Joseph Cundy - a simple fisherman?
I was spurred into family history research with the interesting family tradition that one of my Cundy Ancestors (I know not who or when) was hanged for smuggling. Indeed my grand uncle, Jack Cundy, used to point out the spot on Southend seafront to my mother where this ancestor was supposedly hanged. Despite extensive searches I have been unable to find who this may have been. Experienced local record office staff have assured me that all official capital punishments (such as hangings) would have been carried out in Chelmsford. So, I am left with the possibility that either he was unofficially hanged (lynched?) or that this is a story that has been warped down the oral family version of chinese-whispers and only holds the barest of facts in its story. The search therefore continues...
Despite this failure to locate a hanged ancestor, it started me on the course, over the past twenty-odd years to search for other interesting characters in my ancestry. We owe our very being to the existence of each and every one of our direct ancestors - their success in reaching adulthood and in procreating were vital in our ever being around. Their genes live on within us.
Joseph Cundy has emerged from the last century as one of my favourites ancestors - although he is just one of my 32 great great great grandparents. The more I found out about him the more I grew fond of him. The reason for my particular interest in him may be because his baptism was so devilishly difficult to find. It may also be because he is the earliest ancestor I have a photo of. Another possibility is I can relate to his individuality - he was a true eccentric.
If you have yet to embark upon tracing your own ancestors, all I can say is - DO IT - it is a wonderful journey full of interesting characters! With this recommendation I will give just a word of warning - once you start, the bug will bite and your life will never be your own again - but then, of course, you'll have countless ancestors to share it with !
The South-East Essex Cundys
The first Cundys in the south east of Essex appear out of the blue in Leigh on Sea and Hadleigh in the mid 1750s. Well this is not strictly true - a Benjamin and an Isaac Cundy (or Gundy) fleetingly appear in the Prittlewell Parish Registers in the early 1700s and then quickly disappear from these records. There is no sign of any others in this area in any other nearby parish registers around this date or earlier. I wonder therefore if the Cundys came from another county before this time. There were some in Suffolk in a similar time (in Polstead, Hadleigh and Ipswich) which I have been unable to link with mine so far. Other than this the Cundy surname is almost exclusively from the South West counties of Devon and Cornwall otherwise.
Then Thomas Cundy starts having children baptised out of the blue in Leigh on Sea. I THINK that Thomas and Mary Cundy are Joseph's great grandparents. Despite extensive searches for the baptism of my 5 x great grandfather John Cundy (Joseph's grandfather) in all of the South East Essex Parishes of the 'Rochford Hundred' he remains elusive. I may never find him as there are gaps in the registers of a number of these surrounding parishes. I am quite sure ONE of the two brothers are my ancestors though. However, I tentatively suggest that Thomas and Mary had my 5x great grandfather John (and his brother Thomas) sometime before 1749. John was buried in 1813 supposedly aged 77 so that (if true - and ages at death are notoriously inaccurate) would have put his birth around 1736. I am guessing he was probably somewhat younger than this. If I EVER find his baptism I expect it to be around 1746. He married Elizabeth Cockerton in South Shoebury in 1775 and called his first children Elizabeth (after his wife), John (my 4x great grandfather) in 1782 (after himself), Mary in 1786 (after his mother?) and Thomas in 1791 (after his father?). That all seems to fit quite nicely (!)
John Cundy then married Mary sometime around 1807. Again, despite extensive searches I've been unable to find their marriage - so I don't know where this took place or what Mary's maiden name was. Their eldest, John was born in Prittlewell in 1809, then Mary Ann also in Prittlewell in 1810 (this leads me to believe that Mary came from the Prittlewell area). All the rest of their children were baptised in South Shoebury: William in 1812, Joseph (my 3x great grandfather) in 1814, Thomas in 1817, David in 1819, Sally in 1821, Selina in 1824, Elizabeth in 1828 and Jane in 1831! That was 10 children for John and Mary Cundy, spanning 22 years! It obviously took it out of Mary - she died the very next year (1833) at the age of 46.
Joseph and his siblings
Joseph Cundy was baptised at St.Andrews South Shoebury on 12th June 1814. For some unknown reason the South Shoebury registers show a baptism on that date of a William rather than a Joseph and this confused me for many a year. I was convinced that this was my Joseph Cundy though and eventually found out that sometimes the "Bishops Transcripts" of Parish Registers differed from the Church's Parish Registers - and were often more accurate. Luckily for me they had survived and lo and behold the Bishops transcripts of that year (seen below) show him correctly as Joseph. I think whoever wrote or transcribed the Parish Register must have got Joseph mixed up with his brother who had been baptised (and survived) just two years earlier.
Joseph was the third of ten children of John and Mary Cundy. John was a fisherman of South Shoebury, as was his father (the elusive 5x GGF John Cundy), an occupation which was going to occupy Cundys for at least 200 years. They must have married sometime around 1808 in the Prittlewell/South Shoebury/Leigh on Sea area but It is sad to say I have never been able to find the marriage of John Cundy and Mary (despite extensive researches) and I therefore have no idea from whence Mary came or what her maiden name was.
Joseph's eldest sibling, John, was born in Prittlewell in 1809, married twice. He married Elizabeth Pepperel in 1830 and had four children: John, Mary , Caroline and Jane before she died in 1839. He then married Harriet Parsons in 1846 and had George Cundy with her. John lived in various areas of South East Essex and was still alive at the time of the 1881 Census but I have been unable to find his death yet.
Joseph's next sibling, Mary Ann, was born in 1810 again in Prittlewell. She had married Joseph Pepperel - brother of the above Elizabeth - the year before in 1829 and ent on to have nine children with him!
Next came the real William Cundy who was born in 1812. He perhaps married twice also and became a licensed Victualler at the Kings Arms in Burnham on Crouch. He died in 1876.
After Joseph came Thomas - who was born in 1817 in South Shoebury. He married Sophia Maria Parsons in September 1840 and had nine children in South Shoebury, Leigh on sea and Burnham on Crouch. He was described variously as a dredger and "master mariner" and lived until 1897.
Next came David Cundy in 1819. He married Sarah Ann Riley in Prittlewell in 1848 (she was born in Eastwood). Sarah appears on her own on the 1851 Census as a 20 year old married Fisherman's wife (he was obviously away fishing). They then appear to have moved to Burnham on Crouch (as many Cundys did at this time for soem reason). Sarah and William were living in Silver Lane, Burnham on Crouch in 1861 but only she was at home. They do not appear to have been able to have any children. He was on board the vessel "Claude" on the night of the 1861 census. However, after 1861 both he and Sarah Ann are lost off the radar.
Sally (known as Sarah) was born in 1821 and went on to marry Benjamin John Deed (an Agricultural labourer from Hockley) in 1845 and lived in Southchurch and had at least 6 children between 1843 and 1855. Sarah died in 1886.
Selina #1 was born in 1824 but died just 13 months later in the following February (1825). John and Mary obviously liked the name as they called their next daughter Selina also. She was born 11 months later - in January 1826 and went on to marry Thomas Parsons (a mariner of South Shoebury) in Prittlewell in 1851. They only appear to have had one son (at least who survived) Edward in about 1851. Thomas died in 1891 at the age of 66. Selina lived to the ripe old age of 75 - finally dieing in 1900.
Elizabeth was born in 1828 and married George Houghton in 1850 but I have been unable to find out much more about them.
John and Mary's tenth and final child, Jane was born in January 1831 but I have been unable to find out much about what happened to her after this. She was living with some of her siblings in 1841 but I have been unable to find a marriage for her or on any other Census unmarried (or indeed a death certificate for her) so she remains a little mystery for now.
Joseph's early life 1814 - 1841
We know very little of Joseph's life between his birth in 1814 and his entry on the Census of 1841. As schooling was not yet compulsory (by a long way) and was unlikely to have been available to the lower classes (to which the Cundys certainly belonged) and so he is likely to have spent his very early years in the company of his mother and his growing list of siblings. As his occupation in adult life was as a fisherman I expect he spent much of his teenage life in the company of his close family (his father, uncles and elder brothers) out on the boats learning his trade as a fisherman and mariner.
Joseph is reputed to have once swum the Thames, from Tilbury to Gravesend in chains for a bet. Unfortunately I have no details of when this might have been - it was perhaps in his early life. It certainly lkjlkj with his later eccentric life and also lkjlkj with the fact that his son (my great great grandfather) David William Cundy was awarded the King's Medal in 1886 for saving the life of a fellow who had fallen overboard during a storm.
Just 18 months after Mary had her tenth child disaster struck the family. She died in July 1832 at only 46 years old. unfortunately as this was pre-1837 (i.e. before death certificates were produced) we know not what she died of. Only three and a half years later the family lost their other parent - John Cundy, aged 53 died in March 1836 and was buried in South Shoebury churchyard.
Some time between 1836 and the 1841 Census, what was left of the Cundy siblings appear to have moved to Southend. The next record that mentions Joseph Cundy after his baptism is the 1841 Census return (taken in March 1841). He is found living in Wellington Place, Prittlewell (see pic). Actually this part of "Prittlewell" is what we know now as Southend-on-Sea - it was referred to as the South End of Prittlewell in older sources and did not receive a parish church until the 1850s.
It was an expanding community in the early to mid 1800s. This area - around Wellington Place is described as "Lower Southend" in 1874 and is very close to the seafront - an ideal place for a fisherman to be situated one would have thought. In fact many of the inhabitants of Wellington Place were either "Mariners" or "Labourers". Others include a Bricklayer, a Police Constable, a Publican, a coal dealer, a carpenter, a grocer, a baker, a butcher and a Bonnet Maker. Tailor, Blacksmith, shopkeeper. The next roads were "Mussell Row" and "Prospect Row".
Wellington Place was next to the Castle pub, which is still there on the Eastern Esplanade. Looking at current maps I would say that Wellington Place was probably where Camper Mews or Camper Road is now.
The 1841 Census shows Joseph, at just 25 years old, as the head of the family. With his parents having died and his elder brothers, William and Thomas Cundy having already set up their own houses in Leigh on Sea, Joseph appears to be looking after his younger siblings. He was living there in Southend with his siblings Sarah (16), Jane (10), David (18) and Eliza (14). Joseph himself is shown as 25 although he was about 27 by then (the 1841 Census rounded down ages to the nearest five for those over 20).
Joseph Cundy 1842 - 1894
Just two years later, on 3rd June 1843 he married Mary Ann Sharp at St. Andrew's, Holborn, London. Mary had been baptised in Prittlewell, daughter of Robert Sharp a 'marine store dealer' of Southend Seafront. The Sharp family minus Mary were living next door to the Cundys in 1841.
I am unsure as to why they married in London - perhaps Mary was 'in service' there at the time. Although the marriage certificate (below) clearly shows a dash beside the "profession" column I would be surprised if she hadn't been employed in some capacity at the age of 29 - perhaps in some capacity in her father's store. I haven't found MAry Ann Sharp on the 1841 Census yet - she wasn't living with her parents on Census night. They both give their address as Fetter Lane, London on the Marriage Certificate (which is in the Holborn area of London, just off Fleet Street) but this is the only evidence I have of Joseph ever living in London and I am dubious and wonder if they gave the address simply so they could marry in St Andrews, Holborn.
Neither Joseph or Mary Ann appear to be able to write - both leaving their mark on the marriage certificate. Witnesses were John Cundy, older brother of Joseph and Catherine Sharp sister of Mary Ann. John Cundy senior - father of Joseph is shown but one would normally expect him to be shown as "deceased" as he died in 183?. Note that the Cundy name has again been corrupted - this time to Cunday. Again perhaps Joseph's Essex dialect had a hand in this.
Both were quite old for a first marriage and one wonders if Joseph's life away fishing along with his role as head of the Cundy household after 1836 perhaps restricted his opportunities for meeting marriageable women and that visits to Robert Sharp's store brought the two 29 year olds together.
Like his two elder brothers, Joseph set up home in Leigh on Sea - a very well known fishing village by then. His family is shown as living in the High Street on the 1851 Census. Comprising his wife and his first five children - Mary Ann (7), Joseph R (6), Emma (3), Esther (2) and John H J (10 months). Joseph himself appears to have been away fishing at the time. Again teh Cundy family are living right beside a pub - in this case the Smack Inn of Leigh on Sea.
In 1854 part of Leigh High Street was knocked down to clear the way for the Railway line, so a schedule was put together of who was living in what houses. Joseph is named as living in number 160 on the schedule in the High Street. He was still living next door to the Smack Public House. His family shared the house with Mary Quilter and William Lucking.
At the time of the 1861 Census (copy below) Joseph is again away from home. His wife Mary (now 48), Ester E (12), John H (11), Emma C (8), David William (5 - my great great grandfather) and Robert J (2) were all at home. They had obviously got bored with living next door to the Smack Inn and had moved to a couple of houses down from the Crooked Billet now!
Jane (1), Joseph and Mary's ninth child, was living with the HEAD family at this time. The Head family were related to the Cundys - Arthur Head had married Mary Anne Catherine Cundy - eldest daughter of Joseph and Mary Cundy - around 1860.... So Jane was living with her much older sister (there was 18 years between them)
By 1871 the Cundy family had moved to number 6 Gothic Row, South Shoebury where, on the census, Joseph (now 59) is actually living at home. With him are his wife Mary Ann (58), David (16 ), Robert (13), Jane (11), and Esther Beavans (23 - one of his married daughters). His wife Mary died in August 1871 and was buried in South Shoebury graveyard.
Mary Ann Cundy (nee Sharp) wife of Joseph died on 17th August 1871 aged just 57 of a diseased Uterus, leaving 3 children of 16 years old or younger.
In 1881 he lived with his daughter Jane (aged 20) in an upturned fishing boat. Dale Knapping had brought a ketch to East Beach, Shoeburyness, turned it upside down and used it to store fishing tackle and equipment. and This was originally
In 1882, Jane married George Leadbeater (a Royal Artilleryman from the Shoebury Army barracks) in St.Andrews and left home.
Joseph is described as being called "Mr Punch" by local children in a number of books. He certainly had the profile of the ;lk;lk;lk character with the size and shape of his nose. He was also perhaps becoming a bit of a recluse and a loner - living in his strange house, already deaf and perhaps going senile also. He was already in the 70s by the mid-1880s.
Things obviously went downhill from here on. Without his daughter to care for him I expect he just wasn't able to look after himself. In about 1885 he moved from the boathouse. On the 1891 Census he is shown as being in the Essex County Paupers Lunatic Asylum in Brentwood aged 76 and described as a lunatic. In fact he is simply described as "J.C." but I am convinced that this is the correct chap - the place of birth is correct and age and everything else fits him.
He died on the 29th January 1894 aged 79 at the asylum and was buried 5 days later in South Shoebury Churchyard.
From a photo I have of him (seen at the top of this article) which must have been taken in the 1880s - he was a grizzled old man with a beard; a typical fisherman. Because he ended up in the lunatic asylum does not necessarily mean that he had gone mad. Indeed there are many physical conditions that are recognised today that would have been seen as mental decay in the late 19th Century.
Anyone who lived in that upturned boat with the crooked chimney must have been, shall we say, a little eccentric. Once his last daughter had married and moved home he must have become a lonely old man in his 70s who simply had no-one left to care for him. On the other hand of course he could have been completely mad! (Let's hope it's not hereditary.)