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


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 http://www.dmm.org.uk/uknames/u1869-04.htm).


The Chaucer connection: bawdy trouble at the mill

“At Trumpyngtoun, nat fer fro Cantebrigge [Cambridge],/ There goth a brook, and over that a brigge [bridge],/ Upon the whiche brook there stant [stands] a melle [mill]….”

So begins one of the bawdiest of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, told by the Reeve, in which two students from Soler Hall – the future Trinity College, Cambridge to which so many Cayleys went – get the best of the greedy thieving miller, and one of them has sex with the miller’s daughter, the other with his wife. The plot is derived from a medieval French fabliau, which was also used for one of the tales of Boccaccio’s Decameron.

What connection could there be between this scurrilous and ribald tale and the Cayleys?

Trumpington is now on the outskirts of Cambridge; in medieval times it was a separate village. From the time of William the Conqueror until 1346 – less than 50 years before Chaucer wrote the Tales – it was held by members of the de Cailly family. In 1086 the manor of Trumpington was held by William de Cailly, one of the sons of Guillaume de Cailly who probably fought at the Battle of Hastings and who was rewarded with lands in East Anglia. One of his descendants, John de Cailly, who inherited the manor, died in 1314, leaving a six-year son, another John, who almost certainly died a minor. John de Cailly’s widow remarried – her second husband being John Barrington of Essex, who died soon after 1346: but before then – probably on John de Cailly’s death – Trumpington had passed into the hands of John de Cailly’s sisters Margaret and Agnes and their respective husbands John Ware and John Stanes.

Trumpington Mill dates back to before the Domesday Book, which records its existence as part of William de Cailly’s holding. The full Domesday Book entry reads, in modern English,

“In TRUMPINGTON William de Cailly holds 4 1/2 hides. Land for 5 ploughs. In lordship 2; 9 villagers with 4 smallholders have 3 ploughs. 1 mill at 20s; meadow for 5 ploughs; pasture for the village livestock; 4 ploughshares. The value is and was £6; before 1066 £7. Toki of Walton held this land from the Church of Ely in 1066; he could not grant, sell or separate it from the Church. Afterwards, Frederic, William’s brother, had this land.”

This is, incidentally, the only reference I have found to William de Cailly having a brother called Frederic. (The original Domesday Book wording is “Frederi fr[ater] Willi.’)

The mill no longer exists. In 1375, after Trumpington passed out of de Cailly hands, and shortly before The Reeve’s Tale was composed, one miller was killed. The last recorded mention of the mill as a working entity is in 1467; its ruins were said to be still visible in 1753.

[Sources: Domesday Book entry for Trumpington; Early Yorkshire Charters, Vol 7, ed. William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; Victoria County History – County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely vol.8; A Literary History of Cambridge by Graham Chainey, CUP 1985, revised ed. 1995.]

Obfuscations of Bird Painters

In Australia, one of the best-known Cayleys is not connected with the Cayley baronets: he is Neville William Cayley, a prolific painter of Australian birds and wildlife and author of what was, I think, the most popular Australian bird guide, editions of which were published over several decades – What Bird is That? (It was first published in 1931 and reissued as late as 1991.) But Neville William Cayley and his father – another bird painter, Neville Henry Peniston (or Penniston) Cayley – seem to have laid a number of false trails about the family origins.

Many sources state that Neville Henry Peniston Cayley was born in Dover, or on a ship off the town, and some add that his father was a sea captain. These stories appear to have emanated from Neville Henry Peniston Cayley himself, and his death certificate gives the place of his birth as “at sea off Dover”. Neville William Cayley himself is reported to have told an amateur historian that his paternal grandfather bought his way out of the Royal Navy.

The birth in or off Dover is a myth. And there is no evidence that Neville Henry Peniston Cayley’s father served in the Royal Navy.

Several other factors suggest that there may have been a deliberate concealment of the facts relating to the family origins. First, a trail seems to have been laid to suggest that he came to Australia in about 1880, a date given in a number of sources. A few sources give the immigration year as 1882. In fact it was 1877 (several of Neville Henry Peniston Cayley’s siblings came with him). Second, on arrival in Australia, the surname spelling was changed from Caley to Cayley. It has been stated that this was to distance the family from genteel Caley connections: this seems improbable, given the fact that so many Cayleys were linked to the Cayley baronets. Third, there was confusion about the date of Neville Henry Peniston’s birth: it is shown as 1853 in his death certificate but was in fact 1854. Finally, art catalogues etc give his third name variously as Peniston and Pennington.

The facts are firmly established. Birth, baptismal and census records show that Neville Henry Cayley was born and baptised in Norwich with the names Neville Henry Penniston Caley; his father was a silk mercer, Nathaniel Caley, who died in Norwich in 1867; and in 1871 he himself was working as an assistant draper in Norwich.

Neville Henry Peniston Cayley had a reputation as a hard-drinker, and it is possible that he was given to inebriated romancing about his origins. But my suspicious mind wonders whether there was a deliberate attempt to conceal the facts: whether something happened in Norwich which precipitated his emigration, along with two of his sisters and two of his brothers, to Australia and which he wanted to conceal or distance himself from. Is there some disreputable secret? Was there a big quarrel which split the family? If anyone can throw light on this, I would love to hear!


The Cayley banking interests in Stamford

Two Cayleys were partners in a bank based in Stamford, Lincolnshire: Edward Cayley (1782-1868) and his son George Cayley (1831-1891). For information about them, see A Banker’s Family.

The bank changed its name several times during its existence as an independent bank. It was founded as a private bank in 1800 by William Jackson and William Johnson, and was initially called Jackson and Johnson, or the Stamford and Rutland Bank. In those days, many banks, especially outside London, were run as partnerships and were relatively small affairs: they had often had formal business connections with other banks and with a bank in the metropolis.

In 1810, following William Jackson’s death, Stephen Eaton became a partner. In 1819, after the death of William Johnson, Edward Cayley bought in as a partner and the bank became Eaton & Cayley. Successive changes of partner led to further name changes, with the Cayley name still being included.

The bank seems to have survived the various 19th-century financial crises which led to the collapse of a number of private banks.

In 1861 George Cayley became a partner, with his father Edward remaining a partner until his death in 1868. In 1891, on George Cayley’s death, the bank lost its independence and was subsumed into the Stamford, Spalding & Boston Banking Co. Ltd. This bank was taken over by Barclays in 1911.

The bank’s main premises were in Broad Street, Stamford – and are still used as a branch of Barclays Bank. There were branch offices in some other towns in the area.

[Sources: Barclays Archives website – https://www.archive.barclays.com/items/show/5246 and https://www.archive.barclays.com/items/show/5239; John Orbell, British Banking: A Guide to Historical Records, pub. Ashgate Publishing 2001 and Routledge 2007, consulted at Google Books.]

The Runaway Nun

The baronets’ branch of the Cayleys descended from members of the family who made their main base in Yorkshire in later medieval times. But some Cayleys stayed in East Anglia, where the family had its original landholdings after the Norman Conquest.

In 1389 a nun called Margaret Cailly eloped from St Radegund’s Priory, Cambridge, whose site was taken over by Jesus College when it was founded in 1496. William Courtenay, Archbishop of Canterbury, found her and her partner living in the the Diocese of Lincoln during a visitation he made of the diocese. She had naturally cast off her nun’s habit and was in ordinary secular dress. William Courtenay apprehended her and parcelled off unceremoniously to the custody of John Fordham, Bishop of Ely, who in turn sent her back to St Radegund’s, with strict orders that the prioress was to keep the poor woman in close confinement and impose harsh penances on her.

It is perhaps ironic that St Radegund, after whom the priory was named, was forcibly married in the 6th century to a brutal Frankish ruler who had her brother murdered: she ran away and successfully sought the protection of the Church, founding a double monastery (one which had both male and female members – quite a common practice at the time). For Margaret Cailly the Church was hard and uncompassionate.

Margaret was almost certainly descended from members of the Cailly family who stayed in East Anglia.