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Update on James Ernest Petchey  (Original Story)

Soon after publishing my tragic story of the accidental death od 12 year old Harry Petchey I received the following email from Brian Petchey, grandson of James Ernest Petchey.


Hello Stephen,


I have been going through my [family history] notes and I have made a few comments/updates to your story; I have extracted your story to a MS Word word document and added footnotes to correct, or add to, some of the elements. I have attached the document to this email; please do not take it as a criticism of the story or your hard work in putting it together. If you have difficulties in opening the document, please let me know and I will get it to you in another format.


It is indeed a very tragic tale, one that his grandchildren,at least those I have spoken to, had no inkling of ... it was not one that he spoke of. Unfortunately all his children are not here any more, so I can not ask them.


My grandfather joined the Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA) during WW1 and, after being gassed, was sent home for convalescence in Ipswich, where his wife (Florence Howson) and young family were based; they were married in September 1911 although I do not know why he was there.


After the war be became a "Farm horseman"; my dad would say that they moved around every two to three years to a different farm so his education was quite difficult.


Florence died in 1950 and James eventually ended in an assisted living facility in Braintree; I believe he moved from son to son staying with them for a few weeks at a time during the 1950's until he moved into the "old folks home".


Thank you for your research .. it adds a little colour to the life of my grandfather who I only knew briefly.


Best Wishes


Below is his annotated version of my story..


Farm boy tragedy

Before the 20th century the occupation most attributed to male Petchey’s of Essex County, was agricultural labourer. The story I have uncovered is a heartrending tragedy involving two farm boys, James Ernest Petchey, aged 17, and his 12 year old nephew Harry. They were working boys who were also good friends.

The ancestors I have in common with them are my great, great, great grandparents Samuel Petchey (1793-1863) and his wife Sarah. Their son Edward and his wife Emma were the parents of James and their daughter Eliza was the mother of Harry. Harry was registered as Edward Harry Petchey1  and his grandparents Edward and Emma raised him from birth. Eliza Petchey later became Eliza Cottis, although I have not found any record of her marriage2.

In 1901, Edward and Emma were employed at Finch’s Farm near Paglesham, Essex. It was on Sunday morning, 27th October 1901, when James arose early to go about his duties. Rooks were plaguing winter crops and they needed scaring. He took down his old double barrel shot gun, that had only a single working barrel, and loaded it from his pouch: half a thimbleful of powder and a quarter of shot. At 7 am he left the farmhouse to go about his business.

Harry was then playing outside with the farmyard dog, his grandfather Edward and his sister Florence3. He obviously had a fascination for guns. His mother recalled that on the previous Thursday he had been picking potatoes at an adjoining farm when he came home for some bread and butter. While his mother was getting it he took hold of the gun and looked down the barrel. He had been cautioned about it before but obviously did not heed those warnings. Seeing his uncle going off to scare rooks he quickly went up to join him. James was holding the gun with the butt resting on his left foot.

“Is the gun loaded?” Harry asked James, “Can you see anything down the barrel?”

“No!” said James, “keep away from it, it might go off.”

“She won’t go off,” Harry retorted and promptly stuck his head over the barrel, peering down into it.”

Exactly how it occurred is not certain. At the inquest James said he was unsure, he never felt any interference with the gun. But somehow, a part of Harry’s clothing caught either the trigger or the hammer. Although the hammer was not cocked it was found it had a very light action and if lifted, just a little, it would spring back and the gun would fire. The worst thing possible happened. The gun discharged, blasting shot through poor young Harry’s forehead.

At the end of the inquest held the following week at Finch’s Farm, after hearing all the testimonies, the Coroner finally summed up the whole tragic affair.

“The witness, James Ernest Petchey, gave the only evidence available as to the accident itself. The mother had said there was no disagreement between the two boys. The witness Petchey, I might say, has given his evidence in a very straight forward manner; there was no hesitation in his story.”

A chorus of approval as to this statement was heard from the jury, who, without retiring, returned a verdict that the lad had died from a shot wound caused by a gun that was accidentally discharged.

The Foreman added that the jury would like to express their condolences to Mr. and Mrs. Petchey in their trouble.

Just what consequences arose from this accident I have been unable to determine, however, upon looking at the 1901 census, which must have been taken after the above incident as young Harry is not listed with their other children, Edward and Emma were now living in Bowers Gifford4.

Neither have I found any record of James Ernest marrying5 and having Children , however, he appeared to live to the ripe old age of 93(see 6), passing away at St. Michaels Hospital Braintree in 1977, leaving behind just £93(see 7) .


 1     He was registered as Edward Henry Petchey, born in Purleigh, Maldon district (Vol 4a, p515)

 2     Eliza married Frederick C Cottis, in Sep 1891 in Chelmsford (Vol 4a, p646) and went on to have 10 children     with him.

 3     Florence would have been his aunt although she was only 2 years older.

 4     Henry is listed in the 1901 Census, wrongly annotated as “son”

 5    James Ernest married Florence Maria Howson (my Paternal Grandparents) in Bury St. Edmunds in Sep 1911 and had 8 children, my Father (William H) being the youngest.

 6    He was 91 when he passed away on 28 Feb 1977, a few weeks short of his 92nd birthday (8 April).

 7    He had a credit balance of £1934 when he died to be shared between the 7 surviving children


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