Ascension : Views from Ascension
Submitted by The Islander (Islander Editors) 22.09.2011 (Article Archived on 06.10.2011)
This week Our Own Correspondent, Louise Short recounts an incredible story from a chance meeting with two fellow passengers on a flight back to Ascension Island on 7th September 2011.
I think it would be fair to say that few people relish the long flight to Ascension Island from Brize Norton, therefore there was nothing remarkable about settling down next to a couple of passengers, who looked as tired and irritable as I was, after an hourís delay to our departure.
What was remarkable however was the story that was about to unfold as I chatted to the couple, who as fate had it, were to be my travelling companions.
Gill and Dave Clapson were making their first trip to Ascension Island to return a photograph album that had been in their family for over a century. This was no ordinary photograph album however, by any standards, as it contained images of Ascension Island and itís inhabitants dating back as far as 1891.
Tiredness eventually overcame us as we soared over the South Atlantic Ocean, so we agreed to meet later in the week, at my house, over dinner, to delve deeper into this fascinating tale.
The words I share with you now are from the discussions and notes as they were relayed enthusiastically to me at that dinner party. With editorial discretion, they are Gill and Daveís own words.
Joseph Clapson (Daveís grandfather) arrived on Ascension Island, having come with the Royal Marines from Kent in England, although there is some confusion because his records say he was a footman.
A young girl called Alice soon to wed Joseph, had also arrived. She had had a very privileged upbringing in England as a child, however due to the fact that her father squandered away the family fortune, she and her siblings were sent into service. In this capacity Alice was put on a boat and sent to Ascension Island and it is believed that she became the lady-in-waiting to the wife of the Governor of the Island.
Joseph and Alice met and subsequently got married in St. Maryís Church on 26th May 1890. After the news of their wedding filtered back to England, her family duly disowned her, as they determined her to have married beneath her status.
Unperturbed by this news, the couple went on to have two sons on Ascension ; Joseph Cyril Clapson (born 1891) and Cecil Clapson (born 10th April 1893). The latter son, whose birth was unknown to Gill and Dave until they stumbled upon the record, tragically died at just 2 days old. He is buried in Monkey Rock Cemetery on Green Mountain.
Joseph and Alice went on to have three other children. Daisy, who it is believed was born on Ascension, though no records could be found for her and subsequently twins, Jessie Christine and William Donald both born in Queensferry, Scotland (14th January 1897). It is this son who is Daveís father.
Joseph changed career from the Royal Marines light infantry to the Royal Navy. He was killed like many young men at the Battle of Jutland in 1916 serving on HMS Invincible. Alice relocated to live in Portsmouth area in England and passed away at a very respectable 91 years.
Daveís father, William Donald had three other children Madeline, Peter and Audrey. He followed in his fatherís footsteps joining the Navy at the age of 13 and, having passed through Greenwich Naval College in London served on HMS Victory and he was gunnery officer for a short period on HMS Hood. No doubt he handled the guns now here on Ascension.
William was made of stern stuff and having served in two world wars, being torpedoed and sunk three times, he returned home to live until the ripe old age of 87. His wife Francis (14 years his junior) lived to the incredible age of 99 Ĺ until she sadly passed away suddenly on 30th September 2010.
On clearing out Daveís mumís house, the photograph album, pictured at the beginning of this article, once again came to see daylight. Although the family knew of itís existence, it hadnít been opened for almost 30 years.
After several family discussions between Dave, Gillian and his sister Audrey, the Clapsons decided to return the photograph album to where the story began 120 years ago. Initial contact was made with Nicolla Dillon who passed the couple onto Shari Parkhill, one of the stalwarts of Ascension Island Heritage Society.
Arrangements were made and flights were booked and that is how I found myself sitting next to them on the start of their adventure.
Dave says ď When Gill and arrived on this island, the album meant nothing to us. We spent a week researching Joseph and Alice Clapson, their marriage and the birth of two sons ; the death of Cecil after only 2 days coming as a complete shock. His little body still remains here at Monkey Rock. A member of our family we never knew existed. We have become very emotional and truly feel we too are a very small part of this Island.Ē
Dave and Gill told me that they have been overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of people on the Island. They would like to thank Father Chris for allowing them to search the church archives. Thanks also to Marion Kilsby who offered her help with photocopying. A very grateful thanks to Shari, Sue and Neil at the Heritage Society for all the effort in helping Gill and Dave to trace their family. They want to say thanks to Johnny Hobson for his words of wisdom and invaluable tour. Thanks also to Stedson , Natasha and Nathan at Conservation. Their last thanks was to you, the people of Ascension for your friendliness, kindness and interest generally in our story.
Gill and Dave Clapson left the island last Friday full of praise for our community. We gave them a warm welcome and they gave us a part of their family heritage. The rest I can quite literally say ď is history ď.
The return of The Ascension Island Album from 1891 containing over 50 photographs plus some preserved turtles and shells were donated by David Clapson from Fleet, Hampshire; Audrey Brown, Daveís sister from Summerville, New Brunswick, Canada and the families of Joseph and Alice Clapson.