‘Death of a Gypsy,’ proclaimed the Cheltenham Mercury of 29th May 1875, reporting:
On Saturday afternoon an inquest was held . . . at the Plough Inn, Staverton, on the body of Hercules Holland, a travelling tinker and grinder, who died in a field near there on Thursday. Deceased, who was 53 years of age, led a wandering Gypsy life and about a fortnight ago he arrived in the parish accompanied by a numerous family, who selected for their encampment a field near the Plough Inn . . . the deceased had been living for a number of years with a woman named Bertha Butler, by whom he had 13 children . . . death resulted from natural causes.
Hercules was actually about 48 years of age when he died, having been baptised on 13th December 1827, the son of Benjamin and Sarah Holland, ‘of the people called Gypsies,’ at Loughborough, Leicester, the county where Benjamin had married Sarah Hodgson in 1813. Hercules’s wife was, more properly, Bytha/Tabitha, daughter of Charles and Isabella Butler (formerly Colburn), who had wed at Long Itchington, Warwickshire in 1832, where they, together with their two witnesses, Ann Butler, Charles’s sister, and William Davies, had made their marks.
Four years before Hercules’s death the extended family of Butlers and Hollands are recorded in the 1871 census on the Stratford Road, at Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire. Charles and Isabella are accompanied by their grand-daughter, Comfort, child of their son Daniel, a daughter, Eliza, her partner, Thomas Berry, their son-in-law, Hercules, his wife Tabitha, and several children, all listed as Butlers, but surely Hercules’s family. There is Teanna, born c1854, who is with her infant son, Noah; Daniel, born c1856; Hercules, born c1862; Reuben, baptised Stratford on Avon, Warwickshire, 17th March 1865, ‘s/o Harkliss & Bytha;’ Rosanna, born c1867; Carolina, born c1869. There are ten known children of Hercules and Tabitha, including another Rosanna, who died young, a Noah, who also died in infancy, and a Reservoy, born about 1859.
By 1881 Charles Butler is not with his family, but his wife is at Houndsfield Lane, Kings Norton, Worcestershire, with her daughter Keziah, Keziah’s husband, William Neal, a sweep, and their son, Cornelius, a tinplate worker. Charles died before the 1891 census, in 1890, and was buried at Itchington, where he and Isabella had married nearly 60 years before. The family remained close, it seems, as by 1911 Keziah, her husband, and her sister Eliza, together with her second husband, John Moore, are found camped together on the common at Grafton Flyford, Worcestershire, all described as pedlars.
Many years earlier Hercules Holland had briefly come to the notice of the Staffordshire Advertiser on 4th July 1846, when he, his father Benjamin, and a brother, also named Benjamin, were indicted for stealing a pair of trousers and other articles. At the court case, where it was remarked that the group ‘appeared to be travelling tinkers,’ Hercules pleaded guilty, but both he and his father were sentenced to three months’ imprisonment, the younger Benjamin receiving a sentence of just three weeks, according to the newspaper. But the court records suggest otherwise, for he was still a child, and the court deemed one day sufficient imprisonment for him in the circumstances. The older Benjamin was about 58 at the time, Hercules about 18, but young Benjamin was only 11 years of age, hence a lecture from the judge to the father about leading his children astray!
Benjamin Holland, born in about 1835, eventually formed a relationship with Siberina Smith. They can be found in the Midlands in the 1861 census with their family camped out at Kings Bromley, Staffordshire; it is the only census where Benjamin claims to be older than his wife, in actual fact he was about ten years her junior. The children listed also prove to be in error, for the ‘Kesiah, 3’ is surely actually the Josiah baptised as the son of Benjamin and Siberanie in 1858; there is also Hercules, 3 (baptised at the same location in 1858, his baptism separated in the records by a week, but actually Josiah’s twin); Emily, 5; Isaiah, 7. With them are a niece, Harriet Holland, 15; Benjamin’s brother, Thomas Holland, 21; Eliza Smith, 14, sister of Siberina. In 1871 and recorded as a tinman, Benjamin gives his birth as c1835, in Northamptonshire and in 1881 repeats this information, where he is now described as a pedlar.
Since Josiah (sometime Jesse) Holland can be found in subsequent census records it is clear that the 1861 census taker was indeed mistaken. In the 1871 census this child is recorded as Josh, born c1859, a son of Benjamin and ‘Siby’ at Church Gresley, Derbyshire, together with his twin, Hackless (sic), and siblings Emma, born c1857; Vira, born c1860; Ernest, baptised 2nd April 1865 at Church Gresley, son of Benjamin and ‘Sylia’; Japhet, baptised at the same location on 1st September 1867, son of Benjamin and ‘Siberanie’; Amelia, born c1870. This surely proves beyond doubt that the ‘Keziah’ recorded in 1861 was incorrect, both in name in gender. Moreover, Jess’s (Joshua/Josiah) marriage, in May 1876, at the age of 18, to Eliza Bosworth, 18, records his father as Benjamin Holland, tinker and brazier.
Church Gresley was to remain a favoured family location and, in 1883, Jess (Joshia/Josiah) and his wife baptised three sons there, Henry, who had been born in 1879 and twins Sam Bosworth Holland and James Holland; here their father’s name is recorded as Josiah. Benjamin and Siberina are still found in the area of Burton on Trent in 1881, where they are recorded as pedlars, with younger children Ernest, Japhet and Amelia, but Benjamin was to die six years later, in 1887, and was buried at Church Gresley, ‘aged 52,’ a tinker.
Siberina lived on in the same location, and is described as a widow in the 1901 census, where her son, Harkless (sic) is with her, and three grandchildren, Benjamin, 12; Walter, 10; Lizzie, 9. She died in 1905 almost 20 years after her husband, and her son Hercules eventually married, in 1911, a Louie Ranie Sheriff, aged 26, daughter of Hope Sheriff. Their wedding took place at Clay Cross, Derbyshire, on 27th November, where it was noted that Hercules’s father, Benjamin, was deceased. Of course, they had been together for some while, and already had a son, Jess (presumably named for his twin brother), and a daughter, Lizzie.
Earlier that same year the family of Hope Sheriff, including Hercules, had been recorded at Chesterfield, Derbyshire, where Hope, listed as a cutler and grinder, was with his wife, Tranetta (formerly Boyling) and children Isaiah, Hope, John, Willie, Lizzie and Victoria. A grandson, Richard Boswell, aged 16, was also present, along with Hope’s son-in-law, Hercules, ‘aged 40,’ his daughter, ‘Rany,’ and their children, Jess, aged six, and a daughter, Lizzie, aged four.
Perhaps curiously, Hercules and his much younger wife, Louie Rania, died in the same quarter, aged ’73’ and ’47’ respectively. Hercules’s death took place on 15th April 1932, in a caravan at Sombridge Grounds, Sheffield, caused by a congestion of the lungs and cardiac degeneration. Recorded as a pedlar, his wife was noted as present at his death. A month later, on 29th May, at the same location, Louie Rayner Holland (sic) died, a pedlar, the widow of Hercules, suffering from acute toxaemia, bronchitis, pneumonia and cardiac degeneration, her death indicates a hard life, and was notified by her daughter, Lizzie.