• Spanish nobleman ‘Found Shot’ in Peterborough

    An intriguing entry occasionally catches the eye of our transcribers - and raises all kinds of unanswered questions.

    One such entry was recently unearthed by Ian Slater, a volunteer transcriber for FreeREG, when working his way through the burial register for Broadway Cemetery in Peterborough.

    Ian writes:

    When transcribing records, it is unusual to find one with an unconfirmed name; an age ‘range’; and an unknown address. So, when I found the following entry, it literally stopped me in my tracks:

    “Name – Hipolito Finat (supposed to be);

    Address – Unknown;

    Buried – 17 August 1885;

    Age – about 40-50 yrs”.

    Why was his name “supposed to be”? And why was his age in doubt, and his address unknown?

    Today, some 130 years later, we have the benefit of access to digitised records on the internet and, naturally, my first thought was to search for the name online.

    My search revealed a sorry and puzzling tale – reported in several newspapers* nationwide during August and September of 1885.

    Found Shot

    The reports revealed that Count Hipólito Finat was a Spanish nobleman, born in Madrid in 1838, and married to Leonor de Carvajal in 1870. He was a member of the Spanish Cortes, Deputy for the Province of Seville - and, sadly, he had shot himself in the head in King Street, Peterborough on the morning of Wednesday 12th August 1885.

    The first problem was identification – and, as the record shows, at the point of burial (five days after his death) they were not even sure they had got his name correct!

    The newspapers reported that Finat was found with nothing in his pockets that would lead to his identification. But from the quality of his clothes (made by outfitters in Paris) and, from his appearance, it was thought that this was “a gentleman from Spain or France”.

    So, the City Mayor contacted the Spanish and French Consuls in London. And, having found that the waistband of Finat’s trousers had the maker’s name of Robert Cumberland with an address in Paris (together with the name Finat and Madrid), the Mayor also contacted M Cumberland. In the telegram reply, it was confirmed that Hipolito Finat was a well-known gentleman from Madrid.

    The newspapers reported that he had, in fact, left Paris on 10th August, with 600 French Francs (about £24) and a gold watch and chain in his possession, although this was missing when his body was found.

    For some time, it seems Finat had been under the care of a Dr Barbet, Rue Boileau, Paris, and in a telegram received by the Mayor of Peterborough from Finat's bankers in Paris, it is stated that he was "temporarily mad". It was also reported that Finat had expressed an intention to commit suicide as he had thought that he would lose his fortune.

    At the inquest on 24th August 1885, an open verdict of Found Shot was returned.

    Image from the National Library of Wales


    With the identity confirmed and some context gathered, attention now focused on repatriation.
    On 19th August, the Consul-General of Spain based in London contacted the Mayor by telegram asking that the body be preserved. However, of course, the burial had taken place in the Broadway Cemetery two days earlier by the city Poor-Law Officials (after a photograph had been taken).

    Subsequently, on 10th September 1885, the Peterborough Mayor received an order from the Home Secretary for the exhumation of the body of Count Finat. This took place on 14th September at 4am in the presence of a group that included the Mayor, a Catholic priest, a doctor and the head-constable. 

    Four days later, the body was sent to London (after being encased in a lead shell and an oak coffin with silver mountings), where it was shipped on board the SS Lope de Vega, and forwarded to Madrid, accompanied by the priest.

    Why Peterborough?

    The question remains: Why did an important Spanish Count depart Paris and travel to Peterborough in England to commit suicide?
    While searching on the Count’s name in the newspaper archives, Finat’s name was found listed as a director on a 'prospectus' for the Union Bank of Spain and England Limited in 1881. This gives him a reason for having been in England – but the bank was headquartered in London, so why Peterborough? Maybe a branch was being considered there. Further searches show the bank went into voluntary liquidation around 1895, so it’s possible that Finat had good cause to fear he might lose his fortune.

    A noble link

    Peterborough does have one other link with Spanish nobility: some 350 years earlier, Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII, was buried in Peterborough Cathedral (1536). So, Finat was not the first important Spaniard to be buried locally – although he was probably the only one to have been exhumed and taken back to the country of his birth!
    At Free UK Genealogy, we naturally champion using free resources for our research. Although most newspaper archives are behind 'paid' walls these days, it is possible to search some newspaper archives for free and extract information. A search on ‘Count Finat’ in the newspaper archives (see sources below) brings up several pages of headlines and extracts, from which it has been possible to ascertain several facts about the incident, as Ian has related in this article. The Welsh Newspapers online site is, however, completely free!


    Results for 'count finat' | Between 1st Jan 1850 and 31st Dec 1899 | British Newspaper Archive

    Welsh Newspapers Online - Search - '()' (library.wales)

    Hipólito Finat | findmypast.co.uk

  • Camilla von Massenbach steps down as Free UK Genealogy trustee

    We are sad to share the news that Camilla Gemmingen von Massenbach has stepped down from her role as trustee of Free UK Genealogy.

    Together with Ben Laurie and Graham Hart, Camilla conceived and founded FreeBMD in 1998. Over the last 25 years, it has expanded to cover over 415 million records across a family of three sites. 

    She was instrumental in setting up FreeBMD as a charity, and served as a trustee of FreeBMD from the beginning and then, once the organisation expanded to include FreeREG and FreeCEN, of Free UK Genealogy. Although she stepped down as chair in 2017, she continued as trustee offering much needed help and guidance as the organisation developed. Pat Reynolds, who joined as Chief Executive Officer in 2016 remembers Camilla for her huge and continuing work for the charity, in areas from governance to running payroll, and for the personal support she received from Camilla over the years. Richard Light, outgoing Chair of Trustees, was first encouraged to get involved with Free UK Genealogy through the enthusiasm of Camilla (and husband Ben) for Open Data.

    We would like to note our deep appreciation for everything Camilla has done over all this time. Put simply, if it wasn’t for Camilla we wouldn’t have FreeBMD, or Free UK Genealogy today.

    She shared the following message which we would like to share with all the volunteers:

    I remember when we started FreeBMD. It seems like yesterday but was actually twenty three or twenty four years ago now.

    We had visions of a free access database with the BMD GRO indexes freely searchable. I think there were thought to be about 100 million entries at the time.  It seemed like an impossible target to aim for - to transcribe all those entries. There are somewhere approaching three times as many as the original target online now.

    We had visions of people collaborating and offering transcribing, other expertise and lots of time to achieve this, and even hoped we might be able to claim 100 million records in our lifetimes. We were not quite sure how to fund the resources we needed and funding continues to take up a lot of brainpower. But, we have managed to not charge for the transcribed data. It is still free access and always will be.  (If you wish to donate, we always welcome the support.)

    The task isn't complete but the achievement is real. The scope has widened. Our own umbrella Free UK Genealogy now also covers FreeREG and FreeCEN, sister databases with huge ambitions producing hugely significant primary source transcriptions for free access. Out there, the idea of Crowd Sourcing is well known and used successfully for all sorts of things. Those of you who were with us early on can legitimately say we must have been the first Internet Crowd Sourced project.  We set a pattern and have had a wide influence.

    My role was never a technical one, but for a long time, I ran the finances and acted as guinea pig tester and anything else that was wanted. There is rather a lot more to do these days and we have an Executive Director extraordinaire and a handful of wonderful staff as well as a dedicated board of trustees and an advisory board. The lines of communication have improved and the technical underpinning and systems which worked and worked for many years are all being modernised and made fit for the future. Of course the most important people are all the volunteers new and old who contribute time, expertise, enthusiasm at all levels of the organisations. The community has created a very useful thing!

    I am reviewing all this now, because I have enjoyed being part of this whole thing which has also been so important in my life for so long. However, recently, I have really only had time to provide a sort of continuity for the more recently enlisted trustees and am aware they are doing just fine. I also have rather a lot on, so fear I am not terribly reliable either. So it is time for me to step down as a formal Trustee.

    I wish Free UK Genealogy success!