A Distant Son Of Whittington
Oz-based Keith Reeve traces his family
I was born in the small town of Franklin, in the Huon district of Tasmania, Australia, on 31st October 1928. We lived on an apple orchard in a narrow valley about one mile above the town, and my paternal grandparents lived nearby. As a child, I heard stories from them about the first Reeve family's voyage out from England on a sailing ship. When I was a little older I discovered that my forebears had lived in the English village of Northwold and had come out to Australia on the 'Marco Polo' in 1855. When I was in England in 1954, I visited Northwold and met some possible relatives there, but nothing was proven and there the matter rested for another 42 years.
In 1996, some of my Tasmanian cousins decided to hold a Reunion of the descendants of the family who came out on the ship. This helped me to find out much more about my family history. On the 'Marco Polo' were my great-grandparents Clement Reeve Sr, his wife Sarah (nee Filbey) and their eight children. My grandfather, Clement Reeve Jr, was the youngest of the eight, only six months old. Clement Sr had been a Wesleyan Local Preacher in Norfolk and had been invited to come to Tasmania to continue this work in the Methodist Churches that were just starting up in the Huon district. However, as in Norfolk, he had to work on the land for a living, so he took up land at Franklin where his sons helped him to clear the dense bush and plant crops. The apple orchard where I was born came later. Clement and Sarah died at Franklin in 1872 and 1877. By 1996, the couple's list of descendants (mainly Tasmanian) totalled over 2500, of whom over 750 are alive today and of whom 300 came to the Reunion.
Aged 68 and recently retired from a scientific research career, I decided to start my own research, hoping to find more about the family my great-grandparents may have left behind in Northwold. Working mainly from Census extracts and Parish records, a complex picture gradually unfolded. In the earliest Censuses, 1841-1851-1861, there were around 46 Reeves in the Parish of Northwold, which at that time included Whittington. I found that I could sort these into two 'dynasties', one starting from a Robert Reeve and his wife Susan (Reed), the other from John Reeve and his wife Mary (Towler). Robert Reeve (born Stow Bardolph 18th March 1781 to Joseph Reeve and Anna Maria Rhodes) married Susan Reed (born Northwold 1784) in Northwold Church on 9th Jan 1804. Their first child James was born on 4th Jan 1805. John Reeve (born Wimbotsham 16th Aug 1778) married Mary Towler at Fincham on 12th Oct 1801 and apparently soon settled for life in Northwold, where their first child William was born on 17th Feb 1804. John and Robert Reeve were not brothers but they may have been first cousins.
Remarkably, I found that there were no Reeve births in Northwold during the whole of the 18th Century. So all the Reeves of Northwold-Whittington were and are descended from these two 'patriarchs' Robert and John Reeve who settled there in the early 1800s.
Robert and Susan Reeve turned out to be my great-great-grandparents. From at least 1841 onwards, they lived at Whittington. Robert, an agricultural labourer, died in 1849 aged 70. Susan lived on at Whittington until her death aged 91 on 8th Feb 1875. So she may well have been able to worship at the new Whittington church built in 1874. She would certainly have seen it. Robert and Susan produced twelve children, of whom four died in infancy. My great-grandfather Clement Reeve was their fifth-born.
Clement Reeve Sr's birth was registered at Northwold on 27th Jan 1812. He married Sarah Filbey in her home village of Wretton on 31st Dec 1835. Clement and Sarah Reeve produced 10 children at Northwold, of whom my grandfather Clement Jr (born Northwold 31st August 1854) was the youngest. One child died in infancy. But perhaps even more poignantly, their 17-year old daughter Sarah died on 12th March 1855, only 22 days before her grieving parents and their eight surviving children boarded the Marco Polo in Liverpool to sail for Australia. There is a handed-down story in our family that when Clement and Sarah left Norfolk in 1855 never to return, Clement's mother Susan 'cried and cried'. As well she might!
I had hoped to find from my research an actual house where my great-grandparents had lived. Although I did not quite achieve that goal, I found in the 1851 Census that Clement and Sarah lived and worked at Wents Farm, which I was delighted to find still exists! The nine small houses apparently occupied by farm labourers and their families have disappeared but I was able to make contact by letter with the current owners of Wents Farm House, Tim and Edwina Madgwick. I visited them there during my visits to Northwold in 1998 and 1999 and we have become good friends.
I made no contact with any Reeve families during my 1998 visit, but I was better prepared in 1999. In the intervening period I had located several Reeve relations in Whittington, Northwold and nearby areas. Most importantly, I located my third cousin Bob Reeve of Whittington and fitted him into the family tree I was constructing. It was with Bob's crucial help that I was able to host a small 'Reeve Gathering' at the Crown Free House in Northwold during my visit there in June 1999. This was attended by 21 people, amongst whom were 14 proven descendants of my great-great-grandparents Robert and Susan Reeve. Tim and Edwina Madgwick, several spouses, and other guests also attended. For me, this was a wonderful culmination of my research started over three years earlier and was the fulfillment of my long-held dream to locate and meet some Reeve relatives in Norfolk.
Proven Reeve relatives and their lineage
As well as Bob Reeve, his wife Joyce, their son Bob Reeve Jr and Bob Jr's wife Maureen, I met the following third or slightly more distant cousins:
1. Gwen Phillips and Sheila Hunter from Whittington
2. Valerie Harrison from Methwold
3. Valerie's daughter Toni
4. Valerie's sister Eileen Kent
5. Another sister, Pam Bywater from Runcton Holme, Kings Lynn
6. Betty Chapman of Northwold and her husband Harold
7. Betty's sister, Joan Sutterby of Brandon, Suffolk
8. Bob Reeve's brother, Tom Reeve and his wife Madge from Wimbotsham
9. Violet Stannard from Stoke Ferry and her son Robert
There must be many thousands more descendants of Robert and Susan Reeve alive today in England and around the world. Perhaps my possible relative and friend Ben Reeve of Cripps Corner, Sussex, who is doing a 'One-Name Reeve Study', will eventually locate many of them. Partly through the great help I have received from Ben and partly through the Internet, I have already met just a few more:
10. Graeme Patrick, who lives in Coff's Harbour, New South Wales, a great-great-great-grandson of Robert and Susan Reeve. Graeme's grandfather Laurence Patrick emigrated to Australia from West Dereham in 1929.
11. Heidi MacDonald, who lives in Langwathby, Cumbria, a great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Robert and Susan
12. Gordon Myall, from Oakville, Ontario, Canada, another great-great-great-grandson of Robert and Susan
13. Brenda Reeve-Perez, of Oklahoma City. Brenda was born in Whittington and is a sister to Pamela, Eileen, Valerie and their other siblings
All the Robert-Susan descendants I have located are descended from just a few of the first generation, namely:
* Robert and Susan's first-born, James - nos 1-5, 10 and 13 above
* their second-born, Maria - no. 12
* their fourth-born, Robert - no. 11
* their fifth-born, Clement - my Tasmanian Reeve line
* their ninth-born, John - Bob Reeve and nos 6-9
Of all Robert and Susan's children, John and his wife Mary Ann (nee Last) had the strongest Whittington connection, living there all their lives. How fitting it is that one of John and Mary's great-grandsons (Bob) still lives in the same village!
Where are the descendants of Robert and Susan's other children?
While in the area in 1998 and 1999 I searched in Northwold, Whittington and Stoke Ferry cemeteries for the graves of Robert, Susan and any of their 11 children who died in England, but found none. Clement Sr's headstone survives in the Anglican Cemetery at Franklin, Tasmania.
The other Northwold 'patriarch' John Reeve and his wife Mary (Towler) produced 13 children in Northwold. Strangely, and in great contrast to the Robert-Susan Reeve story, I have found no trace of their descendants still living in the area. One of John and Mary's grandsons, Ambrose Reeve and his wife Martha (nee Filbey) were both born in Whittington, and although they moved away a little in middle life they returned in later life and died there. In 1999, Bob Reeve and I visited Whittington Church Cemetery and found the graves of Ambrose and Martha, who died six weeks apart in 1925, aged 85 and 81 respectively.
I am now 72 and live in a southern suburb of Sydney with my second wife Elaine. I have enjoyed my family history research and my visits to Northwold and Whittington immensely, not least because of the many friends I have made across the seas.
If any readers know they are descended from either Robert and Susan (Reed) Reeve or John and Mary (Towler) Reeve and are not mentioned in this article, would they please contact me with all details at firstname.lastname@example.org
In conclusion, I trust that the concert on 2nd June will be a great occasion and wish the Whittington Church Appeal Committee all success in their fund-raising efforts.
Keith Desmond Reeve