Read and Sheckell families in England

In earlier posts I have mentioned my great-grandfather Robert Read, his daughter (my grandmother) Winifred Morrell (nee Read) and her younger sister Evelyn Small (nee Read) (see NZ Edwardian Photo Album and Katherine Mansfield and 19th century New Zealand Women.) I’ve told the stories of those who emigrated, but what of relatives who stayed put?

Robert Read in Wales

We usually assume people emigrate to ‘better themselves’ or at least hope their children will have better prospects, unless of course they are escaping from war or famine, etc. I’m sure the three Read brothers who emigrated to New Zealand in the 1870s/1880s were hoping for better opportunities. The three were:

  1. George Peter Read, christened 15 Sept 1851;
  2. Robert Read, born 2 June 1853;
  3. John (Jack) Henry Read, born 4 June 1866.

All three were born in Llanelly, Carmarthenshire, Wales.

Life and family in Wales and England…

Their parents were John Read (see my later post on him) and Ann Nicholls, who were married on 15 October 1847 in Bristol, England. (Their address was 71 Redcliff Street in the parish of St Mary Redcliff. They were married at this wonderful Gothic church.) John’s father was also called John and listed as an innkeeper on John and Ann’s marriage certificate. Ann Read’s father is listed as William Nicholls, a carpenter, on the same certificate.

I have a copy of a letter dated Dec 17 1849, written in Liverpool by a George Peter Rade (presumably Read, as names were often spelled as they were pronounced) to his brother “John Rade, Portishead, near Bristol” (probably the father of the three boys). The letter says:

Read Smallpox letter Dear Brother I take the plesher of wrighting these few lines to you hoping this will find you quite well as I am not at present     we arrived in liverpool in the on the Sixth of the the Mounth   Dear Brother I caught the small pox a mounth Before we came in and I have been in the Hostipple ever since   Dear Brother you would not know me if you would see   Dear Brother my expences is taken all my wages and I have to pay 14 Shillings per week   Dear Brother I shall be very Glad if you would lend me a Sovering to pay for my boarding and I will pay you again as soon as I comes home of my next Voyage   So no more at present from your Affectionate Brother George Peter Rade

This letter may have been kept as a record of a loan of money, or perhaps, sadly, his brother died of the small pox he caught while at sea. He was obviously a sailor, as Robert was to become. John and Ann called their son, born in 1851, George Peter Read, presumably after his uncle. The March 1851 census for Portishead revealed no Reads, so it is likely that they moved to Llanelly sometime between December 1849 and March 1851.

This photo shows the three brothers in New Zealand in older age (c. 1926). George and Robert look alike, but Jack is quite different; but then he was quite a bit younger than the other two.

georgeetc The Reads probably lived in Hull before they emigrated. They had an older sister, Ellen or Nellie, born about 1847, and at least one other sibling, a sister called Ann, born about 1860. Nellie’s married name was Dunham and they were living in Hull in the early 1900s.

George married Millie Freeman, a woman born in the South Island of New Zealand and they had no children. Robert and Jack married two sisters – Ruth and Emma Sheckell (also spelled Shackell) and both had three children.

During the mid-1890s Ruth Read took her three daughters back to England from about 1895 to 1897 and they lived in Hull. (Violet was given a book as a school prize from Beverley Road Girls’ School, June 18th 1897.) I think it was probably this visit that kept the NZ and the English branches of the family in contact well into the twentieth century. To my knowledge, none of the other NZ-emigrant branches of my family retained contact with their English families for so long (of course, that may just be because letters haven’t survived or haven’t come to my attention).

Correspondence from Sidney Small to Evelyn Read, 1907-08

sidsmall In 1907 Sidney Small, fiancee and later husband of Evelyn Read, returned ‘home’ to Wales (Cardiff) for a few years. He wrote many letters to Evelyn, which eventually came to me. While in the UK Sid visited members of her family. In some cases I don’t know if they are on the Read or Sheckell [Shackell] side of the family. (See below for some more information about the Sheckells.) These family members seem to be shopkeepers, school teachers, and, in one case, possibly a hotel owner – perhaps ‘doing better’ than their New Zealand relatives!

Letter of Sept 25th 1907: “I expect your folks and yourself are wishing to hear about my recent visit to Hull and Barrow-in-Furness…. I was met at the [Hull] station by Mr Dunham … and on our way to Raglan St we were met by Mrs Dunham who was out waiting for us. I think I have never seen a brother and sister more alike than is your dad [Robert Read] and Mrs Dunham. … Next morning, being Saturday, Tudor, being a schoolteacher as you know, was free and we had a long ramble about the town. Tudor pointed out to me many places that dad would know very well. … In the course of our walk we saw Oscar at his place of business…. In the afternoon I went round to see your people at Lockwood St. I there saw your uncle and aunt (Mr & Mrs Shackell), Sidney Coggins, Alice (his wife) and their baby Ruth. [I think this was Frederick William Shackell, born 1859 – see below. Sidney Coggins was probably his nephew.]

“Next morning (Sunday) while out in the garden chatting with your aunt Nellie about you folks, I told her – it was right that she should know – of our engagement, and she was pleased, and when Tudor appeared she promptly presented me anew to him – this time as his “new cousin”. … Then your uncle had to be told of his ‘new nephew’ and presently Carl turned up and the ‘new cousin’ came to light again. … During the day also I had gone with your aunt to Oscar’s house and made the acquaintance of Mrs Oscar – to the school where Oscar and Carl teaches. …

“Next day (Tuesday) I left for Barrow-in Furness…. I had wired the Clark’s of probable time of my arrival there and your cousin Gwen went to the station to meet me, but she went to the wrong one … However, I found 3 Ainslie street… Elsie and your uncle were at the shop and in the evening Gwen and I went to meet them as they were closing…. The following day Gwen, her (present) sweetheart (I think she has been engaged 3 or 4 times – quite an experienced hand now, eh?) and I went for a walk to Furness Abbey. …. Next day, your uncle Bob and I went over to Blackpool… [I think Mrs Clark was a Read – possibly the younger sister Ann.]

Letter: Feb 17th 1908: “I promised in my last letter to try and give you some idea of what ‘the folks’ over here are like. It is not perhaps the most congenial (or even the wisest) task, if one is to write honestly, but as the impressions are here given solely for your own private information or benefit, [sorry, Sid!] well — that’s all right…. Here’s how they struck me, anyhow. We’ll start at Weston. [Weston-Super-Mare, Shackell side of family].

“Mr Ashman: Only saw him for a little while but I liked him. Pleasant, rather elderly, gentlemanly sort of man. Miss Ashman: Another good sort. Something of your Aunt Nance style. You’d like her, I think. Aunt Alice: I would imagine that the memory you have of her is quite correct. Aunt Nance [Ann]: She’d still be your favourite. Need I say more? I liked her very much. Now we’ll run up to Barrow, and the folks here being, in a sense, unknown to you, I had better describe more fully.


“Mr Clark: ‘Hail! fellow, well met!’ with everybody. By no means brilliant, but a really good fellow at heart. Too fond of liquor perhaps, and depends too much upon ‘the boys’, which means the ‘pub’, for company. Easily led, should have a wife to look after and help him. Apart from this, he’s all right. You’d like him, I think.

“Gwen: No, really I can’t. I think I want a special letter for Gwen. May I be forgiven, but I have great joy of Gwen every time I think of her. … I hadn’t been in the room ten minutes before in came another fellow. Gwen rises, kisses him in the most matter-of-fact way, taking no more notice of me than if I wasn’t there, then introduces him as ‘Mr Bearpark, my fiancee’! (My stars!!) “Sit down here, darling” says Gwen (I began to wonder if I hadn’t better go into the next room, or get under the table, or something). I’m not quite sure what happened next … whether Gwen just sat on his knee or put her arm around his neck; anyhow, we went on with the conversation. The queer part of the whole thing was the matter-of-fact way Gwen had about it, no consciousness that she was doing anything that might appear strange (especially before a man whom, 10 minutes before, she had never seen), no blushes, no enthusiasm, no shyness, no anything. I can’t describe it better than by saying that it was for all the world as if “my fiancee” was some pet dog, or cat, or parrot, or something, not a man.… Well that’s Gwen. I might, however, add, that she is pale – anaemic, I should think – very languid, and seems to find everything rather a bore.

“Elsie: you might be somewhat disappointed in Elsie. There is nothing special or striking or anything but just plain, ordinary “girl”; the kind one may meet hundreds and thousands of. Intellectually she is by no means brilliant – rather dull if anything – might see a joke a quarter of an hour after everybody else, for instance. Temperamentally however, she’s all right; bright, vivacious, fond of fun. She has too, I should say, a very affectionate – even loving – nature, and you’d like her all right, dear, and would probably be good friends, but you would never, I think, chum up to Elsie in the same way as with Lovie.

“Bobbie: A dear little chap, with the bonniest blue eyes imaginable and GREAT on football. You’d fall in love with Bobbie on sight – I did. … Now we’ll go to Hull.

“Mr Dunham: has one fault – the bad habit of trying to entertain one with very, very old jokes, trying to pass as new jokes that one read in schooldays and knew them even as stale then. … Apart from that he’s a very good sort; laid himself out to make my visit as pleasant as possible and we got on A1 together.

Mrs Dunham: the word that I think best describes ‘aunt Nellie’ is motherliness, though ‘hospitality’ would run it a close second. Very hospitable; sharp-witted, by no means a fool, would not allow herself to be imposed upon, very kind-hearted, would go out of her way and put herself readily to any inconvenience to be of service to anyone she liked – and she would hold herself ready to like anyone. Has opinions of her own and would stick to them, but not necessarily wish to force them upon others (though I should imagine she would never be afraid to give utterance to them if she felt she ought.) Keen, intellectual, and a most motherly, loving nature; the kind of woman one would take one’s troubles to (and who would like one to do so), sure of ready help and sympathy. I have the highest opinion of aunt Nellie Dunham.

“Tudor: might be summed up in the word ‘effervescent’. Full of movement – always wanting to do something – noisy; has a tongue that was surely intended for a woman for it is going all the time; shares with his father that ‘stale joke’ fault and generous nature; unselfish, would never do anyone a bad turn – rather sacrifice himself to do someone a good turn. Liked him much; would have liked to have been able to see more of him.

“Mrs Shackell: – Fair and very fat. Aunt Milly would have to take a back seat. Mrs Coggins: I think she managed to get out “How d’ye do?” and seemed to spend the rest of the afternoon trying to screw up courage enough to say, “Its a nice day, isn’t it?” but didn’t succeed. Just sat and looked sorrowful, as if she’d a ‘pain under her pinny’ – holding her baby in her lap as if she rather expected it to spring up any minute and bite her… Sidney Coggins: ‘He’s all right’. A very decent fellow. Level head, intelligent, heart in the right place, sensible.”

Letter: Mar 1st 1908: Sid describes his own family and a few friends – he has sisters and a brother all living in Cardiff. “The brother I dropped absolutely years ago: I told you why. The two sisters I acknowledge when, on rare occasions I meet them, but that is all. I do not visit them. Of course, I do not visit their sins upon their children, so when these come to visit me I give them the heartiest of welcomes. They are grown up, too, these children.” While in Cardiff he lives with his oldest sister Sarah, who is 14 years older than him. She is widowed – has two children, Beatie (18) and Harry (16). “Harry … is a typical specimen of the result of thoroughly spoiling a child ... He is absolutely lazy, flatly refuses to work or do anything, and is generally a hopeless, loafing blackguard. Treats, and speaks to, his mother and Beatie in the most bullying and insulting way. … Beatie: Works in a printing and bookbinding works … exceedingly good-natured, somewhat dense perhaps; in her manner before others she is very quiet and reserved…. Has a great opinion of her “uncle Sidney”, who by the way “teases the life out of her”.

He then describes Walter, a fellow boarder at his sister’s (in fact, they share a room), who used to be a friend, but has now “got religion…. in its worst form, the ‘religion’ of the flaming Hell and hopeless, everlasting torment for everybody ….[etc – the “old friendship is now as dead as the dodo”]. … “He will, for instance, tell you in one breath about the Master’s words that one is to ‘take no thought of the morrow’ (and preach it), and in the next breath ask if he can insure you (he is an insurance agent). Again, he sings all day long some refrain about ‘God will take care of you’… yet he never goes to sleep without a loaded revolver by his bedside. When I came home he was very anxious to get some of this ‘religion’ of his into my head, but of course, there was as much likelihood of his doing that as of succeeding to an earldom … There is no quarrel or anything like that … just two people who have no common interests.”

Read family (NZ) Dec 1926

Evelyn and possibly Sid are on the right. The rest are unknown to me.

In the 1970s an English descendant of the Dunhams wrote to a New Zealand newspaper and my mother began a correspondence with her. Eventually my parents, myself and my sister all stayed with, or visited, her. In 2009, she sent me the photo of Robert Read in Wales. Since she died a few years ago we have no contact with any remaining English relatives.

The Sheckells

This name is sometimes spelled Shackle or Shackell. Emma and Ruth Sheckell’s father was Frederick Sheckell, a seaman and sea captain. His second wife, and mother of Emma and Ruth, was Ruth (nee Cudbertson, also spelled Cuthbertson). She died in 1872, and soon after Frederick married her younger sister – a widow – Sarah Ann Ballinger (nee Cudbertson).[1] There were three children from this marriage, and at least eight children from the marriage with Ruth. [Since writing this post another English relative, Bridget, contacted me and has sent me further information, so I’m grateful to her for correcting some of my previous misinformation.] Frederick Sheckell’s father was a Nathaniel, and his mother was Elizabeth – she died 28 October 1876, born about 1800. Ruth’s father was William Cudbertson, a flax dresser and her mother was Sarah Ann (born about 1806, aged 85 in 1891).

Children of Frederick G. and Ruth Sheckell:

  • Betsy or Betty, born 1856
  • Frederick William, born 1859
  • Emma, born 1860
  • Ruth, born 12 August 1862 in Wotton, Kingsholme, Gloucestershire [my great-grandmother]
  • Sarah, born 1865
  • John (1866?)
  • George (1867?)
  • Alice Mary, born 1870

Children of Frederick G and Sarah Ann Sheckell (she died in 1877):

  • Gustavus Edwin Sheckell, born 22 Sept 1873 Westbury, Somerset
  • Fanny Sheckell, born 5 Nov 1874 (birth registered in Gloucestershire) – died young
  • Annie Margaret Sheckell, born 25 Oct 1875, called Nance, (birth registered in Gloucestershire)


This is a page from my ‘family history’ album showing various Sheckells – Ruth Read in old age in NZ (top left); ‘aunt Nance’ [Ann] (top middle); top right is Frederick W. Sheckell (with Ann’s sister-in-law); in left middle is Alice Sheckell outside the York Hotel in Weston-Super-Mare; and Emma Read (nee Sheckell) with a grandchild in NZ at bottom right. NZ Read family group bottom left.

Alice Sheckell’s married name was Thorn-Evans, they had no children. She died in 1942 (or 1952?), aged 82. For much of the 20th century until her death, she was living at, and owned, the York Hotel in Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset.

Frederick Sheckell’s wife was probably called Elizabeth and they had at least three children (Ruth, Frank and Alice).

Sarah married Harry Smith. He died in Sept 1959, she died prior to him aged 94. They had at least one son, called Cyril, and he had 3 children, several grandchildren and was living at Claygate, Surrey in 1960.

Gus Sheckell came to New Zealand. He did not marry. During the Depression he lived at Pukerua Bay and worked on building the Paekakariki section of State Highway 1. He died aged 88 on 23 Jan 1962 in Wanganui. His death certificate says he was a retired seaman (ex-serviceman), and born in Gloucester. His father was described as a Master Mariner and all names are spelled Shackell.

Gus Sheckell in NZ

Gus Sheckell in NZ, c. 1930

Gus on left, my father with parasol, his brother Bob on right. At Pukerua Bay, NZ.

Gus on left, my father Fred Morrell with parasol, his brother Bob on right. At Pukerua Bay, NZ, c. 1930s.

Nance Sheckell’s married name was Ashman. They had one child, Dorothy, born August 1904. Dorothy’s married name was Broderick. Early in the 20th century Nance was living in British Colombia, Canada. Later, Nance and her daughter Dorothy were also involved in running the York Hotel. After Alice died, the hotel was left to Nance. Nance died on 2 April 1962. In a letter from Dorothy to her cousin and my grandmother, Winifred Morrell (nee Read), recording this, Dorothy said: “I believe that is the end of the family. As far as I know Aunt Kate is dead, also Uncle Fred”. [Kate was probably Kate Ballinger, a child of Sarah Ann’s first marriage.]

In a bible once belonging to Ruth Read (nee Sheckell) are recorded the birth dates of the three children from the third marriage and some other facts:

  • The bible was given to Ruth “by her dying mother” in 1872.
  • Aunt Sarah died May 2nd 1877, aged 28
  • Grandma Sheckell died 1876.

Bridget confirmed that Ruth died at sea, 16 July 1872 on board the ship Dunbrody, which Frederick captained. Bridget Sheckell house frontprovided this photo which she thinks is the house in Huntley, Gloucestershire that Ruth and Frederick were living in before she died in 1872 (although the bay window may be a later addition).

“Grandma” Sheckell is probably Elizabeth Sheckell (spelled that way) who died 28 Oct 1876 at 36 Victoria Street, Barton St Michael, Gloucestershire, aged 76. Bessie Sheckell, granddaughter was present at the death. “Aunt Sarah” was Ruth’s younger sister, who Frederick married after Ruth died – and she was the mother of the younger children (Gus, Fanny and Ann – ‘Nance’).

York Hotel, Weston-Super-Mare

York Hotel, Weston-Super-Mare

Cross Keys Inn, Gloucester.

After Ruth died on the ship “Dunbrody” (click the link to see a replica), Frederick lived at (and he may have bought) the Cross Keys Inn with his new wife, Ruth’s sister, Sarah Ann. Their child Ann (‘Nance’) Sheckell was born here. Photo supplied by Bridget.


[1] To add to the tangled web, another Cuthbertson girl, Maria, married a Dunham; so the English relative who died a few years ago was related to us on both Read and Cuthbertson sides of the family.


One thought on “Read and Sheckell families in England

  1. I am the daughter of Dorothy Broderick, nee Ashman, daughter of Annie Margaret Ashman, nee Sheckell, and was brought up at the York Hotel. I have a great deal of information about this side of the family including Frederick Gustavus Edwin Sheckell, my great grandfather, the sea captain. Ruth, his second wife, did indeed die at sea. If you would like to know more, do please get in touch by email.


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