Debbie Cameron, a volunteer with the archives, has done an amazing piece of research for this week’s story. Truth really is stranger than fiction! It’s fantastic that our Archives+ blog is reaching round the world. This is what the internet is all about.
The story started with an email from a reader now living in Australia, Stephen Crewe. He shares a surname with one of our bloggers and he was born and brought up in Manchester. Some curious photographs were attached to the email, showing two gravestones in a remote part of Western Australia, Broome Bay, famous for pearl fishing.
From Parish Church to Pearling
How did Edward Cockayne Chippindall (RN), born in Staffordshire and brought up by his parents in Cheetham Hill in Manchester during the Victorian era, come to be laid to rest in this far flung corner of the world? What brought him to this wild place?
Edward Cockayne Chippindall was born in 1853 in a small village in Staffordshire. His father – the Reverend John Chippindall was Rector of St Luke’s in Cheetham Hill for many years. His grandfather was described as “Clerk; MA – Occupation: Esquire”. Yet from this wealthy, academic, religious family came a man who became a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, a Captain in the Merchant Navy and intrepid explorer, who died at the early age of 34 in a remote bay on the other side of the world.
In 1861, Edward was living at Dale End, Warslow, Staffordshire where his father was the incumbent of the church. By the time of the 1871 census, while his family were in Cheetham Hill, he was a midshipman aboard the Eclipse in the Royal Navy but by the end of the year he had been promoted to a Sub Lieutenant. I have found a Certificate of Competency as a Master of the Merchant Navy for him in 1873, from the Port of Liverpool.
A Life of Adventure Begins!
After this fairly “ordinary” even mundane, middle class, start in life, things swiftly become rather more exciting, if more challenging to track! There is no mention of him that I can find from the time he got his Captain status until 1880, although, piecing together other information I have found for him, I think that from 1873, he became involved with one Captain Thomas Haynes (whose occupation was rather thrillingly described as “explorer” on his daughter’s wedding certificate!) Thomas played a big part in this story as we shall see later, to the extent of being buried next to Edward in a remote cemetery in Australia, even though he died many years after Edward and in England, having raised 7 children and with a wife still alive.
According to a report in the Lancaster Gazette dated 4th September 1880, Edward was now in Fiji, where he was tried for the manslaughter of a “native” , the accusers being disaffected labourers. Indeed, according to the report, the natives were taking on ”all the vices of the settlers” and “the only improvement in their behaviour has been their cessation of cannibalism”. A far cry from Cheetham Hill indeed! I have found several articles and a heartfelt plea in the press from his loyal, (and somewhat tolerant!) father, the highly regarded Reverend John Chippindall, saying that the charges had been made up by the Governor of Fiji, Sir Arthur Gordon. Edward had somehow become entangled in a dispute of some kind with him. The Reverend gave a glowing picture of how Edward and the Captain had treated the local natives with great respect and had helped to improve their living conditions. The Magistrates in Fiji agreed with these sentiments and threw the case out. What a worry this must have been to his relatives far away in Manchester.
St Luke’s Church, Cheetham Hill, 1866
At the time of the 1881 census taken in April of that year, Edward is back with his family in Manchester, but described as a Sub Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, although I do not believe he had served in the Navy for some time. Maybe he had been ordered to return home after his earlier escapades. After all, he is not yet 30 years of age but has already given his family plenty to worry about! Indeed Edward is involved in yet another catastrophe later in the year. He is mentioned in connection with a shipping disaster in July of that year when the Zara, a ship he commanded, was wrecked on the way from Table Bay in Australia to Fiji. This ship had actually once been owned by the Prince of Wales, according to newspaper reports, but was now owned by our doughty Captain Haynes. Although Edward managed to save the crew, the ship was beached but then broke up.
Adventures in Paradise
I have found a digitalised book “Pearls and Pearling Life” by Edward Streeter dated 1886 which gives an incredibly detailed account of these times. Edward and the Captain are shown to be heavily involved in the pearl fishing industry in Australia and the islands. Edward Streeter was a jeweller from Hatton Garden, London. He funded their exploration in far off islands and colonies. He said that the pair faced many perils, including insurrection by natives and pearl fishermen , to the extent that there was a mutiny.There were several incidences of illnesses (their ship, the Sree Pas Sair was once described as a “charnel house” ) and at least one occasion when, on venturing to land on a small island, they were surrounded by “100s of canoes with armed savages in them”. There is no explanation as to how they managed to escape from this somewhat dangerous encounter!
The finest and most complete pearling vessel afloat is the “Sree Pas-Sair,” (“The Belle of Pas-Sair,” a district in Borneo), a brigantine of 112 tons, bought and equipped by the late Mr. E. C. Chippindall, R.N., at the expense of the author (Mr Streeter)
And so, we finally arrive at Broome Bay, where Edward met his death and was to be buried in 1886.
Death In Paradise
From various newspaper reports and accounts, Captain Haynes and Edward worked in the pearl fishing industry in Western Australia and various islands from at least 1881, when Edward was involved in the shipwreck of the Zara. There is a lot of information online about this period and it would seem that at least initially, the men lived in conditions similar to the early settlers, living in tents and makeshift buildings, with various “temptations” for the men who lived and worked there such as brothels and drinking houses.
“Broome is an affluent, sinful and tolerant community in which the Clergy’s frequent references to Sodom and Gomorrah are regarded as appropriate tributes to civic progress rather than as warnings of future divine retribution. ”
H.V. Howe, Pearler
I don’t know how this lifestyle would have been greeted back in the Reverend’s parish of Cheetham Hill!
Notwithstanding the dubious pleasures of the pearling community, Edward was making excellent progress in the industry and was very highly regarded by many, including Mr Streeter of Hatton Garden, who stated that “the finest, largest pearl ever seen” was found by Edward Chippindall while pearling on the Sree Par Sair on Christmas Day 1884. It weighed 40 grams and was “absolutely round”. Edward and the Captain continued to explore and expand the industry; one report states they owned 2 schooners and 11 luggers.
However, tragedy struck Edward whilst he was onboard the schooner Telephone. I have found a report in a Western Australian newspaper that states that he died of “brain fever” on 22nd May 1886 while at sea and he was brought back and interred in the aptly named Pioneer Cemetery, Broome Bay, Australia, which is located on a small, isolated, grassed promontory overlooking Roebuck Bay and near the site of the Old Jetty. The actual cemetery area is surrounded by a number of well established trees and is very peaceful.. One can only imagine the heartbreak for the 34 year old’s family when they heard the news back in England. I have found a notice in their local paper which advises that a memorial to Edward was placed in the church where his father had preached for many years.
Edward, born in rural England in the 1850s, had been an incredible man. He had served in the Navy, endured shipwrecks, disease , cannabilism, a trial for manslaughter and appalling conditions in a harsh, unforgiving country thousands of miles from home. In today’s parlance, he had been on an amazing and almost unbelievable journey. A man who took great risks, that finally cost him his life. A true Victorian explorer but one who almost no-one has ever heard of! I hope this article serves as a memorial to his fortitude.
Incidentally, the intrepid explorer, Captain Haynes, continued to work in Australia for many years, but obviously returned home to England from time to time, as he fathered 7 children! He is on a trip home in 1901 for the census and his occupation is “railway contractor and director of companies”. He died in 1929 in England, aged 76 leaving a large amount of money (£16,600) , so his various ventures had been very successful. However, there is one more twist to the story. Even though his 7 children and his wife were still alive when he died, his remains were shipped to that isolated pioneers’ cemetery, where he was laid to rest next to his friend and partner, Edward Cockayne Chippindall , together once more. Did the Captain’s or Edward’s family ever travel half way across the world to visit them once more, resting under the trees and overlooking the ocean in their final resting place? We shall never know.
Thank you to Debbie Cameron for her research and account of this amazing life and to Stephen Crewe for getting in touch with his photos of the graves.