Wednesday, 20 July 2016

A Family Reunited

 By Rosemary Jewers

The Saga - consisting of secrets, cover-ups, abandonment and love.

My maiden name was Brereton and our branch of that family had once lived at and owned Brinton Hall, Norfolk and the majority of the land within that parish. This story began on the morning of the 24th May 2009 when I received an email from Esme Bagnall-Oakeley, who now lives at Brinton Hall. I first met Esme in 2008 at an 'Invitation to View' afternoon at the hall, and went to the event because it was a chance to view our old family home.

On meeting Esme and her husband Jeremy, I mentioned that I had heard a family story about their staircase. The legend was, that before it was installed in their house, it had originally come from a former Lord Nelson home. The 'Invitation to View' afternoon at Brinton, started my research into the family story about the staircase. After months of searching and wondering which Lord Nelson home it could have come from, I purchased a booklet about Merton Place, a former Lord Nelson home. Merton Place was situated in Merton, now a London borough. Later I was sent the architect's plans and we were able to confirm that Merton's and Brinton's staircase measurements matched exactly. I also found that there were many coincidences that pointed to the staircase having come from Merton, but unfortunately there was no bill of sale, so I was unable to prove one hundred percent that it was the same staircase.

Since then Esme and I have kept in touch, and I was not at all surprised when I received an email that she had received a letter from a couple who had looked on the Internet about a Brereton reunion taking place at Brinton later that year. The letter mentioned that they hoped she could help them solve a mystery. They told her that they were due to take a holiday in Norfolk; intrigued, Esme invited them to lunch. Over the meal they told her that some years before they'd bought a house in Portsmouth. They moved to a house in Gladys Avenue, North End. In the attic they found old legal documents and other items that had belonged to a branch of the Brereton family. These documents dated back to 1779 - there were photos from the late 1800s and family genealogy.

They were desperate to find a Brereton family to pass them onto. Therefore, when it was the time for them to move to Doncaster, Yorkshire, they decided that they had better take all these things with them and perhaps they might eventually find someone they could give them to. Having now found Esme, they left all of their attic finds with her. I emailed back and offered to take up the challenge of trying to find the real owners of the papers, documents and photos.

Eventually I collected this miscellany of documents and photos from Brinton and my search began. Initially I did try to unravel the mysteries but all my forays on the Internet were fruitless. All I had to go on were dates, some genealogy, and a mixture of names, places and old photos. Many indicated that the person in the photo was either 'Mummy,' 'Granny' or 'Me'; only a few had names on the back of them. It was a real puzzle.

It so happened at the same time my husband Tony and I had started writing a book, based on articles taken from old parish magazines. During the autumn and winter, we continued our project transcribing and editing the articles. My parents had left these bound volumes to me and we were keen to get them ready for publication for Easter - March 2010. We did make our deadline, and The Duke of Edinburgh agreed to write the foreword to the book and 'Rev.elations from old Parish Magazines' was published.

After a busy and successful year launching and publicising the book, I turned my attention back
to finding the owners of the documents that I'd collected from Esme. In early 2011 I re-started my search in earnest this time, mostly out of a sense of guilt, as I felt it was really all dragging on far
too long. I sorted the contents of the box of documents etc once again and tried to make sense of it all.

The genealogy papers in the box, indicated that the family were a branch of the Irish Brereton family. I then spent many weeks of fruitless searches with still no results. One evening whilst looking at the back of an early photo, I decided to type into ‘Google’ a combination of Geraldine Mary Brereton. To my delight, this time I had a result. On the Peerage website I found a Geraldine Mary Welman nee Brereton and most excitingly, she had a son, Gerald. It looked as if he might have moved to the USA - I wondered if he was still alive.

Everything on this website seemed to confirm that I had found the correct family. Geraldine’s father, mother, maternal grandfather, (there were notes on the back of Grandfather's photo) Granny, even Gerald as a young boy, all the genealogy, in fact everything.

At that point, I knew that I had to find Gerald or his children, if he had any. It wasn't at all straightforward. I spent ages going along different routes until I Googled several combinations of Gerald Welman, USA. After searching a few pages, I found his obituary in a newspaper. Again, I was sure I had found the right Gerald and the dates appeared to fit.

I then searched for information about the church mentioned in the article and eventually I found it. I eagerly emailed the church in America and asked the rector if he could help trace any of the family of Gerald Welman.

Unbeknown to me he forwarded it to Gerald's widow, Priscilla, who was on holiday in Florida. She contacted me and filled in all the gaps, i.e. Gerald’s marriages and his daughter etc.

After months of investigations and not knowing who was who from the photos, I had tracked down the owners of the documents who were living in America. The strange thing was, that when I did talk to Priscilla, the widow of Gerald Welman, I was amazed to hear that Gerald had been born in Colchester in 1911. His father had been stationed in Colchester when he was born. As his father had been a senior army officer, there was a strong possibility that Gerald could have been born in the army hospital – now demolished. This was an incredible coincidence as our present house is built on the site where the army hospital once stood in Colchester.

Priscilla’s daughter, (Gerald’s step daughter) her husband and his daughter, visited us on 20th June that year. She took the photos and papers back to her mother in America but left the old documents with us.

One photo of Geraldine Welman had actually inspired the design of the front cover of our book. The photo had been taken by Whitfield Cosser & Co, 14 Queen St. Colchester in 1911. In the photo Geraldine was wearing a huge hat and a fur stole.

It was wonderful to think I had made contact with Priscilla and that the Irish/Brereton puzzle I had undertaken had finally been solved.

Later that summer Gerald's distant cousin, (the only relation he thought he had) came to visit us. She brought me the research she had done and the Foster family tree. Over lunch we talked about our research and how difficult it had been for me to have tracked down Priscilla in America.

I showed her a copy of one of the family trees that had been left in the attic. I pointed out that like me, Gerald and his mother were descended from the main Brereton line, but way back in the 1400s their branch had gone to live in Ireland.

During the summer I tracked down and visited a descendant of Gerald's half brother, Arthur Eric Pole Welman and subsequently another descendant of Gerald's other half brother, Douglas Pole Welman (known as Pat to the family) contacted me for information about the family.

In the collection of the Portsmouth attic papers and photos, were some original wills and mortgages. There were two probate wills of Cooper and Cooper. These wills related to Hillingdon in the west of London. The four mortgages mentioned a David Jearrad amongst others. I searched family trees relating to the Welmans and Breretons but so far, I have not been able to find a connection to the names mentioned above. There must be some connection as Jearrad was involved with the building of Oxford Street, London and some mortgages did relate to Oxford Street.

I had suggested to Priscilla that these documents were very important and should be held in national archives. I contacted the Westminster Archives and they were very keen to have these finds within their collections. Priscilla agreed that they should be held on loan by the archives. I wrote a letter to the archivist confirming that they would remain the property of the heirs and successors of Gerald Welman. On the 28th October 2011, I took them to the London archives and I deposited the original documents into their care.

Over the next year Priscilla and I corresponded by email and often had Skype chats. We became good friends during this time. In Late September 2012 I flew to New York and spent a week visiting my niece and her family before flying to Buffalo and finally meeting Priscilla in person. We spent a lovely week together and I met her friends and I was royally entertained. We even took a day trip to Canada and met an Internet researching friend Faye Goodwin nee Brereton. On our way back we stopped off to look at Niagara Falls, my third time, but never enough.

The last weekend I spent in America with Priscilla, she found the recording Gerald made about his life, it was mostly about the war and his flying. These recordings were originally made on tape before they were converted to CD. Priscilla was very aware that Gerald's concentration and memory was becoming worse, so when a military enthusiast asked to record Gerald's wartime memories, she set up a time for a man to come to their home to ask questions. In the recordings it was obvious that they were being made before Gerald declined any further and at times Priscilla had to prompt him to recall events he had told her about.

As I sat in what had been Gerald's chair, listening to him talk - I could tell he was a lovely kind man. When the interviewer was asking him questions Gerald seemed more interested in the man rather than talking about his wartime escapades. He came across as someone who had lived life to the full but didn't want to brag about it. At one point he started to talk about his wartime flying and how at times it was flying very close to the ground. The interviewer asked something along the lines of, that must have been very scary, Gerald answered in a quiet way, that it was something you had to get on with.

On the Sunday before I left to return to the UK, we went to church where Priscilla worshipped; after the service I met the rector who had played his part in this story by passing on my email to Priscilla. Before leaving church we went out into the little churchyard and we stood in front of where Gerald's ashes had been placed. It was a very moving experience as I felt I had come to the end of my journey, albeit very late. I was so sad to think that he hadn't known about all the things we had discovered.

When it was time to leave, Priscilla and I said our farewells at the airport. My journey took me from Buffalo via Boston, then across the Atlantic and home.

Additional information:

Geraldine Mary Welman was born on 18th August 1888, she died in the registration district of Portsmouth, Hampshire in December 1981 aged 93. She came from an army family, both her father and her maternal grandfather were in the army. Her father was Brig.-Gen. Edward Fitzgerald Brereton and her maternal grandfather was Maj.-Gen. Edward Percival Foster. In 1909 Geraldine married Lt Col Arthur Pole Welman. Their child was Gerald Welman, who was an RAF pilot in World War II. During the war, part of the time Gerald was in Canada training other pilots. More of Gerald's war years later. After the War, Gerald went to America where he continued flying as a commercial pilot for a while. Arthur Pole Welman was also from an army family; his father was Harvey Wellesley Pole Welman. Gerald's father, Arthur Pole Welman had a sister Edith who married Sir Edward Raban, who died in 1927. Priscilla thought that Sir Edward Raban and Gerald's aunt Edith could have paid for at least some of his education. Arthur also had a brother Harvey who taught Gerald to ride.

Priscilla had told me the story that during WWII Geraldine, having lost contact with Gerald, was at the cinema watching a newsreel about troops being trained in Canada. She suddenly recognised Gerald, and she is alleged to have stood up and shouted “that's my son”. After that, she somehow managed to make contact with Gerald via the Mounties!


I contacted Priscilla about the possibility of us applying on behalf of Gerald for the Bomber Command Clasp and the Atlantic Star medal. I thought that if he had flown in Bomber Command, even though it was a short time, he should be entitled to the clasp. There was also the chance that when he was in Canada, that he could have been stationed within the Arctic Circle. Gerald had told Priscilla that he was delivering planes to the UK and training troops in Canada, therefore, I thought there was a chance that he might be in line for an award for that medal as well. Gerald had already been awarded a number of medals for his service before and during the war. As it turned out the MOD records showed that his service came to an end early in the war. We discovered that Gerald had been admitted to two hospitals, he was probably suffering from what we would now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The MOD records showed Gerald was in hospital in Sept 12, 1940 and he had been released from hospital after a few days. Also on the records, the next of kin was blocked out; it was the name of his wife and her address. It also stated that he relinquished his S.C.C. on account of ill health from December 26th 1940. It mentioned he was discharged to his wife's house!

This surprise wife was quite a shock, because Priscilla had thought that Gerald had been married twice before their marriage, but suddenly there was another wife that preceded what she thought was his first wife - Mary. The only thing to do was to find out who this wife was. With Priscilla's blessing, I undertook the search for the first Mrs Gerald Welman.

I soon found the marriage records. Her name was Margaret, and they had married between Oct and Dec 1940 in Whitby, Yorkshire. Later I found her home address. Gerald and Margaret must have divorced because I came across a newspaper cutting announcing that she would be marrying again, six years after her marriage to Gerald had taken place. It gave her previous married name, Welman, to whom she was marrying, the name of the groom's father and where he lived and lastly details of Margaret's parents. Having found this newspaper cutting, it was a great relief to me and most likely a huge relief to Priscilla.

The MOD service records also listed Gerald's education as Bedford School 1924-25 and that he had been a pupil of the Rev Wilkie, Badingham, Suffolk between 1925-26. I found that he had gone to the Rev. Wilkie for private 'cramming' - intensive education instruction. Although the MOD did not record it, Gerald had told Priscilla that the attended Jesus College, Cambridge for a short while before dropping out.

We recently discovered that after Gerald left the RAF in 1940 he joined the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA). This was a hazardous job. The pilots, male and female, were flying aircraft from the factories to military units. They were ferrying trainers, fighters, and bombers from storage units to RAF squadrons. The ATA website states: 'ATA pilots flew without radio, and often with no more sophisticated equipment other than a compass and gyro.' Gerald had mentioned this, when writing about his life as a wartime pilot.

Later Gerald was recruited to join Transport Command (Canada). He was flying aircraft back across the Atlantic to bases in the UK and elsewhere.

Gerald's travels.

He seems to have started wandering the world quite alone and quite early on in his life. Aged 17 he was travelling from Barbados and was recorded on the passenger list as a 'planter'. His UK address was Brownham, Chippenham, Wilts. Another time with a slight change of name, he is listed as George Pole Welman, profession actor, he was age: 20. His UK address was Godalming, Surrey. 'Port of Departure: New York, United States on 1 Nov 1931 Port of Arrival: Plymouth, England. Ports of Voyage: Antwerp. Ship Name: Westernland. Shipping line: Red Star Line.'
At one time Gerald was in Hollywood, employed as a driver for the film star, Sir Charles Aubrey Smith, former cricketer and actor. Perhaps Gerald was also working on his acting at the time. Then I found that in 1964 and then again in 1965, a firm of solicitors, Raymond-Barker, Nix & Co., 9 New Square, Lincoln's Inn, London WC2 were searching for him. At the time he was married to his wife Joyce and living in Williamsville, New York. The solicitors advertisement was placed in a UK newspaper and it hinted should he contact them he would hear something to his advantage!

Throughout 2013 and 2014 Priscilla and I kept in regular contact by email and Skype. We swapped our personal family events and news. At times there was a slight flurry of Welman activity.

Additional information

Gerald's marriages:
1. Margaret:
2. Mary: Gerald and Mary had one daughter.
3. Joyce Smith nee Millington
4. Priscilla Hammond nee Sawyer

On the morning of December 11th 2014 I received a phone call from a Mr Trevor James who lived in Scotland. He asked me if I was Rosemary Jewers and I confirmed I was. Usually I am very cautious when I'm asked to confirm who I am when someone phones me, but on this occasion I sat down and listened to what he had to say.

Trevor started by saying something along the lines of; 'Oh good, at last I can share my dark secret that I have been keeping to myself'. Having got me hooked he then said 'Where do I start!'

Trevor started mentioning names, places and people I had never heard of. I was furiously trying to make notes. Nisbet, The Waverley Novels, William Cunningham Watson, Beatrice Geraldine Brereton, Glasgow to name just a few. I think by the end of the call I had worked out part of the route his dark secret had led me along. I put down the phone and tried to make sense of everything he had just told me. It wasn’t long before I telephoned him and we took the story rather more slowly and the penny finally dropped.

I carefully listened as Trevor told me that in October, 2014, he purchased a set of 'The Waverley Novels' written by Sir Walter Scott. They were published 1910-1912 and some carried the stamp of Paisley High School. In the flyleaf of each was the name 'Agnes T. Husband' and some carried annotations in her hand. He was curious to know who she was, so he carried out some research to find out more about her. Trevor said, after a false start finding her husband, he found and bought her marriage certificate. She had married Robert George Nisbet, who described himself as widower. Trevor said he also got her death certificate, which occurred in Inverness.

Trevor looked up to see who Robert George Nisbet had first married, he did this by checking the 1911 Census. He found that Robert's first wife was a German by the name of Henrietta Hardeland. He also found they had adopted three children, all born in England. One of those children was a two year old girl who was named Mary Louise Nisbet.

At one point I asked Trevor how he found me. He went on to say, 'I couldn't find the boys in later life, but I did find that remarkable marriage certificate of Mary Louise Nisbet, aka Beatrice Geraldine Brereton. That put me on the track of Breretons and Welmans, thence the Peerage website, the Colchester Civic Society and their newsletter and finally you.'

Trevor told me that Gerald Welman's mother, Geraldine Mary Brereton had conceived a child before she was married and it appeared that Arthur Pole Welman, who she eventually married, was the father of the child. Arthur, a married man with two children, had briefly been sent on secondment to the Colchester Garrison. His wife and children had probably not accompanied him.

Researching the whereabouts of Geraldine's father, Edward Fitzgerald Brereton, I found that from 1907 to 1910 inclusive, the 2nd Battalion Northants Regt formed part of the Colchester Garrison in Essex. They were based at the Hyderabad Barracks. I quote from the Regt website: 'In 1910 (1911 Army list), E.F. BRERETON was Lt Col, C.O. of 2nd Batt, Northamptonshire Regt, HQ Colchester, ESS - Colchester for Malta'.

Once it was discovered that Geraldine was pregnant, she must have been packed off to Folkestone, Kent to have the baby. Trevor had discovered that Arthur Welman was stationed at Cheriton, which was very close to Folkestone. Arthur would have been at Cheriton at the time of the birth of the baby. He was at Cheriton between, Mar 1908 - Jan 1909.

Soon after the birth of the baby, whom Geraldine had named Beatrice Geraldine Brereton, Fanny Welman started divorce proceedings against her husband Arthur Welman. While the divorce continued Arthur was sent out to Sierra Leone. Shortly after the decree absolute, Arthur and Geraldine married on 8th November 1909 at Cathedral Church, St. George, Sierra Leone. Arthur Welman is shown to be a bachelor and Geraldine a spinster. Meanwhile baby Beatrice had been placed somewhere, if not in an orphanage.

Notes from the original Marriage certificate supplied by Priscilla Welman

Certified Copy of Original Register
Colony of Sierra Leone
Registrar General's Office, Register of Marriages:
November 8, 1909 Arthur Pole Welman, age 42, Bachelor, Major, A.S.C. Residence: Hill Station, Freetown.
Father: Harvey Wellesley Pole Welman, deceased.
Geraldine Mary Brereton, age 21, Spinster Residence at time of Marriage: Colchester, Father: Edward Fitzgerald, Northamptonshire Regt.
Married in the Cathedral Church, according to the Rites of the Church of England, by License of H.E. The acting Governor-in-Chief, by me, Fredrick C. Smith.
'This marriage was solemnized between us, Arthur Pole Welman, Geraldine Mary Brereton in the presence of us...'
'Solemnized at the Cathedral Church in the parish of Saint George. witness my hand this 26th day of May 1924., Deputy Registrar General for the Colony of Sierra Leone'.

The three English children that Trevor found on the 1911 Census - having been adopted by the Nisbets, were living with them in Glasgow. Robert Nisbet is shown on the same Census as a lecturer, he lectured in Humanities at Glasgow University.

In 1912 Robert Nisbet's English translation of 'Primitive Christianity and It's Non-Jewish Sources' was published. Robert George Nisbet made a translation from an already published German book. In the 'Translator's Preface' he mentions the help of his wife. Robert's wife, Henrietta nee Hardeland was born in Germany. I had been told that she spoke High German with friends. I first heard that Nisbet had 'written' a book from snippets found in a letter. I discovered the book has been republished as an Amazon, 'print on demand' book. Later I uncovered and was able to read part of the original book that had been scanned by a Canadian library. Robert Nisbet had written in the translator's preface 'And I ought to add that my translation would have been neither begun nor completed without the affectionate encouragement of my wife, who has so often illuminated for me the obscurities of German idiom.'

Robert and Henrietta Nisbet had changed the names of all three of their adopted children. The following was written on the reverse of Beatrice Geraldine Brereton's birth certificate.

'Springside Gardens, N Kelvinside, Glasgow 11th May 1911

Having on the 15th February 1911 adopted named Beatrice Geraldine Brereton as our daughter, we have named her Mary Louise Nisbet, which name she will in future bear'

'(signed) Robert G Nisbet

Henny Hardeland Nisbet'.

The eldest adopted boy was born in 1905, they had named him Hugh Nisbet probably after Robert Nisbet's brother. The next boy was born in 1907 and they named him Adolf Hardeland Nisbet.

A month or so before Henrietta Nisbet died, her adopted son Hugh aged 17 was sent to Australia, never to return to Scotland. Henrietta Nisbet had been suffering with breast cancer for 11 years and 7 months. A month after her death, her adopted son Adolf, aged 15 was sent to Canada.

I found his Canadian passenger entry form which Adolf had filled out himself in a good hand. Robert Nisbet had paid for his passage. He wrote that his adopted father was Robert Nisbet. Adolf had £5 in his possession and he was going to Canada to learn to be a farmer. He was being sent to the notorious Cossar's Farm in Lower Gagetown, New Brunswick, run by Mr. Meiklejohn.

Going back a step or two, having been contacted by Trevor at the beginning of December and told about Mary Louise Nisbet (pet name Marlies) aka Beatrice Geraldine Brereton and that Marlies had married a William Cunningham Watson... over the Christmas and New Year holiday, I entertained myself by trying to find some of Marlies' descendants.

I finally traced a relative via her husband's old family company. Having found a telephone number, I contacted one of the directors who gave me the phone number of his father.

As it turned out, he was the nephew of William Cunningham Watson who had married Malies. He explained that his uncle and aunt Marlies, had a daughter, Eileen who was still alive and she had recently moved to England with her daughter and son-in-law. Another coincidence, they had moved to Norfolk not many miles from Brinton and Esme, where my journey first began.

My next phone call was to Heather Robinson, the granddaughter of Marlies. As it turned out, her granddaughter Heather knew the real name of her grandmother and she knew that her great grandmother was Geraldine, and that Geraldine had married Arthur Welman but that was all the family knew.

Over the last few months Trevor and I have done more research and I have been filling in the Brereton and Welman blanks for Heather and her mother Eileen.

A few examples. I contacted the Folkestone History group who put me on the trail looking for records of the various orphanages in the Kent area. Heather commissioned a search of any relevant records that could show where her grandmother was placed for adoption. Unfortunately the researcher came up with blanks on all three adopted children and only more things to ponder.

Heather told us that her grandmother's adopted brother Hugh had been sent to Australia at the age of 17. She also told us that quite by chance, Hugh struck up a conversation with a Scotsman holidaying in Sydney. This stranger offered to locate Hugh's sister Marlies, by taking a letter back to Scotland. Hugh must have had information that Marlies had married. He must also have known the approximate area where she and her husband were living and that her husband had a business, because eventually the letter arrived on the desk of Marlies' husband.

Marlies, travelled out to Australia to visit Hugh when she was in her 70s. While she was there he died of cancer. She kept in touch with his family for a number of years.

In the letter Hugh wrote to Marlies, he mentions that he had been in the army for four years while he was in New Guinea - presumably this was before he was living in Australia. The letter mentions that two years before Hugh wrote the letter, he had an operation at the Repatriation Hospital for ex servicemen, the operation was for a cataract on his right eye, subsequently he lost the sight of that eye.

Adolf, as I have already mentioned was in Canada, Marlies had been told all sorts of things to deter her from replying to any letters, if he wrote asking for money she was told not to send him any. He must have been starving at times as the rations at Cossar's Farm were not plentiful. In reality it was more like a slave camp.

Adolf married a girl by the name of Violet Partington. Trevor traced and unravelled the mystery of Violet's birth in England. Her parents, John Partington and Margaret (Maggie) Farrell had married in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada and her mother had travelled to England with her young son. Maggie was pregnant when she set off from Canada in December 1915. She travelled first to Northern Ireland where she had been born and then to England. It transpired that she was following her husband who was a Canadian WWI soldier. Trevor found that Maggie gave birth to Violet on 4th June 1916 at Glen Cot, Hammer Lane, Linchmere R.D. In West Sussex : Reg.Dist: Midhurst, Sub-Dist: Fernhurst. The birth was not registered until 20th July 1916. On the 10th August 1916, John Partington left for France with the 46th Battalion. In October 1917, Maggie and her two children undertook the hazardous journey back to Canada.

When Adolf arrived in Canada he did not change his name legally but he was know as Charles or Charlie. After much research we found that he and Violet did have children. In World War II Adolf was a cook on a ship but sometime later he and Violet divorced. When Adolf and Violet married, Adolf was required to write his mother's name on the marriage certificate. I think he started to write his adopted mother's (pet name) Henny and then he wrote H. This H was probably for her surname, Hardeland. He then wrote the possible surname of his birth mother, Whitlock. He may have possibly found the details of his name change on the reverse of his birth certificate. Marlies had found that the Nisbets had noted her name change on hers.

While I continued to research information about Adolf, I found on Ancestry that there was a mention of him on two family trees. I also found that one mentioned his birth, 16th November 1907 Rushden, Northamptonshire, died 15 Oct 1982 Fredericton, NB. I then found the record in full. Adolf/Charles Nisbet died on the 15th October 1982. His grave is at the Fredericton Rural Extension, York County Cemetery - a soldiers grave plot: 83- 1. NB.

The second Ancestry Nisbet tree owner appeared to be the granddaughter of Adolf. Trevor and I later found the marriage details of her parent who was Adolf's child. We also found details of a marriage of yet another of his children. We were able to follow that particular family to the present day. I even wrote a letter telling them of our discoveries, but unfortunately there was no response.

Not long after the death of Henrietta Nisbet, Robert Nisbet married Agnes Thomson Husband, the original owner of the Waverley Novels. They had twins, a boy and a girl. Heather has told us that Marlies was expected to help look after the twins. Their names were Robert known as Robin, he was to become an eminent professor at Oxford University. His sister Agnes, known as Nanette became a doctor. Although Robin married, he did not have children of his own. Nanette remained single.

Mary Louise (Marlies) left the Nisbet home and went to train at the prestigious Norland College as a Norland Nurse (nanny). She met and married William Cunningham Watson and had two daughters. She did keep in touch with Robert Nisbet her adopted father, but it transpired that the second Mrs Nisbet burnt all Marlies' letters to him. This not handing over of letters has parallels with what happened between Gerald Welman and his daughter. His then wife, Joyce Smith, hid many of her letters to her father. Gerald found them only after Joyce had died.

Heather has told us that her granny, Marlies would have been aware of her real father's existence and his name. On the marriage certificate it mentions her former name, Beatrice Geraldine Brereton. Under mother is written 'Geraldine Mary Brereton (afterwards married to Arthur Pole Welman army Lieutenant Colonel)'. As this was an official and legal document the registrar would have only entered this information as it was relevant and possibly to identify her mother.

Heather said that one of grandfather's sisters called Muriel, did help Marlies try to find her father, but they did not get very far, as things were so different in those days. However, her mother, Eileen also said that William and Marlies did take a couple of holidays in Dublin.

Heather's mother, Eileen is also quite sure that Marlies' adoptive father (the university lecturer) had been at the wedding.


Geraldine registered the birth of Beatrice herself. At that time it was quite normal to leave out the father's name if the mother was unmarried. In fact if the woman was not married, it would have been very unusual to have put the name of the father on the birth certificate. I think it must have been decided that the child should be adopted for the sake of the family and the careers of the father and grandfather. They all probably convinced themselves, it would be as if it had never happened. The only one who was probably not considered was the baby.

Heather found in the index of an old school book, that her grandmother, Marlies attended Laurel Bank School, Glasgow between 1913-1926.

Before concluding the section of the Welmans and Breretons there are a few other things not mentioned; the Welmans appear to have had multiple marriages. Trevor found there is a possibility that further down the Welman line that there was a bigamous marriage in Australia. There are many more events and discoveries that I am unable to find time to write about in detail.

Over the later part of all the researching, I was saddened thinking about the two adopted boys being sent away. Heather had told us that Hugh was an engineer in Sydney, he had married and had a family. Heather found some letters that had been sent from Hugh to Marlies, it was in one of those letters that the book that Robert Nisbet translated is mentioned.

I was very keen to find the family of Adolf. Therefore on Sunday 10th May 2015 I had a sudden brainwave and looked at the name Adolf's granddaughter used on Ancestry. I had always assumed that her 'Ancestry' name was a combination of Jean and another family name. Anyway, I googled Jean and the other part of what could be her surname. To my delight her name came up, I found she had written a blog, with a little more information than she had written on Ancestry. She did have an email address but as the blog was rather old I decided I would see if I could find her address and a phone number. She had mentioned in her blog and Ancestry where she was living in Canada.

I had a lot of luck on my side, because when I Googled again, I found that there was only one family with that name in area. I hoped that I had found her correct address and telephone number. Later that night I made my phone call. Jean answered - I had found the right person! It turned out she had absolutely no idea her grandfather was adopted. Since then we have been emailing and we have been able to send photos and information to her, with still more to be sent.

It was Jean who told me that her grandfather, Adolf had been a cook on a ship in WWII. After the war he returned home a changed man. She wrote that he was a loving man to all of his family and even when he and Violet divorced, they remained good friends until his death.

Information from Anita Jones

In a recent email from Anita Jones in Canada she wrote that Adolf’s obituary stated that he was born in Glasgow, Scotland, the son of Professor and Mrs. Robert George Nisbet, therefore his birth name did not appear. He was listed as a painter by trade, and a member of the Fredericton branch of the Royal Canadian Legion and an associate member of the Royal Canadian Air Force Association; apparently the Air Force Club was very near his residence on Regent Street, Fredericton.

Jean and Heather have now started corresponding and when Jean visits her family, she hopes that she will learn more about her grandfather's life and possibly see his birth certificate if it still exists.

Marlies' daughter Eileen had lived in New Zealand but had returned to her parents home, where she lived with her two daughters for a number of years. Earlier this year Eileen, Heather and Esme Bagnall-Oakeley travelled to Colchester to visit my husband Tony and me. While they were visiting us we managed to fix up a Skype call to Priscilla, so they could all meet and talk for the first time.

When I was given those abandoned attic papers and photos in 2009, I had absolutely no idea that they would lead me to travel so many real miles and spend hundreds of Internet hours searching and uncovering this story. And at a later date a complete stranger, Trevor would contact me to tell me about even more intrigue and deception. And together we would hunt through and unpick the many layers of the covered past.

I thought it was wonderful when I found Priscilla, but then I was amazed to find and meet Heather and Eileen and now I've found Adolf's granddaughter, Jean and her family that is incredible... and the story that has unfolded is quite unbelievable. I have tried to write it all down but to be quite honest there have been so many twists and turns, I cannot keep up with it, everyday there seems to be something new!

© Rosemary Jewers 10th June 2015

A huge thank you to Trevor James who added so much to this story. I would also like to thank Anita Jones for additional information about Charles/Adolf Nisbet, his family and the Partington family.

UPDATE August 2016

Just as I thought this story was concluding... a new chapter began. In May of this year (2016) I visited Heather Robinson and her mother Eileen at their home in Norfolk. During my visit, Heather found family albums for me to see. As I mentioned earlier, Marlies, (mother of Eileen and grandmother of Heather) had visited her adopted brother Hugh Nisbet in Australia. While she was there she was given photos of Hugh and his children. When I looked at the photos of Hugh in later life, I was stunned. The resemblance between Hugh and Adolf was so strong, both Heather and I thought they had to be brothers.

We decided we would forward Hugh's family photos to Jean in Canada. When she replied, one of her comments was... 'I thought, where did that picture of my grandfather came from... ?' Then she read on and realised that it wasn't her grandfather.

At this point it seemed important to try to contact Hugh's son who we thought was still living in Australia and his daughter, who Heather was sure had moved to California.

At first I tried to find the Australian family, but it appeared that Hugh's son had closed his business, so I thought I would try to find his daughter. She had possibly changed her surname a couple of times, but eventually I found her phone number; with fingers and toes crossed, I called. Yet again I had struck lucky. She was thrilled to talk to me. She told me that at times she had contemplated putting an advert in a Scottish newspaper in the hope of finding Marlies' descendants.

I did do more research trying to find the Australian family. I found what I thought was Hugh's son's address. This time we decided that Heather should write, she is hopeful that one day her letter will find them and they will reply.
August update ends.

At this point I would like to record part of the email Trevor wrote to Jean about the Nisbets and her grandfather.

'At first glance, Robert George & family are just about perfect. A self-made man, university lecturer, married to his work & devoted to his two kids. When he dies, his obit. is glowing. His kids do even better. His son, Robin Nisbet follows his father's footsteps and reaches greater heights, becoming a professor at one of the most respected universities in the world. His daughter is a consultant doctor, tends her mother's last years' life. The son, even travels all the way from Oxford to Inverness (520 miles) to be with his mother when she dies.

However, if you dig a little deeper, cracks appear. In the son's obituaries, there's no mention of his twin sister. In the daughter's Will, there is apparently no bequest to any family member - it all goes to animal charities. Finally (and most damningly, I think) in the father's obituary, there's no mention of his first wife or any of their three adopted children.

The cracks become canyons when you get to Robert George Nisbet's first family. His treatment of all his adopted children is appalling and, as far as your grandfather is concerned, he had possibly the worst life of all three. Let me state here & now that I root for Adolf Hardeland NISBET, 100%; I'm amazed he survived to any age at all. Consider:

1. He's available for adoption - maybe he had a single mother & she died after his birth (but none of her relatives wanted him) or, more likely, he was brought up in an orphanage. Then, good news, he's adopted by a well-to-do family, with a servant.

2. In the very month he starts school, World War 1 starts. He has a German mother and, in class, he has to answer to 'Adolf'. He must have been a marked man for bullying, and it wouldn't end with the war, as many of his classmates would have lost their fathers. Worse still, it was a private school (says Heather), so many of the fathers would have been Army officers, especially targeted by the German snipers. The death rate for Army officers on the Western Front was much higher than that of Other Ranks.

3. Three weeks before his mother dies, his elder brother ships out to Australia. I *think* they weren't very close (perhaps they fought a lot) but, even so, it's another 'loss'.

4. His adoptive mother dies. Maybe this should be 3, as her death would have been the end of a long, painful illness - she had had breast cancer for over 11 years, with secondaries "everywhere".

5. Three weeks after his mother's death, he's shipped off to Canada, at 15 years old.

6. He drops from a middle-class home to being among boys from the workhouses & orphanages of Glasgow (& he still has a German name).

7. He's sent to work on a farm with terrible inspection reports - long hours, bad food & poor pay. Perhaps these three Hits should be grouped together.

8. Communication by Mary Louise with Adolf was heavily discouraged by her father, by blackening Adolf's name.

9. In World War II, he's a naval cook. It doesn't matter if he's in the Royal Canadian Navy or the Merchant Navy, he's likely to have been on Atlantic convoy duty. With ships and submarines trying to sink your ship, it was not the best way to spend six years with the name Adolf! We know he changed his name to Charles, but even the best secrets have a habit of leaking out.