No small potatoes

The Irish Great Famine saw a lot of people leave Ireland. One of them was a distant relative of Mirinda’s who was orphaned and sent to Australia to be married off to a man who had settled in Bathurst. Another one, completely unrelated to my wife, was Henry Hilton Leigh.

In 1853, Henry went to Chile. Then, two years later, Peru where he became successful and wealthy. His brother, John, went with him but he falls off the historical record quite quickly. I have no idea why.

Born in 1832 in Wexford, Henry was the adventurous type. At the age of 21, he boarded a ship for South America and sought out opportunities to make a fortune.

I guess things weren’t so good in Chile because he soon settled in Peru where he started off working for a British company. He wasn’t that keen on this (for obvious reasons) and, eventually went out and created H.H. Leigh & Co.

Among a few firsts, Henry introduced the first cotton press to Peru and made his fortune exporting to Europe. And not just cotton. He also exported cattle. And he had the first telephone in Peru, linking his house with his office.

He even created a new measurement, the carga. This is a unit of weight, equal to about 300 pounds (136.078 kg). I assume it was used for a single quantity of cotton. Why Henry called it ‘carga’ is anyone’s guess. Maybe he said ‘cargo’ and the locals misheard his Irish accent. The measurement stuck and, according to the Webster dictionary, became mostly Mexican. Though we know it was Peruvian/Irish.

He helped establish and was the first president of his local Chamber of Commerce and Production from 1891-1905. He also supported the Belén hospital, being the philanthropic sort. When he died in 1911, he was one of the wealthiest landowners in his part of Peru.

He married a pair of sisters. Carmen Cortés del Castillo first, then, following her death, Mercedes Jesús Cortés del Castillo. They were related to the great Peruvian soldier, Miguel Cortés del Castillo, who helped repelled the Spanish at the Battle of Junín, a small yet decisive military engagement during the Peruvian War of Independence.

Something that occurred to me the other day when researching someone who married sisters is, would the children of both matches be siblings or cousins? Or some sort of hybrid relation? My great grandfather married a pair of sisters and had three sons with each. Were they sibsons? Or couslings? We may never know, though I rather like couslings.

This was not an issue for Henry and Carmen because they didn’t have any kids. Henry and Mercedes however, had a slew of them. One of the slew was Benjamin Hilton Leigh. Along with his brothers, Benjamin was sent to be a boarder at the Catholic Prior Park College in Bath, leaving in 1886. He then went on to study medicine at the School of Medicine at Owen’s College, Manchester.

Eventually, Benjamin became a doctor. He met and married a woman called Florrie Dyson. They moved to Southend-on-Sea and had a daughter, Carmen Cortez Leigh who eventually moved to Canada, where she died in 1985. She was a nurse during the Second World War.

Dr Benjamin, a generation earlier, served in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the First World War, dying in 1918, possibly of a tropical disease and aged around 50.

I found this amazing globe-trotting family history today while researching Benjamin. The day was mostly wet and grey and perfect for a bit of research.

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