Anglo-Scottish Roots And The Debatable Lands

Whilst Tita Falcieri may be perhaps the most interesting, and indeed the most glamorous, part of my family history thus far, he certainly isn’t the only focus of my attention. In fact, my family history spreads wide and far through England, Scotland and Ireland right back to the 17th century.

The origins of my Scottish roots have been of great interest to me for some time. I’ve known they existed for as long as I knew about Tita but my work on his life really did take most of the attention. Thankfully, because I have Celtic roots, they have also been easier to research, from a geographical perspective at least.

The point at which my two earliest familes on my Celtic side come together, is in 1826 when Simon Gallagher, a native of Dublin, Ireland, married Ruth Rome of Graitney, Scotland, in Holme Cultram, a village in North Cumbria. Their lives, I presume, were far from easy. They were, from what I tell, a poor agricultural and labouring family making ends meet the best way they could. And I suppose they probably couldn’t even write since their marriage record is the last time the Gallagher name is used in its true form.

After that, and in every single record, it is corrupted to a phonetic version of its original. Their first three children are registered under the name Gallower and Gallowher. And in all subsequent parish and census records they are recorded as Gollifer, Gulliver, Galyhoo, Gollafer, Gollipher, Oliver and Olifer. I am sure there will be others to add at some point. I have become used to searching for multiple variations whenever I am looking for them in old records. It’s all a part of the genealogical challenge and I do enjoy a challenge.


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Bromfield Church where Simon ‘Gulliver’ was buried


When the head of the household, Simon, committed suicide in 1851, half the family chose the name Oliver, and the other half chose Gollipher or versions of. I am told they did this to distance themselves as much as possible from the disgrace of such a crime (as it was regarded back then). Even now there are branches of the Gulliver/Gollipher family still out there. We of course are the Olivers, but it is strange to think that we should actually be Gallaghers. It is an interesting new perspective.

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Low Hesket – considerably larger now than in the 1850s

Earlier this month I took myself off to the Borders to see where the family came from in North Cumbria and the Scottish Lowlands. I wanted to get a feel for where they lived, the size of the communities, the landscape. It’s all very well seeing maps and images, but until you visit somewhere, you can’t really know how a family behaved or what they were up against or indeed how their environment motivated their life choices. It has been an important part of my exploration.

The family seemed to have moved fairly constantly and in less than 20 years had resided in six different villages and hamlets. Some of them – Wheyrigg, Langrigg, Kelsick and Bromfield – are nothing more than hamlets of some six or seven properties – small farming communities living hard lives for a hand to mouth existence. When I see these places now, even in their modern state, I can understand how hard and how isolated life must have been then, and I appreciate why the next generation were so keen to improve themselves and move to the big industrial towns and cities for better lives. There was nothing romantic about the set up back then.

Simon and Ruth had five children, three of whom, at least, married. Two had families of their own. One, a daughter Ann, provides a conundrum though. After Simon’s death, Ruth took her remaining family and moved to the village of Low Hesket and it was here that Ann began to produce children out of wedlock, four in all. I thought this would have been unusual for the time, and wouldn’t have gone unnoticed in such small church fearing communities. But as it turns out, illegitimacy was rather more common place than you might expect and I found consistent evidence in the records as I searched for evidence of my family in the old parish records.

Ann doesn’t appear to have hung around in Low Hesket to care for her children and it was her mother Ruth, now in her 60s, widowed and presumably without much of an income since she is listed as a ‘labourer’ in the 1871 census, who was left to care for the children. This is borne out in the 1861 census, before the birth of her last child when Ann is listed as a servant in a house in Southport, over 100 miles away.

Ann’s daughter Anne, who’s descendents I have chatted to via email, didn’t remember ever meeting her mother and certainly the children all seem to have been aware of their fatherless status. Even so, they made good in the world and had better lives than their forebears.

Going back the other way I’ve been very interested in my Rome family on the Scottish borders. They aren’t a big family. They aren’t even a clan, but websites suggest they were linked to the Johnstones. The Romes also married into families like Graham and Scott and so far back as I’ve gone are prevalent around Gretna, Annan and Canonbie. I am told the Rome family was a border family right back to the 12th century and if that’s true that feels pretty special to me. But I want to do more research into it.

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The spectacular Canonbie churchyard where I found a number of relatives languishing

Indeed, in Canonbie there are still Rome’s living in the village which is an exciting prospect. We know little about the Rome side of the family compared to the Oliver’s for whom we have a huge number of files, photos and recollections. Venturing from cities such as London where many of the families eventually found their fortunes, back to the lowlands of Scotland and, heaven knows where else, is an exciting adventure and one I am keen to repeat over and over.

I have ancestors on the other side of the country around Lowick, Berwick on Tweed and possibly even Lindisfarne Island, who became joined with my Olivers when they took the decision to move from Cumberland to Gateshead in the late 1860s, and they are next on my hit list.

The story never ends, and a recent rekindling of correspondence with living relatives has brought forth all sorts of interesting stories recollected from the last 70 years. These are precious interactions. In the next 20 years all those people will probably be gone, and unless we document everything now, information will be lost forever, Much of it already has, and you can never get those oral histories back again.


Musing On The Last Few Months And Where I Go From Here

I have written very little about Tita Falcieri since I published my biography about him last August. This has been neglectful on my part but I have an alibi. I run my own business and within weeks of receiving the first batch of books from my printer, I lost my part time job, and my design studio in Manchester (from where I ran my fashion design business) thanks to the owner of the building in which I worked, retiring and selling up to a property developer.

Since then I have had to ‘recalibrate’, and for the last four months I have been working from home, as I did in the old days, and trying to get back on my feet. Returning to this old way of working hasn’t been especially easy, but a well earned and well timed break at Christmas has enabled me to get things straight in my head. The New Year promises much and that needs to include my book which I now have to learn to sell.

Even so, over the last few months, I have been selling copies of Tita’s life. Mostly, and perhaps not surprisingly, they have been homed on bookshelves in the UK, Italy and Greece. I am of course immensely proud of this alone. My work now lies all over the world in print form, in places he knew and lived. But where else might they go, I wonder? Of course, the swath of people who said they would buy the book on publication didn’t materialise. This in itself is no surprise. Support is always fervent until it comes to parting with money. But no matter.

In addition to my sales, and aside from the obligatory copies which now reside with the British Library, the Bodleian Library, The National Library of Scotland, University Library Cambridge, the National Library of Wales and Trinity College Dublin, a number of copies were initially sent complimentary,  to my most helpful contributors including The Foreign Office, Bradenham Manor, The Institute of Actuaries and the offices of the John Murray archive in London.

The responses I have received from those recipients alone have been reward enough, and a reminder to me that I have contributed something of value and quality to our study of an incredibly potent part of our history. I will never be able to see first hand what Tita saw, or know the people he knew. But thanks to many of his contemporaries, so much more information exists about him than I ever thought possible and collating that into one book has been very pleasureable. I love the research process. It is my happy place.

Piecing Tita’s story together has been a very complicated jigsaw, but one of huge satisfaction. What feels particularly good to me, is its purpose, and what my research, and this book, have contributed back to the annals of those famous individuals Tita served – Byron, the Disraelis, the Shelleys – and to our greater understanding of those who stood not in the limelight, but were as much a part of these people’s lives as anyone.

If I could have one trip back in time, it would be to Tita’s office in Whitehall, sometime in the late 1860s. I would sit in front of him with a notebook and pencil and ask him about everything. I suspect he wouldn’t tell me everything of course. That wasn’t his way. But there are some things I would still like to know more about and I think he would let me into a few secrets, as long as I didn’t pry too hard.

What I published is the most complete account you are ever likely to read and, without wanting to sound too self congratulatory, it does deserve to sit in your library of all things poetical, biographical, and historical if that is your inclination.

The Nore

For some time, I have had one ‘close to home’ bucket list item missing from my history of Tita Falcieri, and there’s really no excuse for it. Just a half hour drive or so from my parents house lies the first point of call for Lord Byron after he was returned to England following his death in April 1824. There isn’t much information regarding the arrival. We have to turn to John Cam Hobhouse for the best information.

On 1st July 1824 he had travelled from London to Rochester in Kent where he spent the night and on the 2nd, travelled by road out to the Medway to meet The Florida, the brig that had arrived from Greece on 29th June carrying Byron’s body and his attending household. His diary reads:

‘Up early – off, a little before eight, in a chaise for Stangate Creek – fifteen miles. Could not get within two miles of the shore, but walked over the marshes and got into a boat which took me to the Florida, which was just under weigh.’

The Florida had moored temporarily for quarantine purposes on a sandbank called The Nore which sits about half way between Shoeburyness on the Essex coast and Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. You can’t see it from the shore although evidence can be picked out on Google maps. The Nore had been a quarantine point for boats heading up the Medway for the Thames and London, for hundreds of years, and the Florida’s placement there was a part of procedure that could not be avoided. It remained there for five days before being cleared to sail onwards for London.


The land around that part of Kent is treacherous and marshy and today, thanks to private land orders, even less accessible than it was back in 1824. We don’t know how close Hobhouse managed to get to the boat in the creek or from what point on the marshes he had to walk to pick it up, but today the closest you can get is Raspberry Hill Lane just outside Lower Halstow. The ordanance survey map below shows just how tricky it was:

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From there you can see over Barksore Marshes to the mouth of Stangate Creek:


The vista, I don’t suppose, has changed much apart from the obvious wind turbines, pylons and smoke belching chimneys that denote the horizon. Yet it is so quiet here you can hear nothing but the call of Curlews and Oystercatchers. There is a definite atmosphere to it but there is nothing else much to see.

Our next point of call was Sheerness where you can stand on the beach and see the stretch of water where the Florida had waited patiently for its next instruction in the summer of 1824. It is a pebble beach, strewn intriguingly with many large oyster shells. On a pleasant day, such as the one we were lucky enough to have just after Christmas, it is serene, and equally quiet as the marshes, save for the odd dog walker.

From the sea wall and promenade you can scan the horizon across to Garrison Point Fort to the left, around which Hobhouse’s boat would have had to of travelled…


…and across that stretch of the Medway to Essex. Somewhere in the midst of all this lies The Nore.


Afterwards we headed back via Lower Halstow and took a late but much needed lunch and a pint at the very welcoming The Three Tuns, a pub which may well have seen Hobhouse’s passing as he headed towards Stangate Creek, built as it was, in 1468.


Neither Tita, nor any of the crew from the Florida stepped on land at this point. Hobhouse joined the Florida, and when Zambelli’s thorough paperwork had been examined and cleared, the boat was cleared to head for London where Byron’s body was removed and laid in state at Edward Knatchbull’s premises.

There aren’t too many images of The Medway or Stangate Creek from Byron’s time but Turner did use it for some of his paintings and it shows a far more bustling waterway than what we see today. Most craft are now for pleasure rather than for business but I don’t think the serenity of this place has changed much over the last 194 years.

If you are looking for somewhere to gather your thoughts and immerse yourself in what the landscape may have been like back then, this is the place to come.


How A Book Lead To A Book

Some years ago, possibly on my last trip to Venice, before my 10 year hiatus and long before my own book had begun to take shape, I bought a copy of Kathy Gonzalez ‘Free Gondola Ride’ from the Liberia Studium at San Marco. Compared to what I know now, I had uncovered only the tinest fragments of my family’s connection to Venice. Now of course, there is an entire family history to enjoy. If you have an interest it’s easy to find. Just look two inches to the right of this text.

Roll on to 2018 and after much drafting and many emails, and all thanks to Kathy’s hard work, we are now published in the same book together ‘First Spritz Is Free’, along with a whole host of other Venetophiles from all around the world who wanted to divulge their most intimate thoughts on that city to you dear readers.

Of course, Tita Falcieri was the subject of my piece, how could he not be, but it was about much more than that. When you discover your love for somewhere that is about more than restaurants and warm weather and get away locations, you want to find a way to communicate that to others. Venice, whether you are a native or not, Italian or otherwise, touches the very soul of the people who are ensconced within the pages of ‘First Spritz is Free‘. It should touch yours too if you can look beyond the public face, which isn’t actually that difficult.

It is a noble cause and a chance for many people who have been connected via Twitter and Facebook and the Save Venice cause, to be united in one place and all for one purchase so that you can begin to understand the magic, and the beauty and the sheer brilliance of that place.


We Are ‘Almost’ Published

It has been an incredibly long time since I last posted on this account. I had anticipated announcing the publication of my book to coincide with the annniverary of Byron’s birth back  in January, a deadline that was missed. As was the anniversary of his death in April, and that of Tita’s birth in May which would have been the most apt launch date.

Instead, it is now the height of summer and almost two years since I began revising and rewriting my original publication of the biography of my great-great-great grandfather Giovanni Battista (Tita) Falcieri, Lord Byron’s gondolier and bodyguard. It has been a huge and incredibly exciting journey. The amount of new information I have uncovered has been immense. Anyone who bought the original ebook will not recognise the new publication. It is certainly worth the new investment.

Being involved in the layout and printing process of this book has been an eye opener and the part that has taken up a good proportion of my time. It is not something that I want to have to repeat any time soon. My part as an author and researcher, bringing together all the facts and figures into a narrative, is the bit I love. I am happy to spend hours in libraries and archives searching for information. I am happy to write it up. But I have discovered that I dislike the process that comes afterwards. It is not my forte. And without a doubt, it made me quite sick of the project by the end. But that is a feeling that will pass. Now it is over I am already tentatively excited for the future of my publication – my life’s work.

Unavoidably I have had to have a huge part in the behind the scenes process. I have no agent, no editorial team and no publisher. I had the help of one person doing the alterations to the final layout, grading images and putting it all together print ready for 4edge Limited, a UK based printers, whose patience over my stalled completion date has been admirable. Then I have had to check the book, proof it, and check it again on screen and in print. If I have read my book once, I have read it a hundred times and that may be a conservative underestimate.

But at last, it is here. It is a real book. It is a saleable item. It is something you can hold and put in your bag and peruse on the way to work or take on holiday. You can read it in Venice, or Greece, or London and enjoy what I have enjoyed and see, first hand, the places where the story unfolded. There are pictures, many never before seen. Many are from family archives or private collections.


That moment….delivery taken.


This version is not available as an ebook. I confess to disliking ebooks. I realise this puts the cost up, I realise it means paying for postage. I realise it means you, the customer, will have to dig deeper. But I hope this means that you will value it more, and value the work that has gone into it. Tell me where else you are going to get this book about this fascinating man, a reluctant hero from a bygone age?

I hope it will sit on your bookshelves along side other books on similar subjects, on the subjects of Tita’s contemporaries like Byron, Shelley and Disraeli. I hope you will fill it, as I have done with other books, with post-its and coloured tabs marking important passages. I hope it will be dog-eared from the number of trips it has joined you on. I hope you will make notes in it, use it for research of your own and be inspired by it enough to consult your own genealogy and look for your own reluctant heroes.

Of course, the work has not ended. Perhaps it has just begun. I now have to sell my small masterpiece. And once again, there is noone to do this for me. I have to market it, package it, post it around the world. There is no publisher or bookshop or assistant to help me in this. And I find that slightly terrifying. I have never done anything quite like this before. Thankfully, office administration and managing business finances are two of my skills and as I have been running my own business for the last seven years, I am quietly confident I can manage the basics of it. But I confess to a nervous trepidation.

I realise there are people all around the world that have been waiting for this book for a long time. Not as long as me I assure you, but I hope you are all still there and I hope that your patience is satisfied by what you can now read. This book is unique in its subject. And unique in its telling. And I hope you will appreciate what an achievement it is, to have something so unusual and worth sharing.

For more information about buying your copy, go here or send enquiries to and follow my blog and Twitter for more updates.

Slaying The Travel Bug

My last trip to Venice ended just over a month ago and I am almost at the point of selling my soul to a mundane 9-5 day job with a guaranteed income, just so I can go travelling. This of course makes no sense in my plan for circumnavigating the globe, but it’s that or the winning lottery ticket and I’m not known for my winning streak. I may have ticked off some of my travel destinations over the years, but the world is a big place and my hit list never seems to get any smaller.

It all ground to a halt in 2008 when I put plans into motion to start my own business, kissed goodbye to my well paid job and took a leap of faith. In the last 10 years I’ve only managed to go abroad a handful of times. Trips back home to Kent at least get me into the Metrop once in a while but the joke is starting to wear thin now.

I have an insatiable travel bug in my DNA (I know where that comes from), but work has been piling up whilst I’ve been galivanting these past six months whilst I completed the revision of my book. I’ve been avoiding my other responsibilities and I’ve had to put a firm travel ban in place for the rest of the year in order to catch up. After three weeks I was going stir crazy. Manchester seems remarkably uninviting right now.

My work puts me firmly in the ‘flexible to do whatever I like’ category and I have no other responsibilities holding me in the UK as such. By comparison I know that this makes me luckier than most but it doesn’t allow me the funds to do it as often as I would like. I have a plan but I’m waiting on outcomes for how this may or may not pan out next year. In case it doesn’t I have the B and C plans too.

Even so 2018 is potentially full of interesting possibilities and I’m not prepared to side step any opportunities that come up. The fact is, I’m not very good at real life. I don’t do responsibility, I don’t do routine, I like to be impulsive and go with my gut instinct. I’ve managed to tailor my life to suit my personality as much as possible but I am greedy of course, as all travellers are. It’s never enough. La vita è breve. Don’t waste it. You won’t get another chance.

The History In Your Own DNA

I have never classed myself as a racist but I’ve always had a bit of a gloss on matters international for the simple reason that you can’t take the weight of the world on your shoulders. If you did, your life would be miserable and if I’m honest I’ve been much happier in my personal life since I stopped watching tv and turned off the news – the jumble of modern wants destroys the meaning of life and I needed to get away from that.

But as my family tree extended further and further I began to see everything in a different light. There is no such thing as a purely ‘English person’ being truly English. We all have ancestors from around the world. Pure white British is a myth. It doesn’t matter how many generations you go back, at some point, somewhere out there your DNA came from somewhere else.

In the early days we always thought our family were of Spanish origin because of the Oliver surname. There seemed to be some, as it turned out misinformed, evidence we could be traced back to Scotland where many Spanish people landed in centuries past. On holiday Spanish locals would come up to me and start talking in Spanish assuming I was one of them. But this was terribly flawed research in the days before the internet. And as I investigated our tree it turned out Oliver wasn’t even our surname and we hailed from Dublin and who knows from where before that, I’m stuck in the 1740s at the moment.

On the other side we are Italian, VERY VERY Italian. It may be five generations past but because of how connected I have become to that part of our history and to the country now, I know there’s a lot of Italian DNA firmly rooted in me. More than that, it’s Venexiane DNA which is like getting a gold medal in my book because I’m not sure anything in Italy is more special than Venice.

I have always been fascinated by other cultures, accents, ways of life, the world is a melting pot of amazing stories of survival and suffering and success and colourful lives and dreams and challenges. And to deny that in your own genetic makeup is the ultimate folly. It can also explain a lot about who you are. Untangling my DNA has explained why I am who I am, how the DNA leap that didn’t seem to be as evident in the rest of my immediate family, came out in me all singing, all dancing and threw spanners into my life at every turn. I was at the mercy of my heritage without even realising it.

The other day Ruby Wax’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are aired. It was a particularly noteable episode. I’m never entirely sure that celebs really connect with what they are discovering but Ruby certainly did. What she discovered explained a lot about her world, her family, her own self. Had she known about her family’s past years ago I think she may have had a different coping strategy for everything that she’s had to deal with. One line that resounded with me was ‘Instead of doing therapy, I should have been doing my family tree’. And she is absolutely right.