In the summer of 2018, I decided to pay a visit to my Great Grandfather’s grave at St Phillip’s Church, in Penn Fields. I brought my mother along with me, despite it not being a relative from her side of the family and we walked towards the grave in question. Our discussion turned to the many grand monuments to people’s lives that surrounded us and also the many graves that were now in a state of disrepair. Who exactly were these people and what had led to their memorials being allowed to fall into such a state?
An Angel Weeps
Among the many sights before us, one particular grave caught my mother’s eye; a beautiful, icy-white weeping angel, slumped over a cross. The image was so striking, so imposing and so well preserved. Who would befit such a grand monument? Upon closer inspection, we could make out a name and an age; “Reggie” Boilard, aged only 16 years at his death. With his whole life ahead of him, what sad tale had led to his passing? How did his family afford such a beautiful monument to his legacy? And how was the grave still in such fine condition?
Whilst I had an active subscription to Ancestry, I decided to do some amateur detective work and found a Boilard family member had an account. Tentatively, I drafted up a message and asked what they knew. What I found is the content of this article; I had got in contact with Anne, who was related by marriage, and she put me in contact with Charmian. Anne has a fascinating Wolverhampton-related tale of her own to tell, but that is one for another time.
Whilst we may never know all the details of Reggie’s short life, we know much more about the Boilard family and their international story. To tell you this tale, I now hand you over to Charmian, whose mother was none other than Reggie’s sister.
The International Boilard Family
This story is written with grateful thanks to my cousin, Anne Fraenkel who has uncovered so much of my family history and inspired my continuing search. Most of it had been a great mystery to me until Anne wrote to me in the summer of 2012 and introduced herself as a long lost cousin on my father’s side. Gradually, she has built an extensive Langman family tree on Ancestry which also uncovered so many interesting facts regarding my mother’s, Boilard family history.
As a child growing up in Wolverhampton, my mother, Olga Alice Dorothy Boilard, sometimes showed me photos of her family, including the Boilard family grave where her brother, Reggie and her parents, Gertrude and Leonard were interred. Back then, I only had a mild interest in the Boilard family and now of course, I have so many questions I wish I had asked. My mother was born in 1911 in Cawnpore, India and I was fascinated by her stories of a privileged life, with servants, exotic pets (including a mongoose to kill cobras) and seemingly being allowed freedom to run wild.
My mum seemed to embellish tales of a French ancestry and it is only in the past year that I have discovered the reality that her great great grandfather, Julien Boilard (pronounced Bwa-lar) was, in fact, born in 1770, in Nantes, France.
The Indian Connection
Julien Boilard arrived in India in 1792 and settled in Patna, Bihar, where the next four generations of the Boilard family were born. Julien made his money by selling wood from Nepal to the shipbuilders of Calcutta. He then used these funds to construct houses for the numerous civil servants who worked for the expanding East India Company, which also netted himself a large fortune. Julien went on to establish his own mercantile trading company, Boilard & Co.
His first son, Julian, was born in 1789, followed by a daughter, Emelia, with his first wife (unknown). By 1812, he was living in Patna and my great great grandfather, John Alexander was born. Altogether, Julien senior had five children with his second wife (unknown) before her death at 35, in 1815. He subsequently married Maria Cramp on 8th February, 1816 and they were together 22 years until her death. Julien died in 1849, making him one of the oldest European inhabitants. His will stipulated his wish to be buried alongside Maria in the Roman Catholic Church in Patna and also listed various properties and assets to be given to each of his children.
Sadly, Julian was killed, aged 58, during the Indian Mutiny of 1857, a widespread but ultimately unsuccessful rebellion against the rule of the British India Company. Several news reports of the time describe the atrocities including Julien’s fate.
“Mr Boilard defended his house heroically, and shot about nine of the rebels. Finding he could hold out no longer, as the wretches had fired the house, and being stifled with the smoke, he and his wife made their escape through a back window, and concealed themselves in a drain. After some time, believing all to be quiet around, he crept out, unarmed, towards the stabling, for the purpose of recovering a hundred and fifty pounds which he had previously buried there, when he was met by the mutineers, and his body thrown in pieces to the dogs. Mrs. Boilard, who was my informant of this sad event, was found and kindly treated by one of the village women, and on the seventh day after was conveyed by a rebel trooper (who placed her on the horse he was riding) as near the fort as, in safety to himself, he could venture.”
There is a marble plaque in the church in the city of Allahabad listing the names of all those who lost their lives in this uprising, erected by the surviving residents.
A Mormon Connection?
Julian’s brother, John Alexander Boilard also lived in Patna and at the age of 34, married a widow, Sarah Lenancker who sadly passed away at 38, after only four years of marriage. He subsequently lived with two sisters, Letitia Mary Ann Johnson and Annie Maria Johnson. Aged 17, Letitia gave birth in 1853 to Louis Alexander Richard Boilard (my great grandfather) and two years later, Annie, aged just 15 also gave birth to a son, Ernest Manfred Boilard. Such an arrangement would be totally unacceptable today, however, it is possible he took the Mormon faith. His death certificate suggests that he was refused burial by the Catholic Church and was in fact buried in the grounds of his own home.
John Alexander was an indigo planter, a plant used to create blue dye mostly in the cotton industry. With the expansion of British power in India, indigo planting became more and more commercially profitable because of huge demand in Europe. The peasant farmers were persuaded to grow indigo rather than food crops however, they were paid a meagre price and could make no profit. In 1859, there was an uprising and revolt against the indigo planters which spread rapidly. John Alexander died this same year, aged 48 with the cause given as ‘liver complaint’ on his death certificate.
Aged 23, his son, Louis Alexander Richard Boilard married Alice Rachel Jewett, aged 18 in Dinapore and they had seven children in 21 years. Interestingly, her father, Thomas Jewett had moved to Dinapore, India from his birthplace of Candia, New Hampshire, America. Going back eight generations of the Jewett family, Edward Jewett (1579-1615) was born in Bradford, Yorkshire, and it was his son, Joseph who had sailed to America in 1638 (just eighteen years after The Mayflower had set sail from Plymouth in September 1620) and settled in Rowley, Massachusetts.
The Boilards of Penn
Louis and Alice’s third son, Leonard Bertram Boilard, born 1881, was my grandfather. He was educated at St. Paul’s School, Jalapabar, Darjeeling, after which he served for five years as an apprentice mechanical engineer in H.M. Mint, Calcutta. He subsequently served as Third Engineer on board the S.S. Vauxhall Bridge and the S.S. Catherine Apcar before becoming Electrical and Mechanical Engineer to H.H. The Maharajah of Tipperah.
In 1906, aged 25, Leonard gained experience as an electrical and mechanical engineer with Messrs. Thomas Parker Ltd. Wolverhampton. I presume that it is during this time that he met and courted Harriet Gertrude Williamson, a school teacher. They were married in 1908 in Birmingham and returned to India where he was then employed as an electrical engineer at the Government Harness and Saddlery Factory in Cawnpore.
Their daughter, Vera Gertrude was born in September 1909, followed by Olga Alice Dorothy, my mother, two years later. Their only son, Leonard Alexander Reginald (Reggie) was born in July 1913 and a third daughter, Marjorie Beatrice in 1916.
In the early 1920s, the family moved to the Nilgiris Hills, Tamil Nadu where Leonard worked on the project to build the Kateri hydro electric power plant, a series of dams and a power house with four 125KW generators and one 500KW. This site was the first hydro electric plant in India and it powered the nearby cordite factory. It was demolished several years ago, however, on holiday in India during 2014, I did manage to find and visit the house the Boilard family occupied during this time. Sadly, now abandoned but still standing, nestled between lush green tea plantations and flowering jacaranda trees, it was an idyllic location. I explored the local area including the Kateri waterfall, travelled on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway to Ooty, visited St. Stephen’s Church and the Government Botanical Gardens, all places my mother would have frequented.
Reginald was the much loved only son and as such, a good education was considered important, so he was sent to attend senior school in Wolverhampton where he lived with his maternal grandmother. Sadly, during a school cricket match, Reggie was hit on his leg by the ball. Unfortunately, the wound turned gangrenous and the hospital advised amputating his leg. Leonard hesitated to give permission and the delay cost Reggie his life. He died aged sixteen. Leonard was heartbroken to lose his only son and according to my mother, never really recovered from the shock. The family commissioned the beautiful Italian marble weeping angel sculpture you can see in St. Phillip’s churchyard, Penn Fields, Wolverhampton.
Around 1930, the family returned to live at 131 Penn Road, Wolverhampton and Leonard died February 1940 at the Queen Victoria Nursing Home, Bath Road, Wolverhampton and was interred in the same grave as his beloved son. Gertrude lived to the grand old age of 91 down in Worthing, Sussex with her eldest daughter, Vera and was finally laid to rest in the family grave.
I had always promised myself that upon retirement I would have the grave renovated, so in 2014, I commissioned W. Hopcraft & Son of Wolverhampton to clean and restore it to its original pristine glory. I’m so pleased with the result, such a shining beacon and memorial to the pioneering spirit of the Boilard family.
Editor’s note – I am eternally indebted to Charmian Bourne for her wonderful words and photos. If you have a family story you would like to tell the world about, then please contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org