William Thomas Walker Samwell was born in Ireland to William and Mary Ann (nee Fowler). From childhood, he joined his sisters Mary Jane and Adeline with his father travelling the circus circuit in Britain and the Continent. His father promoted the special skills of the children in advertisements, noting that young William was particularly good at backwards and forwards somersaults on a horse.
William’s mother died in 1867 but he continued performing with his father on travels in Europe and England. In 1870 young Mary had had enough and she left to live with her grandparents in Jersey.
The last we hear of father William is in Spain in 1872. A later advertisement suggested he died sometime between 1872 and 1874. William joined the merchant navy serving on several ships that travelled from England to all ports around the world. The last known record of his service was in the 1881 census on board City of Cambridge. He does not appear in any British marriage, death or census records beyond 1881, nor in any US census records. His whereabouts beyond 1881 are a mystery.
(Notice from The Era 5 July 1868. Image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)
Contact Caroline Cavanagh at email@example.com to purchase a copy of Once a Famous Circus which provides much more detail on the Saunders and Samwell travelling circus families.
Text © Caroline Cavanagh 2017.