John George Hort - my great grandfather, I never found out what happened to him but what a journey of discovery.
My maternal grandfather, John George Beresford Hort (see photo) was born in London in 1889 and died 90 years later in Barrow in Furness Cumbria. He was an amateur but talented musician, poet, artist, magician and a wonderful grandfather whom I was very close to. He is listed in the 1911 census in Barrow in Furness, where he married my granny in 1912. He never spoke of his family but his only daughter, my mother; Eva told me that his father was a sea captain who was killed falling from the mast. She also mentioned that his family were linked with aristocracy - but my mother said a lot of things! It was only when my cousin started looking into her family tree that she realised that there may be some truth in the rumours and told me of her findings. I decided to investigate further, taking me on a voyage of discovery involving an archbishop, a satirical novelist, an illegitimate royal, a Melbourne suburb, a very famous nurse, a murder suspect and ultimately a mystery.
The earliest Hort that I can trace is a John Hort from Marshfield in Gloucester the only facts known are that his son was Josiah Hort who was at Clare College Cambridge in 1709. Josiah became a chaplain, went to Ireland and eventually became the Archbishop of Tuam and a rich man; the area is still known as Hortland. He was satirised in a poem by Jonathon Swift, although later they became great friends, he also wrote several sermons that are still in print. He married Elizabeth Fitzmaurice the daughter of William Fitzmaurice the 20th Baron of Kerry. It is fairly easy to trace this line back to 870 AD and a Duke of Tuscany with a few interesting incidents along the way including Nesta, a beautiful Welsh princess who bore Henry 1st an illegitimate son. She later married my forebear, Gerald of Windsor. Life with Nesta seems to have been somewhat turbulent. She was once abducted from their home, Carew Castle by a jealous Welsh prince and Gerald only escaped with his life by shimmying down a garderobe (toilet chute).
The Archbishop had several children including John who became Sir John Hort Baronet and governor of Lisbon. His second surviving son was Josiah George who remained at Hortland becoming a priest and managing the estate. The Irish record of students at Trinity College Dublin, the Alumni Dublines records that in 1748 John was 17 and Josiah George 16 (both sons of Josiah Archiepiscopus). I suspected that my family were related to either John or Josiah and eventually found a will in the Irish National Library stating that Josiah George had left all his belongings to his natural (illegitimate son) also called Josiah George. This was the evidence that I required to place the final link in the chain.
Josiah George junior can also be found in the alumni, so it would seem that his education was well provided for by his now late father. He became a Lt. In the 81st Foot losing his right leg at the battle of Corunna in the Peninsular war in 1809 (it was probably amputated by a ship’s surgeon after the evacuation by sea) he went on to command the fortress in Duncannon Ireland around 1812 and eventually became Major Hort Adjutant at Kilmainham Hospital in Dublin. He was involved in a famous court case Dunlevie v Hort where he was shown to owe a fantastic amount of money. He died in 1855 before the case was concluded. He and his wife Mary had many children including my great great grandfather Charles Josiah Hort.
Please forgive me but I am now heading off on a brief tangent. Josiah George’s third daughter Maria Lilela was born in 1836 at Kilmainham. In 1856 she married Scottish newspaper magnate William Murray Ross and emigrated to Australia. William built a railway, a sugar beat mill and made and lost a fortune. Part of Melbourne was called Rosstown after him and there is still a Leila Road in the city named after his wife.
Ok back to the story, in 1855 Major Josiah George named his son the rev Charles Josiah Hort, as executor of his will. Charles Josiah can also be found in the alumni, he is 16 in 1836, graduated in 1841 and listed as son of Josiah Militaris. He became chaplain at Dublin Garrison and spent much of his time raising money to help the families of soldiers fighting in the Crimea. In December 1855 he left his new wife, Alice, to sail for Sebastopol. While administering to the spiritual needs of the soldiers he befriended Florence Nightingale and vacated his wooden shack of a vicarage so that she and her nurses could have somewhere to stay. His gallantry became more apparent when he rescued Miss Nightingale and several of her staff from an overturned carriage. Florence spoke very highly of him in letters she sent home and on his return to England she asked him to bring a "Rooshan" trophy back for her family (I have no idea what it was). Charles returned as chaplain to the forces at Pembroke Wales, where my great grandfather John George Hort was born in 1860. Charles’ duties took the family to Gibraltar for some years before a return to Gosport England.
It would seem that John George was indeed a seaman. There are records of him in Sidney NSW aboard the Shannon in 1883 and as second mate aboard the ss John Byng in 1886. In September 1888 he married my great grandmother, Alice Frye. He then seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth. However, there are army records of John George Hort, which show that he joined the Winchester Rifles in December 1888. He stated falsely his date of birth as 1866 but identified himself by giving the name of his next of kin as his mother. The record states that he was unmarried and had no previous occupation although this is crossed out and dated by an officer with the words Merchant Navy White Star Line. Medical records show that he had a tattoo with the letters AF (Alice Frye) in a heart shape; even his signature was surprisingly like my grandfather’s (and mine). He bought himself out of the Winchester Rifles in 1889 and this is the last record I can find of him. Why he left my great grandmother then pregnant and carrying my grandfather I can only guess.
The search then led to another tangent. I found Alice and my year old grandfather in the 1891 census, staying in Chelsea with her parents. However, the 1901 and 1911 census showed no trace of Alice or John. In the 1901 census I found a John George Hart aged 11years staying in Fulham with a 25-year-old lady called Evelyn Nelson. I knew that Alice had a sister called Evelyn and wondered if this were my slightly misspelled grandfather staying with his aunt. I googled Evelyn/ Eva/ Nelson/ Frye and was totally unprepared for the deluge of hits that I received. It turned out that my great great aunt was involved in a famous scandal and suspected murder case. The story goes that Karl Marx’s favourite daughter; Eleanor lived for several years with Dr. Edward Bibbins Aveling by all accounts a brilliant scientist and author who was on first name terms with Darwin and Shaw. Aveling’s passion was the theatre and he was a less than brilliant playwright and actor who went by the stage name Alec Nelson. He was a serial philanderer and when Eleanor discovered that he had taken with a young actress; Eva Frye, she just thought it another affair. He came back as usual this time to be nursed through a serious kidney operation. In 1898 Eleanor discovered that Aveling had secretly married Eva Frye using his stage name Alec Nelson. She sent her maid to the chemist with Aveling’s doctors certificate to buy prussic acid and chloroform with which she then killed herself. It was widely suspected that Aveling had poisoned her but there was no real evidence. A year later he succumbed to kidney complications leaving Eva a widow. She died unmarried in childbirth in 1907.
As previously stated I can find no trace of John or Alice in the 1901 or 1911 census. The only later record I have of Alice is her death certificate in Fulham in 1927 on which she is described as the widow of John Hort Merchant Seaman. My grandfather was placed in the guardianship of his uncle around 1901 and was sent to boarding school to eventually become an engineer at what was then Vickers Shipbuilding in Barrow. So that is the end of my story so far. What happened to Alice and John I can only guess. The fact that neither of them can be found on the 1901 and 1911 censuses suggests that they may have reunited and traveled abroad (I like to think so). There are fleeting shadows glimpsed among the archives that may be them but cannot be confirmed to date. I have found a passenger list from the ss Wodonga sailing from Brisbane to Sidney in April 1895, which lists a Mrs A Hort, Mr Hort and child. John George had been to Australia before and had family connections there. Perhaps they were sending my grandfather back to England for an education. In 1907 the Hull trawler Shakespeare was wrecked on rocks off the Orkneys. The second engineer a John Hort reputedly survived by tying his scarf around the partially submerged funnel and clinging on with his teeth. I shall probably never know the whole story, I set out to find out what happened to my great grandfather in which I failed but found out so much more. I would be grateful for any help or comments that would enable me to finally bury John George.