Metropolitan Police Archives

Graves of the family MAY

It was a cold, wet, blustery day when I visited the once vibrant Victorian town where I hoped to find a stone to the memory of Charles MAY and his widow, Harriet.  Charles was a former Metropolitan Police Inspector who left England in 1844 to establish the Hong Kong Police.  He ended his career as Chief Magistrate and Colonial Treasurer.  Charles had been buried at sea off Singapore but is remembered on his father’s tombstone in Kensal Green Cemetery. 

But what of Charles’ family – his widow and his children?  Where could they be found.  Most of the family had lived and died in East Molesey, Surrey but my search at the local cemetery had drawn a blank.   The next logical choice of burial place was Brookwood but requesting searches of those records is a costly affair.  Not having such funds available I had to put my quest to one side and concentrate on other aspects of the MAY family tree. 

I turned to his youngest son to see what he had made of his life.  My search in this respect was short for I found that he had died when he was just a teenager.  Strangely, both he and his maternal grandmother had died a long way from London so it looked as if the whole family had moved to the countryside for a few years.  Then another clue came to light indicating that Mrs. MAY might also be buried in the same place as her youngest son and her mother.  And this was how I came to step off the train on that cold, wet, blustery day.

The town itself was a sorry sight with the once elegant buildings in a dilapidated state.  Shop after shop was boarded up and there was the feeling of decay all around.  The cemetery was on the outskirts of town and I did not feel happy until I reached the large gates and entered into another world of peace and solitude.   It was a large cemetery and it was obvious from the outset that many of the older graves were in areas that were somewhat overgrown and now set aside as “wildlife sanctuaries”.  As always I knew my chances of finding a stone were slim but as ever I let my feet take me where they felt was right.  I wandered and wandered and got wetter and wetter !!

Knowing a little of Mrs. MAY’s character I felt she would have wanted a rather grand headstone so I looked for monuments which could only be described as “over the top”!  After an hour I found myself on one of the side paths when I spotted a huge cross towering over a section.  It looked quite out of place so I trudged through the damp grass to get a look at the name – no it was not the one I was after.  I was getting a little despondent by this time and dropped my head to look at my soaking feet.  As my eyes lowered I caught sight of a tiny cross to my side – it bore the surname of MAY.  My heart nearly jumped out of my chest.  I bent down to examine the whole inscription and to my utter disbelief found that I had chanced upon the grave of Charles’ three grandsons.  I was not even looking for them and had no idea that they too were buried here.  Once again I can only say that the family MAY directed my feet.  They sure want to be found !

With utter excitement I took picture upon picture.  Now where were Mrs. May, her youngest son and her mother?  Surely they must be somewhere near.  They were, but they did take some searching.

The youngest son was the first to be buried in this cemetery and his grave could be found a few yards away.  His maternal grandmother shares the grave with him.  The top of the headstone has now collapsed and lies on top of the grave but the main part still stands proud showing that this was the son of Charles MAY, Chief Magistrate of Hong Kong.

The grave of Mrs. MAY can be found a few rows in front of her grandchildren.  To my surprise hers was not the main name on the stone.  Her daughter in law had died in the 1920s and her eldest son had arranged for her to be interred in the same grave as his mother.  When he died a few years later he was also buried in the same grave.  Three for the price of one !  Well actually four for the price of one because The Honourable Charles MAY is also mentioned on this monument.  Rather annoyingly I was not able to make out all the inscriptions because the graves on either side were rather overgrown.  Will I be going back in a few weeks time on a much drier, much brighter day – with a pair of secateurs – you bet I will.

For more photos please visit my flickr album on the family MAY:

If you would like to read about Edmund, a younger brother of Charles, please follow:

Charles MAY – Metropolitan Police Officer

Those who have been reading my blogs on this site will know that in 1844 three Metropolitan Police officers left London aboard the SS Oriental bound for the new British Colony of Hong Kong where they were expected to establish a brand new police force.  One of these was Charles MAY who became a prominent personality in the early history of Hong Kong.  He is mentioned in most Hong Kong history books and so much has been written about him over the years that I always felt that there could be nothing more to be found.  What a silly thought. For “anoraks” such as myself there is ALWAYS something else waiting to be discovered !!!  Having had a quick look through my own “archive” the following little known facts about Charles’ service with the Met. seem worthy of note:

Joined as Police Constable                                               7 November 1835

Promoted to Sergeant                                                     20 November 1837

Whilst serving on T division his collar number was                 T21

Promoted to Inspector & transferred to K Div                7 June 1839

On the night of the 1841 census Inspector MAY & his trusty Sergeant, Thomas SMITHERS, were on duty at the Police Station in Newby Place, Poplar.  They had three prisoners in their cells.

Charles’ younger brother joined the Metropolitan Police in 1842.

In 1843 Inspector MAY of  “K” Division was allowed the following gratuities:

27 April                        6/-

25 July                         £2 2 sh 0d

21 August                     6/-

On 29 June 1844 Charles received orders to proceed to Paris with a sergeant to apprehend a murderer. They arrived in Paris on 1 July and met the British Ambassador.  Then ensued a three week delay whilst bureaucratic wrangling took place between British and French officials.  On 25 July with necessary paperwork in hand the Metropolitan Police officers arrived in the Prefect of Beauvais  – some 56 miles from Paris.  The following day they travelled a further 26 miles to Claremont where the prisoner had been incarcerated.  Eventually with prisoner in their custody they travelled by Post Chaise to Boulogne accompanied by a member of the local Gendarmerie.  Arriving at 7.30pm on the 27 July they found that they were too late for the Steam Boat and were forced to find accommodation.  They caught the boat at 8am the next morning and arrived at London Bridge at 10pm.  Then it was off to Poplar Police Station to confine the prisoner for the night.  The next morning the party were on the river again travelling to Gravesend.  Eventually the prisoner was handed over to the Kent authorities and taken off to Maidstone Gaol.  The bill for this deportation exercise came to a whopping £49 5sh 0d and took a whole month of Inspector May’s time.  Never let it be said that serving with the Metropolitan Police in the 1840s was boring.

It was whilst Charles was in Paris that Sir Richard Mayne submitted the names of MAY, SMITHERS and McGREGOR as being the most suitable officers for the job of establishing the police in the new Colony of Hong Kong.

If you are interested in reading a few more little known facts about Charles MAY keep watching these postings as there are many more that I have discovered over the years !!

Metropolitan Police Research

The Metropolitan Police has had strong links with Hong Kong since 1844 when Inspector Charles May & Sergeants Thomas Smithers & Hugh MacGregor made the long sea voyage to the Far East to establish the Hong Kong Constabulary.   But Hong Kong was not the only “exotic” country to benefit from the experience of Metropolitan Police officers.

What of its immediate neighbour – China?  Many Met. officers journeyed to the “Paris of the East” to join the Shanghai Municipal Police & Shanghai River Police.  Lowly constables from the Met. established the Mounted Legation Escort at Peking and an officer from the Met. became Chief of the Tientsin Police.

If we look a little further afield we find that the Metropolitan Police sent officers to India in 1863 to re-organise the police force there.  Officers were seconded to Warsaw in 1862 and volunteers for Labuan (Malaysia) were called for in 1870.  Add to these recruits to the British Colonial Police Forces in Africa, the Caribbean, South America, South Pacific and the Mediterranean and you will see that the tentacles of the Metropolitan Police have reached far and wide.

If you are looking for somebody to research your Colonial Police ancestor in some far flung land or your Metropolitan Police ancestor in the leafy suburbs of London then please contact me.  Having spent many years working within the Metropolitan Police Archives at New Scotland Yard I have a wealth of experience. I am on the list of recommended researchers at The Metropolitan Police Historical Collection and at The National Archives.  I am also a member of AGRA.

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