Great, great grandparents: John & Margaret Brockbank

On 28 May 1915, the Lakes Herald published an article “Death of Mr John Brockbank, Hawkshead” that gives a great insight into the life of my great-great grandparents. John Brockbank had achieved notoriety some 40 years earlier when he was the defendant in a lawsuit against Colonel Miles Sandys of Graythwaite Hall over fishing rights on Esthwaite Water. In a nutshell, he conducted an articulate and principled defence, and the case that was heard over several days at the Liverpool Assizes in 1875. However, he lost the case, and the story that it ruined him financially has been handed down to the present day.

He was 82 when he died and had worked as a joiner all his life, serving his time with his father, Robert Brockbank. The family had lived at Hannakin, a hamlet just to the south of Hawkshead, for over 200 years. The article states that he “will be long remembered as a well built man of fine physique, a very good scholar with a remarkable memory, and an excellent conversationalist”. It goes on to list some of the many prizes he won for shooting, including a sparrow shoot at Sawrey in which he tied with a Troutbeck man because – after each had shot 11 birds – “a shortage of sparrows compelled them to divide”!

John Brockbank on chair
My great-great grandfather John Brockbank (1833–1915). Photo belonging to Mabs Coates

He married in 1855 in Ambleside, which was across the county line in Westmorland, so only the banns are recorded in the Lancashire Parish Registers:

John and Margaret 1855 banns

The article states that the couple had 13 children “six sons and seven daughters, of whom four sons and three daughters are still alive”. Before I came across the article, I thought there were only seven children, so immediately rose to the challenge of finding out about the others; of which, more later!

We are descendants of John and Margaret’s third son William James, who became a stone waller and plasterer at nearby Troutbeck. He was my dad’s grandfather and a photo of William James Brockbank and his wife Ann hangs in dad’s lounge.

Wm Brockbank and Ann Clark

A few years ago dad replied to an item in The Westmorland Gazette calling for Brockbanks from Hawkshead. It had been posted by Diana “Mabs” Coates (née Brockbank) because a Brockbank cousin from Canada was about to visit. It was this way that we learnt more about William’s older brother Matthew, who had two sons who emigrated to Canada in 1910. The photo of John with the newspaper belongs to Mabs, as does this photo, which I think is a portrait of 4 generations.

John Matthew and 2 others
Mabs’ photo of her grandfather Matthew Brockbank (left) with his father John Brockbank holding the baby. If the occasion was Matthew’s first grandchild, this would make the young man on the right Matthew’s oldest son William with the baby his first child Eva May Brockbank born autumn 1905

Matthew Brockbank married Mary Alice Oldcorn in 1865 and the couple had nine children, two boys Stephen and Fred emigrating to Canada in 1910. Here is a family photo taken shortly after that date.

Matthew Brockbank family photo named
Matthew and Mary Alice Brockbank sometime after their sons Stephen and Fred emigrated. Frank – a shoemaker in the 1911 Census – was killed in Greece during World War I (October 1916). Photo belonging to Mabs Coates

Mabs told me that Stephen married Maggie from Yew Tree Farm, Coniston. They had 3 children by the time of the 1911 Census, and Maggie and the children were living with her parents at Little Arrow, Coniston, while Stephen found his feet in Canada.

Margaret Brockbank 1911 Census

Searching the Canadian 1921 Census, it looks like Maggie emigrated with the two girls in 1911, although I can’t find them on any passenger lists. Their first daughter, Margaret Agnes, had died in 1906 aged just 4 1/2 months.  Two further children were born in Canada, Winnifred (1912) and Harold (1915).

Stephen Brockbank 1921 Canada census

Stephen settled at Outlook, Saskatchewan, while Fred put down roots in Moose Jaw, 200km to the south east and relatively close to the border with Montana. It’s likely that my dad’s aunt, Margaret Elizabeth Clark who married Norman Carvell and settled in Nipawin, Saskatchewan, knew when she emigrated that her two cousins had settled in the same province three years prior.

Fred Brockbank Canada 1921 Census
Fred Brockbank in the Canadian 1921 Census. As far as I can tell, he married Florence in Canada.

Fred Brockbank passenger list 1910

Canada ship Virginian

Stephen passenger list

Canada ships Tunisian




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