The records of John Springfield

The records of John Springfield (SHC ref: 1714) tell a bit of the story of John Springfield. They were deposited by his granddaughter and reveal a very interesting tale.

The first item Surrey History Centre consulted was a press cutting from the Surrey Advertiser, 25 January 1985 (SHC ref: 1714/10). The article is an interview with John Springfield’s granddaughter. She was born several years after his death and heard his story from her grandmother.

According to his granddaughter, John Springfield was born on 1 July 1847, the son of Jumbalowagee, a Zanzibar chief. At the age of nine, whilst picking fruit, he was kidnapped by Portuguese sailors. Realising John was a child and not a man, they left him for dead. He was saved by a woman, but was unable to return to his tribe because he had broken his caste: he had eaten white man’s bread.

For these early years of John Springfield’s life there is no independent evidence, only the oral history of his granddaughter in the newspaper.

John Springfield’s naval certificate

John was rescued by Dr Livingstone and served aboard the HMS Victoria as valet to Captain Goodenough for three years. It was during this period that John Springfield received his western name. The records include his certificate of naval service (SHC ref: 1714/3).

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Here he gave his date and place of birth. The document also tells us that at the age of 17 he was 5ft 1inch, had black hair and dark eyes, a scar on each temple and in the opinion of the captain had a very good character. Searches on the internet found a picture of the HMS Victoria on naval ships of the worlds navies website. HMS Victoria was a 121 gun Royal Navy screw ship built in 1859. From 1864 to 1867 she served as fleet flagship in the Mediterranean. She was sold in 1892. John left the ship aged 20 and went to America to preach anti-slavery. America was unreceptive so he decided to try England.

John Springfield’s marriage certificate

John married Eliza Andrews at Croydon on 18 August 1870. The marriage certificate (SHC ref: 1714/4), again notes John’s father as a Zanzibar chief. It also reveals that John Springfield was 23 at the time of marriage and Eliza 39. Eliza’s father was William Andrews, deceased, a former gardener.

Click on the image to enlarge.

The couple had one child, Miriam. They moved to Guildford, where John earned his living as a bootmaker. He also taught cobbling at Robert Macdonald’s Guildford Mission Industrial School. Their daughter attended Miss Bloxham’s school in Guildford. John Springfield died on 21 February 1891 and was buried in Stoughton Road cemetery, Guildford.

John Springfield’s story is fascinating. Most of the information is taken from his granddaughter’s memories and supported by other items in the collection (SHC ref: 1714). Surrey History Centre looked for supporting documents or new information to add to the story.

Surrey History Centre has delved deeper into the story of Guildford’s first black man.

Follow the life of John Springfield and find out some of the types of sources useful for tracing family history.

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