Samuel Johns

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In the 1980s, Jack Cross prepared an entry for his ancestor, Samuel Johns,  in the "Biographical Index of South Australia, 1836 - 1885". His reference point was  information compiled previously by Dr. Edward Duyker. We thought it would be a good idea to reprint this compilation nearly 20 years later, in case, by chance, one of our readers may be able to throw further light on the early history of either the Stettaford and the Johns families. 

We print it without comment but shall return to it in the New Year to try to resolve some of the interesting points raised - the Stettaford family have waited a long time to take their search for their roots a stage further.

St. Sidwell's Church, Exeter c.1826

St. Sidwell's Church, Exeter c.1826

"Samuel Johns and Harriet Stettiford are known to have been married on  2 July 1827 by Curate John Marshall in the parish church of St. Sidwell's in Exeter, Devon. This ancient church had been rebuilt in 1812 according to the neo-Gothic design of William Burgess, but the original brick tower and the 15th century statues of saints and shield-bearing angels on the pillar tops had been retained. Both Samuel and Harriet signed the parish register, so we can assume they were literate.

Samuel and his bride Harriet went to live in nearby Paris Street. We know this from the baptismal registration of their first child, Samuel Stettaford Johns, who was christened in St. Sidwell's on 25 May 1828. Unfortunately, the close-packed terraces of Paris Street are no more. On the night of 4 May 1942, German bombers rained incendiaries down on Exeter. Eight hundred of the fourteen hundred houses destroyed that night were in the parish of St Sidwell; Paris Street was completely flattened.

The ancient tower of the church (seen above) which, four years before Samuel and Harriet's wedding, had been crowned with a new spire sheaved with copper salvaged from one of Nelson's men-of-war, was declared unsafe and was demolished by a sapper the following day.

Fortunately for us, the priceless registers of St. Sidwell's were rescued from below the tottering masonry by the brave parish Rector, the Rev. M.V. Narracott. Had these registers not been saved, we would not only be bereft of details of Samuel and Harriet's wedding, but also of two of their children's baptisms, for Samuel Stettaford gained a sister, Anne, who was baptised in St. Sidwell's on 28 March 1830."

These appear to have been difficult years for Samuel and Harriet and their infant children. In the parish registers, Samuel is twice referred to as a "smith". Given that we know he continued to work as a blacksmith in Australia and was also briefly an innkeeper, there seems little doubt that he was the same Samuel Johns described in the Exeter Flying Post on July 27th 1833 as a "blacksmith and innkeeper of a public house at Exwick" who was declared entitled to the benefit of legislation enacted for the relief of insolvent debtors and "discharged accordingly" on July 27th 1833.  This "public house" was probably the Lamb Inn, Southgate Street, Exwick or the "Buller's Arms Inn"

How long Samuel had been an undischarged bankrupt is unclear, but 13 years before, in 1820, the Exeter Flying Post had carried a report of a "Samuel Johns*, formerly of Kingsand, afterwards of Mile House and late of Plymouth Dock, all in Devonshire, imprisoned for debt in His Majesty's Goal of St. Thomas the Apostle". According to the insolvency records, however, this Samuel Johns was a "victualler and Taylor" not a blacksmith. Nevertheless, there is no doubt of Samuel Johns' connection with Plymouth. He and his family were living in the West Hoe cottages in March 1840 and it was from Plymouth that they left for Australia in July of the same year."


*Footnote by John Cross:

Mile House was formerly part of the parish of Maker in Cornwall. On New Year's Day 1792, a Samuel Johns, son of Samuel and grace Johns, was christened in that same parish. Our Samuel Johns was said to have been 69 years old when he died in Australia in 1871, but could he, in fact, have been 79 years? Has he underestimated his age to qualify for assisted passage to South Australia in 1840? The registers of the parish of Marker also reveal the marriage of a Grace Bawden to a Samuel Johns on November 1st 1779. Was this same Samuel Johns born in Maker on October 19th 1753, the son of William and Ann Thorn who married in Maker on February 20th 1753?


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