Researching a Mourning Locket for Commander Robert Pouncy

August 12, 2011

Those of you who know me a bit by now are aware of the pleasure I get from researching the person(s) commemorated on a piece of mourning jewelry. I’m by no means a genealogist, nor an historic researcher, but I suppose I can be persistent and patient when the need arises. When I’ve got a lovely piece of mourning jewelry in my hand, with the hair of a person long dead, and their name inscribed there too, the desire to know something about that individual, to put some shape to their life, is what challenges me to begin seeing what I can find out.

I purchased this gold pendant several years ago from an English dealer. She knew only what you can read here, in gold letters picked out in black enamel around the oval hair compartment: Robt Pouncy OB 27 Nov 1793 AE 37.

I began with a simple Google search. Usually I’ll try a few different approaches until I come up with a good lead. I may try, in this case for example- “Robert Pouncy died 27 Nov 1793”, or I may try to figure out the birth year (which is easy to do within a year or so when you have the age and date of death) and then plug that in as well. Or, I may try one of the genealogical sites that have free, basic information available. If I’m pretty sure the person was English, as I was in this case, I might go onto some archival sites for the UK that have birth, baptismal, death, or burial records. Luckily, church and county records in England are quite good, and go pretty far back. The only question is whether they have been put online. Another avenue to try is to find a genealogy forum for the family name and contact someone from there. I did that in this case, and heard back from a distant relative of Capt. Pouncy who was aware of him and from his own extensive research was able to tell me the names of his parents. If memory serves me though, the first item I found which led me to others, was a guide to documents held at the British Library in the Asia, Pacific, and Africa Collections. This guide had a list of contents of the journals, logbooks, and ledgers from a merchant ship, the Sulivan (var. Sullivan), operating under charter to the British East India Company (known as an East Indiaman) in the late 18th century, and a summary of basic information contained within, including the notation that a Captain Robert Pouncy had commandeered her on 3 voyages to India and China. In fact, this paper gave the dates of those three voyages, from departure from England, the ports of call along the way, the return date, and the return port city. From this I learned that the last voyage Capt. Pouncy made returned him to England in August of 1793. The locket tells us that he died only 3 months later, in November. How did he die? I have yet to find out, but my inclination is, he caught some dread disease on his last voyage, and it did him in. After all, he was only 37 when he died.

Also online, I was able to find two notices in London newspapers regarding court cases between Capt. Pouncy and one or more sailors who were contesting some punishment he had meted out to them while at sea (Capt. Pouncy prevailed).

With the names of his parents from the genealogist, I did more online searches and found that Robert Pouncy was born in Dorchester, Dorset, England. It seems he later moved to London; he was married there in 1785 to Ann Chassereau. They had two daughters- Anne (born 1788), and Sophia (born 17??). Mrs. Pouncy undoubtedly saw little of her husband in their short life together, as he set off on his first voyage only 4 months after their wedding, and didn’t return until July of 1787. Each subsequent trip took him away from home for approximately the same length of time. His daughters probably barely knew him. Finally, I found that his will is in the National Archives of England, and for a reasonable fee, I was able to obtain a copy of it. It was written just one day before he died, and makes mention that he is sick and weak (but of sound mind). Thus, he knew his time was up.

As I mentioned, the logbooks, journals, pay books, and ledgers for the Sulivan are housed in the British Library, and more information pertaining to vessels of the British East India Company are in the National Archives Maritime Collection. The Harry Ransom Center at the U of Texas also has one of Robert Pouncy’s logbooks in its collection. How it ended up there, I have no idea. I could order a digital copy of the logbook, or select pages from it, but it’s rather pricey, and I’d rather go read it and the ones in London in person. I imagine in there I might find a clue to the cause of Capt. Pouncy’s death, information on the goods carried back to England, and details of the voyages. In addition, I’d really like to find a portrait of Captain Pouncy, showing him with his fine dark brown hair. With persistence, and in good time, I hope to accomplish all of these things.

Mourning Locket for Commander Robert Pouncy

2 Responses to “Researching a Mourning Locket for Commander Robert Pouncy”

  1. molamdelove Says:

    Great one Sarah! You have also taught me a few handy avenues for research, thank you.

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