top of page

The Search For Valkyrie

According to Wikipedia, in Norse mythology a Valkyrie is one of a host of female figures who choose those who may die in battle and those who may live. Valkyrie is also the codename given to the failed attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1944. You may also be familiar with the Richard Wagner opera Der Ring des Nibelungen, which starts the third act with the Ride Of The Valkyries. Or you may be aware of the recently-unveiled Aston Martin concept car named Valkyrie.

But you may not know that Valkyrie was the name of the boat that competed for Great Britain in the America's Cup in the years 1893 and 1895. My great uncle Thomas Jarvis was a naval draughtsmen at the time of the Americas Cup races and was so influenced by the spectacle of the regatta that he named his daughter Valkyrie. This post takes a look at Thomas Jarvis's life and then explains what became of his children.

Thomas Charles Jarvis was born on 25th October 1864 in Poplar, London, on Samuda Street (shown below in 1902, people unknown), a stone's throw from his father's work as a shipwright at the Samuda Shipyard on the Isle Of Dogs. His parents gave him Charles as a second name in honour of their son Charles Benjamin whom they had lost four months earlier at the age of 2.

Samuda Street on the Isle Of Dogs

Thomas grew up amongst the hubbub that was East London. A stones throw from his home, West India Docks was the busiest port in the world, importing all manner of goods from the further reaches of the British Empire and beyond; and exporting convicts to Australia. The eastern side of the Isle Of Dogs was the centre of the shipbuilding industry on the River Thames, and the largest and most successful shipyard of them all was the Samuda Brothers Shipyard (shown below) where his father worked.

The Samuda Shipyard

It is clear from an early age that a fascination with ships was part of the Jarvis DNA of that time. Thomas's older brother Frederick joined the navy to become an engineer. But Thomas was less interested in the hard manual work associated with constructing ships - he enjoyed the design aspects of them - so he took an apprenticeship as a marine draughtsman at the age of 14, just as his parents moved from London to Middlesbrough, where his father had taken a position of Marine Surveyor for the Middlesbrough Board of Trade.

Smithsa Dock Company (photo from 1907)

Thomas completed his apprenticeship and qualified as marine draughtsman in 1887, working for Smith's Dock Company (left) that built ships on the River Tees. In documents of the time, Thomas preferred to call himself a Marine Architect, and he had clearly set his sights further afield. But before we look further at his career, let's delve into his private life.

Two years Thomas's junior, Jane Leopard was born in Middlesbrough in 1866, the daughter of a one-eyed beer house keeper on Linthorpe Road named George Henry Leopard and his wife Harriet. Jane attended school until the age of 11 and then as the eldest of 10 children, helped her mother at home. When she met Thomas, despite using the name Jane throughout her life, she introduced herself as Jennie Leopard - I have no idea why - and the entire Jarvis family referred to her as Jennie. Inevitably Jennie became pregnant so on June 23rd 1889 they were married in Bishop Auckland, County Durham. It was an odd place for a wedding, 24 miles from their home town, and I can only speculate that perhaps the marriage wasn't with the approval of their parents.

Seven months later, their first child Harold Leopard Jarvis was born on 31st January 1890 in Middlesbrough where the family were living in a boarding house on Linthorpe Road (shown below). Harold's birth certificate records his parents as Thomas Jarvis and Jennie Leopard.

Linthorpe Road, 1890

Two months later, Thomas took Jennie and Harold and moved to Belfast in Northern Ireland where he had secured himself a job working for Harland & Wolff designing cargo ships. Living to the east of the city, at 1 Paxton Street in the Ballymacarret, the couple welcomed their first daughter Mary Vaughan Jarvis into the world on August 16th 1891. Her middle name was a tribute to Thomas's mother's maiden name and his grandfather Thomas Vaughan, who had also been a shipwright. The birth certificate reveals that Jennie had switched back to referring to herself as Jane Jarvis.

Harland & Wolff 1891

As 1892 dawned, Thomas crossed the Atlantic Ocean to Philadelphia to work on designing ships for the US Navy at the Naval shipyard. Jennie remained in Belfast and on December 29th 1892, their second daughter, Olive Jarvis was born, in Belfast. In another bizarre twist to Thomas's wife's penchant for changing names, Olive's birth certificate records her mother as Elizabeth Jarvis. I don't know the motive for giving the incorrect name on Olive's birth certificate but later in life it would serve Olive well, as you'll discover later in this article.

Records show that Thomas returned from Philadelphia into Liverpool a matter of days before the birth on the Cunard ship the SS Aurania (shown below).

The Cunard ship SS Aurania

For a young influential young man, Thomas must have found Philadelphia exciting. It was a diverse and cosmopolitan city that had just exceeded a population of one million and had the reputation as the "workshop of the world" on account of the large immigrant population attracted by the jobs in industry, shipbuilding and construction. Those immigrants, 25% of the population, brought their own religions and culture to the city, creating ethnic neighborhoods that were vibrant and very social. By 1892, electric trolley cars provided public transport in the streets. Thomas settled at 305 Queen Street (circled in red on the map below)

Queen Street Philadelphia circled

With Thomas's responsibilities in the United States growing, he moved his wife and two children from Belfast back to Middlesbrough in early 1893 so that they could have the support of his and his wife's parents. Having settled his family, he then went back to Philadelphia on the ocean liner SS British Princess, a US mail steam ship..

The SS British Princess

While at sea, on February 14th 1893, his daughter Mary Vaughan Jarvis died of bronchial pneumonia. She was buried in Linthorpe Cemetery, steps away from their home, on 16th February 1893 in grave 8434A. Thomas didn't hear of her death for several weeks, and did not return to England.

Thousands of miles from England, Thomas mourned the death of his daughter alone and then found himself facing his own mortality - in May 1893 he contracted an inflammation of his skin on his chest, face and neck and it gave him great discomfort. After numerous trips to Doctor J. R. Phillips who practiced two blocks from his home, he was diagnosed with systemic scleroderma, an auto-immune disease of which little was known in the 1890s. Thomas's body tissue was attacking its own immune system. There was no cure (and it remains so to this day) but there were treatments that could alleviate some of the symptoms. The doctor told him that he could live a long life with some forms of scleroderma (effects of it are shown below), but other forms could prove fatal quickly.

The impact of scleroderma on the skin

Thomas took the news of his health in his stride and buried himself into his work. He remained in Philadelphia without his family throughout 1893 and one welcome distraction was the building excitement of the upcoming Americas Cup regatta off Sandy Hook, New Jersey. Thomas Jarvis loved the Americas Cup because it pitted his competitive instinct against his skill as a designer of marine vessels. In those days, the Americas Cup was very popular with the public and newspapers of the East Coast promoted the rivalry of the British versus the Americans in order to sell newspapers.

Throughout the summer of 1893, selection trials took place to determine who would race for the United States, with the New York Yacht Club's yacht Vigilant finally winning selection. Vigilant made history by becoming the the first steel-hulled yacht to be officially entered into the Americas Cup - a fact that must have fascinated Thomas.

Vigilant, the US entry in the Americas Cup 1893

In October 1893, Vigilant competed in the three races of the Americas Cup against the British challenger, Valkyrie II, a wood-hulled boat that had been built in Scotland. Vigilant won all three races, and therefore the Americas Cup, creating a fever pitch of excitement in newspapers throughout the United States. At the time, The World newspaper reported that the final race of the series was the fastest race ever sailed, with Vigilant beating Valkyrie II by 40 seconds.

Vigilant and Valkyrie race for the Americas Cup

With the excitement of the Americas Cup over, Thomas returned to thoughts of his health and family. It took him a year of reflection before he decided to bring his family to the United States. So with son Harold and daughter Olive Jarvis in tow, his wife Jennie Jarvis stepped onto the SS Southwark (shown below) docked in Liverpool on February 14th 1894 and arrived in Philadelphia on February 21st 1894. The passenger manifest listing Jennie, Harold and Olive is shown below.

Passenger manifest for SS Southwark, February 21 1894

SS Southwark, the ship that brought Jennie Jarvbis and her children to Philadelphia.

For the first time in two years, the family were finally reunited. They settled into their home in the New World at 305 Queen Street (shown below) with the plan of permanently remaining in the United States.

Queen Street Philadelphia, photo from the turn of the century.

Americas Cup fever didn't disappear from the news for long. In 1894, in accordance with the Americas Cup rules, the defender surprised everyone by announcing that they would defend their title in September 1895, creating a buzz in the yachting community. It was unprecedented to follow up a successful defense of the title so quickly, but the Americans felt they would have the upper hand if their competitors had little time to prepare.

Back in Britain, Lord Dunraven and his syndicate set to work building their challenge yacht - to named Valkyrie III, with a steel frame, an elm and teak hull and a pine deck. Her big innovation was a steel mast - a first for the upcoming challenge, however her wooden hull meant that she weighed a full 17 tons more than the American boat, Defender, which had a manganese-bronze hull. Valkyrie III was launched to much interest in the United States, on the river Clyde on May 27 1895 (see New York Times newspaper article below).

Back in Philadelphia Thomas must have read the news of Valkyrie III (shown below) in the newspapers with interest because on June 3rd 1895 Jennie delivered him a daughter that they promptly christened Valkyrie (register of births shown below). And in yet a further twist in Jennie's choice of names, Valkyrie's birth registration lists the mother as Jane - Thomas's wife had referred back to her christian name.

Valkyrie III, the British challenger for the Americas Cup 1895

The register of births for Philadelphia.  Valkyrie Jarvis is the ninth entry.

The 1895 Americas Cup got underway off Sandy Hook lighthouse in lower New York Bay on September 7th 1895, with Valkyrie III beaten by Defender in the first race. On September 10th, Valkyrie III fouled the leeward Defender during the prestart to the second race, breaking her starboard shrouds, but the latter did not protest and the race took place nevertheless, with Valkyrie III finishing ahead of Defender on corrected time. In turn the America's Cup committee ruled to disqualify Valkyrie III because of the foul and dismissed Lord Dunraven's counter-proposal to re-race. With a lot of anger in the British contingent, Valkyrie III was withdrawn immediately after the start of the third race on Sepotmber 12th and Defender ran over the course unchallenged and successfully defended the America's Cup. Lord Dunraven claimed the Americans had cheated, creating a public controversy that jeopardized the future challenges for the America's Cup.

All this happened while Thomas's scleroderma had become so acute that doctors warned him that he was unlikely to survive for much longer. His scleroderma had moved into his internal organs, particularly those of his lungs and heart. The family took the decision to return to England, arriving in Liverpool on October 4th 1895 on the SS Indiana (below).

The SS Indiana, the ship that returned Thomas Jarvis's family to England.

The passenger list from the voyage (shown below) is the only document that lists Thomas and his family together, a rather sad artifact of the misfortune that he was experiencing.

SS Indiana passenger manifest, 4 Oct 1895

Thomas Jarvis died on 26 January 1896 at 29 Emily Street in Middlesbrough, aged 30 years, of cardiac arrest as a result of complications from three and a half years of scleroderma. He left Jennie to raise their three young surviving children - Harold aged 5, Olive aged 4 and Valkyrie aged 4 months. Thomas's mother, Maria, remained by his bedside in his final hours and then recorded the death with the registrar two days later. Thomas was buried in Linthorpe Cemetery in Middlesbrough, in an unmarked grave number 9275A on 29 January 1896.

It is impossible to understand the circumstances of the family after the death of Thomas, but a quick decision was made to separate his children. Jennie remained in Middlesbrough, close to her parents, keeping six year old Harold and six-month old Valkyrie with her. Four year old Olive was dispatched to London to live with Thomas's eldest sister Elizabeth and her family in Greenwich. Olive's birth certificate stated her mother was Elizabeth Jarvis and now she found herself living with an adoptive family with a new mother called Elizabeth Hillier (nee Jarvis)!

The 1901 census for Thomas's remaining family is therefore split across two census forms (shown below); one from Middlesbrough, the other from London. In Middlesbrough, Jennie has returned to using the name Jane Jarvis again and is running a boarding house at 74 Marton Road in Middlesbrough. Harold is 11 years old and Valkyrie is 5. In London, Olive is living at 56 Ordnance Road in Woolwich, just around the corner from the Royal Arsenal barracks, with her adoptive family, John and Elizabeth Hillier and their four youngest children.

1901 Census forms for the late Thomas's family.

By 1911, Olive is now 18 years old and still living with John and Elizabeth Hillier and the same four children at 27 Plumstead Common Road in Plumstead, Woolwich. Her brother Harold is 21 years old and working as a ship broker's clerk in Middlesbrough. Valkyrie is living as a boarder at the Holy Family Convent School on Mornington Avenue in Woodford Green London but her name has changed to Valkyrie Hyman. The Convent stated that Valkyrie was born in Aldershot so it is likely that her guardians originated around there, but I find no record of them.

Having searched for records of Jane Jarvis's remarriage, or death, I haven't been able to explain whether Valkyrie was adopted or renamed due to marriage. After 1901, Jane Jarvis disappears entirely, but I am not surprised that she is difficult to locate because it is not clear what she was calling herself and she has regularly switched names without any consideration for official record keeping. We've had Jane Leopard, Jennie Jarvis, Jane Jarvis and Elizabeth Jarvis, to name the ones I am aware of.

On December 3rd 1915, Thomas and Jane Jarvis's only son, Harold Leopard Jarvis died at 64 Vaughan Street Middlesbrough (shown below) at the age of 25 of phthisis - a form of tuberculosis that was referred to in Victorian times as consumption.

Vaughan Street Middlesbrough.  Scene of Harold Leopard Jarvis's death.

Although I have no written proof, circumstantial evidence points to Olive Jarvis staying in contact with her sister Valkyrie during the first part of the 20th century.

In 1919, Olive Jarvis married William Edward Milligan and the newly weds started married life by remaining at the home of John and Elizabeth Hillier on Plumstead Common Road. Betty Jarvis Milligan was born there on January 4th 1920, and her brother Harold Charles Robert Owen Milligan followed three years later on March 3rd 1923. Harold's middle names were a tribute to the grandfather Olive had never known - my great great grandfather Charles Robert Owen Jarvis (1831-1887), who you can read about in glorious detail elsewhere on this website. Olive finally died age 73 on June 15th 1966 of a cerebral vascular accident complicated by bronchial pneumonia. Her husband died four years later in 1970.

Valkyrie completed her time at the Convent School and in early 1920 she is living at The Lodge in Chiswick, the home of a man named Edward Battes (born 1859), a shipping insurance secretary, who had married Florence Mary Ann Summerhayes Willoughby-Field in 1907. Florence Mary, who went by the name May, was an American woman who was 21 years younger than Edward Battes. Valkyrie had become friends with Edward Battes' niece Florence Madeline Lowry who had attended the Royal College of Music and both of them shared a passion for the musical arts. Edward Battes and his wife were childless so they took Valkyrie under their wing and gave her a home to live in.

Valkyrie then re-appears on the genealogy radar on October 9th 1920 when she marries William Norman Kitchen in Chingford, Essex. The son of two affluent veterinary surgeons, William Norman Kitchen grew up in a vibrant household in Wood Green with two sisters and a brother before setting up a printing business. The Kitchen family clearly had a sense of humour - in the 1911 census, 16 year old William described himself as a Gentleman At Large and his sister Marion described herself as a Suffragette and stating on the form that she had a disability: absentmindedness.

The wedding had witnesses, most notably Edward Battes and Florence Madeline Lowry who would ultimately choose Valkyrie to be the godmother of her first son, Buchan Telfer.

At some point after 1920, Valkyrie and her husband occasionally started using the surname Kitchin rather than Kitchen.

Valkyrie Kitchin had married into a successful well-to-do family and settled into married life at 9 Crescent Road in Chingford, giving birth to a daughter Mary Elizabeth Kitchin on 31st October 1922. Mary Elizabeth Kitchin's birth certificate gave Valkyrie another chance to confuse future genealogists by declaring that her name was "Valkyrie Kitchen, formerly Hyman", despite 2 years previously describing herself as Valkyrie Jarvis Battes. To friends, she referred to herself as just "Val".

Valkyrie's husband, William, built a successful printing business that clearly gave Valkyrie a prosperous life. In the 1930s they had a home in Southwark in London and a second home in the exclusive village of Sewardstonebury in Epping Forest, where Valkyrie appears with her husband and child in the 1939 Register taken just as world war II began. Valkyrie's adoptive father Edward Battes also lived in Sewardstonebury so it is possible that she inherited the house after his death in 1933.

The family remained in Epping Forest throughout the war, with their daughter working at Bletchley Park. In the aftermath of the war, Mary Elizabeth Kitchin married a civil servant named David Peter Tuckey Willmott in September 1949. Rumour has it he worked for the British Intelligence Services under the auspices of a civil servant responsible for trade. They had one child - Hugh C Willmott was born in the summer of 1950 and he went on to marry Catherine Niezgoda and have two children.

At this point, the trail goes dark until 1968 when Valkyrie's husband William dies aged 74 in North Walsham in Norfolk.

Eight years later Valkyrie died of congestive heart disease aged 81 in Leicester, leaving 28,000 pounds in probate. She has the distinction of being the only woman in England to have been named after the 1895 Americas Cup yacht.

This story ends with one unresolved mystery. What was the fate of Jane Leopard after 1901? If you have any idea, or perhaps a theory, let me know.

NOTE: If you or anyone you know is related to Thomas Jarvis, Valkyrie Jarvis, William Norman Kitchen or Edward Battes, I would love to hear from you. Perhaps you know the fate of Valkyrie's mother? You can send me a message using the contact page on this website.

Valkyrie III in dry dock, New York, 1895.

Valkyrie III in dry dock in New York, preparing for the Americas Cup 1895.

bottom of page