John Christian A.M.

 

This simple but impressive slate ledger stone is to be found in the Chancel in St Andrew's. As this a place usually reserved for aristocracy and clergy and I was about to research its occupant, I thought it would be quite easy to trace him.  He was not a former Rector since he died during the long tenure of the Rev. Charles Mordaunt and at that stage couldn't even assume he was a clergyman.......and of course there was the prominent coat of arms above the name. It was therefore quite a disappointment when I was unable to locate his name, either in the  Burial Register or the Archdeacon's transcripts of St Andrew's Parish Records.

I am a great enthusiast for the British Newspaper Archive  and I had recently encountered the name in a Ryburgh search but didn't at first make the connection between what was a short but interesting reference and the ledger stone. As it happened, there were two related reports, the first from Saturday 9th. August 1788 in the Northampton Mercury:

 

 

and again on Thursday 21st. August in the Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette:

 

 

 

Though not exactly local papers, I could find nothing closer to home but they did provide more information and places to search.

The first port of call now was to look for a Rev. John Christian amongst the Alumni of  St Peter's College (better known as Peterhouse today) and that search gave a lot more information

 

 

Christian, John. (baptised Suffolk 27th Dec 1750)  (? this date has yet to be verified)

Admitted a  pensioner (a student paying fees to the college for teaching, board and lodging) aged 18  on June 5th. 1769. at PETERHOUSE.

The 2nd. son of the Rev. Humphrey Christian, Vicar of Docking in Norfolk  and Elizabeth Brett his wife (of Scarning).  Born 1751, at Botesdale, Suffolk.

Scholar, 1769;

Matriculated Michaelmas. 1770;

B.A. 1773;

Fellow, 1775;

M.A. (styled A.M.) 1776.

It also says that he was Rector of Knapton, Norfolk, 1781-8 and that he married Mary, the daughter of Thomas Machin, surgeon, of Pakefield, Suffolk on 5th. June, 1781. He died sine.prole.(without children) in 1788 and it confirms that he was buried at Ryburgh.  His younger brother Edward also attended Peterhouse and became a Clerk in Holy Orders. This information is confirmed by the Norfolk Chronicle for June 9th  1781:

 

 

What was the Rector of Knapton doing in Ryburgh?

 

Examination of the original Registers reveals that he was acting as Charles Mordaunt's Curate  between 1781 and 1788, with Mordaunt appearing to be absent from Ryburgh during much of that time. Similarly John Christian seems to have "sublet" his living at Knapton to Curate, Hugh Hill. Was this to secure a better economic outcome for all concerned, the Peterhouse "old boys" network or both?   

 

 

Further research in the Registers shows that the Walter Edward Farrell "Minister", (also a Peterhouse man) who married John Christian and Mary Machin also acted in the capacity of Minister at Ryburgh.... as did briefly in October/November 1780, John's younger brother Edward.

A further trawl of the British Newspaper Archive found a few further references to John in Ryburgh, concerning debtors and creditors of local individuals or property auctions.

 

Norfolk Chronicle on 24th. December 1785:

 

 

Norfolk Chronicle on 29th. September 1787:

 

 

Bury and Norwich Post 8th March 1786:

 

 

The most revealing of these other references appeared after his death in the Norfolk Chronicle on Saturday 27th. September 1788:

 

 

Was his "House in GREAT RYBURGH" the Rectory that was subsequently rebuilt by Rev. William Ray Clayton, Mordaunt's successor to the the living? 

 

The remainder of the story is full of unanswered questions. This advert doesn't really describe an impoverished curate since it suggests that his household had been set up anew on his move to Ryburgh. As with his burial records however, there is no "last will and testament" to be found as yet but he was unlikely to have left no provision at all for his widow.  Mary Christan's will (proved August 3rd. 1820)  does survive. She had returned to Pakefield, her family home and died a widow. The only mention of family is her sister Ann Wooton who seems to have been the chief beneficiary

 

The next stage was an Internet search and it was there through the pages of Ancestry that I made contact with  Julian Ironside in France  with origins in common to our Reverend Gentleman. He responded quickly to my enquiry and kindly shared his researches, to our mutual benefit, and it was he who pointed me to the well connected family of our Rev Christian.

The immediate family were from Cumberland and they in turn had come from the Isle of Man, having dwelt there since the late 14thC.  In the 16th Century  the name was changed to Christian from its Manx name McCrystyn. The family held the hereditary title of Deemster ( a judge), one of two of this rank that traditionally upheld the law on the island. From what has so far been deciphered from the arms on the ledgerstone it is clearly a member of the Christian family from the Isle of Man that lies there. It was then that I asked one of the questions which had been nagging at me since I first heard the name:

Was the Rev. John related to Fletcher Christian of "Mutiny on the Bounty" fame?  The answer came back: Yes, they were first cousins:  John's father, Humphrey and Fletcher's father, Charles were brothers, the children of Barrister John Christian of Ewanrigg Hall, Dearham, Cumberland. Julian's connection inevitably is a little more distant being  "3rd Great Grand nephew of 1st cousin 2 x removed"

The other more pressing questions were:

Why the absence of burial records?

Why such a plain inscription on such a tomb for such a well-to-do man?

Why no local press coverage?

Was this the manner in which a suicide was dealt with in these C18th polite circles, in spite of the verdict of  Accidental Death? 

Although Bounty set sail in 1787, news of the Mutiny which took place in April 1789 could have had no effect upon John's behaviour. If anyone can add further to the brief history of this man, please get in touch.

It is possible that the Inquest records have survived and are to be found in the Norfolk Record Office amongst the Quarter Sessions records, that is my hope and  the next port of call.

 

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