Yorkshire Chess History
Photo of a young Thomas Semple supplied by Peter Semple
from the album of Thomas’s brother Rev. Robert Semple who was Peter’s grandfather.
Thomas Semple is at first difficult to pin down. The name “Semple” gets variously confused with “Sample”, “Temple” and even “Hemple”.
There was a well-documented Thomas Semple born in the same year as the chess-player, at Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire; but this Thomas Semple, apparently, was still living in Scotland as late as 1891, though at least one personal family-history website combines the two Thomases. Also, there was a Thomas “Sample” born in Stockton-on-Tees in 1840, but he died in 1868. A Thomas Semple got married at Stockton in 1872, but that is too late to tie in with the 1871 census record of the chess-player’s wife and family.
Useful information comes unexpectedly from the 1881 Canada census and a grave, in Canada, of “Thomas Semple late of Stockton, England”.
Thomas Semple was born in December 1838, according to his gravestone. There seem to have been two people of that name born within twelve months in roughly the same area, but baptismal records which tie up with a family in the 1851 Scottish census make it evident that the future chess-player was the Thomas Semple born 13/12/1838 at Nether Kypeside, near Lesmahagow (with the stress on the third syllable, and rhyming with Glasgow), Lanarkshire, Scotland, to Robert Semple (born 1799) and Agnes Semple (née Loudon, 1810/11). This Thomas Semple was baptised at Lesmahagow on 01/01/1839.
There was a Thomas Semple in the 1841 Scottish census who was listed as a 2-year-old Thomas Semple, one of three children of John and Janet Semple (both 35 years old), living at 67 Robertson Place, Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland. This is clearly a different Thomas Semple from that born to Robert and Agnes Semple.
Later digging revealed the chess-player’s family recorded in the 1841 census living at Nether Kypeside, near Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, Scotland. The first three children in the table below were listed, Ann aged 4, Thomas aged 2 and John aged under a year.
The 1851 census found the family still living at Nether Kypeside, near Lesmahagow. Father Robert was a farmer of 114 acres employing 4 men. Besides the parents, Robert and Agnes Semple, there were in the household a Marion Semple (a popular Semple name for girls; born 1767/68) who appears to have been Robert’s mother, a Margaret Semple (born 1810/11) who may have been father Robert’s sister, a farm servant, and the following seven children:
Quite when the chess-playing Thomas Semple left Scotland, and when he arrived in County Durham in unclear, but it would appear he’d reached County Durham by 1861. The move may have involved relatives in County Durham, as suggested by the birth of a Thomas “Sample”, in Stockton-on-Tees, in 1840.
The 1861 census found a 22-year-old Scotland-born draper called Thomas Semple living with his 18-year-old Scotland-born sister “Marrion” (probably more correctly Marion) Semple as his housekeeper, at 10 Archer Street, in the Stranton area of Durham. His age and place of birth, the name, age and place of birth of his sister, his occupation and place of residence all make this look like an early sighting of the chess-player of Stockton-on-Tees.
Thomas Semple the chess-player married Jane Devereux (born 1836/37, Brecon, then in Brecknockshire, now in Powys). Jane was one of the children of Thomas Herbert Devereux (1810/11, Swansea, Glamorgan, Wales) and Isabel Devereux (née Duncan, 1820/21, Ormsby, Yorkshire). This latter couple had married on 03/11/1844.
The 1851 census found the Devereux family living in Back(?) Street, Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham. Father Thomas was a clothier and outfitter. Daughter Jane was a scholar.
This Devereux marriage was dissolved in 1858, on wife Isabel’s successful petition, which alleged cruelty and adultery.
Thomas Herbert Devereux, Isabel Devereux and their daughter Jane Devereux were all three separately listed in the 1861 census. Father Thomas had moved to Middlesbrough, where he was an innkeeper in Albert Bridge Place. Mother Jane, described as divorced, was a merchant tailor, employing 16 (or 10) men, living at 63 High Street, Stockton-on-Tees. Daughter Jane was draper and outfitter living with an apprentice and servant further along the road, at 29 High Street, Stockton-on-Tees.
In 1864, chess-player Thomas Semple married Jane Devereux in Stockton-on-Tees. The couple had at least the following three children, all born at Stockton-on-Tees, Co. Durham:
The 1871 census listed 32-year-old Scotland-born Thomas Semple, a master clothier employing 4 men, living with his wife, 34-year-old Brecon-born Jane Semple, and two of their children, 4-year-old Robert E. Semple and 3-year-old Ethel Semple, at 1 Bowerfield Terrace, Stockton-on-Tees. (The whereabouts of daughter Agnes is unclear.)
The Semple family managed the amusing feat of being listed in the 1881 censuses of two widely separated countries.
The 1881 England census, taken as at 03/04/1881, found Jane Semple (described as married, not widowed) living with daughters Agnes and Ethel at 36 Mandale Road, Thornaby-on-Tees (on opposite side of river to Stockton). Jane was a wool-shop keeper. The whereabouts of her husband Thomas and son Robert was not evident; they may have already departed for Canada.
The 1881 Canada census, which officially started on 04/04/1881, recorded 42-year-old Scotland-born father Thomas, 40-year-old mother Jane, and England-born children Agnes (15), Robert (14) and Ethel (12), living in an area described as “Western Extension & South Western Extension - Turtle Mountain, Manitoba Extension, Manitoba, Canada.” Thomas was described as a farmer by occupation, and Presbyterian by religion. (“Semple” was transcribed as “Sample” in the digitisation process.)
The inference has to be that the Semple family left Stockton-on-Tees, perhaps the menfolk first and then the womenfolk a little later, around March/April 1881, and reached their new home in Canada in time for all to be captured in the 1881 Canada census, which presumably took some time to complete, and wasn’t based strictly on who was in residence on 04/04/1881.
Thomas Semple died in November 1892 in the Turtle Mountain area of Manitoba, Canada, presumably near his place of burial, Portage la Prairie City, Manitoba, Canada (about 60 miles east of Winnipeg). He was buried in Hillside Memorial Cemetery, Portage la Prairie City, Manitoba, Canada.
His gravestone reads:
A photograph of the grave can be seen at:
It seems some of the family may have returned to England, as eldest daughter, Agnes Maude Semple, married Howard James King, in 1895, in England.
Wife Jane apparently died in 1916 .
Thomas Semple’s chess career in Co. Durham and Yorkshire spanned at least the period 1865 to 1869.
He was a visitor at the 1865 Redcar chess meeting (retrospectively named the 1st Annual Meeting of the North Yorkshire & Durham Chess Association), but was not seemingly engaged in any formal play.
He played in the 1st meeting of the Northumberland and Durham Chess Association which was held on Easter Monday and Tuesday, 2nd and 3rd of April 1866, at the Central Exchange Hotel, Newcastle.
He played in the 2nd Annual Meeting of the North Yorkshire & Durham Chess Association on 6th to 11th August 1866, at Redcar.
He was conspicuous by his absence from the 3rd Annual Meeting of the North Yorkshire & Durham Chess Association, at the De Grey Rooms, York, 21st to 25th October 1867. The distance from Stockton-on-Tees may have presented a problem.
At the 1st Annual Meeting of Skipworth’s “Yorkshire Chess Association”, at the De Grey Rooms, York, 3rd-7th August 1868, he played in the second class tournament.
At the 2nd Annual Meeting of Skipworth’s “Yorkshire Chess Association”, at the De Grey Rooms, York, 2nd-6th August 1869, he played in the Handicap knock-out tournament, losing in round 1 to Joseph Henry Scott Finlinson.
 Unchecked but credible death dates taken from a personal family-history website.
Copyright © 2013, 2015 Stephen John Mann
Census information is copyright of The National Archive, see UK Census Information