You can tell Christmas is over the moment the holiday adverts start. (It used to be the sales but they have those all year round now. “Hurry and buy. Sale ends Tuesday!!!!!” Yes – because the next one begins on Wednesday …) Anyway back to the dreaming of summer holidays. There is an entire school of art dedicated to portraying white sandy beaches with nary a person on them and wonderful sunshine with no reference to prickly heat or pesky flies and don’t all those hotels look luxurious? Even the ones that aren’t finished. As for the idea of being in the Caribbean on a floating palace of food with nothing to do all the long day waiting for a port – any port! – to hove into sight, well what’s not to like?
That the Caribbean is not all wall-to-wall sunshine hits home when the hurricane season begins. And for one of our past pupils, such an event changed her life completely. The Royal Mail Ship RMS Rhone was wrecked off Salt Island in the British Virgin Islands on 29 October 1867 in a hurricane. 123 people were killed, including Chief Steward Christopher Storry, father of Elizabeth Storry.
Christopher Storry was born in Yorkshire in Lowsthorpe, not far from the sea (near Bridlington) but met and married his wife in Bishop’s Waltham, Hampshire. Elizabeth Austin was the daughter of the publican of the Crown Inn and, in 1851, Christopher Storry is listed as innkeeper there, Elizabeth’s father having died in 1849. How and why he ended up in Hampshire from Yorkshire we don’t know.
Image from httpwww.crowninnbishopswaltham.co.ukgallery
The Crown Inn dates back to at least Tudor times and is significant in Bishop’s Watham’s history. It has another naval link beyond the fact that its 1851 innkeeper joined the merchant navy! It is said that “Admiral Pierre Villeneuve, Commander of the combined French and Spanish fleet, was brought here after the battle of Trafalgar.” http://www.visitwinchester.co.uk/11-crown-inn/bishops-waltham. Perhaps rather less glamorously, and long after the Storry association with it, it was involved in beer riots. These were sparked by a local curate objecting to the renewal of a licence for the pub. “The rioters, fired by copious amounts of beer, threw the unfortunate curate into the fish pond” http://www.visitwinchester.co.uk/11-crown-inn/bishops-waltham
However, back to the Storry story. By 1861, Christopher was listed as a messman in Winchester with his wife and new-born daughter, Ann. Elizabeth was with Granny in Bishop’s Waltham and her entry in the 1861 census gives her birthplace as Weedon, Northamptonshire, on 28 November 1855 in fact. Christopher had signed on with the Merchant Navy in 1853 and, as there was a large barracks in Weedon, it seems likely that he had been posted there in about 1854 (he was at sea on the Magdalena in 1853), hence Elizabeth’s birth as far from the sea as anyone can get in UK.
Storry Père had signed on with the ill-fated RMS Rhone on 30th September 1867. The ship had only been commissioned in 1865 so there was probably still wet paint. Just a month after he joined the ship it was hit by what was subsequently named the San Narciso Hurricane, given a Category 3 rating storm, the ninth and last hurricane of the season. The Rhone was caught by the tail of the storm and the Captain decided that it might be better to get out to sea than be trapped in a harbour but the anchor chain was caught on a coral head. The Master ordered it to be cut free but just as the boat was moving again, the second half of the hurricane hit them and flung the ship back against the rocks the anchor chain had caught on. The Captain went overboard never to be seen again. The ship broke in two and the cold seawater hit the hot boilers causing them to explode. The ship sank quickly and only 25 people survived.
“The bodies of many of the sailors were buried in a nearby cemetery on Salt Island. “[Wikpedia] and later a memorial was installed at Southampton.
By Jezdrake – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51235055
Fast forward a century or so and the wreck of the Rhone is now a well-known dive site. The wreckage even featured in the 1977 film The Deep from the novel by Peter Benchley – who, of course, wrote another novel about the sea which was filmed. (Der-der, Der-der, Der-der-der-der-der-der …Oh come on! You must recognise the theme tune!)
Image of wreck By Gareth Richards – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4296424
In the map, Salt Island is shown, the population of which is about 3 and which pays an annual rent to the Queen of a 1lb bag of salt – hence, presumably, its name. The nearby Dead Chest Island (arrowed) is supposedly the place where Blackbeard marooned some of his crew as punishment. He left them with a cutlass and a bottle of rum each and, when he returned, mysteriously few of the crew were surviving! However this story is in all likelihood just that – a story, drawn in part from R L Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883) song Dead Man’s Chest.
Another apocryphal story, linked directly to the Rhone, is that the Captain was stirring his tea when he was flung overboard and his teaspoon can still be seen attached to the coral. Apparently, there is indeed a teaspoon clearly visible entrenched in the wreck’s coral although whether it was the Captain’s or not cannot be said.
Elizabeth was 12 when her father died. The money due to his estate on his death (presumably his salary or accrued earnings) was £5 19s 10d according to the register of deaths at sea. This is the modern equivalent of about £230 so would not have given the family much to live on. However, Christopher had been a Freemason and this made his family eligible for support. On March 21 1868, The Hampshire Chronicle advertised an event of the following week, supported by the Masonic Lodge, at which Thomas Bull would perform a reading – shades of Charles Dickens here.
He was doing so for no fee but tickets were to be sold at 1s each. The entire proceeds would go to a fund set up for Elizabeth with, as it says, the purpose of ensuring her election to the School. Although most pupils were elected by ballot, some pupils gained their places by purchase through the father’s lodge. Whether this was partial or whole purchase of a place, the records do not say. Either way, we do know she became a pupil and was present at the school in the 1871 census.
Elizabeth’s appearance in the 1871 census at the School was followed later that year by her leaving it. By the 1881 census, she was no longer a Storry having married Frederick Elston in 1880. He was a Colour Sergeant with the Artillery. Thus the 1881 census sees her at Royal Marine Barracks, Landport, Portsea, Hants. Shortly after the birth of their first son Frederick John in 1882, the family moved to Swansea. Unfortunately the 1881 census was the last one to record Elizabeth as she died in 1890 aged just 34 and was buried in St Peter’s, Swansea. In 1891 the Elstons, by now including Walter, Annie, Rose and Florence were at Terrace Road, Swansea Town where Elizabeth’s widower was the School Board Man. Elizabeth’s mother was also there presumably looking after the children whilst Frederick Snr was at work.
Elizabeth’s relatively short life left a lasting legacy in the form of her six children who all lived into the twentieth century. Fred became a carpenter in Swansea and in 1902 we see his union membership transferred to Cape Town, after which he disappears from sight. Walter Trim Elston became a commercial traveller for a brewery and was still in Swansea in 1911. By 1939 he referred to himself as a wine merchant and had moved to Nantwich, Cheshire with his wife and daughter. He died in Sussex in 1963. Annie and Florence in 1911 were both still living with their father who had married again (in 1897, another Elizabeth); Annie was a telephone operator and Florence a costumier like her stepmother. Annie Elizabeth married in 1918 in Swansea and continued to live there until her death in 1973. Rosa Catherine, who had been born in 1887, married in 1910. Her married name was Crapper which, or may not, have resulted in sniggering then as it probably does now. As husband Stanley was a schoolmaster, his more unruly pupils might have had a field day. Another daughter, Minnie Gerty, had been born in 1890. She was born in March and her mother was buried in May. The two facts may have been connected. Quite where Minnie was in the 1891 census is unclear as she is definitely not with the family although she is in the next two census returns. In 1917, she married and included amongst the witnesses were her father, her brother in law and her sister, perhaps indicating the closeness of the family. Like her older sister Annie, Minnie stayed in Swansea until at least 1939. However, at some point she left as her death is recorded in Bideford in 1977. The last daughter to note here sort of completes the circle. Florence May Elston, the costumier of 1911, married a navy man as her grandfather had been. In 1917, she married Cyril Thrower, a Chief Officer, and their first son was called Storry William Thrower, neatly commemorating the surname with which we began. Sadly, and also in circular pattern, Florence, like her grandmother Elizabeth, was widowed by the sea. Cyril, whilst serving on the Port Campbell, was lost at sea in 1949 but through their son Storry, the name has been carried into the 21st century.