2013 essay on John Oram’s life prior to 1854


As John’s great-great granddaughter I have long been interested in John’s story as related by my mother Daphne and the Oram family’s time in Burrishoole. Daphne’s self imposed important role was to write down the family stories. Now, with a great deal of help via the internet I can verify that an incredible amount of her work stands up to scrutiny.

This essay builds on Daphne’s account of John’s life before he went to Ireland; following John from his birth in Castle Cary, Somerset to the time that he started working for Captain Wyndham.  If John had not gone to Ireland he would have changed our family’s history. He could have remained in England, followed two of his sisters to Australia or taken his chances elsewhere in the world.

Map of places mentioned in this essay

Parents, birth and baptism

John Oram was born in Castle Cary, Somerset on 27 November 1824 and baptised at the local church on 19 December 1824. John was the youngest of six offspring of James Oram 1774-1839 and Susannah nee Bartlett 1782-1838.  John’s parents had different backgrounds, James being a dairyman while the Bartletts were members of a growing group of ‘middle class’ farmers who rented viable areas of farmland, paying taxes and voting in parliamentary elections.

More on John’s Oram ancestors traced back to 1589.

At Weston Bampfylde and Sparkford

The next time John appears in the official records is in the 1841 census, after both his parents had died and his brother William had taken on their father’s dairy business at Weston Bampfylde, Somerset.   He was living with William and his sisters Mary, Susannah and Sarah.  In later life John returned to live in the parish of Weston Bampfylde, helpfully mentioning in his end of year summary for 1892 that he had left the parish in August 1841.

An interesting aside here concerns John’s brother William and the family tradition that ‘he did not make a success’ of the dairy farm at Weston Bampfylde.  Viscount Portman owned property and land in the surrounding area including the Bartlett’s farm at South Barrow. By the 1861 census William was the dairyman at Bryanston in Dorset, the principal country estate of Viscount Portman.  If William had been incompetent he would not have secured that job.  In Weston Bampfylde William, and his father before him, probably could not get access to sufficient land to graze a herd of dairy cattle of a viable size.

Oral tradition is that John then moved to the nearby village of Sparkford where his sister Mary was married to James Hockey, a butcher.   James Hockey died in late 1841 so 17 year old John may have helped Mary with her family as well as working for a nearby farmer who taught him cheese making and more about dairy farming.

Stockton, Wiltshire, marriage to Jane Talbott and birth of first son

Between the 1841 and 1851 censuses John left a number of marks in official papers, the first being that of his marriage to Jane Talbott on 18 July 1847.   At that time he described himself as a farmer living in Stockton.  This supports the family story that John was taught corn-growing and sheep rearing by Mr Yeatman-Biggs of Stockton in the Wylye Valley, Wiltshire.

Photographs of Stockton taken in the 1920s and 1930s in the Bath in Time website

Looking at the 1851 census for Stockton House, Harry Biggs 1767-1856 was a ‘Magistrate and Deputy Lieutenant of Wiltshire’ while the majority of the men in the parish were agricultural labourers, none described themselves as farmers. Looking back at the 1841 census there were only servants in residence at Stockton House and a number of farmers in the parish.   The surname was not double-barrelled until 1878 when Harry Biggs’ great nephew, a Yeatman hyphenated his name to Yeatman-Biggs as a condition of inheritance.

It is my conjecture that Harry Biggs, following the vogue of the time set up an experimental or ‘model’ farm based at state-of-the-art farm buildings close to Stockton House and encompassing much of his estate.  Here John would have been introduced to the latest improvements in farming practice as well as a scientific approach to agriculture, an interest he never lost.

On a visit home in early 1847 23 year old John met Jane Talbott and ‘put her in the family way’.   It should have been a simple matter of marrying at Jane’s local church in Sparkford, but not if one had Henry Bennett to contend with. Henry Bennett was the local land owner, squire and parson. Not only were non-conformists not allowed to reside in the village of Sparkford but no illegitimate child could be born in the parish, though many were born in neighbouring Queens Camel. Maybe John & Jane could either be married in Sparkford or could have their child baptised there but not both.  Anyway Jane must have stayed with a friend in Rimpton, a couple of miles south of Sparkford, long enough that she could give her residence as Rimpton on 18 July 1847 when she married John Oram who described himself as a farmer. They were married by the rector of Sandford, probably Sandford Orcas, a mile further away from Sparkford and the witnesses were two of Jane’s siblings.

John and Jane’s marriage certificate. © Crown copyright. Original of image held by the Oram family and reproduced under Open Government Licence.

Their expected child, John Samuel Oram was born on 24 November 1847 in Sparkford; Jane registered his birth.  John Samuel was baptised at Sparkford church on 26 December 1847.

We do not know exactly when John moved to Stockton or when he left and whether Jane ever lived with him at Stockton. When John wrote his Essay on The Cultivation and Management of Small Farms … in the early 1860s he commented that he had successfully raise calves in March 1849. This is more likely to have happened at his next known home in Manston, Dorset than on the edge of Salisbury Plain.

Manston, Dorset and birth of first daughter

John’s next appearance in the records is on the birth certificate of their second child Jane Charity, born on 22 December 1849 in the parish of Manston, Dorset. On her birth certificate her father John, who registered her birth, was an ‘Agricultural Bailiff’ of Manston.   When Jane Charity was baptised on 10 June 1850 we are given the extra information that John was ‘Bailiff to Mr Yeatman’. The oral tradition is that due to her poor health Jane Charity was baptised at home; this would account for the six month gap between her birth and public baptism.

The question is how did John secure a job in Manston?   The obvious answer is in the name Yeatman. John’s move to Manston sometime between late 1847 and late 1849 could be explained as giving an intelligent young man a job within the Biggs/Yeatman family and closer to John and Jane’s family homes.  The Yeatman’s did not have a large estate so John probably spent more time farming, including raising the calves mentioned above, than on bailiff duties.

Iwerne (Minster) and Captain Wyndham

That job did not last long because by the time that the 1851 census was taken on 30 Mar 1851 the family were living in Iwerne Common about 5 miles east of Manston and very close to Captain Wyndham’s home at West Lodge.  In 19th century documents Iwerne seems to correspond to our modern day Iwerne Minster.

Harry Farr Yeatman purchased Manston House in the early 1840s and lived there for about ten years before he ran into financial difficulties and took his family abroad.  Henry Farr Yeatman’s hurried departure would nicely tie in with John’s move to Iwerne.

For a photograph of West Lodge, a unusual house see an article in The Times dated 16 July 2010.

Captain Alexander Wadham Wyndham, a retired Captain in the Scots Greys, had been born in 1800 at his family’s estate at Dinton, Wiltshire, about 6 miles south east of Stockton.  So it is possible that John would have known of the Wyndham family when he worked in the Wylye Valley. Again the Biggs/Yeatman families may have helped John and recommended him to his next employer, Captain Wyndham at West Lodge.

Captain Wyndham and Burrishoole

In the early 1850’s the heavily mortgaged estates of the O’Donel family in Burrishoole, County Mayo had been sold after the family could no longer escape facing bankruptcy. Part of the estate was bought by Rev JH Ashworth who sold it on to Captain Wyndham. So at a time when John was probably worrying about his family’s future he was given the chance to join in Captain Wyndham’s new venture.

The family tradition, backed up by entries in John’s diaries is that John went to Ireland with a number of men from Iwerne. This suggests that Captain Wyndham was hoping to make his Burrishoole estate more profitable by establishing a farm there.  One can imagine John enthusiastically supporting the venture.  John must have been appointed as the Estate Farm Manager before he left England because as soon as he arrived in Burrishoole John built for himself and his family a ‘Somerset style’ farmhouse, always referred to as ‘Burrishoole Farmhouse’.

Two births at Iwerne 

John and Jane had two more children before they moved to Ireland.  Emily was born on 24 November 1851 and baptised at Iwerne on 1 February 1852. When she was six months old Emily died at Sparkford having had a “Debility from birth”.  On both her birth and death certificates John was described as a bailiff.  Although they were visiting Jane’s family village of Sparkford when Emily died Jane, as informant, gave Iwerne as her residence.

On 25 March 1853 Arthur Talbott Oram was born at Iwerne.  His birth was registered by Jane on 2 May 1853 who gave John’s profession as ‘farm bailiff’. Arthur was baptised at Sparkford church on 5 June 1853.  This suggests that John may have been in Ireland when Arthur was born and returned to Somerset in June for Arthur’s baptism and to accompany his family to their new home in Burrishoole.   John’s comment in his diary following his first visit to Somerset from Ireland in June 1857 suggests that the move may have been a month or two later.

“thus ended a most pleasant & satisfactory journey to England the land of my fathers after nearly four years absence from my native county” 

Background to John going to Ireland

  • John had seen his father and brother struggle as dairymen.
  • John had worked on a large sheep farm/estate and would have realised the potential of sheep farming as the breeds of sheep improved during the 19th century.
  • The General Enclosure Act of 1845 made life difficult for small farmers as landlords such as the Biggs, Yeatman and Wyndham families were able to fence off land that had previously been common land.  This trend had started in the 1700s with numerous private acts of enclosure. John would have seen that his Bartlett cousin who had a 200 acre farm could survive, while his sister and brother-in-law who rented 20 acres decided to emigrate to Australia.  This would have contributed to John’s brother William ‘not making a success’ of the family’s diary farm, see above.
  • John had a family to support so for economic reasons he may have become a bailiff, though his chief interest was always in agriculture.
  • The element of chance, meeting Captain Wyndham who wanted to make the best use his new estate at Burrishoole.

Hence it would seem reasonable to conclude that John’s move to Ireland was mainly for economic reasons.

John’s wish to return to England

There is sufficient evidence in John’s diaries to show that he always had an eye on returning to England.  For example there is a transcript of a letter to his sister Mary in the back of one of his diaries in which he considered renting a farm in Little Weston near Weston Bampfylde in Somerset.  We do not know whether John himself wanted to return or whether it was just on account of his wife Jane.   No doubt Jane would have missed her parents, brother and friends in Sparkford, Somerset but also, while John was out and about Jane had plenty of time to worry whether the family was going to become victims of the local unrest. Between her arrival in Burrishoole in 1853 until they went to Sussex in 1873 Jane would have always been either pregnant or breast feeding.

Even Captain Wyndham was sympathetic as in October 1867 John and Captain Wyndham visited Captain Wyndham’s brother’s estate at Pertwood on the Somerset/Wiltshire border with a view to John working there. Following a consultation at West Lodge John stated  “.. decided to go on in Ireland as before.”

John was agent for Colonel Vaughan who held land in Mallaranny.  In November 1872 John visited Colonel Vaughan’s home at Courtfield in the Wye Valley in Herefordshire and viewed Baynham’s Farm, that he decided to ‘decline’.

Eventually it was Nathaniel P. Simes, who had an interest in Raigh, near Rockfleet Bay, who persuaded John to lease one of his farms called Clinsfold near Slinfold, Sussex. John spent four unhappy years there missing the freer life of an agent, but it was a chance for Jane to spend time with her family in Somerset.

John’s first visit to Somerset from Ireland

Details of John’s first visit to Somerset in June 1857, with a map is covered in this page.

The Emily Lye Story

When Daphne was collecting information for her 1970 essay she was very impressed with the amount of love and respect John and Jane’s grandchildren still felt for them. So when it came to the Emily Lye story Daphne felt that she had to write down the version she was always given, but here I given a slightly different story.

As a teenager John fell in love with Emily Lye.  In the authorised version Emily died before John could marry her.  How many of the family, like Daphne stood in front of her grave and said “Well that was not what I was led to believe”.

Emily Lye’s gravestone

Emily died on 8 February 1851, after John and Jane’s second child was born.  Their third child, Emily who was born later in 1851 survived just six months.

Out of interest I bought Emily’s death certificate, she died in Sparkford where the family were living just after Emily died as shown in the 1851 census.  The cause of death was ‘consumption 7 months not certified’.  Consumption is now often referred to as TB, short for tuberculosis, and is a very contagious disease.  Emily was buried in the same grave a her sister Sarah who had died eleven years earlier, also in her early twenties.

No doubt John fell in love with Emily Lye during the time he was living at the Oram family’s diary farm next to Weston Bampfylde church.   Less than a mile away in Little Weston farmer Thomas Lye lived with his wife and their family.  The records are not clear but, if we include Susan who scratched her name on the window in Little Weston then Thomas seems to have had five daughters and one son.  If there was consumption in the family then the girls were likely to have spent most of their time indoors, giving them a wan, angelic appearance.

John seems to have been very ambitious, otherwise he was unlikely to have secured a job with the Yeatman-Biggs family.   As I said earlier John’s parents came from different farming backgrounds and John may have become very aware of the difference between his Uncle James and Samuel Bartlett’s farms and homes at South Barrow and Foddington and his own family’s dairy farm at Weston Bampfylde.   Like John’s uncles Thomas Lye was included in the 1832 and 1846 voters lists, being  one of five men in the parish of Weston Bampfylde in 1832 and one of seven in 1846.

So I suggest that John may never have spoken to Emily, having only seen her as a beautiful young lady when she was in or on her way to and from church.  That her father was, or at least appeared to be a successful farmer as John aspired to be, would have only put Emily that bit further out of reach.  One also has to wonder if Emily was aware of John’s infatuation.

Returning to ‘facts’, there is irrefutable evidence in John’s diaries that he never forgot Emily.  On the anniversary of Emily’s death on 8 February 1883 John noted in small script (32 years ago).

On 8 February 1889, the first year that John had returned to live in Somerset

“38 years ago – Let me die the death of the righteous”

On 8 February 1893, the first time the anniversary fell after John and Jane “Left Lovington and came to live at Weston – Mr Lye’s old house!” on 17 September 1892:

…..(42 years ago) 
When her work was done and her rest begun
And her time of trial for ever past
And the Home of Rest in the mansions blest
Was safely and joyously reached at last

John wrote entries in a similar vein throughout the remaining years of his life.


  • Personal inspection of the Castle Cary parish registers at The Somerset Archives, Taunton.
  • A farmer in South Barrow helped with William’s story when he told me that Viscount Portman also owned land in Weston Bampfylde.  Though I have no reason to doubt him I have not been able to verify this.
  • Census data from subscription site ancestry.co.uk, and for the time of James Hockey’s death.
  • Stockton and the Yeatman and Biggs families sources are the Stockton, Wiltshire entry in the british-history.ac.uk site and Biggs-Stockton-Wilts entry in the godolphins.org.uk site.
  • Comments about the Sparkford rector are taken from Jeff Clew’s “Sparkford – Memories of the Past”. 
  • Jane Charity’s baptismal details are taken from ancestry.co.uk.
  • Copies of the birth certificates of Jane Charity, Emily and Arthur Talbott have been purchased by the family. Ditto Emily’s death certificate.
  • The information on the Yeatman family at Manston came from Robert Barber’s series of articles in the 2013 issues of The Somerset and Dorset Family History Society’s “Greenwood Tree” and Robert kindly shared information via e-mail.
  • The british-history.ac.uk site also supplied information on the Wyndham family at Dinton.
  • NUI Landed Estates Database
  • ancestry.co.uk was also the source for information on the Lye family.

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