Monday, 15 February 2016

Serres Family Secrets

Dr George Young, physician, army surgeon and botanist, spent most of his adult life in the Caribbean prior to his death at Hammersmith, England in 1803. His wife Sarah also died at Hammersmith, in 1814. (See my earlier article on Dr Young.) Both had previously lived for many years on the Caribbean Island of St Vincent.

In her Will of 1812, signed with her mark, Sarah gave my infant Grand Daughter Maria Cruikshanks my Gold Watch and two Silver Table and six Tea Spoons to be handed over when Maria reached the age of sixteen years, but otherwise everything of Sarah’s was to be equally divided by and between my son Robert Serres and my said Grand Daughter Ann Serres.

Robert Serres was described in the 1812 Will as a shoemaker of Hammersmith. Ann Serres appeared to be beyond the age of sixteen years in 1812, suggesting she was born in the 1790s or earlier and in turn that her father Robert was born in the mid 1760s or earlier. Sarah’s Will thus implies that when she married Dr George Young in the mid to late 1760s she was a ‘widow’ (see later) with a son.

I can’t find a record of Sarah's marriage to George Young but, as he made much of 'legal issue' in his Will, it must have taken place. His Will mentioned his two estates on St Vincent, Sarah and their three children (George, William and Sarah). George Jnr was born in the late 1760s in an unknown place (possibly the same place as his parents' marriage) while the younger two were baptised on the Island of St Vincent in 1771 and 1772, when Sarah was in her late forties. When Dr George Young wrote his Will in 1802 he made no mention of a Serres step-son.

The only definite record I can find for the Serres family present in the Caribbean at this time is the artist Count Dominic de Serres, born in France c 1720. Whether he was a Catholic to begin with and later conformed to the official religion in England has yet to be clarified. He was definitely present in the Caribbean during the 1750s, as master of a merchant vessel trading between Spain and Havana in Cuba. He was captured by the English during the Seven Years War (1756-1763) and then sailed with the Royal Navy on expeditions to Nova Scotia and Havana, employed as an artist. He moved to London and was a founder member of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1768. (There's more in the Dictionary of National Biography.) Dominic died in London in 1793 as a married man with children, and I'd love to locate a copy of Dominic's Will, but where is it?

From 1813 the Slave Compensation Records mention Aché Serres and some of her children living on the island of Trinidad, relatively close to St Vincent. Aché appears to have been born around 1760, with her children arriving in the 1780s, but details of her birthplace, maiden name and husband's name are unknown to me. Her daughter Adelaide Serres married a man named Rochard from neighbouring Grenada and Aché's grandson Charles Rochard was a solicitor and Freemason in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

Sarah, born around 1724, was in her 30s during the 1750s and might be connected in some way to Dominic de Serres or to the husband of Aché Serres, whoever he was. 

George & Sarah Young's daughter Sarah gave birth to their granddaughter Maria Isabella Cruikshank on the Island of St Vincent in March 1810. Maria was baptised at Hammersmith on  30 December 1810 in a double ceremony with her first cousin Martha Young, who was described as a Creole of St Vincent, aged 13, indicating that Martha's mother was a coloured woman. Maria was not so described, meaning that Maria’s parents and therefore her grandparents including Sarah must have been European. But Sarah Snr's identity remains a mystery.

Likewise, all the usual genealogical sources for the Caribbean and England which are easily accessible online reveal no evidence of Robert Serres or his daughter Ann Serres. They've have proved elusive, existing in 1812 but with no trace of them before or after that date. A lot more time than I have already spent poring over the parish records of St Paul, Hammersmith may yield the information I seek, or perhaps Trinidad's records might hold the key. I'm hoping that this post will unearth additional insights into the Serres family.

Note: Maria Cruikshank's granddaughter Margaret Flockton followed in the footsteps of her botanist forebear Dr George Young and became the first botanical artist employed by the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney. The book 'A Fragrant Memory' to be released in 2016 will tell Margaret's story. Contact me if you wish to join the waiting list.

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