by Arthur Brooke

Written by my father for myself and for my brother Michael and his family


Brooke is the family name. Michael's and Peter's mother was a Thompson. I greatly regret not having researched her family. All I know is that they were a farming family who came to Northern Ireland (presumably from Scotland) early in the 17th century and settled in Ballinderry, Co. Antrim. Michael's second name, Alexander, is after his mother's brother, who was killed in the last war. 

Michael and Elsebeth's marriage joins in the Orntoft family. It is, of course, for Elsebeth (as she has been doing) to add to our family history the details of her family.

These two apart, there are 6 main families involved in our ancestry: Brooke; Wilmot; Bottomley; Thomson; Caffin and Barlow.

Caffin and Barlow.

We may clear these 2 families fairly quickly. CAFFIN is the surname of my father's mother (my own paternal grandmother). [ NB. My father was following the family tradition in including in his son's name the maiden name of his mother (in his own case it was WILMOT). I somewhat foolishly thought that he would like the Caffin name continued in the family - thus we all got burdened with it (and it is a bit of a burden!)]. Her father was Admiral Sir James Crawford Caffin (1812-1888 ) who was one of the gunnery experts of the navy at that time.

BARLOW was the surname of my mother's mother (my maternal grandmother); and her father was William Barlow, Fellow of the Royal Society, and one of the most important and influential engineers constructing the national railway network in the 19th century. Among many other things he did the engineering design of St. Pancras Station, including the great roof of 240 feet span, the largest and most novel erected at the time of its construction, although often copied since (St. Pancras has recently been in the news as a monument of special historical importance). When the Tay Bridge in Scotland collapsed in 1879 with great loss of life, he chaired the Court of Inquiry into the disaster. and designed the replacement bridge which is still in use today. The family papers include an interesting account of his technical career, issued on his death by the Institute of Civil Engineers.

These two families were connected, William Barlow's wife being the sister of Admiral Sir Crawford Caffin - which makes my father and mother 2nd cousins.


In this account of the family, our main concern will be with the BROOKE family itself. But I start with a word of caution. Brooke is not a rare surname in England, so we cannot assume that all the Brookes are of the same family. And even more so, we have nothing to do with those whose surnames are Brook or Brooks. In all of the family history that we have been able to uncover, the surname is consistently Brooke (with an "e").

Where do we start?

We have a sure foundation in the family story of the 1641 Irish Rebellion. This places a Rev. John Brooke in a parish near Kells, believed to be Moynalty [see photo] on the borders of County Cavan in 1641. There has never been any doubt about the authenticity of this and we have no reason to doubt it. It introduced into the family the tradition of the name "Honor" which has been faithfully followed ever since 1641. Some earlier member of the family organised printed copies of the story which we now possess; and there is also a somewhat longer version in pp. 35-42 of the second series of Recollections of the Irish Church by R.S. Brooke [a book I will be referring to elsewhere in this paper and of which I have a copy]. I mention this because it contains the interesting embellishment that when the rebel officer brandished his dagger at the lady and told her to prepare for death, she replied: "I have been praying to God, and He told me that I am not to die by your hand. No, you dare not do it; God will not suffer you."

Earlier than this, there is only speculation. There have been a number of Brookes interested in family history, and they must have tried very hard to get some evidence of the family before 1641, but apparently without success. Speculation only.

It is speculated, and has always been accepted, that the family originally came to Ireland from Cheshire. There were a number of Brooke families in Cheshire at that time, but there is so far no firm evidence that ours was one of them.

Again, our family became known as the Cavan Brookes, and it has been felt that it is linked in some way to the Fermanagh Brookes - the next-door County. This is the family of Sir Basil Brooke, ex-Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, later to be come Lord Brookeborough. Field Marshall Lord Alanbrooke, Churchill's Chief of Staff in the war. belongs to this family. They arrived in 1601 as a result of land given to Sir Basil Brooke, a commander in the British Army which defeated O'Neill and the Irish clans, and completed the British conquest of Ireland. But again there is no evidence whatsoever of a link between the two families.

If speculation is permitted then here is mine. The Whytes (Hilda and Guifford) not so long ago, on their way home stopped for an overnight stay at a hotel called The Elms in Abberley, near Ludlow. It was a converted Queen Anne mansion. There they saw a coat of arms, reminding them of our coat of arms they had seen in our house on one occasion. They asked about it and were told it was of the Brookes of Norton Priory who had originally owned the house. Norton Priory is in Cheshire. They told me about it.

I find the following in Burke's Peerage:

"Brookes of Norton Priory

Thomas Brooke d.1622 = (2nd wife) Elizabeth Merbury

| [son]

Rev. John Brooke (a clergyman with Irish Living in 1641 Rebellion)."

Is this the missing link?

The Family Tree.

You all know that we have our family tree, and very lucky we are, because it contains details of our Irish family from the moment we emerge after the Rev. John. It was probably composed in the 1890s, but there has been some attempt to make additions to it since then. If anyone is at all interested in our family history, they should start with this family tree.

It starts with a William Brooke, described as a physician; no date of Birth; death given as "prior to 1719". It notes that he acquired two properties in Co. Cavan, called respectively Rantavan and Dromavana (property being house and adjacent fields). It is these properties that put the family into Burke's Landed Gentry under the title of "Brooke of Dromavana". I have a copy of this work, dated 1863. From this we learn that William was the son of the Rev. John.

William had 3 sons - so the family tree divides into 3 sections, giving the lineage descending from each of the sons.

First, Rev. William (1669-1745). Scholar at Trinity College, Dublin 1687. [NB. The records of Trinity contain a lot of facts about the Brookes. Most of them went there.] William took over Rantavan. He was rector of more than one parish, including Mullagh, in which Rantavan is situated . He was the father of Henry Brooke, novelist and playwright, of whom more later. [See photo.]

Second, Rev. Henry (1681-1740). Trinity College 1700. Became rector of Kinawley in Co. Fermanagh.

Third, Alexander, who took over Dromavana. No date of birth, no Trinity, death given as probably before 1746. Married 1713. Described as a physician in Kells. He is our particular ancestor, for we are in the lineage descending from him, and to this I now turn.

The eldest sons of the two generations following Alexander (both of which took over Dromavana in their turn) were:

Rev. William (1720-1804), son of Alexander. Ordained 1745. Rector for 50 years of the (at the time) large town of Granard. Described in the afore-mentioned Recollections of the Irish Church, second series p. 17. [See photo.]

Dr. William (1769-1829), son of Rev. William above. Had a large medical practice in Dublin, and we are to remember him for two things: he married Angel Perry, which links the family to the Grahams; and they had a large family of 6 sons and 3 daughters. It is the eldest of their sons (another William) who is arguably the most distinguished of our close Brooke ancestors and merits a separate heading (he is one of my great-grandfathers!).

Master Brooke and his Direct Descendants.

'Master' is the title of the judge who is Master of Chancery - one of the top judges in Ireland. His court was equivalent to the then Lord Chancellor's court in England, dealing with all important constitutional and civil cases. He was therefore called Master Brooke, but his full title was the Right Hon. William Brooke, Q.C., Ll.D. (1796-1881). He was an important man in Ireland, a Commissioner of the Government of Ireland during the absence of the Viceroy, a deeply devotional member of the Church of Ireland, who handled the legal aspects of the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in the 1870s, and chaired the committee subsequently required to revise the Church of Ireland Book of Common Prayer. We have in our family papers most of his diaries. 

Master Brooke's eldest son had a mental disability, therefore his second son, Robert Wilmot (1826-1898) became his heir. He was a soldier, enlisting in a Dublin regiment, the 60th Rifles. He is my grandfather and his portrait in my flat shows him on gaining his commission, age 19, in 1845. He soldiered in most parts of the British Empire, and also places like China. On leaving the army he was a very active evangelist, joining (I think) the Baptist church. He married twice: first to Elizabeth MacGregor, whose father inaugurated and was head of the Irish police. His grandson from this marriage, Guy Brooke, a farmer in Norfolk, is still alive (born in 1904) and is the senior member of the family. He married secondly in 1885 Bertha Caffin, whom we met early in this paper, I being her grandson.

My father, James Morton Wilmot Brooke, was born in 1888 and died, as you all should know, in 1978. I realise that the rest of you are not familiar with what he did during his lifetime (as I am!); so let it be said that he was ordained priest at the outbreak of the 1914-1918 war, served as a chaplain and was still in the army and stationed at Hythe, Kent, when I was born in 1919. He then went to Harrogate in Yorkshire for a job with the Christian Industrial Society, and from there was appointed to his first parish, Marske-by-the-Sea in the very top of the north-western corner of Yorkshire. He believed a vicar should not stay in the same parish more than four years, so we experienced a number of moves: from Marske to Derbyshire, south-west of Matlock; to Norwich; to Elsenham on the border of Essex near Bishop's Stortford; next, during the war to Central London; after the war to Twickenham; and finally finishing off after his retirement as a part-time helper in Ewell, Surrey.

The family were in Elsenham, Essex, when I was at Cambridge. I went straight from Cambridge into the army on the outbreak of the war, and was posted to Belfast on getting my commission in 1940; continued serving until 1946 (6 1/2 years); immediately joined the Northern Ireland Civil Service and remained in the land of my ancestors until coming to Wales in 1988.

William Brooke's Brother Richard Sinclair Brooke.

Master William Brooke, as previously stated, was one of six sons of old Dr. Brooke (1769-1829). The closest to William, both in outlook and in geographical proximity, was the Rev. Richard Sinclair Brooke (1802-1882). They were both Trinity scholars and prize-winners in classics, and we had at one time a number of books given by Richard to William (maybe there was a number that went the other way!). For many years he was in charge of the important Mariners Church in Dublin. It was he who wrote, amongst a number of other books, the Recollections of the Irish Church to which I referred above. 

He comes into this family account firstly because he was the father of Stopford Brooke (1832-1916), another well-known member of the family whom you will find even today in Chamber's Biographical Dictionary. He was ordained into the Church of Ireland, but left it, went to London, and before long had a church and loyal congregation of his own, and a reputation of being a remarkable preacher. He never joined another denomination but was generally taken to be an Unitarian. He was also acknowledged to be a specialist in English literature, and wrote a large number of books both on this subject and on religion generally. He was also a poet, and his hymns used to be found in most hymnals.

He had 5 daughters. One of them, Sybil, married a cousin, Leonard Leslie Brooke, who takes us back to the original split of the family into three lines, for he was in the lineage of the eldest, the Rev. William of Rantavan. Leonard and Sybil were the parents of Henry Brooke, later Lord Brooke, a Government Minister in the 1950s and 60s. It is Sybil who makes us close relatives. She and my father were 2nd cousins; I and Henry are 3rd cousins; Michael and Peter and the present politician, also Peter, who was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, are 4th cousins.

Returning to Rev. Richard Sinclair, another of his sons was Rev. Arthur Sinclair Brooke. He was the rector of Slingsby in Yorkshire and the father of Derek Brooke (full name Roderick). I haven't the dates for these two, but some of you will remember Derek, and know his family better than I do. Derek was Stopford's nephew and, when he was advanced somewhat in age, presented me with his collection of Stopford's books, including a number of books of sermons. I still have them.

Honor Brooke.

She is living in East Sussex. I come to her for the sake of completeness of our particular line of Brookes, although the rest of you hardly know her at all. She was a close friend of my sister Ruby. Her grandfather was Rev. Henry Edward Brooke, rector of Ironbridge and the third son of Master William. He and my grandfather were therefore brothers. Her father was also Rev. Henry, but I have no details of him. (The number of clergymen in our family is surely staggering!). Honor and I are 2nd cousins.

Her brother, Colonel James Brooke died recently. His widow is Helen Brooke, who still keeps in touch with me. Their son is Paul Brooke, the actor. They were all at Ruby's 70th birthday party.

The Novelist Henry Brooke and his Daughter Charlotte.

My last look at the Brookes. I have to include Henry Brooke (1703-1783), a son of the elder Rev. William Brooke of Rantavan. He is still, even now, well known in Irish literary circles. Indeed, you will still find him in Companions to, or Dictionaries of, English Literature, chiefly because of his main work, the novel The Fool of Quality. We have 3 copies of this masterpiece, 2 of them coming from Derek. The first is an edition (it must nearly be a first edition) in 5 volumes printed in 1777; the other 2 are an edition of 1906, one of a series called "Library of Early Novelists". This edition contains both a Biographical Preface by Charles Kingsley (1819-1895) and a life of the author by the editor of the series. This is not the place to go into all the detail of his life, so I refer anybody interested further in this ancestor to these two sources. I shall be happy to lend them the book.

It is nevertheless of interest that in his early days he moved in the literary and political circles of the times. To quote Charles Kingsley: " . . . the pupil of Swift and Pope; the friend of Lyttleton and Chatham [the elder Pitt]; the darling of the Prince of Wales". Later he returned from London to Rantavan in Ireland. The house still stands [see photo]. The editor of the series included an extract of the Brooke family tree. It gives an indication of the larger, full family tree and illustrates what the Brookes were doing in those early days. I once read The Fool of Quality. It was tough going!

Henry and his wife, to whom he was devoted, had 22 children, but, incredible as it seems, only 2 of them survived infancy - a son Arthur and a daughter Charlotte (1740-1793). Charlotte is a great favourite of mine and I am proud of her. She mastered Gaelic and translated into rhyming verse a selection of Irish epic poems , published under the title Reliques of Irish Poetry - the very first writer to do this. Although the family originally came from England and she was a sound a Protestant as you could find, she regarded herself as a true Irish woman and was proud of her Irish nation and its Celtic Bards. England she describes as "the sister nation". Copies of her book are now rare. We have a somewhat damaged copy and details of her life are to be found in its introduction.


The name Wilmot introduces some romance into our family pedigree. The family of Wilmot were in Cork during the end of the 18th and early 19th century. The father, Edward Wilmot, was the Surveyor of the port of Cork and was connected with the line of Wilmots in Derbyshire. He had a large family of three sons and six daughters. The eldest son was a lawyer, the Deputy Recorder of Cork, and his daughter, Emily, married Master William Brooke. Emily and William were my great grandfather and grandmother, and Emily's portrait is in the living room of my flat. William put the name of Wilmot into the name of his second son, and it is also one of my father's names.

But the interesting factor of the Wilmots is that three books have been written on the journeying of two of Edward Wilmot's large family – Catherine and Martha, aunts of Emily. They kept journals and wrote copious letters which form the material of these books. Catherine's book is An Irish Peer on the Continent, 1801-1803. She suffered from consumption, did not marry, and died at an early age. Martha was more directly connected to William Brooke. The books dealing with her letters and journals are: The Russian Journals of Martha and Catherine Wilmot, 1803-1808 and More Letters from Martha Wilmot, Impressions of Vienna, 1819-1829. Martha married a clergyman, Rev William Bradford, and when Emily died in 1850, William Brooke married Martha's eldest daughter, Catherine. Martha came to live after her husband's death in the Brooke's house near Dublin and eventually died at the grand old age of 98.

Bottomley and Thomson

My mother was a Bottomley.

John and Mary Bottomley came to Belfast from Yorkshire in the early nineteenth century. He was originally a tailor, but made his fortune as a woollen textile merchant. One of their sons was William, born in 1817, who entered the Royal Belfast Academical Institution in 1826. He subsequently married Anna, sister of William Thomson, better known as Lord Kelvin (1824-1907).

This is where the family connection with Lord Kelvin comes in. They had a big family, of which William (1850-1912) was my maternal grandfather. It was he who married Anne Barlow, which brings us back again to the Barlow family, where we started. He worked with Lord Kelvin and the family lived near him in Glasgow University. They knew him as 'Uncle William'. There were five children in the family and so I have a number of cousins with whom I keep in touch.

As for Lord Kelvin himself, he was the son of James Thomson who was born in 1786, the son of a farmer near Ballynahinch in Co Down, N.Ireland. He was taught to read by his sisters, learnt arithmetic from a dilapidated copy of Bonycastle (a textbook of those days) and attended a local day school. He had no other teaching until he went to Glasgow College. Later he was appointed as teacher of Arithmetic and Geography in the newly established RBAI. He took a house opposite the school and that is where his sons James (who became a Professor in Belfast), William (Lord Kelvin) and Anna (who married William Bottomley) were born.

The father, James Thomson, was later appointed Professor in Glasgow University and the whole family moved there. It was in Glasgow University that William developed his university career, produced his inventions and eventually was created Lord Kelvin in 1892.