk".
(3) M: Another letter: "6 Aug 1890: from R.K.W. (her father): My dear Ellie, I sent you a hurried PC last night. Bessie had had a very bad night and this morning I sent for Dr Quirk. He says it is acute rhumatism and her heart is very weak. Aunty says it is getting worse and worse. Your ma is getting very low spirited, so we are all in the dumps here. If your grandma can spare you tomorrow, come down and see Bessie. I have written to Mr Wilks and also Betsie. Hope you are well at home. With united love, believe me, your affectionate Dad, RKW". G: I was always known as Ellie until I went to college and was then I was known as Lina.
(4) M: Letter 29 November (no year) from
(5) M: Then there's these pictures of
sculptures by Alexander Munro and all these cuttings from
(6) M: Extracts from minutes of Council of April 1875" G: Is that when Uncle Aitken died …. There should be a photograph of his gravestone. That was subscribed for and there was small stain-glass window in Handsworth Old Church (see http://www.answers.com/topic/st-mary-s-church-handsworth) in memory of him. He must have been an extremely nice man. He has a nice peaceful expression on his face. ...... M: The there's a little book here "The Death of the Just" a letter written by Pilate's wife ........ Handbook to Ashley(?) Hall ....
M: This chap Alexander Munro. Why the
interest in him? G: ....... I suppose Uncle
Aitken and he must have been friends, or he approved of his work. .........
Can you read what it says on the tombstone? M: reads "This stone
is placed in loving memory of William Costen Aitken
by friends who knew his worth and mourn his loss. Devoted to that which he knew
to be good, he spent the best years of his life in teaching men how work was
richly ennobled when thought was joined to labour and beauty wedded to skill.
Born in Dumfries, 3rd March 1817,
(7) M: Letter here with an old envelop
with a 1d red stamp on it: from Elverton Lodge,
[Post Script: n July 2018 Suzanne Phillips undertaking research for a PhD on the work of Francis Eginton (1737-1805) advised that the transcript should read: "You will find also that the plaque over the grave of his brother artist, Francis Eginton has been replaced and that it is a work that my good old friend would have delighted to do to the memory of one who he honoured so much ...". WC Aitken wrote a monograph on the life and work of Francis Eginton, who he admired greatly. It was Mr Aitken's wish that be buried in the same graveyard as Francis Eginton (St Michael's, Handsworth). Eginton was a noted architectural glass artist, an employee and also briefly a partner in a business with Matthew Boulton. I do not think Mr Aitken ever had a brother (called Francis).
(8) G: I had remembered seeing a letter from Sir John Jaffrey, the one who founded the Jaffrey hospital, called himself Beak of the Brother …. ????
(9) M: There's this little tablet with
a clip on it….. a picture of W.C. Aitken,
and a cutting from the Birmingham Post, dated 1935 with an article 50 years
ago reproducing an article from Birmingham Post in 1885 on the
(10) M: This book is the Deed of Foundation
of Josiah Mason's
(11) M: Also got this Port Bannatyne
….. I asked Melville about it, and he's going to let me (Michael)
have a book all about Port Bannatyne. He thinks that maybe that this William
McLeod Bannatyne is related to the Marquis of Bute, because the Marquis owns
all the Isle of Bute and property elsewhere, and he thinks there may well be
some family connection. He's going to give me a lead by letting him have a book;
because they go and stay there, you see. G: It must have been amongst
my paper, and possibly Peg was reading it and perhaps it got amongst hers. Henry
found it, but none of his people belonged to
(12) M: If some of this stuff not of any interest to you, we might as well throw some of it away. What do you think? Because Mum is always saying she's going to have a good old clear out." G: Yes I know. She'd send half the stuff to the jumble. She's not interested in it at all ……Some of it may be of more of interest to family who are interested in Birmingham. I don't want them destroyed! In the future someone may like to read them, and as I've kept them through all sorts of conditions, I don't want them to be thrown away indiscriminately.
(13) …M: This stuff is all about Josiah Mason's College. Here's an invitation" "Bailey and Trustees of Josiah Masons Science College request the pleasure of the company of Mrs Aitken and Lady at the opening address by Professor Huxley in the town hall Birmingham on 1st October 1880 and at a soirée at the college at 8.00 in the evening. An early answer on the accompanying form is requested when tickets of admission will be sent". What is a soirée? G: Soirée was an evening show, dancing and that sort of thing. Very popular at one time and the Womens(?) Institute often had them. Before my father died, he used to go regularly every week to lectures. They were usually given by some well-known person, big scientist or big literary man. I think Mother used to go with him to those as well. At the time, I was doing science, and I had my science lectures on Monday evenings, and we all came home and talked about it".
(14) M: There's a little letter here
from Penval(?), Abergelly from Josiah Mason. "Dear Mr
Aitken, The same influence that directs my energies to accomplish a benefit
for man must influence you in accepting an office that can only have the same
object in view. Sincerely thanking you, sincerely yours, Josiah Mason".
Was that taking office of the trustee? G: Yes. M: Is the Josiah
Then Dick's father died on the railway as we were going up to the hills …. He was taken ill in the train, then when we got to … what was the name of the place? But I got out to call a porter to help me to get him out of the train. But I shouldn't. I should have waited until we got to the Contument [= Cantonment] Station. I got out at the City station (which was) amongst all the native population. Contument is where all the military had all their bungalows. However the Permanent Way Inspector was a very nice man, and when he found out that Dick's father had been a Mason he helped in every possible way. Well, George was taken into the station waiting room and they had to send to the Contument for the civil surgeon, and when he came he said there was no hope at all because his temperature was 108. And on his way back to the Contument, he must have ordered a coffin to be sent to the station, because he couldn't be kept in the waiting room. I think the train got in about 1.30 and at about 9.30 the same night he was buried. The Permanent Way Inspector made all arrangements. They hadn't a hearse or anything of that sort; they had a most peculiar vehicles in those days covered in with a narrow door on either side and for ages I could see this coffin stuck on top of that funny little vehicle. It was an awful nightmare. M: That was Uncle Dick's father, your first husband? G: Yes.
Then fortunately, one of the students who had
been in college with me was teaching at a big school run by the railway up in
the Himalayas at a place called Mussoorie [India, north of New Dehli, about
1250 km from Karachi - see map above]. I had discovered that she was there,
and she had come down the previous Christmas to
(15) M: "Going back to modern times - I have a green book called "Encyclopaedia of Art Industry" edited by W.C. Aitken. Is that of any interest to you? G: Oh rather. He was so interested in making things beautiful. Not just any sort of design. I wouldn't lose that book. There must have been others as well. M: "Would they be of interest to anybody else? Perhaps the art gallery or museum?" G: "I don't know. Wendy might be interested in some of it. It would be a pity to throw them out just because they're of no interest to just one or two, when others may be interested".
(16) M (looking at photos): Here's one of you - Mary Nelson Helena Wake 1894. G: Yes - that's when I was in college. M: Sweet photograph - hair back in a bun. Here's one of Robert Kirkpatrick Wake, that's your father - just a little tiny photograph ...... And another one of your mother standing behind a chair. And then there's one of Aunt Aitken in all her magnitude! She was huge! And here's one of your mother and you and your two sisters in a garden with a greenhouse at the back. Your mother sitting down, you on the right. G: I'm standing up very stiffly, and then there's Daisy and Nin. M: There's one with long flowing hair: that must be Daisy. I think Nicki is the other on the left .... she has fuzzy sort of hair. You on the right with a sort of bonnet on. G: Betsy isn't there; M: No, but Daisy's at the back with long hair down to her shoulders.
(17) Another photograph? M: That was
by Jugendra Singe. What was that about? G: That was given to me by the
wife of the author. She was married to an Indian. M: With love from the
author's wife Xmas 1925. G: He was an awfully nice man. I think he was
Sikh. I think he was Minister of Education in the
(18) M: The next one here is Tennyson's Works. G: That was a prize wasn't it. Or was it Wittier? M: No, this is just a book. Here's one called ?? Names and Emblems of Jesus Christ. G: Oh that was written by a friend of Aunt Aitken. M: By A.G. Somner. G: Yes - it was one that Aunt Aitken gave me.
(19) M: Here comes Le Wittier. G: I think that was a prize. M: That's right. Sparkhill Green South(?) Birmingham Institute. Prize awarded to Mary H.N. Wake for success in Hygeine and Physiology at the examination held in 1897. G: That was after I came out of college I still went on studying. There are several of my books and prizes that are lost.
(20) M: Another book, Henry Longfellow. Nothing special about that; no reference to prizes...... It cost 3/6d! Here's another book called MacCauly's Essays. G: Oh yes - I did several of those essays. McCaulay's essay on the Life of Byron, Madam Darglave was another ….. I expect it belonged to my father.
(21) M: And then we have a Volume of
Verses, Serious, Humourous and Satirical by Will Buchanan; to Mrs McLellan from
the author, Will Buchanan. "In recollection of such kindness and attention
from her husband and herself while his wife and he stayed at Daisy Bank, Noble
Hill. Will Buchanan,
(22) M: ……. (looking at more books)."Short History of the World" by H.G. Wells … McCauley's Biographies, then Shakespeare's King Lear. G: "Oh! King Lear! I wouldn't have parted with that. We did it as an English subject, and the elecution mistress that took us for it made it absolutely live, and for years I couldn't go and see King Lear acted on the stage ….. she was wonderful".
(23) M: Here's another one. "To
Gran with love; Patricia, Xmas 1941", Leaves in the Wind". G: Patricia Richards. They live near
(24) M: Here's another one called "Groundwork of British History", George R. Richards … this was Uncle Dick’s …. or was it his father? …. printed in 1912. Uncle Dick would have been 12 then. G: Possibly his.
(25) M: Sermons on the 23rd Psalm ….. (sound lost)
(26) M: Another one: Mrs Elizabeth Wright written inside. G: That's
Aunt Aitken. M: The Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare; G: What
date is that? M: MDCCCXXX. That must be 1830. So it's 140 years old and in remarkably
good condition. All the pages are intact. A very well kept book. G: Some
of our books were ruined in the cyclone in
(27) M: Here's nother fairly ancient
one - this is Pilgrims Progress by John Bunyon: "Miss
Aidah Nelson, first prize for writing, from Mrs. Frazer, Dec 1863",
and you've written Poonah(?) there. G: Mother was in boarding school
(28) M: Book of Common Prayer, Elizabeth Aitken, Easter .... 1862, Victoria Cottage ??? Lane, .. "Poetical Works of Alfred Lord Tennison" ..... "Gems from Shelley" cost one pound two shilling ... sounds an awful lot... New Testament issued by the King to his forces. Then there Lady of the Lake, "To Mrs Wright from a friend 20th Feb 1846".
(29) M: Then there's Burns Poems, Vol 1 and Vol 2, "To Chummy, with Kitty's love Dec 2nd 1895". G: That was from my first chum. M: Who was Chummy? G: I was. M: Who's Kitty? G: She's the one who gave it to me.
(30) M: Common Prayer with ivory cover and clip . (lots of talk without much direction - getting a bit hard to follow). End of recording.
Last Updated: 13 Jul 2018: Post Script added with information
from Suzanne Phillips regarding the plaque over Francis Eginton's grave;
Updated: 7 Jul 2011: First marriage certificate added together with information about first husband George Richards
Updated June 2011 - several updates including India map, information from Karachi Grammar School etc.
Updated: 2 Jan 2006: Links added to W.C. Aitken and others mentioned in recorded discussion.
Previous Update: 28 Jun 2005: Dan Smith data moved to new page.