JJ Rowe Diary: 16 Feb 1889


Day 6 of Joseph’s voyage saw Pollie going ashore in Malta for groceries. The troopship pulled up anchor and continued on its journey, but it was lashed by a hurricane.

The Diary Entry

16.2.89 Saturday

Fine morning. Arose early. Took Pollie. got water, to wash baby. Had breakfast.

Pollie went on ashore & went to market. Brought back milk & cheese, which I am very fond of, some eggs, oranges, nuts, bacon & sausages, I was nevise [sic] time she went. Boy good, drank a whole bottle of milk while she was away & had fresh beef for dinner. Very good.Continue reading


By mid-day on 15 February, which was the fifth day of travel, Joseph’s troopship had reached Malta, and had travelled a distance of 1,145 nautical miles from Gibraltar. The ship took on supplies, including fuel and food.

The Diary Entry

15.2.89 Friday

Fine morning. Rose at 6 am. Went in to see Pollie. She was in the wash-house. Took her some hot water & She stiped him & gave him a nice comfortable wash.

Had a good breakfast of eggs which I boiled, & went on deck. It rain at little but, not for long. Sighted land, all the way.Continue reading


This is the fourth day of travel en route by ship from Gibraltar to India. Joseph paints a picture of life aboard the troopship with details of bathing, meals, safety drills, and entertainment.

The Diary Entry


A bright morning, not so rough. Slept till six thirty. Got up, roll up my hammock & cleaned my boots & had a wash, which is a very hard thing to get on a Trooper, especially in fresh water as I had this morning.

Went in to see Pollie, she was up, & in wash-house, washing baby.

Sickness gone, had a got breakfast which both of us enjoyed, off ham, as we where thoughtful enough to bring a whole ham with us, which I cooked in the cook-house, & a whole Dutch cheese & some braion thanks to Pollies economy in house keeping.Continue reading


The troopship carrying Joseph and his fellow soldiers continued to sail eastward through the Mediterranean Sea, with the north coast of Africa sighted. It was not a good day for Joseph, however. There was insubordination, snow, ongoing sea sickness, and to top it all off, a hammock mishap.

The Diary Entry


At 4 Am, a Petty Officers & called for the watch. Then I mustered them. There was about 40 of them out of the 100 which should have been there. I reported it to the Officer of the watch & he told me to tell the bugler to sound the watch call, but there was only a Sergt, a Corprl, & one or two turn out.Continue reading


For those with a love of being on the water, today’s diary entry paints a picture of adventure, albeit it a small one. There is rough weather in the Alboran Sea, some sea sickness, and a thorough drenching.

The Diary Entry


Arose at 5 am, rolled up my hammock & went up on deck & had a wash as we are not allowed in the womans quarters till 7 am. Just as I was going in, I was told Pollie was on deck, so I went up on deck & their she sit the only woman on deck. It was a fine morning but rather rough, & Pollie would not go below, but remained on deck all day.Continue reading

Diary of JJ Rowe, 1889

In a previous post, I wrote about my great-granduncle, Joseph James Rowe, and his time with the British army in Gibraltar, India, and Rangoon, from 1883 until his death in 1923. After writing that post, I was contacted by Joseph’s great-granddaughter, Marion Bowles, who kindly provided me with a copy of a journal that Joseph had kept during the 5-week period from 10 February to 20 March 1889.

Joseph’s journal is a personal one, rather than a formal army diary, and through it, Joseph provides us with insights into army life, the perils of travelling by sail, what he saw en route to, and in, India.… Continue reading

JJ Rowe Diary: 11 Feb 1889


The first entry in Joseph Rowe’s 5-week diary was made on 11 February 1889. He had been stationed in Gibraltar with the British army for just over a year, and it was here that his first child, also named Joseph, was born in 1888.

The diary begins on the day that Joseph and his fellow soldiers departed Gibraltar for India, the site of their next posting. Also travelling with Joseph were his wife, Pollie, and his 4-month old son. It is a nostalgic entry, looking back at his time in Gibraltar and the friends that he and Pollie were leaving behind.… Continue reading

Bridget Surdival: From Mayo to Brooklyn

When the White Star Line’s SS Germanic sailed out of Queenstown (now Cobh, Co. Cork), Ireland on 14 April 1898, there were many young Irish men and women aboard, including 19-year-old Bridget Surdival.  The ship was headed for the port of New York, and Bridget was going to join her older sister, Mary, who was living in Brooklyn.

SS_Germanic_c1890-1900 with caption

Bridget was born in 1876 in Balla, Co. Mayo, Ireland, to parents John Surdival and Bridget Reilly. She was the youngest sister of my great-grandfather Patrick Surdival (a.k.a. Patrick Sullivan). Although her name was registered as Biddy, she used the names Bridget, Beatrice, and Beattie.… Continue reading

Was Your Ancestor a Kew Gardener?

FMNHave you discovered a gardener in your family? Perhaps, like me, you have come across one or more ancestors noted in the census records as gardeners, horticulturalists, or nurserymen. Some, like Thomas Gee, learned their trade by serving as apprentices. Others, like my father’s cousin Frank Clarke, may have trained at a horticultural school such as that at Kew Gardens on the outskirts of London, England. If they studied at Kew, there are resources available to help you learn more about their training and later employment. In some cases, you will be able to fill in the gaps between census enumerations.… Continue reading

On This Day: 4 September 1932 - Death of Walter Clarke

CLARKE Walter with captionEighty-four years ago today, on 4 September 1932, great-uncle Walter Clarke died in Palgrave, Suffolk, England at the age of 71. He was a public-spirited man, and his death was therefore felt not only by family, but by his community as well. The Diss Express for 9 September 1932 carried a report of Uncle Walter’s death that included many details of his public service.

Walter was born in Palgrave in 1861 and trained as a printer-compositor. He worked for Francis Cupiss of Diss, Norfolk, a veterinarian medicines manufacturer who operated several printing presses to create, among other things, labels for his horse and cattle medications.… Continue reading