St Matthew's Secret

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Our Pioneering Ancestors ....

Prepared by Carol Pickett - granddaughter of Ada Louisa Handcock

The Han(d)cock Family of Coldridge, Devon

I would never have believed that researching our family history would prove to be so exciting. We were on holiday in Somerset in 2003 and decided to visit Coldridge in Devon where my father’s mother’s family originated. At that time I had no idea that the village spawned so many pioneers within my own family. Sadly my father died in September 2004, before the ‘pioneering’ information came to light.

Excitingly we found several gravestones of our ancestors in the beautiful churchyard of St Matthew’s – even my Great Great Grandfather, Samuel Handcock, landlord of the Stags Head Inn….a gravestone almost hidden beneath spreading trees to the left of the church.

The death certificate for Samuel Handcock (William & Ann’s son) shows that he died on 25th October 1865 aged 38 years, Innkeeper, of Apoplexy with the informant being his wife, Mary Handcock, present at the death……one wonders why he died at such a young age of a stroke……something we’ll never know I suppose..….

This led us along the road to wanting to know even more about our ancestors. As there are now at least 6 decades of UK census information available on the internet it was possible to follow through with a huge part of this family’s history from the comfort of our own home.

However, there is always a point in time where you realise that there may be many other living relatives ‘out there’ who can put more meat on the bones and maybe have valuable photographs of our colourful kin of yesteryear that we can share.

Luck plays a big part in research, alongside dogged perseverance. We have now discovered that Coldridge gave birth to several pioneers to the antipodes.

We can trace the Han(d)cock line back to at least 1683 to John Hancock (christened 20th May 1683 in Coldridge) who married a Margaret Bragg. There followed several generations with the eldest son of each family being named John.

We come to John Handcock christened 27th September 1775 who married Grace Eldridge also born in Coldridge in 1775 – they married on 4th August 1802 in Coldridge and were blessed with at least 6 children, all born in Coldridge. This amazing couple’s decision to leave their home in England to take up a new life in Australia in the Swan River Colony was to have a profound effect on the later development of the State of Western Australia.*

*This information and much much more has been researched by H L (Mick) Kilpatrick in his booked entitled “The Hancock Story” (detail below) – although the book terminates at the end of the third West Australian born generation).

There is another book entitled “Hancock and Wright” by John F Moyes which gives a colourful account of this John Handcock sailing north from Fremantle in the three-masted schooner “Sea Ripple” with his sister Emma Withnell & her family and another sister, Fanny Hancock, their destination being Cossack (then called Port Tietsin), near Roebourne and 1000 miles north of Perth. They encountered a storm and the schooner ran aground on a small reef. This is a tale of courage in the face of adversity – a website with a synopsis of this story can be found at:

In following my research through to the current day, it was surprising to discover that my grandmother Ada Louisa Handcock** was a 3rd cousin of Langley Hancock**. Langley Hancock became one of the richest men in Australia and was the 3rd great grandson of John Hancock & his wife Ann Leach through their eldest son, John. Our line of descent is through their youngest son, William who remained in England.

**It appears that the earlier spelling of Handcock was used mostly by our earlier English ancestors – with the ‘d’ being dropped at some stage by the Australian lineage, although the exact timing and reasons for this are not known.

Lang Hancock (1909-1992) was famous in the Southern Hemisphere for discovering iron ore on 22nd November 1952 when he and his wife, Hope, were flying in a tiny Auster aircraft – storm clouds were gathering and they were forced to fly below the clouds through a gorge route, knowing that was the only escape for them. The prospector in Lang could see what appeared to be iron ore in the wet walls of the gorge.***

The rest is history as they say. Lang was the first person to observe and realise that Australia could supply the total World consumption of iron ore for probably thousands of years. His discovery led to the early development of the giant Pilbara iron ore province in West Australia.

***The story of Langley Hancock is well documented on the internet.

Several websites give a fascinating insight to the discoveries – here are just a few of them:

There have been several books written about (or including) the pioneering Hancock family – as follows:

The Hancock Story, ISBN 0646 03577 0
By K L Kilpatrick. 1991 Action Press.

YEERA-MUK-A-DOO, ISBN 085905 307 5
A Social History of the Settlement of North-West Australia
Told through the Withnell and Hancock families 1861 to 1890 by Taylor, Nancy E Withnell .

There is also a biography of Lang Hancock by John McRobert that we’ve yet to obtain, but will make fascinating reading I’m sure. We believe this was the only biography to have been authorised by Lang Hancock’s family and the author was afforded complete access to all records held by Hancock Prospecting Pty Ltd. The biography was published to mark the 50 year anniversary of HPPL, the parent company founded by Lang himself.

Research is not undertaken in isolation so we owe a debt of gratitude to all those family historians we have met along the way including family and old & new-found friends…………and the search goes on and on and on……….




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