Friday, 3 June 2022

Update to ‘Descendants of Cornthwaite Ommanney’

An update of Descendants of Admiral Cornthwaite Ommanney is now available here. This incorporates all sorts of new discoveries, notably including details of Cyril Henry Ommanney’s distinguished WW1 career, with his account of his experiences on the Somme, followed by a cameo appearance (we believe) in a 1920s account by a young Indian doctor of his time in London, with whom he happened to share lodgings. 

It also reflects my stumbling across Augusta Becher’s Personal Reminiscences in India and Europe 1830-1888 (Constable & Co, London, 1930). Augusta was the daughter of Elizabeth Acworth Ommanney and Augustus Prinsep. She was born at sea in 1830 during Elizabeth’s return voyage to England, Augustus having just died of tuberculosis. Augusta recalls In detail her childhood experiences staying with her grandparents, Sir Francis and Georgiana Ommanney, her beloved uncle Edward Aislabie Ommanney, her mother’s difficult second marriage to Samuel Beachcroft, and the fate of her uncle Captain Walter Ommanney, previously known to us only through a dashing watercolour.

What it does not include is any information from the 1921 census. I have not yet had a chance to check this, and am frankly still somewhat seething at the decision to sell the rights to a private company who then get to charge us for access...

Saturday, 4 May 2019


I have tended to pay more attention to those Ommannies who remained on the eastern side of the Atlantic (or went further east still) than those who drifted in the other direction. As anyone who has googled the name will know, however, there are certainly Ommannies in North America. This is the partial story of one of the earliest of them. 

Arthur Ross Ommanney was born on 14 May 1854 in Surrey. In 1872, at the age of 17, he arrived in the USA, seemingly on his own. What was he doing there?

I had no real leads until I identified him as the ‘young Ommanney’ (no first name given) who features in the journal published by Allayne Beaumont Legard under the name Colorado (1872).  You can find a copy online at

 Legard was an Englishman who was serving in the army in Canada when he decided to embark on a three-month trip to Colorado. He arrived in New York in March 1872 intending to meet a friend, only referred to as ‘HPB’ in the journal but actualy Harry (later Sir Harry) Paul Burrard. On arrival, though, he found not Burrard but a stack of letters from him. Legard tracked Burrard down to St John, New Brunswick, where Burrard was supposedly looking after the 17-year old Arthur Ommanney (‘I all by myself, HPB positively declining coming even as far as New York, and saying that he had sent young  Ommanney, who had been entrusted to his care, on to Denver by himself… There is a beautiful mammoth hotel at St. John now, which is most reasonable in its charges. I, however, left it, and took up my quarters at a boarding house with young Ommanney, who had been entrusted by his confiding parents to the care of H.P.B. Had many and long talks with H.P.B. but failed to impress upon him that his conduct was in any way strange or different from what it should have been…’)

HPB (who was in St John to get married) somehow palmed Arthur off onto Legard permanently, and the pair then travelled on to Colorado.

The question is how Arthur had come to find himself alone in the US at that age. So far as we know, his parents were living in peaceful retirement in Putney.

They had an eventful trip to Colorado:

Left Denver at 7am on horseback…When we got in every atom of skin was blisterd off our faces, and Ommanney was nearly snow blind…

Ommanney went bull whacking to get a sack of flour, and encountered a ditch and a surly Yank. The former he had some difficulty in getting over. The latter utterly floored him, for seeing that he was new at work, with Yankee generosity stubbornly ignored the idea of helping him. He pointed out the bag of flour, and then collected his family to witness his (Ommanney’s) frantic struggles to get it to the waggon, while he indulged in sneering and vulgar remarks upon once having been an English gentleman himself, and the necessity of being able to work hard in this country. Ommanney, however, got the flour on the waggon and safe home…

Once in Colorado, Legard bought a 320-acre property in the Wet Moutain valley in Custer County, near Rosita. This he left in Ommanney’s hands when he returned to New York and embarked for Southampton in June 1872. (‘Got power of attorney correctly fixed up for Ommanney to act for me, and deposited it at the bank… Sorry to leave Ommanney to such a lonely occupation, but I think he really likes it. He is a good lad…’)

We do not know what happened to Arthur directly after that, but around 1880 he married Maria Wright. They had six children, the first born in Colorado in 1880. In 1890 there is a record of the family arriving back in the US after a transatlantic voyage from Glasgow. They were divorced in 1900 at Denver.

On 14 May 1907 married a Norwegian, Bertha Aandahl, and they had children.

By 1910 he was a chicken farmer at San Bernardino, California. In 1920 he was a miner living at Seattle. Arthur died on 1 March 1925 at Seattle.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

The 1929 Ommanney tree

Some time ago - so long that I had forgotten until I was recently reminded of it - I saw a listing in a library suggesting that they held a large Ommanney family tree from the early 20th century. I had for a while intended to motor down there and take a look, but I never quite got round to it. No matter. I have recently received a series of photographs of this same document from an Ommanney descendant who also has a copy (my thanks to Jayne, and her brother).

It has set several hares running and I will be producing an update of my document Descendents of Admiral Cornthwaite Ommanney shortly. Somehow, once you have a tip-off in genealogy, it is much easier to track down further details. And the 1929 tree is a hatful of tip-offs.

What is most striking is just how accurate it is. Of course, in 1929 they were closer to the action than we are now. But I can sit here calling up all sorts of documentation from the 18th to the 20th centuries at the touch of a button; they had to pack a dozen valises and jump into the Bentley for a weekend jaunt down to the library at Portsmouth to achive the same thing. And yet almost every new detail on the tree is backed up by all the evidence I can muster. It is most impressive.

Genealogical Table Showing the Descendants of John Ommanney
Produced by Henry Mortlock Ommanney, 1929

John Ommanney was Cornthwaite’s great-grandfather. It seems though that every more recent Ommanney can be traced back to Cornthwaite rather than to his brothers or uncles.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Rev. Edward Aislabie Ommanney

The portrait below has recently been made available by the National Portrait Gallery.

A number of other Ommannies are in their collection but not yet digitised. These include Honoria Catherine Ommanney and three more shots of Francis Downes Ommanney. I don’t know what their timetable is but it looks like they are working their way through them. If they are doing it alphabetically, we might expect them very soon.

BA (1827) / MA (1831) Exeter College Oxford 
Deacon: 20 December 1829, London
Curate: 22 December 1829, Mortlake
Priest: 19 September 1830, Cantebury
Perpetual Curate: 14 December 1832, Mortlake
Later Prebendary of Wells Cathedral (1848) and Rural Dean of Chew Magna (1850).
On 15 July 1841 he married Anna Catherine de Hochepied Larpent (20 June 1819 – 14 December 1893) at Wandsworth.
Author of Plain Advice to Persons who have been Lately Confirmed by the Bishop (1863). His advice probably did not extend to family planning, as he had twelve children between 1842 and 1861.
Died 21 January 1884. An obituary was published in The Times on 24 January 1884

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Mrs Nettleton's School: UPDATE

I have received a few helpful pointers following my previous post, most of all from Giles Colchester, a descendent of the Nettletons who knows more about the school than I expected to find out.

Courtesy of him, here are four picture of what Francis Ommanney called that "huge, red brick, hideous house and the level expanse of playing field that lay behind it":

It turns out that Mrs Nettleton's school at Stonefleet was destined to become Feltonfleet, which moved to Cobham, Surrey in 1917, to escape the airship bombs. It is still there. I ought to have known, as my brother-in-law was a pupil. It's funny how these things turn out. 

January 2019: a further update. For photographs of some of the Feltonfleet school sports teams from the 1908-1911 period, please see

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Mrs Nettleton's School, Folkestone: the class of 1911

I have an idea for something called Reverse Genealogy. Perhaps it already exists, but if so, I haven't found it.

Normally in genealogy you go looking for information on the people you are interested in. The limitation is that you can only ever hope to find things that are somehow directly connected with those names. 

In reverse genealogy, you have some information, and then you set about the fairly simple task of finding the people descended from those concerned, and then you wave it in their faces.

Here's an example. Francis Downes Ommanney wrote a detailed description of his school days at a boarding school in Folkestone in his autobiography The House in the Park. I found my way to this book rather easily, because it happened to be my (distant) relative who wrote it, and whose name pops up in the library catalogue.

But if you're descended from Ommanney's schoolmate Poulton Major you're very unlikely to find this material. Ommanney is hardly a household name, after all. Poulton Major and the account in the book cannot be linked by even the most painstaking genealogist, partly because the book is never read, but mostly because Poulton Major is a pseudonym. 

How do I know? Because they were at school when the 1911 census trundled past.

Here's the census of 2nd April 1911, with the seven year old Francis Ommanney, his brother, and the other boys:

It must have been Francis's first term, because his brother Owen is there, and Francis writes in the book 'Both my brother and his friend left at the end of my first term'.

What about those pseudonyms? Well, unfortunately the boys are generally anonymous, but the teachers appear in detail. The hierarchy of cook and matron and Headmaster is dutifully preserved in the census, and enables us to compile the following list:

CENSUS                                                                            BOOK
Harry Thomas Nettleton (Head):                                       'Old Mr Shuttleworth'
George Nettleton (son of HTN), born c.1871:                   'Edward Shuttleworth'
[His sister seems to have been absent for the 1911 census]
Caroline Wood (nurse - school matron), born c. 1875:      'Miss Watson'
Eliza King (cook), born c. 1877
Louisa Bird (housemaid), born c. 1883
Herbert Jeffery (teacher), born c.1876:                              'Mr Simpson'

There is just enough similarity between the pseudonyms and the real names (Nettleton/Shuttleworth; Wood/Watson) to reassure me I'm on the right track.

The pupils (and approximate birth year, based on ages) are:

Cecil Lillie (1898)
Guy Reeves (1902)
Ernest Ashworth (1900)
Joseph Badeley (1899)
Owen Ommanney (1899)
Basil Colchester (1900)
William Ashworth (1899)
Robert Ferrier (1900)
Harold Porter (Pater?) (1900)
Charles Porter/Pater (1901)
Ronald Selby (1900)
Llewellyn Jones (1901)
Raymond Wickham (1902)
Ronald Pitt (1902)
Francis Ommanney (1903)

It's tempting to hypothesise that Harold Porter might be the Poulton Major of the book, as he appears to have had a younger brother, and he is of an age with Owen Ommanney, and there is a similarity in the surname along the lines of those used for the adults. But perhaps that's a step too far.

FDO mentions in the book that there were about 40 pupils; it is not clear why there are only fifteen on the census sheet. (The next page of the census begins with a girls' school, but there is no indication in the book that it was a mixed school, so perhaps that was another institution down the road).

The Head's wife, Julia Browne ('old Mrs Shuttleworth'), does not appear in the census because she died in November 1910. This is recounted in FDO's book, as he met her on an earlier visit to the school.

The text of the school chapters are in the attached PDF.  If you're taken with it, the whole book can be found in online bookshops for a song.