Wednesday, January 11, 2023

The lightkeeping career of Edward Lezarde


Workers painting the Tuskar c1908 from the CIL collection in the National Library Ireland

It is a simple fact of life that people remember people with unusual names. He may be less interesting person than Robert Smith or James Murphy but Edward Lezard (sometimes Lezards, LeZarde, Lizard etc) keeps cropping up in my research of nineteenth century keepers to the point where I feel I must get his career down in print before I slither off into the undergrowth. And it also gives me the excuse to put up a few pictures of the places he served.

According to CIL's 1871 List of Keepers, Edward was aged 27 when he joined the service on 8th June 1846, making him born around 1818-1819. Most genealogical trees have him born in 1826 but this is doubtless based on his reported age at death, a notoriously unreliable assumption. 
Edward's full name was Edward Joseph Marie and his father was Maturin Claude (or Claude Maturin) Lezard from Cellettes in the Loire district of France. An 1880 Census states that Edward was born in France, probably the only native Frenchman to have served as a keeper in Ireland. (The Rohu lightkeeping dynasty had their origins in France but as far as I know it was the sons of the first émigré who became keepers) Maturin was a teacher of the French language, later a Professor and would probably have been sick of explaining that lezard translated both as 'lizard' and 'a crack in masonry.'
In 1849, three years after  joining Irish Lights, Edward Lezard was to be found on the Tuskar lighthouse from where he came ashore to marry one Mary Letitia Tottenham, daughter of Lieut. John William Tottenham of the 36th Regiment. The Tottenhams were a family of bigshots in Wexford, so presumably it was a good catch for Edward. 
At the Tuskar, (where the families lived with their husbands) Edward and Mary would have lived alongside Thomas McKenna, who possessed a much more ordinary name but seems to have been a quite incredible character. I must detail his career too at some stage.
Records of keepers in the 1800s are quite sketchy, so some of Edward's postings may have slipped under the radar. The next place he is to be found is as far away from the Tuskar as it is possible to get - Tory Island off the north west coast of Donegal!

Tory Island c 1908. Its tower was once painted black.

We only know of Edward's posting here through his wife, Mary nee Tottenham. In 1855, Anastasia Walsh of Wexford was up before Wexford Assizes for breaking into John Colfer's house at Balloughton and stealing a quantity of money and a small gold brooch. Mary was summonsed from Tory Island to give evidence that the brooch found on the prisoner was the same one that she had given Mary Colfer, when she was Mary Connors ten years previously.
It seems odd that Mrs Lezard should have to make that long journey simply to corroborate Mary Colfer's evidence about the brooch. Mrs Lezard obviously wasn't too pleased about it either. She seemed distressed in the witness box and, when questioned, declared that two policemen had come to her house on Tory on Monday and told her she had to be in Wexford on Thursday morning or else she would do two years in jail. Her husband was in delicate health and she herself had an infant at the breast. Due to the stress, she had lost her breast milk and was afraid her child mightn't get back up to Tory alive. Oh and yes, that was the brooch. (Anastasia incidentally got twelve months in the gaol)
The next sighting of Edward is in February 1862, by which time he is at the Old Head of Kinsale, seen here around 1906, again from the Irish Lights collection in the National Library.

In February 1862, a sloop called the Adelaide was wrecked off the Old Head of Kinsale. It is a remarkable story, which I don't want to spoil as it is yet another tale I must write up, suffice to say that the keeper at the Old Head played a small role in the footnote to the story. 

The Lezards were still there in December 1863 as the couple were noted as having donated £1 for church subscriptions. By February 1865, they had upped this to £1 3s 6d and were resident at Roches Point lighthouse at the entrance to Cork Harbour. 

Roches Point from an Atkinson painting 1848

By 1868, they had left the balmy shores of Cork and were ensconced on Inis Oirr (Inisheer) the southernmost of the Arran Islands in Galway Bay. It was here that their daughter Patience was born in November of that year. Actually, they were probably here in 1866, as an 11-year old Patience Tottenham Lezard was recorded as having shuffled off this mortal coil in the Galway Registration District of that year.
In the aforementioned 1871 Irish Lights List of keepers, Edward is shown as being the Principal Keeper at Mutton Island, the main harbour light for the town of Galway, these days joined by a causeway but, at that time, quite insular. Being a small harbour light, Mary would have acted as his assistant. American records incidentally indicate that one Henry Lezard left the shores of Ireland and landed in America in 1870. They say he had been born on the Tuskar in 1855. Again, probably, the year of birth may have been slightly earlier, as other records make his age at the time as being fifteen and we know his parents were on Tory in that year. Henry went to New London in Connecticut where his name became LeZarde. He married and had a large family.
In 1872, Edward's father, Maturin, died. A widower, the esteemed Professor of the French Language, died of debility on Mutton Island, in the care of his son and daughter in law.

Mutton Island lighthouse c 1820s as per sketch in the Galway Advertiser 2016

By 1874, the Lezards had migrated down the coast to Tarbert on the Shannon estuary. The lighthouse is situated on an island but is joined to the mainland by a cast-iron bridge. Edward was here in 1880 when he gave evidence in the Irish Lights fraud trial, another story that I haven't got around to telling (memo to self - get your arse in gear) Basically, Irish Lights had been billed for shipments of oil and other goods at many stations around the country (mainly the distant west coast) that had simply never arrived. The supposition was that the people who had the tender were simply invoicing them for goods and then pocketing the money. 

Photo courtesy the Trustees of Muckross House, Muckross House Research Library

By 1880, Edward must have been approaching retirement age, being over sixty years of age. I cannot find any further references to him at Irish light stations subsequent to 1880 and it is clear that at some stage in the 1880s, the family departed to the shores of Amerikay to be with their son Henry. Edward died in New London, Connecticut in 1887; his widow Mary died in the same place in 1904.
And that is the unremarkable life and times of Edward Lezard, the only French lightkeeper on Irish Lights books and possibly the only keeper for whom English or Irish was not a native language.
Unremarkable, maybe, but a great name.

1 comment:

  1. A name that translates as a crack in masonry is hardly a good fit for working in a lighthouse tower light Pete. Great post