Thomas Wright Kirby

Thomas Wright Kirby

Thomas Wright Kirby, my great-great grandfather (on my dad’s side), wrote an extensive autobiography. I read a good chunk of it a few weeks ago when I was trying to learn if Grandma Kirby’s house was his. I am determined to find out. In the mean time I am enjoying learning about him. In the autobiography he tells a story that I think fits nicely with this week’s #52Ancestors prompt, “Storm.”

Thomas was born in Ringsfield, Suffolk, England on 12 December 1831. At the time of this story he was between the ages of 8 and 19 years old, though he is not sure of the date. The Kirby family was living in Bungay with the young children working in the silk factory in Ditchingham. He was a farm worker with his father during the summer in Ringsfield. Once harvest was over he worked for a Mr Scoldins, though due to three missing pages from his autobiography, it is unclear what type of work he did. I will share the story involving a storm in his own words:

But by this time I began to want to go to sea where I thought I could earn more money but I believe I can remember correctly I worked with father most of next year till Herring Fishing. I must not forget a circumstance which happened soon after I left Mr. Scoldings, George, John and Amos had gone to Sea hering fishing. The 2 latter in a vessel named Dash of Yarmouth. When the report came that she was lost and all hands had gone down with her. This was a fearful blow to my parents. I was the eldest boy then at home and I could not rest till I knew the truth ans as there was no train running through there nor in fact any railroad and it cost so much by stage coach and my parents not being blessed with money, I told them I would get up very early and walk to Yarmouth and back and would find out the truth. Father said, “Why my dear boy, I had better go as you were never there and Yarmouth is a large place and you could not find out the truth what we want to know.” But mother said, “let him go, for I know he will do what he undertakes and if he can find out where his Uncle King lives he can direct him and can keep him over night. Then ‘Tom’ can come home the next day.” So after consulting together they concluded to let me try and see what I could do. Next morning I was called in good time by father who had to get up early to go to work for Joh Garden Esquire Dedsham Hall. I had breakfast by candle light. Mother put some of the best she had to eat in my pocket and gave me a four penny piece and with “God bless you my boy” from father and mother I started before daylight. I knew the way for 3 or 4 miles and then it was light enough for me to see the road the more stones and direction posts. I reached Yarmouth and after some inquiry found Uncle Kings house but he was not at home only Aunt [King] (mothers sister) who I though treated me rather cool. But one of my cousins treated me very well. She said she was going in town and if I would go with her she could direct me to where I could find her father who most likely could [tell] me about the loss of the “Dash” or if she was lost or not, and to be sure and come back to dinner. I found uncle at his work as one of the head men in Suficars Brother Fish Offices. He said that it was the report that the Dash was lost and if she did not come to day there was no doubt but the report was too true. I fest ver bad and wondered how I was to go home and tell my parents the sad news. I went back to the house to dinner. As soon as dinner was over I went down on to the beach and asked men there who I thought would know any thing about the vessel. But all said they supposed she had gone down with all hands on board. There was a great many fishing vessels laying in the roads (that is about one or two miles from shore) then there are long shore boats that go out to them to bring their shish to shore and take them previsions and nets or any thing they need for fishing purposes. And seeing a boat and men about to go off I asked one of them if the “Dash” was in the “Roads” he said yes we are now going off [to] her. This was good news in deed to me and I asked if I could go with them. “Yes,” he said “if you will pay us”. I said “how much do you want?” He said, “sixpence.” I said “I have only got fourpence and I could give hime that.” But he still wanted sixpence and said, “I could not go for any less.” Just then another of the boats crew came by and said, “What does the boy want?” I then told him why I was there and wanted to go on board the Dash and make sure my brothers were safe that I might satisfy my parents when I go home that all was well. These long shore boats could not come up onto the dry land, but had to lay far enough out to float when they had taken their load on board and men who worked the boats had to go a few steps into the water to load them. He stooped down before me and said to me “Jump onto my back my boy and I will see that you go on board to your brothers and I won’t charge you anything either.” OH! how pleased I was to find so great a friend under the circumstances. That was the first time I had ever been on the sea in my life and although the sea was rather rough at the time I did not mind so long as I had the prospects of performing my duty and thereby comforting my parents. The boat had to go to two other fishing vessels as well as the Dash but she was the second one and as soon as we got along side of her I climbed up her side and about the first I saw was Amos who looked at me astonished and asked what I did there and called at the same time to John say, “John! John! heres Tom come here”. We went down below and stayed on board while the boat went to the third vessel as she had to come back to the Dash again before going ashore. When I returned ver very pleased that I had seen my brothers and Thomas Barber and William Bonett all safe neighbors. I soon got back to Uncle King and told him the good news, but it was getting quite [late] in the afternoon and he tried very hard to get me to go home to his house and [stay] one night as it was getting late and looked so much like rain. But I told him no I did not want to stay as I was very anxious to get home and let father and mother know my brothers were safe. So after he found I would not stay he took me to a public house and gave me one half pint of Porter and some biscutes and cheese and about 4:30 P.M. I started home. I had gone but a little way when it began to rain pretty freely and before I got halfway home I was wet through. I saw a man coming full trot with a one horse cart, I made signs for a ride but he shook his head and dashed on past me. So I had to brace up again for my journey although I was getting very tired. It rained all the way and most of the time pretty fast and the night was very dark and I do not think I saw another soul till I got home at 1:00 O’clock at night. Father and mother had been waiting up for [me] but were just going to get into bed as I knocked at the door. Mother looked out at the chamber window and I said, “it is I mother.” She came down and let me in as quick as possible. Father followed both fearful for the worst for by all they heard their sons were lost. As soon as I went in I shouted “They are allright mother.” “Who told you?” said mother. With all the rapidity of my nimble tounge as father used to call me, I soon told them all about my days adventure. Where I had been and who and what I had seen. Mother soon got a good fire and some dry clothes and supper for me. She and father cried and laughed at the rehearsal of my days doings and the good news I had brought. They often thanked God for the safty of their sons through such a dreadful storm through which they had passed and telling me repeatedly, What a good brave boy I was to be so determined as I had been to fulfill my promise to them. I felt when I saw how pleased they were and how they praised me and felt so proud of me and what I had done through that day, that my task had been a light one and soon retired to bed. Next day I was asked lots of questions about my undertaking and was told by my neighbors what a good boy I was. (END)

That day Thomas walked at least 20 miles from Bungay to Yarmouth and 20 miles back, with the return trip in a rain storm. That storm was not a historic storm for the area, but for the Kirby’s this storm was clearly an important one. It gave Thomas the opportunity to show the dedication he had to his parents and brothers. I find it truly inspiring and impressive that a teenaged boy could acomplish such a task.

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