Cayleys in crime novels

I have known for some years that a Cayley is a villainous character in A A Milne’s crime novel The Red House Mystery (1922). So it was with some reassurance that I found out today that the balance of villainy was redressed in 1929 when a novel appeared in which a Cayley is the murder victim, poisoned during a meeting of the Medstead Garden Suburb Literary Institute. (Sounds like the starting point for an episode of Midsomer Murders.)

It is Poison in the Garden Suburb by George Douglas Howard Cole and Margaret Cole, published by Collins in England and by Paysan and Clarke in New York. I have not got hold of a copy but the two GoodReads reviews, and contemporary reviews when it appeared, suggest it is somewhat tedious. All the suspects are apparently males in love with the poor Mr Cayley’s beautiful young wife.

The Coles, who were husband and wife, were prolific writers of crime fiction in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. He was a left-wing academic, who was Director of Labour Party research and on the staff of the New Statesman for many years, and who taught economics, politics and social science at Oxford University. She taught at London and Cambridge Universities, was a leading member of the Fabian Society, and was a long-serving London County Councillor and member of the Inner London Education Authority – she was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1970.


A letter sent during the Indian Mutiny

Henry Cayley (1834-1904 – see A Banker’s Family) rose to be Deputy Surgeon-General in the British Army in India; after his retirement volunteered to serve in the Second Boer War; and became Honorary Surgeon to King Edward VII. Early in his military career the Indian Mutiny took place. My aunt inherited one letter he wrote during this time to my great-grandfather Arthur Cayley, who was one of his brothers. It is dated 3 November, with no year, but was probably written in 1857 as it refers to the Siege of Cawnpore. It ends by describing an incident in which the British Commander-in-Chief was nearly captured.

The letter is now held in the British Library: Add MS 79532 C.

My dear Arthur

I sent a letter to Willy [another brother, Dr William Cayley, 1836-1916] last mail & will try to send one to you by the post which goes out to day if the Mosquitos will let me but they are swarming to such an extent & biting so fiercely that I am almost driven mad, my hands legs & neck are all covered with lumps from their bites which itch horribly. I suppose you are now a student of K.C.L. & consequently a great man wearing stickups [shirt collars which stick up] & tail coats when in company. I hope you will like London but you must find it rather dull especially at first. I hope you will write to give an account of yr visit to Switzerland in the Summer wh.[ich] must have been very jolly. Tell Willy that Layton[?] came up [to?] Benares a few days ago & will probably remain for some time. Just before he left Calcutta he happened to go to Colvin & Co my agents & appoint him as his agent also & there he found a letter from Willy which for some wild reason or another he had directed there, it was the merest chance that Layton ever got it. I am still attached to a Queens Regiment (the 37th) & shall probably be with them for some time. My detachment has had no fighting tho we are surrounded by mutineers but they never came very near this fort wh. has just been made at Raj Ghat, so that there is no excitement of any sort & it is rather dull, there are no birds to shoot. I can’t get a horse to ride & the whole country round is nothing but ploughed fields. We had an old & oar[?] boat on the river a short time ago but she is now out of the water being mended & painted & I am afraid she will be some time getting ready again. The Ganges is a splendid river for rowing on I have bathed in it once or twice but there are so many dead bodies floating down that it is not very pleasant. The fighting is going on in many places as hard as ever especially at Lucknow where General Havelock after marching there & relieving the garrison is now himself surrounded & fighting every day & he can’t get back again but a large force has gone to his rescue from Cawnpore & will probably be at Lucknow by this. Tell Willy that Darby[?] when the mutiny broke out escaped to Lucknow & a few weeks ago was safe but there is still a good deal of danger, his wife & child were certainly killed at Cawnpore. Sir Colin Campbell [Commander-in-Chief of the British army in India] was very nearly nabbed by the enemy coming up here the other day from Calcutta, he was travelling in a carriage, & altogether his party consisted of 12 or 15 in different carriages, they were very nearly surrounded by 500 cavalry but as soon as he saw them he ordered the carriages to gallop back as hard as they could wh. they did for 10 miles when they met a party of English soldiers & escaped what a thing it would have been if the commander in chief had been taken prisoner. I have been interrupted so often that I have not had time to write a long letter. I remain, yr very affect.[ionate] Brother

Henry Cayley

A typical private letter of the aeronautical baronet

J Hunter was a close friend, and regular correspondent, of Sir George Cayley, the aeronautical baronet, and they often accepted invitations to each others’ houses when they were both in London. This letter of, I think, 8 May 1848, though the year is not quite certain, gives a typical example of his epistolary style, with its slightly cumbersome humour, flirtatiousness towards females, and slightly careless attention to grammar and punctuation:

My dear Sir,

Permit me to make good a great deficiency I was guilty of, inadvertently at the time, by most ungallantly requesting your Daughters [sic] acceptance of two baubles without their being in a condition to be worn. I have written to a jeweller to call & take the measure of their fingers that these things may properly set [sic] for them: & write to apprise you of the circumstances fearing the young Ladies might be alarmed by some uncouth looking mortal coming to demand measure of their fingers – a formidable matter in some cases to the Ladies! As I am in my 75th year, I think the Ladies will excuse my taking these liberties & you must aid me if they chide.

I had an opportunity a few days ago to send the coin I named which is now at N[umber]12 North Audley St with your address on it.

I am, my dear Sir,

Yours sincerely

Geo Cayley

Source: British Library, ADD 24867 f.64



Coming-of-age letter from a Victorian paterfamilias

My great-grandfather Arthur Cayley (1840-1905) – see A Banker’s Family – came of age on 16 April 1861, when he was studying at King’s College, London. Two days before his 21st birthday, his 78-year-old father Edward Cayley (1782-1868, a banker of Stamford, Lincolnshire) sent him this letter, written with all the sententious formality of a middle-class Victorian paterfamilias.

My Dear Arthur

Tomorrow will be the last day of your minority & I cannot allow it to pass without a line of congratulation on its being the eve of a most important period of your life, the day when you become your own Master & must judge & act for yourself. I do not doubt in the eye of God & Man you will always act rightly. You will commence your career of manhood & independence under very favourable circumstances. You possess good health, good character & a good understanding which when united to industry & perseverance are almost sure to secure for you at least a competence. The favour of the Almighty is of course understood but this I am sure you will not in your daily prayers fail to ask for.

I am not, at my age, likely to see your effort crowned with the success which would be so gratifying to me but I shall always derive the greatest pleasure from hearing they are such as give promise of a happy result. If you do your duty fearlessly to God & Man you need never be ashamed to lift up your head in any society & will be certain to obtain the esteem of all whose good opinion is worth having. You will not always be able to avoid the company of persons lax in morals & manners but I trust, you will never permit an intimacy with them.

Had you been in Stamford I might have called together a few friends & relatives to celebrate your coming of age, but as this cannot be, I shall have no objections to your giving a dinner at my expense to your brothers & two or three other parties whom you may wish to invite. I do not think this a bad opportunity of showing a civility to you.


Dads don’t write letters like this nowadays!

Those magnificent men in their flying machines – Cayley descendants who loop the loop

Think of Cayleys and aeronautics, and you probably think of Sir George Cayley, 6th Baronet, pioneer of manned flight.

But there are two Cayley descendants, Tim Boyd and his son Andrew, who have been flying together for more than 30 years and give airshow displays as The Pitts Formation. They fly red, white and blue biplanes and have given displays in North America and the Caribbean. You can read about them, and see photos, at their website. Tim was a jet fighter pilot and test pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Boyd family 3PittsAndrew’s teenage son also flies, and on the right is a photo of the three aerobatic generations in the air together. How many families can boast that?

You can see Andrew whooping it up in his biplane in a YouTube video clip at

Tim’s full birth name is Philip Cayley Boyd – but, in the way one does, he opts to be known as Tim. He is a son of Marjorie Gordon Cayley (1897-1968) who married John William Gamble Boyd in 1925. See Russia Merchant line.

With thanks to Andrew Boyd for contacting me and supplying information. Photo supplied by Andrew and used with his permission.

James Cayley, died following mining accident in 1869

In much of the 19th century young children and teenagers were employed in British coal mines as  drawers, also known as hurriers: the job involved hauling a large basket or wagon of coal from the coal face to the surface. The drawer was attached to the basket or wagon by means of a leather belt, called a gurl, and a chain. Hours were long – 12 hours was not uncommon – and the passageways might in places be only some 16 inches high, so the labour was uncomfortable in the extreme. In 1842 the employment of women and girls in mines was banned, and a minimum age for boys was introduced, though this varied from pit to pit – previously children as young as 3 or 4 might be employed. In 1870, legislation on compulsory education led to boys under 13 generally ceasing to work in mines. School leavers were employed as drawers up to the 1920s, though by then pit ponies or mechanical haulage had often taken their place, at least in larger mines where the loads were too great to be pulled by human power.

On Thursday 1 April 1869, one drawer was James Cayley, age 16, who worked at the High Brooks mine near Wigan in Lancashire. In all, there were some 70 people at work, when an explosion occurred. The cause is uncertain – the subsequent report by a mining inspector suggested it may have been a leak of gas, possibly from a neighbouring mine which was being vented via the High Brooks colliery, or it may have been caused by gunpowder being set off to dislodge coal and igniting coal dust. There were probably faults in the ventilation system. The inspector said that High Brooks was known to have safety problems following a previous fatal explosion in 1866, and the scale of mining activity had been reduced – he had thought the mine had been closed.

The explosion caused a huge rush of flame. Some of those at work escaped unscathed – having been in another part of the mine. About 24 were killed outright – the retrieval of their bodies taking most of the day. Others were injured, some very badly, and another 13 subsequently died. The dead included a father, his three sons, and his brother. Among those who were brought out alive but subsequently died was James Cayley, who lingered on until the morning of Saturday 3 April. About half a dozen drawers were killed, the youngest being 11 years old.

Sources: The Scotsman, 3 April 1869. 1869 Mines Inspectors Report, South West Lancashire and North Wales District by Peter Higson, H.M. Inspector of Mines, Page 36, Accident Number 28 (transcript on Durham Mining Museum website at


Charles Digby Cayley RN

One of the sons of 19th-century MP Edward Stillingfleet Cayley was Charles Digby Cayley (1827-1844). His life was a short one. After being educated at Eton, he joined the Royal Navy, and saw action on the Levant coast on HMS Rodney in 1840 in what is known as the ‘Oriental Crisis’. He was awarded a medal for his part  In May 1844 he was serving as a midshipman on a surveying steamer, HMS Shearwater. On 17 May it was stationed off Largs in the Firth of Clyde.

That day Charles Digby Cayley and a fellow midshipman William Jewell went out in a sailing boat. A sudden squall caused the boat to capsize as it was rounding the North end of the island of Cumbrae, and both of them were drowned. Another steamer, HMS Vulcan, rushed to the rescue but found only the two men’s caps.

On Cumbrae is a monument to them, with the inscription, “To the memory of Mr Charles D Cayley, aged 17 years and Mr William N Jewall, aged 19 years, Midshipmen of HMS Shearwater. Promising young officers, drowned in the upsetting of their boat near this place, 17 May, 1844. This monument is erected in token of their worth by: Captain Robinson and Officers of the above named vessel.”

The Oriental Crisis of 1840 was not something with which I was familiar, so I looked it up on Wikipedia. Muhammad Ali, who had taken control of Egypt from the Ottomans and had ambitions to seize much of the Ottoman Empire, had demanded parts of Syria in return for giving the Ottomans help against the Greeks in the Greek War of Independence. When, after that war ended, the Ottomans failed to hand over Syrian territory, he seized large parts of Syria. In 1839 the Ottomans tried unsuccessfully to recover the territory. In the summer of 1840 the whole Ottoman navy went over to Muhammad Ali. A few weeks later the major European powers offered Muhammad Ali Egypt, Sudan and the area round Acre provided he withdrew from the other areas he had occupied and agreed that his lands would nominally remain part of the Ottoman Empire.

When diplomacy failed to persuade Muhammad Ali to accept these terms, the French at first sided with him, but quickly changed their minds and supported the other European powers. In September 1840 Britain and Austria embarked on military action, blockading the Nile delta, shelling Sidon and Beirut, and capturing Acre. After this Muhammad Ali made peace, and agreed to reduce his army and navy, and handed back the main Ottoman fleet, with the agreement that he and his heirs would be hereditary rulers of Egypt and Sudan.

It was in naval actions of late summer 1840 that Charles Digby Cayley was involved. It all happened while Palmerston, known for gunboat diplomacy, was British Foreign Secretary.

To see how Charles Digby Cayley fits into the family tree, go to Low Hall Cayleys.