Is “The Old Druggist” my 6x great-grandmother (Part 2: What Thomas Geering wrote about the druggist)

26 Feb

Having previously described my knowledge of Mary GEERING the druggist of Hailsham, Sussex, who I believe to be my 6x great-grandmother, I now turn my attention to what Thomas Geering wrote about “the old druggist” in his book Our Sussex Parish.

The story mainly focuses on the famous Captain Barclay, but does include a few snippets of information about the druggist and her family, none of which conclusive, it is sadly very short on hard facts, but makes up for it with some wonderful descriptions of the people and the shop (more about that in another post).

Firstly we begin with the lodger:

CAPTAIN BARCLAY, the celebrated pedestrian, with the 23rd Foot, in which regiment he held his commission, was, about the year 1804-5, stationed, if not in our barracks, in the neighbourhood, he having apartments in the house of Mrs. Gearing, druggist.

Then we have mention of the druggist’s son:

The druggist’s son, James, who had been barrack-sergeant, in after-life delighted to gossip away an hour detailing many of the doughty Captain’s habits while in quarters here…

We then return to the druggist again and her daughter:

Let me give a parting word or two to our old-fashioned maiden druggist, Miss Nancy Gearing. I remember her mother, a little dark-eyed, precise, shrivelled-up old dame. Her fame rested chiefly upon salves and ointments, and to the daughter, Nancy, devolved the honour of continuing to our town and neighbourhood these two blessings.

Then we hear more about the druggist who like her son enjoyed gossiping about their famous lodger:

She, her shop and the contents had all grown old together. Where she drew her first breath, there in the same chamber she breathed her last, and like her creaking old door, she hung on for many a year, always attending to her business duties, and glad to the last to take a shilling over the counter. This was her great delight, and if ever gratification and satisfaction could be seen dominant in one’s features, then these were in hers when a customer had entered the shop and she had fingered the money. But the joy could be intensified by a gossip about her celebrated lodger; it was then her dark eyes sparkled as she recounted her recollections of his manly presence, and his kind, gentlemanly demeanour.

Finally Thomas Geering leaves us with a clue, the age of death of the old druggist:

Our old druggist lived on to be eighty-one, and a very short period of her long life became subject to decrepitude and mortal decay.

So pulling out the hard facts from this selection of quotes we have:

  • Mrs Gearing was a druggist, but as well as running a shop, also let  out an apartment or room, but we don’t know whether this was just a one off for the celebrated pedestrian or whether she had other paying guests.
  • Mrs Gearing had a son, James, who had been a barrack sergeant.
  • Mrs Gearing had a daughter, Nancy, who took over the shop.
  • Mrs Gearing lived to be eighty one years old.

There are some similarities between these ‘facts’ and the GEERING family I have previously described.

  • Mary GEERING was listed as a chymist and druggist in 1832-4 and 1839 in Hailsham.
  • Richard and Mary GEERING had a son named James (my 5x great-grandfather).
  • Richard and Mary GEERING probably had a daughter called Ann, who may have been Nancy in Thomas Gearing’s story.
  • According to the census Ann/Nancy appears to have run the shop after Mary’s death.

There is a discrepancy in the age of Mrs Gearing when she died, or maybe my confusion in the interpretation of the story. I think Mary GEERING was 78 when she died, and it was Ann who died aged 81 years.

Allowing for some artistic licence or failing memory on the part of Thomas Geering, these two families (the one in the book and the other revealed by census returns and parish registers) are a pretty good match. I have no doubt they are one and the same.

My challenge is to prove that this family is my family, that Mary GEERING/Mrs Gearing was my 6x great-grandmother.

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