At London on Thursday 9th April 1891, a Tailor named Charles Henry Yelland who was five feet seven and one tenth inch tall, with fresh complexion, brown hair, and blue eyes, signed up to the Royal Marines Light Infantry. Who was he? He was my wife’s great grandfather.

Only a few days earlier, the 1891 Census of England, Scotland and Wales had been taken on the night of Sunday 5th April, and intriguingly, there was no sign of him anywhere. Neither could he be found in the previous two Censuses in 1881 or 1871. His life in the RMLI is well documented in his service records, but prior to his enlistment, it quite simply appears that he doesn’t exist. So, what is actually known about him?

His Birth

At his enlistment with the RMLI, he told Lt. Col. J. Morris that he was born on 9th March 1869 at Marylebone. The birthplace does at least correspond with his birthplace as enumerated in the 1901 Census of England. However, there are no births of a Charles Henry Yelland registered within the first six months of 1869 at Marylebone. In fact there is only one birth registered in England and Wales of a Charles Henry Yelland of a similar age, and he was born on 7th February 1869 at Kingsteignton in Devon. Having traced this Charles and his family in Devon right up to his death in April 1894 at the age of twenty-five, an event at which his father James Henry Yelland was present, it is quite obviously not the same person.

Early Years In The RMLI

His first posting was to the Royal Marines Depot at Walmer, near Deal in Kent, where he served as a Private until 26th October the same year. He was then transferred to the Portsmouth Division which was based at Eastney on Portsea Island in Hampshire, where he continued to serve as a Private, and where he was to spend by far the majority of his military career.

According to his service records, he was Hurt or wounded shortly after being posted to the Portsmouth Division, the injury being sustained on 20th November, but the nature of the injury is unknown. He passed his first instruction in Gunnery (Sea Service) on 7th May 1892, his general proficiency being recorded as very good. He passed his first instruction in Musketry on 30th July 1892 at Browndown, situated between Lee-on-the-Solent and Stokes Bay in Gosport, Hampshire, and regularly passed further Musketry instruction over the next sixteen years. In total, he received five good conduct badges, the first of which he was awarded on 9th April 1893.

His Marriage And Children

On 3rd December 1894, at the age of twenty-five, Charles Henry Yelland married twenty year old Susan Ellen Bartlett at St John’s church, in Forton, Gosport, in the presence of Robert Wynne & Edith Ann Whittaker. His occupation was recorded as Private RMLI, their addresses being given as Forton Barracks and 160 Forton Road respectively. Their fathers were named as Charles Henry Yelland, a Tailor, and Matthew Bartlett, a Carpenter. I was unable to find a Tailor in the UK by the name of Charles Henry Yelland, and sadly, there weren’t any clues about who the Yellands were from the witnesses to their marriage either.

In the 1891 Census, Robert Wynne was a twenty-four year old Police Constable living at Brockhurst Road in Gosport, his birthplace being given as Flintshire, Wales. His twenty-five year old wife, Henrietta née Guy, was born at Winchester, Hampshire, and they were married in the Fareham area of Hampshire in early 1889. At the time of the 1901 Census, Robert was still a Police Constable, but he and his family had moved to New Buildings, Idsworth, in Catherington, Hampshire, his birth town being given more specifically as Mold.

Edith Ann Whittaker was born at Gosport in the Spring of 1876, the daughter of Robert Whittaker and his wife Mary née Jones who were married at Cardiff in 1858. In the 1891 Census, the Whittakers were living at Forton Road in Gosport, fifty year old Robert’s occupation being given as Hair Dresser, and his birthplace as Lancaster, Lancashire. His forty-nine year old wife was said to have been born at Llandaff in Glamorgan. The Whittakers were still living in Gosport at the time of the 1901 Census, but had moved to 17 San Diego Road, Robert’s occupation being recorded as Pensioner RMLI, his birth town being given as Cockerham.

Charles and Susan had three children, two daughters and one son, all of whom were born at Gosport: Susan Ellen on 12th September 1895; Charles William Henry on 11th December 1897; and Beatrice May on 8th September 1899.

Meanwhile In The RMLI…

Charles was tested for his ability to swim on 17th June 1896 at Forton, Gosport, which he passed. His second Good Conduct Badge was awarded him on 7th April 1897, and he passed another Gunnery instruction with very good proficiency on 16th May 1898. He was promoted a few times during his career with the RMLI, including to Corporal on 7th September 1898, and to Sergeant on 8th February 1900. Upon his promotion in 1898, he spent a little over three months at the HMS Victory shore base at Portsmouth until 19th December, and it was at this point that he sustained another injury on 20th December. Once again, the nature of the injury is not known.

The United Grand Lodge Of England

Within Freemasonry, there are three degrees, the first being Initiate, the second is Fellow Rattens, and the third is Master Mason, each of which has its own ceremony. At the age of thirty-one, Charles Henry Yelland joined the United Grand Lodge of England when he was initiated into the Hope Lodge at Gosport on 19th September 1900 (Lodge number 2153). He soon passed to the second degree on 17th October 1900, and was raised to the third degree on 21st November the same year. His profession was recorded as “Sgt R.M.L.I.”, and he consistently paid his quarterly membership dues for the following twenty years.

The 1901 Census

At the time of the 1901 Census, which was taken on the night of Sunday 31st March, the family were living at 16 Harcourt Road, Gosport. Charles Henry Yelland was said to be thirty-two years old and a Sergeant in the RMLI, his birthplace being given as Marylebone, Middlesex. With him are his twenty-six year old wife, Susan Ellen, and their three children, Susan Ellen, a five year old School Girl, Charles William Henry aged three, and Beatrice May aged one (Ref: RG13 Piece 1010 Folio 17 Page 26).

Further Military Activity

According to his service records, Charles was re-engaged to the RMLI on 11th October 1902. He passed two more Gunnery instructions with very good proficiency in each case on 11th March 1904 and 16th August 1909. His third and fourth Good Conduct Badges were awarded him on 7th April 1903 and 6th April 1907, and he was awarded his only medal on 9th April 1906, which was for Long Service and Good Conduct.

The 1911 Census

By the time of the 1911 Census, which was taken on the night of Sunday 2nd April, the family had moved to 5 Leesland Road, Gosport. Charles Henry Yelland was said to be a forty-two year old Sergeant in the Royal Marines Light Infantry, his birthplace being recorded as London. With him are his thirty-six year old wife, Susan Ellen, and their three children, Susan Ellen aged fifteen, Charles William Henry aged thirteen, and Beatrice May aged eleven (Ref: RG14 Piece 5630 Schedule 59).

His Final Promotion in the RMLI

Charles Henry Yelland’s final promotion was on 24th February 1912 when he was promoted to Colour Sergeant, and he received his fifth and final Good Conduct Badge on 4th April the same year. His character and ability were both recorded as very good throughout his entire career with the RMLI, but at the time of his discharge on 8th April 1912, his ability was recorded as “superior”. Finally, he was demobilised on 27th November 1914.

The Death Of His Wife

Susan Ellen Yelland née Bartlett died at her home, 132 Whitworth Road, Gosport, on 8th June 1915 at the age of forty. Her death was registered in the April-June quarter of 1915 in the Alverstoke Registration District (volume 2B page 783). She was buried in plot 47 at Ann’s Hill Cemetery, Gosport, on 12th June. The following two announcements were printed in the Portsmouth Evening News:

Portsmouth Evening News, Wednesday 16th June 1915:
YELLAND.—Mr. Yelland and family, 132, Whitworth-road, wish to express thanks to friends and neighbours for sympathy and floral tributes in their sad bereavement.

Portsmouth Evening News, Wednesday 28th June 1916:
In Memoriam
ROBEY–YELLAND – In loving memory of my dear daughters, Beatrice Maud Robey, who died Oct. 12th, 1908, aged 27; also Susan Yelland, died June 8th 1915, aged 41 years. Daughters of the late Matthew Bartlett. – from their loving mother, Maria Bartlett.

Marriage Of His Eldest Daughter

On 26th April 1918, Charles Henry and Susan Ellen Yelland’s eldest daughter, Susan Ellen, married Edward James Albray at St Mary’s church, Alverstoke, Gosport, in the presence of Edward’s sister, Elizabeth Rathmell, and Susan’s father, Charles Henry Yelland, a Foreman Tailor. At the time, Edward (whose name at birth was registered as Edwin but who was generally known as Ned) was based at the Shoreham camp in Sussex where he was serving as a Gunner with the Royal Garrison Artillery. Ned and Susan’s first child, a son who they named Charles William Edward, was born on 21st October 1919 at 132 Whitworth Road, Gosport. Sadly, he was to be the only grandchild that Charles Henry Yelland would meet.

His Death

Almost a year to the day after the birth of his first grandchild, Charles died at his home, 132 Whitworth Road, Gosport, on 20th October 1920 at the age of fifty-one. His death was registered in the October-December quarter of 1920  in the Alverstoke Registration District (volume 2B page 648). He was laid to rest with his wife in plot 47 at Ann’s Hill Cemetery, Gosport on 26th October. The following two acknowledgments appeared in the Portsmouth Evening News in its issue of Saturday 30th October 1920:

YELLAND. – The children of the late Mr. C. H. Yelland wish to thank the members of the Sergeants’ Mess Warrant Officers’ Mess R.M.L.I., workmates Tailors’ Shop, Royal Marines’ Old Comrades’ Club, and the Federation Club, for kindness shown them in their sad bereavement; also for beautiful floral tributes.

YELLAND. – The children of the late Mr. C. H. Yelland wish to thank all kind friends and neighbours for their sympathy in their sad bereavement; also for floral tributes.

Following His Death

Charles Henry Yelland’s two youngest children were both married after his death. The first was his daughter Beatrice May, who at the age of twenty-one married a twenty-one year old Engine Driver, Harry Christopher Perry, at St Mary’s Church in Gosport on 25th June 1921. The witnesses to their marriage were Beatrice’s brother-in-law, Edward James Albray, and Harry’s brother, George Alfred Charles Perry. Their fathers were recorded as George Henry Perry, a Labourer, and Charles Henry Yelland, a Foreman Tailor. Harry and Beatrice (or Beat as she was known) were both residents of Whitworth Road in Gosport, Harry having lived at number 100, and Beat at number 132. Unlike her siblings, Beat had no children.

Charles and Susan’s only son, Charles William Henry, married Dorothy Regina Dyer on 1st August 1927 at St Nicholas, Pinvin, in Worcestershire, in the presence of Archibald Edgar George Dyer and Daisy Hughes. They were aged twenty-nine and twenty-three respectively, Charles’ occupation being given as a Sergeant in the Royal Engineers. Their fathers were named as Charles Henry Yelland, a Colour-Sergt. in the R.M.L.I., and Joseph Henry Dyer, who was a Labourer.

Charles and Susan had three more grandchildren, two boys and one girl. They were Edward John Albray who was born on 29th May 1926, and his younger brother Harry Douglas who was born on 9th February 1930, both boys being born at 132 Whitworth Road. The final grandchild was Dorothy Regina Yelland, who was born at Singapore in 1933.

The National Identity Register

When the National Identity Register was taken on Friday 29th September 1939, both of Charles and Susan Yelland’s daughters were with their husbands at Gosport. The Albray family were living at 132 Whitworth Road, Ned being recorded as a General Labourer at Priddy’s Hard (Ref: RG101/2344C/006). Harry and Beat Perry weren’t too far away, living at 13 Church Road (Ref: RG101/2346F/016). Meanwhile, their daughter in law, Dorothy, was with her mother, Priscilla Dyer, at 3 North End, Pershore (Ref: RG101/5818J/007). Charles William Henry Yelland and Charles William Edward Albray can’t be found in this Register, most likely because they were both in active service at the time.

A Silver Wedding Anniversary

The following announcement appeared in the Portsmouth Evening News in its issue dated Tuesday 27th April 1943:

ALBRAY–YELLAND – On April 26th, 1918, at Alverstoke Church, Edward to Susan. – Hearty congratulations to Mum and Dad from the boys, Enid, and David.

The Deaths Of His Children

Charles and Susan’s children died in the same order in which they were born, but with quite significant age differences: Susan Ellen Albray née Yelland died on 2nd August 1947 in Gosport, aged fifty-one, from what the family said was a broken heart from having lost her eldest son, Charlie, at the age of twenty-seven. He died of Tuberculosis (TB) on 19th February 1947 at the Shaftesbury Military Hospital in Dorset, the family believing he contracted it towards the end of World War II while serving with the Royal Army Service Corps. Susan was laid to rest with her parents on 5th August in plot 47 at Ann’s Hill Cemetery, Gosport. The following announcements appeared in the Portsmouth Evening News of Monday 4th August:

Albray — Susan Ellen, devoted wife of Ned and Mother of Eddie and Harry. Passed away 2nd Aug 1947.
Gone to meet Charlie but will be sadly missed by all.

Albray — our dear sister, will always be remembered by Beat and Charlie, Doll, Harry and Dossie.

Charles William Henry Yelland died on 30th January 1979 at Birmingham, aged eighty-one; and Beatrice May Perry née Yelland died in the Autumn of 1989 at Warsash near Southampton, aged ninety. Their sons in laws and daughter in law also died over a span of almost thirty years: Harry Christopher Perry died in the Summer of 1962 at Gosport, aged sixty-three; Edwin James Albray died of pneumonia on 25th May 1972 at Gosport, aged seventy-seven; and Dorothy Regina Yelland née Dyer died on 8th October 1991 at Birmingham, aged eighty-eight.

Extensive Research

For well over ten years, I’d tried time and time again to try and find out exactly who Charles Henry Yelland was, but had failed miserably. I just seemed to keep going over the same things, nothing new showing up, no new leads to follow. It was extremely frustrating, and it felt as though he’d really beaten me. Most people find brickwalls in their family tree much further back in time than 1891, but I’d been stuck there for what felt like an eternity. So I was determined that 2017 was going to be the year that I finally knocked down that brickwall for good.

As previously stated, there was no birth registered within the first six months of 1869 in the Marylebone area of a Charles Henry Yelland or variant spelling. Even though there were a few Yelland marriages in and around that area, none of them led to a family with a son named Charles Henry or Henry Charles born around 1869. In addition, the fact that he may have been illegitimate meant there was a chance that his birth hadn’t been registered. This is because  until the Registration Act of 1874, even though the registering of births had been compulsory since 1st July 1837, the responsibility was down to the registrar, not the parents. From 1875 when the Registration Act became effective, the onus was put on the parents, and fines were imposed for non-compliance. The chance that he may not have been Christened couldn’t be ruled out either, regardless of whether he was illegitimate or not.

It was quite obvious that more extensive research needed to be done to try and determine exactly who Charles Henry Yelland was. He had to be somewhere before 9th April 1891, but where, and using what name?

On his RMLI service records, his occupation was given as a Tailor at the time of his attestation on 9th April 1891, so the chances were quite high that he was a Tailor four days earlier when that year’s Census was taken. So I felt the best place to start was looking for any tailors who had been born in the Marylebone area, and there were far more than a few! One by one, they were sifted out, until, eventually, one Tailor by the name of Charles Henry Balmont began grabbing my attention.

While researching his family, I learned that he had been born on 20th February 1870 at 58 Great Titchfield Street in Marylebone. He was the first of five children born to Charles Henry Discombe Balmont and his Irish wife Elizabeth née Mahon, who were married on 25th July 1869 at St James’ Piccadilly, Westminster, London, in the presence of Thomas Chard and Georgina Collett. His siblings were Frederick James, William, Elizabeth Harriet, and Ernest Albert, but very sadly Frederick James and William both died in 1873, in fact their death indexes are found on neighbouring pages.

There was something that really hit me about this Charles Henry Balmont though, which began making me believe he could actually be Charles Henry Yelland. When Charles Henry Yelland married Susan Ellen Bartlett, he stated that his father was Charles Henry Yelland whose occupation was a Tailor. Charles Henry Balmont’s father, Charles Henry Discombe Balmont, was indeed a Tailor. In other families I’d traced, the father’s forenames and occupation had never matched up as in this case. In addition, my wife’s family had always said that the Yellands came from Devon, and Charles Henry Discombe Balmont was born on 21st April 1844 at Dulverton, which is located on the Devon and Somerset border, and is known as the Gateway to Exmoor.

There were two things that left a slight doubt in my mind however. The first was the conflicting birth dates, but I couldn’t help but think that if he was going to give a different surname when joining the RMLI, then what was going to stop him giving a false date of birth as well? I personally think he would most likely have chosen a birth date that he could easily remember, for example, his mother’s birthday, but so far, my research has found no one in the Balmont family with a birthday of 9th March. The birth year of 1869 doesn’t take too much thinking about, because it was the year his parents were married. As he was actually twenty-one years old when he signed up to the RMLI, there was absolutely no need at all for him to increase his age, like so many others have done over the years who weren’t really old enough to sign up.

The second is the issue of why he would choose the surname Yelland. During my research of all his Balmont family, Yelland is not a surname that has appeared as I had expected. There could be so many possibilities as to why he chose that surname, his best school friend, his favourite teacher, or maybe even the person who he did his apprenticeship with. Interestingly, there was a Tailor named Henry Yelland who lived just a couple of miles away from the Balmont family in London during the 1870s. Could he and his family be the connection? That most likely will be a question I will never know the answer to. One thing is for sure, if he had disowned his family, or if they had disowned him, what better way could there be of making it impossible for them to trace him than by changing his identity?

There are two further details, however, that I felt were of great significance. The first is that, after thoroughly researching the Balmont family, Charles Henry Balmont born 20th February 1870 at Marylebone suddenly vanishes. The last sighting of him was on 5th April 1891 when that year’s Census was taken, when he was living at Wormington Road in Kensington with his mother, Elizabeth, and his two younger siblings, Elizabeth and Ernest (Ref: RG12 Piece 27 Folio 76 Page 65). After that date, he doesn’t appear in either the 1901 nor the 1911 Census, there are no service records for him in the armed forces, he doesn’t appear in ships’ passenger lists, there is no entry for him in the 1939 National Identity Card Register, and neither is there a marriage record, a death index nor a burial record that can be found for him. He quite simply vanishes from existence! Yes, he vanishes, and four days later, Charles Henry Yelland suddenly appears from nowhere!

The second is far more convincing, and was really the clincher, a vital detail that had somehow been missed when initially looking at his service records. Under the section headed “Marks, Wounds and Scars” was something of particular interest! It was very common practice for a man joining the Royal Navy or the Royal Marines to have his initials tattooed on his forearm, and any tattoos were described in this section. As Charles Henry Yelland was one such person, you would expect the tattooed initials to read “C Y” or maybe even “C H Y”. However, even though there is some heavy marking through the text, on line three, the description of his tattoo reads: “4 dots C B on L forearm”. Yes, CB, or, Charles Balmont!

Intriguingly, when Charles Henry Discombe Balmont wrote his will, which was dated 10th March 1910, neither his wife Elizabeth nor his son Charles were named. Sadly, his daughter Elizabeth Harriet had died earlier the same year, which is obviously why she wasn’t mentioned in his will. Rather, their only other son, their youngest child, Ernest Albert Balmont, was named as the sole executor, and “absolutely” everything was bequeathed to him, and him alone. Charles Henry Discombe Balmont died on 6th November 1919, and after all expenses were paid, the net value of his Personal Estate was £5264 7s. 7d., which in 2005’s terms would be the equivalent of around £134,650, a very healthy sum for anyone, let alone someone who had been a Tailor’s Cutter.

In Conclusion

As a closing thought on the subject, the following was received from a gentleman named Chris Buck, who is a cousin of Charles Henry Balmont/Yelland’s great niece Frances Cook. I would never have found out about this if it hadn’t been for the Internet, and more specifically Chris’ website which detailed the family of Frances’ father. After contacting Chris, he very kindly passed on my research to Frances, and her reply, though brief, is to say the least, very poignant.

“I heard stories when I was little, about someone who disappeared, and it was said his mother wore herself out consistently walking the streets looking for him.”

On the one hand, I feel overwhelmingly happy that the mystery of who Charles Henry Yelland really was has finally been solved, while on the other hand I feel so very sad that the answer has been found one hundred and five years too late for his poor mother. She spent the last twenty-one years of her life not knowing where her firstborn child was, what had happened to him, not even knowing whether he was still alive or not. No doubt she died a broken-hearted woman.

I’m convinced that something must have happened in the Balmont family at some point between the 1881 and 1891 Censuses, because the 1881 Census is the last one where the family are found living together, their address being 100 Clarendon Road, Kensington (Ref: RG11 Piece 35 Folio 41 Page 26). From then on, in the 1891, 1901, and 1911 Censuses, Charles is always found living alone, although he is never too far away from Elizabeth and their children. In these three Censuses, both he and Elizabeth are recorded as “married”, although it appears they are actually leading separate lives. It also seems very likely that whatever it was that happened, in time it not only caused their son Charles to feel the need to secretly leave home, but to give himself a new identity and a fresh start in life.

By piecing everything together as detailed above, it seems very clear to me that Charles Henry Yelland and Charles Henry Balmont are one and the same person, and that, finally, Charles Henry Yelland is no longer “a man of mystery”!


5 thoughts on “CHARLES HENRY YELLAND – A Man Of Mystery?”

  1. Wonderful story, Jon, and great research. I take my hat off to you! I’m wondering could it be that it was discovered or revealed that Charles Henry’s father was someone else? There could be many other explanations, but that’s the first that comes to mind. It could explain the separation, and the omission of Charles and Elizabeth from the will.


  2. I have a photo of a Miss Yellund, a social worker who wrote letters for patients at the Royal Sea Bathing Hospital at Margate ca. 1910 – ? She was a friend of my grandmother, Lena Brown Suffling Clarke. Will send a .jpeg copy to anyone who is related to her.
    Sonia Bennett Murray


  3. Wonderful article – Being he was a tailor, could he have been trying to get out of an Apprenticeship? Believe apprentices were not allowed to join the forces, hence on attestation papers they pose the question are you an apprentice. Also some apprenticeships had tough conditions written into the indentures and some tied them to the master for longer than the actual apprenticeship.


  4. Very interesting article. Regarding his use of the name Yelland, have you considered connections with Yelland in Devon. Although Dulverton is in Somerset, Yelland is further west along the north Devon coast. Perhaps his father had some connection. Have you established who the father of Charles Henry Discombe Balmont was? I note from the Dulverton Parish register and also from the GRO index that there is no father mentioned. One possibility is that he was called Discombe of course, but another possibility is that he was called Yelland or perhaps came from Yelland. Just some ideas.


  5. A wonderful story of great detective work, so glad I took the time to read this very clearly written piece of resolute research. This article has now started me wondering about my own grandfather who was a tailor at the turn of the century as regarding his apprenticeship and other related matters. Wonderful how gathered knowledge leads to other unopened doors and inspirations for others. Thank you


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