Two names, many shared histories

Legacy of misfortune: a summary of historical family research

A brief gravestone message, some rather battered Regency indentures and a watercolour miniature: all these have led to an historical exploration that has taken me back to both Whitby, Yorkshire, and Canada in the early nineteenth century, and may yet lead me back to the time of Captain Cook.

High up on the windswept cliff which is St Mary’s churchyard in Whitby there is a now totally eroded gravestone that stands as an 193 year old record of a local family, the Lawsons. One later descendant of this family,  a workhouse master who styled himself ‘Sir’ John Lawson,  lost his son to the sea in 1910, as the gravestone starkly commemorates. His great-great grandfather, Philip Lawson, born in 1729, who died at the remarkable age of 104, is also buried on this spot. It was the Lawsons buried or named here, that led me to a journey of discovery about my own great-great-great grandfather, Captain William Garbutt, master mariner of Whitby.

The Lawsons were drapers in Whitby at the beginning of the 19th century. John Lawson had a shop in Bridge Street which he ran with his son, another John. A bill of 1830 on headed notepaper describes him as a:

Linen and Woollen Draper
Silk Mercer, Hosier and Haberdasher
Tailor, Habit & Pelisse maker
Ladies Habits & Pelisses Elegantly embroidered.
Mourning and Servants Liveries made at a few hours notice
in the LONDON STYLE & Fashion
Funerals completely Furnish’d

This bill dated November 1830, was probably to his daughter Jane ( ‘Mrs Wm Garbutt) for pantaloons and callico muslin purchased in July and September and coincides with the period of her marriage.

John and Elizabeth Lawson ( nee Readman) had seven children in all, and Jane, the youngest daughter, was born in August 1808. The family were Roman Catholic at a time when Whitby’s Catholic population had been significantly increased by the proselytising of a French priest who had escaped the French Revolution in the 1790s. However, the Lawsons had been Catholic for several generations, and John and Elizabeth had been married in 1792 at Egton, near Whitby, where John’s father, ‘old Philip’ as he was locally known, attended one of the few Catholic ‘mass rooms’ in the area.

John and Elizabeth brought up their children as Catholics and they were all baptised in the newly dedicated mass room ( much later, church) of St Hilda’s in Whitby.The Catholic community, still not totally emancipated at the start of the 19th century, was probably close-knit. Interestingly John Lawson appears on the 1834 Poll register of those men who own property and who are therefore entitled to vote, following the Great Reform Act of 1832 and final Catholic emancipation awarded in the Catholic Relief Act of 1829. His property at Bridgestreet is cited as giving him voting entitlement, though he was also living at Bagdale, Whitby at this time.

Unsurprisingly then, when in 1830 Jane married William Garbutt, master mariner, the marriage took place at St Hilda’s and the children that followed were all baptised there. This fact was to be of note in the later history of the Garbutt family. Mary Lawson, Jane’s sister, appears to have married a Garbutt as well, and as she was about 9 years older than Jane, it is highly probable that she was already married at the time of Jane’s marriage to William. This Mary appears in the 1851 census with her father, John, and daughter, another Mary (Elizabeth Mary). She seems to have lived all her life in Flowergate,Whitby and her husband was Zachariah Garbutt. He too was a mariner who died in 1858 near India, presumably on a voyage. It is possible that Mary and Jane had married brothers, or family relatives, though of course there were many Garbutts in Whitby at this time. Nevertheless, the link with the sea, and the fact that this Zachariah appears to have been captain of several ships, would suggest that he and William were closely related.

However, unlike Jane, we know little of the family of her husband William Garbutt. A miniature water colour portrait does exist of him, a sandy haired man, probably in his late twenties, with a slightly receding hairline and very blue eyes. He is dressed soberly and smartly and one wonders of the portrait was painted perhaps at the time of his wedding to Jane; or perhaps when he took command of his own ship. He was born in Whitby in 1803 and his mother’s name which appears on his indenture in 1816, is Eleanor ‘a widow of Whitby’. It is possible that his father was another Zachariah Garbutt as this name repeats itself in following generations.

William’s indenture papers of 1816 ( “in the fifty sixth reign of our sovereign Lord King George the third”) record that he was apprenticed at the age of 12 1/2 to Edward Chapman. The apprenticeship was contracted for 6 years, for a total payment of £40 rising by an annual £5 in the first two years of his apprenticeship to £9 in the final year. The apprenticeship undertook to provide William with board, laundry, lodging and instruction “in the art or business of a seaman or mariner” during the months when ships went to sea. During the winter “when the ship to which he shall belong shall lay by unrigged”, he was to be paid a retainer of 4 shillings a week but would have to “maintain himself or be maintained by his friends”. Eleanor, whilst present at the signing of the indenture, does not sign herself, nor make her mark. William signs it in a well-shaped, clear copperplate hand that shows elegance and neatness and contrasts significantly with that of his future master, suggesting that William was schooled to a certain level.

In June 1819 his apprenticeship was transferred to George Willis captain of the ‘Economy’ who undertook the 3 remaining apprenticeship years. William would complete his training in 1822 when he would be about 19 years old. He was possibly a master mariner on several ships in Whitby before his father-in-law John Lawson purchased the ‘Canton’ registered in 1830, the year of William’s marriage to Jane at the age of 27.

If, as seems likely, the Lawsons knew the Garbutts and perhaps were already related by marriage to them, John Lawson would appear to have embraced and promoted William, or to have regarded him sufficiently worthy of investment. It is therefore rather fitting that William’s only memorial in death is the Lawson gravestone, mentioned amongst all the other Lawson generations. Both Jane and William and their infant child ( another William) are merely recorded on the stone as having been:
“Lost in brig ‘Canton’ on Brian Island- October 1837″

Yet what story lay behind this tragedy? Why were Jane and a one year old child on board the square rigged brig at this time of year, a likely time of storms and dangers? Where was the Canton going? Where was Brian Island? Who else was on board ship and how did they lose their lives?

A search of insurance and marine records, and international, national and local archives led to an unfolding of answers to these questions and, as each piece of the puzzle was completed, new learning was acquired. The ‘Canton’ had been registered in Whitby but surveyed on the Clyde. So it was likely to have sailed from a western rather than an eastern coast. It was registered as ‘lost’ in December 1837 by Lloyd’s insurance, not in October as the gravestone had recorded. When had it set sail, however, and to where? Was Brian Island in British coastal waters? No one seemed to have heard of it. What was the purpose of the ‘Canton’ journey and would this give a clue as to its destination?

The knowledge that the brig had sailed out of a western port led to the realisation that the voyage was probably west, to Canada, at this time a popular destination for British trading ships. The early 19th century had seen a growth of emigration to Canada at the time when the Government was encouraging this for domestic political and economic reasons. Between 1828 and 1834 ( the very years when the Canton would be making voyages) several Whitby ships sailed to the St Lawrence carrying emigrants from the district. Moreover, trade in timber and other goods out of the St Lawrence made it a two-way traffic. There were losses too. In 1835 the ‘Majestic’ sailed from Whitby for Quebec carrying mules, and the ship was lost on passage up the St Lawrence at Brandy Pots, Hare Island. The hunch that the ‘Canton’ had been following a similar route was confirmed by the Guildhall Library which reported an entry in Lloyd’s loss book 1837-39 dated Tuesday 12th December 1837. It stated that the ‘Canton’, Garbutt, was on a voyage from Gaspe to Britain and was lost. No exact position or date was given in this report. However, Gaspe lies on the eastern coast of Quebec.

A study of the atlas for Brian Island produced nothing of that name in the above area; until, that is, the discovery of a tiny island in the French speaking Magdalen islands : Brion Island. Again, the gravestone has misled, recording a mistranslation of the name, suggesting that the information on it had been carried by word of mouth to Whitby: not surprising at a time when the town had no local newspaper. Perhaps it would be possible now to unravel the mystery of the final hours of the ‘Canton’ on that fateful journey.

The search now shifted to Newfoundland where a Maritime History Archive had been established at the University with a mandate to collect and preserve original documents and copies of documents relating to the history of sea-based activities in the North Atlantic region. Many of the records formerly held in Britain had been moved to this archive. This source led to another, at the Musee de la Mer in the Iles de la Madeleine, revealing the last part of the ‘Canton’ story.

The ‘Canton’, a coppered brig, tonnage 273, had a crew of twelve on that fateful journey, including William Garbutt, its master.On board also were Jane and the infant William. On 14th November 1837, on its homeward journey from Gaspe to Britain, the ship ran into difficulties on the north west of Brion Island. William, Jane and the baby left the floundering ship ” in the gig” with four of the crew: they were never seen again. The mate and five of the crew reached Magdalen island in the ‘jolly’ boat. It was presumably through these survivors that word reached Halifax, Nova Scotia, and then Lloyd’s Insurers in London in December 1837. News of the loss must have reached Whitby around this time though the date of the shipwreck was never accurately recorded there.

William and Jane had two children who had not accompanied them on the fateful voyage.Their middle child was Lucy who had been baptised in St Hilda’s on 30 th March 1834. Their eldest child was Zachariah Garbutt, baptised on 5th January 1831.This Zachariah, my great- great- grandfather, was six when his parents and youngest sibling died. He appears to have been left in the care of the Lawsons, and perhaps his grandfather, John Lawson, was his guardian. Lucy died in June 1837, at the age of three. “Flowergate” in Whitby is given as her place of residence at the time of her death, and this is where Mary Garbutt (nee Lawson) also lived. Perhaps the sisters and their husbands were neighbours, or they might have shared a house. Interestingly, Lucy’s death occurred only a month or so before her parents and baby brother set sail on the ‘Canton’ and it might be reasonable to conjecture that her death played a part in Jane’s decision to go with her husband on that voyage.

Zachariah was apprenticed at the age of fifteen and a half to John H Robinson, a Whitby grocer ( and possibly a ship’s chandler) and it was his grandfather, John Lawson,who signed the indenture papers. However, there seems to have been a parting of the ways between grandson and grandfather and, probably in the 1850s or even earlier, Zachariah moved to Hartlepool, and eventually to Sunderland where he married and settled. My aunt Margaret (b 1914 and the great granddaughter of Zachariah) recorded that:
“According to gran, Zachariah was indeed a “black sheep”. She seemed to think that he had inherited money at a young age and spent it on drink. In fact, she said, he was well known for tumbling down the famous steps ( in Whitby) and once threw his gold watch into the water…….the way Gran put it was that, having had money to be his own boss, he finished labouring for other people.”

When Zachariah moved to Hartlepool he may have indeed had money difficulties. There is an itemised bill which records money owed by him to the business of his grandfather and uncle. Possibly all had to be settled at the time of John Lawson’s death in 1855 at the age of 90. Already living at Hartlepool was his aunt Frances Jackson (nee Lawson), Jane’s elder sister, born in 1806. Later, in 1875, she wrote to Zachariah, now living in Sunderland and using the name Jim or James, appearing as such on the 1911 census. Frances had recently re-met Zachariah and his wife, Dorothy ( Atkinson) and their children and she remarks that she is:
” truly glad to see you getting on again”. The main thrust of her letter is to urge him back to the Catholic faith. She ends: ” excuse me presuming to say this much to you- but I feel it is what your poor mother would wish me to say to you in her name could she speak to me – she was called suddenly away and had not the opportunity of training you to God….”

Despite this exhortation, Zachariah and his family did not re-embrace Catholicism, nor did they return to the Whitby area but remained in Sunderland until the present generation. Their son, another William became an engine driver in the north east, and his son, (William again) was a clerk in the Sunderland ship yards. My father, yet another William became a head teacher in the town. All, apart from the Master mariner whose life was so tragically curtailed, have shown longevity!
I, however, have lived in North Yorkshire for 40 years and my family was born here. Since I am the direct descendant of William and Jane, and the last of one male line, there is a sense of the completion of an almost 200 year cycle which might have been broken irretrievably in 1837 had not Zachariah been left in the care of his Lawson relatives.

The photographs below are a miniature ( c 1830) of Captain William Garbutt , and a silhouette of his wife Jane Garbutt ( nee Lawson)



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JOHN LAWSON, 1st BARONET of Brough Hall, died 1698. Inherited from his brother Henry. He was a Captain of horse in the Royalist Army. His Estates were confiscated by the Parliamentarians after they had won the Civil War and he went into exile with his family. Upon the restoration of the monarchy his estates were restored and he was made a baronet in 1665 by Charles II.
Married Catherine Howard, (1637-1668), sister of Charles Ist Earl of Carlisle.
They had many children but only two surviving sons who married and had issue:

1.Henry 2nd BARONET (1653-1726). His will entails his estates “to his maleheirs forever”.

2. WILLIAM (the only other surviving married son) described as “a gentleman ( esquire) of York”. In 1698 his father, the first Baronet, bequeathed him an annuity of £30 in his will. His brother Henry, the 2nd Baronet, bequeathed him £10 in his will in 1726.
His son:

GEORGE “of Egton in County of York.”
His son:
PHILIP ( 1729-1833)
Later known as ‘old Philip’, presumably because of his longevity (he was 104 when he died!).
He was the great-grandson of 1st baronet, John, and grandson of William Lawson.
He married Barbara Elders of Egton and had a number of children by her.
When she died he married Jane Hoggart and had one daughter by her.

JOHN Lawson ‘the Elder’ (1756-1855) Draper of Bridgestreet in Whitby, son of Philip, gt,get grandson of 1st baronet, John. Father-in-law of Cpt William Garbutt who married his daughter, Jane. Later named as 7th baronet “de jure” ( ie by right, but not in law)

JOHN (The younger) (1795-1874) also draper of Bridgestreet, Whitby. Married Ann White. His eldest surviving son was:

JOHN NICHOLAS (1823-1898) married Eliza Ann Rook.
His eldest sons were twins, John and William. John was the elder twin:

JOHN (1855-1924). In 1907 he claimed the title of “Sir John” and claimed to be the 10th baronet. He married Rebecca Storm. He was the Master of the Union Workhouse at Whitby, she was the Mistress. His portrait hangs in the Pannet Gallery in Whitby. He was an amateur painter/artist. He had 4 sons: John, Philip, William (portrait by his father in Pannet Gallery) and Henry (Harry). The eldest was:

JOHN (1885-1910) He was a sailor and drowned off the coast of India. He is commemorated on the Lawson gravestone at St Mary’s Whitby ( now eroded).
PHILIP : the heir. (1891-1962)known as the 11th Bart. Served with his brothers in the Great War. His brother,Harry (1895-1916) died in that War. His brother William is referred to below*
Married Doris Boulby. His son:

JOHN PHILIP (1926-) known as the 12th Bart. Married Joan Alice Robinson.
His son:
DAVID PHILIP (b 1957) married Pamela Giblin

WILLIAM (1893-1946) brother of the above PHILIP. Of Whitby then St Albans. He was co-founder of Faith Craft works and designed and made ecclesiastical features and church fittings, including stained glass windows.
He married Winifred Maude Corble. His son was:

JOHN Nicholas (1932-2009). An artist and master craftsman, also. He had many prestigious ecclesiastical commissions, including the window in the west wall of Henry VII chapel, Westminster Abbey, and a window in Ripon Cathedral. Also commissions in the Middle East.
Spouse: Frances Baker. Children:
, Rebecca (b1969), Helena (b 1970) Dominic (b 1972)

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ZACHARIAH Garbutt (1752-1805) mariner of Whitby, father of Cpt William Garbutt

Married to………
ELEANOR Garbutt (1764-1819) wife of above and mother of Cpt Wm Garbutt

Surviving Children of the above couple with spouses:

1.Zachariah Garbutt (1791-1833) eldest surviving son of above, brother of Cpt Wm Garbutt

Married to……

Mary Lawson (1799- 1883) wife of above, sister in law of Cpt Wm Garbutt.
Children of this couple: several, including John Lawson Garbutt, seaman, born 1829, died in 1859, lost at sea on ship ‘Rosshire’.

2.WILLIAM Garbutt (1803-1837) captain, of ‘Canton’ died In wreck, Canada.

Married to……

JANE Lawson (1808-1837) died in wreck of ‘Canton’ with husband and infant son.

Children of the above couple….

3. ZACHARIAH (‘James’) Garbutt (1831-1913) eldest son of Cpt Wm Garbutt

married Dorothy Atkinson (1834-1914)
LUCY Garbutt (1834-37) Sister of above, died in infancy

WILLIAM Garbutt (1836-37) infant brother of above, died with parents in wreck of ‘Canton’.

4.WILLIAM Garbutt ( 1862-1944) son of Zachariah & Dorothy Atkinson grandson of Cpt William.
married Margaret Metcalf (1864-1951)
Ethel Garbutt and……..

5.WILLIAM Garbutt ( 1888-1975) ‘Will’ : great grandson of Cpt William
married Blanche Snowdon (1888-1961)
Margaret Garbutt, later Carr (1914-2009)
William Garbutt (b1922) ‘Bill’: gt gt grandson of Cpt William.
married (Doris) Marjorie Walker (b1923)
Children: Barbara Jean (b 1950)

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The Lawson family history is complicated and has been subject of disputes over the centuries ( see post ‘Discord over Inheritance’). This first list indicates the line of the Lawsons who inherited estates and property and who were given the status of baronets which had been recognised ‘officially’.

EDMUND Lawson , Died 1551 Esquire of Byker & West Matsen manors in Northumberland & Durham
Married Margaret Swynhowe
Son and heir:

RALPH 1547-1623 Heir to above estates.
Married Elizabeth, heir to Manor of Burgh ( Brough) near Catterick, Yorkshire. Knighted by James I in 1603
Son & heir:

ROGER who died in his father’s lifetime c 1613/14. Married Dorothy Constable of Burton Constable Family, Yorkshire.
Son and heir to his grandfather Ralph’s estates:

HENRY 1602-1635 Married Ann
Various children including
JAMES Inherited Burgh( Brough) but only briefly, as he died young.
HENRY. Inherited from his brother James. He was a Colonel in the Royalist Army during the Civil War and died at the battle of Melton Mowbray in 1644. He had one daughter only.
His Heir:

JOHN LAWSON, 1st BARONET of Brough Hall, died 1698. Inherited from his brother Henry. He was a Captain of horse in the Royalist Army. His Estates were confiscated by the Parliamentarians after they had won the Civil War and he went into exile with his family. Upon the restoration of the monarchy his estates were restored and he was made a baronet in 1665 by Charles II.
Married Catherine Howard, (1637-1668), sister of Charles Ist Earl of Carlisle.
They had many children but only two surviving sons who married and had issue:

1.HENRY 2nd BARONET (1653-1726). 2. WiLLIAM. Esq of City of York
Married Elizabeth. D 1728
Son: Son:
JOHN. 3rd BARONET (1689-1739). George
This line continues in Lawson: part2

His son& heir:

HENRY 4th BART(1712-1769) married Anastasia Maire, heiress.

His son & heir
JOHN 5th BART (1744-1811).
No male heirs so title and estates pass to 5th Bart’s younger brother who was:

HENRY (“Maire” Lawson) 6th BART (1750-1834)
On his death, he had no male heirs to succeed. The estate passed to his great nephew through the female line, William Wright, who assumed the name Lawson. The first baronetcy lapsed but in 1841 William was created a baronet in the second creation:

WILLIAM (“Wright”) Lawson (1796-1865) 1st BART in second creation
His heir:

JOHN (1829-1910) 2nd BART in ditto

His heir:
HENRY Joseph (1877-1947). 3rd BART in ditto. Married Ursula Mary Howard, of Corby Castle Cumbria.

His heir:
RALPH Henry (1905-1975). 4th BART in ditto. He had no male heirs so Brough Castle was left to his two daughters, jointly.

His younger brother inherited the title of baronet and the seat moved to Corby Castle:
WILLIAM HOWARD-LAWSON (1907-1990) 5th BART in ditto.
His son and heir:
JOHN PHILIP Howard-Lawson (b 1934) 6th BART in ditto. He assumed the use of the Howard name and arms in 1962 by Royal License. He then resumed the use of the Lawson name in 1992.
He sold Corby Castle in 1994.

His son is:

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