Select Holmes Miscellany

Here are some Holmes stories and accounts over the years:

Holme as a Place Name in England

There are some 300 place names in England which bear the name "Holme."  The table below shows their distribution.

Braden Holme
Oxenholme, Holme Cultram
Forest Holme
Holme, Holme upon Spalding Moor
Kirton Holme
Ructon Holme


As can be seen, the place name Holme is mainly to be found in northern and eastern England, in areas where the Danelaw held sway and where the Danish/Vking influence was strong.

Holm as a place name is even more prevalent in the Scottish islands of Orkney and Shetland where the Vikings were present for a much longer time.  The root is the same Old Norse holmr, meaning here "a small and rounded islet."

The Paulli Holme Tower

Built by Robert Holme in the 15th century, the Paull Holme Tower on Humberside was originally part of an H-shaped group of buildings forming a fortified manor house.  The tower is a Grade 1 listed building and scheduled ancient monument.  The site includes the remains of a moat that used to surround the building, and it is believed that the only entrance to the tower was via a heavily-defended door and portcullis.

The Holme family continued to live at Paull Holme until the early part of the 20th century.  But the decline of the tower as the family residence probably started in around 1640 during the English Civil War when the building suffered damage at the hands of Cromwell's Parliamentary Army.  By the 19th century the tower had ceased to be habitable and in 1871 Colonel Bryan Holme converted it into a lookout and gazebo.

Local legend has it that the building is haunted by the ghost of a bullock which apparently climbed the tower steps in 1840 and fell to its death from the top.

Sir Robert Holmes and his Escapades

Robert Holmes was a Royalist, born in Ireland of English parents, who made his name in the navy in the Restoration period.  He took part in the second and third Anglo-Dutch wars, both of which he is, by some, credited with having started.  Holmes's Bonfire is what his raid in 1666 on the Dutch islands of Vlie and Schelling came to be called.

He was always quarrelsome and controversial during his professional life:
  • In 1660, he quarrelled with Samuel Pepys on the appointment of a ship captain.  Pepys recorded in his diary that he feared Holmes' temper might result in a duel and then he would certainly die.
  • In 1668, he acted as second in the duel between the Duke of Buckingham and the Earl of Shrewsbury. When the Earl died during the duel, he himself was convicted of murder but was later reprieved.
  • In 1671, he entertained the King, Charles II, lavishly at his new estate on the Isle of Wight.
  • In 1682, he angered the King by presenting an address from Charles's illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth.
From his later base in Yarmouth he would carry out almost piratical operations against Dutch and French shipping, which added greatly to his wealth.  His statue in Yarmouth church was in fact originally intended for the French King, Louis XIV.  The sculptor had created the body and was travelling to France to do the head "from life" when his ship was wrecked.  Robert captured the body and sculptor who was forced to sculpt and place Robert's own head on the statue.

A visitor, seeing the statue in the 1690's, commented:

"Sir Robert Holmes is buried where his statue is cut in length in white marble in the church and railed with iron gates.  He was raised from nothing and was an imperious governor.  What he scraped together he was forced to leave to his nephew and base daughter, having no other, and they have set up this stately monument which cost a great deal."

Holmes and Surname Spelling Variants in Scotland

Surname Incidence
In old parish records
In the 1891 census

Number                   Percent
Number                     Percent
   948                          14
   111                              3
   476                            7
   254                              6
   567                            9
 1,361                            34
   145                            2
     10                              -
1,000                           15
    226                             2
3,458                           53
 2,491                            55
6,594                          100
 4,053                           100

The old parish records reveal a number of different spellings around Holmes.  However, by the time of the 1891 census, there were only two names significantly still in circulation - Hume and Holmes.  Home and Hume were old Scottish border names, with Hume gradually taking over from Home.  But the name Home survived in the family of Lord Home of the Hirsel, the man who unexpectedly became British Prime Minister in 1963. Holmes would appear to have absorbed earlier spellings such as Holm and Holms.

Obadiah Holmes in Puritan New England

Obadiah Holmes, his wife Katherine and their family were among the many English Puritans who sailed to New England during the "great migration" of the 1630's.  They arrived in Boston in 1638, settled up the coast in Salem, Massachusetts, and joined the local church.  However, Obadiah took a disliking to the church's rigidity of teaching and began expressing his own opinions in religious discussions.  His views in fact were veering towards those of the Baptist faith who had begun settling in Rhode Island.  

In 1651, he travelled with two fellow believers to Lynn, Massachusetts at the invitation of a local Baptist there.  The three attended a local church service and, in a blatant act of disrespect, put their hats back on their heads after being seated.  For their action, they were removed by the constable, held overnight, and then sent to Boston for trial.  They were charged with distrurbing the public meeting and, more seriously, seducing others to their "erroneous jugdment and practices."

A week later, in a trial before the General Court, they were swiftly convicted and fined.  Obadiah, however, refused to pay or to allow others to pay on his behalf, thereby forcing the court to carry out its alternative punishment of a public whipping.  The whipping took place on September 5, 1651, thirty strokes with a three-cord whip.  Apparently Obadiah was silent throughout the ordeal, but proclaimed to the witnessing magistrates: "You have hit me as with roses."

Obadiah Holmes became a Baptist minister in Newport, Rhode Island and lived on for another thirty years.  He and his wife raised nine children and they presented him with forty one grandchildren.

Reader Feedback - Francis Holmes of Boston and Charleston                               

The Christopher Holmes Bracken website suggested that Francis Holmes of Boston and Charleston was the son of John Holmes, Plymouth Court messenger, originally from Yorkshire, who had evidently emigrated in the 1620's. 

I underestand that Mr. Bracken based his belief on a supposed letter his great-aunt received in the 1960's from a Mrs. Hamer Scarborough Morse of Sumter, South Carolina, in which the writer (probably now deceased) posited to Mrs. Caroline Holmes Bivens (now deceased) that she had seen a book that said something to the effect of: "John Holmes moved from Yorkshire, England to Bedford, NY and he had one son Francis who further removed to Boston" or something along those lines.  Evidently that ended any further search efforts for Caroline Holmes Bivens and her immediate relations.

However, in her own notes which she published and circulated to various family members during the latter part of the 20th century, she admitted that family members who still live in Charleston do not agree with her unsourced conclusions.   Most still only know Francis Holmes as the first Holmes ancestor and have seen nothing viable to indicate that his parent isthat John Holmes.  Ms. Bivens never actually produced the latter from Mrs. Morse and certainly no citation to the book was ever presented to anyone.  If you review what is available, particularly the work of anyone claiming a proven parentage for  Francis Holmes of Boston/Charleston,  I am fairly certain that you will find that connection lacking any substantial proof.

On the other hand, I would love to see anything tending to prove such a connection or any clues as to who Francis's parents actually are.  I've gone so far as to hire professional genealogists in New England to conduct primary research for me and we have never come up with anything.  Ms. Bivens spent a good portion of her life working on Holmes and other genealogy and maybe it was easier for her to feel like she had finally solved the puzzle she had spent decades working on before she died.  Understandably her close relations would continue to support her beliefs but, to my knowledge, we are still pretty much in the dark as to Francis Holmes's ancestry.

A. Riley Holmes Jr ( 

Oliver Wendell Holmes on the Supreme Court

Oliver Wendell Holmes was born in Boston in 1841, the son of Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr, a physician and author of novels, verse and humorous essays.  He thus grew up in a literary and prosperous family.  He entered Harvard Law School in 1864 and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar three years later.

By 1902 he was appointed to the US Supreme Court and he would serve there for thirty years, longer than anyone else.  He was called "the Great Dissenter" because he was often at odds with his fellow justices and was capable of eloquently expressing his dissents.  Louis Brandeis often joined him in dissents and their views often became the majority opinion in a few years' time.

Holmes was widely considered a "liberal" because he believed in free speech and the right of labor to organize.  But he was very conservative in his response to injury cases.  And he was a champion of "judicial restraint," deferring to the judgment of the legislature in most matters of policy.

He is considered one of the giants of American law, not just because he wrote so well but also because he wrote so much and for so long.  A lawyer seeking a quote from Holmes is never found wanting.  Even the Internal Revenue Service building in Washington DC bears his writing: "Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society."

Traherne Holmes at St. David's in Tipperary

St David’s was built for the Rev. Gilbert Holmes, the Protestant dean of Ardfert and a member of the prominent local Holmes family, who had arrived in 1728.  His son, Captain William Bassett Holmes, extended the house during the great famine and must have done a good job.  When it was completed, the local newspaper The Nenagh Guardian reported that he had erected “a handsome edifice.” 

After the death of the captain, St David’s came into its own as the seat of his son, Traherne Holmes, who earned a reputation as an eccentric bachelor and wildly competitive sportsman.  Traherne was a skilled fisherman, horseman, swimmer and yachtsman.  After a falling out with the club captain over his yacht the Knockrockery, he defiantly formed a new yacht club at St David’s, known as the Lough Derg Corinthian Yacht Club.

Holmes was also a horse trainer and his best animal, Tipperary Boy, won the Irish Grand National, the Dunboyne and Galway Plates, and came fourth in the Aintree Grand National.  When a Cork Stud offered the then-colossal sum of £3,000 for the horse, Holmes refused.  In 1894, Holmes famously challenged a local hero named Dalton to a 350-yard swimming match for a bet.  Hundreds were said to have turned out to watch Holmes humiliate his opponent, winning by a dozen lengths.

The Transports, a Ballet Opera

This ballet opera relates the true story of Henry Cabell and Susannah Holmes, convicts who were transported to Australia on the First Fleet in 1787, and the trials and tribulations which culminated in that historic voyage.  The story follows the historical research that had been undertaken by Eric Fowler.

The tale is presented as a cycle of new compositions in the idiom of traditional English folk song, linked by narrative passages in the style and to the melodies of broadsheet ballads of the time.  The orchestral passages and arrangements for the accompanied songs were conceived in such a way as to underline the overall feeling of “period.”  The instruments used were those likely to have been heard in the church bands or “quires” of East Anglian villages in those days.  The singers were chosen from the front rank of the English folk song revival and the melodies were composed to suit their individual style. 

The Transports was first performed in 1977.  There was a subsequent commemmorative re-issue of the recording in 2004. 

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