A timely conclusion to saga

By Keith Newbery

Published on Friday, February 22, 2013 - 14:40


A timely conclusion to saga

Rufus Cotton’s grand-daughter with his watch, presented to him by a grateful Kaiser.

THIS ISLAND LIFE IT'S fascinating how all stories, given time, can wend their way to a natural conclusion. What began a few months ago with the quirky discovery that a friend of 40 years was also a distant cousin, has finished with the discovery of the award made to a gallant Islander by a German Kaiser.

When John Laws and I — cricketing mates for more than 40 years — discovered our even closer kinship, it set an ancestral ball in motion which has just rolled to a gentle halt.

During this time we found ourselves distantly related to William 'Rufus’ Cotton, a lifeboat coxswain from Atherfield in the late 19th century, who was rewarded for his gallantry by the Kaiser.

It was for the part he played in the rescue of all the passengers, crew and valuable cargo aboard the German vessel, the SS Eider, before it foundered on Atherfield Ledge in 1892.

The Kaiser’s gratitude took the form of a magnificent, engraved gold watch, last heard of residing with a relative on the mainland.

Now, thanks to the wonders of the internet, its whereabouts has been discovered.

It belongs to Mrs Diana Leverett, who sent me this photograph of the watch being held by her Aunt Irene, who is Rufus’s granddaughter and will be 98 next month.

Other Cotton kinfolk have also emerged since this saga was last mentioned, including Adrian Axford and Margaret, the delightful wife of Mr Albert Cronin, former talented footballer of this parish and a pal of many years standing.

Margaret’s mother was another of Rufus’s nieces, which tends to support the theory the Cotton family in general, and Rufus in particular, were a fecund lot, back in the days of Queen Victoria.

As if to prove the point, Betty Cotton, with whom I once served on Newchurch Parish Council, told me her father, John — who was one of 13 children — was a nephew of Rufus.

Betty also informed me she owns a mirror which has been passed down through the family since it was rescued from the Eider and also reminded me why William was widely known as Rufus.

Apparently it’s the Latin word for red and was a reference to the old boy’s titian locks.

The Victorians were clearly far more scholarly than we are, because these days he would almost certainly have a more prosaic nick-name, such as 'Ginge’.

There have been other unexpected ramifications of my leisurely ramble down Memory Lane, not the least important of which is the fondness Mrs N has developed for the ancestry.com website.

She pores for hours over the computer, before emerging with the information that her paternal great-grandfather’s great uncle on his mother’s side came to this country with the Huguenots.

Inquiries as to why he didn’t get treatment for such a nasty-sounding complaint before landing on these shores are met with stares of an intensely withering nature.

She now says she will not rest until she unearths a link, which she is sure must exist, between me and an agitator from the depths of history.

She reckons one of my ancestors was probably the type who would have been beheaded for accusing Henry VIII of being a Freemason after he declared war on the Catholic church.

Can you shed light on football award?

I’ve received an e-mail from Mick Cant, who is seeking some information about a family heirloom which has just come into his possession.

He wrote: "It looks like a Newport Football Club award, dated 1902.

"It was presented to my grandfather, Charles William Henry Cant, who was born in 1878 and would therefore have been 24 when he received it.

"It appears to be silver but I know nothing about football and wondered if any of your readers could possibly shed any information on the award and why it would have been presented to him."

Mick can be contacted at on 01983 523926 or at 74, Crocker St, Newport, IW PO30 5BX.

Joke comes in on the outside

The peculiar determination of the British to forge humour out of dangerous, embarrassing and even tragic circumstances shows no signs of abating.

Like you, I’ve heard dozens of jokes since our supermarket shelves and food outlets became stacked with various equine derivatives — but my favourite came from my old mate, Roy Winter.

A bloke goes into fast-food restaurant and asks for a burger.

"Certainly," says the assistant, "would you like anything on it?"

"Yes," comes the reply, "I’ll have a fiver each way."

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