Constant companions? The Misses Mary Cureton Atcherley

Bookmark and Share

I have not found a baptism record for Mary Cureton Atcherley, daughter of William Atcherley and his wife Mary (Cureton). However the ages given for Mary on census returns and on her death all indicate that she was born in 1810-11. The census returns, from 1841 to 1881, are consistent in one other respect too: they all show one of Mary’s nieces living with her, a niece who was also named Mary Cureton Atcherley.

The life of the elder Mary Cureton Atcherley began with an unusual event which was soon followed by tragedy. The unusual event was the birth of twins, of which Mary was one. Mary and Hannah were the fifth and sixth children born to William and Mary Atcherley. Any celebrations that attended these additions to the Atcherley family of Mardol in Shrewsbury were, unfortunately, short-lived.  What happened next is recorded in an inscription on the family’s upright tomb chest in the graveyard of Baschurch All Saints:

SACRED to the Memory of MARY Wife of WILL ATCHERLEY of SHREWSBURY and Daughter of THO and MARY CURETON of Hordley in this County

She died Octr 4th 1810 in the 30th year of her Age.

HANNAH their Infant Daughter died Feby 24th 1811 aged 7 Months; and was buried in the same Grave with her Mother.

Mary Atcherley, nee Cureton, was buried at Baschurch on 8 October 1810 and her baby daughter joined her on 26 February 1811. Curiously, the Baschurch burial register records the latter as “Mary Atcherley / Infant / Shrewsbury”. Was this a simple clerical error, with the name of Hannah’s mother, or of Hannah’s twin sister, being written by mistake?  Or were the names of the girls switched after the burial, so that the name of Mary Cureton could be perpetuated by the survivor of her twin daughters?

From the events of 1810/11 we jump forward thirty years to the census of 1841, the first national census to record the names, and other details, of all the occupants of every household enumerated. Some of the details recorded were rather vague (adult ages were typically rounded down to the nearest five years, and relationships between household members and specific places of birth were not given) but the household of William Atcherley at Cadogan Place, in a part of Frankwell, Shrewsbury known as The Mount can be identified. Living with William at that time were two Mary Atcherleys: his daughter (aged 30) and his granddaughter (aged 13). The houses pictured below, though located elsewhere in Frankwell, would probably have been a familiar sight.

“Old houses, Frankwell, Shrewsbury.”

The younger Mary Cureton Atcherley was the first-born child of William’s son Thomas Cureton Atcherley. She was born at Astley Abbots in Shropshire, and baptised there at the church of St Calixtus on 25 May 1828. She was baptised for a second time two years later on 18 May 1831 at Shrewsbury St Chad, along with her younger siblings Anne and Eliza.

Both the elder and the younger Mary Cureton Atcherley must have been regarded with considerable affection by William Atcherley, as he made generous provisions for them in his will of 2 August 1845. In that document, “William Atcherley of the Mount near Shrewsbury in the county of Salop Gentleman” bequeathed to his daughter Mary Cureton Atcherley “all the household goods furniture plate linen china and books except books of account horses and carriages and all other the goods things and effects which shall be in about and upon the dwelling house coachhouse stable and premises now occupied by me”. The remainder of William’s real and personal estate with the exception of “trust and mortgaged estates” were to be sold and from the proceeds various monetary bequests were to be paid, including the following:

To my said daughter Mary Cureton Atcherley the legacy or sum of one thousand two hundred pounds To my Granddaughter Mary Cureton Atcherley the daughter of my son Thomas Cureton Atcherley the legacy or sum of three hundred pounds and I direct that the same shall be paid to her on her attaining the age of twenty one years or on the day of her marriage which ever event shall first happen

William’s other children and grandchildren were to receive smaller amounts or were residuary legatees (receiving equal shares of whatever money was left). William Atcherley died at his home at The Mount in October 1850, at the age of 72.

The Misses Mary Cureton Atcherley – neither of these two ladies ever married – both invested their inheritances in annuities. They were thus recorded in the census of 1851, when they were visitors at the home of widow and farmer Mary Cross at Plealey in the parish of Pontesbury, as annuitants. Finding the Atcherley aunt and niece on this census was not easy as their names were written by the enumerator as Mory Burton Asterley and Mary Burton Asterley. I can only assume that the writing on the original household schedule was not very clear. I flushed them out by searching for Mary (no surname) born around 1828 in Astley Abbots – thank goodness her age and birthplace were both written accurately.

By 1861 the elder Mary Cureton Atcherley had left Shropshire and moved to Lancashire, where she set up home at 13 Plymouth Grove in Chorlton. Sharing her home were, in addition to her niece, her nephew Edward Cureton Atcherley (who would only live for about another year; he died in Wolverhampton in 1862), a domestic servant and a lodger. Although both aunt and niece were ladies of independent means, the income from a lodger was no doubt very useful.

Miss Mary Atcherley (the elder) was still living at 13 Plymouth Grove in 1863 according to that year’s edition of Slater’s Directory of Manchester and Salford, but by 1871 she had taken up residence at another Chorlton address, 3 Norton Place. The younger Mary was again recorded with her, and once more there was a domestic servant and a lodger.

The census of 1881 was the last on which the elder Mary Cureton Atcherley appeared. Now aged 70, Mary was still in Lancashire but had moved to 4 Marriott Street in Withington. She had no servant, and her income was supplemented by a boarder rather than a lodger, but the niece who shared her name and who herself was now 50 years of age, was still with her. The niece probably remained with her aunt until the latter’s death, in January 1883. Unlike the other members of her immediate family, all of whom she had outlived, Mary was buried not at Baschurch in Shropshire, but at her local church of St Paul in Withington (pictured above / right; click on the image to see the original at the Geograph website). By some dreadful error her name was written in the register as “Henry Cureton Atcherley”.

I wrote earlier that both the elder and the younger Mary Cureton Atcherley must have been regarded with considerable affection by William Atcherley, father of one and grandfather of the other. It seems that similar bonds of affection were shared between aunt and niece, for they appear to have been constant companions over a period of more than 40 years. But I have warned elsewhere against making assumptions based on census data, which provides only a series of snapshots of people’s lives, fleeting images ten years apart which may or may not give a reliable picture of how they lived.

The census of 1871 shows that the younger Mary was then a “private teacher” and that of 1881 recorded her occupation as “governess”. She was almost certainly the Miss M C Atcherley of Leamington who, according to the Aberystwyth Observer of 8 July 1865, was then staying at 52 Marine Terrace in that town. I think there can be very little doubt therefore that she was also the Miss Atcherley of 12 Charlotte Street in Leamington who advertised her “select Ladies’ School” in the Leamington Spa Courier and the Worcester Journal from 1863 to 1866.

It is interesting to note that when Priscilla Atcherley – a sister of the younger Mary Cureton Atcherley – was married in 1865, the wedding took place at Leamington. The register showed that Priscilla was a resident of the town, so perhaps she spent some time there with her sister before she became Mrs William Matthews. I strongly suspect that their aunt remained in Lancashire during that time, though visits between niece and aunt very likely took place.

So the Misses Mary Cureton Atcherley may not have been constant companions in the sense of spending an unbroken period of over four decades living together under the same roof. But the word constant does not only describe something that is invariable or unchanging, it also describes someone who is steadfast, faithful and loyal. That meaning, I’m sure, applies to the relationship between the elder and the younger Mary Cureton Atcherley, regardless of any periods of time the two may have spent apart.

Picture credits. Monumental inscription at Baschurch: photo by the author. Frankwell, Shrewsbury: image from a lantern slide dated around 1905 and out of copyright. St Paul’s church, Withington: photo © copyright Bill Boaden, taken from Geograph and adapted, used and made available for re-use under a Creative Commons licence.


[1] 1841 Census of England and Wales. Piece 926, book 8, folio 28, page 5.
[2] 1851 census of England and Wales. Piece 1990, folio 269, page 13.
[3] 1861 census of England and Wales. Piece 2880, folio 119, page 2.
[4] 1871 census of England and Wales. Piece 3973, folio 119, page 8.
[5] 1881 census of England and Wales. Piece 3891, folio 34, page 19.
[6] MIs at Baschurch All Saint (2).
[7] Baschurch, Shropshire burial register covering 1811. Entry for Mary Atcherley. Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[8] Meg Walton (undated), The History of the Mount. At: The Mount Residents’ Group website (accessed 21 Feb 2015).
[9] Astley Abbots, Shropshire baptism register covering 1828. Entry for Mary Cureton Atcherley. Copy viewed at Shropshire Archives. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch C13109-2, Film 991959.
[10] Shrewsbury St Chad, Shropshire baptism register covering 1831. Entries for Mary Cureton Atcherley, Anne Atcherley and Eliza Atcherley. Copy viewed at Shropshire Archives. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch C01575-4, Film 503526, 503527, 503528 (Mary, Anne, Eliza).
[11] Copy of will of William Atcherley from the Registry of the Bishop of Lichfield (PROB 11/2146 q90 p306-307); transcribed by Barbara Lang.
[12] Death of Edward Cureton Atcherley registered at Wolverhampton, June quarter 1862; volume 6b, page 253.
[13] Slater’s Directory of Manchester and Salford (1863), page 85 (Manchester Directory).
[14] Death of Mary Cureton Atcherley registered at Chorlton, March quarter 1883; volume 8c, page 425; age given as 72.
[15] Withington St Paul, Lancashire burial register covering 1883. Entry dated 29 January for Henry (sic) Cureton Atcherley. Copy viewed at Ancestry. Indexed at FamilySearch, Film 2356397, Digital folder 004497633, Image 00912.
[16] Aberystwyth Observer, 8 Jul 1865, page 4. Copy viewed at Welsh Newspapers Online.
[17] Leamington Spa Courier, 14 Mar 1863, page 7; Worcester Journal, 2 Sep 1865, page 1; Leamington Spa Courier, 7 Jul 1866, page 5; and others.
[18] Leamington All Saints, Warwickshire marriage register. Entry dated 10 Jan 1865 for William Matthews and Priscilla Atcherley. Copy viewed at Ancestry – Warwickshire, England, Marriages and Banns, 1754-1910. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch M04744-5, Film 1067480; also Film 1067480, Digital Folder 4292041, Image 00235.
[19] Constant. At: Merriam-Webster website (accessed 21 Feb 2015).

Posted in Family history articles | Comments Off

Sugar, slaves and the dry bellyache: Edward Atcherley in Jamaica

Bookmark and Share

Sometime in the early 1670s Edward Atcherley, a young man in his twenties and a native of Shrewsbury, gave up his career as a merchant in London and set sail for the West Indies. There, as a plantation manager in Jamaica, he grew sugar, bought slaves, drank rather too much rum – and suffered from a crippling colic known as the dry bellyache.

The earliest record of Edward’s presence in Jamaica dates from 1675 when, as “a young Jamaican merchant” he was employed by William Whaley as an assistant manager on the Bybrook estate in the parish of St Catherine (see map below). He had evidently already been on the island for some time at that point. Writing to the estate’s owner, William Helyar, who remained in England, Whaley reported that Edward “understands the affairs of this country very well”. By this, he meant that Edward Atcherley was familiar how thinsg worked in Jamaica, including the many corrupt practices. As Edward himself wrote: “I find not in my neighbours but in several others honey upon their tongues, but much more poison in their hearts”. He vowed that he would be cautious of such people.

The plantation at Bybrook had been established in 1669 by William Helyar’s brother Cary, who died in 1672 before the estate had made any profit. William Helyar, who had owned a half share of the venture and pumped much of his own money into it, subsequently became the sole owner. Whaley, his godson, who had previously worked under Cary Helyar, became manager at Bybrook and with continued financial support from Helyar, continued to develop the sugar plantation by purchasing more slaves and building a sugar works, water mill, boiling house, distillery and curing house.

Despite the increased sugar-producing capacity at Bybrook, the estate’s output did not match its potential. Both Whaley and Atcherley suffered ill health in the first half of 1676. Whaley wrote to Helyar “I am daily troubled with the fever and cough, as also Mr. Atcherly who had a hard bout of it being taken sick in few days after he arrived.” Europeans had little resistance to the diseases of the tropics, and lacking the knowledge required to treat them many died there. On 2 July 1676, William Whaley joined their number.

Following Whaley’s death, Edward Atcherley took over management of the plantation and carried on where Whaley left off. Although he did manage to export eight hogsheads of sugar to England in 1677 – the first such shipment to be sent – like Whaley he sold most of the sugar produced at Bybrook in Jamaica, drawing bills of exchange on Helyar for more supplies. And just as Whaley’s name had appeared on invoices for the purchase of slaves from 1674 to 1676, so an invoice from a company sale of slaves in 1677 bore the name of ‘Edward Atcherly’. That Edward, brother of my 8x great grandfather John Atcherley, was involved in buying and working slaves is not something I am proud of. All I can do, some 350 years later, is to “tell it like it was.”

The harsh reality is that Bybrook plantation was operated with a large number of enslaved Africans. Conditions in the West Indies were such that slaves were not expected to live much more than seven years after their arrival; around 25% died during their first three years. During his four years in charge, Whaley had bought at least 59 slaves, increasing the number on the plantation to 104. This total was one of the largest totals on any plantation in Jamaica at the time.

There were servants from England too. Whaley had written regularly to William Helyar requesting that skilled servants such as coopers and potters be sent to build and maintain Bybrook’s sugar-producing infrastructure. Helyar had obliged. Some of the men were indentured for periods of just a few years, but on 1 January 1675 Helyar and a Somerset potter named Nathaniel Creech had entered into an agreement which obliged Creech to serve for 21 years, with a salary. It was not long before another potter was needed to replace Creech, and Helyar once again agreed a term of 21 years, with Thomas Ford. Edward Atcherley, however, renegotiated this contract, advising Helyar in a letter dated 23 July 1677:

I have agreed with Thomas fforde Potter to serve you three yeares (deducting his Sallary which hee was to Receive yearly) teaching two of your negroes to make potts and dripps and burne and Sett as well as himselfe which thought Convenient to bee done, for the Thought of one and Twenty yeares for him to serve would Certainely have beene the end of his dayes in a shorte tyme (as I suppose was the occation of the other Potter Natll and his wife death).

Edward Atcherley did not remain the sole manager of Bybrook for long. During the course of 1677, William Helyar articled two additional agents (neither of whom had any experience of sugar making) to run the plantation jointly with Edward. Helyar, who had previously suspected Whaley of dishonesty, was probably experiencing feelings of déjà vu as the estate continued to swallow his money while generating very little by way of a return. He would not have been reassured by a letter he received in that year from fellow plantation owner (and former Governor of Jamaica) Sir Thomas Modyford, who wrote: “Your chief man Atcherly is a very drunken idle fellow, for which reason my son turned him out of his employ, and by this time you have reason to thinke him a lyeing one alsoe.”

Modyford’s accusations of drunkenness were not without foundation, as one author has written that “Atcherley lost the use of his arms from a disease known as the dry bellyache.” Although the root cause of ‘the dry bellyache’ was not known back in the 1600s it came to be associated with, among other things, “travelling in the night after too free ingurgitation of spirituous liquors.” The excruciating effects of the condition were described by Towne in 1726 as follows:

There is not in the whole compass of infirmities which flesh is heir to, any one that afflicts human nature in a more exquisite degree than this unmerciful torture. The belly is seized with an intolerable piercing pain, sometimes in one point only, and sometimes in several parts of the intestines. … during this scene of the distemper, which sometimes continues eight, ten, or fourteen days, the patient is upon a perpetual rack, with scarce any remission or pause from pain. He undergoes all the various modifications of torment [which] by turns afflict him with a diversity of grievous sensations.

While all this was going on the belly remained “obstinately costive” or in other words, constipated. In addition (according to Dr William Hillary, writing in 1766) “the Patient discharges but little Urine, and that often with Pain and much Difficulty.” Hence the dry bellyache. As for Edward losing the use of his arms, this was another symptom of this catastrophic colic. To return to Towne’s description:

When the extremity of pain begins to abate, the sick person often observes a sort of tingling uneasiness through the spinal marrow, which propagates itself from thence to the nerves of the arms and legs, which at this time are very weak and debilitated. This weakness and inability increase daily, till in a short time they terminate in a confirmed paralysis of the extremities.

“Spirituous liquors” – specifically rum (or rather the impurities within it) – did indeed cause the dry bellyache, though this wasn’t known for certain until the late 1700s. The Encyclopædia Britannica then carried an entry on Colica Pictonum which stated that “Another cause to which violent colics are frequently to be ascribed … is lead … received into the body.” Those colics were said to include “what is called the dry bellyach in the West Indies”.

Rum became contaminated because it was distilled in lead equipment. And the liquor was readily available: in 1675 William Whaley had written that there was little profit to be made from the sale of rum as it was a “mere drug” on the market, so many people were making it.

Edward Atcherley’s bout of the dry bellyache was therefore self-inflicted, he was probably unaware that his rum-drinking would have such devastating consequences. I can’t help but feel sorry for him, as he must have suffered terribly. However, the fact that he continued as a manager at Bybrook until 1678 suggests that he may have received treatment and recovered from the worst effects of his illness.

It seems likely that Edward was still at Bybrook when a number of Jamaican slaves rose up against their white owners on 28 April 1678. The rebellion began on the plantation of Captain Duck, where the guards were overpowered, guns were seized, and the Captain’s wife along with several others were killed. The rebels made off into the forest and, having connections with some of the slaves working on the plantation of Sir Thomas Modyford, headed for the woods in that vicinity. There, slaves from both estates allegedly plotted to “kill all the white men”.

Modyford, after being informed of what was happening, had those who were suspected of involvement in the rebellion rounded up. What followed was, in the words of author Amy Marie Johnson, “the most gruesome torture imaginable”. In fear for their lives, slave turned against slave. One saved his own life by implicating eight of his fellow bondmen in the rebellion. Of those eight, one was spared from the fate of having his arms and legs broken and “soe to be starv’d to death” by accusing some of the slaves at Bybrook of complicity in the uprising. The other seven were burned alive, a slow and unimaginably painful process. While being burned, one of these unfortunate men named another Bybrook slave as a co-conspirator, one Quashee Eddoo.

Eddoo was the most trusted slave on the Bybrook estate, and had served Cary Helyar, William Whaley and Edward Atcherley in turn. One of Edward’s co-managers, Joseph Bryan, wrote “I could have put my life in his hands I judged him to be so trusty a Negro; and this Negro was one of the chiefest rogues in the conspiracy.” Eddoo gave evidence against 12 other slaves to save himself. Following a court-martial four of the 12 were burned alive like those on Thomas Modyford’s estate, while the other eight were killed by hanging before their bodies were also burned. Quashee Eddoo was deported.

The events I have just described make grim reading. I try not to judge those who went before us for the things they did so long ago, in very different times, especially when in today’s more ‘enlightened’ world there are still so many examples of people being oppressed, abused and killed because of the colour of their skin, their beliefs, their nationality, their gender, their sexual orientation or their position in society. But neither will I attempt to excuse the men responsible for the atrocities which took place in the Jamaican parish of St Catherine’s in 1678.

Was Edward Atcherley one of those men? I have found no information regarding what part, if any, he played in the court-martial and subsequent killings of the slaves on the Bybrook estate. What I do know is that Edward’s days in the West Indies – and indeed upon this earth – were nearly over. Later in 1678, acting on advice from Thomas Modyford, William Helyar dismissed Edward (and presumably his co-managers), and appointed Thomas Hillyard to run the plantation in return for a third of the profits made.

Out of work and probably not in the best of health (he may still have been suffering from the effects of the dry bellyache), Edward Atcherley left the West Indies for England aboard the ship Robert and Richard in 1679. The ship, which was of “of Barbadoes”, was described as having “lately arrived in London” in August that year in a petition made to the King by Sir Philip Howard. Edward Atcherley however did not survive the voyage.  Probate lawsuits which took place in 1679 and 1680 show that “the deceased Edward Acherley, bachelor,” had “died overseas in the ship Robert and Richard”.

Picture credits. Map showing St Catherine, Kingston and Port Royal, Jamaica: cropped from image on page 26 of The History of the Maroons, taken from British Library Flickr Photostream. No known copyright restrictions. Extract from The modern practice of physic, page 175, published 1760 and so out of copyright.

[1] Shrewsbury St Mary, Shropshire parish register covering 1644/45: entry for Edward Atcherley. Copy viewed at Findmypast. Abstract in Shropshire Parish Register Society (1911), Shropshire Parish Registers. Diocese of Lichfield, Volume XII, page 99 viewed at Mocavo and at Mel Lockie’s website. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch P00681-1, Film 908234.
[2] J Harry Bennett (1965), William Whaley, Planter of Seventeenth Century Jamaica. In: Agricultural History, 40:2, pp 113-123. Copy viewed at JSTOR (website).
[3] Susan Dwyer Amussen (2007), Caribbean Exchanges: Slavery and the Transformation of English Society, 1640-1700. Previewed at Google Books.
[4] Richard Dunn (1972), Sugar and slaves. Pages 215-8. Pages viewed at and snippets viewed at Google Books.
[5] Anton Gill (1997), The devil’s mariner: a life of William Dampier, pirate and explorer, 1651-1715. Page 38. Snippets viewed at Google Books.
[6] David W Galenson (2002), Traders, planters and slaves: market behaviour in Early English America.
[7] Carl and Roberta Bridenbaugh (1972), No Peace Beyond the Line. Page 305. Snippets viewed at Google Books.
[8] Jerome S Handler et al (1986), Lead Contact and Poisoning in Barbados Slaves: Historical, Chemical, and Biological Evidence. In: Social Science History, 10 (4): 399-427. PDF copy downloaded from Jerome S Handler (website).
[9] John Ball (1760), The modern practice of physic. Page 175 et seq. (Quotes from Towne (1726).) Copy viewed at Google Books.
[10] William Hillary (1766), Observations on the Changes of the Air and the Concomitant Epidemical Diseases in the Island of Barbadoes. Page 182. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[11] Encyclopaedia Britannica, Third Edition, Volume XI, 1797. Page 268. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[12] Amy Marie Johnson (2007), Expectations of Slavery: African Captives, White Planters, and Slave Rebelliousness in Early Colonial Jamaica. Pages 176-7. Previewed at Google books.
[13] Susan D Amussen (2010), Violence, Gender and Race in the Seventeenth Century English Atlantic. In: Masculinities, Violence, Childhood. Page 293. Copy previewed at Google Books.
[14] W. Noel Sainsbury and J.W. Fortescue (editors) (1896), Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies, Volume 10: 1677-1680. Pages 403-411. Electronic copy viewed at British History Online (website).
[15] The National Archives item ref PROB 18/11/5, Probate lawsuit Almond v Acherley. Item described in TNA Discovery catalogue.
[16] The National Archives item ref PROB 18/11/29, Probate lawsuit Almond v Acherley. Item described in TNA Discovery catalogue.
[17] The National Archives item ref PROB 18/12/51, Probate lawsuit Almond v Acherly and Cox. Item described in TNA Discovery catalogue.
[18] The National Archives item ref PROB 18/12/62, Probate lawsuit Almond v Acherly and Cox. Item described in TNA Discovery catalogue.

Posted in Family history articles | Comments Off