DEATH IN THE FAMILY
Muriel Monk noted a burial entry of 13 Jan 1788 at St Mary Rotherhithe of ARTHUR, son of WILLIAM CORNISH a waterman, near the Horseferry, age 21. From notes which I took directly from St Mary's registers some 30 years ago (by chance the then Rector was a friend of mine), I see that I recorded Arthur as being only 2, not 21, when he died. There is a baptismal entry two years earlier on 1 Jan 1786 for Arthur, son of WILLIAM & ELIZABETH CORNISH, aged 28 days.
ARTHUR's father WILLIAM CORNISH, the waterman, had himself been baptised at St Mary's on 23 Dec 1748 as WILLIAM ARTIN CORNISH son of DAVID & ELIZABETH CORNISH aged 14 days. The Watermen's Company's records show that Arthur's grandfather David, was also a waterman (as had several previous generations of Cornishes in Rotherhithe). David Cornish had been born about 1713 and died in 1753.
Back to ARTHUR. He was one of twelve children of waterman WILLIAM ARTIN CORNISH & ELIZABETH JANE. Like Arthur, at least another six of their children died in infancy. I have positive evidence of only two of Arthur's brothers reaching adulthood. One was SAMUEL CORNISH who was privately baptised at St Mary's on 19 Aug 1792 (only two days after birth) together with his sickly twin brother Joseph who died five months later. Samuel founded a dynasty that has thrived to date. Any Cornish with an ancestor named WILLIAM ARTIN (which is probably a corruption of William Martin) is likely to be descended from Samuel.
The eldest of ARTHUR CORNISH's siblings was my great-great-great-grandfather WILLIAM JOHN CORNISH. He was baptised at St Mary's Rotherhithe on 13 Nov 1774 and also became a waterman, being apprenticed to his father WILLIAM ARTIN. On 2 Sep 1805 WILLIAM JOHN CORNISH was granted protection by the Commissioners of the Navy from being press-ganged. His first marriage to a girl named SARAH (1) sadly ended when she died in childbirth in 1796 aged 22. It is likely that the child, a daughter Sarah, also died shortly after birth as William John later married a second SARAH (2), their first child born in 1801 also being named SARAH. William John and Sarah (2) had a further twelve children before she died in 1828. I have not yet identified William John's death which must have been sometime between 1832-1842. There was a cholera epidemic in London 1831-32 (and also 1848-49 & 1853-54).
Of their thirteen children at least seven died in infancy or childhood. Three of the brothers became watermen, having been apprenticed either to their father WILLIAM JOHN CORNISH or to their uncle, the above mentioned SAMUEL CORNISH. One brother JOHN CORNISH, was drowned in the Thames in 1840 aged 35. Samuel, born in 1807, survived at least until 1851 when the census shows him on his own as a lodger at 5 Lavender Place, Rotherhithe.
The third waterman brother, HENRY CORNISH, born in 1810 was my great-great grandfather. He was unusual in being apprenticed to two trades at the same time. He was apprenticed as a waterman to his father, WILLIAM JOHN CORNISH, and became free on 10 May 1832 but seemed never to have followed the calling. He was simultaneously apprenticed as a sawyer to GEORGE REVELL of Rotherhithe and this was how he subsequently earned his living. I have inherited the original half of his sawyer's indenture and both halves of the waterman indenture which contain his father's signature (William John Cornish) in addition to his own.
In 1842 HENRY CORNISH married a widow SARAH JARVIS (nee MEREDITH) at St Mary Magdalene, Bermondsey. After a still-birth in 1843, Sarah had two children. My great grandfather HENRY EDWARD CORNISH was born in 1845 (he became a rope-maker). He was followed by a daughter SARAH ANN CORNISH in 1846. Two weeks after Sarah Ann's birth, Henry's wife Sarah died of puerperal fever. The child Sarah Ann possibly also died. There is no mention of her in the 1851 census. However, I have not yet found her death entry.
I know little else about great grandfather Henry's life and I had great difficulty in locating his death entry. Eventually I discovered that he had died in St Bartholomew's Hospital, London City on 15 Nov 1871, one week after being the victim of a hit and run accident with a Brougham at Ludgate Circus. There was an inquest and I have the Coroners handwritten notes (now in the Guildhall Library) verbatim as far as I can read his writing. The copied statements throw interesting light on the way of life and the style of speech in the last century:-
"16th November 1871
CAROLINE MILLER - City Gas Works - Blackfriars. The deceased was your brother. His name Henry Cornish - his age 62 years. He was a sawyer. On November 7th in the City. He left me at half-past six in good health. He was going across the Ludgate Circus. At quarter past seven he was led home by a stranger. I don't know who it was. He appeared hurt in his ribs. He told me that a Brougham or a Hansom had knocked him down - that he did not know which - that the shaft caught him and that the wheel went over him. That it happened in the Ludgate Circus. That he was alone at the time. He said that those in the Brougham or cab wished to bring him back to the hospital but he declined as he wished to be brought home. It was dark at the time. He said he was crossing to the obelisk to the King Lud and that some person took him in there and gave him some brandy. He did not take the number of the cab or the name of the person in the Brougham. He did not know which it was in fact. He said that no police came up. He said a little boy picked him up and got him ? ? ? ? and that he walked home. He was brought top hospital that same evening. He did not blame anyone. Enquiry has been made but nothing learnt as to what vehicle it was. It was a foggy night. he was susceptible to bronchitis.
GEORGE SAMUEL MILLER - deceased is your uncle. I recollect his coming home hurt. I came with him to the hospital. He told me he was knocked down at Ludgate Hill between the two obelisks. That it was a gentleman's Brougham. He did not mention any Hansom cab or say anything more. He was not infirm. His sight was pretty good. He spoke of it as an accident. He did not blame anyone. I have asked the police and cannot find anything about it. I have no clue as to what vehicle it was. He was slightly deaf. He was quite sober.
GEORGE OLLEY - Ward Beadle. I have enquired at the police station. There has been no report of any mischief such as that described. I saw the books for three weeks back.
ALBERT HENRY GRIFFITHS DM. H(ouse) S(urgeon) St Bartholomew's Hospital. Deceased was brought in November 7th. He had fractures of ribs in his right side and air escaping near the ? through damage to his lungs. He died yesterday after ? emphysema and bronchitis. That came on subsequent to the injury. He had been susceptible to it and the injury brought on a fresh attack. The injury hastened his death. The injury alone would not have killed him. The lungs and liver were extensively diseased. The pleura wounded. There has been a post mortem.
Taken on oath before G J PAYNE Deputy Coroner"
The Coroner's notes were signed and sealed by eleven jurors.
The tragedy of sudden or early deaths continued in the family. My great uncle WILLIAM GEORGE CORNISH was drowned on holiday in the sea off Margate in 1906 when he was 34. His brother, my grandfather, CHARLES RICHARD CORNISH (1874-1957) an iron plate worker of Islington, lost his entire extant close family in the space of four years 1929-33 principally through tuberculosis - his mother, his wife, and his only offspring, two sons, one being my father. I was then an infant and my mother ceased all contact with my grandfather on her remarriage. It was not until 1949 that I located him again. Just two weeks before, not knowing that I, his only descendant, was still alive he had destroyed all the family records and documents going back to the 1700's! He had kept only his father's indentures and those mentioned above of his grandfather, HENRY CORNISH, because they were framed.
Dr Derek Cornish Member no.17