Talking Point with Peter Hicks: John R. Glover

Author(s) : HICKS Peter
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The work of a researcher can sometimes be fascinating and sometimes just plain frustrating.
It is the custom when editing texts to add notes identifying the characters in the discourse. If the person is particularly obscure, then even just finding a birth and death date feels like a champagne moment. It was therefore odd that John R. Glover should become a sort of research ‘black slope’. John R Glover, the secretary to Sir George Cockburn on board the Northumberland and who noted down his famous account of the voyage, is really quite well known. Indeed, I already knew his name. So I imagined that I would just consult Arnold Chaplin’s ground-breaking Who’s Who on St Helena (1919) (which, as the title implies, discusses everyone of note in the St Helena episode), note down the birth and death dates, briefly précis Glover’s life, and move on.
How wrong I was!


Talking Point with Peter Hicks: John R. Glover

Chaplin doesn’t have an entry for him. OK… Next call, a scholarly edition of Glover’s narrative, that by the great John Holland Rose who edited the two ship accounts of Napoleon in ‘captivity’ – Ussher to Elba and Glover to St Helena – that first came out in 1895. No biographical note there either. So I headed to the first ever published editions – Glover had expressly noted in his manuscript that the account be not published (or even distributed widely), so the first editions came out 80 years after the events in question. The English and French versions of this came out simultaneously in the autumn of 1893, one in the US in Century Illustrated Magazine, and the other in France in the Journal des débats, the French being a precise translation of the Century Magazine article and not of the original manuscript. (Aside: the manuscript still exists and is available by special request at the National Archives in London, having been bought at auction in 2009 by a private collector.)
The only biographical information to come out of the Century Magazine edition was that the manuscript had been provided by the reverend Octavius Maunsell Grindon of South Wraxall (near Bristol, UK), who had received it from his wife. Her step-mother (or if you prefer, father’s second wife) was secretary Glover’s widow. So far, so little.
So then, I thought: Glover was in the Navy. What could be easier than to track down his career? The internet these days has digitised versions of many almanacks and official journals, making it quite straightforward to trace the career of most characters from two hundred years ago. For Glover? Relatively speaking: Niet, zip, nada! He was Cockburn’s secretary on Northumberland in 1814 in the North American Station during the War of 1812. He went to St Helena with Cockburn – as we know. And I discovered that he was secretary to Lord Campbell in Portsmouth from 1818-1821. Then another hole. My next discovery was a certain John Robert Glover, Storekeeper of the Naval dockyards in Halifax (Canada) from 1831 to 1841. Now John R. Glover is a relatively banal name – nothing like Octavius Maunsell Grindon! So there are probably many J. R. Glovers out there. Circumspection is the watchword. This Glover then had the important job of Storekeeper at the port for ten years until his death in 1841. A search even brings up a photograph of his tombstone – he died much mourned by all who knew him aged 55. So now I had a birthdate as well (in a time period that fits). He was also a shareholder in a bridge building venture near Halifax. The question remained, however, were these two J. R. Glovers one and the same? There was no sign of a wife – not even grieving on the tombstone. No joy there!
I then decided to go backwards from Octavius Grindon. Luckily Anglican vicars are relatively easy to find. Though born apparently in Bristol – his father was a coroner there – Octavius went to college in Canada (one step closer…). William Cogswell Scholar for divinity at Kings College Windsor, Nova Scotia, Grindon started his ministry in 1858 and served successively at Albion Mines, Three Fathom Harbour, Seaforth, Halifax and thereafter returned to the UK where we found him at South Wraxall. But what of his wife? For it was through her that the manuscript came. Women are so much harder to find than men. No public career, and so no documents. But first I found her Christian name, Emma Louise. Then her maiden name, Clarke. And then, Hallelujah!, after much searching (and signing up for a free trial of a pay-wall historical newspaper website – genealogical research is so wretchedly expensive!!) I got a full reference to the wedding. Octavius Maunsell Grindon and Emma Louise Clarke were married by the Lord Bishop of Nova Scotia (no less!) in Halifax, Canada, in 1859. She was the eldest daughter of a Halifax solicitor, Barrister, Auditor, called Nepean Clarke; also captain in the 4th Halifax Regiment. As we know, Nepean had two wives, the first presumably Emma Louise’s mother. The second Glover’s widow. Unfortunately, I could not go much further than that. One of Nepean’s wives had shares in a bank and another was the President of the Bible Guild. Which wife though? No mention of the second marriage. No name. Not even a date.
So there I had to stop. I have a J. R. Glover on the Northumberland, a J. R. Glover in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and nearly twenty years later I have a Halifax girl (who inherits the account of the journey from Torbay to St Helena on Northumberland via her step-mother, also in Halifax) who marries an English vicar in Halifax, Nova Scotia, who has the manuscript published in the US and France in 1893. I couldn’t find either secretary or storekeeper Glover’s wife. And I couldn’t find Nepean Clarke’s wives. But maybe we’re close enough. The circumstantial evidence looks strong. Maybe this is John Robert Glover (1783-1841).


Postscript 4/10/202

“Mr and Mrs Glover” in Portsmouth paid their respects to Napoleon’s suite arriving at Portsmouth from St Helena in August, “Mr” on board Camel and “Mr and Mrs” at the George Hotel.  The News, 5 August, 1821, p. 5.

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