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The emigration of professional Irish people, predominantly Protestants, in the nineteenth century has been little studied by historians but would generally be seen as unproblematic both in terms of migration’s impact on them and their impact on receiving societies. My study of the Irish in Stafford has already shown that this was not necessarily the case for Protestants and this blog post emphasises the point. Its subject proved to have a problematic life in Britain, the explanation for which must be sought in a combination of his Irish origins and his individual character.

The Clendinnen family arrived in Stafford in 1874 because William Ellis Clendinnen had been appointed the borough’s first Medical Officer of Health (MoH).[1] He was from Co. Carlow but his family originated in Co. Down and, before that, from south-west Scotland. The Clendinnens settled in St Mary’s Grove in the town centre and on the surface seemed to be a respectable professional family. There was a darker side, however, and the family’s history encapsulates Victorian male domination, sexual exploitation, domestic violence and women’s rights in marriage. Clendinnen was ultimately forced to resign his post in 1884 after just ten years in Stafford and he emigrated to Australia. A descendant of his residual family nevertheless stayed on in Stafford and remained in the town for over fifty years.

Too many Irish doctors

In the nineteenth century an Irish doctor was more likely to emigrate than an Irish labourer. More than half the doctors who trained in Ireland between 1860 and 1905 subsequently left the country. Of those who emigrated just over half ended up practicing in Britain and another quarter were in the British military.[2]

William Ellis Clendinnen was, therefore, part of a massive outflow of members of the medical profession from Ireland. It was caused by complementary forces. The first was a substantial increase in the output of Irish medical schools because of the establishment in 1845 of the Queen’s University with colleges in Belfast, Cork and Galway. They offered medical education to a wider spectrum of applicants, particularly Catholics, than Trinity and the Royal Colleges.[3] The second factor was, however, the chronic lack of openings for doctors in Ireland. The poverty of the country meant that incomes from private practice were low. Jobs in the Poor Law and dispensaries were limited and the pay very poor. There were, in other words, strong ‘push’ factors encouraging Irish doctors to leave. On the ‘pull’ side of the equation, opportunities were increasing abroad because of population growth, the development of public health initiatives, charitable hospitals and limited contract medical services in industrial areas. The expansion of the British empire and the role of the British military in policing it also offered opportunities.[4]

Despite apparent openings in Britain, it was not easy for Irish doctors to establish themselves there. The profession was snobbish and nakedly competitive. Outsiders from Ireland were seen as a threat and encountered prejudice, particularly in England. Immigrant doctors often lacked both the money and the contacts to obtain lucrative private practices, whilst jobs were limited in the small public sector and in contract work. The salaries were mediocre. Catholic doctors trained at the unfashionable Irish colleges found it particularly difficult to get work in England.[5]

William Ellis Clendinnen’s career illustrates many of these general points. A forbear, William Clendinnen (or Glendinning), had moved from Dumfriesshire to Co. Down in the mid-eighteenth century. His son or grandson John Clendinnen (b. 1770) became a Wesleyan minister and was sent to Co. Cork and subsequently to Co. Carlow.[6] He married Mary Charlotte Ellis who had been born in 1772 in Wexford and was to be the source of William Ellis Clendinnen’s middle name. Their son William (b. 1804) became a doctor and practiced at Hackettsown, Co. Carlow.[7] He married Lydia Deaker, also a Wexford woman and the couple had at least twelve children, though only about half survived to adulthood. One was William Ellis Clendinnen who was born in 1838. Although the Clendinnens’ background was Ulster-Scots, by the 1830s the family was more characteristic of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy with their apparently secure medical practice, country dwelling at Clonmore Lodge and a religious switch to the Church of Ireland.[8] William Ellis’s sense of self was gained in these surroundings and they seem to have produced a self-confident domineering man. He trained mostly under his father and in 1865 received the Licentiate of Apothecaries’ Hall in Dublin. In the same year he won the more prestigious Licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh.[9] At that point he, like many other doctors, took the decision to leave Ireland.


Clendinnen came to England around 1865. The first we know of his arrival is when he got married in Birmingham on 20 September 1866 to Sarah Pritchard, a twenty-eight year-old woman of independent means. We do not know why Clendinnen went to Midlands. His father may have had contacts in the area or perhaps it was a convenient and less competitive destination where he could get his foot in the door by doing locum work. It is also unclear how Clendinnen met Sarah, but events were to show that he was probably more attracted by her money than by her looks or by love. All we do know is that by 1867 the couple had arrived in Cheswardine, a village about three miles from Market Drayton and deep in the Shropshire countryside.[10] William had managed to buy a small country practice there, but their income was probably no more than £300 a year.[11]

Superficially it seemed as though Dr and Mrs Clendinnen were establishing themselves well. They lived in the centre of the village Their first child Evelyn Lydia arrived in 1868 and Sarah became pregnant with Bertram in 1869. William’s aberrant behaviour then became apparent. His sex drive was probably frustrated by her pregnancy and it seems he saw women as bodies to be exploited.

Along the High Street in Cheswardine village was the Fox and Hounds Hotel. It still exists today as a very nice Joules Brewery pub. Between the 1850s and the 1880s it was kept by John and Harriet Turnbull. John Turnbull had been born in Co. Durham around 1803, but he became a builder and sometime in the 1830s he arrived in Shropshire. There he married Harriet Lockley, a woman from Hinstock about three miles from Cheswardine.[12] They moved to Cheswardine around 1847 and took over the Fox and Hounds in the 1850s.[13] By 1869 they were well ensconced as members of the local community. They had four children, one of whom was Margaret Turnbull.

fox_and_hounds_daffs2 02

The Fox and Hounds, Cheswardine, today. The Turnbull family were licencees from the 1850s to the 1880s.

In 1869 Margaret was a young woman of twenty-one and, as her mother subsequently admitted, ‘of rather weak intellect’.  On 28 September 1869 she was sent to Clendinnen’s house for some medicine for a Mr Wright and

‘was shown into the surgery; …. whilst there [Clendinnen] put his arm round her waist, and asked her an improper question respecting a farmer named Lee, of Soudley; …. he then took hold of her, carried her into an inner surgery, and committed the offence. ….. She told him she must tell them at home; and he said “For God’s sake don’t. If there is anything the matter I will make it alright with you afterwards”’. [14]

Clendinnen had raped Margaret Turnbull. His final comment was a clear reference to performing an abortion if necessary. Margaret did go home and tell her mother, a brave (or perhaps naïve) thing to have done given what we know today about the feelings of guilt and shame often felt by rape victims. Harriet and John Turnbull went straight to the police and Clendinnen was arrested. He appeared at the Magistrates’ Court in Market Drayton on 13 October 1869 and was sent to Shropshire Assizes six months later charged with the rape of Margaret Turnbull.

The case pitted the humble and mentally sub-normal Margaret Turnbull against the articulate upper class Clendinnen amidst the intimidating paraphernalia of the English court system. The Liverpool Mercury, in a brief but hostile report of the Magistrates’ Court proceedings, sneered that Margaret ‘may almost be called half-witted’.[15] There was no doubt, however, that sexual intercourse had taken place. At the Assizes this was confirmed by Dr. William Saxton from Market Drayton who had examined Margaret on 30 September 1869.[16] The question inevitably became: ‘was the sex consensual?’ It was alleged that Margaret could have screamed and would have been heard by Sarah Clendinnen and her servant. The servant said she had not done so. Dr. Saxton, who was a fellow Licentiate of Edinburgh University, went on with special pleading to say that he thought Clendinnen ‘had a nice practice, and he had never heard anything against his character before. There were no external marks of violence on the girl.’ The defence was, therefore, that the sexual intercourse had been consensual.

The outcome was inevitable. The Judge made a gesture towards Margaret by saying that ‘her alleged mental condition gave rise to peculiar circumstances, and they [the Jury] must not expect so much from her as they would from another person.’ He would, otherwise, have directed the Jury to find Clendinnen not guilty. The steer was, nevertheless, obvious and the Jury duly found Clendinnen not guilty, ‘at which there was considerable applause in a crowded Court’.[17]

The verdict was a clear miscarriage of justice. Margaret was presumably inarticulate in her own testimony, Harriet Turnbull was regarded as a mere publican’s wife, Clendinnen’s servant would have been intimidated and it seems Sarah Clendinnen gave no evidence at all. The testimony by Saxton could not ignore the basic fact of intercourse but the professional colleague still sought to portray Clendinnen in the most favourable light. The whole incident demonstrated how the English class system concealed the domineering, manipulative and potentially violent side of Clendinnen’s character.

What of Margaret Turnbull? The Turnbull family continued to run the Fox and Hounds in Cheswardine into the 1880s, although John Turnbull died in 1880.[18] Poor Margaret disappeared from the historical record, however. There is no evidence that she got married, died or moved elsewhere (perhaps to an institution), but the fact is that she had disappeared from the family home by 1881. Her sad life, damaged by William Clendinnen, remains a mystery

 Medical Officer of Health in Stafford

After his acquittal, William Clendinnen and his family stayed on in Cheswardine for a number of years. He was later to demonstrate again a remarkably thick skin, but his reputation in Cheswardine must have been tainted by the case. The situation would have been even more demeaning for Sarah. He therefore needed to find another job and he was helped by the passing of the 1872 Public Health Act. This set up sanitary districts and stipulated that they appoint a Medical Officer of Health (MoH). Stafford certainly needed one – sanitary conditions were appalling – but the Borough Council was dilatory and only made an appointment in August 1874. One of the councillors still ‘questioned whether the appointment would be of practical use in the town’, but William Ellis Clendinnen got the job. His salary was just fifty pounds a year, a miserable sum that emphasises the unattractive nature of such appointments and why Irish doctors desperate for jobs would take them.[19] His brother Joseph George Clendinnen took the same route and became MoH for the Sedgley Local Board in the Black Country.[20] His family became well established in the Midlands.

William Ellis Clendinnen had revealed himself in Cheswardine as a fundamentally unpleasant character. In the next post I shall carry the story further to look at his time in Stafford.


[1] This post is a revised and extended version of the discussion of William Ellis Clendinnen’s family in my book Divergent Paths: Family Histories of Irish Emigrants in Britain, 1820-1920, (Manchester, Manchester UP, 2015), pp. 273-277.

[2] G. Jones, ‘”Strike out boldly for the prizes that are available to you”: medical emigration from Ireland, 1860-1905’, Medical History, 2010, Vol. 54, pp. 57-60 and Tables 1 and 2. 53 per cent emigrated and 52.3 per cent of those emigrating went to Britain with 25.8 per cent into the military.

[3] L.M. Geary, ‘Australia felix: Irish doctors in nineteenth-century Victoria’, in P. O’Sullivan (ed.), The Irish World Wide, Vol. 2: the Irish in the New Communities, (Leicester, Leicester University Press, 1992), pp. 166-7.

[4] L. Miskell, ‘”The heroic Irish doctor”? Irish immigrants in the medical profession in nineteenth-century Wales’, in O. Walsh (ed.), Ireland Abroad: Politics and Professions in the Nineteenth Century, (Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2003), pp. 82-94.

[5] Miskell, ‘Heroic Irish doctor’, p. 85.

[6] This material on the earlier history of the Clendinnen family differs from that in Divergent Paths which was partly based on inaccurate information published by others online. I am indebted to Pat Bird for correcting the earlier account. Pat has carried out extensive research on the Clendinnen family of which his wife is a descendant and although there are still some uncertainties, what is stated here is the most accurate picture now available.

[7] General Medical Council, UK Medical Registers, 1867/1871/1879/1883/1887, Ancestry Database accessed 10 March 2013. In 1867 and 1871 both William and his father gave their address as Clonmore Lodge, Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow, but Baltinglass was presumably the post town because Clonmore is closer to Hackettstown. The 1883 entry merely reads Hackettstown, Co. Carlow.  

[8] The marriages of William’s daughter Charlotte took place on 22 October 1856 at the Church of Ireland church in Clonmore.

[9] General Medical Council, UK Medical Register, 1883.

[10] The Times, 19 August 1867. Clendinnen of Cheswardine, Salop, reported as having passed the examination of Apothecaries’ Hall in London and received a certificate to practice.

[11] A. Digby, Making a Medical Living: Doctors and Patients in the English market for Medicine, 1720-1911, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1994), Table 5.2, p. 144.

[12] England, Select Marriages, 1538-1873: 15 November 1836, Hinstock, John Turnbull and Harriet Lockley.

[13] In the 1851 Census John Turnbull was listed just as a ‘builder’ but by 1861 he had become both ‘builder and innkeeper’, implying he took over the pub in the 1850s.

[14] Birmingham Daily Post, 24 March 1870.

[15] Liverpool Mercury, 14 October 1869.

[16] William Waring Saxton, licensed 1 January 1859. A Licentiate of London and the Edinburgh College of Surgeons. General Medical Council, UK Medical Registers, 1863, Ancestry Database accessed 16 January 2020.

[17] Birmingham Daily Post, 24 March 1870.

[18] Deaths, Market Drayton RD, April-June 1880, John Turnbull, 6a/187. Harriet Turnbull was still at the pub in 1881 but gave it up during the 1880s and retired to a cottage in the main street. She seems to have died there in 1899. Deaths, Market Drayton RD, January-March 1899, Harriet Turnbull, 6a/551.

[19] SA, 8 August 1874.

[20] See Birmingham Daily Post, 7 December 1882 and Reynold’s Newspaper, 6 January 1884.