#16 John Henry Sillifant of Princetown, Devon

20 April 2014

John Henry Sillifant was born in September quarter 1871 in Princetown (registered in the Tavistock Registration District). He was the third child born of Samuel and his wife, Kezia (nee Jones) Sillifant. Samuel Sillifant was a prison warder at HMP Dartmoor and in the 1871 census, the Sillifant family lived in the Barracks in Princetown. Samuel took up his position as assistant warder at Dartmoor Prison in 1870 and John Henry Sillifant was the first of Samuel and Kezia’s children to be born after their move.

Back in those days, Princetown was very isolated – an ideal place for a prison! The roads were treacherous in winter and the village had no railway connection until 1883. However, the prison provided a career for the men of the village and the women (generally) stayed at home looking after the family with some taking in washing, making dresses etc.


Princetown’s ‘Public Elementary School’ was erected in 1872 and enlarged to accommodate 330 pupils in 1885. Several of Samuel and Kezia’s children are noted as scholars in the 1881 census. However, only two are noted in the school admissions book: 

John SILLIFANT (no. 66), DOB: ?/9/1871, DOA: 2/9/1878, Left: 31/8/1885

Emma Grace SILLIFANT (no. 369), DOB: 7/1/1877, DOA: 30/8/1880, Guardian: Mr Sillifant, of Barracks, No date of leaving is recorded

So, John left school aged 14 in 1885. He joined the Royal Navy in 1888 and went to sea on the ‘Orlando’. The ship was built at Palmers in Jarrow and was launched 3 August 1886. The first tour of duty for the ship was Australia. John Henry must have joined just in time. However, this was not necessarily good news for him. His conduct did not meet the standards required by the Royal Navy. He was discharged to shore as ‘objectionable’ and was then given 90 days in Darlinghurst Prison in Australia. He was finally discharged from the Royal Navy in 1890 for theft.


John was a servant, footman to Daniel Radford, Magistrate, of Mount Tavy House in 1891. However, it is clear that by the turn of the century he had found himself a career in London and married. In 1901, John Henry Sillifant was living at 11 Arundel Mansions, with his wife Hettie Louisa (nee Andrews). John was a caretaker of flats.

According to the London Electoral Registers, John Henry remained at Arundel Mansions though moved to no. 45 and latterly no. 46. The last record of him in Fulham is in 1935 and the next record of him is in 1948 when he dies aged 76 in Plymouth. Hettie pre-deceased John, dying aged 52 in Fulham in 1933 so perhaps he decided, following her death, to return to Devon to his family.

John and Hettie never had any children of their own and when John died in 1948 of ‘myocardial degeneration and chronic bronchitis’, the informant was ‘S M Kennington, cousin’. Don’t you just love it when you can find out about extended family members from these documents….?

© 2024 Family Wise | Privacy Policy | Website created by: stellasoft