Desert Mysteries, Part Three

John Tull, Going Postal
Bikiner Camel Corps 1925.
Indian cameleer on camel with full equipment, c. 1915,
Unknown photographer
Public domain

In Part 1, I described how from the signatures on the front cover of a June 1939 edition of “Blackwood’s Magazine” purchased from an antiques fair, I found that the original owner, Edward Davis Moore, had been a desert explorer and pioneer of desert warfare with the Light Car Patrols before becoming a Hereford cattle breeder.

In Part 2, I revealed how the signatory “F. Woolley Smith” turned out to be an RFC balloonist, shot down three times and awarded the DFC, who went on to become a tea planter in Assam and was awarded the OBE for assisting refugees from the Japanese invasion of China and Burma.

However, apart from both reading the same “Blackwood’s Magazine” there is no obvious connection between Edward Davis Moore and Frank Woolley Smith in either their military careers, occupations or locations so leading me to the conclusion the link must via the other signatory “Paddy O’Connor”.

Via the “Koi-Hai, Tea Tales of Assam” website, I was given the clues of “two O’Connor brothers that had been in the Doom Dooma district” and “that ‘Paddy’ aka J. C. J. O’Connor was a Director of the Itakhooli Tea Company”.

“J. C. J. O’Connor” turned out to be Joseph Cornelius Jerome O’Connor, a director of the Itakhooli Tea Company as recorded in the 1937/8 edition of Thacker’s Indian Directory.

In 1921, he was living with his wife Francis Muriel in North Gate Mansions, Marylebone, as a “retired” Captain, Indian Army born in Meerut, Bengal, India, with WW1 medal records showing that he had been a Captain in the 29th Lancers, Indian Army Reserve Of Officers.

In 1952, he had visited Brazil returning on the Royal Mail Lines ship “Andes” from Rio de Janeiro to Southampton as a 1st Class passenger with his wife with his occupation being a “director”.

I found his temporary entry record into Brazil when he visited again in 1959, showing him as being born in India on 9 April 1887 to parents “Joseph and Mary O’Connor”. This was confirmed by finding his baptism on 30 April 1887 in Meerut, Bengal, India with parents Jeremiah Joseph and Mary Agnes O’Connor.

So why did he go to Brazil around the time that Edward Davis Moore must also have been exporting Herefords to there? The clue came from researching his wife Frances Muriel Stevenson whom he had married in 1920 in Marylebone, London.

Born in Brazil, when she was aged four, she travelled on the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company ship “Danube” from Bahia, Brazil to Southampton arriving on 21 April 1899 with her parents Francis and Clare Alfreda Stevenson.

Her baptism in Bahia showed that her parents were Francis Stevenson, a “merchant” and Clare Alfrida Mawson who had married in Bahia in 1893. He was of Birkenhead, Liverpool whilst she was of Boa Viagem, Bahia. The probability was that whilst Edward Davis Moore was selling Herefords to Brazil to improve their stock, Francis Stevenson was exporting the resulting meat back to England.

Over the next thirty years, the Stevensons were regular 1st Class travellers between Brazil and England, including stopovers in New York and Portugal, and had been well renumerated as when Francis died in 1947, his daughter Frances inherited £260,745 (from his effects in England only), the equivalent of over £13 million in today’s money.

So, a probable link between Joseph Cornelius Jerome O’Connor “Paddy” O’Connor is with Edward Davis Moore, via his wife and the Brazilian meat Trade.

Researching the “two O’Connor brothers” on the Directorate of Archives, Assam website, I found a list of the names of passport holders entering Assam in the 1920s and 1930s, where amongst them the name “Mr. F. P. O’Connor” of the “Doom Dooma, Assam” born “7th April 1888”, an “India born British”, “tea planter” stood out.

This led me to finding that “Fergus Patrick O’Connor” had been baptised on the 3rd of May 1888 in Lucknow, the son of Jeremiah Joseph O’Connor (tailor & outfitter) and Mary Agnes O’Connor and so was the younger brother of Joseph Cornelius Jerome O’Connor.

At the 1911 census (taken on the 2nd of April) he was visiting his paternal grandmother Mary O’Connor in Blackheath, London, aged twenty-three and already a “tea planter” by occupation, and that he left for India on the “City Of Calcutta” on the 4th of April 1911.

In Indian Army Medal Records of WW1, he appears as “Captain F. P. O’Connor” of the “Indian Army Reserve of Officers” in the “30th Lancers” from 21st March 1915 and having served in France.

At the 1921 census (taken on 19th of June), he was back in London visiting his widowed mother along with his brother Roderick Lewis O’Connor. Fergus Patrick was described as a “tea planter of Doom Dooma Tea Co. in Assam, India”, whilst brother Roderick Lewis was a “Captain, Indian Army, Mesopotamia”. He then embarked on the “Nevasa” heading for Bombay on the 7th of October and was gazetted as having resigned his commission in the Indian Army in 1922 retaining his rank of Captain.

In the July 1928 edition of Tatler, the engagement of “Fergus Patrick O’Connor” to “May Logan” of Ballyclare, County Antrim was announced but their marriage seems not to have taken place as the following year May Logan married instead a David Myles in Dulwich, London.

His brother Roderick Lewis O’Connor, baptised on 26th March 1893 in Lucknow, had, as “Major Roderick O’Connor, 1st Royal Battalion 9th Jat Regiment”, married Marian Louisa Barrow Darby on the 14th of March 1935 in Delhi. However, he died on the 25th of January 1941 and is buried in the Madras War Cemetery, Chennai. I have not found out how he died but suspect he must have been killed in action against the Japanese.

The most recent record I have found for Fergus Patrick O’Connor was of his embarking on the “Tungsha” in Swansea on the 25th of September 1945, bound for Calcutta, having been staying at “6, Mount Road, Tettenhall Wood, Wolverhampton” (an address unfortunately not recorded in the 1939 Register).
Perhaps the route he took to go from Wolverhampton to Swansea may have been via Brampton Bryan in Herefordshire?

Probably the O’Connor brothers’ connection with Frank Woolley Smith was through them all being part of the close-knit community of British tea planters in Assam and with Edward Davis Moore, it was via Joseph Cornelius Jerome O’Connor’s wife and the Brazilian meat trade.

However, a final record raises the possibility of a connection out in the desert.

A medal record, in the National Archives of First World War Campaign Medals, is for “F. P. O’Connor”, a “Captain” of the “Indian Forces” with his unit being the “Bikaner Camel Corps” and that he was from “Beeshakopie, Doom Dooma, P.O. Assam.”

The Bikaner Camel Corps, founded by Maharaja Ganga Singh of the Indian state of Bikaner, fought in WW1 in Egypt against the Turks in February 1915, culminating in a camel cavalry charge that routed the Ottoman Suez Expeditionary Force that was advancing on the Suez Canal. They then helped the creation of what became the first units of the Imperial Camel Corps that from January 1916 were composed initially of Australians returning from Gallipoli, then in March 1916 from companies raised from British Yeomanry Regiments, all riding camels supplied by the Indian province of Bikaner.

This raises the possibility that, in the Western Desert, Fergus Patrick O’Connor in the “Bikaner Camel Corps” could have met Edward Davis Moore in the “Light Car Patrols”. Whether they did, or did not, is the final Desert Mystery.

© John Tull 2024