Sidney Richard John Sandoe

Family legends

Sidney Richard John Sandoe (1868-1911) was Richard John Sidney on his birth certificate, and was known to his shipmates as Dick. Whenever I asked where Sidney Sandoe came from, I was told it was from Falmouth in Cornwall, from a seafaring family. The true story was on that birth certificate. He was born in London at Clapham, the son of Francis Sandoe, a journeyman carpenter. He was lucky to have stayed alive. Two sisters and a brother died at birth, he and his older sister Elizabeth survived. His father was soon to become unemployed and the family moved to Battersea where their home was overshadowed by the piers of the railway viaducts leading into Clapham Junction railway station. Here his father died of tuberculosis. It was his parents who came from Cornwall, his father from Philleigh (on the Roseland peninsular), his mother Jane Emily (Thomas) from Landewednack at the tip of the Lizzard peninsular. Philleigh might explain the Falmouth legend, since Roseland lies across the River Fal from Falmouth, linked by the St Mawes ferry. But there were hardly any seamen in the family. The closest was Alexander Dingle Sandoe (1831-56) from a related Philleigh family, who served on HMS Sans Pareil in the Crimea War. Our Sandoe ancestors were farm labourers at Philleigh, and before that farmers and tinners in Kea and Kenwyn (perhaps from Kerley near Chacewater, which at that time was an outlying chapelry of Kenwyn beyond the parish of Kea). Typically in that area, baptisms were held at any convenient church but burials usually went to somewhere downhill, so that family events might well be recorded in various neighbouring parishes. Beyond 1700 the trail becomes more vague but seems to lead eventually to William Sandow, a blacksmith at Redruth, who was born towards the end of the 16th century.

Another legend passed on by two of Sidney Sandoe’s daughters, Marie and Clarice, was the belief that the Sandoes were descended from a shipwrecked Spanish sailor who had managed to get ashore in Cornwall after Sir Francis Drake’s battle with the Great Armada (1588), and had then married a local girl. I have heard the same story from other Sandoe families, and indeed from other Cornish families with Latin-sounding names. It’s a beautiful story, but the 16th century Cornish muster rolls never record Sandoes as aliens. The earliest instances of the name found so far are a John Sandowe, an archer from Northumberland who mustered in 1441 for the Duke of York’s expedition to Normandy, and a John Sandowe whose copper dish was listed in an Arundell estate inventory from Laherne (Cornwall) in 1447. Evidently, there were Sandoes in Cornwall 150 years or more before the Great Armada. A more appropriate question is whether their origin is Keltic or AngloSaxon. The earliest Sando/w/e records are from East Cornwall, so Anglo-Saxon is most likely. The mediaeval “AngloSaxon” would also include some Norman heritage composed of Scandinavian, Frankish and Gaulish origins, while DNA would probably show some neanderthal, Asian and African ancestry. No-one is racially unique.

Sidney’s daughters Marie and Clarice also said they were told by their mother that their father had no family and was all alone. This was true. Sidney’s father died at Battersea in 1886 while Sidney was serving with the RN in the Mediterranean, and his mother died in 1894 while he was at sea on HMS Melpomene.  His sister Elizabeth had two children, both of whom died (one of them, Selena Beatrice Amy 1882-1888, is presumably the namesake for another of Sidney’s daughters, Amy Beatrice). Elizabeth married in 1897 and died in 1898 while he was at sea on HMS Swallow. So his parents and sister had all gone. Sidney’s daughters were fascinated by the thought that they were the last Sandoes in the world, although they had Sandow’s cocoa and oatmeal on the breakfast table every morning. That Sandow happened to be Eugen, the strong man, who came from Koenigsberg in Prussia towards the end of the 19th century and who made a name for himself in Britain in bodybuilding and physiotherapy and health foods. His version of the name Sandow is German and would be pronounced “ZANdoff” there. It was derived in the middle ages from the latin Sandoviensis, meaning a person from Sandau-an-der-Elbe in Mecklenburg. Eugen was not a Cornish Sando/w/e. In fact he was not a German Sandow either, his real name being Friederich Willhelm Müller who adopted “Eugen Sandow” as a stagename.

It turns out that Sidney had numerous cousins in Cornwall and Cardiff and the industrial north, some close and others many times removed. At some time his daughter Clarice visited Cornwall and found the name Sandoe on a dentist’s brass doorplate in Penzance. Convinced now that there really were other people named Sandoe, they wondered if they were related. The Sandoe on the brass plate was most likely Albert Victor, a dental mechanic at Penzance, born at Brest in 1887, the son of James Sandoe, a telegraphist. In this case they were in fact related. Albert Sandoe’s father James was born at Philleigh in 1851, first cousin to Sidney Sandoe’s father Francis (their fathers John and William Sandoe were brothers). In fact their fathers spent a month together in Bodmin jail for harbouring stolen liquor and were lucky not to have been transported to Australia. After that experience they fortunately turned their attentions to Philippa Palmer and Emma May, otherwise none of us would be here. There is a legend in Albert Victor’s family that he was descended from the mayor of Bodmin, which is possibly a euphemistic echo of his grandfather’s spell in the jail there.

Sidney Sandoe enlisted in 1883 as a Royal Navy boy entrant, starting with two years at HMS Impregnable (Devonport, Plymouth). His RN record describes him as being 5’1½” tall, with dark brown hair, blue-grey eyes, and a fresh complexion. By 1896 he was tattooed on both arms and wrists. He became Leading Seaman in 1894, Petty Officer in 1896. In 1892 he was confined to the cells for fourteen days and his character fell from “Very Good” to “Fair”. The ships he served on were Thunderer, Cruiser, Excellent, Vernon, Melpomene, Anson, Swallow and Robin. Between tours at sea he was stationed at HMS Pembroke I (Chatham) or HMS Wildfire (Sheerness). He continued in the Royal Navy until he was transferred to the reserve in 1906 and started work at Sheerness Dockyard as mate for harbour crew for ships in the yard.

In 1905 Sidney married Ann Eleanor Barber from Windsor (known as Annie). Their first home was a flat in Sheerness High Street, but they eventually settled in Jefferson Road, where their four daughters were brought up (Marie, Clarice, Amy and Vera). Following his discharge from the navy in 1906, Sidney worked at Sheerness Dockyard as harbour crew. He never recovered from the exhaustion of a sea-rescue operation in the Thames Estuary in February 1911, and the April 1911 census finds  him as a patient at the RN Hospital in Gillingham. He died in July the same year. The time lag of five months meant he did not die on duty so there was no navy widow’s pension for Annie, despite several petitions.

When Annie died in 1926, the girls had not come of age, but were still minors and now orphans. As such they became the responsibility of the local board of guardians, who sold the home and found supervised positions for them. Marie was already working as a cook for a family in London, Clarice had started residential training as a nurse and was allowed to continue, Amy had to leave her secretarial training and was placed in service as a housemaid, while Vera, the youngest at 15, was put in the care of their mother’s family at Windsor. Clarice and Marie heard from their former neighbours in Sheerness that shortly after the sale of the house a “lady and a gentleman” had come enquiring after them. They never found out who it was, perhaps a former shipmate.

Updated Nov 2017
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