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Posts Tagged ‘Captain Matthew Webb’

Records are so sparse for nineteenth century Ireland that we may never know much about our Beatty ancestors before the emigration to Melbourne in 1878.

While awaiting the outcome of an upgrade from 37 to 67 markers on our DNA test which may or may not help find out more, I’ve been pondering the usefulness of the only surviving family anecdote about the first known James Beatty. HAP was told that his Great Grandfather James Beatty, father of the James Beatty who came to Australia, was a strong swimmer who “used to swim with Captain Webb”. HAP will have been told this by his father Archie because HAP himself was a strong swimmer and the school breaststroke champion. His proud father probably saw it as an hereditary trait. Sadly HAP was told (or remembered) nothing else about his Great Grandfather. ¬†Archie has a credibility issue as he was the source of the (since debunked) rumour of our close relationship to Admiral Beatty. However I think the Captain Webb thing may have a grain of truth. Why would Archie have known otherwise that there was a west coast of Ireland connection to Captain Webb? At least one whole book (“The Crossing” by Kathy Watson) has been written about the famous Channel swimmer which doesn’t mention that he ever went to Ireland at all. David Elderwick in “Captain Webb : Channel swimmer” says “A trip to the Faroe Islands as Chief Officer of the ‘Ballina’ and a six-month spell as captain of the steamship ‘Emerald’ preceded Webb’s departure for new pastures … His employers were sorry to see him go. The rapid passages he had made between Liverpool and Ballina on the west coast of Ireland had boosted the company’s trade considerably.” Terry Reilly in “Ballina : a storied place…” says “Captain Matthew Webb became the first man to swim Killala Bay in 1874, from the Enniscrone (Sligo) side to the Kilcummin (Mayo) side. He boasted to fellow drinkers in McDonnells Pub on Bridge Street (now the Bolg Bui) that he would buy them all a drink after successfully completing his Channel challenge.” http://www.everytrail.com describing the “Yeats country drive” claims that “Captain Matthew Webb used the lake [Lough Gill] as part of his training for the feat [his Channel swim]. He was a friend of W.B. Yeats grandfather who lived in the area”. Lough Gill is close to Sligo town and it turns out that Yeats’ grandfather was William Pollexfen of Sligo town, one of the largest ship-owners in Sligo and the grateful employer of Captain Matthew Webb as mentioned above.

Anyway, for the lack of much other evidence I’m going to explore the possibility that our gg grandfather did know Captain Matthew Webb. It doesn’t matter whether he swam with him or was just a fellow drinker at the pub, this would mean that he was still alive in 1874 and lived a short buggy ride from either Lough Gill and Sligo town or (more likely) Ballina. Have a look at County Sligo in google maps to see what I mean. We know (from the marriage certificate of his son James who was born in county Fermanagh in 1842) that he was a farmer. By the dob of his (eldest?) son, he must have been in his 50s when he “swam with Captain Webb” who was much younger. HAP was a formidably strong swimmer into late middle age too though.

So James and his family evidently left county Fermanagh (in the 1840s or 1850s?) to farm near either Ballina or Sligo town. This probably isn’t surprising either as a lot of people moved around during and after the potato famine. HAP said the swim was “across Sligo Bay”, but, never having been to Ireland he may have meant Killala Bay. Whichever bay it was, that’s a smaller haystack to examine for our elusive ancestors. At the moment I think Ballina more likely. That’s where James’ son James set up his drapery business and his brother (or another son?) Archibald was a storekeeper/auctioneer in the 1870s. Also, Peg Beatty went to Enniscrone and Ballina in the 1950s expecting to find Beatty relations there. Surely this was because her father had lead her to believe they would be there?

What do you think? I think I feel another trip to Ireland coming on.

 

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