Alfred was born in 1831 and baptised at St John the Baptist Church in Margate on the 25th March 1832.
We have seen Alfred’s middle name written as Barnett, Burnett and even as Barnick on his marriage certificate. But his baptismal record and his merchant navy record clearly show him as Alfred Burnett Emptage and so we are sticking with that.
The son of Humphrey Emptage, a master mariner, and his wife Isabel Brett, Alfred was the youngest of nine children. Sadly Isabel died just 33, on the 11th August 1833, before Alfred was two years old.
Humphrey was 39 when, on the 26th October 1835, he married Charlotte Elizabeth Broomfield Jones, a spinster aged 22, daughter of Richard Jones and Sarah Goldsack.
At the time of the 1841 census, Alfred was aged 10, living in King Street, Margate, with four of his siblings, George Henry, Isabel, William Robert, and Edward Lindsey and their father Humphrey. The whereabouts of their stepmother Charlotte is unknown.
Alfred was thirteen when his father died of tuberculosis, aged 49. Five years later, when Charlotte was just 36, she died from died from Asiatic Cholera and was buried only one day later on the 14th August 1849. The burial would have been hastened due to cholera being a highly contagious disease.
Marriage and children
On the 15th October 1853, Alfred, bachelor aged 23, a fisherman, married Ann Hopkins at the Guildhall Street Chapel in Canterbury.
Ann was noted as a spinster age 21, daughter of James Hopkins, a maltster (who was married to Ann Roberts).
Alfred and Ann set up home at Fort Mount Cottages in Margate and then at 40 Ethelbert Road. They had eight children:
1854 Alfred James
1856 Edward Lindsey
1858 Henry Thomas
1860 Charles Joseph
1864 William John
1869 Rose Hopkins
1871 Frances Alice
1875 George Geoffrey
Charles Joseph died in 1864, aged 4 years 10 months, from Mesenteric Disease, contracted by drinking unpasteurised milk from a cow infected with tuberculosis. He was buried on the 8th August.
Alfred Burnett had joined the Merchant Navy as an apprentice when he was 14 and at 16 he attained his seaman’s ticket number 208,657 on the 21st April 1847. The details list him as “growing” with dark hair and blue eyes with smallpox marks on his face.
As he’s not on the 1851 census it’s likely that Alfred was away at sea then.
Although Alfred and his six brothers were mariners, descended from mariners, none of Alfred’s children chose to go to sea.
On 1st June 1860, the Kentish Gazette reported that Alfred was assaulted by a neighbour [at Fort Mount cottages], William Brockman, also a mariner. Alfred was 29 and William was 20. When the case went to court, Alfred said that he did not wish to press charges against the prisoner, as he was drunk when he struck him. The Bench inflicted a fine of one shilling with seven shillings cost and the money was paid.
Margate is situated at a particularly difficult point on the Kent coast, where tides and storms frequently combined to drive ships onto the rocks. As a local seaman, Alfred was involved in several rescue attempts as ships foundered. The most notable of these was the shipwreck of the Northern Belle and the loss of the lugger Victory in January 1857.
Alfred and three of his brothers helped to man the rescue boats. Sadly, his uncle and cousin lost their lives when their rescue boat, the Victory, was swamped by the heavy seas. Read the story here.
The Northern Belle was an American ship and Alfred and the other rescuers received medals from Franklin Pierce, the president of the USA, together with contributions from the funds which were raised by the public.
By 1870, when Alfred was 39, he was on the roster for the Margate Lifeboat along with his 1st cousin Stephen John Emptage age 34 (son of William Emptage and Elizabeth Peters).
On 29th January 1875, Alfred was committed to the Kent County Lunatic Asylum at Barming Heath near Maidstone.
The admission register shows that he died on the 6th April 1875 age 44. His death certificate puts his cause of death as general paralysis of the insane about 8 months.
Syphilis was more than likely to have caused such a dreadful disease and Alfred may have carried it in him for many years without his knowledge.
Whether it was passed down through birth or contracted through the lifestyle of many a mariner is unknown. This is not the first or last time that syphilis will be found through the generations to come but for Alfred and his family it was a sad ending to his life.
Alfred’s son George Geoffrey was born in February, whilst Alfred was in the asylum. Ann had to go to the Thanet Union Workhouse at Minster to have the baby. It is doubtful that Alfred ever saw his last born child and we must wonder if he ever saw his wife again.
By 1881 Ann was living at 2, Naivesink Villas, May’s Road in Ramsgate. At home with her were six of her surviving seven children: Alfred James, 28, was an assurance agent, Edward Lindsey, 26, a general labourer, William John,17, a bricklayer, Rose, 12, Frances Alice, 9, and George Geoffrey, 6.
Henry Thomas, had married Martha Walk in October 1880 and was living nearby in Ramsgate. His complex relationship with Martha, his common law wife Malbry Jane Wilson and with his brother William John features strongly in our history. Read their story here.
Ann died at 1 Leopold Road in Ramsgate on the 18th June 1882 age 50, from an abdominal tumour which she had suffered with for six years.
The surviving children of Alfred Burnett Emptage and Ann Phoebe Hopkins:
Alfred James Emptage married Ellen Harriet Bryant in London in 1882 and they emigrated to the States in the same year. Alfred became the Vice President of Metropolitan Life Insurance and died in New York on the 8th July 1910 age 56.
Edward Lindsey Emptage married Mary Ann Norris on the 7th October 1882 and he died in Margate on the 28th September 1886 age 30 from rheumatic fever.
Henry Thomas Emptage married Martha Elizabeth Walk in 1880 and he died on the 28th November 1896 age 38 from pleurisy.
William John Emptage married Blanche Jupp in 1897 and he died on 14th June 1907 from syphilitic necrosis age 43. It is possible that he had inherited the syphilis from his father.
Rose Hopkins Emptage immigrated to the States in 1884 age 14, and worked for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company as a stenographer. Rose changed her name to Rosamund. She never married and died in 1952 age 83. Rosamund is buried at Arlington Cemetery in Massachusetts.
Frances Alice Emptage immigrated to the States in 1887 age 16. She married Albert C. Huntley at the age of 20 and they went to San Francisco.
George Geoffrey Emptage immigrated to the States in 1889 age 14, and joined his brother Alfred James at Metropolitan Life. George married Lulu Ann Burns and he died on 11th August 1941 at Menands New York age 66.
The Sea Gallantry Medal awarded to Alfred Burnett Emptage for his part in the rescue of the crew of the Northern Belle is in the American Numismatics Society at 75, Varick Street, 11th floor, New York, presumably taken to New York by his son, Alfred James.
When I discovered its whereabouts, I wrote to the Society and asked if they would sell it to me. This is their reply:
Dear Mr Emptage, we are glad that you have found your great grandfathers medal in our collection. It is a very interesting story. Our Society is a research institution and the items from our collections are not for sale.
To say that I was disappointed is an understatement. And my comment is unprintable.
David Lindsey Emptage.
Great grandson of Alfred Burnett Emptage, through Henry Thomas.
Note from Susan Morris:
When I order registration certificates, I am always impatient whilst waiting for them to arrive, wondering what information they will confirm and what new nuggets of family history they will provide us with. And so it was when I ordered the marriage certificate for Alfred and Ann.
When the envelope arrived I opened it eagerly. And very nearly had a heart attack.
I already knew that it would refer to Alfred Barnick Emptage. Either he wasn’t clear in saying Barnett or the person writing the marriage certificate didn’t hear it properly. And since neither Ann nor Alfred could read, they didn’t see the mistake.
And then I glanced at Alfred’s father’s name and occupation which, of course, I knew. Or thought I did.
My head was so full of the perishing Henrys which I’d been trying to sort out, I was expecting to see Alfred’s father as Henry, a mariner. Instead, I saw Humphrey, a tailor.
Oh good grief! My past flashed before my eyes. The whole tree was wrong.
Then a quick look at the tree reminded me that yes, we did have Humphrey as Alfred’s father.
But still….. a tailor? That really put the cat amongst the pigeons.
Surely Alfred was from a family of mariners? Had we made a dreadful mistake?
And then, between the rapid beats of my heart, I realise that another word for mariner is sailor. And the script writing on the certificate said Sailor, not Tailor.
Slowly I let out my breath, the holding of which was turning me purple. Honestly, family history is not for the faint hearted or for those with a weak heart.
Moral of the story: don’t open an envelope from the General Records Office whilst the head is still full of other members of the family, or before the blurry effect of the eye drops has had time to clear.