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The life of John McCrohan (1827-1892) - Part II
My Family TreeJerry writes "Aden

John and Frances settled down to married life in India. Within a year, however, in September 1841, John's regiment was posted to Aden. This small peninsula on the south coast of Arabia had been taken by Britain two years before. It had been one of the most blatant "land grabs" in the history of the British Empire. The Government had required to set up a coaling depot on the coast of Arabia in order to establish a steamship service to India. Aden was the most suitable location, but the local Sultan, who at first agreed to sell some land to the British, suddenly changed his mind and refused to cooperate. A pirate raid on a British ship was therefore taken as a pretext to invade, and Aden was taken by force. A garrison of around 750 British and 1500 Indian troops was subsequently maintained there to ward off Arab attacks from the hinterland.



John and Frances, now five months pregnant, left for Aden on the ship "Auckland" that September. A posting to Aden was looked upon with much foreboding by the troops in India. There was nothing there but mud huts and the coaling depot. Not a bit of soil, no greenery, just rocks and sand. There was only brackish water to drink, and the only vegetables were hard turnip radishes that had to be steeped in vinegar to make them palatable. Most people there suffered from scurvy, for which lime juice was sent sporadically from Bombay.

In October, John was promoted to Sergeant, and the last months of Frances' pregnancy were at least tempered by being spent in the cool of an Arabian winter. The child was born in Aden on the sixth of February 1842, a son, whom they named John.

Life in Aden was very dull for the troops. They were quartered in barracks close to the main town, known as Crater. The peninsula of Aden is actually the remnant of an extinct volcano. Jagged hilltops, rising to 500 metres, form an amphitheatre around three sides of the town, the other side sloping down to a good harbour. Throughout the summer the Khamseen wind blows from around ten in the morning until sunset, with strong hot gusts which blow dust into every nook and cranny. It hardly ever rains, but in December 1842 there were, unusually, very heavy rains. Water poured down from the hills into the valley, killing some people and animals and destroying houses.

Young John McCrohan spent his childhood as another "Barrack Rat", like his father and mother - sleeping, eating and playing in the barrack room. The only excitement in Aden was the visit of the steam packet calling in on its way to and from Bombay every few weeks. Besides the delivery of mail and supplies, passengers would come ashore, hire horses or camels from the Arabs and ride into town, followed by a trail of inquisitive children.

Life was the usual routine for John's father too, the regimental roll calls and ceremonies, and officiating at the firing of the gun at sunset every day. There were no calls on the regiment to defend the town; the Arabs had mounted three ineffectual attacks in the early months of the colony, but had by now been pacified, and the merchants and traders among them were taking advantage of the expansion of the town. During John and Frances' time there the population increased to 20,000, and substantial buildings started to go up, replacing some of the primitive dwellings.

Return

In 1844, after three long years in Aden, the 17th was at last relieved by another regiment of unhappy soldiers, and returned to India. Frances was again pregnant, and a second son was born back in Bombay in 1845. They named him Daniel after his grandfather.

In that same year, news reached the Irish troops in India of a terrible famine afflicting their home country. The entire potato crop had failed and the people of Ireland were starving by the thousands. The potato blight was caused by a fungus, which, once introduced, spread incredibly rapidly, and caused entire fields of potatos to turn into a black rotting mass overnight.

John knew what potato blight meant. He had heard about the starvation and destitution caused by potato crop failures in Ireland from his father. There had been a bad potato famine when Daniel was eleven, and another, with half the country's crop lost, in 1807, just before Daniel joined the British Army.

All the Irish troops overseas responded very quickly to the news, and committees were formed to collect donations to be sent back to Ireland. Large sums of relief money were subscribed from India. These events must also have helped to convince the McCrohan family that there was probably little future for them in Ireland after John left the army.

The family spent two more years in India, until at last the regiment was posted back to Britain. On the 14th of March 1847, Frances, John and their two sons embarked on the "Ann" at Bombay. Five months later, when the ship landed at Gravesend, John set foot in his native country again for the first time in seventeen years. Initially stationed at Canterbury, John and Frances' third child, Francis George, was born there later in 1847.

In 1850, the famine now over, the regiment was posted to Ireland, a country full of destitute, despairing people. After twenty-eight years in the army, John McCrohan was discharged from service at Dublin in October 1852. In addition to his medal for the taking of Ghazni, he received a silver medal for long service and good conduct.

He had spent nineteen of the past twenty-two years overseas, and Frances had lived almost all of the twenty-six years of her life away from Britain. She was never to see Scotland, the home of her ancestors, and in late 1852, as the family sailed to England across the Irish Sea, John McCrohan had finally cut off all ties with his ancestral country, Ireland.

The McCrohans in Reading

The McCrohan family settled in Reading, England, and it was there that their fourth and final son Frederick was born in 1857. This was the start of a long connection with Reading - there were McCrohans there, descendants of John and Frances, until 1953. They saw the town grow from a small railway town on the way to Bristol, to a giant, and not very beautiful dormitory city for London and Thames valley workers. Throughout this period the McCrohans were constantly on the move. In fact every event which records them - births, marriages, deaths, and censuses, sees the family at a different address. So far we have discovered eleven different residences in Reading where John or his descendants lived at some time or another. The family seems to have moved house every four years or so in the early period. Were they at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords, who obliged them to move on regularly? Were John and his family ambitious people who were never satisfied with their present surroundings, and always looking for a better place? Or could they simply not pay their rent? The answer probably lies in a combination of these factors.

On first moving to Reading, John joined the Royal Berkshire Militia. His duties during his later years in the army had been as music teacher to new bandsmen, and in the Militia he was appointed Bandmaster. He served in this post for a number of years until his retirement. As soon as he was old enough, his eldest son John, the one who had been born in Aden, also joined the same Militia as a drummer, training under his father.

After the birth of Frederick in 1857, it was time for young John to leave the crowded family home of the moment, and take lodgings. A room was found for him at 1 Moulton Place, the home of John Jennet, who had been a Drum Major in the Militia before he retired. A few years later he met Susan Wright, whom he married on the 3rd of June 1863.

So far, all efforts to trace with certainty Susan Wright's ancestors have been unsuccessful. All we have is her marriage certificate, which states she was the daughter of John Wright, Painter, and the Census of 1871 for Reading, which establishes she was born in 1844 in Middlesex. None of the Susan Wrights registered as born in Middlesex around 1844 had a father called John. Was John a plain ordinary housepainter? Or was he an artist? Or was he even a Famous artist? The Dictionary of National Biography lists a John Wright who was a watercolour painter, born in 1802 in London, who died almost destitute in 1848 leaving a widow and two children. His will has been found at the Public Record Office, but does not name his children. Nor, frustratingly, does the Dictionary of National Biography article, nor John Wright's obituary in the Gentleman's Magazine.

At all events, John and Susan set up home in Reading, and started a family. They had five children, all born in Reading between 1864 and 1875. The second child Alfred John McCrohan, born on the 18th of May, 1866, was our ancestor. John continued his service in the Berkshire Militia, becoming a Serjeant of Staff by 1871.

For fourteen years the family life in Reading was very happy. There were two separate McCrohan establishments, both with young children, as the last child of the elder John and Frances had been born in 1857, only seven years before their son John and Susan's first. Then, in 1888, the family was hit by tragedy. The younger John died of lung disease, after a three month illness, at the young age of forty-six, leaving Susan to care for the five children, the youngest of whom was thirteen. It must also have been a terrible blow to old John, his father, who lived another two years.

Susan remarried in 1892, to John Bird. In the same year Frances died aged 66, and with her death the last clear memories of the years in India and Aden, and the Afghan campaign, were gone. Vague and garbled traditions were passed down in the family, that a McCrohan had been born in India, and that another ancestor had been at Waterloo, but it was to be another eighty years before the facts were properly researched again and the family story re-established.

Note: (Researched and contributed by Mike McCrohan of Eastbourne, England. John McCrohan's record can be found in the McCrohan genealogical database at this link.)"

Posted on Sunday, 18 February 2001 @ 11:05:06 EST by Admin

 
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Australian archdiocesan records - Francis McCrohan/Grace Mullen


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