Tales from Warren Farm – an occasional series

Part 1: Frances’s story

I expect you have heard of adult workhouses, but have you ever wondered what happened to the children? Well, in Brighton some of them would have gone to Warren Farm Industrial School. One such child was Frances Mary Ann Sinclair and she was admitted to Warren Farm on 7th December 1866. She was 7 years old.

In 1861 she had been living in Victoria Street, Brighton with her father William, mother Rebecca and four older brothers. William was a 48 year old waiter and Rebecca was aged 38. Sadly, it seems that Rebecca died in 1864 and William died in 1865. Poor Frances was an orphan and this is probably why she went to Warren Farm. I doubt if she could have imagined how her life would turn out, but it is quite a story.  

The Warren Farm register shows that she left on 18th May 1874, to go to New Zealand! I discovered that she went there on an assisted emigration. She travelled on board the ship “Corona”, leaving the UK on 23rd May and arriving in New Zealand on 28th August. Her occupation was listed as domestic servant.

I did get confused by some of the information given on ancestry.com. But eventually I realised that somewhere along the line, when she was in New Zealand, the name Sinclair had become St Clair.

Frances had her first child, Bertram, in 1879. By now, she was 20 years old and unmarried. However, she married Richard Gee in 1881 and went on to have 7 daughters and 2 more sons. Her youngest child, Margaret, was born in 1902 when she was 42 years old. Richard died in 1908. Sadly, all of her sons also predeceased her. Richard Henry (who was aged 27) and William (who was 22) died on the same day, 21st September 1916, in France. Their service records say that they went missing on that date; the court of enquiry in 1917 determined that they had been killed in action in the field. Bertram died in 1918, in Dunedin.

Frances herself died in 1937, in Christchurch New Zealand, aged 77.

Tales from Warren Farm – an occasional series

Part 2: Charles, the bad bandsman

My colleague Clive Reedman discovered that quite a few of the boys who were sent to Warren Farm ended up in military bands. This is the story of one of them, Charles Wraxall.

We know from the creed register (which records the religion each inmate followed) that Charles was sent to Warren Farm on 21 December 1882. He was transferred from the workhouse. However, from the 1881 census returns we know that he was also at Warren Farm in 1881, along with his younger brother Horace. Moving in and out of Warren Farm was not that unusual, as the records show many children being discharged and then readmitted at a later date.

I have not been able to find out any information about Charles’s background or his parents, but his Royal Naval record is a wonderful source of information, even down to his physical appearance! He formally signed up on 27 May 1886 for a ten year period, aged 18. At the time, he was 4 feet 9¾ inches tall with light hair, grey eyes and a fair complexion. We even know that he had a small scar on his left cheek.

His occupation on board his first posting, HMS Lion, was a bandsman. His first ten years in the Navy went well, serving on various ships and moving up the ranks. His conduct was always good or very good. He re-enlisted on 29 September 1896, by which time he had grown to 5 feet 4½ inches tall. In March 1989 he joined HMS Terrible, and it was here that things started to go (terribly?) wrong. He was court-martialled in January 1900 for theft, sentenced to 6 months hard labour and discharged from the Navy.

But he seems to have recovered from this setback because there are records of Chas Wraxall working on the ship Orizaba in 1901, 1902 and 1903. The records were made in Sydney Australia, when the ship docked there. In 1901 he is listed as a bandsman. By 1902 he’s the bandmaster, with 7 other band members on one voyage and 6 on the other. In 1903 he’s still the bandmaster, with 7 others in the band. 

However, Charles’s bad side reappeared in 1903. His Royal Navy record has a note that he was charged with attempting to shoot a police constable. The Western Morning News reported on 27 October 1903 that Charles (now calling himself Charles Welles) had been committed for trial, charged with the attempted murder of PC George Hannaford. He apparently fired two shots, which both missed. After he had been arrested and taken to the police station, he was judged to be suffering from delirium tremens. His trial was on 16 November (this time the newspaper calls him George Wills or Wells – there are two reports and two names). The jury found him guilty, but that he was not responsible for his actions because of the delirium tremens. The Judge sentenced him to be detained during His Majesty’s pleasure.

From here on, the picture is unclear. I cannot find any records for Charles (or Chas) Wraxall from 1903 onwards. Intriguingly, George Wills appears regularly on transatlantic voyages working as a baker throughout the 1920s. Perhaps that was Charles … 


Warren Farm Creed Register



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