Dear Bernard, I think that the attached email will interest
you. I don’t agree with all of the assertions and statements, but I think
that this might fill in on some details of a case which you have covered in
your book on
Message Received: Nov 16 2008, 03:11 PM
From: "Roland Green"
Subject: William COLCHESTER
Thank you for responding to my query to the Suffolk Mailing List about William COLCHESTER and your follow up
message. I have used a different e-mail address as I have difficulty in doing certain things with the Tiscali system.
Sorry about the double spacing towards the end of the message.
To start with the easy part, I am not related to Roland Green the bird painter, as far as I know. I will contact you
to ask permission before publishing any part of your e-mail or putting it on the internet though I don’t expect a
situation to arise where I wish to use more than the odd snippet or two of it. I am interested in William’s
connections with Searles WOOD and John Bennet LAWES.
My interest in William COLCHESTER has only arisen in the last few months and is part of my research into the
death of my great grandfather’s little sister. Rose Ann SARE was 9 years old when she was killed by a cliff fall
whilst looking for coprolites on Bawdsey beach on the afternoon of Thursday 19 November 1846. Incidentally,
the surname developed into SAYER and my mother was christened Mary SAYER.
John WOOD jun. was the Woodbridge Coroner at the time and instructed the local constable to get enough
men together to form a jury for an inquest to be held at the Star Public House, Bawdsey the following morning,
Friday 20 November 1846 at 11.00 a.m. In my opinion, he (Mr. WOOD jun.) didn’t hang about.
The first I knew of Rose Ann’s death was from a small
booklet entitled “Sudden Deaths in
Leslie & Doreen Smith. The small part of it pertaining to Rose Ann said that she was picking up coprolites on the
sea shore at Bawdsey with two friends who gave evidence to the Coroner’s inquest as follows:
“We were in the habit of collecting coprolites on the beach. We were paid a shilling a bushel for them. Rose Ann
was picking up coprolites. At the spot where she was, the cliff was upwards of twenty feet high.
We believe she was close under the cliff. We were four or five yards from her with our backs turned towards her.
We heard part of the cliff fall and could nowhere hear her. We gave immediate alarm and sent for her father.
Her father and three other men came as soon as they could and dug away the sand but she was quite dead. She
was not digging a hole but merely picking up the coprolites at the edge of the cliff.”
A verdict of Accidental Death was returned.
When I first read the foregoing, my thoughts were that the two friends referred to were probably children of
about the same age as Rose Ann. However, subsequent research including a visit to Ipswich Record Office
where I had details of the inquest photocopied and investigations of my own revealed that they were Emma
Ransby aged about 21 years and Maria Wilson aged about 20 years.
I should like to draw your attention to the part of the girls’ evidence where they say, “she was not digging a
hole but merely picking up coprolites at the edge of the cliff.” Maybe a juror asked a relevant question that
produced that answer but if not, I see no reason for them to mention the fact. Will come back to that later.
As John WOOD jun. set up the inquest with such alacrity, I decided to find out more about him. My initial
research via the internet was largely fruitless until I began to investigate other members of his family;
especially his brother Searles Valentine WOOD sen. I expect you are already aware that Searles V. WOOD
was an important palaeontologist of the time, winning the Wollaston medal in 1860 for his work, “A Monograph
of the Crag Mollusca”. Charles Darwin had won the award the previous year for “On the Origin of Species”.
Over the past five or so years, I have considered other theories about Rose Ann’s death but those were put to
one side when I came across the following on the Google Booksearch website. It is an excerpt from a book or
magazine called “The Technologist” edited by Peter Lund Simmonds and published by Kent & Co. In 1861.
“Coprolites were first discovered in this part of the country about the year 1846. A celebrated artificial manure
manufacturer was walking with a gentleman on Bawdsey beach and picked some coprolites up that had been
washed out of the crag cliffs. Finding it contained manuring properties, he requested this gentleman to employ
children to pick it up. This continued about two years, when one day the children had picked some out of the
cliffs so far under that the crag slipped in and killed a little girl. At the inquest the jury wanted to know what
coprolite was; the consequence was, farmers discovered that their crag pits were full of it, and some began to
dig for it, selling to the same gentleman at about £1 per ton.
The manufacturer had obtained a patent, but, it being infringed, he brought an action and lost it; and then
everyone was allowed to manufacture it into manure.”
The article goes on to describe the beneficial effects of the discovery of the usefulness of coprolite to the local
population but I have left that out in the interests of brevity. My first thoughts on seeing that a little girl had
been killed by the slipping of the crag was that Rose Ann was probably the child involved. The piece backs up
what the girls at the inquest said about their being paid to collect coprolite but appears to be at odds with their
assertion that Rose Ann was not digging.
Now to consider the celebrated artificial manure manufacturer and the gentleman referred to. I will begin with
the gentleman who I believe may have been Searles V. WOOD sen. I may be on shaky ground here as I have no
hard evidence to back that up but he would qualify to be referred to as a gentleman under the terminology of
those days, one who didn’t have to work. He had retired from his position in a bank at Hasketon to pursue his
hobby. That hobby could also result in him being on the beach at Bawdsey fairly frequently.
As to the celebrated artificial manure manufacturer, several names have come to my attention including
John Bennet LAWES and William
applied to the former whose known liking for resorting to legal means would also tie in with his taking
legal action after his patent had been infringed. I feel that it is significant that he was able to persuade
the gentleman concerned, whoever that was, to employ children to collect the coprolites.
While I appreciate that employing children might not have been frowned upon in a legal sense in the way
that it would be nowadays, I also feel that the good opinion of their peers would be of more importance to
men of the rank of Searles V. WOOD in those days. That, while repeating my admission that identification
of Searles WOOD as possibly being the gentleman concerned has yet to be proved, gives me my best reason
so far for thinking that his brother John WOOD Jun. might have wished to get the inquest into Rose Ann’s
death out of the way as quickly as possible.
I looked for a link between John Bennet LAWES and Searles WOOD but was unable to find one. At the time, I
was spending a lot of time searching the Google Booksearch website and eventually realised that William
myself to showing links to Searles WOOD. The first is from the Google Booksearch website and the second is
from the website indicated. As both pieces are dated 1839, my guess is that they possible refer to the same event.
The British quadrumane was discovered in 1839, by Messrs. William Colchester and Searles Wood, at Kyson,
Annals of Nat. Hist. No. xxiii. Nov. 1839.)***
containing very definite information that S. V. WOOD and William COLCHESTER were acquainted.
Letter from S. V; Wood, Esq., late Curator to the Geological Society, announcing the discovery of
Fossil Quadrumanous Remains, near
Woodbridge, . Suffolk
13 Bernard St., Aug. 21, 1839.
Hearing from Mr. Lyell that a mammiferous tooth had been obtained by Mr. Wm. Colchester, from a clay-pit
Kingston, near , I was naturally desirous of visiting the spot, which I did, not without a slight Woodbridge
hope of finding something more, or at least, of inducing a farther search to be undertaken. The bed in which
the tooth was found lies immediately beneath a stratum of blue clay, which is used by Mr. Colchester in
making bricks; but as the digging and working are only carried on during the winter, I was fearful that
little could be done before that period. Hearing however from one of the men that a heap of sand, lying near
the pit, had been thrown aside from those beds, I prevailed on Mr. Colchester, who was with me, to employ a
boy to sift and search it, thinking it would probably yield something for the trouble, having myself, in the
course of a few minutes, found several fishes 1 teeth upon the surface. I am happy to say that I have since
received a letter from Mr. Colchester, accompanied by a fossil, of which the annexed is a faithful representation.
The specimen has been examined by Mr. Owen, who has kindly undertaken to give his opinion respecting it,
in a paper to accompany the present communication.”
I haven’t finished yet but to sum up my ideas on a possible reason for John Wood Jun. wishing to get the
inquest into Rose Ann’s death out of the way quickly, there is firstly, the situation that Searles Wood Sen.
may have been paying children to collect coprolite on behalf of another person. Secondly, if true, that
might not reflect well on John WOOD himself. Finally, there is the possibility that the artificial manure
manufacturer may have prevailed upon John WOOD to keep things quiet. At the moment, I am tending
towards thinking that William COLCHESTER was more likely to be an intermediary between J. B. LAWES
and Searles WOOD though I could be proved wrong there.
Next, I should like to consider a point from your e-mail. Do you think it is pure coincidence that the
two schooners owned or part owned by William COLCHESTER should be named The Rose and The Ann? He
doesn’t seem to have named any of his other ships after girls’ names and I wonder if that was his way of
remembering the little girl who died at Bawdsey. Of course, if the ships were named before 1846, it would
remove that possibility.
Finally, a few days ago, I came across a contribution you posted to the Suffolk List on 4 Aug 2005 under the
subject heading, Migration. It looks to be in answer to someone else’s original query. I have copied and
pasted the relevant paragraph below with the part that really interests me in red.
“The coprolites were mined from about 1840 to 1890. There were quarried over most of
, particularly East Anglia
in the red crag in
Suffolk(and off the coast) and greensands strata. Coprolites were more quarried than Cambridge
mined - in the sense of it being open cast. To avoid the costs associated with mining on health and safety (eg
Quarries Act 1894), they tended not to mine lower than 20 feet, so that the relevant legislation did not apply.
However it was just as dangerous. The normal way to extract the coprolite was to did into a sandy cliff at the
bottom until it collapsed. That way all the sand with the coprolites was broken up making it easier to shovel up.
As you can imagine people were entombed all to often. Wages for coprolite digging were often better than for
agricultural work - but that isn't saying much as there was a severe agricultural depression between about 1880
and the first world war.”
Part of the article in The Technologist says, “one day the children had picked some out of the cliffs so far under
that the crag slipped in and killed a little girl”. Though the paragraph above probably refers to how adults would
have dug for coprolite, children can be very quick to copy their elders. Is it out of the question that they might
have taken turns to be the one to cause the cliff to collapse. Given the hazardous nature of each operation, it
would make sense if only one person/child was at risk at any given time . As far as I know, no other children were
injured or worse which might indicate that only one child was digging at the time.
As I may have already hinted, I favour the article in The Technologist as opposed to the evidence given to the
inquest by Emma Ransby and Maria Wilson and that is in regard to two significant points. I think Rose Ann
probably was digging and that other children were with her. I would even go so far as to question whether
Emma and Maria were even on the beach at the time and certainly whether they were actually with Rose Ann.
If there is anything in my theory about someone paying the children to collect the coprolites, might the
people concerned prefer to have two young adults giving evidence rather than one or more talkative nine
year olds – no telling what the latter might come out with. The thought that Emma and Maria may have been
paid to give the evidence they did has occurred to me.
Well, I think that’s about it for the time being. and I must congratulate you on the thoroughness of your research.