The People of Gibraltar
1861 - Browning and Dansey - Part 3

In April 1863, Benjamin Browning Jnr married Mary Frances the eldest daughter of George Dansey, a local surgeon in Stoke Damerel nowadays an inner suburb of the city of Plymouth. As evidenced by the album his father-in-law was also a keen amateur photographer. The attributed dates taken from the album suggest that Benjamin had been at it for at least seven years before the wedding and George at least twelve.

Browning Jnr who would have been about seven years into his service with the Royal Navy must have taken time off from his duties on HMS Cumberland, anchored at Sheerness at the time, in order to get married. 

The Naval Barracks, Sheerness - perhaps used by Browning Jnr as quarters when not on board ship     (1863 - Browning Jnr)

Unknown crew members - Did he invite any of these to his wedding?   (1863)

There are no less than three photographs of the newlyweds, two of which are dated June 1863. It was probably still too early to expect his wife’s father to come up with a proper wedding photograph as the first one ever taken is attributed to Roger Fenton in 1854. It was a rehash of Queen Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert fourteen years after the real thing. Victoria apparently loved photography. Browning Jnr and his father-law- were in good company.

Photographs of Benjamin Browning Jnr and his wife Mary Francis - the photographer was either Browning Jnr himself or his father-in-law   (June 1863 - From the album)

The wedding took place in the parish church of St Stephen’s near Saltash - the same church where his father-in-law had married his own wife. St Stephen’s was about 5 miles from what would be his own family home in Stoke Damerel where their first child, Kate Emma was born the following year. 

The parish church of St Stephen’s near Saltash   (Undated)

By 1867 they must have made a move to Alverstone on the Isle of Wight as his second daughter Georgina Lucy was born there. One plausible reason for the choice of Alverstoke is that it was near his father’s house at Castleford.

This photograph is the very first one on the album - Perhaps it was the entrance to the apartment of the newly married Brownings perhaps the very place where the album itself was compiled  (Undated and unidentified)

Another building and the second photo in the album - Could this be their house in Alverstone?  (Undated and unidentified)

The fact that his father-in-law was an amateur photographer makes it possible to speculate that Browning Jnr caught the photography bug when he first met Dansey. But it seems very unlikely. Browning’s Gibraltar photographs were taken in 1861 - worse, those he took of his parents at Clatterford date from as early as 1860. 

Two possible alternatives are that either Browning was already keen on photography by the time he first met George - perhaps in the mid 1850s if the Mount Edgecombe “Tree” photo is correctly attributed - or that he met Dansey and his family long before he married perhaps during a horrendously long courtship. 

George Dansey was born in Callington near Saltash in 1810.

The Square Tower of Trematon Castle - St Joseph’s Parish Church which in near both Saltash and Callington appears in the distance on the left    (Date unknown - George Dansey)

Dansey spent most of his early life in Caen and later moved to Paris where he studied medicine. He then returned to Caen and worked for a short while as a doctor before returning to Plymouth soon after 1830. Many years later in 1859 he continued his studies - surprisingly at the University of Erlangen near Nuremberg - where he qualified as an MD. The album contains several photographs of places in the French capital - but it seems implausible that any of them were taken by him during his student days.

Date and photographer unknown

Probably a photograph of a photograph owned by one of his friends - Perhaps of interest to both Dansey and Browning Jnr simply because it might have been taken as far back as 1847 when photography was very much in its infancy.

The reasons behind George Dansey’s early life in France are convoluted to say the least as they stretch back three generations.  Dansey’s uncle Frederick born in 1750, founded the Tamar Brewery in Morrice Town north of Devonport and Plymouth. Shortly before his death in 1813, those nasty people of the Inland Revenue - then probably known as the Board of Stamps - sued the brewery £34 000, more than one and half million pound in today’s money, for unpaid excise duties on beer.

A view towards the River Tamar over Hamoaze which is next door to Morice Town - The Tamar Brewery no longer existed by the time this photograph was taken but may have once occupied the site with the tall chimney by the waterfront   (1856 - George Dansey)

Keyham would soon become a built-up area to provide cheap housing - it overlooked the Keyham Steam Yard which had just been completed - John Spiller was a porter, ale and beer brewer as well as a spirit merchant in Morice-Town - More to the point he had once been a clerk to Frederick Dansey from whom he probably learned his trade.

Another view of Hamoaze      (Unknown)

The brewery and other public houses owned by Frederick were sold by public auction the following year but apparently failed to raise enough money to cover the debt. The Crown then continued to pursue Frederick’s heirs, one of whom was William Dansey, an attorney who happened to be George’s Father.  William managed to avoid having to face the consequences of being unable to pay by losing just about all the money he had in a failed banking investment and then following this up conclusively by dying. 

Feeling that caution might be preferable to any attempt to face the music William’s widow - Mary Dansey née Blackler fled the country for France taking her children, George, Mary and Frederick with her. Why she chose Caen, I have no idea, but her decision ended up being a good one. The Crown finally acknowledged defeat as regards their claim and she and her family were able to return to Britain. They took up residence in the magnificent St Michael’s Terrace in Stoke Dameral. 

(1832 - Not from the album)

I am not sure whether George stayed with them in Stoke Damarel for any length of time but in 1835 he was almost certainly living in Saltash where he married Mary Ziegel Evans the daughter of John Evans a purser in the Royal Navy and twice a Mayor of Saltash. 

By the time Browning Jnr had done the same thing with his eldest daughter Mary Francis - she was 26 on her wedding day - the Dansey’s had already added several children to their family, Georgina who born in 1839, Louisa Lucy in 1842, Edith Harriett Cole in 1845 and Frederick William known as Freddy to family and friends, in 1848.

George Dansey and his wife Mary nee Ziegel Evans   (Undated - No Caption)

Mary (Frances) - Browning Jnr’s wife - Edith and Freddy - A sad undated photograph which must have been taken before 1858 as Freddy died that year and Edith following him in the next   (Unknown)

Same place, same donkey and same hat as the photograph above - Two unknown young ladies probably the other two Dansey sisters, Lucy and Georgina   (Undated)

According to a present day descendent of the Dansey family the lady on the left is Mary Frances Browning and the other is Louise Lucy Dansey    (1863 - Browning Jnr) 

George Dansey in the middle with book in hand with his wife seated opposite  - The three girls are probably their daughters - from left to right Mary Frances, Georgina and Louisa Lucy - the girl in the top left window is unknown as is the boy behind George  

The “G. Dancy & BB fecit” comment probably means that this was a photograph taken by Dansey at some earlier date and printed by Browning in 1863. The ladies all appear to be dressed in mourning which suggests 1859 as a possible date in which the photo was taken. If the girl in the window was Edith then it might even have been taken a year earlier.  

The “Wilcock” on the caption may refer to Henry Wilcock who was the son of a local solicitor. He would later marry George’s daughter Louisa Lucy. A decent catch as he eventually became a wealthy merchant as well as Mayor of Exeter in 1875. The photo might in fact have been taken in the Wilcock’s family home.

The photo was taken in the same place as the one above but I cannot identify anybody on it - Perhaps one of the gentlemen could be Henry Wilcock and one of the girls Louisa Lucy   (Unknown date - George Dansey, printed by Browning Jnr)

Curiously Henry’s sister married Captain George Pechell Mends, an officer of the Royal Navy who served on HMS Trafalgar. He was an excellent amateur artist and produced several paintings during his ship’s frequent visits to the Rock.

View from Mount Pleasant - Official residence of the Naval Commissioner in Gibraltar (1852 - George Pechell Mends )

View from the Queen of Spain's Chair (1853 - George Pechell Mends   )

Although neither George Dansey’s sister, Mary, nor his brother Frederick appear on any of the above family portraits, both of them lived with his family in Stoke Dameral for several years, Mary perhaps for most of her adult life. 

What little I know about Frederick is sketchy to say the least. He was five years younger than his brother and may have gone to live in London after he returned to England with his mother and the rest of the family from their exile in Caen. By 1857 and before he came to live with his brother in St Michael’s Terrace his address had been No 2 Canterbury Villa in London’s Maida Vale. 

His marriage in 1835 to Catherine Sarah Games must have been a thoroughly unhappy one - she was committed in 1854 to a “lunatic asylum” -  nowadays less aggressively known as a psychiatric hospital - and then again in 1857 - this last date coinciding with Frederick’s move from London to Stoke Dameral. He had been a banker’s clerk during his time in London although I presume he was unemployed when he moved in with his brother. He seems to have been very much part of the family and may have been particularly fond of Freddy as he appears in his company in quite a few of the photographs in the album.

(No date - probably taken by George Dansey)

Probably Uncle Frederick with Freddy sitting on the wall - The building in the horizon is St Michael’s Terrace in Stoke Dameral    (1857 - George Dansey)

Uncle Frederick and Freddy on pony with two unknown young people in an unknown location    (Possibly 1857)

Frederick by himself taken in the same place as the photograph above - If the photograph was taken in 1857 as suggested above Frederick would have been 54 years old - although he certainly doesn’t look as old as that

Tracing the movements of Mary Dansey - George’s sister - has proved more elusive. According to a present day descendent of the Dansey’s she appears only once in the entire album. However, a comparison between the Mary in the photo and a small pencil drawing of her done later in her life makes me doubt whether either or both of the ladies have been identified correctly. Her existence, however, is no myth - appropriate census data identifies her as living with the Dansey family - perhaps for her entire life.

Can they both be Mary Dansey?

As early as the 1830 Mary and her mother Mary Dansey née Blackler were earning their keep while running a ladies seminary from St. Michael’s Terrace.  I have no idea whether this arrangement continued for any length of time but there is no mention of either of them as teachers - or indeed as of anything else - in any contemporary census. 

Instead it is Dansey’s wife Mary Ziegel Dansey née Evans - helped by a French assistant called Euphonie George - that is described as a teacher on the census data for both 1851 and 1861. It seems that Mary ran a residential school for around a dozen children between the ages of 8 and 16 from their home in St. Michael’s Terrace for quite a few years.

The central group consists of George’s wife Mary Ziegel Dansey book in hand with Freddy on her knee. The girls in front of them are probably  Louisa Lucy, and Edith, those behind Mary Frances and Georgina - I don’t recognise any of the others but the lady on the right with the dark dress might be Euphonie George   (1855 - George Dansey - printed by Browning Jnr)

Another group photograph taken in front of the same building probably on the same day - Frederick stands in the middle with a top-hat but it is hard to identify anybody else    (Undated - Unattributed)