William Askwith

This is my only family line with any renown at all. Captain John Hadden Askwith, Esq. (1782-1824), played a role in the Battle of Pulo Aura, a French attack on British merchant ships near Mauritius in 1804, and because of that victory his pockets were well-lined. John had spent a year imprisoned in Mauritius and was released in exchange for a French captain captured in the battle. John and his wife, Catherine Harrison, later spent a year in Madiera where he went to recover from various ailments picked up in the Mauritian prison. For his wife, John built Old Sleningford Hall (pictured below) in Ripon, Yorkshire, and they later rented the nearby Norton Coyers Estate, which was inspiration for Thornfield Hall of Jane Eyre fame. It’s pure speculation, but I imagine they did things like dress for dinner, hunt small game, and order people about. 24  July 2008 (Old Sleningford, Askwith, Ripon) 088Ac

24 July 2008 (Old Sleningford, Askwith, Ripon) 088Ac

John and Catherine were such big shots that they were given the great honour of being entombed under the altar at the All Saints Church in Pickhill, Yorkshire (below). They died relatively young, orphaning 9 children, all under the age of 12.


The captain’s second-born was John Hadden Askwith II, which would make a fantastic soap opera name. He was a Manchester surgeon and my 4th great grandfather. John II had a private practice at Brunswick Place,worked as surgeon for the Pendleton Colliery, and was an executive member of the Salford (Manchester) chapter of the Order of Oddfellows. I bet he knew some great secret handshakes.

Either he didn’t inherit much, or dressing for dinner every night at Sleningford Hall wasn’t sustainable, because when he died in 1861, he left just £300 to his second wife, Eliza Milnes. Measuringworth.com tells me that’s worth £25,000 pounds in today’s cash, but represents £654K in economic power, which is a tidy sum, but not a vast fortune upon which to build an empire.

Below is the current street view of about where he was living on Oxford St. at the time of his second marriage. Not bad.

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The first-born son of John Hadden Askwith II and his first wife Hanna Richardson was born in Manchester and christened at Manchester Cathedral in 1840. This was my 3rd great grandfather, William Askwith. His mother died shortly after his birth. His father remarried and had at least 14 more children: only two were still living by 1877, with at least eight having died in childhood, and the rest as teens or young adults.

William Askwith immigrated to Canada in 1858 and settled in Montreal. It’s possible he was a ‘remittance man’ whose wealthy family shipped him off to make way for other family members to inherit their wealth. Two of his half-siblings also came to Canada. His brother John came sometime later, probably in 1866. He married in Montreal in 1867 and died exactly one year later – William was a witness at both events. William’s half-sister Catherine died when her ship, the Anglo-Saxon (below), sunk off the coast of Cape Race, Newfoundland. It was 1863. She was 17 and I assume she was coming to join her brother. She was a cabin passenger, and it’s likely she had cash and other valuables stowed on her person, which would have also met a watery fate.


John Hadden Askwith II’s children that made it to adulthood: 3/15

In 1859 in Montreal, at the age of 19, William Askwith married Margaret Quinn, an illiterate Catholic woman who was born in Ireland and about whom very little is recorded. They were married in St. George’s Anglican church. Their first few children were baptized in the Anglican church and later baptized by their mother in the Roman Catholic church – I guess she wasn’t one to hedge her bets. Their later children were just baptized Catholic. In census forms, William always identified himself as being of the Church of England, while the rest of his family were Roman Catholic.

William’s oldest daughter was Hannah Askwith, my great-great grandmother. She had at least 9 siblings, but between 1877-1890, 7 of her siblings and her mother died. I’m not sure what they all died from, but I know there was a smallpox epidemic in the 1880s in Montreal, so I’m guessing that had something to do with their untimely demises.


William Askwith and Margaret Quinn’s children that made it to adulthood: 3/12 (with 3 having died in their late teens)

Although he’d been born into a well-to-do family, it seems he didn’t bring much of that money with him. He and his large family lived in St Antoine’s Ward in Montreal, parts of which were rather swish. It looks like the Askwiths tended to live closer to St Anne’s and further from Mont Royal – so they weren’t in such a upmarket area, but they weren’t exactly in shanties. Around 1886 he purchased a home on Canning St, which remained in the family for 30 more years. In the 1911 census William earned $700. According to inflation, that’s only $17,500 as a foreman machinist, but he did have a servant living with him and she made $100, so inflation calculator is a bit suspect. Either way, he certainly didn’t die with the money he was born into. Although he wasn’t wealthy, he was almost certainly educated. In 1879 he submitted a patent for a water-powered pulley system, seen below.


Although his siblings, wife, and children often died very young, William himself lived to the respectable age of 76. His nephew, Percy Taugher recounted an early boyhood recollection of William’s funeral in which a horse-drawn black-creped hearse carried the coffin; the horses were decorated with large black plumes (a similar ride is pictured below). The family, including young Percy, walked behind on a warm May day. Percy remembered wearing dressed up short pants for the occasion. At age 3, he was too young to qualify for long pants.


William was buried in Notre Dame de Neiges cemetery aside his wife, who had died 32 years earlier, and a number of their children. For him to have been buried there at the time, he would have had to convert to Catholicism. He would have also had the option to be laid to rest beside his half-brother in the Mont-Royal Protestant cemetery on the other side of the fence. This is their original headstone, which has since been replaced.


Though certainly with a lion’s share of  grief, with so many of his loved ones dying young, William lived a fascinating and adventurous life. Long after her death, his wife remained dear to him, and by all account his family was loyal and close-knit.  Although he financial legacy did not live on, his life story has endured.

(I’m extremely grateful for my “cousin” Howard Askwith’s help and information. His inexhaustible interest in family history is invaluable. Any errors or omissions are entirely my fault, not his)







The Jugglers’ Children Book Club Questions


  1. The author goes to great lengths to find out about her mysterious family – she uses DNA from many people, travels to India and Jamaica, spends exhaustive hours looking up records, etc. Can you relate to her quest to learn about her past?


  1. There are two main family tree branches that are discussed in this book (The Captain and the Juggler). Which one did you find more interesting? Did you prefer one over the other?


  1. Did the two family stories complement each other by highlighting similarities, or did the book seem more fragmented by the inclusion of both?


  1. Similarly, did you find yourself wondering about the other branches?


  1. History is told by the victors. It seems like the science of DNA as well as genealogical records also reflect this. What are some examples in the book that bring up issues of race, sex, conquest, enslavement, etc.?


  1. While there are two family tree branches discussed in the novel, there is also a lot of information about genetic genealogy and inheritance. Did this add to or detract from the book for you?


  1. At times the characters in the book are larger than life and mysterious. Did the book read a bit like fiction to you? Had it been a work of fiction, do you think it would have been believable?


  1. There are many examples of a disparity between family lore and scientific fact (i.e. Stephen’s family history of Native American ancestry, but his lack of NA markers; Paul Crooks’ research leading him to Africa while he has a European Y; Roberta Estes’s found and lost and found brother. etc.) Do you think one should carry more weight than the other – what’s more important: science or history?


  1. The book says that the results do not exist in a vacuum and reveal information about more people than just the test-taker… There were also cases where the results were surprising/traumatic/shameful… do you think the genetic genealogist has the responsibility to reveal scientific truth or hide “surprises”? Would you want to know about “surprises”?


  1. Carolyn Abraham requested DNA from a number of people. Their responses were quite varied, ranging from enthusiasm, mild interest, trepidation, etc. (in fact, quite a few people didn’t even want to discuss the past full stop)– how do you think you would respond to such a request? What misgivings (if any) do you have for testing DNA?


  1. At times Carolyn Abraham goes to great lengths to find DNA – even contemplating exhumation. Her father thinks it’s a no brainer and not a big deal, while her mother has a very different view. What do you think?


  1. There are a few examples of big coincidences in the book. Were you surprised by these or do you think that these things are bound to happen (i.e. discover Paul Crooks’ book and his Y, the patient of Aunt Doris that knew their family in Jamaica, etc.)?


  1. Were you satisfied with the ending? Although Carolyn Abraham found out a lot of information about her family background, she hasn’t found many close relations or solid facts. Do you think she’s found out more since the book was written (especially considering the rate at which genetic technology is progressing)?