CFHS code : ML22
Parish : St Mary the Less
Inscription : Sacred to the Memory of ELIZABETH the beloved wife of JOHN DENNIS The Leys d Nov 4 1854 aged 61 and of JOHN DENNIS d June 26 1876 aged 82 HENRY JOHN — son JOHN & ELIZ DENNIS four lines indecipherable ———— 1866 also MARY ANN [daughter] of JOHN ELIZABETH DENNIS d 13 Aug 1845 aged 23 also EDWARD two lines illegible
Monument : Column with broken urn
Above information amended from Cambridge Family History Society Survey
Lat Lon : 52.202737, 0.13777017 – click here for location
Elizabeth Dennis (née Rowse) (c.1793 – 4 November 1854)
Elizabeth was born in Cambridge and married John Dennis on 31 March 1819 at All Saint’s Church. They had at least seven children: Henry John (1820-1866), Mary Ann (1822-1845), Edward (1824-1851), Harriet Elizabeth (1827-1907), Caroline Emma (1830-1902), Julia (1832-1908) and George William (1834-1917). John worked as a draper on Sidney Street where family lived, but by 1851 had retired to live at The Leys on Trumpington Road. Elizabeth died at the Leys aged 61 years old. The notice of her death in local newspapers read ‘resting her hopes of a blissful immortality solely on the merits of the Redeemer’.
John Dennis (c.1794 – 26 June 1876)
John was born in Soham, Cambridgeshire and ran a drapery business in Cambridge from at least 1819. Adverts from the time described him as a ‘linen draper, silk mercer, hosier and haberdasher’. He also offered a funeral service ‘family mourning and funerals furnished – hearse and mourning coach with one horse each 25s to any part of Cambridge’ (October 1846). In 1846 he moved to larger premises at 53 Sidney Street which was opposite his previous store, and in October 1849 passed the business to his eldest son Henry. Notices were placed in local newspapers to inform of the change of ownership and also promoting the sale prices on ‘best blankets, quilts, long cloths, fine sheetings, table cloths, furs, silk, plaid and shawls, collars, hosiery and baby linen’.
He moved to live at The Leys (1851), Great Shelford (1861) and then 1 Belvoir Terrace (1871). He died at Belvoir Terrace aged 82 years old.
The Leys subsequently was bought and established as the Leys School in 1875.
Henry John Dennis (1820 – 11 January 1866)
Henry was baptised at All Saint’s Church on 31 March 1820 and worked as an assistant in the family business (1841) before taking over the drapery business in 1849. In 1851 he was living at 53 Sidney Street with five assistants, a cook and a housemaid. An advert for an apprenticed placed in January 1851 described him as a ‘draper, hosier, silk mercer and furrier’. He married Mary Alice Toller (1825-) on 3 July 1851 in Great Wilbraham and the couple had at least one daughter: Edith Constance (1855-1925).
Henry did not run the business for long and by at least 1855 was living in London and became a ‘colonial explorer’. He sailed on the Marco Polo in 1861 and was involved in a near accident when the ship ran into an iceberg north of Cape Horn. He then moved to America, where he ran a cotton plantation in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He started this at what was said to have been the height of the American Civil War (which ran April 1861 – May 1865). He was said to have been offered ‘adequate protection from the United States Government’ but that never happened and it was said Henry had to cope with ‘plundering bands of guerrillas on the one hand and troublesome and refractory negroes on the other. Nevertheless he succeeded in raising a crop, and only retired when he found that in the then existing state of things it was utterly impossible to grow that crop without great pecuniary loss, as well as personal risk’. Henry returned from America and was given a certificate by the American Government in November 1864 which stated ‘This is to certify that Henry John Dennis…is the first Englishman that has grown cotton by free colored labor in this District of the Slave Sates of the Mississippi, United States. The said cotton grown on the ‘Adams’ plantation, sixteen miles south of Vicksburg in the year of adversity, army worms (an insect which destroyed cotton plants) and guerrillas’.
Henry returned to live at 11 The Grove, Clapham but set off for Australia on 13 December 1865 aboard the SS London. The ship sailed from Gravesend to Plymouth to pick up more passengers but was caught in bad weather and had to dock near Portsmouth. It eventually left Plymouth on 6 January 1866 bound for Melbourne. It ran into more bad weather crossing the Bay of Biscay and sank on 11 January killing Henry and 219 other passengers and crew. Only 19 people survived from the shipwreck. A message from Henry reportedly read ‘”Adieu, father, brothers and sisters, and my dear Edith. Steamer London, Bay of Biscay. Ship too heavily laden for its size, and too crank. Windows stove in. Water coming in everywhere. God bless my poor orphans. Storm not too violent for a ship in good condition.”
Mary Ann Dennis (1822 – 13 August 1845)
Mary was the eldest daughter of John and Elizabeth and was baptised at All Saints’ Church on 4 August 1822. She died aged 23 after what newspapers described as ‘after a few weeks illness, which she bore with the most Christian fortitude and pious resignation’. She was buried at All Saints’ churchyard on 18 August.
Edward Dennis (1824 – 27 May 1851)
Edward was the second son of John and Elizabeth Dennis and was baptised at All Saints’ Church on 13 June 1824. He became a missionary and died in Whydah (modern Benin), West Africa.
Parish burial records
by Claire Martinsen and Mary Naylor
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