Billy Swift

LOGGING IN to renew my library books I noticed a link to a wonderful online resource that Wakefield Libraries have recently made available; access to the British Library’s digital archive of nineteenth century newspapers.

I tried a few names from my mum’s side of the family – the Swifts of Sheffield – and soon found this notice from the births, deaths and marriages column of the Sheffield & Rotherham Independent dated 18 November 1862.W Swift 1862

Could my great great great grandfather really have been ‘present at the Battle of Trafalgar’ on 21 October 1805?

I’ve put in a request for the death certificate to check that this really is ‘our’ William Swift. We already knew that he’d worked at Joseph Rodgers from an obituary notice for his son, Samuel Burgin Swift, who followed in his footsteps there (as did his grandson).

My mum has the article, reprinted as a handbill;

S B Swift 1878

‘he [Samuel] was a thoughtful, industrious workman, and inherited the skill of his father “Billy Swift”.

It seems to me unlikely that a young man from landlocked Sheffield would have served in the Battle of Trafalgar but Geoffrey Tweedale, author of A Directory of Sheffield Cutlery Manufacturers, 1742-2010, tells me; ‘Being at Trafalgar is not so strange — he lived a long life and his earlier career could have included military service. I’ve come across at least a couple of cutlers/silver platers who saw action during the Napoleonic War.’

Trafalgar Day

NelsonTomorrow is Trafalgar Day, the 198th anniversary of the Battle. I hope that I’ll get the chance to search the records, for instance the Muster Rolls of the twenty-seven ships in Nelson’s fleet.

I still have this 1957 Ladybird book, a Christmas gift from our neighbours, Mr & Mrs Hudson.

Could that be my ancestor, hoisting the signal flags in the background?

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  1. Hi, do you happen to know where the “Bergin” originated from in his son’s name? I’m sure there’s no relationship but coincidentally, there was a Samuel Bergin working as a silversmith in Dublin in the 1820s. And a fine one he was too, I have one of his teapots.

    1. Our Burgin connection goes back to William Swift marrying a Mary Burgin from Loxley, near Sheffield, in 1810 or 12. Her father was a Samuel Burgin as was her grandfather, born in 1742. These records are from other family trees and I haven’t been able to find out where they got their information but it sounds plausible.
      Burgin is always spelt with a ‘u’ in our family, rather than an ‘e’ as I’d assumed when I wrote that page, so I better go back and correct that. My apologies. Although going back to before the 1820s I guess that spelling could vary.
      I’ve yet to find a Swift leaving Sheffield in the 19th century but we’re convinced that the other side of the family had American connections.

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