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Wilby Rackham - His Life and Letters




On 31st January 1831, William Crosbie married Sarah Billington. William Crosbie was born about 1810 in Galloway in south west Scotland, and Sarah Billington was born about 1812 and her family appear to have lived in Hanley, Staffordshire. Their daughter, Mary Billington Crosbie was, according to an entry in the Crosbie family Bible, born on 11th September 1839. Her baptism has not been traced. Martin Faragher wrote that "She was born and bred a Scot. Her father, who came from Galloway, had been a speculative builder in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and then in London, where he had been a man of substance before losing his capital. He became a waterworks inspector, with a sideline as a wine and spirit merchant". Of Sarah Billington, Mary's mother, Martin wrote - "His wife had been brought up in the innkeeping business, and at one time they kept the "Bull" in Tottenham Court Road".

After the death of her husband, Wilby Rackham, she worked in Hanley for a number of years as a monthly nurse. This involved working at patients' homes on the basis of a monthly contract.

Her business card, a copy of which is in the possession of Martin Faragher, read -




In about 1880 she came to Douglas with her aged parents and her two teenaged children - Mary Jordan Rackham and Charles Wilby Rackham. There appears to be no evidence of precisely when she came but she was not listed at Victoria Terrace in the 1871 Census. She rented 17, Victoria Terrace, Douglas which she named "Wilby House", after her late husband, and operated it as a guest house. This building stands on the eastern corner at the junction of Victoria Terrace and Victoria Road. It was listed in the Official Board of Advertising Guide for 1896, its first year of publication, and again in 1901. In the column headed "Whether Hotel, Boarding, Lodging or Furnished House" it was entered as being a lodging house which might be let furnished if desired. The proprietor was named as Mrs Rackham and it was stated to have one sitting room and four bedrooms. Four of her grandchildren were born at this house, Philip Wilby Caine in 1887, Eleanor Mary (Nellie) Caine in 1888, Ethel Caine in 1892 and John Harold Caine in 1896.

The 1881 Douglas Census of 3rd / 4th April, District 18 -  File 78, lists as living at 17 Victoria Terrace, (with a note of their relationship to the Head of Family)  -

William Crosbie, Head of Family, married, aged 69, Retired Inspector Water Works, born in Scotland. Blind.

Sarah Crosbie, wife, married, aged 68, born in England.

Mary Rackham, daughter, widow, aged 40, Sick Nurse, born in England.

Mary Rackham, grand daughter, unmarried, aged 18, born in England. [Mary Jordan Rackham who married James Caine in 1885].

Charles Rackham, grand son, unmarried, aged 14, Carpenter's apprentice, born in England.

Although Mary Billington Rackham is known to have been buried at Braddan, there appears to be no record of this in the Isle of Man Family History Society lists of Braddan Burials. However, her obituary was published in the Isle of Man Weekly Times of Saturday 5th June 1920 which records - "RACKHAM on May 28th at 49 Athol Street, Douglas, Mary, widow of the late Wilby Rackham, master mariner, aged 80 years. Interred in Braddan churchyard on May 30th." The same notice appeared in the Mona's Herald of Wednesday 9th June 1920.

A kerb was placed by the family on her grave, No 349, at Braddan, possibly in the 1950s. There is no headstone and the inscriptions are cut on this kerb. Her name appears as MARY BILLINGTON RACKHAM  DIED 1920 AGED 80.

Other names on the kerb are those of WILLIAM CROSBIE  DIED 1886 and SARAH CROSBIE  DIED 1885.along with ALBERT WILLIAM CROSBIE  DIED 1891 (AGED 3) and whose identity is not yet established. John Philp who died in 1868, aged 34, is also buried in this grave. According to Episcopal Administration 1868 Douglas No. 120 Microfilm BM 323, he was a "Working Jeweller" of Douglas who died 10th Aug. 1868, a bachelor and intestate, and whose kin lived in the UK. He appears to have no connection with our family.

MARY JORDAN RACKHAM   (1862 – 1939)

Wilby’s first child was reputed to have been born at Kessingland, Suffolk, but a reply of May 1975 to an enquiry to the UK General Register Office stated they were unable to locate an entry of her birth over the period 1861-1865. A search of the IGI also failed to find a baptismal entry in Suffolk. The probability was that she was born at whatever port Captain Rackham was sailing from but it was also thought that she might possibly have been born at sea although this idea was likely to have arisen from the fact that Wilby’s wife had accompanied him to sea on one occasion.

Philip Wilby Caine, her eldest son, wrote in a letter of about 1942 to his nephew, John Wilby Caine, that -

"James Caine (your grandfather) married Mary Jordan Rackham, daughter of Wilby Rackham, born at Kessingland, near Lowestoft, and Mary Crosbie, who was born in England but whose family came from Dumfries".

This statement might, at first sight, appear ambiguous but, read carefully, it seems to say that it was Capt. Rackham who was born at Kessingland and, as he was baptised at Wrentham, some four miles away, this might have been true. If this was the meaning that Philip W. Caine intended to convey, then although Mary Jordan Rackham might well have been born at Kessingland, he does not say so. (Capt Rackham did in fact state in official seafaring documents that he was born at Wrentham). According to the letters in the following collection, Mary Jordan Rackham was born at the Bull’s Head Inn, 101, Tottenham Court Road, London, on 19th July 1862. It seems strange that Philip W. Caine did not record this in his 1942 letter outlining our family history.

Two letters and an apparently unrelated postmarked empty envelope, all forming part of this collection of documents, give clues as to the date and the place of birth of Wilby’s daughter Mary Jordan Rackham.

The empty envelope is addressed to  "Mrs Rackham   Mr Wm. Crosbie  Bull’s Head Inn, 101, Tottenham Court Road, London", and is postmarked 15 September 1862. This confirms that the Crosbies and Mary Rackham were at the Bull’s Head up to at least the date of this postmark.

A letter dated 25th July 1862 to Wilby Rackham from his mother-in-law Sarah Crosbie  read - "Dear Wilby,  We received your letter and was very happy to hear that you had arrived safe and found all well. In regard to Mary and the little one I am happy to say they are getting on very well but for all that you must come home on Tuesday without fail...."

We do not know from what address this letter was sent. Mrs Crosbie stated that  "  leg is so much worse.." and that she was not capable of doing anything for her daughter  "...for the house is full of visitors and will be for a fortnight to come...". Wilby did not receive this letter until the Tuesday and his reply was sent from Lowestoft. He wrote to his wife -  "Mother says they are quite full in the House so I suppose my brother Edward will have to find lodgings somewhere near hand he is intending to come up with me I think for he is anxious to see London and you...".

At the date of Mrs Crosbie's letter, 25th July 1862, her daughter was clearly living at the Crosbie's house and the envelope addressed to the Bull’s Head indicates that this was where the family lived.

A letter dated 20th July, with no year stated, which Wilby wrote to his wife from the ship Lord Elgin at anchor in the river St Lawrence, Canada, read -

"I was thinking of you and our dear little Polly [his pet name for both wife and daughter] yesterday and she is one year old and I was wondering whether you took her down to St James's Park for a drink of New Milk on the first anniversary of her birth...". As the child is one year old this fixes the year of the letter as 1863. So taking this literally, a letter written on 20th July 1863 which speaks of  his daughter's first birthday as being "yesterday" means that she was born on 19th July 1862. At the foot of the letter are his daughter's initials  M.J.R.

He wrote also that  "....if we take up our residence apart from Father and Mother [his in-laws] it must be somewhere near the River or Docks, I often think about those pretty little houses on the Deptford Road....". At the date of Mrs Crosbie's letter, 25th July 1862, her daughter was clearly living at the parent's house and the envelope addressed to the Bull’s Head, which includes the names of Mary Rackham and of her father William Crosbie, indicates that this was where the family lived. The reference to a possible move to Deptford further confirms that Wilby and Mary Rackham lived with her parents. Whilst not being absolute proof of Mary Jordan Rackham's date and place of birth, the foregoing offers very strong evidence indeed that the date was 19th July 1862 and the place was the Bull’s Head. However, enquiries and a search in 1998 at The Family Records Centre in London, again failed to locate a registration of her birth.

Mary Jordan Rackham came to Douglas with her widowed mother and brother Charles Wilby  in about 1880 and also with William and Sarah Crosbie, her grandparents. She is listed in the 1881 Census at 17 Victoria Terrace, Douglas as grand daughter of William Crosbie. Aged 18. Born in England. (Manx Census returns showed only the country of persons born outside the Isle of Man).

She is reputed to have met her future husband James at the Well Road Methodist Chapel which was on the site of the present Social Security headquarters at Markwell House, Douglas. They married at Kirk Braddan old church on 21st November 1885.

Mary Jordan Rackham died 21st May 1939 and is buried at Marown churchyard.



Charles was born on 14th December 1866 at "Bucknell House", Park Road, New Wandsworth, London. His birth was registered on 2nd February 1867 at Battersea in the Registration District of Wandsworth. His birth certificate lists his given names as Wilby Crosbie and his parents as Wilby Rackham and Mary Rackham, formerly Crosbie. The informant was Mary Rackham, his mother, residing at "Bucknell House", Battersea.

He was baptised on 7th July 1867 at St Peter's church, Liverpool. There are three St Peter's churches in the Liverpool area but that at Langrove Street, Everton, although now a modern building, was the city church during the period in question. His baptism was in the name of Charles Wilby Rackham, with Charles as an additional Christian name, and the registered name Crosbie omitted. The baptism is listed in the IGI for Lancashire as Charles Wilby Reckham (sic) son of Wilby Reckham and Mary. He appears not to have used the name Crosbie.

He came to the Isle of Man around 1880 and is listed in the 1881 Census at 17 Victoria Terrace, Douglas, (District 18 File 78), as Charles Rackham, grandson of William Crosbie, aged 14, apprenticed as a carpenter and born in England.

He moved back to Liverpool and in the 1891 Census for West Derby, he lived at 20, Whittle Street, where he lodged with a Mrs. Bigley, (or Begley). The Census record lists -

Elizabeth Begley, (spelled with "e"), Head of household, aged 44, born Liverpool.

Catherine Begley, daughter, aged 21, dressmaker, born Liverpool.

Charles Rackham, Boarder, aged 24, Steward, born London (Poplar).

On 11th June 1896 he married the daughter of the house, Catherine Ann Bigley, at St Alphonsous Catholic Church, West Derby, Liverpool. He is described as Charles Wilby Rackham, aged 30, a bachelor and ship's steward, son of Wilby Rackham, deceased Master Mariner. His address is given as 7, Conyer Street, Kirkdale. His wife was Catherine Ann Bigley, a 25 year old spinster living at 20 Whittle Street, Kirkdale, daughter of Richard Bigley, deceased, master carter.

In May 1920 Charles Rackham wrote from the SS Scythian at Boston to his mother at 49, Athol Street, Douglas. It is clear from this letter that he had not been in contact for some time. He wrote -  "I had to go back to sea again because......the shore life did not suit me so I had to start over again at present I am cook and Baker on board ship.....". (Letter in possession of Martin Faragher).

Philip Wilby Caine, in his summary of our family written to John Wilby Caine around 1942, stated that  "The family of your grandmother's brother, Charles Wilby Rackham, live in Liverpool".