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We know for certain that William Franklin, the father-in-law of George Shirran, was a Colour Sergeant in the 31st Regiment of Foot and later on a prison warden. From the point at which he enlisted in summer 1863, we have a clear if slightly patchy account of who he was, where he was and what he was doing. The problem is to identify what he was doing before he enlisted, and which of several different William Franklins is him.
We know that George Shirran married the sixteen-year-old Florence Blanche Franklin in 1892, and that her father was William Franklin, a prison warder, probably working at a prison in Gibralter since that was where his teenage daughter was living [GROS Statutory Marriages 055/AF 0063]. This Florence Blanche Franklin was the daughter of Caroline Ellen Franklin, an Irishwoman who was living without her husband in the Grand Shaft Barracks at Hougham, Kent as at the census of April 1881. We know this because not only does Caroline Ellen have a daughter Florence Blanche born circa 1875, but also other children called William J E, Lillian Edith and Ethel Maud, and the children of George Shirran and Florence Blanche Franklin included William John George, Lillian Edith and Ethel Maud - that is, Florence called her children after her siblings [1881 census, Hougham, Kent and Elham, Kent; children of George and Florence Shirran]. It's pretty clear this is the same Florence Blanche.
The same census shows a Colour Sergeant William Franklin of the 31st Regiment of Foot, a married man, currently living without his wife at the School of Musketry at Hythe, near Elham, Kent [1881 census, Hougham, Kent and Elham, Kent]. We know that this William at Hythe is the husband of Caroline Ellen and father of Florence Blanche (and therefore my great great grandfather) because we can track him through the records and tie them together.
We know from his army records that a William Franklin enlisted with the 31st Regiment of Foot on 24th July 1863, that he became a Colour Sergeant and that he married Caroline Ellen Walsh on 9th June 1873 in Gibraltar, had a certificate of instruction from Hythe and transferred to a rifle regiment some months after the census shows him at the School of Musketry [WF Enlistment; WF Military History summary as at 1884; WF Record of Service].
We know that as well as Florence Blanche, one of the children who was living with Caroline
Ellen at the Grand Shaft Barracks in 1881 was called Lillian Edith [1881 census, Hougham, Kent and Elham, Kent].
We know that the William Franklin who was the father of Florence Blanche Franklin was a prison warder in 1892 [GROS Statutory Marriages 055/AF 0063].
The Irish census of 31st March 1901 shows William J Franklin, a prison warder at a military prison in Cork, living with his Irish wife Caroline E, born in Cork City, Caroline's mother Caroline Walsh and four of their children including a grown daughter Lillian E and a small son Lancelot [1901 census for Cork].
The English census of 1911 shows William Franklin, an army pensioner, living with with his Cork-born wife Caroline, their young son Lancelot and Caroline's mother Caroline Walsh [1911 census, Reading].
A William James Franklin, army pensioner, died in Aldershot in 1922 and the informant was his daughter Lillian E Stone [GRO Statutory Deaths Farnham, September quarter 1922, 21 143].
It's clearly the same man throughout, and all the sources which go into any detail about his birthplace, say he was born in Helmdon in Northamptonshire. We also know that his full name was William James Franklin, even though he seems rarely to have used his middle name. So far so good.
The problems begin when we start looking at the dates, viz.:
The English census states that William Franklin was thirty-nine on 3rd April 1881 and sixty-nine on 2nd April 1911, which ought to mean he was born between 4th April 1841 and 2nd April 1842 [1881 census, Elham, Kent; 1911 census, Reading].
William died on 21st August 1922, at which point he was said to be eighty years old, giving him a birthdate between 22nd August 1841 and 21st August 1842 [GRO Statutory Deaths Farnham, September quarter 1922, 21 143].
According to his army records [WF Enlistment; WF Medical History form] he was nineteen as at 24th July 1863, giving him a birthdate between 25th July 1843 and 24th July 1844.
The Irish census has him aged fifty-four on 31st March 1901, giving him a birthdate between 1st April 1846 and 31st March 1847 [1901 census, Cork].
At the time of his wedding on 9th June 1873, he was said to be twenty-five - giving him a birthdate between 10th June 1847 and 9th June 1848 [Gibraltar Chaplain's Returns 1873-74 page 303].
That's an age-range of over seven years, from 4th April 1841 to 9th June 1848. Who to believe, and how can we match him up with a record of his life prior to enlistment, with such a wide target, and so many possible William Franklins to choose from?
Looking for Franklins in Helmdon is like looking for Joneses in Wales. Between 1841 and 1848 there are five plain William Franklins whose birth is registered in Brackley, the nearest town to Helmdon - one in the June quarter of 1843, two in the December quarter of 1843 and one each in the September and December quarters on 1844 - plus a William Joseph Franklin in the March quarter of 1843. There are also four Franklin babies born in 1841, 1842, 1843 and 1846 and just registered as "male" any of whom may, if they lived, have ended up as a William.
There is also a William James Franklin, the son of William and Ann Franklin, who was christened on 4th June 1843 in Helmdon [FamilySearch] (and so was most likely born in Helmdon as well) and who is probably the baby born in the June quarter of 1843 and registered just as William Franklin at birth - although Jenny Franklin said she looked into it and was unable to pinpoint his exact birth.
Within an 1841-1848 range there are no candidates at all who would match an 1847-48 birthdate, and no definite named Williams before 1843 or after 1844. So our William probably was one of the babies born in 1843 or 1844: a William Joseph, a William James and four or five plain Williams, depending on whether or not William James and one of the plain Williams are the same child.
That fits with the idea that "our" William Franklin was nineteen when he enlisted in July 1863 [WF Enlistment]. Since we know that the William Franklin from Helmdon we are looking for was really a William James Franklin, it's natural to think that he is the William James Franklin, son of William and Ann, who was christened in Helmdon in June 1843. The registry entry for Colour Sergeant William Franklin's marriage confirms that his father's name was also William [Gibraltar Chaplain's Returns 1873-74 page 303], which ties in with the idea that he is the William James christened in Helmdon.
That's a problem because if it's true it means he must really have been twenty when he enlisted, not nineteen: but however you cut it, maths doesn't seem to have been his long suite.
Do we have any other evidence that the William James Franklin who joined the army is the same William James Franklin who was christened in Helmdon in 1843?
To match up and trace all the Williams, we need to follow them through the census. Exact details and reference numbers of the census findings can be seen on a separate page, but the results can be summarised as follows.
We know we are looking for a William James Franklin, a William Joseph Franklin and four or five William Franklins all born in the Brackley area in 1843-1844 - and there may be other Williams who were simply listed as "male" at birth. As at 1851, the census shows us four plain William Franklins in the Brackley area; and a Joseph W Franklin, son of Sarah Franklin, a widow. William J Franklin, son of Sarah Franklin, a widow, turns up in the 1861 census for Marylebone (to which the family had evidently moved), so presumably the Joseph W Franklin in the 1851 census is our missing William Joseph.
We do not know the name of William Joseph's late father, so he very well could have had a father called William. However, somebody who is probably William Joseph can be traced forwards in the records, still living in London in 1871 after "our" William had joined the army. In any case, whilst it's possible that someone listed just as "William Franklin" might have a middle name James which has been ommitted, it's unlikely that someone whose middle name has actually been stated, and isn't James, would secretly have another middle name James. Plus, William Joseph was supposedly born in Westbury, not Helmdon. So it's fairly safe to assume that William James Franklin and William Joseph Franklin are not the same person. That leaves the William James who was christned in Helmdon in June 1843, and four or five plain Williams.
According to the 1851 census there was no William James Franklin of the right age living in the Brackley area, but there were four plain william Franklins. None of the plain William Franklins of the right age had a father called William, and in addition only one of them (son of John and Elisabeth) was born in Helmdon, and someone who is almost certainly he can be traced forwards through the records as not having joined the army - he became a tobacconist.
Of the other three plain Williams, one was born in Syresham and two in Westbury. All of these can also all be traced forwards and shown to be still civilians after "our" William had joined the army (there's some confusion as to which of the plain Williams born in Westbury grew up to be which, but there are two of them all the way through). So it's pretty clear that none of the plain Williams of the right age, living in the Brackley area in 1851, is William James son of William and Ann, nor are they Colour Sergeant William James.
That could mean that William James Franklin, son of William and Ann, had left the district prior to 1851, but there is another alternative. The census does show a James Franklin, son of William and Ann Franklin, of the right age. Eight-year-old James is a farm-boy, not a scholar, which might explain the older William James' lack of maths skills, and there is other evidence that the family were in the habit of mucking around with their chidren's names.
Let's assume that James Franklin, son of William and Ann, an eight-year-old farm boy born in Helmdon and still living in Helmdon in 1851, is the same person as William James Franklin, son of William and Ann, christened in Helmdon in 1843, and Colour Sergeant William James Franklin, born in Helmdon circa 1843-1844. There's quite a lot of information available on what is probably this couple, although it's not very consistent, and if it's really the same couple in each instance then they were as vague about dates as their presumed son.
There were at least two couples called William and Ann Franklin in Helmdon in the mid 19th century, but we know that according to the census the Ann Franklin, wife of William, who had an eight-year-old son James as at 1851 was born in 1820-1821, whereas the other Ann Franklin was born circa 1926. So, the William and Ann who were the parents of the James who was probably William James, are probably the William and Ann who married in Radstone on 18th November 1839. This Ann was born on 23rd February 1820 in Radstone, and was the daughter of Samuel and Elizabeth Brum [FamilySearch].
In the 1841 census a William Franklin, aged twenty, agricultural labourer, his twenty-year-old wife Ann and their four-month-old daughter Jane were all living at The Green in Helmdon, Northamptonshire. All were born in Northamptonshire. [Census for England & Wales 1841: RR n° HO107; Piece 804; Book/Folio 9/9; Page 12; Registration District Brackley; Sub-District Sulgrave]
In 1851 William Franklin, aged thirty-one, farm labourer, born in Claydon in Oxfordshire, was living with his wife Ann, aged thirty-one, a lacemaker, born in Radson (? probably Radstone) in Northamptonshire, and their children James, aged eight, a farm-boy; Frederick A, six, also a farm boy; Jane, four; Elizabeth, two; and Richard, four months. All the children were born in Helmdon. No adress is given except Helmdon and n° 13. [Census for England & Wales 1851: RG n° HO107; Piece 1735; Folio 466; Page 4; Registration District Brackley; Sub-District Sulgrave] If this is the same couple we don't know whether the older Jane died, or the older Jane changed her name so they re-used it for a sibling, or this is the same Jane and they got her age out by six years. If the family were illiterate - which the fact that their sons were working in the fields aged six and eight tends to suggest - they wouldn't have filled in the census form themselves but had somebody else do it for them, and the somebody might have been guessing.
In 1861 William Franklin, aged forty-seven, machinist sawyer, born in Helmdon, was living at Sight Hill near The Green, Helmdon along with Ann Franklin his wife, aged forty-one, born in Radstone, and their children Elizabeth, aged fifteen, a lacemaker; Benedict, eleven, a labour sawyer; Samuel (or possibly Lemuel), nine; Meryl, seven; Ruth, five; and a one-year-old daughter with an extraordinary name which looks like Selmuetta. Jenny Franklin, who has seen the birth certificate, assures me it's actually Letmaratha - which is no better - and that the couple went on to have another daughter called Florence. All the children were born in Helmdon. [Census for England & Wales 18##: RG n° ##; Piece ##; Folio ##; Page ##; Registration District ##; Sub-District ##; Enumeration District ##]
This looks as if it should be the same couple, but there's a six-year discrepancy in the father William's age, a three-year discrepancy in Elizabeth's age, and a Bendedict where there should be a Richard. The age discrepancies could be due to illiteracy or dreadful handwriting - the enumerator might easily have mistaken "41" for "47" for example -, but Benedict is a puzzle. Did they have two boys very close together in age - twins, possibly - and on each occasion when the census was taken one was at home and the other away? Outwith the 1861 census, there seems to be no record of a Benedict Franklin of this age and so it seems more likely that the family had either Got Religion in some weird way or decided to try to make themselves sound more posh, and along with giving their daughters names like Meryl and Letmaratha, they had changed their son's name from Richard to Benedict. Since there's no later record of a Benedict, he probably changed it back as fast as he was able.
I have not found them in 1871 or 1881, but in 1891 an Ann Franklin, widow aged seventy-two, born in Radstone, is living as a pauper in Aston Union Workhouse, Erdington, near Sutton Coldfield on the north-east side of Birmingham. [Census for England & Wales 1891: RG n° RG12; Piece 2427; Folio 94; Page 15; Registration District Aston; Sub-District Erdington; Enumeration District 21]
We do have other reasons for thinking that the family of Colour Sergeant William James Franklin might have moved to the Birmingham area. In his army records (written some time after the birth of his eldest son circa 1873-1874, since his son is referred to in the same note) he lists his next of kin as his wife and son, care of the Regiment, and his parents William and Jane in Birmingham [WF Military History summary as at 1884].
None of the William Franklins who we know were born in the Brackley area in the right age range appears to have parents called William and Jane. In addition, no couple called William and Jane Franklin appear in the census for Birmingham. I did find a couple of that name in Leamington Spa, about twenty miles from Birmingham, but if the census is at all accurate they cannot possibly be the right ones, because they have a son called William and he's considerably too old - born circa 1837-1838 - and they would hardly have had two living sons both called William and about six years apart in age. Plus, this too-old son William was born in Leamington. [census Leamington 1861]
Possible explanations include but are not limited to: that he said "William and Ann" to the army clerk and the clerk misheard him; that his mother changed her name from Ann to Jane and back again, the same way her son's name seems to have changed from Richard to Benedict and back; that his mother died and his father remarried a Jane; that there were more than six William Franklins born in Brackley in the right time-frame because one of the nameless "male" Franklin babies was later named William James, and our boy is a seventh one whose family had moved away from the Brackley area by 1851; or that he wasn't born William Franklin at all but was either illegitimate or originally had a different first name, and took his father's name later on. If Colour Sergeant William James Franklin is the William James Franklin who was christened in Helmdon in 1843, and if the Ann Franklin who ended up in the Aston Union Workhouse was his mother - both unproven but very likely - then only the first two options, that the army clerk made an error or that his mother changed her name, are relevant.
There is another possibility. Colour Sergeant Franklin's army records have been mended with brown sticky tape, which covers the place where his parents' surname would be, if in fact his parents' surname is written in the records at all [WF Military History summary as at 1884]. There isn't room for the name "Franklin" to be written down and then covered by the tape, but there is room for a shorter name.
In 1861 a William Franklin of the right age and from the Brackley area was the live-in servant of a couple called William and Jane Betts of Sutton Coldfield, on the outskirts of Birmingham. If this is the same William Franklin who became Colour Franklin, one can see that he might for some reason have viewed his former employers as foster parents and given them as his next of kin (the brown tape on his army records could easily conceal the word "Betts") - perhaps because his parents were rather loopy people who swapped their children's names around and called them things like Letmaratha - or that he might absent-mindedly have answered "William and Jane" instead of "William and Ann" when asked the names of his parents.
Against this, according to the census the William Franklin who worked for William and Jane Betts was born in Westbury, not Helmdon. But there could be reasons for that - for example, he might have been out when the census form was filled in, and someone else in the house could have filled it in for him and got it slightly wrong. Or he might not, at that point, have even known for sure where he was born: Colour Franklin certainly seemed to be in some confusion as to what year he was born.
On the other hand, if this William in Sutton Coldfield is William James, then one of the two Williams we know was born in Westbury and living in the Brackley/Helmdon area in 1851 is unaccounted for in 1861. More likely, then, that this is genuinely one of the Williams born in Westbury - yet, we still know that Colour Sergeant William James Franklin did have family connections in Birmingham.
As well as the Ann Franklin born in Radstone, the right age to be the mother of Richard and (William) James, who is living as a pauper in Aston Union Warehouse in Erdington in 1891, there is also a Richard Franklin, born in Helmdon and of the right age to be the Richard who was four months old in 1851, who turns up in Erdington in the Aston area of Birmingham in 1871, two miles from Sutton Coldfield [Census for England & Wales 18##: RG n° ##; Piece ##; Folio ##; Page ##; Registration District ##; Sub-District ##; Enumeration District ##]. This need not necessarily signify, because Birmingham was the nearest big city to Helmdon and a lot of people from Helmdon probably ended up there independently, but it does at least raise the possibility that the family moved to the Aston area, which would fit with the information on Colour Franklin's next-of-kin form that his family were living in Birmingham.
What else do we know about Colour Sergeant William James Franklin? According to the details of his marriage in June 1873 [Gibraltar Chaplain's Returns 1873-74 page 303] he was a widower, but his army records [WF Enlistment] show him as single in July 1863. If both pieces of information are correct, he either married and was widowed prior to July 1863, or married and was widowed between July 1863 and June 1873. His army records [WF Military History summary as at 1884] show no wife other than Caroline Ellen Walsh, so if it's correct that he was a widower when he married her, he must have been married and widowed prior to July 1863. If he was the William who was working for William and Jane Betts in spring 1861, then he was listed as single at that time, which imposes further restrictions.
A William James Franklin married in Aston in the June quarter of 1860 to a wife called Ann Hanson, but Jenny Franklin has seen the marriage certificate and says that this William James was a mason, and seems to be the same William Franklin, stonemason, husband of Ann, who turns up in Aston in the the 1881 census with a birthdate in 1839-1840 and a birthplace in Stourbridge. If these two Williams are the same then he's not our boy.
There are also a plain William Franklin married in Aston in the December quarter of 1860 [Marriages Aston December Quarter 1860 6d 406], and two William Franklins married in Birmingham proper in December 1882[Marriages Birmingham December Quarter 1862 6d 52 and 6d 54]. If Colour Franklin is the William Franklin who worked for William and Jane Betts, and was listed as single in 1861, he could be one of the Williams who married in 1862, and if not then he could be the one from 1860.
Or, of course, he might not have gone to Aston at all. Just because his mother and brother seem to have gone to Aston doesn't prove that he did, so he could have married anywhere.
Then there's the odd affair of Phebe Needle. Phebe was born circa 1845-1846 and lived with her family in Helmdon. In 1851 her family were next door to the William and Ann Franklin who had the sons (William?) James and Richard, and in 1861 they were next door to the family John and Elisabeth Franklin who had the sons William and John. In each case there is a Franklin brother a year or two older than Phebe, and one a few years younger than her.
In the June quarter of 1864, Phebe (or Phoeby) had an illegitimate son, Harry Franklin Needle. Presumably his father was a Franklin - unless Franklin was the name of one of her ancestors, which we don't know. There were many Franklins in Helmdon but the most obvious candidates for fatherhood would be one of the boys next door.
In addition, Phebe's baby Harry was born in the Aston area of Birmingham - the area which includes Erdington and Sutton Coldfield - even though Phebe came from Helmdon, and was back in Helmdon by 1871.
Of course, Birmingham was the nearest large city to Helmdon so there may not be anything significant about her going there, but it is at least interesting that she ended up so close to what are probably the Richard Franklin she had grown up living next door to, and his mother. Quite possibly, William James was somewhere in the area too. Did she go to them already pregnant, appealing for a friend's help? Did she go to them looking for work and become pregnant by one of them?
As at 1871 she was back in Helmdon with two more presumably-illegitimate children, since they bore her surname - Edmund, four, born in Brackley and Mary, two, born in Helmdon. Either Phebe had more than one lover she wasn't married to, or the father was not the William James Franklin who became Colour Sergeant Franklin - for although he would still have been in either Portsmouth or Plymouth when Edmund was conceived, he was certainly in Malta when Mary was conceived, and we've no reason to think Phebe was ever in Malta. If one of the Franklin boys who went to Birmingham, from the same family as Colour Franklin, was the father of all three of Phebe's children, then the father of Phebe's children must have been Richard.
It's only the Aston connection which suggests it, though. That aside, it seems more likely the father of Henry Franklin Needle was one of the Franklin boys - William and John, sons of John and Elisabeth - who lived next door to Phebe when she was a teenager.