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My 2nd great grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Hill had a brother, Richard Demetrius Hill, born in Islington in 1858. He was living with his family in the 1861 census, and with his uncle in 1871. After that, he vanishes. He does not appear to be in the 1881 or 1891 censuses, and has no obvious marriage, offspring or other records in England. Richard eventually turns up, quite dead, in Weymouth in 1895. So where had he been?

A search turned up an unexpected death notice in Rootsweb archives of the Argosy, a newspaper in British Guiana (now Guyana): 1895 Argosy death notice for Richard Demetrius Hill

Died HILL - On the 28th October, at 20 Brunswick Terrace, Weymouth, Richard Demetrius Hill, son of Richard Hill, of Gloucester, aged 37; deeply mourned by his sorrowing widow.

The name is right (and uncommon), the age is right, and his father Richard Hill was from a village near Gloucester, so that must be him. But Guyana! And there's a widow!!

Richard's death certificate confirms his travels: Death Certificate of Richard Demetrius Hill, Oct 1895

The certificate gives Richard's occupation as:

Commissary Department British Guiana

Another Rootsweb site, transcribing an 1889 British Guiana Directory (PDF), supports this:

YR PG Last First Mid OCC Employer Address City/Area
1889 83 Hill R. D. Jr Comm Tax Chief Commissary Off. Lombard St

So we turn to the British Guiana Colonists Index (also referenced, for example, by this question from @PolyGeo). On the page for H we find him (and a correlating entry for Blanche Todd on the T page):

HILL, Richard Demetrius
* Born: ABT 1858
* Married TODD, Blanche: 11 APR 1893, St. Michael's, Berbice
* Died: 28 OCT 1895, Weymouth DOR

Back to the Argosy for 1893 (PDF):

Married
HILL-TODD - On the 11th inst., at St Michael's, West Coast, Berbice, by the Rev. W. F. T. Elliot, Richard D. Hill, only son of the late Richard Hill, of Gloucestershire, to Blanche, second daughter of George Todd, Roehampton, Surrey.

So Richard was in Guyana by 1889, working as a tax commissar, and married Blanche Todd there in 1893. (There is also an R.D. Hill working as a plantation Overseer in 1882, I'm not yet sure if that's him.) Within two years, he was back in England, and died there.

I have identified Blanche's family, as there's only one good candidate with George Todd as her father. Richard's Will confirms this, by having Blanche's brother-in-law as an executor. Richard left Blanche his assets in trust, "whether in in England or British Guiana or elsewhere". Blanche herself is, I think, in the 1901 census in London, but nothing in 1911. A search for deaths in the interim served up a few possibilities, one of which turned out to be the right Blanche, who came to a rather unfortunate end:

Death Certificate of Blanche Hill, Aug 1907

Blanche's body was found on a beach at Walton-le-Soken in Essex in August 1907. This sad and lonely tale made the newspapers, including the London Daily News (BNA link) and the Chelmsford Chronicle (FMP link) (transcribed by me here), as a "Mystery Woman" found drowned on the coast.

Blanche's death certificate gives her occupation as:

Widow of
Richard
Demetrius Hill
Commissary
Indian Government
of Eastbourne

And that's where it starts to get confusing. Firstly, I am unsure how to interpret that description. There are, I think, three parts: "Widow of Richard", "Commissary Indian Government" and "of Eastbourne". (I am assuming that "Indian Government of Eastbourne" was not the intended reading, as that seems little more than a Daily Mail scare-headline 100 years too early.) The "Widow" part is obvious. But it isn't so clear, to me, whether the "Commissary" and "Eastbourne" parts are describing the occupation and residence of Blanche, or of her late husband.

Is there any convention to this entry, or any way of confirming the attribution of these phrases?

I have no evidence that Richard or Blanche did, or did not, live in Eastbourne, so it could refer to either of them. My current assumption is that the "Commissary" part does refer to Richard, as it looks like few women could hold such positions at that time. Richard did work for the Commissary in British Guiana, but I've found no records regarding India, with one exception. The Chelmsford Chronicle article asserted that:

Nothing definite has been ascertained regarding the deceased lady's life for some time anterior to a year or two back, when she came from India, where she resided for a long time with her husband.

Well, that doesn't really make a lot of sense. We know that Richard was in British Guiana from at least 1889 to 1893, and had little chance to go to India before returning to the UK by 1895. But perhaps Blanche and Richard spent time in India before moving to British Guiana and marrying.

If so, where might I find records of their time in India?

There seem to be very few records regarding the Indian Raj government, under which Richard would have worked in that timeframe. I've searched several of the links from the FamilySearch Wiki page for India, with no hits. I have looked in some of the British Army List documents referenced by @JanMurphy in chat, as they also include some Indian Civil Service appointments. Richard does not appear there, either because he was too junior to appear, or because those records didn't include his organisation, or because he wasn't there at all. The Indian Civil Service was an attractive career opportunity at the time, but that Wikipedia page suggests that only top graduates were likely to gain entry, and I've no evidence for Richard having gone to university. That said, I have no idea how Richard and Blanche ended up in British Guiana either - there's no indication that any other family members were there too.

So did Richard and/or Blanche go to India or not? My gut feeling is that India is a red herring, something misremembered by Blanche's sister perhaps. British Guiana is close to (and commonly associated with) the West Indies, and had a substantial Indian population then, so there's certainly room for confusion. The only mentions of India come after both Richard and Blanche had died, thus were second-hand at best. So this may remain as one of those tantalising unprovables that litter any family history. But wouldn't it be nice to know for sure?

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    Looks like he was in the Merchant Navy 1874-78 interactive.ancestry.co.uk/60609/… – user104 Nov 16 '16 at 11:43
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    And could well have stayed in after his apprenticeship, so crew lists is an avenue to explore. – user104 Nov 16 '16 at 11:53
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    @ColeValleyGirl: Wow! That record (and an associated one with a misspelled middle name) had never turned up in my searches. Clearly I need to learn to Ancestry better. Thank you! Crew lists do look like a good place to look now. – AndyW Nov 16 '16 at 12:07
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Re the possibility of India - this seems unlikely not just from a chronological viewpoint but also from the term Commissary. That was a rank /appointment in the East India Company's or British Indian Army. At that time the word was used with qualifiers like Deputy or Assistant. Such people worked in that part of those armies responsible for procuring supplies and were recruited from NCOs in those armies.

I don't want to deny the possibility of exceptions but it does seem highly unlikely that someone from outside those services would get such a job.

Acknowledgements to the FIBIS publication Baxter's Guide to Biographical Sources in the India Office Records.

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    Thank you. I was aware that Commissary was an EIC position, but hadn't considered that recruitment would typically be internal from the army. I did wonder if Richard might have joined the EIC, but that was before @ColeValleyGirl brought up the Merchant Navy link. I guess it's not impossible that Richard went from the Merchant Navy to the East India Company to British Guiana, but Occam is waving his razor... – AndyW Nov 17 '16 at 9:11
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I am not sure where the graphic below comes from originally but I clipped it from page 2 of 9 at http://spotidoc.com/doc/53190/menu---mccormick-and-schmick-s.

enter image description here

I think that the newspaper clipping (that it appears to have come from) requests that it be copied to Demerara (then part of British Guiana) papers rather than Indian papers because he (and she) was likely to be much better known there.

There simply seems not to have been time for Blanche to have

resided for a long time with her husband

in India whereas substituting British Guiana for India would make the statement much more applicable.

It would be interesting to know of any relationship between the George Todd who was buried on 25 Apr 1834 at Georgetown and Blanche because that would seem to be too early for her father's death. Perhaps it was her grandfather and that she had uncles and other family also living in British Guiana.

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  • Thanks. I'd seen the clipping, but not with the addendum. This, and the absence of India in Richard's will, suggest that Richard and Blanche can't have been well established there. Of course, he would likely have been in a fairly junior position and have built up no assets in India, and so would not have such strong links as in Guyana. But an "India narrative" is still just a stack of maybes glued together by an absence of evidence, so I think I can set it aside now. – AndyW Nov 17 '16 at 9:22
  • I do intend to look into the Todds of British Guiana in more detail. I went back to the Todds of London last night and immediately hit more confusion (I had thought that Blanche's mother, Clara Elizabeth Todd, was the only relevant person of that name, but there are at least two, and it's not clear how they relate). So there's a bit of digging to do there that might help illuminate the wider family. – AndyW Nov 17 '16 at 9:33

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