Edward Dorsett Firmin

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May 25, 2015 by auntkatefirmin

Edward Dorsett Firmin in 1905 (age 40).

Edward Dorsett Firmin in 1905 (age 40).

Born in London, young Edward was the namesake of a business partner of his father, Edward Dorsett. (Through 1856, the firm of Firmin & Dorsett were manufacturers of grease for railways, and Edward’s father and Mr Dorsett were later partners as Firmin, Dorsett & Company, selling railway sleepers through 1863.)

I will call him Eddie, as cousin Fan did in her letters. The youngest of the ten children, he was 20 years younger than John Robert Firmin (father of the American Kate Firmin) and seven years older than his oldest niece Sarah Kate Firmin (daughter of George H B Firmin – cousin Fan’s oldest sister).

I will assume that George Firmin’s business was doing well, allowing them to move from Wiltshire to London and that Eddie had some happy years growing up as the baby of the family. In 1869 much changed for the family when his father died. If the stories from the cousins are true, just before his death George had lost most of his capital in a failed business scheme and after 1869 the household income most likely came from the older children.

His father died in April of 1869, and four-year-old Edward was baptized at St Pancras in August. By the 1871 most of the family was living together in Islington (John had moved to America, Osborne had just died in Africa and Emily appears to have working in Kent).

In 1871, Eddie added a small note on a letter to his eldest brother John with help from his sister Kate. Between 1869 and 1874 several of the older children married or left home. His mother died in 1875 and Eddie was left funds to pay for his schooling until he reached 16.

After the 1881 census,  where he was still in Islington and a boarder with the family of John Turner (blacksmith), Eddie has not been found in another census until 1911. Rather than a student, he is listed as an “arts engineer,” assuming I’ve correctly read the handwriting. He later worked as an engine fitter. Family correspondence states that he also made and mounted guns.

Edward's appointment as an engine fitter in 1910.

Edward’s appointment as an engine fitter in 1910. From the Edinburgh Gazette.

Certainly by1910, Edward was working in HM Dockyards in Portsmouth.  According the correspondence between Kate and Eddie’s last landlady, Mrs. Alice Twomey, he lodged with her or her family for about 35 years – however he is with a different family (surname Dampier) in 1911 so she appears to have rounded up her estimate.

At this distance in time, it seems that Eddie’s life was rather lonely, finishing school, searching for a job, and living largely on his own from the time he was ten. At least in his twenties, he often spent his holidays with his brother George’s family in Reading and in later years he spent time with Fanny and other nieces. He never married. According to his landlady, he spoke of being brought up by the “Duchess,” a family nickname for Harriet, the sister closest to him in age. I imagine Harriet as a bit unconventional, enterprising, and I hope they were able to have some larks together.

The only photograph of Eddie dates from 1905, when the family got together in Woking during Mick‘s visit from Africa. Mick (age 46) & Eddie (age 40) both appear as youthful, handsome men who liked to make a sharp appearance.

Eddie died in Portsmouth at age 78 in 1943. While he never saw active military duty, being in his 40’s during WWI, his work at HM Dockyard meant that his livelihood was closely tied to military conflicts during his lifetime. In addition, Portsmouth’s dockyards were a major target and the area was frequently bombed during WWII. Like others in heavily targeted locations, he endured the frequent nights in cramped shelters and other discomforts. Towards the end of the war, he caught a chill during a raid and later died of pneumonia; thus the American Kate was not able to correspond with him. Thus it is that nearly all our information comes second-hand.


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