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Podcast #5 - Daughters of James Churchward?

This is Podcast Number Five

Daughters of James Churchward?

Recently two pictures surfaced with a curious caption "Col. Churchward's children Olga Muriel 1873 Gladys Stella 1874"

If this is true, then not only does my family have new relatives, possible new sources of information have arisen. Maybe the young ladies were left with further clues and materials. It is a unique thought to consider that someone listening to this podcast might actually be able to recognize a photo and pull a box of James Churchward's unpublished manuscripts from the attic.

First, some context is necessary - the Churchward family was first recorded in the Stoke Gabriel parish records in April 1529 when William was born to Gabriel Churchward. The title to the ancestral home known as Hill House was granted to Gabriel by King Henry VIII and it is now known as the Gabriel Court Hotel. The structure was at one time the second oldest private home in Britain and is believed to have built in 1445. James' father Henry was born at Hill House and moved to Bridestowe, some miles west. Today, one can still see the gravestones of Henry's father and grandfather in the Stoke Gabriel churchyard that records Churchward family burials back to 1539. James had four brothers and four sisters and when Henry died in 1855, the family moved to Okehampton to live with his wife Matilda's family. Subsequently, the family moved to Croydon. James family was part of the generation that left Britain and set out to settle in the colonies. James' marriage to my great-grandmother Mary Julia was recorded in Dec. 1871 at St. George's Church in Kensington.

As the daughter of an early tea-planter in Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka), James and Mary moved to Sri Lanka and worked their plantation, known as "Hatherleigh." In 1872, my grandfather, Alexander Churchward was born in Columbo. There is no reason to assume that life was any different for James and his family than any other family in the colonies of the British Empire. Social engagements, hunting expeditions and trips to nearby outposts of civilization would be expected - as well as drinking, gambling and the opportunity to comfort widows and those whose husbands were absent.

The dates on the pictures indicate that either the young ladies were the product of an extra-marital affair or a convenient tool for sympathy or endearment from a wealthy patron.

Percy Tate Griffith, writing in his biography of James entitled "My Friend Churchey," intimates that James was quite the ladies man, even fourty years after his time in Sri Lanka. He states:

"As a fisherman, if there were fish in the water, Churchey got them. This statement fits his bonnes fortunes also. He would mislead no young girl, not make passes at the wives or daughters of his friends. Neither did he demean himself with women of the streets or brothels. If one asks, "Who and what were left?" the answer is "plenty." His sucess was remarkable. He was no ascetic, and he found a cordial reception to his affection widely bestowed."
Given the assumed colonial lifestyle would provide ample opportunities for a twenty-something man, either outcome is possible.

The place of birth for these young ladies could have been almost anywhere in the British Empire. Since all women did not need to birth their children in a backwater colonial outpost - there can be no assumption that since conception may have occurred in Sri Lanka or on a trip to New Zealand , that the child was not born in Columbo, Wellington, India or Britain. Were there indications that the mothers of these girls were in the general vicinity of the Indian Ocean island during the appropriate period, some could speculate a greater possibility of an extra-marital affair. Still, a sense of caution is called for because the pictures could come from anywhere.

Ignoring all caution and accepting these young ladies as identified is a course of action that is relatively harmless, if we cease further investigation. For if we find their descendants and make these allegations of impropriety and unfaithfulness, we only have an inscription produced under unknown conditions with which to impugn their honor and attack their character. This course of action would be a shortcut and inappropriate to those that seek the truth. Therefore, I'll leave the images out there 'as-is' and undertake to find out the truth before making any pronouncements. These young ladies could be kin but there will need to be better evidence than one written comment inscribed over seventy years ago. If the pictures or the young ladies in them are recognized, then please contact us at so that the answer can be found and the truth be told. If the families of the young ladies are related to James Churchward and if they were the recipients of any of his materials then further avenues of investigation are opened. Another unpublished work hidden away in a box could provide more proofs of his theories and/or increase our understanding.

Thanks for listening and have a great day.

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