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Seeking the missing link ...

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Seeking the missing link ...

Posted: 17 Mar 2012 4:28PM GMT
Classification: Query
Edited: 19 Apr 2012 2:21PM GMT
Surnames: Conley Connally Andrews Hanover St_Leon
Despite over 40 years of research into my family's history, I have long faced an insurmountable obstacle five generations back, my London-born paternal great-great-grandfather, JOHN CONLEY. //

In our **spoken** family lore, John Conley (a) was the son of a “horse trainer to the King of England” (the “King” presumably meaning George IV or William IV) and (b) had served as a “stable boy” at Buckingham Palace. I have no independent corroboration for either of these assertions. Nevertheless, I consider that either or both assertion may contain at least some grain of truth. Either assertion, if proved, could help explain John Conley’s subsequent and successful career in Australia as a professional equestrian and circus proprietor.//

As far as the **written** record speaks, my gg grandfather's name is recorded as John 'Conley' and his age as '15' in an Old Bailey transcript in 1839 and as John 'Connally' and his age as '17' on the 1841 London census. His occupation on the 1839 document was given as that most odorous of professions, 'chimney sweep'. Thus, the 1839 and 1841 documents suggest John CONLEY was born in c.1824.//

However, despite relentless searching, I have not been able to find a record of birth or baptism. The DNA evidence firmly suggests a South Irish paternal ancestry, around the border between Cork and Kerry, perhaps Coolsea or Ballyvourney.//

The 1841 census shows John CONNALLY [sic] domiciled at the same address as his 'master', William ANDREWS, a chimney sweep, in Orchard Street, Westminster, a few blocks away from a well-known Palace. As chimney sweeps go, William ANDREWS seems to have been a respectable chap. He was a householder with a family and continuous address in Orchard Street from c1820 to c1856. The scant shreds of evidence suggest that his chimney sweeping clientele included government offices such as the Foreign Office.//

In a report in the London Despatch of 23 December 1838 there is reference to "Mr ANDREWS, chimney sweeper to Her Majesty". This may well be the William ANDREWS of Orchard Street, the master of my gg grandfather John CONLEY, (although I have noted another chimney sweep in that era of the same name resident at Westminster St James).//

The photographs of my gg grandfather John CONLEY/CONNALLY and his progeny (all very 'regal' looking) and the descriptions I have of him ('sterling character', 'never drank or swore', 'nice speaking voice' etc etc) hardly fit the description of your archetypal chimney sweep. He was, however, only semi-literate and had received only a bible-based 'Sunday School' education.//

I believe that the missing link in this conundrum is the possibility that John CONLEY/CONNALLY was the cast-off illegitimate child of two people in a well-to-do household, one 'upstairs' the other 'downstairs', and given away to a chimney sweep to protect the reputations of one or both parents, but especially the mother if she was the 'upstairs' party.//

I conjecture that the well-to-do household was serviced by the chimney sweep William ANDREWS who was (I further conjecture) offered the base-born boy as an 'apprentice'.//

From the various and incomplete tit-bits of information I have assembled, I conjecture that John CONLEY/CONNALLY was the son of a) an Irish-born horse trainer, equestrian or cavalryman, perhaps attached to the Life Guards or Royal Mews, who presumably bore the name Conley or Connally, and b) a lady considerably higher up the social scale, if not a princess, then perhaps a lady-in-waiting or similar.//

I gather there were quite distinct 'levels' of illegitimacy. For example, it seems that an infant born of an 'upstairs' unmarried couple retained some status within the social hierarchy, even though illegitimate (eg King George IV's illegitimate family). However, a child born of a couple, one 'upstairs' and the other 'downstairs', was a different matter and it may have been prudent to offload/discard the unwanted progeny discreetly and anonymously.//

I have documented my gg grandfather's life for the Australian Dictionary of Biography (under his subsequently assumed professional circus name of Matthew ST LEON) You can see the entry online at:

I also attach photographs of my gg grandfather, his children and grandchildren, some in their circus attire. I don't see anyone even remotely comparable to the archetypal chimney sweep. Do you? On the other hand, I see a few that bear some resemblance to archetypal princes and princesses.//

In my sincere pursuit of the truth, I would welcome any advice or suggestions that anyone out there may have. Thanks!//

Dr Mark St Leon
Sydney, Australia

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