Twelve: A Sister Of Mother's Took The First Boy
I came back to the fray after two years' absence, in 1997. In the interim, wills had become too expensive, and more and more people had started to go ex-directory. But something else had happened which was to speed me up. The internet had arrived, with its search engines, its meta-search engines, its catalogues, and its remarkable access to documents. Several possibilities opened up. But first, I had the two nagging problems left over from my previous forays. What had happened to the Tom Carruthers branch of Ellen's family, about which I had so much information? And where was Alan Bishop in all this?
I had lost the Bishop trail in Bristol, in the suburb of Keynsham. At one point, I actually visited the house where his parents, Nora Brown and Kenneth Bishop, had finally lived. But none of the neighbours had twenty-year memories. The internet offered me the chance to search for Alan Bishops, or even A Bishops. There was a slew of them. I started to work my way laboriously through the A Bishops, great screeds of them. Every phone call was a dud, sometimes to the disappointment of the person receiving the call. The phrase “family researcher” was now no longer so off-putting. Most people genuinely wanted to help. But after twenty-eight phone-calls, even my patience collapsed like a fatal soufflé.
However, I needn't have waited two years to perform my next trick, which was one I had once tried before. On his father's death certificate, Alan was the informant, and he gave his home address. He certainly wasn't there any more - I'd tried that immediately. However, in 1994 I had located one errant Hallewell by a piece of low cunning. I had been given a description, although not the name, of the road in which this particular Hallewell - John William Hallewell, known as both Willie and Bill, and the great-grandson of the rogue mariner - had lived. It was in Hayes. So I'd rung Hayes library, and asked if they could identify the road from the description. It's amazing how helpful people can be. There seemed to be only one possible road. I knew that my quarry had lived “at one end of the road”. That suggested a low or high number. After a little thought, I rang Hayes library back, and asked if they could give me the names from the electoral roll of the people living at either end of the road in question. This they did.
One of the people named had a telephone number. I phoned her, and, struggling as usual not to seem like the most barking of barkers, I asked her if she knew of a William Hallewell who had once lived in that street. Yes indeed she had. She had been at school with him. I wrote to her with a stamped addressed envelope (the best weapon in the armoury), and asked if she would let me know if anyone in Hayes now knew where he lived. A week later, I had his new address, in a new county, and a telephone number to match.
Hold on then. I had managed this with the missing Hallewell. And here I was with more than a speculative address for Alan Bishop. I had an actual address, somewhere he had once lived. It was near Sudbury, in Suffolk. I rang the local libraries until I tracked down the electoral roll. Who lived, please, in 3 Armstrong Close, Hundon? They gave me the names without a problem. Electoral roll; telephone directory. Yes, there was a number. I rang it. The person who answered was very friendly, was keen on family research herself. It transpired that she'd bought the house from Alan Bishop in 1983. This was getting warmer. But she didn't know where he'd moved, exactly. Colder. Somewhere in the Lake District? Better. She would ask her neighbours and see what she could do.
That Sunday, the phone rang. “Hello,” said another disembodied voice. “I'm Alan Bishop. I believe you're looking for me.” My brain scrambled.
“We're related,” I explained. His mother had been a Nora Brown? Yes. Her mother had been a Jane Redman Collin. Yes, he knew that. And her mother had been an Elizabeth Greenwell. No, he hadn't known that (although he subsequently discovered the marriage certificate in his loft!) That means, I said, since her uncle was my great-great-great-grandfather, he was - he was - my fourth cousin once removed. I explained what I was doing, and the Brown family fell quickly and quietly into place.
Elizabeth Greenwell's first child - and George Greenwell's first grandchild - Jane Redman Brown, née Collin, in 1912, with, L-R, Alice Brown, Nora Brown, her husband James Wallis Brown, Arthur Brown, and Frank Brown. Her husband has been named after the Nottingham Church of Christ publisher; Arthur was to become Principal of the Church of Christ's college in Selly Oak, Birmingham. It is probable that James was a cousin of some kind of Jane's father, George Collin, a leading light in the Church of Christ.
Alan, his brother Arthur, and his cousins Richard and Ian all contacted me over the next few months, with photographs and documents, of which the most remarkable was a memoir written by Jane Redman Brown, née Collin, in 1946, at the age of eighty. This was “Aunt Jinny”, the relative remembered by the Carruthers sisters in Carlisle. Now she could speak to me.
Jane Collin begins her memoir formally, conscious at first that this is a sort of public document:
In a large city in Lancashire on a May day when my parents were moving from one house to another, I made a hurried advent into this wonderful world where I have lived over 80 years. Like most first babies I was a nonsuch tho I've heard my father say "I seemed anxious to show off my vocal powers when other folk wanted to sleep", however I soon got over that & found out the correct sleeping hours. I soon learned to talk & one of the first sentences father taught me whenever we passed a public house was "naughty
beer shops" so you may assume I am a staunch teetotaller.
This was no surprise. The independent churches to which the Greenwells had belonged were very strong on the issue of temperance. I even had a temperance certificate - the pledge - signed by my great-great-great grandfather. Her brother, yes, George Collin, was similarly teetotal, and he was not best pleased when his first daughter married a brewery manager (1). And here was George's birth:
When I was 2 years old a little brother arrived, & when he was a few months old father changed his business firm & we moved to a more northern city -
I knew about this, too. George Collin, Elizabeth Greenwell's husband, had gone into the business of being a clothier, after spending time as a commercial traveller. Now I could see that the family had moved to Carlisle from Liverpool. But the rest of the sentence provided me with another twist:
three years later I had another brother & our mother soon after died, a sister of mother's took the first boy home with her,& a friend near by offered to take the baby. Father could not do without Jane. So I was left home.
Another brother. I had missed this one, entirely. The sister is Ellen Carruthers, who is also in Carlisle. What had become of the baby, then? Who was he? Another search loomed. I guessed that this might be the Gilbert Collin who was written into his father's will, but who was not on the census in 1881. It was another line I'd have to trace.
Now there is some trouble in George Collin's family, with a servant who has her eye on taking Elizabeth's place.
We had a nice maid & soon a housekeeper was engaged who was not very satisfactory & some twelve months later when father told her he would not require her after a certain date as he was going to get married again she flew into a paddy & said she expected him to marry her. She came with that end in view so she packed up and went at once. Before going she told me "always to go to Sarah (the maid) if I wanted anything, to take no notice of my new mama as she could only be unkind to me". So when that lady appeared I ignored her altogether which made her & my father very unhappy for a time, however I finally told them what Miss Martin had said & we made friends. The boy [this is George Collin junior] just looked at her a minute then said "Oh what a pretty mamma." His place was made, she always had a soft place for him. Then she had the baby home [Gilbert Collin is retrieved], so started her married life with three children. She looked a frail little lady, but was devoted to father, bore him 6 children, 4 boys & two girls, & outlived him a good many years.
By now I was beginning to grasp how central the church was, not only to George Greenwell, but also to his four daughters. I knew from Jean Beddow that she and her sisters had been brought up in the Church of Christ in Carlisle. Jean (who had in fact eventually married an Anglican vicar) had talked to me about how spartan or “primitive” it had been - “No piano. We just had a tuning fork. If we hit the wrong note, we had to start all over again.” Dora's grandchild, Nancy Shaw, had gone to a Church of Christ Sunday School in Australia. I was also realising that the daughters had met their husbands, certainly in the case of George's daughters, through the Church of Christ (Robert's youngest daughter Emily had also married Walter Knight in a Church of Christ ceremony, so George had plainly had some influence over, or shared beliefs with his brother). Where the men went, they founded churches:
When first we came north, Father, who was a Christian man& a baptised believer joined a man of like faith, & they started meeting in an upper room. We went, there was a lane over the entrance of which was hung a notice "Meeting House" to a good sized room up a stair I think had been built for a dance hall but now used for a better purpose on Sundays anyway. Perhaps it was otherwise used during the week, I don't know, it had a lot of forms that could easy be gathered into one corner with a table and three chairs for the president & deacons. I was quite a little girl when a chapel was built & the upper room given up, at the same time we moved to a house at the same end of the city as the new Chapel about ten minutes walk so it was easy for us all. Sunday dinner was all prepared on Saturday, so all could be left in the oven & we were always ready for a visitor should there be any such at Service. The babies were started right off to go to Chapel, & if they began cooing & prattling never disturbed father but were often a source of amusement & other youngsters of which we had a goodly number coming in.
Our cause did well there & flourished. We often had a visiting preacher to entertain. No rationing. We could have a good sized salmon boiled & cold for supper with a nice salad,
(not lettuce at 2/- each) or a good piece of ham boiled or a fowl. Those were the good old days, & my father was a very hospitable man, & he was a splendid preacher & much sought after.... We had a big garden & lawn where we could play croquet. Any of
our friends were welcome to join us & we generally had plenty of company. Most of the leading men in our Church connexion were visitors at our house at some time & many were the stories& arguments we listened to.
Jane Redman Collin looks back on herself with amused modesty (she entitles her memoir “Plain Jane”, when it is clear from all the photographs of her that she was a striking and unusual looker). The last part of her life story rockets her back to her early loves, and to ideas of marriage in particular. She summons up one conversation with great glee (by the end of her piece, she has unwound, has become much more intimate, is enjoying what she writes far more). She recalls a visit to Scotland (not very far), where she is a bridesmaid, the comedy of a marriage she witnessed, and the tale of an unwanted proposal (she was evidently known as Jean, incidentally):
Father married them. I fairly got-off with the "best man" but a month later he died very suddenly. Considering I was only an ordinary plain girl I had quite a lot of attention as I grew up. Oh: I think I must tell of another visitor we had, a French
gentleman. He was a missionary & travelled a good deal. I think he was a widower, but recently married again. One day he told me about his romance. He took a pianist
about with him to play at his missions, after a little time she suggested it would be cheaper for him if they got married. He thought that would be a good way of securing her as she was a very good pianist. So they got married & immediately after she declined to go round playing for him& "he was very disappoint" but (with a chuckle) "she was disappoint too, she think me a rich man, & I only poor",& he was an old man. She was a tall good looking lady. I had my first formal proposal when I was just sixteen
from a good looking boy of 24. He was just starting a business of his own & if I would wait two years he hoped we could be married, but his father thought he had better
make sure of me & get engaged. I declined his offer as I did not want to be engaged. Next day his father came to see mine. He could not understand me refusing his son
but came to the conclusion perhaps I was a bit young to decide such a serious matter & his son would wait. Poor fellow! he was faithful, he did wait, was rather a nuisance, kept coming periodically to see if I had changed my mind. I never did. Eventually he got another girl to care for him. My holidays I generally spent among my father's relations in the home. There were four boys & a girl in the house - was a bit of a novelty. I treated them all like my brothers& used to have happy times till on one occasion the second boy, same age as myself, thought he was in love with me, & on Sunday evening when I was going upstairs he called me.
"I want you a minute"
"Righto. What's the trouble, can I help?"
"I hope so"
"Is there a girl in the case"
"Won't she have you"
"I haven't asked her yet"
"Do I know her?"
"Does she go to Church?"
"Was she there tonight?"
I tried to think of any suitable girl I had seen that night.
"What side of the church was she in?"
"The left hand side"
"Then she must have sat up behind us as there was no young girl in front"
"She sat in my pew"
A pause. There was only he & I in his pew.
“I certainly do"
"You are not being serious"
"Never more so"
"You silly boy. I'm sorry, but nothing doing."
"Don't you care for me?"
"I care for you very much, love you in fact like my brothers"
"Couldn't you love me different?"
"I shouldn't try, but would rather fight against it,
I don't think cousins should marry so you look elsewhere, lad"
He did & got a pretty little wife more suitable to him than I should have been but it was a funny wooing. I went next day to another uncle's where there were little children -
no boys. I was so used to boys & being pals with them all I really did not think of them wanting me specially. However the time came when I wanted someone specially,
when he wanted me. So after a short engagement I got married or we did - as my father said "Just when I was able to take over the housekeeping & relieve Mother a bit."
I'm afraid I was too selfish to consider that. The youngest son [Arthur Brown] is minister in one of our Churches. Both girls are married & live in this City & since my dear husband passed to his rest some years ago, I have made my home amongst my family for the most part with my youngest daughter [Nora Bishop, Alan's mother].
Arthur Brown had in fact gone on to become Principal of Selly Oak College in Birmingham, the educational foundation of the Church of Christ. He had mutual friends with the third cousin he didn't know about in Edgbaston - Alec Innes Pottinger, a.k.a. Peter. I had in fact at one point found Arthur's birth certificate (Arthur being insufficiently popular as a first name to deter me), but, as for looking for marriages - well, even the Arthurs had started to multiply by that time.
Jane Collin's autobiographical notes brought her to life. It occurred to me that, as the eldest of George Greenwell's grandchildren (and, indeed, the first great-grandchild of the original George and Mary Greenwell, beating my great-grandfather and namesake by a year), she must have been 14 when he left for Australia with Mary Jane. Was there any evidence of this? There was.
Jane Redman Collin was not the only one to have left a little memoir. She had had four children: Frank, Alice, Nora and Arthur. Alice had left a memoir too, in the 1960s, a scatter-dash, harum-scarum, breathless account of her forebears. Alan Bishop's brother, another Arthur - his middle name is Collin - had this, and transcribed it for me. It was plainly based on what her mother had told her, and travels quickly past the Collin background to this:
Greenwell: Australian will. Grandfather George eloquent speaker - very emotional.
This confirmed what I had sensed from the speech rhythms of the critique of Renan's life. Unhappily, the “Australian will” has never surfaced. Now she re-tells Jane's story.
Mother died when Jane six, George four, Gilbert one. Housekeeper thought she should marry G.C., he had other plans. Housekeeper set Jane against Stepmother but tears broke resistance.........Father 6' 3” traveller, given job with Coop - when wife and family very young. Asked salary but refused. Few years later making so much
in commission, asked take salary. His turn to refuse. Fine orator baptised in river Maryport at fifteen and started preaching at once. Studied in train - keen Liberal,
also Temperance. Much in demand as speaker...... Strict disciplinarian - starting with himself but gracious manner and sense of humour. Children all taken Church.
But very strict - unbending. Never read ought but Bible or Church magazine. ...Never played with children. Jane fed, washed, smacked, practically brought ‘em up......
Father always waited on when home at weekends. Two maids kept but Jane was nursemaid. Large house necessary, hospitality prodigious.... George junior dapper, courteous... Gilbert - whole chapter needed. Successful man. Robinson Crusoe - clean collar. Early morning tea - 6 a.m.! Another morning set kitchen on fire. Slightly deaf. Got wrong ideas. Many jobs - many girls! Canada - Australia. Married woman 16 years senior, back to England. One son, one daughter - latter died during 1st World War.
Several more jobs - Canada again. Son over with Canadians. Very like his Father, just as irresponsible. Fond of girls, married just after return to Canada, two girls, one boy.
Gilbert lost wife years ago. Now married at 80. GC moved [to] Carlisle when Jane about five and when he started travelling, mainly in Scotland.... GC preached open air [at] Carlisle cross. Got following, built chapel D St. Congregation grew..... GC on national committees.....
By now I was (rightly) wary of dates, but I did now know that Elizabeth (Greenwell) Collin had moved to Carlisle only shortly before her death in 1872, and also that my hunch about Gilbert had been correct. His full name was Gilbert Tickle Collin - I knew I had seen the name Gilbert Tickle before, and found it quickly. Gilbert Young Tickle had been the man who had married George Collin and Elizabeth Greenwell. And here was my first lead on Gilbert - he had gone to Canada, and had a wild time by the sound of it. His son had come over from Canada, just as his second cousin Bert Knight had done, in the First World War. (Neither of them, I guessed, had ever known that another cousin, Arthur Redman Hindley, one of Mary Jane's sons, had travelled straight to the trenches from Australia, where, at the age of 39, he had been smacked from history like a gnat. He was the only First World War fatality of George and Mary Wilson's descendants). This was much more easy to trace than I could have guessed, since a website now took me straight to a facsimile of Gilbert's son's attestation papers when he enlisted: James Brown Collin.
What I was missing here was what had become of the second son, George junior, as Alice Brown calls him. However, I did have his will, and the names of his three daughters, Elizabeth, Maisie and Millie (a son, yet another George, had died young). Jean Beddow and her sisters had already remembered details of these three for me, and now Jane Collin's descendants corroborated them. Millie had never married. But Elizabeth and Maisie had given their father double apoplexy. Elizabeth had married a brewer. And Maisie had married a Roman Catholic and moved to Northern Ireland. George Collin junior had not been best pleased by either decision. I had found Elizabeth's marriage - to a Joseph Hinde. But Maisie (Mary was her given name) eluded me.
This left me with three trails to follow: Tom Carruthers and his son Wilfred; Maisie Collin; and Gilbert and James Brown Collin. Find these and my task would be complete. How many times had I said that before?
There is always one simple thing to try. Type a name into a meta-search engine, and see where it gets you. I typed in Gilbert Tickle Collin. The machine gave a silent hiccup, and burped up a reference to a British Columbia cemetery. I was taken aback. I was even more taken aback when I reached the website to which I had been directed. Someone else was looking for Gilbert Tickle Collin, too! Someone from Northern Ireland, in fact: a Noel Redmond had left a message there. This was an e-mail I wasted no time in sending - reasoning, correctly for once, that this must be a relation of Maisie Collin's.
The second George Collin (1868-1831), pictured in 1910.
Noel, it transpired, was the brother-in-law of Maisie's grandson. He was also a force to be reckoned with in the Northern Ireland Family History Society. Once again, a whole section of family tree grew bark and branch and sap - a few phone-calls later I was talking to Maisie herself, a sparky individual in her nineties, and had made direct contact with one of Elizabeth Greenwell's grandchildren. Noel had teased her he would find her relations. We were both surprised by the mutual discovery (this started happening to me again a few months later, when some of my mother's more distant relations located me. The crowds in the Family Records Centre in London, by now moved to Myddleton Street, were starting something of a surge). And finding Maisie gave me all of George Collin junior's descendants.
His father, of the same name, was a Church of Christ preacher who married Elizabeth Greenwell - this George was the second of her three children. He had a son called George Collin, who died young; his younger brother Gilbert had a grandson called George Collin. The George pictured here took over his father's thriving Carlisle clothier's business.
The challenge to find Gilbert Tickle Collin was now a joint affair. Noel had found the death certificate of his son, James Brown Collin, and had subsequently found an obituary in a Vancouver newspaper, which helpfully mentioned James's three children. Neither of us were very taken aback to discover the first name of James's son, and therefore Gilbert's grandson. It was George Collin, the fourth to bear that name. He was a Dr. George Collin, I noticed. Perhaps a medic, then? I located the records of physicians in Ontario, which was where he was described as coming from in the obituary. But no such physician had existed. The “Doctor” must have been an honorific. I e-mailed the local library in Ontario, and discovered his telephone number. Well, his 1962 telephone number. There wasn't one for 1963. I was preparing to move on to British Columbia a couple of days later when a message popped up hospitably in my in-box. The Ontario library had found Dr. George Collin for me, and handed me his phone number.
Maisie (whose mother died in childbirth) is the only child of George Collin junior to have living descendants. She has fifteen grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren so far. Gilbert's son James had three children, Hilda, Isobel and George - the latter is the Dr. George Collin of Ontario, the fourth George Collin. Millie, incidentally, had married - late in life. The Carlisle cousins hadn't known that.
George Collin was almost as excited as I was. He was so excited he couldn't remember the names of his children without some prompting from his wife (on the other line). This was the kind of response which makes it all worthwhile. Once again, all the names and numbers dropped into place, followed by photographs and scraps of archive. There was even a feel-good moment in London the same year (2000), when I met up with George's daughter for a drink in Covent Garden. Just to keep matters “way too neat”, as George's niece described it, it turned out that one of Maisie's sons was also living in Ontario.
By this time, I had also cracked the route to Tom Carruthers. I could have done it so easily a few years earlier, but I'd had my energy sapped. All I had to do was find someone in Michigan prepared to buy the death certificate of Wilfred Greenwell Carruthers for me - and that was a simple matter of contacting the local family history society. At last I had the full address. I also established that his daughter Kathleen was still living at the address given on the death certificate, and wrote to her. In no time, the e-mails were humming happily from Kate (as I've come to know her) and her niece, another Kathleen.
Tom Carruthers' family in Michigan. Dorothy has two children, Terry and Kathleen, who have three children between them - the only descendants in the fifth generation forward from Tom Carruthers' mother, Ellen Greenwell.
So what was the truth about Tom Carruthers? Had he indeed been murdered? The rest of the Carruthers family, including members of George Carruthers' second set of grandchildren, by his second wife, were convinced of it. Or was he perhaps, as one of his relations had suggested, shot during a quarrel on a lake? Sixteen of his letters - running in some cases to ten sides - began to tell his story.
Tom Carruthers had had an unhappy start to life. Born a twin in 1874, his sister had quickly died. His mother, Ellen Greenwell, was a faint recollection only - she had died when he was only six years old, and he had been brought up by the servants employed by his father in his initial prosperity. George Carruthers senior invested money from his grocery business in other, spin-off shops. The family had lived well until the turn of the century, shortly before which his father suddenly re-married a woman much younger than himself, after nearly two decades as a widower. By this time, Tom himself was also married - indeed, he and his father were married within a couple of years of each other.
Tom's marriage to Mary Tweddle was initially a success. It was best when they worked together in a business in Wrexham, on the edge of Wales, since their daily closeness took the edge off his wanderlust, and the sense of loneliness at his core. He could be an angry man, an impulsive man; he was the opposite of his brother, whose by-word was reliability. Tom itched to move on. He looked down from the open-topped buses in Liverpool at the cramped and soot-grey houses which passed for homes, and he wanted something more extravagant, something more impulsive. Sometimes this aggravation in him spilled over into sudden fits and starts of argument. He was strict with his children, perhaps particularly Winnie, his eldest, who was to remain his lifelong favourite. And although Wilfred and Winnie did not remember their childhoods as being grim, Wilfred never forgot hearing banging and hammering the night before his tenth birthday, and imagined his father making him a coffin (it was a tool-box).
Tom Carruthers and his seven-year-old son, Wilfred Greenwell Carruthers, in 1907
As perhaps befits the grandson of one of the battling Baptists of Sunderland, Tom was ready to be awkward in his views (2). His political hero was Robert Blatchford, a leader writer on Manchester's Sunday Chronicle who championed the rights of the working man, who founded the Manchester Fabian Society in 1890, and whose own newspaper The Clarion , launched a year later, sold a regular 30,000 copies a week. Blatchford's most astonishing success was Merrie England , a collection of his articles about socialism. A special penny edition sold between one and two million copies (and was translated into several languages). This came out in 1893, when Tom Carruthers was nineteen, and on the verge of striking out. It was one of the most effective recruiting agents for left-wing thinking, written with considerable flair and instantly accessible.
The trouble with being a fan of Robert Blatchford - indeed, the essence of being a fan of Robert Blatchford - was that Blatchford mixed some very palatable socialist truths with some sentimentally dodgy little Englander views. His belief in social justice, always illustrated in his writings by real-life examples drawn from his own experience - not unlike Orwell, although Blatchford, who had run away to join the army at fourteen, was from the class he championed. However, he sided with the government during the Boer War, and increasingly championed the British (or English, as he almost certainly imagined it) Empire. He poured scorn on other cultures, and gradually diluted his views on equal rights. In 1923, the first (minority) Labour government was elected, after a three-way electoral split. Blatchford, whose writing had done so much to bring the Labour Party into being, let alone government, now backed the Conservative Party, and praised their avuncular leader, Stanley Baldwin - the prime minister before 1923 was out, after the second election.
Tom Carruthers had classic Blatchford views, and they manifested themselves in a tendency to belittle almost anything non-British. In particular, he believed in the beautiful Englishness of Canada - specifically British Columbia, and Vancouver. He despised not only the Asiatic people in Vancouver, where he wound up, but was also casually capable of condemning all black people (“I never saw a working nigger yet who was not tired. They were meant to bask in the sun......”). He was also violently anti-American, not least because their major cities were racially mixed - statistics about which he could reel off without thinking. He laid into the Jews, the Irish, the Germans. He took part in a White British Columbia campaign. As for Keir Hardie, Lloyd George - he hated them. When Ramsay Macdonald won the 1929 election in Britain and headed a national government, Tom Carruthers approved - whilst the Labour Party withdrew, leaving the country in the curious position of being led by a man whose own party denounced him as a traitor. Tom Carruthers believed in a Blatchford socialism, which is really socialism with a licence to print any ideas you like. What is curious about Tom Carruthers is that he recognised the Blatchford paradox in himself. “Most reformers are intolerant,” he would insist, as if this peculiar one-liner did not so much nip as nail any disagreement in the bud.
Little by little, Tom's absences from Liverpool, where his wife, son and daughter lived, became more and more frequent, as he foraged for a fortune on the other side of the Atlantic. He spent time in Philadelphia, in Alberta, in Baltimore, in New York. In 1913, he left England for good, although he may not have realised it at the time. His daughter Winnie was sixteen. His son Wilfred was fourteen. His wife Mary was hurt and angry. Tom had promised her that she would share - should share in his fortune, but it was all pie in the sky-blue-pink as far as she was concerned.
Yet Tom was a deeply complex character, both in his view of his family, and his view of the world. To write him off as a racist and misogynist would be a travesty. He was a man so deep in his own thoughts that they almost swallowed him. Vancouver, the land of milk and honey, the “paradise” which he repeatedly extolled as “the coming city of the Pacific” - joining enthusiastically in its ambitions to outstrip other Canadian cities in size - never paid him back in kind. He marvelled at the wealth around him, at the parks, at the strawberries there for picking at Christmas, at the wealth most conspicuous by the cars which the miners and plumbers and other artisans possessed. And which he never did. He began by enlisting in the army, where he was soon looking after the pay of as many as three thousand First World War draftees, and he stayed with this line of work until discharging himself, against the advice of others and without a pension, in 1921. His timing had been unlucky from the start - the war service, even if spent safely in Canada, had prevented him getting his feet firmly on any of the available ladders.
From that moment on, he was rarely far away from the pressure of debt. He started work as a salesman, on commission only, often when the companies he worked for were feeling buoyant and expansive, and felt that one territory was too much for one man. Tom Carruthers was the second-stringer, the man who took on what another could not cope with. When the bubbles burst, the managers stranded Tom Carruthers every time, and kept his predecessor on. Many days he would be walking twelve to fifteen miles (other salesmen were driving), pushing his luck to the limit. In 1925, he was a traveller for a confectioner's and baker's (at least, he said, jokingly, he got to know how to make a charlotte russe and an éclair, although he also saw the grubby fingers which made the icing). It didn't last. Firms promised him money, and then went bust and wouldn't pay him. Their creditors took their cut of the unemployment insurance he had taken out, so that he was often working for years simply to pay off bad debt which had been foisted upon him. Until he paid this debt off, he could not insure himself properly enough to seek out a better job. Ironically, he found himself a job as a debt-collector, a position not guaranteed to fill his days with endearments - although the job failed to materialise in the English-speaking heaven of B.C, because the manager turned out to be swindling his clients. In 1931, he was working as a book-keeper for a hotel, still paying off the debts he had incurred in 1928. Yes, everything was grand and good and, above all, English about Vancouver. In return for his loyalty, it chewed him up and spat him out with regularity. He always expected better - even signing himself “Micawber” in one case.
Living in cheap hotel rooms, he was desperate for mail from England. His surviving sister Dora (Nelly, his younger sister, had died at the time he left) wrote to him almost monthly for twenty years. He was known to be obsessed by the arrival of mail. (“I look so often, so very often in that C compartment”). And what whirled round and round in his head was his abject failure as a family man. He wanted more than anything for Mary, Wilfred and Winnie - especially Winnie - to come and join him. He wanted to be the bread-winner in the land of the free. Constantly he suggested to Mary that she should follow him out to Vancouver, never expecting (and never receiving) a warm reply. “My ambition is to have you all here,” he declares in 1925, a dozen years after he has vanished across the Atlantic. In the same letter he also lays it on the line: “Please do not ask me to come back.” He describes having written Mary a long “love letter” when he thinks he will make a go as the confectionery salesman. Six months later, he moans about Mary, “If she wants to be rid of me altogether, it can easily be arranged”. He speaks of them being “both married, and both single”. And then, slipping into a maudlin mood which he usually despised, he throws in “Nobody wants me, as I have nothing to offer.” Two years on, he claims that “my whole endeavour will be to get Mother here as soon as possible.” By this stage, they have spent far more years apart than together. It is an obsession with him, nonetheless, a sort of duty: “I realise my duty and if it proves to be a cross, I'll try to carry it.” He also misses the partnership of marriage: “I put half my illness [he was asthmatic] and want of success down to having no companion in my joys and sorrows”.
Not that Tom was entirely without a family contact in Vancouver. His first cousin, Gilbert Tickle Collin, the child who had been born shortly before his mother's sister Elizabeth Greenwell died, was also living there. He and Gilbert - Gilbert was less than three years older, and they had played as children - kept in sporadic contact. In 1928, he used Gilbert and his family as imaginary character referees. He told Winifred,
if Mother ever comes across here and meets my cousins, the Collins, they can tell her how highly I have always spoken of her and the times I have thought prosperity was in sight and the way open to have you all - Wilfred included - over here all together.
At the same time, it is quite clear that what he dreads above all is that she will take him up on his offer: “I have spent hours dwelling first on the idea of a happy reunion, and then filled with dread at the prospects of incompatibility.” Mary did write to him at least twice in the 1920s, the second time to remind him that he had not answered her first letter. She has perhaps insinuated that he has spent all his money on drink, and by implication on women. She has threatened him with “a lot of trouble”, and called him “a grand bluffer, wrapped up in your dear self”. Tom is genially caustic in return:
You flatter me, my dear, if you think any woman would be interested in an old wreck like me, broken-winded and poor, not to say shabby genteel.
He promises her money if he ever earns it, although it is clear that this is a remote prospect. He is living in a fifth-rate hotel, as he puts it, with not much left over after his keep. Officially, he is the book-keeper, but in reality, he is manager, cashier, electrician, plumber and counsellor, or so he reckons.
In this establishment I am what Victorians called the“what-not”. That was a curious article of furniture, consisting of three or four slim standards and a number of shelves
on which reposed ‘Goss' china and presents from Blackpool, Douglas, Brighton or what have you. Anything you wanted to put on anything was put on the what-not.
That is my position here.
There was a dark hole in the centre of Tom Carruthers. He admitted that he was aggravated by long conversations, by shaking hands, by shallow behaviour. In fact, there was something of the puritan in him - part of being “horribly English”, he reckoned. He told Winnie to stay away from variety shows. “Shun ragtime and jazz,” he insisted. Jazz gave him indigestion. The radio infuriated him. He was obsessed by his weight (he was a thin, gaunt-faced man). He saw the war to end all wars as having left nothing but chaos: “debts, doles, night-clubs and jazz, religion a joke, morals a reproach, whiskey for kisses.” (Of course this was all in America, not Canada). But there was some self-loathing as well, something that went deeper than his descriptions of himself as a “crank”, a “wash-out”, incapable of feelings.
On Christmas Day 1924, left to his own devices, Tom Carruthers wrote a statement of his unutterable despair. He deals firstly with different meanings of the word soul . He presents a paradox. A soldier dies for his country, a captain goes down with the ship, a general falls on his sword. Each of them is respected for their soul, which enters the kingdom of heaven. Why then does a man who “wishes to remove his spirit from a sphere which is no longer congenial” have opprobium heaped upon him? Or, as he goes on to say, suppose a burglar attacked him for his money, and he killed the burglar. He would get off with “justifiable homicide”. Why then, he argues, could a man not “apply this to his own case. Better to die in comfort than to live in misery.” We see which way Tom is thinking, and he suddenly bursts out of the abstract into the personal:
The writer, from earliest childhood, has found life an unutterable bore, pleasures mostly a snare and a delusion, friendship in the main, made only for breaking, anticipation in every single case preferable to realisation, and yet has preserved a cheerful optimistic face to the world, smiled on well-fed acquaintances while
desperately hungry, been polite with cold-blooded murder in his heart, and made a fetish of the daily shave and shine that looks like a cheerful acceptance of things as they are and should be.
A little later, having re-read what he has written, Tom adds one question:
But how much longer?
What Tom craved most of all was a reunion with Winnie, who had taken it upon herself to write to him when, in 1921, she had become engaged to be married to Matt Smith, a fiercely political man with whom she shared high socialist ideals. Tom re-engages with Winnie at once, and wants, needs to see her. In every letter he writes, he wishes her to come to Vancouver. When Winnie and Matt are married, they eventually move to America, moving from Ohio to Michigan. Tom Carruthers tries his best to suggest that Chicago and Detroit are dangerous places, that a man with Matt's mechanical expertise will make it easily in the land of plenty where he has been brushing up the crumbs. Sometimes he oversteps the mark in his letters, and has to apologise - he admits that it is one of his failings, that some people are put off by his “crazy” letters. Wilfred's new wife, Cis, writes to him, and apologises for taking his son away. Whatever he said in his reply, he let the words run away; she did not write again.
It was a comfort to Tom to find he had a cultured young woman as a daughter, someone with high ideals, someone who enjoyed books. His advice to her before she crossed the Atlantic was to bring her treasured books, whatever the weight or cost. He enjoys the poltical banter he has with her, and respects it. For fourteen years, he asks her to come to Vancouver to see him. And then, in 1935, at a time when he believed even his sister Dora had rejected him - he had not realised that she had died - Winnie did travel to Vancouver to see him, to meet again the father she had not spoken to for twenty years.
It is not clear how long she stayed. She seems to have left suddenly, leaving Tom light-headed and excited. He kept his feelings deep, simply returned to work as per usual. About six weeks later, Tom was turfed out of the hotel, and found himself once again unemployed. He bought a gun, took himself to the edge of the island on which he was working, and shot himself through the heart. They fished his body from the water two weeks later.
The man who murdered Tom Carruthers - was Tom Carruthers.
(1) Nor when his daughter Maisie broke an engagement off, after a holiday in Northern Ireland led to the romance that led to her marriage - to a Roman Catholic, not what a Church of Christ man was after!