Frederick Ashby, Coastguard


  1. Birdie’s baptismal name as given in Frederick’s family Bible was Barbara but she was always referred to as Birdie.

  2. In the wreck of the Drumtochty is listed as December 1882, not 1884, at Lynmouth. In “Heddon's Mouth, a tiny pebble beach with stunning cliffs and a19th century lime kiln” – it is between Combe Martin and Lynmouth Bay

  3. “Mama’s Christmas Present: A Boy at Last”, by William Frederick Yeames RA, best known for “And When Did You Last See Your Father”. I have not found a digitised version or current location for this painting.
  4. Extracts from local North Devon newspapers describing the effects of severe gales in late October 1886 (“the North Devon coast is strewn with wreckage”) are at There is a Board of Trade Wreck Report for the Nerbudda dated January 1887 at She was carrying 2400 tons of coal from Penarth bound for Calcutta. Portions of the vessel including the figurehead were found scattered between Westward Ho and Combe Martin and she had not been seen or heard of since.
  5. From Wikipedia: Lucas Malet was the pseudonym of Mary St Leger Kingsley (1852-1931), Victorian novelist and daughter of Charles Kingsley, author of The Water Babies.
  6. Wikipedia gives details of this tragedy when hundreds were drowned, apparently due to a miscalculation by the Admiral himself.
  7. Ballygeary was the name for the area where Rosslare Harbour and the Europort are now. A very good little book called Rosslare Harbour: Sea and Ships by John Maddock gives an account of the development of Rosslare as a port, and how it replaced Wexford around the end of the 19th century, largely because of the difficult approaches to the older port, beset by sandbanks. The book includes fascinating accounts of shipwrecks around that part of the Irish coast, and gave me an impression of some of the responsibilities of a coastguard at that time.
  8. After my first trip to Rosslare I had very helpful and interesting correspondence with John Maddock in 2001 which helped me identify and later visit the right Coastguard Station and the remains of the battery at Rosslare Strand in 2009.
  9. I was fortunate to hear my grandmother’s eyewitness account of this journey. She was Frederick’s daughter Marjorie, and described to me the rough crossing in a sailing vessel from Devon, accompanied by her parents, and her sisters Birdie and Carrie, and two little brothers, one of whom (Reggie) was only a few weeks old. Her mother’s mother was also in the party. Although my Gran was only 5 at the time, she remembered their arrival and transfer to a donkey-drawn cart which travelled slowly up a bumpy steep hill. She spoke of her grandmother, sitting at the end of the cart, exclaiming “Oh, my poor daughter!” at every bump.
  10. In 2000 Mr Hilary Murphy of Wexford kindly checked a Directory for 1885 which mentioned a Frances Gladwin, music teacher of George Street Wexford and organist of the St Iberius and Selskar Protestant church.
  11. John Maddock found 2 photographs of the Maria Reid in an old book and sent me photocopies. They show her docked in Wexford about 1914 and in “the last of her days” at Wexford in 1928.
  12. Consumption of the bowels seems to have been an old term for TB affecting the abdomen. My grandmother told me that the loss of baby Reggie so upset her that the family doctor recommended she should join her sisters at boarding school in Wexford, which she did despite her tender years – she was just 6.
  13. My cousin Hazel corresponded with Helen Skrine, the Hon. Secretary of Kilscoran Parish, who was kind enough to look in the graveyard of St Peter’s Church and send photographs. There was no marked grave for little Reggie but a small granite rock could possibly mark the spot, as it is not placed amongst the nameless seamen’s graves. She turned out to be distantly related to Surgeon Major Gibbon and confirmed that he held the Protestant evening services in his drawing room at Rosslare House.
  14. The difficulties of life as a Coastguard wife are very apparent here – Louise Ashby bore 6 children and lost one of them while moving house very regularly as one posting followed another. These frequent moves may have been a normal feature of the career? I have a letter she clearly valued, kept in a prayerbook, from a W. Mahon of Bushville, Killinick, Co. Wexford, written in June 1894 a few weeks after she left Rosslare. It seems from the content that he was a colleague of Frederick. He thanks her for her letter, and trusts she will soon be safely over her “trouble” (pregnancy –Eric her last child was born in August!) He asks after little Fred and says that they all miss Mr Ashby very much and he is sure to be a great favourite wherever he goes. He sends Mrs Mahon’s remembrances.

There is an old photo showing Rosslare Station and Battery if you search for Rosslare on A very short stretch of the rough road in front of the CG Station in this photo remains, in front of a few bungalows, and is named Coast Road, but soon peters out into the sand of the dunes due to coastal erosion. In 1890 this road perhaps ran above the dunes around to Ballygeary where the family landed, and they would have travelled along it. The route between Rosslare Strand and Rosslare Harbour is now by surprisingly circuitous inland roads.

The Battery at the old Coastguard Station, Rosslare Strand
The cannons of the Rosslare Battery may still be seen below on the dunes

Questions: Can anyone locate a photo of the Cutter “Margaret”? What age were the cannons stationed at Rosslare Battery, and when were these established? The Station and Battery at Rosslare are very evocative because the area is still a traditional seaside village (the Europort is some distance away). I wonder if many others have survived the ravages of time so well.


6 Comments · 25927 Reads · Print  -> Posted by Elisabeth on October 06 2009


#1 | crimea1854 on 07/10/2009 08:09:59
Thanks for posting this article, a superb insight into the life and work of a Coastguard.

#2 | Tony on 08/10/2009 15:08:30
Thank you for the superb photos.Genealogical Sources can build a framework of a past ancestor but the memoirs of Frederick Ashby fill the framework so well that one can now imagine the whole man and his loving family. Thank you for sharing him with us.
#3 | Elisabeth on 08/10/2009 18:02:18
Thankyou Martin and Tony for your appreciation. My mother (now nearly 90) wrote down some childhood recollections of her grandfather for me - it is good to capture the live memories while we can! In his 80s he still had a trim naval beard and thick steel-grey hair, and used to mend his own striped flannel shirts and darn his own socks, as sailors did. She was also amazed at his habit of spitting resoundingly into the fire! Elisabeth
#4 | John Gough on 02/02/2010 18:58:39
Dear Elizabeth. I believe that my Great Grandfather, John HENNESSY, (Bn 1846, Faversham d1932 Ash, Kent) is the 'Hennessy' referred to in the excerpt of the diary above. HE served at Ilfracombe in the late 1870s and got married in 1880. Thanks for putting this on - it gives me some 'life colour' one doesn't normally get. My only request is whether he is referred to elsewhere in the memoirs please? Many thanks. twelfthravenathotmaildotcom
#5 | rjmontgomery on 16/02/2010 18:05:20
What a splendid Victorian family photograph! Everyone should write an acount of his life's activities to inform his grandchildren and posterity. My grandfather John James Montgomery may have served with Frederick at the Great Yarmouth Devonshire Road coastguard station, but I can find mention of him in grandfather's papers.
Robert Montgomery
#6 | Elisabeth on 21/02/2010 12:25:21
Dear John Gough, its good to hear from a descendant of "Hennessy", Fred Ashby refers to him affectionately and they were clearly close friends. All the references to him are in the excerpt from the memoir which I have put on this site, there is no reference to him in the earlier part, that deals with Fred's service in the RN. But the implication in the text is that they transferred from RN to HM Coastguard together. The ships Fred Ashby served on (according to the memoir which was written some decades later, in early 1900s I think) are:
1865 Excellent
1867 Chanticleer
1872 Excellent
1873 Audacious, Newcastle, Endymion
1875 Excellent, Monarch
July 1877 transferred from Monarch to Cg service .
If you have any info on yr great grandfather's ships you maysee a link!

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