Who Was Sydney Montague Priske?


Was he a Greenfield, a Pope or a Priske?  Was he Harry Pope, Sid Priske, Sam Priske, Harry Priske?  And how was his first name spelled?  On various legal documents it was either Sidney or Sydney.  At one time or another during his lifetime, he was all of these.

Many years ago I was a told a story by my mother.  The story she had was that my grandfather was brought up under the surname of Pope but at some point his mother told him that his name was not Pope, but that it was really Priske.   According to the story, apparently he immediately changed his name to Priske and never spoke to his mother again.

With that story in mind, I began my search for my grandfather’s birth under the name Sydney Montague Pope.   I searched, it seemed endlessly, for both a birth certificate and a marriage certificate and found nothing.

I then searched for a marriage certificate for my grandmother, Alice Kate Wheatley.   I found a record of a marriage for Alice Kate Wheatley, but at that time you had to send away to the General Registry Office in England and wait for six weeks for it to arrive in the mail.

Finally, the day arrived when the marriage certificate arrived.   The information was a gold mine, giving not only the names of the bride and groom, but also the names of their fathers and witnesses to the marriage:

A marriage was solemnized at the Parish Church of Willesden in the County of Middlesex, England on September 17, 1899


SYDNEY MONTAGUE POPE, Age 20, Bachelor, Occupation Loco’  Cleaner of 2 Bridge Road, Willesden, England, Father:  Mercer Pope, Occupation:  Miller.


ALICE KATE WHEATLEY, Age 21, Spinster, of 2 Bridge Road, Willesden, England, Father:  George Wheatley, Occupation:  Plate Layer.

Witnesses:   George Wheatley and Lily Wheatley.

But the most important part of the marriage certificate was the attestation in the margin:St. Mary's Church Willesden England

“In entry # 2/2, Column 2, for “Pope” read “Priske” and also in the attestation in Column 7, for “Mercer Pope” read “Thomas Montague Priske” and in Column 8 for “Miller” read  “Chief Mate”.

Corrected on August 22, 1901 by me, B.T. Skay, Vicar of Willesdon in the presence of Sydney Montague Priske and Alice Kate Priske, the parties married.”


That was the proof I needed to begin searching for my grandfather’s birth record.  A search for a birth record at the General Registry Office in England found the following:

Entry of Birth at the registration district of Malling, Subdistrict Wrotham, Kent, England.

Sidney Montague, boy, born 1st September 1879 at The Heath, Wrotham.

Father:  Thomas Montague Priske, Chief Mate of a Trading Vessel

Mother:  Julia Caroline Priske (formerly Greenfield)

Signature, description and residence of informant:  J. C. Priske, Mother, The Heath, Wrotham

Registered:  October 7, 1879, E. E. Beach, Registrar.

Note:  The birth record shows Julia Greenfield as “Julia Caroline Priske (formerly Greenfield)”.   After extensive research, there has been no proof of a marriage between Julia Caroline Greenfield and Thomas Montague Priske.  (no legal documents at the time were checked for truthfulness so there are often errors or misinformation recorded.)  A purported marriage to Thomas Montague Priske prior to 1879 has not been established.  If there was a liaison/marriage, it would have been aboard the “Scottish Lassie”, where Thomas Priske was a mate.  This ship was at sea in December, 1878 so it may be that Julia Greenfield was also on board that ship perhaps as a servant, child minder or a ladies’ maid.   Searches of the shipping records prove conclusively that Julia Greenfield was never on the “Scottish Lassie” at the time of the conception of Sydney.   It would be assumed that at some point in December of 1878 when Thomas Priske was docked in London that they met and had a brief relationship.   The questions that will never be answered are did Thomas Priske know of Sydney’s conception and birth?  Did Sydney know or ever meet his father?

After finding the birth record, the next step was to search census returns and immigration records for more information on where he lived.  Again, this was more difficult than I thought and required quite a bit of ingenuity to find him (or, simply put, a lot of detective work!).


Census returns are completed every ten years so I began my search with the 1881 census.

The 1881 April 3, 1881 Census of West Ham, Leyton, Essex, England:

2 Forest Road, Leytonstone, Leyton, St. John Parish, Essex

George Greenfield, Head, Contractor (Builder), Age 62, born in Pembury

Mary A. Greenfield, Wife, Age 57, born in Westham

Fredrick Greenfield, Son, Age 22, Certificated Schoolmaster, born in Horsemonden

Flora B. Greenfield, Daughter, Age 12, born in Wrotham

Albert V. Greenfield, Son, Age 10, born in Wrotham

Sydney Greenfield, Grandson, age 1, born in Wrotham

Oswald L. Harold, Boarder, age 3, born in Tunbridge Wells

The April 5, 1891 Census of Harrietsham, Hollingbourn, Kent, England

Mercer Pope, Head, Age 45, birth year 1846, Miller, Birthplace: Leybourne, Kent

Julia Pope, Wife, Age 30, birth year 1861, Birthplace: Bearstead, Kent

Sydney Pope, Son, Age 11, birth year 1880, Scholar, Birthplace: Wrotham, Kent

Alice Gent, Nursechild Boarder, Age 11 months, birth year 1891, Birthplace: Charing, Kent

The March 31, 1901 Census of 24 Guilsborough Road, Willesden, Middlesex, England

Sidney Pope, Age 21, Head, Occupation: Loco Cleaner Rly. EW, Birthplace: Waltham Heath, Middlesex

Kate Pope, Wife, Age 22, Birthplace: Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire

Jess. A. Rutland, Age 21, Boarder, Occupation: Loco Cleaner

George Cooper, Age 22, Boarder, Occupation: Loco Cleaner



The Lake Manitoba , a C.P.R. ship, left Liverpool, England on June 11, 1909, arriving at a Quebec Port (Montreal) at 11:45 a.m., June 21, 1909 with 599 passengers.    Among the passengers was Sydney Priske, Age 30, destination C.P.R., Fort William, Ontario.

The 1911 Canada Census June 1, 1911, Schreiber, Rainy River, Thunder Bay, Ontario:

Sydney M. Priske, Scotia Street, Age 30, Foreman, Railway, total earnings in 1910 $645.00

Alice Kate Priske, Age 31, wife

Alice Kate Priske, Age 9, daughter

Frederick Priske, Age 8, Son

George M. Priske, Age 7, Son

Edward Priske, Age 5, Son

Nellie Priske, Age 3, Daughter,

Ivy Louise Priske, Age 1, Daughter

But why and when was he called Harry?   The supposed reason for this nickname was that he was a servant in a house where the son of the household was also named Sidney.  In Victorian England, a servant could not have the same name as the son of the household so his name was arbitrarily changed to Harry and from then on his nickname and the name he was known by was “Harry”…

Unless he was called Sam!   Sam was his name when working for the C.P.R.  It was an abbreviation of his initials S.M.P.

Did you think genealogy was easy?  It certainly wasn’t easy finding the census returns, but with enough perseverance the beginnings of his life became clear.

Unfortunately, Sydney Montague Priske died on May 16, 1938 at the age of 59, due to a tragic train derailment.  His obituary from the Thunder Bay Daily News is as follows:

The funeral of Sidney Montague Priske was held Thursday morning at 10:00 o’clock from St. John’s Anglican Church. The body arrived from Fort William on train number four Thursday morning and was escorted to the church by members of Red Rock Lodge number 387 of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Engineers.

Flowers from the immediate family were placed on the casket and cut flowers were placed on the altar for Mr. Priske from the ladies’ society of B. of L.F. and E. Cut flowers were placed on the chancel by the Public and Continuation School, Schreiber, Mrs. E. Neal and family, Neil McIsaac and Partridge and Col. and Mrs. Mac…, Toronto. Rev. A. E. Carding conducted the service at the church and the cemetery.

Hymns sung were “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” and “There is a Green Hill Far Away”. The choir was in attendance. Florence Smith presided at the organ. Mrs. Winnie Strang of Ford William, niece of Mr. Priske, sang a chorus of “Abide With Me”.

Representatives of the Rebekahs in charge of the flowers were Mrs. Don L. … and Mrs. Fred Hiller, assisted by Mrs. Theodore Wilson, Mrs. J. D. …
Pallbearers were C.P.R. Constable Niblock, E. Sheehan, George Smith, E. Morrill, Allan McLean and E. Cambridge. Members of the family who attended the funeral were Mrs. S. Priske, Fred and Kenneth, Mr. and Mrs. Percy Ely and family, Dr. and Mrs. G. C. Post.

Mr. Priske was born in England, September 1, 1879. He leaves to mourn his loss his widow and five daughters, Alice, Mrs. Jack Ansell, London, England; Nellie, Mrs. Percy Sly, Schreiber, Ivy, Mrs. Carlyle Stephens, New Zealand; Jessie, Mrs. G. C. Post, Madawaska, Ont.; Margaret, Mrs. E. E. Eaton, Saanich, B.C.; and seven sons, Fred, with the London Life Insurance Co., Port Arthur; George M. (Monty), connected with Col. C.D.H. MacAlpine in mineral exploration in Yellow Knife River; M. Edward (Ted), Chief Petty Officer, Gunner’s Mate, Royal Canadian Navy, Halifax; Jack, Vancouver; Harry, stoker, Royal Canadian Navy, Halifax; Bob, seaman, Royal Canadian Navy, Halifax; Kenneth, at home. There are several grandchildren.

Mr. Priske came to Canada over thirty years ago. He entered the employ of the Canadian Pacific at Schreiber as a fireman, September 12, 1910, was promoted to engineeer December 18, 1913.

Dr. and Mrs. G. C. Post arrived from Madawaska, Wednesday, to attend the funeral. Other members of the family will arrive from Vancouver and points West Friday to be with their family for a while during their bereavement. S. B. McConnel, W. G. McPherson, B. J. Quilty, H. Smith and C. J. McGregor, C.P.R. officials, attended the funeral.”

In a future post I will delve into the life of the Priske family in Schreiber, Ontario, Canada.

Posted in Family Stories, Genealogy.