John George Cox RN (1839-1875)

Between 16th Dec 1868 and 9th October 1869, John George Cox kept a diary of his journey aboard HMS Fly to and around the West African Coast.

In 1968 his journal was published privately under the title "Cox and the JuJu Coast" with an anonymous commentary.

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Cox and the JuJu Coast:  The Final Chapter?

John George Cox was born in Stoke Damerel (Devonport) in 1839, the son of John Cox, a Royal Navy caulker, and his wife Isabella. He had three sisters. In about 1861, he joined the Navy as an engineer. In 1867, when living in Battersea, he married Sarah (Sallie) Crocker, 29, in Harford (north of Ivybridge) on the southern edge of Dartmoor. She was the daughter of Matthew Crocker, a local farmer and his wife Jane. Sallie soon became pregnant. But, ithin a few hours of being delivered of a stillborn daughter, she died at their home in Devonport on 29th March 1868. The cause of death was apoplexy (convulsions probably due to eclampsia). She was buried at Harford.

Just before Christmas 1868, Cox was appointed to HMS Fly under Commander Knocker. He kept a diary until October that year.

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One of several enigmatic silhouettes from his diary.

Since Cox's diary was published in 1968, it has become easier to research 19th century history. In his diary, Cox refers several times to something foolish he had done before he started his voyage, that may have upset his wife's family. An anonymous commentator in the book speculates as to what Cox might have got up to. On Boxing Day 1868, Cox had a few days' shore leave. On his way to visit his late wife's relatives and friends he stopped for lunch at Betsey Crispin's who ran the hotel at Wrangaton railway station. At that time the station and the hotel were both called "Kingsbridge Road".

The commentator mistakenly suggested that Cox, on his way from his ship at Devonport, had detoured some 20 miles via Kingsbridge town to visit Betsey before going to see his friends. In fact, from the station hotel at Wrangaton, he had taken a horse and trap for 4 miles to the East to "Fred's" - Alfred Tucker - who farmed 90 acres at Hazard. (Alfred and his wife Louisa (née Bradridge) were both cousins of his late wife.)

That evening he rode one of Fred's carthorses the 3 miles back to Louisa's parents' farm at Cutwellwalls. Thomas and Mary Bradridge were at home, with Tom and Eliza, two of their 10 children. Sarah Crocker Bradridge, with whom he corresponded, was "at Chapel". That evening he returned to Hazard, where he stayed two nights before getting the train back to Plymouth.

Harford - home of the Crockers - Sallie's parents.

Wrangaton Kingsbridge Road Railway Station


Hazard Farm

On 19th January 1869, John Cox sailed off to West Africa in HMS Fly. His diary stops abruptly on 9th October that year whilst he was at Fernando Po (present day Equatorial Guinea). He was still serving on the Fly in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1871. Although previous researchers thought he remained abroad, he did return to England. In 1875, aged 36, having retired from the Navy, he died of Tuberculosis at the house of George Tucker (his brother-in-law) in Hackney, London. The cause of death was certified by Dr James Harman Finemore, who was born in Plymouth but lived next door to George Tucker. Cox's remains were sent down to Devon to be buried at Harford. The executor of his will was Alfred Butler MD, and the sole beneficiary was his late wife's sister Fanny, the wife of George Tucker.

Alfred Butler and George Tucker.

There is a mystery about Alfred Butler, executor of John Cox's will, and Sallie's cousin, George Tucker.

Dr Alfred Butler was born in London in 1821. He has some Westcountry connections as he married Mary Ann Wagner in Ashburton in 1847. Thereafter he worked in and around Hackney, where he was appointed district medical officer to the Poor Law Union in 1870 and where he was living at the time of Cox's death in George Tucker's house five years later. In August 1877 Butler arrived in Wellington, New Zealand, leaving his wife in England. He advertised for work, but died, suddenly, on Christmas Eve that year. The cause of death was certified as "alcoholism and bronchitis".

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George Tucker, born in Harberton in 1841, was at various times a draper and an estate agent. He married Fannie Crocker (Sallie's sister) in Harford in 1864. However from at least 1881 they lived apart. In around 1878 a George Tucker, apothecary, turns up in Waitara, New Zealand, claiming an association with the late Dr Alfred Butler. Between 1880 and 1890 he is shown resident in Opunake. Then between 1898 and 1902, when he died of stomach cancer, "Dr" George Tucker is shown as residing in the remote Chatham Islands.

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Fanny Tucker continued to live with some of her children in Hackney until her death there in 1903.

Possibly the final twist to this story is that George Tucker had an older half-brother John Cole Tucker born in 1831. He married Susanna Goodman Brooking Bradridge (another of Sallie's cousins).Their son John, a butcher went to New Zealand in about 1879. He returned to Devon when his father commited suicide by drowning in 1899.

He returned to New Zealand with his mother and all his siblings. He lived at Masterton; the rest of his family had a butchery business in Whanganui.
In about 1897 John Tucker was the co-respondent in a high profile divorce case and went on to marry the respondent Mary Soler nee Sievers, whose Spanish husband had introduced wine making to that part of New Zealand. In about 1901 John Tucker was found guilty of kidnapping Soler’s son and fined.

Cox and family: Extracts from his Diary.


1868 Dec 25: Father1, Isabella2 and Ellen3 came on board (HMS Fly)

Dec 26: Left by afternoon express for Kingsbridge Road Station en route for Hazard. Had lunch at Betsy Crispin’s4. Took a cab to Fred’s5… Had a rubber at dummy whist with Fred5 and Looey6

Dec 27: During the morning showed Fred how to work out the horse power of a steam engine. In the afternoon drove with Fred and Loo to Harberton Church…It was more than three years since my last visit to the old church. Then it was with my poor dear Sallie…

In the evening I rode on one of Fred’s cart horses to Cuttawalls… I found Mr7 and Mrs8 Bradridge, Tom9 and Eliza10…Sallie11 was at chapel. … I believe she is most sincere in everything and strongly endeavours to live a true Christian life… Perhaps her being a namesake of my poor deceased darling wife, might be the cause of my taking and feeling an interest in her…

Dec 28: I left Hazard … arrived Plymouth and found Eliza10 at Plymouth Station waiting for me.

1869 Jan 6: Father1 was on board the whole day.

Jan 17: Really I felt glad at the idea of a change of scene and fresh work to do after so long spree on shore all alone by myself. If poor Sallie had been with me I would have been much different… But God has ordered everything after His own all-wise manner…

Jan 23: Commenced a letter to S.G.B.11 I have just been reading some of her letters over again. The more I read them the more earnest they appear. She has a wonderful flow of scriptural language…I think her a most devout and sincere Christian…

Jan 28: Wrote to S.G.B.11 – that dear name Sallie Gwaker, it recalls many happy hours! The only happiness I knew was when I was by my own dear Sallie’s side…

Feb 17: [Madeira] Sent letters to Devonport and Cuttawalls.

Feb 19: Made a few purchases. Sent dear old Fan12 some feather flowers… Lizzie-  some feather flowers; Eunice Parnell13- two pin cushions. S.G.B11.- two lace mats and three views of Madeira. Ordered one dozen d’oyleys to send to Hazard. Wrote to London and S.G.B11.

Mar 3: I wrote to Mr Miller and mother14.

Mar 10: I hope my poor Sallie’s friends have not discarded me on account of my very foolish conduct just prior to leaving England. If they have (but I sincerely hope from the bottom of my heart they have not done so) it will be many a long year before I return again to old England.

Mar 21: Received a very kind letter from Mother14, saying Father1 was very unwell. A letter from dear old George15 with my note of hand enclosed for my signature. He says he hopes to hear no more of that very foolish affair of mine. I hope so too. In fact I know he will not; no one can tell what a great relief it was to me when I found old George did not intend to cast me aside. I feel thoroughly ashamed of myself, and deserve a great deal more than I have got for such a shameful proceeding. Whatever could have possessed me? I cannot give the slightest reason for my ungrateful conduct as regards my poor dear Sallie’s friends. Perhaps I could give a reason but not knowing into whose hands this may at any time fall, so as to avoid unnecessary pain too those whom I should protect, I will keep my own counsel and let that Mighty Healer for all wounds wither in the character of the flesh. Let Father Time do the rest.

I am very anxious to hear from Cuttawalls. If I do not receive some news from there by the next mail I fear they will have heard of it, but hope not.

April 4: I only had one letter from father1 and Nellie16. I wonder why nobody from Cuttawalls writes and why George15 or Fannie12 have not written me a line. Patience is the only thing I suppose. In a couple of mails more I shall know whether I am thought less of by my poor Sallie’s friends.

April 17: The mail arrived from England. The only one I received was from the Lodge at Ivy Bridge. I wonder what certain parties in England mean. I wrote on February 14th and again on March 4th but received no reply… I would give almost anything to know their feelings towards me. If I do not receive a letter shortly I shall fancy all sorts of things and tell them plainly what I think.

April 30: Wrote a letter home to father and Nellie3…I intend to be as careful as possible and hope to be able to repay the whole of my debts by December 1870. So I must curtail my expenses as much as possible. And after I have done that, I have to repay George Tucker15 the money that was given to my poor dear Sallie as I know it must have come very hard indeed on poor George15 and Fannie12.

May 7: I had only one letter, from my father1. It is exceedingly strange why I cannot obtain any news from London, or an answer from my letters to Cuttawalls, but I suppose time will explain all.

May 9: Wrote a letter to Isabella2.

May 13: Dreamed I met poor dear Sally but was only permitted to speak to her for a few minutes. Cannot remember the whole of the dream. It made me very sad for the rest of the day. I turned in uneasy.

May 14: Last quarter I lost more than three pounds [at cards] and it is very desirous I should send as much money as possible to England and repay those who have been so kind to me and are very dear (although I cannot obtain a letter from them) to me.

May 19: I received a very kind letter from George15 and Fannie12…Employed until eleven writing to George Tucker15.

June 7: Received letters from my Father1, Mrs Crocker16 and Mr McGee of Dublin.