Sunday, May 18, 2014

My Oxstead Visit

A Selfie of Sharon & Eileen. April 25, 2014

I was told over the phone by the lady I was about to meet: Look for a very old, very small lady. I used to be five foot two, but I have shrunk. With this picture lodged firmly in my mind, I hopped a train to Oxtead early on my first morning in London, with a plan to trot down the stairs at the Oxstead train station, and to meet up with Eileen Johnston, a granddaughter of Margaret Jackson. She also happens to be one of the grand-nieces of Sir Thomas Jackson (1841-1915) aka TJ, the focus of my research, so of course, we had to meet.

Margaret JACKSON in 1934, at age 81

But let me back up a moment. The grandmother of Eileen Johnston née McCullagh was Margaret Jackson (1853-1944), a woman who was just as remarkable as her famous older brother, but in quite a different arena, and of course there are no medals or renown for her kind of life.

Over the course of twenty one years, Margaret bore ten living children. For her time and place, that in itself was not so remarkable, nor was it remarkable that she had outlived two husbands, the first who had left her with four young children, the second who left her with six.  What was remarkable was that she was twenty-nine years old and three months pregnant with her fourth child when her first husband died, and then forty-four years old and five months pregnant with her tenth child when her second husband died. She then lived on for another forty-seven years.

A 1920s photo of Margaret Jackson and five of her ten children.
Margaret's youngest child, John Andrew McCullagh (1897-1971), like so many of the extended Jackson clan, served in banking in the Far East. He was with the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China, now known as the Standard Chartered Bank. His older brother David McCullagh briefly served with HSBC before WWI intervened and he was killed in France at age nineteen.

The two brothers had both attended private schools in Ireland, as did all of their siblings, with all tuition paid for by their uncle Sir Thomas Jackson. Thomas’ wife Amelia was known to grouse about this, paying for all these nieces and nephews. Unfortunately, Amelia does not come off too well in many of the Jackson family recollections. We were never invited to Stanstead is a common refrain amongst the previous generation of my cousins. It may be that Amelia thumbed her bible with more regularity than her husband Thomas, and attended church services with great devotion, which he did not, but if letters are to be believed, it was he who lived out a life of charity.

As a consequence of John Andrew McCullagh’s banking career, Eileen was born in Singapore in 1930. She knows full well what it was like to be punted off to England for schooling, and to not see her mother for seven long years. In this, she was not alone. Many of our family members, whose parents had careers in the Far East, experienced this lot in life. By the time that Eileen and her mother reconnected, her mother had forgotten, had she ever known, how to be a mother to her daughter.

Not that this seems to have diminished Eileen in the least. In fact, I would say that she was a good two inches taller than she had lead me to believe when we had first chatted on the phone in London. Now in her mid-80s, she also sparkles with the same kind of lively intelligence that I have come to expect in so many of her generation of Jacksons. She also has the renowned Jackson gift of putting strangers at their ease, hosting with abundance, and having a sprightly curiosity about a huge range of topics.

A wonderful lunch - of which this was only a part. Eileen had prepared it ahead of time because we would have so much to talk about when I arrived. This turned out to be totally true.
Eileen’s copy of Wayfoong, Maurice Collis' 1965 history which had been presented formally to her by HSBC,  had all sorts of memorabilia inserted within it. Amongst them, were were some photos of TJs statue that I hadn’t yet seen. This statue has been mounted on a range of differently sized plinths over the decades. Sometimes this means that the statue is accessible. Other times it seems to be intended to lord over Statue Square. That is the last thing that would have been in keeping with the man.

China Mail March 30, 1974.
There was much, much more that Eileen shared with me, but one of best bits was an 1875 letter written by TJ’s sister Margaret the morning after she and her husband returned from their honeymoon in Scotland. In it, she tells her sister Mary all about the celebrations organized by their neighbours to greet them upon their return. The people all collected for miles around, and had tar-barrels burning, and bonfires on every hill within sight.

This letter alone is worth of a couple of posts. In one, I will post copies of photos of several of the people mentioned in the letter. In the second, I will include an annotated version of my transcription.

Link to letter.
Link to photos.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. I love all the people that you have connected with as a result of this amazing quest of yours. Thank you for letting us 'meet' them too :)