You wait for ages for a distant cousin …

By Keith Newbery

Published on Friday, January 18, 2013 - 11:15


THIS ISLAND LIFE MY old mate, John Laws, had no idea what he was starting when he got in touch to say he had suddenly discovered (after we’d known each other for more than 40 years) that we were distant cousins.

And I had no idea what I had started when I placed the details before County Press readers and asked if anyone could help establish the precise nature of our relationship.

Subsequent investigations became even more exciting when Cousin Laws and I also discovered familial links to a real-life Island hero, Rufus Cotton, former coxswain of the Atherfield lifeboat, who, in 1892, took part in one of the bravest rescues ever to be staged off the Island.

He and other lifeboats from Brighstone and Brook saved everyone aboard the German vessel, the SS Eider, which was grounded on Atherfield Ledge in stormy conditions.

The ever-helpful James King (semi-retired solicitor of this parish) sent me a grid from Genes Reunited and told me to work it out for myself.

This was the genealogical equivalent of being given the secret of the Rubik’s Cube in Latin and being told to complete it while wearing a pair of boxing gloves.

But before I was reduced to wading through countless generations of Newberys and Cottons, others came to the rescue.

Sheila Caws, Jim Gibbons and Victoria Edwards got in touch to reveal that John and I are actually third cousins twice removed and Rufus was his great great uncle and my great great great great uncle.

This was confirmed by Jon Matthews, grand panjandrum of the IW Family History Society and former cricket umpire of note.

But that was just the start.

You wait 40 years for a distant cousin, then two come along at once.

No sooner had Lawser and I settled down to enjoy our new-found kinship, than another cousin hove into view.

It turns out that Dave Cannon, pop music buff and host of the finest DJ show the Island has ever produced, is also a member of the extended bloodline (we don’t just accept anyone, you know).

Then the phone went and the unmistakable voice of Graham 'Stumpy’ Cotton (cricket groundsman beyond compare) came on the line to announce he too was a distant relative of Rufus and therefore, by implication, mine.

Just when I thought there couldn’t possibly be any more surprises, I received letters from two ladies also directly related to Rufus.

Mrs Margaret Murdoch got in touch from Basingstoke to reveal her grandmother was a sister to what were known at the time as the Cotton boatmen, because the Atherfield rescue vessel was crewed entirely by Rufus and his brothers.

She wrote: "As a child, I was often shown the gold watch Rufus received from the Kaiser for his part in the rescue.

"As far as I know, the watch was given to a direct descendant of Rufus, who lived in Bonchurch and later moved to the mainland."

Mrs Ruth Pardey also dropped me a line to say her father was Rufus’s nephew and he was in charge of the horses required to pull the lifeboat out to sea.

She wrote: "The vessel was called the Catherine Swift because it was donated by a lady of that name.

"It had to be lowered down the cliff for every rescue because it was too steep there to build a slipway."

It would appear, therefore, that Margaret and Ruth may also be part of my rapidly-expanding family.

I won’t know what to say the next time some Overner starts taking the mickey about everyone on the Island being inter-bred …

A worrying tale from the wards

We all have reason to thank the staff at St Mary’s for the work they do — but I keep hearing of an increasing number of worrying incidents at the hospital.

The wife of a friend of mine has been extremely ill for more than four years and her GP was so concerned about her latest batch of test results he summoned an ambulance to take her to St Mary’s for treatment without delay.

She was, to all intents and purposes, an emergency.

Yet she waited more than four-and-a-half hours in A&E before being examined by a doctor — and even worse was to follow.

When she was finally admitted to a ward, she noticed the name of the previous occupant of the bed had not been removed.

An hour later, a nurse came round with the drugs trolley and attempted to give her the medicine which had been prescribed for the previous patient.

Fortunately, my friend’s wife, though clearly unwell, was alert enough to question the prescription — but one shudders to think what may have happened had she been elderly or in no condition to do so.

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