Campbell Hart 4

Getting to know the in-laws

Burton-On-Trent High Street Early 1900s Alamy Stock photo

I am sure that Campbell took great care to get to know and understand the family of his future in-laws. The following is what he probably discovered….

Madge was born into a small corner terraced house on Shobnall street in Burton-on-Trent in 1880 from where her father David  went to work as a commercial salesman for a wine and spirits firm.10 Seven years later her brother Walter was born and the family moved to the High Street in Burton, probably to a company house next door to the Worthington company headquarters, when David was made manager of the wine and spirits division.

By the time Campbell came to pay his respects to the Smith family in the late 1890s David had moved with his household, consisting of four family members, two servants and a lodger to a comfortable detached house in Burton’s leafy suburbs and described himself as a Wine and Spirit Merchant.11

David and Elizabeth Smith

Madge’s father, David Smith was born in Edinburgh in 1854. His father established himself in business as a Cheese Factor in Burton around 1860.12 David’s grandfather had been a Master Butcher in Edinburgh, running his own business where he employed four men.13  David was one of five siblings, three sisters and one brother. David’s brother, John, was a brewer in Burton and his eldest sister, Jessie was married to a ‘commercial agent’. His sister Agnes was married to a Canadian schoolteacher and they lived next door to his youngest sister, Isabella who was a schoolmistress and ran a private school from her house. They were evidently a close knit and supportive family with cousins of the same age as Madge.14

Madge’s mother, Elizabeth, was born in Nottingham 1859. Her father, Charles Evans, was from Lambeth in London and had been a travelling draper, before setting up as a self employed commercial traveller. Her mother Margaret was the daughter of William and Hannah Leys, a Scottish couple who had settled in Sneinton in Nottinghamshire around 1840. Elizabeth appears to have been an only child and although her mother Margaret came from a large family – she had 9 siblings – most of Elizabeth’s uncles and aunts had emigrated, either to New Zealand, Australia or to the USA.

William and Hannah Leys 

Madge’s Great Grandparents

Later in her life Madge goes to great lengths to trace her family tree along various maternal lines that lead back to Scottish nobility, possibly an attempt at identifying a more favourable heredity than that offered by her own immediate family or the antecedents of David Smith.  A later instalment will examine these lines which appear tenuous at best and spurious at worst, but in either case make for an entertaining romp through Scottish history, involving a cast of characters that includes such colourful names as the the Marquess of Tweedale, the Earls of Errol and the Barons of Blackadder.  However for now I have merely authenticated the family tree as far back as 1800 with Madge’s great grandparents William and Hannah Leys.

Madge’s grandmother Margaret was one of a large family of ten children. Her parents, William and Hannah, had come  from Scotland to live in Sneinton in Nottingham, where William describes himself on the census forms as a tea dealer although he is described elsewhere as a Supervisor of Inland Revenue.15 Devout Christians they became involved in a scheme to found a non-conformist settlement in New Zealand known as the Albertland Colonisation Movement.16  Its grand ambition was to establish a faith based community settlement that followed the successful examples of Anglical Christchurch and Presbyterian Dunedin – an agrarian New Jerusalem built far away from the ‘dark satanic mills’ of industrial England. 

Departure of 800 Nonconformists (Puritans) from London for the new colony of Albertland, New Zealand on board the Matilda Wattenbach ship.
The Illustrated London News, volume XL, June 7, 1862. 17

They embarked from the East India Docks in London in June of 1862, cheered off by 15,000 well wishers. Three months later after a stormy and hazardous voyage on the sailing ship Tyburnia the Leys, William, Hannah and 3 of their boys, Charles (15), Thomson (13) and William (11) were heady with anticipation for setting out to take up their allotment of 140 acres and to establish their “shining city” of religious tolerance and free thought.

Early settlers in Albertland

It was not long before profound disillusionment dampened their enthusiasm as they became aware of the serious shortcomings of the scheme and the more dubious ethics of its promoters, who were on a kick back from the Auckland government for each colonist who took up residence. The promised land, they discovered, lay in an inhospitable stretch of rugged, barren countryside in which there was no infrastructure and to which there was no road. To compound the difficulties it was surrounded by Maori tribes who, as a result of previous experience with colonists, were not exactly holding out the hand of welcome to the would be settlers.

The appropriation of land for colonists was proving very controversial and the indigenous Maoris were becoming extremely frustrated at the loss of their tribal territory as a result of a succession of dubious land deals. It appeared to some that the wording of the original Treaty of Waitangi, written in English, differed somewhat when rendered in the native tongue, to the disadvantage of the Maoris.18 The dispute arose over what the Maoris understood to be the British “stewardship” of the land against the British understanding of their  “sovereignty”. A series of uprisings against the colonial settlers and the British regime resulted in military intervention. 

To restore a sense of imperial order and British rule of law, if not justice, troops were sent in to quell the rebellious natives, resulting in the Anglo Maori wars. From 1863 until 1869 the army systematically cleared Maori lands, dispossessing the inhabitants and confiscating their property. This was then apportioned out to colonial farmers  – a justifiable land grab in the eyes of the British as the Maoris had, after all, broken the terms of the treaty to which they were signatories.19 But this unrest took place after the Leys had changed their minds about settling in Albertland and had instead opted to settle in the nascent colonial harbour of Aukland.

Aukland early 1900s

Their two daughters, Jane and Elizabeth, who had stayed in England, would join them later, leaving Margaret (Madge’s grandmother) back in Nottingham as she was already married and minding her 3 year old daughter Elizabeth, Madge’s mother. Two other sons who decided not to join them were Alexander who had enlisted in the British Army as a clerical sergeant and James, who had already embarked on his own search for the Promised Land among the 200 year old Pennsylvania Quaker community of Chester.

The Leys Dynasty

Enterprising and industrious William Leys made sure that his sons were well educated and then he had them apprenticed in the print trade.

Thomson Leys

Thomson Leys was apprenticed as a compositor on the Daily Southern Cross newspaper. A few years later he transferred to the reporting staff, and in 1870 was appointed sub-editor. In 1876 Thomson was promoted to editor and by 1900 was managing director of the Brett Printing and Publishing Company, which incorporated amongst other newspapers, the Auckland Star, which had the largest circulation of any newspaper in the country.20

Thomson had two sons, two daughters and two wives. His eldest son Cecil succeeded him in the business and was honoured for his services to journalism with a knighthood in 1946.

David Hart writes, “He (Cecil) visited Polly and me in our little flat when we were first married which was nice of him (and he gave me a gold watch which fell off my wrist into the Channel!)”21

William Leys, Thomson’s younger brother became an apprentice bookbinder, eventually setting up his own business in Auckland.

William Leys 1852 – 1899

He was philanthropic and community minded and put his social entrepeneurship to good effect  by providing an innovative educational solution to an evident social problem in his neighbourhood. He created the “Mechanics Institute” intended to provide “ rational recreation” to the working class of the area whom he frequently observed loitering around the Three Lamps area and tavern, later known as The Gluepot. Short of funds and in failing health he died of stomach cancer before he could realise his dream. His brother Thomson stepped in to both finance and complete The Leys Institute, a pair of historic buildings that incorporate a lecture hall, meeting room, gymnasium and a public library. The Leys Institute was gifted to Auckland Library in 1964 supported by trusts bequeathed by the family that maintain it to this day.22

The Leys Institute

James Leys appears to have emigrated to America in 1856 as an idealistic twenty year old. While James’ parents had emigrated as pioneer settlers to found their own non conformist community, James set out to discover how similarly idealistic communities had fared after 200 years in the New World. When William Penn had arrived in 1682 it was with the intention of establishing a “ holy experiment”, a colony    where settlers would have the freedom to establish their own society and worship God in accordance with their own passionately held religious beliefs.  Conformity of thought and uniformity of belief were considered essential for the management of civil society by both Catholic and Protestant absolutist monarchies and they were imposed through sectarian statutes23, pogroms and expulsions. Fleeing such persecution large numbers of colonists were drawn to these “plantations of religion”.

Arriving from Liverpool on the sailing ship Jacob A Westerveld24   into New York, James lost no time in seeking out the beating heart of the Quaker society in Pennsylvania. James settled in Chester, home to one of the original Quaker meeting houses established by the early settlers two hundred years previously, and where William Penn had been moved to speak.  During the 1860s Quakers were experiencing a decline in numbers, as Friends moved out west partly as a result of their being unable to compete commercially with their slave owning neighbours. Evidently motivated by his anti slavery convictions, James, in common with many like minded abolitionists25, and contrary to the common perception of Quakers as pacifists, enlisted in the Union army in 1863 and fought against the Confederate forces for three years.  

Friends Meeting House, Chester

After the civil war, which ended in 1865, he married Rachel P West on Christmas Eve in 1866 in the historic meeting house in Chester. Rachel was a school teacher and the daughter of a prosperous Quaker farmer.  Sadly James died on the 27th October 1867, just two months before the birth of their son whom Rachel named James.26

James (Jnr) evidently benefitted from a good education from his schoolmistress mother as he went on to study medicine, joined the navy and was rapidly promoted eventually becoming a Vice Admiral. During the First World War he supervised the US Navy medical facilities in Panama.

David Hart writes: In about 1924 he stayed with us briefly in Bushey, a nice man and the top ranking doctor in the navy. (I am ashamed to admit that when I realised it was only the US navy and not the British he slipped down a bit in my estimation – I was 8!) 20

Back in Burton 1900

Back in Burton life for the Smiths seemed to centre around the church, the theatre, the library, concerts in the town hall, sales of work, excursions of the Natural History Society and such like. Both avid readers, David and Elizabeth’s letters to Madge are both tender and teasing and are full of references to the books they have read or recommend, as well as the tittle tattle of local gossip. Quite content with his pipe and books, David writes to Madge, “ I don’t want to live in the South of France or any other where than Burton, where one can chortle to one’s heart’s content…26

By 1900 Madge’s younger brother Walter had taken up an apprenticeship as a mechanic in Burton’s burgeoning  automobile industry27

A 15hp 3 cylinder Ryknield Brougham
Built in Burton on Trent on Shobnall Sreet in 1905 28

Madge herself was blossoming into a striking young lady whom Campbell dearly wished to marry. How he would be able to support her on his modest wages as a shipping clerk must have been a question which exercised him greatly.

Solid, respectable and worthy the Smiths evidently were, but for young Campbell the prospects of a job in middle management, on a middle income, in a middle-class town in the heart of the English midlands may not have been what he had dreamed of. For one reared on the stories of his seafaring uncle, the legendary exploits of his father and his merchant adventurer grandfather, perhaps he considered his prospects a little stultifying.

A Call to Arms

It is not surprising then that when Campbell came across a notice posted on the Town Hall door imploring brave young men to join Lord Latham’s “Rough Riders”, a battalion of the Imperial Yeomanry to help the British defeat the Boers in South Africa that Campbell’s adventurous spirit was roused. A call to arms that for Campbell offered both a justifiable cause and possibly more importantly free passage to anywhere in the Empire at the close of hostilities. 29  With his mother and sisters still living in Singapore this was the opportunity Campbell needed to travel East and make his fortune.

This is a collage commemorative poster, but it conjures up the romance and promise of adventure that may have appealed to Campbell.

10. 1881 Census

11 1901 Census

12  1861 Census

13. Scotland Census 1851

14  Jessie, David’s his eldest sister was married to Edward Charlwood, a self employed “commercial agent”. They had six children who all maintained close contact with their cousin Madge. Their son, Edward Clive, was later to become a colleague of Campbell in Singapore, where he had a distinguished career both in business and in the State Legislature.

15 Thomson Leys Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993  

 16. Albertland New Zealand National Geographic

Albertland, the Last Organised British Settlement in New Zealand : Borrows Albertland and District Museum

17 The Illustrated London News, 19 May 1860. Courtesy of University of Missouri Libraries

18 Treaty of Waitangi

19 A 2013 Waitangi Tribunal report said the action of Crown forces on the East Coast from 1865 to 1869—the East Coast Wars and the start of Te Kooti’s War—resulted in the deaths of proportionately more Māori than in any other district during the New Zealand wars. It condemned the “illegal imprisonment” on the Chatham Islands of a quarter of the East Coast region’s adult male population and said the loss in war of an estimated 43 percent of the male population, many through acts of “lawless brutality”, was a stain on New Zealand’s history and character.

20 Thomson Leys Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993

21 RDCH to Stephen Clarke 28.10.98  “His daughter Gwenita – Gwen Davenport – stayed with us occasionally and became a great friend of Féo’s. She was very witty and full of fun and did us all a lot of good. She wrote a best seller (in USA) called “Sitting Pretty” and they made a film of it which was a success and very funny at the time – about 1945 I think”.

Gwen Davenport NYT Obituary

Sitting Pretty

Mr Belvedere – American sitcom ran for 118 episodes

Gwen’s family, the Wigleys, owned a plantation on the Caribbean island of St Kitts and Gwen’s cousins would come and sail with David on Majala. 


23 Charles II, 1662: An Act for preventing the Mischeifs and Dangers that may arise by certaine Persons called Quakers and others refusing to take lawfull Oaths.

24 James Leys: 

Passenger List “ Jacob A Westerveld”  Arrival New York 17.03.1856


Note from Stephen: As far as the Ellises are concerned…. I have come up with some stuff that you may not know. The first chunk comes from a biography of the film director David Lean, who was of Quaker stock.

“The outbreak of WWI was a terrible time for Quakers. One correspondent to the Friend in May 1915, Bernard Ellis, (Grandfather of Polly Hart) said it was the first duty of all to “overcome the criminal [Kaiser], bind and punish him” and meet force with force. He later added that Quakers should take service in the army and navy “to preserve the freedom of the country in which Quaker ideals may flourish during the ensuing peace”.

A friend told me some time ago that in Northern Ireland the Quakers split over participation in WWI, and after a while neither side would speak to the other! SC.

26 U.S. Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935

26 Letter from David Smith to “Madgie” 28.04.1910

27 Australia WW1 Service Records

The Ryknield Motor Company, Burton-On-Trent

28 RDCH to Stephen Clarke 28.10.98 Walter Smith, born about 1885 (1887 OH),  my mother’s younger brother, changed his name to Leysmith.

He emigrated fairly early in life, making a career for himself as a journalist in USA, Australia and New Zealand and we seldom saw him until he finally settled in London in the office of the New York Times, combing through the British newspapers. Nice chap and nice wife, but no children.

29 Colin reminded me that it was always our father’s understanding that volunteers for the Boer War were promised free passage to anywhere in the Empire afterwards.

Campbell Hart 3

From Bukom to Burton

Liverpool Docks 1880s John Atkinson Grimshaw

While the City of London had become the nerve centre for the world’s largest ever empire by the end of the nineteenth century, it was the City of Liverpool that was its beating heart.  With five miles of docklands stretching upriver on either side of the Mersey, and over 150 ship movements per day,1 the Port of Liverpool oversaw the import of the exotic range of both raw materials and luxury goods from the colonies while at the same time exporting the manufactured products from the industrial midlands pouring in along the rail and water arteries. By the 1880s Liverpool was considered the United Kingdom’s second city, having taken the laurels from Dublin as a result of the Industrial revolution. And it was to Liverpool that twelve year old Campbell made his lonely journey after disembarking in London from his six week voyage aboard the ss Menalaus from Singapore. Campbell’s was a one way ticket. He had no means or prospect of return to his mother, Emma, and his three sisters.

With neither father nor funds to support an education he was being sent to live with his mother’s brother, John Thomas Gardiner,2 a retired Master Mariner, in Toxteth Park, near to the Liverpool docks. John Thomas had gone to live there with his young family in 1886,3 the year of Alexander’s (Campbell’s father) death and the one consolation for Campbell was that he was going to live with his five cousins.  

John Thomas, Emma’s brother, had lived aboard sailing ships all his life, first with his father, John Gardiner (Campbell’s maternal grandfather), serving as a 13 year old cabin boy on sailing ships that his father captained between Greenock in Scotland and Shanghai, China. Over the next ten years as he progressively worked his way up through the ranks to First Mate he would sail with his father to all the major ports of the Far East, finally taking over as captain on John’s death in  Madras in 1877.  It was while docked in Port Louis, Mauritius, that John Thomas met his future wife Elizabeth and she sailed with him aboard his next command, the Moyuffu, giving birth to their first daughter Elizabeth in Moulmein, Burma in 1880, several months after Campbell was born just ninety miles away in Rangoon.  

On arrival back in Mauritius, Elizabeth gave birth to another daughter, Mauritia, while John Thomas travelled to Damariscotta in Maine to supervise the construction of a 1,500 ton sailing ship, Valiant.  This was to be his command for the next five years before returning to Liverpool, via New York where Elizabeth gave birth to a son, John T jnr and retiring from the sea for good taking up employment as a ships’ surveyor in 1886 at the age of 35.

Youth and Love

There are as yet no records that help describe Campbell’s time in Liverpool, except some recollections of his son (my father) David Hart. We can imagine him trudging the wet streets of Liverpool, possibly with his uncle, seeking employment in the dark and dingy maritime offices along the seafront. It appears he was taken in by a firm of solicitors where he worked as a clerk.4  By the age of twenty he was working as a shipbroker,5 acting as a middleman matching the interests of traders, commodity brokers, bankers and shipowners; experience that was to stand him in good stead in his later career.

During 1998 Stephen (Clarke) visited my father David Hart while he was collecting material for accounts that he was writing of the life of his mother Féo and that of David.  Following Stephen’s visit David sent him a copy of Madge’s family tree together with his own recollections of his parents’ lives.  This letter is referred to as “RDCH to Stephen Clarke 28.10.98”  Stephen then wrote a detailed account of both his mother’s life and also that of Campbell together with many photos and transcripts of letters. I will make all these documents available for download once I have set up the webpage.

David writes:“My father (Alexander John Campbell Hart) was sent back to England when very young, to be educated. He was looked after by maternal aunts and uncles in Liverpool named Gardiner. My mother took me to call on them when I was about 12 (ie 1928). The uncle had a Captain’s ticket in Sail. They were very kind, good people, but there was little money and my father’s education was very limited indeed.  In due course he found a job as a junior clerk in a solicitor’s office. He told me that he would like to have trained as a solicitor and I am sure he would have been a good one, but there was no hope of his saving enough money to get himself articled.”

How Campbell came from Liverpool to Burton-on-Trent, an English Midlands town as far from the sea as it is possible to be, has always been something of a mystery. However it is possible that the Gardiners were on friendly terms with a retired couple living a few minutes walk away from their home in Toxteth park.  These were David and Isabella Smith a Scottish couple who had retired to Liverpool after living in Burton-on-Trent for most of their lives.6

I speculate that during the 1890s David and Isabella would have been visited by their own son, also called David, together with his wife Elizabeth, and most likely accompanied by their attractive teenager daughter Isabella Margaret. However the introduction may have come about we do know that Campbell and Isabella, whom he called Madge, became deeply attached, and Campbell became a frequent visitor to Burton.

Whether Campbell shared Madge’s enthusiasm for hockey is doubtful however both he and Madge did both share a remarkable talent for pen and ink illustration. It is possible that this is how they met as art classes were a part of Madge’s adolescence and she derived a modest income as an Art teacher while in her twenties.4 Their later correspondence, both to David and Elizabeth and to their own children, Féo and David, is full of drawings illustrating their accounts of life in Singapore.

Cartoon by Campbell 1898 (Aged 18)
Christmas Card for Lord Mayor by Madge 1905 ( Aged 25)

David Hart, in his letter to Stephen, continues:

“My mother (Isobel Margaret Hart – née Smith) also born in 1880 lived in Burton-on-Trent until her marriage in 1908 (1907 OH) Her parents were Scottish on both sides. 

She was brought up on sound, but not rigid, Scottish principles. As a result she was a wonderful and dearly loved mother and she taught us to view the world with a proper seriousness.  It needed first Gwen Leys 7 and then the Ellis-Clarke family to inject us all with a degree of wit not experienced previously, and much enjoyed.

She (my mother) had an artistic gift which was passed on to Féo. My mother earned a modest income teaching Art in Burton. In addition she had plenty of outdoor pursuits – Rowing, Bicycling and Hockey which were all unusual for young ladies in those days. She too was adventurous.

She made many friends and was good at keeping in touch with them. She loved reading and was familiar with the (English) classics……”

Madge above
Horseriding was also an unusual and adventurous pursuit for a young lady – an activity which she evidently shared with Campbell, and a skill which he was to put to great use in South Africa.

Burton Water

Burton-on-Trent is set in the heart of England – in fact it is hard to find a place that is more central, more equidistant from the major centres of population or from the principal ports that serviced the island. Burton at the turn of the century had been transformed from a quiet, but prosperous market town in the early 1800s to a smog filled manufacturing boomtown. The source of the success of this industrial enterprise lay in the unique properties of the water of the river Trent that flowed past Burton’s banks.  Seeping over thousands of years through the gravel and filtered through the porous sandstone and gypsum, absorbing calcium and magnesium and accumulating in vast underground aquifers, this water acquired unique properties that were to make Burton famous.

Ferry Bridge Burton on Trent, gifted to the town by Michael Arthur Bass, First Baron Burton in 1889

The healing qualities of these waters had been royally attested when a sickly Alfred the Great, holed up on an island in the Trent with Modwen, an Irish mystic nun, was treated by her and healed with the efficacious aqua pura . But it was as the basis for British Beer that this water was to propel Burton into becoming the brewing capital of the world.8 Home to over 50 breweries, and these were not backyard craft beers, but brewers on an industrial scale that included such household names as Worthington, Bass, Allsopp, Ind Coope, Mann and Charringtons. So wealthy and influential did the brewery owners become that many acquired titles and took up seats in the House of Lords, forming a powerful lobby group to protect their interests, inspiring one wag to term them the “Beerage”.

Much of the prosperity of the industry was as a result of the export trade to the Empire and the famous India Pale Ale was a draught especially developed for the Indian subcontinent, where it was consumed in large quantities by employees of the East India Company. It was particularly high in alcohol which helped preserve it in the heat and over the long sea journey. It is probably from this period that the expression was coined to describe someone who had gone AWOL, not expected to return, as having “gone for a Burton”.

In 1900 Burton9 it would have been hard not to work for a brewing company, so it is not surprising to find that Madge’s father, David Smith, worked in the sales department of the Wine and Spirits division of one of the major breweries. “He was also quite abstemious, very unusual in that situation and he found himself able to marry on an income of £100 per annum.”4,9


1 The way of a ship by Derek Lundy – a brilliant description of life aboard a square rigger in the 1880s 

2 Letter RDCH to Stephen Clarke 28.10.98

3 This is the date that John qualified as a Master Mariner in Liverpool. He did not go to sea again

4 RDCH to Stephen Clarke 28.10.98

5.Army discharge paper 1901

6. 1891 Census

7. Gwen Leys – a grand daughter of Elizabeth’s uncle James who emigrated to the USA. David Hart writes: “His daughter Gwenita – Gwen Davenport – stayed with us occasionally and became a great friend of Féo’s. She was very witty and full of fun and did us all a lot of good. She wrote a best seller (in USA) called “Sitting Pretty” and they made a film of it which was a success and very funny at the time – about 1945 I think”.

8. Burton’s Brewing Heritage: The Brewery History Society

Given Burton’s location in the central midlands the export trade in ale, and indeed the national distribution of Burton beers, was enormously facilitated by the network of railways that radiated out from Burton connecting the thirsty industrial and mining towns of the Black Country with the major ports of London, Bristol and Liverpool. Many breweries operated their own private branch lines to the hub in Burton. The main lines were laid down and operated by the Midland Railway, whose chairman was a prosperous Leicester businessman, and prominent Quaker philanthropist, John Ellis MP, into whose extended family both children of Campbell and Madge, (Féo and David) would later marry.

Burton – a typical midlands “black country” boomtown in Victorian England

9. Historical Conversion Calculator – 

£100 in 1900 equals £123,000 in 2018

Campbell Hart 2

Paulo Bukom

Click here for audio version
Can’t you ‘ear their paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay ? J.C. Burnie British Library

On 29th March 1881, when Campbell was just 13 months old, his mother Emma gave birth to a younger brother, Arthur Alfred.2 Arthur was not to survive more than that many months himself, his cause of death given as “teething”, symptoms which probably disguised a more pernicious underlying condition.  He was buried in Bassein on the 29th April 1882.

The Irrawaddy river bisects the country of Burma for some1500 miles along its north south axis and it is probable that, as a Commander with the Flotilla Comapany, Campbell’s father Alexander plied his trade along this highway between the British capital of Rangoon and Mandalay, the inland capital of the kingdom of Upper Burma. He commanded steam ships which towed “flats” alongside, carrying cargos of cotton and pulses, animals including elephants and up to several thousand deck passengers.

Bassein 1880s

The Flotilla Company played an important role in linking the hundreds of villages along the complex waterway, transporting the valuable paddy crops to market.  Alexander seems to have been involved in this route navigating through the maze of creeks and channels from Rangoon to Bassein.1 

The Irrawaddy Delta

The Irrawaddy is one of four great rivers that disperse the icy melt waters of the Himalayan glaciers into the Andaman sea through a web of interconnecting navigable channels known as the Irrawaddy Delta.  Covering a distance of 100 miles east/west from Rangoon to Bassein and dividing the Bay of Bengal from the Gulf of Martaban, the peninsula covers some 10,000  square miles of flat, alluvial and highly fertile land that was to become the rice bowl of Burma.

It cannot have escaped Alexander’s notice as he travelled along the river near the town of Yenangyaung in Upper Burma, that along its banks  “there appeared a range of low, foul smelling mounds.  These hillocks were covered in a thick ooze, a substance that would sometimes ignite spontaneously in the heat of the sun, sending streams of fires into the river. Often at night small, wavering flames could be seen in the distance, carpeting the slopes.  To the people of this area this ooze was known as earth oil”.4 These wells, reaching depths of up to 300 feet, were owned by twenty four families of Twin-zas and jealously guarded over successive generations.5

Earth Oil Wells Yenangyaung

In the 1850s members of the British Royal Society imported a quantity of this oil to undertake a chemical analysis, “ In several localities of the kingdom of Burmah, there emanates from the soil in considerable quantity a peculiar oleaginous substance, which is employed for a variety of purposes, but chiefly as a lamp-fuel and as an unguent, by the natives, and exported under the name of Burmese naphtha, or Rangoon tar.” 6

By the 1880s Europeans had started to take a keen interest in earth oil and were offering the Twin-zas good money for their pools and wells. Amongst these was a Glasgow based company, Rangoon Oil, which commenced mechanised extraction but which ultimately failed as a result of the King of Upper Burma ‘overcharging’ taxes for the oil discovered in his territory. Rangoon Oil was then taken over by another Scottish Company, Burmah Oil, which had more luck with their profits after the British had occupied Upper Burma.7

By 1915 there were over 4,000 wells operated by Burmah Oil Company. Photo courtesy of BP archive 

We don’t know exactly why Alexander gave up his position with the IFC to move with his family to Singapore but his circumstances at the time suggest several possibilities. The first reason was the growing instability of the region and the threat of war.

By 1882 there was already much unrest in the kingdom of Burma. King Midan, who had been a progressive, moderating influence had died in 1878 leaving his 53 wives, 48 sons and 62 daughters to argue over their inheritance and plot for the succession.  Prince Thebaw gained the ascendancy in 1878 and after marrying his half sister consolidated his position by massacring his rivals to the throne, putting to death over 40 of his brothers in one night.

Queen Supayalat and Kind Thibaw

Over the following few years law and order in Upper Burma continued to decline. Growing numbers of “dacoits”, bandits who plundered rural villages in armed bands up to a thousand strong, had so terrorised the local population that there was a constant stream of immigration into British Burma where it was felt they would find better security. Even the Flotilla ships were threatened by the dacoits and Commanders of the IFC ships, such as Alexander, were armed to protect themselves.

At the same time the British were highly suspicious of French imperialist intentions within the kingdom, threatening their trading monopolies and challenging them in the race to open up the China market. There were powerful and vocal interests lobbying for the completion of the work begun in 1825 – to annex the rest of the country.8  It did not take much of a diplomatic incident with the Bombay Burmah Trading Corp accused by the king of under paying taxes on the teak it was extracting from the royal forests and some minor border disputes to give the British the excuse they needed to depose King Thebaw and complete their reverse takeover by absorbing the kingdom of Burma into British Burma.

This was not to take place until 1885 by which time Alexander had already removed himself and his family to Singapore, but it did once again involve the ships of the Irrawaddy Flotilla which were requisitioned by the British army for a wholesale troop movement of the invasion force to Manadaly.

“Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren’t no Ten Commandments an’ a man can raise a thirst;
For the temple-bells are callin’, an’ it’s there that I would be
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea;
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay…”
Rudyard Kipling 9

The Old Moulmein Pagoda

Pulau Bukom – Oil and Water

Another possibility is that Alexander moved to Singapore because of its rapidly developing commercial possibilities. The opening of the Suez canal in 1869, the replacement of sail with steam and the establishment of an international telegraph10 system had revolutionised the Far East trade and Singapore, as a customs free port on the nexus of east west shipping routes, was ideally situated to profit from it.   It is also possible that Alexander saw commercial potential in derivatives of Rangoon Oil.10

Whether seeking a safer environment for his family, given the social unrest and risk of war, or whether Alexander moved because Singapore was opening up as a thriving commercial entrepôt for shipping we do not know. We do know that he moved with Emma and Campbell to a small island called Pulau Bukom, just 5 miles off the coast of Singapore. This idyllic island of sandy beaches and mangrove swamps was populated by small villages of subsistence fishing families. Known as Fresh Water Island Pulau Bukom had become an important victualling port for ships in transit. 11

Paulo Bukom 1880s
New terminal facilities at Paulo Bukom

With an existing infrastructure for servicing ships it made sense to develop an oil storage and distribution facility on Pulo Bukom.12  It is likely this also involved the manufacture of by-products, particularly anti corrosives and anti foulings. The recent development of replacing timber ships with iron enabled ships to be built bigger, and with steam engines and revolving propellors, much faster. However they had one major disadvantage – they attracted underwater organisms which significantly slowed them down. While wooden ships could be sheathed in copper, applying it to iron resulted in electrolysis and the steel disintegrated. Due to this problem by the 1840s the British Admiralty considered scrapping steel altogether and returning to timber construction.13

Tar had long been the basis for protective coatings on wooden ships and the refinement of tar oil, naptha and benzine provided effective solvents into which a toxic brew of arsenic, strychnine, cyanide, lead and mercury were added to provide a lethal deterrent to the growth of marine organisms.14 So highly lucrative was the potential value of a successful solution to this problem that all these anti foulings were patented.15 

We know that Campbell’s father, Alexander, became involved in this industry in Pulau Bukom around 1883 working for the Singapore Patent Paint Company, of which he would later become manager.

While living in Pulau Bukom Alexander and Emma had their third child, a daughter whom they named Dorothy and eighteen months later, on 1st June 1885, another daughter called Daisy Emmie.  Campbell was just five years old at this stage and it was late in 1885 that his father Alexander left home to travel to Bangalore in India “for the benefit of his health”.  At this stage we don’t know the nature of the illness, quite likely suffering from the common affliction of malaria, but it is also possible that it was due to exposure to the toxic cocktail of chemical ingredients with which he would have been experimenting. 

Why he went particularly to Bangalore is also a mystery. It is possible that he went to this elevated altitude for the benign, dry climate and cool winter breezes.  Or possibly he went to explore the health benefits of the Benga tree from which Bangalore gets its name. Extracts of this tree, otherwise known as Kino Tree16 had long been used for their medicinal properties in Ayurveda17 medicine, an ancient Indian healing tradition. Ironically, in addition to the use of herbal extracts Ayurveda healers also practiced a branch of medicine that dealt with toxicology 18 and which prescribed the consumption of minerals such as mercury, sulphur, arsenic, lead, copper sulphate and gold. A tragic example possibly in Alexander’s case, of the cure evidently being worse than the cause as he was never to return, succumbing to whatever ailed him and dying at Negapatum on India’s south east coast on the 24th March 1886 while on his journey home.

Left with three young children on a remote island Emma was fortunate to find a new husband within a year of Alexander’s death. She married David Rose Cowan, a young engineer who most likely had been a colleague of Alexander.  He worked for the oil company on Pulau Bukom of which he later became the manager.  David’s father had been a successful master mariner in China and had retired to the salubrious neighbourhood of Mount Sophia on Selegie Hill in Singapore. The following year, in 1888 Emma and David had a daughter whom they called Winnifred.

Campbell was by now eight years old, growing up on a rather isolated island with his three sisters. One can imagine him running barefoot over the sands and playing with the local Malay children. But this is unlikely given the strict protocols of race, class and position which the colonial British considered important to uphold. His mother and step father’s thoughts turned towards his education and career.  It was of course common practice for the children of expatriate families, sons in particular, to be sent home to England, both to imbibe some home country culture and education and also to escape the threat of disease that took such a toll on the European community.

It was decided that Campbell would be sent to England to live with Emma’s brother, John Thomas and his young family of four children who were around Campbell’s age.  John Thomas had spent his early life sailing tall ships with his father, John Gardiner, between Burma and Mauritius before returning to Liverpool to pursue more steady employment ashore as a ships’ surveyor.

It is an image of a brave but lonely 12 year old boy that we see disembarking in London in August 1892, one of only four passengers on the cargo ship ss Menalaus newly arrived from Singapore.

1 Bassein – British Library Collection

2 Arthur Alfred Baptism Cert

3 Arthur Alfred Burial Cert

4 Amitav Ghosh  The Glass Palace page 122.

Also: Irrawaddy Flotilla by Alister McCrae & Alan Prentice page 22

The History of Oil Exploration in the Union of Myanmar* Scott E. Thornton1

Royal Society Analysis 1856

Also earlier Examination in 1835 by Royal Society of Edinburgh

7 Rangoon Oil and The Burmah Oil Company


History of the Eurpopean Oil and Gas Industry

Burmese Naptha & Rangoon Oil

8 Background to the 2nd Anglo Burma War

The Irrawaddy Flotilla by Alister McCrae & Alan Prentice Page 94.

Without any note of irony the author of the history of the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company comments on the advice that Colonel Sladen, Commissioner  of Arakan, gives to the British Government….“Sladen’s opinion was sought and no one was better qualified to sum its all up. The extracts of his minute which follows demonstrate how patient and tolerant British policy towards Upper Burma had been in these (past ninety years).”

Sladen Wrote, “ It is somewhat strange that our first political intercourse with the Burmese Court commenced (as it seems likely to end) with an attempt to frustrate French intrigue and a French occupation.

Could we have foreseen all the troubles and complications which were to follow the occupation of Pegu in 1852, our best policy in the interests of the Burmese people and of our own Government would have been at that time to annexe the whole country, and to extinguish once and for all the Burmese dynasty.  We were content however, with our usual forbearance, to spare the dynasty, but rendered it effete and impotent for all the more serious purposes of war by occupying the whole coastline and leaving the Burmese no direct outlet by seas without passing through British territory.” Sladen goes on to articulate the justification for the annexation of Upper Burma and the removal of the king.


The French Connection that Contributed to the Fall of a Kingdom

How a Nation is Exploited – The British Empire in Burma, Orwell Foundation

Full text of Kipling’s Poem, “Mandalay”

The Road to Mandalay – Audio Version

10 Telegraph to the World – 1870

11Fresh Water Island & Pulo Bukom

12 Pulo Bukom Oil Installation

Kusu Island near to Paulo Bukom – as Paulo Bukom would have looked in 1885
Shell Oil Refinery, Paulo Bukom
Paulo Bukom today.

13,14 History of Prevention of Fouling, Bureau of Ships, Navy Department

No 580 Woods Hole Oceangraphic Institution 1952 Chapters 11

15  Patents for Anti Fouling

No 580 Woods Hole Oceangraphic Institution 1952 Chapters 12

16 Benga tree, Kino Tree :Pterocarpus marsupium

US National Library of Medicine

17 US National Library of Medicine

History of Ayurveda Medicine

History of Indian Healing Traditions

18  Rasa Shastra

Damshtra Chikitsa is the branch of Ayurveda Medicine that deals with toxicology.

Clarke Family Tree
Hart Family Tree

Campbell Hart 1

Click here for audio version

Rangoon, Burma 1880

Campbell Hart was the father of Féo Clarke and David Hart. Born on the 24th February, 1880, he was baptised Alexander John Campbell.  It was always known within the family that he had been born in Rangoon, the then capital of British Burma, but it was also a mystery why he had been born there. Family lore suggested that his father, Alexander, may have been a Cornish marine engineer, or even a ship’s master operating in the Far East, but there were no facts to corroborate this suggestion. 

Fortunately the colonial authorities in British India were meticulous in their record keeping and I was able to come across Campbell’s birth and baptism certificates through an online search. It is from his baptism certificate1, where it is recorded that he was born to Alexander and Emma Hart (née Gardiner), we gather the first clue. From both this document and from his father’s marriage certificate2 we learn that Alexander had been a “Mariner Commanding J.F & Co” and “First Officer on the ss Palifoo, J Ho & Co.”  These enticing hints led me to research the historical context of Campbell’s birth.

Burma was an exotic, mysterious kingdom in the early 1800s, on the one hand presenting an image of a peaceful, agrarian, self sufficient country with a contented and meditative Buddhist population while on the other dominated by a despotic and militaristic king, Pagan Min, who ruled with a capricious disregard both for his close relatives, whom he  regularly butchered, or for international treaties, which he carelessly abrogated.

But it was not the romance of this exotic land or the seductive tranquility of the golden tipped pagodas rising from the banks of the Irrawaddy that attracted the British into Burma, but rather the seemingly limitless forests of teak that were growing alongside this vast navigable waterway which bisected the kingdom of Burma for over a thousand miles.  

The burgeoning trade of the expanding British Empire and the associated increase in shipping was rapidly depleting the British owned forests around the world.  The oak forests of Ireland had already been denuded by the need for ships during the Napoleonic wars and the colonial settlers of New Zealand were making valiant efforts to haul the last of thousand year old Kauri trees from their mountain stands to the sawmills of the coast.  It was not surprising therefore that the British shipbuilders, mariners and merchants began to lobby Parliament for a greater share in the country’s wealth.  They had after all been eyeing the virgin forests of teak that lined the banks of the Irrawaddy river from Rangoon to Mandalay with more than covetous eyes. 

The British had gained control of the Burmese coastline, which included the major strategic ports, as a result of the first Anglo Burmese War in 1827. This had been fought in order to protect the East India Company’s sphere of influence from incursions by the King of Burma along its North East frontier in what is Bangladesh today, which the East India Company considered to be its own bailiwick. The cost of protecting Calcutta and East Bengal from this perceived Burmese threat was at the expense of some 15,000 lives, but nonetheless evidently a worthwhile investment as it came at a far greater cost to King Pagan Min, who was forced to cede his coastline, pay a crippling fine for having caused the war and agree a one sided trade deal. To cap his humiliation he then lost his throne to his half brother who appeared more amenable to agreeing terms with the British. And so ended the First Anglo Burmese war.

Of course there were other geopolitical incentives for the British to take control of the rest of Burma, not least the irritating influence of the French who were cosying up to the king in pursuit of their own imperial ambitions in South East Asia and also the prospect of an overland trade route into China linking the already vast British held territories of India with a market of 300 million consumers.  The British always maintained that they had no militaristic ambitions for territory, only the peaceful pursuit of free trade, if only their trading partners would accept their terms. Burma offered an unrivalled opportunity, not only for the export of such valuable commodities as teak and rice, but also for opening up new markets for the finished products of British industrialists and manufacturers.

The annexation of lands rather than conquest was a useful expedient which had been carefully honed by the British in India over the previous hundred years, resulting in the domination of the entire country by 1860. I say British, but the British Government could be excused for not having played a direct hand in it, as the command and control structure was entirely that of the East India Company, a private enterprise of City of London merchants to whom both the ruling Monarch and the British Parliament had conceded both the right to rule and the privilege to profit. By a gradual process of divide and rule the East India Company subverted Mughal sovereignty, supporting rival princes of the disintegrating dynasty with East India Company regiments until by 1856 the last Emperor, King Zafar, was merely a puppet of the East India Company in his capital, Delhi. Following the fall of Delhi after the suppression of the Indian Mutiny, the king was deposed and spent the remainder of his life in exile in Rangoon.

The tactic was simple following this 10 point plan:

  1. Inveigle your way into a host country by means of establishing a trading post.
  2. Negotiate rights for your merchants and shipping.
  3. Offer the protection of the British legal system for the resident colonists.
  4. Protect your colonists with a private army recruited from the host nation.
  5. Provide your host, or his enemy, the protection of your mercenary army, at a price.
  6. Engineer a situation where your host rescinds a treaty thus providing a “casus belli”.
  7. Seize his land in reprisal and defeat his forces with superior numbers and technology.
  8. Demand: a) Surrender b) Reparations to cover cost of war c) A new one sided treaty.
  9. Assume administrative control of former host’s territory.
  10. Export the rich natural resources while importing British manufactured goods. QED.

Variations of this template were replicated in successive wars of the Victorian era, the apparently belligerent host country being forced to cede its territory to its self righteously outraged guest.  It took only a minor diplomatic incident, on a flimsy pretext, to justify a display of gunboat diplomacy against the  Burmese.  While the response to the Burmese provocation was both swift and decisive it was clearly premeditated, as the planning of the storming of Rangoon, and the subsequent subjugation of Lower Burma, had been slow, calculated and meticulous.

This invasion involved four steamships of the East India Company and some towed hulks that had been gutted and converted as troop carriers and a flotilla of barges that were built in Calcutta and as a nineteenth century precursor to IKEA, dismantled and freighted as flat pack boats to be re-assembled in Moulein harbour on arrival in Burma. The entire flotilla of steamships, hulks and “flats” as they were called made their way up the Irrawaddy with their regiments of East India Company native infantry for the storming of Rangoon and the subsequent annexation of the entire area of lower Burma, which then became known as British Burma and with it came the end of the Second Anglo Burma war.

A steamship of the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company with a “flat” in tow

Following the successful occupation of Rangoon and the subsequent annexation of lower Burma the steamships and flats were offered for sale, with a sweetener of a concession to run the mail packet to Calcutta.  A public company was floated to purchase and run them, providing conveyance of both cargos and passengers between Rangoon and Mandalay. This company became to be known as The Irrawaddy Flotilla Company.

The life of Campbell’s father Alexander, however, still remained something of a mystery to me until I discovered his marriage cert to Emma Mary Ann Gardiner in 1878 in Rangoon, British Burma. The certificate contained some clues as to what sort of trade he was engaged in stating that he was the Chief Officer of the what appeared to be the ss. “Palifoo”.

I was unable to find a vessel by the name of SS Palifoo in the Lloyds Register, nor could I find find any trace of a shipping company by the name of J Ho & Co.  

Even the Baptism Cert of his firstborn, Alexander John Campbell is not much more enlightening, although it does eliminate the “Ho” in favour of the initial “F” and we see that Alexander is promoted to Mariner Commanding J. F & Co.

It is not until the birth of his second son, Arthur Alfred, that the mystery is revealed and we see his profession listed as Commander Irrdy: Flotilla.3

It did not take a great leap of imagination to connect this abbreviation with the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company and a subsequent search of records at Greenwich Maritime Museum revealed lists of vessels associated with the IFC including the SS Talifoo –  and tantalisingly they have a box of photos in their archives which includes  several of the Talifoo – maybe also of its Commander?

A quick look on Lloyds Register5 revealed the following information for the vessel:

Campbell’s father, Alexander, was clearly a man of his time, taking employment in his  chosen trade where it was offered in a stable and expanding industry in Rangoon with great prospects for the future.

Rangoon – British Burma 1880s

One could be forgiven for thinking of Rangoon as a remote frontier outpost of the Eastern British Empire, but that would be to ignore the extent of the colonial ambition for the city and this is best reflected in the sheer scale of its architecture. The annexation of these lands was not some temporary little arrangement as was evidenced by the immediate transposition of the British Burmese capital upriver from Moulmein to Rangoon. The commercially minded arrivistas demolishing the pagodas, stupas, shrines and temples along its waterfront, erecting piers, wharves and slipways in their stead, removing the random scatter of streets and shacks to establish a modern city on a gridiron layout.  

By the turn of the century Rangoon was a rival to any city within the British Empire and with public services and an infrastructure that were reputed to be on a par with London and an architecture and administration designed to promote power and prestige and showcase a world girdling Empire in pursuit of free trade and the implementation of British civilisation.

The Secretariat Building, Rangoon – The administrative seat of British Burma
Cantonment Gardens, Rangoon

It was at the start of his promising career as a Master Mariner that Alexander met and married Emma Mary Ann Gardiner, Campbell’s mother. Emma was born in Clifton, Bristol and her father, John, was also a Master Mariner,6 commanding sailing ships between Scotland7 and the Far East.

This photograph, taken around 1890 in Rangoon, shows both the type of steamer commanded by Alexander Hart and also a three masted Barque of the type commanded by John Gardiner.

Campbell was baptised two weeks after his birth, on the 6th April 1880, in the same church where his parents had married some eighteen months earlier. The newly built Anglican church of The Holy Trinity stood somewhat incongruously amongst the ancient Buddhist temples of Rangoon, and in particular juxtaposed against the iconic gilded stupa of the Shwendagon Pagoda.


1. Campbell Hart Birth Certificate: India, Select Births and Baptisms, 1786-1947

2. Alexander Hart & Emma Gardiner Marriage Certificate: India, Select Marriages, 1792-1948

3. Arthur Alfred Hart Birth Certificate: India, Select Births and Baptisms, 1786-1947

4.   Royal Museums Greenwich, Collections: ALB0295, ALB0290

5.   Lloyds Register: Appropriation Books, Official Number 82270  

6.   John Gardiner Master’s Certificate: UK and Ireland Masters and Mates Certificates, 1850 – 1927

7. Maritime History Archive, Memorial University of Newfoundland: Crew Agreements for John Gardiner

Background reading:

Irrawaddy Flotilla by Alister McCrae & Alan Prentice

The Last Mughal: The Fall of Delhi 1857 by William Dalrymple

The Honourable Company: History of the East India Company by John Keay

The Pacification of Burma By Sir Charles Crosthwaite, KCSI. (

Pegu, The Second Burmese War by William F.B. Laurie (Google Books)

Useful Websites:  

FIBIS & Fibiwiki, Friends of British in India Society:

Researching Ancestry: (Record transcripts and Family Tree)

Researching Ancestry:  (Original document scans)

Researching Ships & Captains: