Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

20 January 2022

The man who lost his memory – Part 2

We continue our story of the Reverend Philip Read, looking at his work and travels across the globe.

Philip Read (or Philip Chesshyre Read) was born in 1850 in Hyde, Cheshire, the son of Anglican clergyman Alexander and his wife Anne Whiteway.  He was educated at Manchester Grammar School and won a scholarship to Lincoln College Oxford.  He served as a sub-lieutenant in the Oxford Rifle Volunteers.  After graduating, he taught at Marlborough before being ordained as a priest in 1874.  He was headmaster of the school at Newton in Lancashire in 1876.  The following year Read took up an appointment at Bishop’s College in Lennoxville, Quebec, where he became Professor of Classics and Moral Philosophy.  He travelled a good deal, visiting many countries including the West Indies and Spain.

In 1879 he married Helen Rosina McCallum, the daughter of a Quebec barrister.  Their sons Alexander Cuthbert and Philip Austin Ottley were born in Canada before the family moved to England.  Daughter Helen Chesshyre Hazlehurst (known as Hazel) was born in Newcastle in 1889.

Painting of Royal Mail Ship Ormuz at sea - black smoke coming out of the funnelsPainting of RMS Ormuz c. 1895 © Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales

At the time of the April 1891 census the Reads were living in Jesmond, but in the autumn of that year they sailed on RMS Ormuz to Ceylon.  Read was installed as Warden of St Thomas’ College Colombo.  There are reports of the family’s activities in the Ceylon Observer, including Philip Read’s stay in the hill town of Nuwara Eliya to recover his health when struck by illness in January 1893.

The College history describes Read as ‘a brilliant scholar and a great preacher’, kind-hearted with a keen sense of humour, a talented organist and pianist.  However he was said to have been unsuited to the post of Warden, as well as being burdened by ‘private sorrows’, and he left the College in 1895.

After Read’s breakdown and memory loss described in our previous post, he returned to South Asia to perform missionary work in Rangoon.  However his health failed again and he went back to England in 1899.  He then served as curate in Walmsley Lancashire, taking special charge of St Andrew’s Mission Church at Toppings.

In 1901 he was boarding with the family of a lithographic printer in Turton, apart from his family.  Son Philip was a pupil at Haileybury College.  Hazel was living with her uncle Thomas Wood Shaw in Bolton.  Alexander, a clerk, had left Liverpool for New York in July 1900 on board SS Lucania.  The passenger list states that he was joining his mother Helen in New Jersey.  Helen appears to have moved between the United States and Canada before setting in Los Angeles.  She died there in 1942.

Obituary for Philip Read

Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser 30 January 1903 British Newspaper Archive Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Philip Read died in January 1903 following an accident on Christmas Day when he slipped into a ditch and broke his leg.  His death was widely mourned, not only by his congregation in Lancashire who had warmed to his ‘kind tact and sympathy’, but also in Ceylon where he was remembered as the ‘most eloquent, most cultivated and most genial of Wardens’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
India Office files about Philip Read's memory loss: IOR/L/PJ/6/417 Files 511 and 570; IOR/L/PJ/6/418 File 615; IOR/L/PJ/6/420 File 845.
Ceylon Observer e.g. 6 November 1891; 5 January 1893; 21 February 1900.
W T Keble, A history of St. Thomas’ College Colombo (Colombo, 1937).
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Manchester Evening News 23 January 1903; Leigh Chronicle and Weekly District Advertiser 30 January 1903.
Ancestry and Findmypast for census and migration records from UK, Canada and USA.


18 January 2022

The man who lost his memory – Part 1

In February 1896 a man calling himself William Simpson was sent from Bhusawal to the Bombay Commissioner of Police.  ‘Simpson’ was suffering from loss of memory and could only remember a few facts about himself.  He had travelled a great deal in England, France, Belgium, Spain and the USA.  He was acquainted with classical Greek and Latin writers, spoke some French, German, Italian and Spanish, and could also read a little Hindustani.  As a youth he had studied Arabic and Sanskrit.  He had lived in Gibraltar for some time and knew a clergyman called Addison.  He remembered finding himself in Calcutta at the beginning of the year and thought he had landed from a steamer. 

‘Simpson’ was dressed in soiled white clothing.  His shirt bore the mark of A .G. Copeland of Manchester, and his almost new hat was made by Ellwood.  He wore a gold ring with the initials ‘C S H & S’ inside.

A place was found for ‘Simpson’ in the Strangers’ Home at Bombay where he would receive good care.  The Commissioner asked the Bombay Government to send copies of the information about the man to the police in Manchester and London, together with his ‘Anthrocard’ which bore his photograph and a physical description.

Anthrocard for 'William Simpson', with photograph, thumb print, and physical description.

Reverse of Anthrocard with a diagram of a man showing scar on bridge of nose. 'Anthrocard' for 'William Simpson' completed by the police in Bombay February 1896 IOR/L/PJ/6/417 File 511 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The India Office in London contacted detectives at New Scotland Yard and Manchester to no avail.  No-one at A.G. Copeland remembered ‘Simpson’ as a customer.  However the firm said it would be able to name the person who bought the shirt if they were sent the number stamped on it.

It is unclear from the India Office files if the shirt number proved to be the vital clue, but in April 1896 the Bombay Government knew the identity of ‘William Simpson’.  He was an Anglican priest, the Reverend Philip Read, formerly Warden of St Thomas’ College Colombo.

Read  PhilipPhotograph of Warden Philip Read from W. T. Keble, A history of St. Thomas’ College Colombo Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Ceylon Observer published updates about Philip Read, who was much-liked during his time in Colombo.  He kept himself busy at the Strangers’ Home by teaching the son of the superintendent, and the Bishop of Bombay spent a lot of time with him. His memory was only partially restored and he was not quite himself, although well otherwise.  It was said that a ‘malady’ had been undermining Read’s powers for years before culminating in a complete breakdown at the end of 1895.  His illness had seriously affected his concentration and ability to carry out his duties as College Warden.

The Bishop of Bombay secured a passage to the UK for Read on board SS Hispania.  During the voyage Read suffered from dysentery twice.  On arrival in England, he was attacked with ‘rheumatic gout’ which weakened him.  His family were already in England but he did not join them, instead going to stay with a cousin in the west of Ireland.

Our next post will tell the story of Philip Read’s life and travels before and after his memory loss.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
India Office files about ‘William Simpson’: IOR/L/PJ/6/417 Files 511 and 570; IOR/L/PJ/6/418 File 615; IOR/L/PJ/6/420 File 845.
W. T. Keble, A history of St. Thomas’ College Colombo (Colombo, 1937).
Ceylon Observer 29 April 1896; 21 May 1896; 10 September 1896.


13 January 2022

Madras Military Male Orphan Asylum

The Madras Military Male Orphan Asylum opened in 1789 under the superintendence of Dr Andrew Bell.  It was housed in a converted army building called Egmore Redoubt which stood in an open and healthy situation.  The Asylum was funded jointly by the government and by charitable subscriptions.  Military, civil and church officials served as directors.  A Select Committee of six directors met at the Asylum once a month to deal with admissions and routine business, and to oversee the boys’ education.

Egmore Redoubt in the early 20th century - a white plain rectangular building with lower side wingsEgmore Redoubt in the early 20th century from Glyn Barlow, The story of Madras (1921) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

According to the regulations established in June 1796, this was the ranking of eligibility for help from the charity:
1st Children of officers who were boarders, if the death of their parents, guardians or friends deprived them of support.
2nd Orphan children of officers if left destitute.
3rd Orphan children of non-commissioned officers and private soldiers, as it was ‘a main object of this Charity’ to make provision for them.
4th Sons of living non-commissioned officers and private soldiers whose fathers were unable to educate them.

No boy was eligible unless his father was European.  Legitimate children had precedence over illegitimate children.  Boys could only be admitted when recommended by the commanding officer of his father’s corps or by another official deemed competent by the Select Committee.  Any lame or deformed boy, or any ‘whose faculties may be deemed unequal to the elements of letters’ was admitted or rejected by the Select Committee who considered the probability of the boy becoming a permanent burden on the charity, or of his being able to earn his own subsistence at the age of fourteen or earlier.

No boy under four or over fourteen years of age was admitted, and no boy was kept on after the age of sixteen, unless he was employed as a teacher or assistant.  At the age of fourteen or before, the Asylum aimed to bind boys as apprentices to artificers, clerks, or sailors, ’or otherwise dispose of them, as may be thought likely to render them most useful and beneficial to themselves and the community’.

The sons of Europeans of all professions were taken as paid boarders, but they received the same diet, dress and treatment as the boys ‘on the foundation’.

The boys’ diet consisted of:
Breakfast: milk and rice, or coffee and rice.
Dinner: on Sundays and holidays, roast mutton and vegetables with bread; mutton curry three days a week; rice with dhal one day; vegetable curry two days.
Supper: milk and rice, or pepper, water and rice.
The surgeon could recommend changes ‘conducive to general health’.

Boys wore a shirt and long drawers, adding a sleeved waistcoat and leather cap for Sundays, holidays and going out.

This was the daily routine:
Rise at daybreak.
Get washed and combed, read prayers.  Breakfast at 7.00.
School 8.00-12.00 – instruction in reading, writing, arithmetic, book-keeping, geometry, and navigation.
Learn tasks until 13.00.  Dinner.
School 14.00-17.00.  Walk accompanied by one of the masters.
Supper at 18.00.
Religious duties at 19.00.
Bed at 20.00.

Parents and others connected to the boys could apply to visit them in school between the hours of 10.00 and 12.00.  No-one was admitted on Saturday evenings or Sundays ‘to prevent crowds and irregularities’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Andrew Bell, The Report of the Military Male Orphan Asylum at Madras (London, 1812)