STORIES OF OUR FAMILIES
To forget one's ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root.
Sgt. Major Alfred Sheppard
Alfred's signature and a note on the back of this photo sent to his family in Wem
"a perfect facsimile of your lost sheep"
Alfred Sheppard's Early Life
Alfred Sheppard was the sixth child in a family of ten children born to James and Elizabeth Shepherd née Cole. He was born in Chichester, Sussex on 22 August, 1855 and was baptised at St. Pancras Church, Sussex on 30 September that year. His baptism record shows his father's trade as "labourer", while his birth certificate states "jobbing gardener". In other words, he came from an English working class family in the parish of St. Pancras, Chichester, Sussex.
In 1874 when he was just 19 years old, Alfred enlisted in the 2nd Brigade King’s Own, Sussex. In 1878, he was seconded to Trinidad and left his home in England. He arrived in Trinidad as Colour Sergeant with his regiment. This must have been quite an adventure for the young man, and a drastic change from life in England. In 1880, the Trinidad Police Force required two Supt. Sergeants and Alfred was allowed to resign from the army to take up one of those positions.
Sgt. Alfred Sheppard in Trinidad
Life in the tropics must have smiled on him, as he fell in love with a young lady of Portuguese descent, the daughter of immigrants from Madeira. Sgt. Alfred Sheppard recorded in his family Bible that he and Virginia de Freitas were married on 25th June, 1881 at the Free Church of Scotland, St. Ann’s Road, Trinidad, B.W.I., of which Virginia's father was a founding member. This was just months before Alfred's older brother Charles had married Mary Ellen Fisher in England.
It was during February 1881, a few months before Alfred’s marriage, that the Canboulay Riots were staged by descendants of freed slaves in Trinidad & Tobago, against attempts by the British police to crack down on certain aspects of the celebration of Carnival. During this time, Carnival was often marred by clashes between groups of revelers carrying sticks and lighted torches. While the confrontations started in song duels between the chantwells, they often descended into physical violence. It has also been recorded that 1881, Trinidad’s police force clashed with revelers in Port of Spain who had banded together against the police. Sergeant Alfred Sheppard was a young officer of the British Constabulary contending with this social unrest in the British colony of Trinidad. One account states that policemen were armed only with cudgels and were severely beaten by rioters. Rioting was fierce in the southern cities of San Fernando and Princes Town during the carnival of 1884. This was followed by the infamous Hosay Massacre of October 30th 1884. That was the very year that Alfred and Virginia started their family.
Alfred and Virginia's Children
Alfred and Virginia’s first child was a son, born at 1.20 a.m. on Tuesday 8th January, 1884 in Mucurapo, Peru Estate. This was the area now called St. James, where the barracks were located. Their firstborn was named after his English father and grandfather - Alfred James.
On Wednesday, October 21st the following year, another son arrived, and he was named Charles Sebastien Theodore. He was to become my grandfather. Charles was born in St. Joseph, Trinidad, and was probably named after his uncle Charles in England. His second name, Sebastien, was that of his Portuguese maternal grandfather, Sebastien de Freitas.
Two years later, still in St. Joseph, a baby girl arrived. Alfred and Virginia called their daughter Amalia Elizabeth Sheppard. Amalia, affectionately called Amy, was born at 8 a.m. on Saturday 14th May,1887. Her second name was that of her English grandmother, Elizabeth.
In November of 1888 a third son was born to Alfred and Virginia: Arthur Wybrow de Freitas Sheppard. It is recorded that Captain Arthur Wybrow Baker was appointed Inspector Commandant of Trinidad’s Police Force in 1887. Alfred and Virginia's son was most certainly named after him. This indicates to me that the Commandant was much respected by Sgt. Sheppard, and might even have been a personal friend. Capt. Baker was known as "Brave Baker of the Bobbies". He was said to have been a militant man by nature and decisive in his actions. He was determined to end the Canboulay as a threat to public order. It was reported in the Port of Spain Gazette of 14 June 1917 that once, while outing with Captain Baker (the then Inspector-General), Alfred Sheppard received a severe injury which left a scar on his head for life.
On Easter Sunday, 6th April 1890 at 11 a.m. yet another son was born completing their family of five children. This baby was born in Princes Town, which is in south Trinidad. He was named Edward Albert James Sheppard.
In those days, the Police Headquarters, completed in 1876, was situated at the corner of St. Vincent and Sackville Streets in Port of Spain. In 1881, the year Alfred and Virginia were married, the Police Headquarters was destroyed by fire which was caused by the kerosene oil lighting system.
From the locations of the births of their children as recorded on their birth certificates, it is clear that Sergeant Major Alfred Sheppard and his wife lived wherever he, as an officer of the Police Force, had been posted in his line of duty. He had sent photos of himself and of his two children Charles and Amalia to his family in Wem, and these were taken at George Adhar’s Studio, San Fernando.
Although the photo is undated, the children look about 8 and 6 years old. They have a sadness in their little faces - could it be that this was taken soon after the death of their baby brothers?
Sadness in the family
They were living in the south of Trinidad - possibly it was still Princes Town where the last two children were born when tragedy struck the family. In 1893 both of their youngest children became very sick with dysentery. Their baby boy, Albert Edward James Sheppard, just three years old, died at 4.00 on the morning of 11th June, 1893 of acute dysentery and was buried in the Presbyterian ground, Paradise Cemetery, San Fernando. Sadly, just two weeks later, on Sunday 25th June 1893 at 2.50 a.m. their four-year old Arthur also died of acute dysentery. It was the very day of Alfred and Virginia’s 12th Wedding Anniversary. Little Arthur Wybrow was laid to rest by the side of his baby brother Albert. One can only imagine the sleepless nights and anguish of their parents, and the sadness of their older siblings Alfred, Charles, and Amalia.
To England for the Diamond Jubilee
Years passed by, and in 1897 there were to be great celebrations in England for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Trinidad was a colony of England, and The Trinidad Police Force sent a contingent to London for the celebrations. As a senior officer of the Force, Alfred was among the contingent chosen to go. He was then 40 years old and his children Charles and Amalia were 12 and 10 at the time. There must have been great excitement in the family, as this was an historic occasion that Alfred was to be a part of. Though we have found no record of it, we believe that Alfred most probably visited some of his family in England on this occasion.
Family life in Trinidad - 1905 to 1917
Back to Trinidad some years later, it appears that Alfred and Virginia had moved north and were living at 117 Edward Street, Port of Spain. Owing to ill-health he resigned from active duty as a Sergeant in 1905, after serving in both the Imperial Army and Local Police Force for 31 years. He then assumed an administrative position as Staff Clerk and Paymaster of the Trinidad Constabulary.
In 1909, Alfred and Virginia attended the wedding of their son Charles to Elsie Mabel Gomez. It was a big, happy family occasion, celebrated in style at the lovely residence of Albert Mendes, at the corner of Shine Street and Victoria Square, Port-of-Spain. Albert's wife was Mary Pereira, Elsie's aunt, and Albert was also Elsie's godfather. Albert was the brother of Alfred Mendes Snr., great-grandfather of the British Academy award winner, Sir Samuel Alexander (Sam) Mendes CBE.
Sadly, just one year after the beautiful wedding celebration, the family was once again plunged into sadness and deep grief. Alfred and Virginia's eldest son, Alfred James, succumbed to bronchitis on 19th January at 7.20 p.m., when he was just barely 25 years old. His bereaved father purchased a 12 x 10 grave for him at Lapeyrouse Cemetery, for which he paid $40.00 on 21st January, 1910. In years to come, this grave plot would become the family burial place, and remains so to this day.
Three years later, there was once again a happy event to celebrate, when on 18th January 1913, Alfred and Virginia's daughter Amalia married Edward Oswald Mendes.
Alfred's health continued to decline, and he died on 12 June, 1917 when he was 60 years old. The newspaper report about him and his funeral indicates that he was a highly respected man, much loved by his family and colleagues.
His wife Virginia lived on for many more years, and passed away at 4 Shine Street, Port of Spain, when she was 74 years old. Alfred lived long enough to have known eight of his grandchildren before he passed away, but never knew the extent of the large family he and Virginia started.
Judging from the wonderful Family Bible he left behind, Alfred Sheppard appeared to have been a man who valued his family deeply and paid great attention to detail, recording even the exact time of births and deaths. I suppose this was also indicative of his military and police training. It is curious, though, that about himself he only wrote that he was born ‘in England’ on 22nd August, 1857. It has taken years of research to trace his early beginnings.
This Family Bible had been passed down to his daughter Amalia (affectionally called Amy) and then to her daughter Jessie Rooks Mendes, who is still in possession of it. Thanks to the Mendes family who had it beautifully restored in Holland, and in particular to Jessie for sharing this gem, we were able to use those valuable handwritten details in our genealogy research.
From Alfred Sheppard and his wife Virginia, descended all the Sheppard and Mendes families from Trinidad.
Thanks to the digitization of old newspapers, this article describing Alfred's funeral has been discovered in the Port of Spain Gazette of June 14, 1917. I have transcribed the article - click here or on the image below to read it. Several family members mentioned on this website were in attendance.
Click here to see how the story of Alfred Sheppard led to my participation in a series called Descendants, produced and broadcast by BBC Radio 4 on 11 June, 2021.