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Donkin's World: Death In The Family

Richard Donkin came upon a few paragraphs in a newspaper which told of a man who had died from an accidental shooting. The man was his great-great-grandfather.

You may have seen some of that BBC TV series Who Do You Think You Are that takes well-known people on a journey of discovery in to their pasts. There is often a scene where the featured individual is moved to tears by something they read about their family history. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007t575

Today I had a similar experience when reading an email and found it just as moving. It wasnít much of a news item, just a few paragraphs in a newspaper that told of a man who had died from an accidental shooting. But this man was my great-great-grandfather.

Not only that, but the story of his death is rich in irony and coincidence. His name was William Donkin. He was a cab driver in Bridlington and was preparing his horse and gig for a journey to the races.

This is the report:

Yorkshire Gazette
October 13, 1849 (page 5 col 4)

Fatal Accident at Bridlington.

----On Tuesday last, the 9th inst., about nine oíclock in the morning, Mr John Lamplugh and a friend were preparing to go to Weaverthorpe races, for which purposes they engaged a horse and gig belonging to Mr William Donkin, the proprietor and driver of cabs at Bridlington Quay. The gentlemen were preparing to start on their journey, and whilst in the act of putting a double-barrelled gun into the apron-straps, it being loaded and the hammer having caught on something, the gun was discharged, and the contents were lodged in the breast of Mr. Donkin, who had hold of the muzzle and was assisting to make it fast. The unfortunate man instantly fell and expired. His body is now laid, awaiting a coronerís inquest. He has left behind him a disconsolate widow and five children, to lament their sudden and untimely loss.

As the report says, he left five children, one of whom, Robert, my great grandfather and just seven-years-old at the time of his father's death, followed his father in to cab-driving. Unlike his father he did not appear to be self-employed since Robert, or Black Bob http://donkinlife.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=Black+Bob as he was known, left Bridlington and settled in Dewsbury in the West Riding of Yorkshire where he drove a coach and four for a family company that exists to this day.

Bobís father had died on October 9, 1849. Fifty years later to the week, on - note the date - Friday, October 13, 1899 (the last Friday the 13th of that century), Bob lost control of his horses coming down a steep hill in Dewsbury. He was thrown from his cab and impaled on some railings. As a child I passed the spot where he was killed on my way to school every day without knowing of its significance.

Bobís son, my grandfather, William, served in the Royal Horse Artillery during the First World War and made the switch from horses to cars as a chauffeur after the war. When I was a child my father, Bill Donkin (these names William and Robert seem to have been passed down the generations) told me about car journeys he made with his father to the East Coast.

Dad too must have wanted to continue the family tradition with horses as, at the height of the Great Depression when there was little work around in the northern industrial towns, he joined the West Riding Regiment believing it was the cavalry (or at least thatís what he told me. He was a bit of a joker, my dad, but, like me, he could be breathtakingly naÔve at times).

There were no Bobs or Bills in my generation of Donkins so we attended to that in the succeeding generation with a Robert http://www.robdonkin.com/ (full name, Robert William while my dad was William Robert, yes I know it's confusing) who managed to survive a season of downhill skiing in Wengen without knowledge of the misfortunes suffered by his direct ancestors.

I seem to be drawn back to Yorkshire's east coast. Just now Iím writing a novel set in that part of the world during the 1930s. Bridlington has some sad memories in my immediate family. It was there, while paddling in the sea as a three-year-old, that my sister, Janet, contracted polio, a terrible disease that left her severely disabled. She died in 1968.

Iím indebted for the story of William, and, indeed, for that of Black Bob, to Larry Quinn http://www.s405916846.websitehome.co.uk/1.html, the husband of my cousin Sarah. Larry has been delving for some time in to the Donkin family history. He's written a book, not about the Donkins, but a murder mystery. A Kindle version of the book is available through his website linked above.

In his email to me, Larry summed up my own reaction when he said: "To think that father and son, both cab drivers, died exactly fifty years apart in horrific accidents while working is very spooky and of course very sad. Both left young sons without fathers who went on to influence how your dad and Sarahís dad brought up and loved their kids."

You're absolutely right Larry. I think that often we thing of a family or a generation as fixed in time; but some values, particularly family values, transcend generations. Names do too. On the other hand, I hope that bad luck can be buried and left in the past.


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