Picture by Rupert Fox from a design by Michael William Alabaster


The Alabaster Chronicle 

The Journal of the Alabaster Society 




by Laraine Hake - October 1999

Here is Chronicle Number 13! As time progresses it becomes more difficult to write something original in the Editorial, but I suppose that I can at least say, with mathematical precision, that this edition looks forward to the last year of a millennium (I’m not likely to be able to write that again!) as well as a new year for the Alabaster Society hence the enclosed request for your subscription for 1999/2000.

1999 has certainly been a year to remember for me! The Alabaster Gathering was really great. A fair bit of space is given in this journal to the Gathering, so my postbag pages are held over for the next edition. I hope nobody minds, just make sure that I have plenty of post to report for Number 14 please! Following the Gathering, as I waved the last Alabaster goodbye from Saxmundham in fact, I discovered that I had left the lights on in my car - I was alone, having been surrounded by friends and relatives minutes earlier...........! Three weeks later we had Ofsted at school, which was stressful; two weeks after that, 29th May, Mandy, my daughter, was married which was wonderful; two weeks after that, Mandy fell down two steps and broke her leg and her ankle........! Not quite so wonderful, the summer was stressful! On 1st September, I started teaching at a new school to me, Thorpe St Andrew, Norwich. I had intended to have this Chronicle ready by then, and I am still not sure why it didn’t happen, but here it is at last! Over all, life is good. We are very happy in our new home having been here a year now; the job is coming together and will prove to be a good move eventually, I am sure; Mandy has learnt to walk again, although there is still a fair way to go; she is about to move to live in a lovely house in Kendal, Cumbria and is very excited. I am very happy for her.

On reflection, as an Editorial, this is a failure, being more of a personal note from me to you - but I suppose that it how I feel about all of the Alabaster members - friends and relations (rather like Rabbit in Winnie-the-Pooh)!

Back to my post as Editor - please read the enclosed letter from Ian Alabaster. I think a charity is a wonderful idea, although I must stress that it comes from Ian personally and not from the Alabaster Society, so do contact him direct.

I hope you will see fit to renew your subscription to the Alabaster Society; this is the first of the two Chronicles that will be covered by the 1999/2000 subscription.

One suggestion that was made during the Gathering was that a list of names and addresses of members should be circulated to other members with the next Chronicle. If anybody has an objection to being included in such a list, please let me know.

I wish you all a wonderful year 2000!

To Contents

Alabaster Gathering 17th & 18th April 1999

Five months on, the fifth Alabaster Gathering is now becoming a distant but, hopefully, happy memory for the eighty-eight members who joined together for part or all of the weekend. A jack-knifed lorry on the A12 resulted in a horribly long journey for many, but I was assured that the good company on arrival did provide some compensation! The venue for the Saturday, the Old School House Hadleigh, was all we could have wanted; welcoming and spacious with a tangible link to our Alabaster ancestors! Each fresh arrival was greeted with a cup of coffee and a pack of notes for the day, and then was taken to autograph the Alabaster Family Tree on the wall next to his or her own name. People circulated, looked at the display and generally renewed old acquaintances or made new ones. Flexibility was the keyword for the timetable as those unfortunate enough to have been held up on the A12 gradually arrived!

General Meeting of the Alabaster Society

The General Meeting was ably chaired by Beryl Neumann, our Australian representative and one of the founder members of the Society, who had travelled from New South Wales to be with us. She welcomed those present in style.

The honorary officers of the Society, viz.: myself, Laraine Hake, (Secretary) and Robin Alabaster (Treasurer) were then re-elected, unopposed.

Robin, as Treasurer, reported on the state of the Society’s finances which appear to remain healthy (a Balance Sheet and Accounts to the end of August 1998 appear later in this issue). As Secretary, I reported that the membership of the Society was also healthy: five new families joined since the beginning of 1999, taking us to number 110, with most members continuing to resubscribe each year.

Sadly I reminded those present that both Adrian and Jeffrey Alabaster had died during 1998. Jeffrey will be remembered by many, having attended all previous Gatherings, without fail making some sort of contribution to the discussion during the General Meetings. Adrian will be remembered as another founder member of the Society, and in particular for his book, A Quintet of Alabasters which is now being reprinted. Adrian has very kindly left £200 in his Will for the use of the Alabaster Society. Much discussion ensued as to the most fitting way in which this money should be spent. Suggestions ranged from a printer or microfiche reader for immediate use in research and producing the Chronicle, to more long-lasting memorials to Adrian, such as a leather-bound book with details of each living Alabaster, a commemorative seat in the Guildhall gardens or even forming a charity. Adrian had specified that the final decision should be at my discretion, as Secretary, and it was decided that each of the various choices should be given further thought and exploration rather than a decision being made in a rush.

Lastly, a proposal was made that an honorarium should be paid to the Secretary, me! It was decided that this should be put to a postal vote of all the members. With this the meeting was closed.

Lunch was now served, enjoyed by one and all!

Alabaster Charity

After we had replenished our energy, the Gathering settled down to listen to an excellent talk by Mr Cyril Cook, local historian of Hadleigh and Trustee of the Alabaster Charity which was formed following a bequest made by John Alabaster in his Will of 1637 and which still aids the population of Hadleigh and its environs today. This was absolutely fascinating and grateful thanks were expressed to Mr Cook, not only for his time in speaking to us today, but for the time he gives to administering the Alabaster Charity too.

Alabasters in Saxmundham

As many of those present intended to visit Saxmundham on the Sunday, I outlined the links between the Alabaster family and the town of Saxmundham. In 1712 William Alabaster, grandson of John and Elizabeth from whom we are all descended, and brother of Robert Alabaster (Branch IV), married Hannah Dawes in St John the Baptist, Saxmundham. They had 11 children baptised in Saxmundham between 1713 and 1728, and to the left of the west doorway of the church is an 18th century memorial to William Alabaster and his family. We were going to attend the morning service in St John the Baptist Church, where a christening was due to take place during the service, and follow this with Sunday lunch at the Queen’s Head Public House. It is interesting to note that not all the Alabasters were pillars of the community when they lived in Saxmundham during the 18th century, the Quarter Sessions for 1722 actually record that Widow Allabaster of Saxmundham .......Alehouse keeper hath lately suffered frequent drunkenness and many disorders to be committed in her House commonly called or known by the sign of the Kings Head (?) in Saxmundham......This Court does therefore .......disable the sd (Widow) Allabaster from keeping any alehouse or selling any ale or beer for the space of three years.

Trips to Bildeston and the Guildhall

The Gathering now dispersed to take advantage of the trip or tour of their choice, or to explore Hadleigh further. Many of us went to Bildeston where Sue Andrews told us about the church and its Alabaster connection. On 8 August 1615, Susan Alabaster, eldest daughter of John Alabaster of Hadleigh (who later left the bequest which led to the formation of the Alabaster Charity) married Michael Beaumont, a prominent clothier of Bildeston. In particular we saw the Alabaster coat of arms halved with the Beaumont arms on the memorial to Susan and Michael Beaumont. We were very grateful to Sue for her interesting talk and the handouts she had prepared for us to take away.

Others joined the guided tour of Hadleigh Guildhall and garden with Jane Haylock. For those of you who were there, Jane added the following to a recent letter to me “If anyone asks, the duck that was nesting in the tub in the Guildhall Garden eventually hatched all her eggs. Twenty-four hours later she marched the 11 ducklings down to the river - escorted by Paul, the caretaker..

Dinner and After-Dinner Entertainment

When we returned to the Old School Hall at 7.00pm for our Dinner, the room had been delightfully transformed with separate tables and table decorations. We even had a menu with the Alabaster coat of arms on the front. The food was really good, and altogether the meal was voted excellent! Our after-dinner speaker was Roy Tricker whom many will remember from our visit to Claydon Church as part of the previous Gathering in 1996. This time Roy gave us an illustrated talk on various Suffolk and Norfolk Churches with Alabaster connections. As ever, Roy’s enthusiasm and love of churches was infectious, and his talk fascinating. He truly rounded off a wonderful day in exemplary fashion.


The next day more than forty of us attended the morning service in the church in Saxmundham. It was most enjoyable and included the baptism of some children in the same font as must have been used by those eleven Alabaster babies nearly 300 years earlier.

We had Sunday lunch together at the Queens Head, and then said our farewells, many people commenting that they expected to be together again, with other members of our Society, in 2002!

These are my memories of the weekend, but then I could be accused of being biased.......I did ask some of those attending to write their impressions of the event while they were still fresh in their minds.

To Contents

Reactions to the Gathering

Firstly, Colin and Josephine (Shirley) Alabaster (IIB) had driven up from Devon and were able to compare this Gathering with previous occasions:
We arrived Friday and booked into the Edgehill Hotel to find a number of our relatives. A pleasant dinner was followed by coffee in the lounge with Alabaster conversation filling the time. The change of venue was, in our opinion, an excellent choice with seating and services better set than it was at the Guildhall in 1996 . We found the organisation as impressive as always and in particular the series of changes required by the misfortune of those using the A12 as a result of the accident.
We thought Cyril Cook’s talk interesting and found the ability of The Alabaster Charity to be of assistance amazing in view of the apparently small amount of money endowed. How money has changed! We took the Guildhall/Church tour and were astounded by the change to the place. We both recalled its state in 1990 when we had to meet in the United Reform ChurchWe hugely enjoyed the evening for the dinner (our thanks to the caterers) for the meal itself and for our companions - Joan & her sister and Michael, the only other IIB present. Roy Tricker was wonderful and his enthusiasm for churches was very catching. It is now all we can do to prevent ourselves from laying down in the pews to look at the roof... After this all we could do was to return to the Hotel and go to bedThe Sunday trip to Saxmundham Church was pleasant with a nice building and a good, full, congregation. The meal at the Queens Head was a fitting end to the whole affair with a considerable amount of hilarity at our end of the tables, our companions being the same as the previous evening. On our return to the Hotel we said goodbye to those staying with us and stayed over, alone, until Monday.
Our return home on Monday was much easier than the outward trip. Even so, it took about a week to return to normal!

Irene Alabaster Healey nee West (IV) had been at her first Gathering in 1996. This time she was more of a veteran!
What a super weekend! I enjoyed every moment of it.......... We spent the rest of Sunday afternoon visiting the (Branch IV) churches at Friston and Snape. Didn’t have time to include the Kessingland Church - but we must leave something for next time!!.........By staying at Odds & Ends with other Alabasters, we felt we really were a family - had an interesting time talking to Peter and Chris - Sunday breakfast time and then with Ian Ernest on Monday.

Sue Hill (IIIB), a new member of the Society, having joined our ranks only within the previous month:
Earlier this year I started researching my husband's family, both his parents are deceased so all I had to go on was the knowledge that his father was born on the day of the Titanic disaster. Naturally my first step was to send for the birth certificate of James Henry Hill - and there it was - Mother Sarah Alabaster! Somehow I knew at this point that the Alabaster name was going to be special.
I scouted the Internet for any other reference to the Alabaster surname and that was how I first made contact with Laraine. Her help was invaluable and so interesting, I was madly jealous too, I had been researching my family for months and had only got back to 1760, whereas my husband now had a tree going back 400 years! My husband Reg and I, and also his sister Linda, joined the Alabaster Society and rather nervously began to make plans to attend the Alabaster gathering. We set off very bright and early on the day only to be held up by a jack-knifed lorry on the A12, which delayed our journey by over two hours. Linda, who had been doing her own research believed that Sarah was probably the black sheep of the family and imagined everyone saying "trust Sarah's family to be late". Of course it wasn't like that at all and we did arrive in time for lunch in fact we were not the last to arrive at all or the only ones to be held up by the lorry!
We were given a very welcome cup of coffee and then directed to four spare seats - right in the very front row! Laraine (although we didn't know it was Laraine at the time) was speaking, and announced that we were the people she had just been talking about and that our second cousins were two rows behind us, we turned to see a row of smiling faces and people waving at us. I think that moment was very special and a time I shall always remember.
Reg, Linda and Iris chatted to, took photos and swapped telephone numbers of their new cousins. As we had arrived late we decided not to join any of the organised afternoon activities and instead explored Hadleigh, which I fell in love with and also spent a lot of time studying and taking notes from all the wall displays and discovering photographs which bore a marked resemblance to my father-in-law and one of his sisters.
We had to leave straight after dinner, but we will be back in three years time, jack-knifed lorries permitting!

And........the other half of that story, from Joan Watts (IIIB):
I just cannot describe my feelings upon meeting the Hills on Saturday. You see, Gwen and I had been discussing the family history on Friday evening in the hotel lounge and we happened to mention that we knew nothing about our paternal grandfather’s immediate family, as he had been killed at the end of the First World War. Did he have any brothers and sisters, we wondered.
Then, a few hours later, in walked the Hill family and we discovered that grandfather Joseph Alabaster did indeed have a sister, Sarah. Linda turned out to be the granddaughter of Sarah, which makes us second cousins.
We took photographs and exchanged telephone numbers so, hopefully we will be able to get together and “catch up” on all the missing years!............I can’t tell you what a wonderful sense of family history has come to me from all of this!

Lastly, some thoughts from abroad, New Zealand, from Marg Francis (IIC). Marg and her sons were in England in Autumn 1990 and stayed with us then, but this was her first actual Gathering.
Tim, Simon and I set out on our quest at 7:30a.m. from Welling Station (Kent) travelling via Charing Cross, the Embankment, Liverpool Street, to Ipswich and then had a bus ride that was picturesque through the country lanes of Suffolk before reaching Hadleigh. There was some consternation when we arrived, not because of us but an accident on the A12 had held up several intending gatherers. Proceedings were delayed somewhat but eventually things got underway with the AGM followed by lunch, a talk about John Alabaster's endowment to Hadleigh and an interesting piece from Laraine Hake on William of Woodford. Various groups then went off in various directions . We looked around the shops of Hadleigh returning to the hall for afternoon tea. Just after 7.00 we sat down to a lovely dinner with Colin Alabaster, along with his sister, Trish, who very kindly drove us back to Kent.
The highlight for us was chatting to other Alabasters. We were so pleased to have met lots of wonderful kinspersons. People were very kind, friendly, and warm, I especially remember with affection Colin and Trish, Stephen, Wendy, Paul, Shirley R, Beryl, Laraine and her mother, John, Robin, and lots of others.

To Contents

Patricia & Jim Turner:

Just how did the editor of Suffolk Roots get invited to an Alabaster Gathering, by default? It all started via a phone call from Laraine seeking assistance about the town of Saxmundham and a tour for the Alabaster family members` reunion. The invitation grew from there as I couldn't really offer that much help as all the things I had in mind had been done on previous occasions. However, I did mention that I would like to attend a reunion just to observe what went on and write it up for "Roots" in the hope it would encourage others to join one name societies or perhaps start a one name study; equally I thought it important to record the goings-on of an old Suffolk family in "Suffolk Roots". It was a superb weekend from beginning to end. The Friday had seen me in Salisbury at my daughter's wedding and driving through the night to return to Suffolk in time to attend the get-together.

Walking into the Old School which is probably sited on the foundations of the original Alabaster Foundation was an experience to cherish. So much hard work had obviously gone into organising the event and then there were all the various family Group`s trees (I have pinched this idea for my own extended study), photographs, and data to view. An example to us all in how it should be done: the research was meticulous and fully documented (I am guilty of forgetting). I would like a copy of Laraine's letter to introduce herself to unknown Alabasters, a real "how to do it" textbook example. The atmosphere was warm, friendly, and a real get-together of an extended family; it was lovely to be your guests for the weekend. It was rather like observing my own family getting together from the ends of the earth; like you we are wide spread: the New World, the Antipodes and the Far East.

Perhaps I should organise a get together!! It was an exercise in imagination to have a guided tour of the Guildhall and to wander around the parish church and to envisage the previous generations of Alabasters working, marrying, baptising their children and living their lives in Hadleigh and eventually ending their days in Hadleigh. To walk through the streets and see the houses that past generations of your family would recognise today.

It was most interesting to note that the generous provisions of an Alabaster will are still helping young people today, something to be truly proud of. Equally, I noted that there were several very young people there probably under the age of 12, congratulations on getting them there; a remarkable achievement.

I must mention the food: congratulations to the cooks and to Laraine who was obviously the mastermind behind all the organisation. I missed the Saturday night with Roy Tricker as your guest speaker; how I envied you all that experience; Roy in full flight is an event not to be missed.

Sunday brought the Alabaster family to Saxmundham where there are other links with the past and possibly today, but that remains to be seen (The Hamblings of Snape). It was a joy and delight to see so many Alabasters in St. John's in Saxmundham and to watch the baptism of two small children and to recall the forged common links down the centuries that all families have with their parish church. I equally enjoyed the sybolism of Laraine reading the lesson in Saxmundham church, another forged link with the past, where previous generations of Alabaster ancestors had worshipped. Probably I have to admit to talking too much about my love of Suffolk churches and their treasures.

The luncheon in the Queen`s Head was a memorable occasion, to talk to so many interesting people about "their family" and to admit we weren't actually part of it, just observers. It was facinating to talk to Laraine's father and find he was full of sympathy about the problems of rural living in 'darkest Suffolk' with no buses, few trains and petrol taxes having risen.

I did have to smile to myself about the "Alabaster noses": I had noted the familial resemblances. I'm afraid you can't dodge your genetic inheritance but it is fascinating to note that this inheritance has passed down through three centuries. I do wonder why this particular inheritance and a mathematical bent is an inheritance? I also make jokes about noses in my husbands family and their engineering inclinations!!
Having had a marriage sprung on me three days before your reunion I did wonder if I was going to be up to driving to Wiltshire and back and then cope with an unknown quantity the next day. I shouldn't have worried, it was like being in the bosom of my own family, warm, loving and a pleasure to be part of. Thank you for allowing a Scots-Irish-Northumbrian the priviledge of visiting and joining in your reunion. I do look forward to meeting your Alabaster lady from South Island in NZ in 2000. I look forward to your next reunion and hope that I will once again have the joy of attending as an observer. Many grateful thanks.

Patricia & Jim Turner
Chairman Saxmundham Group; Acting Chairman SFHS.

Colin Alabaster 9th May:
We arrived Friday after a long drive made worse by traffic on the A120 and booked into the Edgehill Hotel to find a number of our relatives. A pleasant dinner was followed by coffee in the lounge with Alabaster conversation filling the time. We also realised that the change of venue meant a longer walk than it would have been.
The change of venue was, in our opinion, an excellent choice with seating and services better set than as at the Guildhall in 1996 (Colin`s opinion since Shirley didn't attend that year). We found the organisation as impressive as always and in particular the series of changes required by the misfortune of those using the A12 as a result of the accident.
We thought Cyril Cook interesting and found the ability of The Alabaster Charity to be of assistance in view of the apparently small amount of money endowed. How money has changed! We took the Guildhall/Church tour and were astounded by the change to the place. We both recalled its state in 1990 when we had to meet in the United Reform Church, and I (Colin) remember 1996. We hugely enjoyed the evening for the dinner (our thanks to the caterers) for the meal itself and for our companions - Joan & her sister and Michael, the only other IIB present. Roy Tricker was wonderful, and his enthusiasm for churches was very catching. It is now all we can do to prevent ourselves from lying down in the pews to look at the roof. Ours is a superb barrel vault which, to our surprise, Roy knew. After this all we could do was to return to the hotel and go to bed.
The Sunday trip to Saxmundham Church was pleasant with a nice building and a nice, full, congregation. The service was rather different from the one we get here as we seem to be a bit of High Church. The meal at the Queen`s Head was a fitting end to the whole affair, with a considerable amount of hilarity at our end of the tables, our companoins being the same as the previous evening. On return to the hotel we said goodbye to those staying with us and stayed over, alone, until Monday.
Our return home on Monday was much easier than the outward trip. Even so it took about a week to return to normal!

To sum it all up, it was a great weekend. It is true that much of the organisation lies with me but it is only the support of all of you that makes it work, and the very many follow-up letters that I continue to receive throughout the year! What really makes Alabaster Gatherings so special is the wonderful people -- family -- who attend!

Laraine Hake (IIA)
To Contents


"A Quintet of Alabasters"

The book by Adrian Alabaster

Following the Gathering, it was noted that there was continuing demand for Adrian Alabaster’s book, A Quintet of Alabasters. Accordingly, it has been decided to have another 100 copies printed. These should be available before Christmas from:
Able Publishing, 13 Station Road, Knebworth, Herts SG3 6AP  £8.95, plus £1.50 p & p
Important note: the above information is out of date. Contact the Hon. Sec. for details of availability.

For anybody who have not yet read this book, reproduced below is a description of its contents written following its original publication:

The adventures of five men, all bearing the surname of Alabaster, range from the Tudor period, through the high watermark of British 19th century imperialism in the Far East to the bombing of Nazi Germany in World War II.

The first two adventurers were cousins who lived dangerously thought the later Elizabethan and Stuart period.......one a merchant trading with Spain and the other a poet and religious apostate.

The two Victorians were brothers who went out East at an early age. One was a student interpreter in the Consular Service in China while still in his teens............he subsequently reached the rank of Consul General and earned a knighthood.
His brother’s career took a different turn. Starting also in the Consular Service, he was based in Bangkok in Siam ...... after fifteen years (he) resigned to become employed by the King of Siam. His monument still dominates the cemetery in Bangkok. His personal letters, as with his brother’s diaries, highlight the conditions of mid-Victorian life in the East.

Finally we have the story of a 20th century Alabaster......of an age for service in World War II. We are taken through his training as a RAF navigator, his first tour of 30 bombing operations, culminating in a DFC .............His second tour resulted in a bar to his DFC and a DSO.............followed by a distinguished and action packed career in civil aviation.

Anyone who enjoys reading a “slice of life” will find this book a most readable account of actual life during three important periods of British history.

David Preston

To Contents

Letters between cousins in the 19th century.

At the beginning of 1999, Nan Kenyon (IIC) wrote to me:

I have been working on the contents of an old trunk brought to Canada by my grandfather in 1882 and recently discovered in my brother`s storage room - it contains letters and papers from 1870's to 1900's, very time consuming , but very interesting...................

Having seen a sample of the letters, Nan’s comments seem something of an understatement to me! I have transcribed here five letters written in 1856 by Henry Alabaster, then aged 20, to his cousin Percy Criddle, who would have had his twelfth birthday in October of that year. I think the letters are fascinating, not only from a family point of view, to see the care and interest that Henry was displaying in his younger cousin, but also for the historical detail that they give us.

Henry went on to be an adviser to the King of Siam, and the ancestor of two of our members; Siddhi Savetsila and Ginny Bird, (see Chronicle 12, The Thai Connection) whilst Percy emigrated to Canada.

Family Tree of Henry Alabaster and Percy Criddle
 August 1856

Dear Percy

You are a very good fellow to write to me, write often, and do not forget to love me.

I am glad you have an aquarium, and hope it may get on. You shall have a long letter when I get to China.

Mind you work as well as play, when you get a prize I shall be so glad, that I think we will have a party in China to drink your health.

Your affectionate Cousin

        Henry Alabaster


Henry Alabaster letter to Percy Criddle  September 1856

Dear Percy

It is preciously hot here, but we have lots of fun, and I hope you at home are as jolly as we are. What do you think of a lot of ladies and gentlemen, playing blind-man’s buff, that is how we amuse ourselves.

I often think of you, and wonder what you will be like when I come back. I hope you work hard, and remember God’s command to honour your father and your mother.

When I get to China I will write again, so now Good bye and may God bless you.

Your affectionate Cousin

            Henry Alabaster



   The Albany, Hong Kong
  16th October 1856

Dear Percy,

As you are, I am afraid too lazy to have read my letters to your mama, and so know nothing of my travels, I will tell you some now.

After leaving Southampton we first saw the Isle of Wight which you have seen too; then we got out of sight of land and next day entered the Bay of Biscay which is a very deep sea and often very stormy, but it was quite smooth when we passed. Then we steamed all along the coast of Portugal which is a very pretty place and has many vines from which our best Port wine is made, and after five days came to anchor opposite Gibraltar which is a town built at the bottom of a steep mountain and fortified very strongly. They have cut long tunnels in the rock and made loop-holes for cannons, so that when they fire the smoke seems to come out of the rock, and the enemy cannot kill the gunners. It once belonged to the Spaniards but Sir George Rook took it by surprize. They have often tried to get it back, but cannot; once they sent a fleet which prevented the garrison getting provisions but the Governor made some cannon-balls red-hot and fired them at the ships so that they were burnt and those not burnt sailed away in great fear.

On the coast of Africa, which is opposite, there are pirates who wounded the Prince of Prussia the day before we came, while he was picnic-ing.

Three days after leaving Gibraltar we came to Malta, where there is a very large harbor which belongs to the English and they have fortified it strongly. The Maltese are clever divers and will find a sixpence thrown to the bottom of the harbor.

There is a beautiful church all the inner walls of which are covered with mosaic, that is pictures made out of small colored pieces of stone, in this church are many beautiful tombs of the Knights of St John who used to fight the Turks in Palestine a long while ago.

If you look at some of the pictures of Sebastopol, seen from the sea it will give you an idea of Malta seen from the sea as they are very much alike, the entrance to the harbors of both being defended by similar forts.

After spending two days in Malta we left and in three days reached Alexandria. The night before reaching Alexandria the sailors had a lark, one of them dressing up as a donkey, another as an old woman, another as a soldier and others according to their taste; they then came and sang songs to the passengers and the donkey kicked about making much confusion and fun and then they brought round a hat, and collected money from the passengers after which they sang some more songs and danced hornpipes and then went away. I will tell you some more about my travels next letter. So hoping that Pug, the aquarium and the lepord all go on satisfactorily, I remain Yours Affectionately

        Hy Alabaster.


  Nov 1st 1856
 Hong Kong

Dear Percy

In my last letter I told you how we journeyed to Alexandria, which if you look at the map you will find is an Egyptian city.

We landed in a small boat and jumped into an omnibus which was drawn along very fast by two mules, the streets were very narrow and had no pavement, so every-body walked in the road, and it was fine fun to see their alarm as we drove past, for we poked our driver in the ribs with an umbrella which made him drive very fast indeed.

The hotel we stayed at was a very large one, and all the rooms very lofty, as most rooms are in hot countries.

After dinner I and two others went out for a walk in the Grand Square which is a large open sandy space surrounded by the principal houses of the city, here we found a number of large dogs roaming about and howling, so we collected a lot of stones and soon drove them away.

Mule -- Henry AlabasterNext morning we hired donkeys and rode out of the town to see Pompey’s Pillar which is a column cut out of one piece of granite 73 feet long and nearly 9 feet through. The donkeys were very good ones and galloped beautifully. The saddles are not like English saddles but are very comfortable, they are a cushion about eight inches thick shaped as that I have just drawn; those who ride on them must take care and keep their balance, as the saddles often roll over, rider and all.

Soon after coming back from our ride we were taken to the railway station, and in six hours reached Cairo the chief city of Egypt. On the road we saw some of the mud huts in which the poor country people live, they are about 6 feet long and broad and 5 feet high with no windows and instead of a door have a small square hole through which those who live in them have to crawl.

We also crossed the river Nile, a large river which rises 28 feet every summer and overflows the greater part of Egypt, after a few months it subsides and then the farmers sow their seeds and get large crops. If the Nile did not overflow every year, the ground would be too dry to grow anything, for it very seldom rains in Egypt. When we reached Cairo we went to the hotel which we found full of passengers coming to England, so not being able to get rooms until they left which was some hours after, we looked for donkeys, and found so many that only by hitting right and left with our sticks we managed to get off on one donkey each, instead of mounting on six or more as the donkey boys wished. So we rode off to the Citadel which was built by Saladin who fought with Richard Coeur de Lion. In the Citadel are the Pasha’s palace, the Armoury, the Mint, that is the place where money is coined, and a beautiful Mosque or Mahomedan temple, and also a well 260 feet deep which has a winding stair-case leading down to the bottom.

When we had seen these we rode about the town; the streets are very narrow and dirty, and the houses very tall. When a carriage goes about, two good runners run before it and make every-one get out of the way; we had twice to pull up our donkeys close against a wall, and once I backed into a shop for none of the shops have fronts and so it is very easy to ride into them.

When we returned to the hotel we found plenty of bedrooms ready for us; the beds all have light covers or curtains to keep out mosquitoes a kind of gnat which bites very badly. So we chose our rooms dressed for dinner and soon after dinner went to bed.

At five o’clock next morning five two-wheel omnibuses, each made to carry six passengers and drawn by two mules and two horses came to the hotel and a party of us got in directly and set off to cross the desert. The desert consists of sand sometimes level so that we could see a good way, and at other times all little hills and valleys so that we could not see any distance. On our journey, which was 84 miles long we saw plenty of thistles, the only thing which grows in the desert except a thorn tree, which is about the middle of it; this tree has got a number of strips of rag hanging about it, hung there by travellers who have visited it. We also saw the “Mirage” which is a mist, in the distance looking just like a stream of water, but when you go near you find nothing.

In the evening we reached Suez a town at the north end of the Red Sea; it is a dirty place with nothing in it worth looking at, so we were all very glad to go on board the steamer Bentinck next day.

The Bentinck is a large ship and we had plenty of room in our cabins. Most of the sailors were black men, call Lascars; there were about 200 of them and they used to sleep on the decks that we often trod on them by accident but they did not mind that at all. Their food is mostly rice and fish for they cannot afford anything else. One of them stole anothers clothes, one day, so the Captain had their bundles searched and so found out the thief who was flogged.

As I daresay you will be tired by this long letter I will tell you of the rest of our voyage in another letter. I am very happy at Hong Kong. I hope you are working hard and not forgetting your music. Don’t forget to love yours affectionately

        Hy Alabaster

P.S. I was very glad to hear you have done so well at school. Do it again. HA


   7th Dec 1856
   No. 2 P.S.

Dear Percy

You must read this as a postscript to my other letter; if you think it too much trouble to read both as soon as you get them, you can put this by for a week, or until you have some spare time.

On board the Malta I found Lieut. Ray a cousin of Mrs King; he was a very jolly old gentleman and used to join us in all sorts of fun.

After six days steaming we reached Penang, an island close to the Malay Peninsula (see your map), belonging to the English; as we entered the harbor we noticed lots of fishing places built over the sea; a number of long bamboo poles are driven into the sand and on the top, above highwater-mark a kind of floor is built, or sometimes a small hut; the fisherman sits here and watches his nets which are stretched all round his bamboo stakes, when the fish come in he pulls up his nets and catches them. Penang is said to be a pretty place but it was too late to land when we cast anchor, and next morning it rained heavily until we left so I was unable to land. After leaving Penang we steamed tow days though the Straits of Malacca and arrived at Singapore. The Straits are full of beautiful islands, all the land down to the waters edge is covered with trees, palms and canes. One evening we had a very slight squall, the waster was of a dark green colour, and as smooth as glass. I was watching the sun setting behind a black cloud, when suddenly, a lot of small white crested waves started up in the distance, every moment coming nearer; as they passed between us and the sun, all these little waves reflected the rays of the sun and made the sea sparkle as if it were on fire, then they came by us, with a gust of wind and left everything as calm as before.

Singapore is a town and island belonging to England, there are a good many fine houses where Europeans live but most of the people are Chinese. There are a great many ships at Singapore of all nations from England to China, and in general a number of English men of war. We found lots of carriages for hire and rove all about the town, it is a capital place to buy walking-canes and sticks, but one has to look very sharp or he will be cheated, and made to buy bad canes for twice the price of good ones.

Eight days after leaving Singapore, we reaching HongKong. Although it was Sunday and Church-time we were quickly surrounded by boats and boarded by people asking after news and looking for friends. Among them were Chaland Adkins who took me ashore, and I was soon seated under the veranda of our house enjoying the view of the harbour of Hong-Kong which had four or five men of war in it besides more than a hundred merchant ships. Beyond the Harbour were the mountains of the coast of China, while on our side lower down the hill were the Governor’s house, the Cathedral and the handsome English buildings.

Hong-Kong is a mountainous island, there are several peaks the highest (1800 feet) is at the back of our house. Our house is some distance up the hill; higher than any other house in the Island, and besides having such a beautiful view of the harbor is cooler than the town. A stream runs down the mountain at the back of our house and every morning I climb up the stream which is full of large blocks of granite, on which we walk to keep our feet dry (sometimes we slip which is rather unpleasant). I then bathe in a pool or sit under a waterfall and when my bath is over return home feeling as jolly as possible. The water is now very cold early in the morning and makes me shudder as I get in, but this of course make the pleasure at getting out greater than ever. There are lots of Chinamen in Hong-Kong, they are dirty fellows and often very impudent, but are generally very good tempered. They are very proud of their tails and to make them seem long plait silk with their hair.

Many of them are very strong fellows, but they are terribly afraid of an Englishman. The policemen are nearly all Indians, whom the Chinese are not so much afraid of; so one day not long ago a lot of them caught a policeman who had been bullying them and threw him into the sea where he got well ducked.

If I travel anymore I shall have fresh places to describe; if not I will tell you more about Hong-Kong when I write again. Till then Good-bye

Yours affectionately
Hy Alabaster

I enclose some Chinese pictures for you.

To Contents

Some Family Notes

from Mary Ann Rebecca Alabaster`s Great-Great-Grand-daughter
Myrna Paquette (nee Myrna Vane Brandon) (Branch IIC)
(or “One Side of a Double Life”) 

Mary Ann Rebecca Alabaster and her husband Harry Criddle had only one child born to them, Percy Criddle, 21 Nov 1844.

Percy, as an adolescent, was sent to Mannheim, Germany, to study music and other subjects. During his stay in Germany, he met and fell in love with Elise Harrer. They became engaged in 1863. His mother originally refused to sign the consent for them to marry (required since he was under the legal age). Still unmarried, Elise joined him in England in 1867.

Percy Criddle & Elise, Engagement picture
A studio photo of Percy and Elise in Germany in 1863:
it is thought to be an engagement photo
Elise (nee Harrer)
Isabel Vane 1873
Isabel in London, 1873
Minnie Vane, London, 1873
Minnie Vane in London, 1873

Percy Criddle and Elise Harrer had six children born to them in England between May 1867 and April 1875. Copies of the Birth Registrations show the first three, girls, Mabel, Minnie and Isabel were registered as “Vanes”, children of Percy Vane and Elise Vane (formerly Harrer). The three boys who followed were registered as Edwy, Harry and Cecil Criddle, children of Percy Criddle and Elise Criddle (formerly Harrer), Minnie Vane c 1890the address on all of the last three registrations was 131 St. George Road, Southwark.

Now begins the double life of Percy Criddle. At age 29, he married Alice Nicol in London on 8 Sept 1874. They had four children in Addlestone, England, born between May 1875 and 1880, then four more born in Manitoba, Canada between 1884 to 1893. Percy brought his extended family of Elise and their five children (Mabel had died when a baby in England) and Alice and their four children to homestead on land at Currie`s Landing, near Brandon, Manitoba in 1882. Percy`s diaries tell of the hardships of arriving in late summer and living for months in bitterly cold weather in a tent and shanty while building their first house which they moved into at the end of December. Elise (nee Harrer) A book, “Criddle-de-diddle-ensis” by Alma Criddle, a grand-daughter of Percy and Alice, which was based on Percy`s diaries and family stories goes into the pioneer days in great detail.

Pictured right: Minnie Vane in Manitoba c 1890

By the time they immigrated to Canada, Elise and their children were all known by the surname “Vane” (I wonder how this name originated!) and were referred to as “family friends”. Letters from Elise`s brothers in Germany refer to her “hard life” - whether they were referring to the hard life of pioneering, or her life as “a family friend” after having borne the first six of Percy`s children is not clear. My Grandmother, Minnie, was old enough to remember and be influenced by her Grandmother, Mary Ann Rebecca Criddle (nee Alabaster). Mary Ann was a talented artist of renown in her days, who specialised in watercolors and in book illustrations. I have inherited a water colour which Mary Ann did of my grandmother when she was a small girl. In his diaries, Percy several times mentions that his mother “has been over to visit with Elise and the children”, so obviously Percy`s immediate family were all fully aware of his two families. All of Percy’s descendants, on the Criddle or the Vane side, knew very well that the family closet contained a substantial skeleton.

 Minnie Vane, c 1892
Minnie Vane c 1892
Elise Vane`s Grave in 1977
Elise Vane`s Grave in Canada in 1977
Mrs Fowlger, nurse to the Vane children
Mrs Fowlger, the nurse who took care of
Elise and Percy's children in London

My generation finds this story very interesting and intriguing. A modern Percy Criddle would not raise an eyebrow, while there could have been a ruinous scandal if his own generation had known the truth in his London days.

Thanks to information provided by Nan Kenyon (nee Criddle), my father`s cousin on the Criddle side, as well as my access to Percy`s diaries, my direct link to Mary Ann Alabaster is well documented. Nan has kept in close touch with her Vane “cousins”.

Certainly, Mary Ann Alabaster has a large number of descendants through her son Percy`s two families on this side of the Atlantic.

Myrna Paquette (nee Myrna Vane Brandon) (Branch IIC)

Mary Ann Rebecca Alabaster, mother of Percy Criddle, was the daughter of Charles and Mary Alabaster, born 28 October 1805. She was the aunt who brought up the orphaned sons, Charles (1833-1865), Henry (1836-1884) and Chaloner (1838-1898) of her brother, James Chaloner Alabaster and his wife, Sophia Harriet after their early deaths within two months of each other, in 1840.

These four boys, Charles, Henry, Chaloner and Percy, spread around the globe; Charles went to New Zealand (Chronicle 3), Henry went to Siam (Chronicle 12) and Chaloner to China (Quintet of Alabasters) whilst Percy went to Canada. Mary Ann Rebecca lived until 1880. Examples of her illustrations were featured in Chronicle 6. (LH)

Percy Criddle`s education:
http://www.alabaster.org.uk/chron27.htm#criddle or use the Search utility. 

To Contents


by Laraine Hake

Having read Myrna’s account of the life of her gt grandfather, Percy Criddle, it occurred to me that he was still living in England at the time of the 1881 census. As I now have this as a searchable index on CD-ROM, I was able to identify the family of Percy and Alice with ease:

Simplemarsh Rd, Firfield, Chertsey, Surrey
Marital status
London, Middlesex
India Merchant
London, Middlesex
Chertsey, Surrey
Chertsey, Surrey
Chertsey, Surrey
Beatrice CRIDDLE
Chertsey, Surrey
Chertsey, Surrey
Chertsey, Surrey
(General Servants)


I then attempted to find Percy’s “other” family, indeed, his first family. I searched under “Vane” and under “Harrer” with no success; then I thought of trying “Criddle”, and found the following:

131 St Georges Rd Southwark St George Martyr, Surrey
Marital status
Lambeth, Surrey
Lambeth, Surrey
St Geo, Surrey
St Geo, Surrey
St Geo, Surrey
Regina DAVYS


I have since learned that Elise and the children lived upstairs in the building and Percy's office was downstairs. One year later, these Alabaster grandchildren were all living together in Canada!

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