Guild of One-Name Studies
One-name studies, Genealogy
Category: 1 - A study where research using core genealogical datasets and transcriptions is in its early stages.
Contact: Mrs Lorraine Dicksee
The Dicksee family to which my husband belongs is unique in that the name was "manufactured" by his ancestor whose birth surname was actually Cox. This study is about this particular family.
I have, however, been working on the family history for about twenty years and have amassed much data on, and created large family trees for, associated family names.
There were a number of well known and successful artists within the family during the Victorian era. The picture at the top of this page is a sketch of Dicksee family members drawn in 1871 by Sir Frank Dicksee, KCVO DCL (Oxford) PRA.
There are no variants to this unique name.
Usually, you would expect to read here about how the name originates from a place or an occupation, or maybe a person’s features. Well, here’s a surprise: The name Dicksee comes from none of those origins. It is a totally “manufactured” name.
Richard Cox was born in the City of London 1785. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, most seamen would choose the merchant navy as, in general, pay and employment terms were better than within the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy was known to withhold 6 months’ pay to discourage desertion and paid wages to the men up to two years in arrears. In times of war, the Navy used impressment (colloquially known as press-ganging) to bolster its numbers. Basically, this means they were physically forced to join the Navy, often by trickery or even straightforward “kidnap”.
Richard grew up during the time of the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) and, in particular, the Battle of Trafalgar (1805) when over half the Royal Navy’s 120,000 men had been pressed. Patrolling in or near sea ports, the press gang would try to find men aged between 15 and 55 with seafaring or river-boat experience, but this was not essential. Merchant seamen ashore from their ships (and usually conspicuous by their clothing and general appearance) were strong targets. Anyone with seafaring experience encountered in the street would first be asked to volunteer for naval service. If the potential recruit refused, he was often plied with alcohol or simply seized and taken. Most recruits were, however, taken from merchant ships at sea, especially those homeward bound for Britain. This was legal so long as the Navy replaced the men they were taking.
It is understood from sources within the family that Richard was a merchant seaman. He must have sailed in and out of the Port of London, the busiest port in the world in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Pool of London was situated on the south side of the City of London and close to his home.
Within days of his marriage to Margaret Badger (8 December 1806), Richard was press-ganged into the Royal Navy. However, the family story says, he managed to escape a couple of years later or so and went into hiding in the underground cellar network beneath the streets of the Soho area of London. Whilst on the run, Richard started working as a boot closer (stitching the uppers to the soles of boots and shoes) within the cellars and it was during this time that he used an alias. This alias came from his nickname Dick C. And so it was that the name Dicksee came to be used by this particular branch of the Cox family.
Although further laws passed in 1835 upheld the power to impress, in practice it had fallen into disuse after the defeat of Napoleon in 1814 because the size of the Navy could be reduced. The practice was never pursued again. Consequently, Richard was able to come out of hiding and operate his business legitimately. The problem for him then was that his boot making business had been built in the name of Dicksee. He therefore decided to retain that name for business purposes whilst reverting to the true family name of Cox for more formal purposes such as births and marriages and such like. In practice, this has meant that some references to the family from Richard’s time onwards are found in the name of Cox and others in the name of Dicksee. And a few family members even went on to use the hyphenated name of Cox-Dicksee or Cox Dicksee for a period of time. Eventually, as time went on, births, marriages and deaths and other legal or formal events gradually came to be recorded solely in the name of Dicksee.
Positive evidence of the link between the Cox and Dicksee names is clearly contained in the church registers and other records.
The story of this particular branch of the Dicksee family starts in the early 19th century and for the purpose of this study I do not intend to include the original Cox family name. I am, however, looking at occurrences of this precise spelling of the name which occurred prior to the Cox family name change in an attempt to explain how those individuals came to be using this same name. I anticipate in most of those historical instances the name will have been spelt incorrectly within the recorded data.
A few members of the family have taken DNA tests.
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