So my spit, which I once casually propelled through a speeding car window or sneakily let fall from a thirtieth floor balcony with no regard to the fact that it contained the precious essence of my ancestors, has been duly propelled into a little plastic tube, sealed and sent off to some laboratory and all my ancestry has now been revealed. Analysis of my spit showed a pint of Kilkenny pale ale, to a wee dram or three of Grant’s finest Scotch, blended with a chilled glass of Italian chablis and chased down with a shot of Vodka, straight. Dispensing with the metaphors that makes 82% Irish, 8% ‘British’ (actually Scottish), 8% Mediterranean and….. hello! 2% Scandinavian. All fitted with my Collins/ O’Rorke/ Moylan/ Grant family names, except that I would have expected the British dna would have been classified Scottish (or Caledonian). But it turns out in the dna world that Scotland is not as distinct a gene as the Irish. Way back in the last ice age of 12,000 bc the channel from Europe would have been easily crossed with the sea levels quite low, various tribes from Western Europe crossed into the islands of Britain and Ireland to create a primitive little Celtic settlement with the engineering and astrological knowledge to build a huge monolith called Stonehenge.
Then Julius Caesar invaded Britain initially in 55BC just to see what was there and Rome established and ruled their province of Britannia from 44AD until around 500AD when the Caledonians from up North, the Scoti (from the Irish west) and the invading Angles and Saxons from northern Europe co-operated to send the Romans back to Rome. And so it came to pass. No doubt a couple of centuries of indiscriminate breeding on the mainland and Britain is united from a dna point of view (Ireland preferred inbreeding to cross-breeding) and Britain is all one family. So although the Caledonians have since then fought for their independence from the hated Anglo Saxons, and are still going on and on about referendums to replace battles, it appears the dna doesn’t really know what all the fuss is about as they are all lumped into a British category. They live just a bit north of Coronation Street but otherwise auld Jock MacGregor is more English than the Queen, who is mostly German.
So while it is disappointing to not have a distinct Caledonian gene in my dna it is pleasing to also note a rather more interesting 8% Italian which means either the Romans left a very identifiable dna marker way back then or else we have to believe the rumours that wee Morag had been pleasuring the Italian sailors down at the docks on occasions. But apart from what I expected with this analysis, now I also have spitting proof of an actual Viking in my dna!! So you are the little voice that comes to me in the dead of night. That little warrior who lives way back in the depths of my mind is a particularly volatile little beggar and we wouldn’t want him coming out of his little ice cave hibernation swinging his axe.
But dominating my inherited memories are the misty bogs of Ireland. As far back as I could trace my family names, we were of the peasant stock from County Clare and Galway, mid west of Ireland. But as it turns out my little grand-daughter’s paternal family, according to genealogy websites which have all the credibility of Wikipedia, traces their heritage back to the aristocracy of the Baron of Dunamore in County Meath, across on the east coast. While the Collins’ may have been the hardy peasant stock, along with the Spud Murphy’s and Ned Kelly’s, County Meath was the ‘nobs’ suburb; it was where the high king of Ireland resided back in the day along with no fewer than eighteen Barons. The 19th century good Baron of Dunamore, John Baker Holroyd, who allegedly sired Marni’s grand- x 5-father, also bought the decent sized estate of Sheffield Place in Fletching, England and eventually become a British Earl and sat in the House of Lords.
Is that why Marni, even at just a few months old, seems to think that I was put on this earth to be in 24/7 service to her? Is ruling class aristocracy hard-wired in her dna? Her heritage appears to be a really interesting story of aristocratic intrigue actually. My genealogy website research traced the Bakers back to the arrival of one John Holroyd Baker sometime prior to 1839. The 1793 birth year attributed to our John Holroyd Baker fell awkwardly between the Baron John Baker Holroyd’s first wife’s death and his marriage to his second wife, Lady Lucy Pelham. The son from the third marriage, George, eventually took over the titles and estates in 1821. Wife #3, Lady Ann North, who had been ‘lady-in-waiting’ to the Princess of Wales, would have had a good network in the Palace which could explain if there had been an ‘adjustment’ to the heraldic line. Wife #2 had already died while still very young and was not around to clarify the situation. In the early 19th century our John Baker arrived in Hokianga and, according to Hokianga folklore, John dropped the Holroyd name in protest and adopted his grandmother’s maiden name of Baker. It’s a tale worthy of Shakespeare and, just like the works of Shakespeare, no one is quite certain exactly who is the original author of this tale. But the story of the disenchanted or disowned son of an Irish baron turning his back on British estates and aristocratic titles for the humble of life of a farmer/ forester in Hokianga has been perpetuated amongst some of his descendant families of the far north and subsequently promoted through genealogy websites.
Funny how life turns out sometimes. Obviously John did not have my little Viking in his dna otherwise his half brother, George, would have been wearing an axe as a hairpiece before the boat sailed and John would have been the 2nd Earl of Sheffield. That’s the problem with purebreds, not enough mongrel in them. But then I consider this, if John had inherited the titles and estates 200 years ago, I would not have this little grand daughter here today. I very possibly would have had some other grandchild, but not this special little one. And this is a very, very special little girl worthy of a castle in Ireland.
But you do not have to be in County Meath to own a castle. We went up to have a look at the castle recently completed in the Waitaki, expecting to see something a bit naff. But it was impressive; a magnificently built full size castle complete with moat and wonderful produce gardens. Well done to Neil and Dot Smith. A castle worthy of the heir apparent to the Barony of Dunamore, to be sure, to be sure. But that is for the future; I hear her very young ladyship has just woken and will be wanting her boiled eggs and banana for breakfast. “Yes young miss; coming as quick as I can young miss.
Post script June 2018: or “born to fool……”
I continued to pursue Marni’s heritage in the UK and, with Baron John Baker Holroyd being an aristocrat, the family history was well recorded. I managed to track down a Mr Darryl Lundy who edits the peerage.com website who was able to confirm, through Burke’s Peerage 1902 edition, that John Baker Holroyd did in fact have a son named John. The problem is that the Peerage records state that the son John died at his home of Sheffield Place as a young child.
I employed the detective services of my old mate disguised as Chinn & Associates in London who, under the cover of a dog & pig minding service for the aristocracy of London, was in a unique position to branch out into a bit of aristocratic detective work. First port of call was the births and deaths register of Fletching Parish which did indeed confirm the birth in 1768 and subsequent death in 1772 of one John William Holroyd, son of the Earl of Sheffield and Lady Abigail Way. I am 99% convinced now, but this is still reliant on written records on websites which could possibly be ‘inaccurate’ for one reason or another, so Sherlock and Watson, aka Chinny and Ngaire, set off for a jaunt in the countryside to find the smoking gun. On reaching the parish church, St Andrew and St Mary’s at Fletching, down towards the south coast, the two sleuths scrambled through the ancient graveyard and eventually found the family mausoleum of the Holroyds of Sheffield Place and, lo and behold, using a ladder, photographed this inscription:
Johani Gulaeinio Holroyd
Optimae Indolis. Summae speipuero
Pater moerens posuit MDCCLXX11
Vixit annos 1V. mens. 111 dies V111
For those of you who did not study Latin at school it says: John William Holroyd, followed by a few words about how he was a child of great promise then confirms the death year as 1772 and his age as four years, three months and eight days. (Translation is courtesy of Dr Watson; Chinny would not know his podex from his cubitum about Latin)
As I researched further into the parish records at St Andrew and St Mary Church in Fletching, I found that there was actually a John Baker christened there in 1810. He was the son of William Baker, a farm labourer. Since the Baron owned the surrounding estate in the district it is highly likely that William, and quite possibly John, actually laboured on the Baron’s Sheffield Place estate. Further examination of church records show John Baker did not die in the same parish, so he obviously moved out of the district. The first factual date for our John Baker in New Zealand is the birth of his daughter Charlotte in 1839. If the Hokianga John Baker was in fact the Fletching John Baker, that would have made him 29 at that time of his daughter’s birth; he was still producing children in the early-mid 1850’s when he would have been in his 40’s. John’s death in Northland was recorded in 1869 which would have made him 59 if he was the John Baker born in Fletching in 1810. He would also have been eleven years old back in Fletching when the Lord of the manor, John Baker Holroyd, died and his tombstone engraved; the similarity of their names would not have been lost on him. While I am not one to jump to conclusions, the dates for the two Johns all align and our John was most certainly not the son of Lord John Baker Holroyd. So it appears that, unless you still demand an exhumation to get his 150 year old spit into a tube, we can now agree that the John Baker who arrived in Hokianga claiming to be British aristocracy, was most likely the farm labourer’s son from Fletching and was guilty of one of NZ’s first cases of identity theft. The Holroyd connection has no more substance than Hokianga folklore that got passed around genealogy websites. He fooled us all with nothing more than an unbelievable story that we just wanted to believe, in spite of that little Viking in the depths of my dna whispering his cynicism while sharpening his axe.