What’s in Our Archives?

When visitors attend the Peterborough Museum & Archives (PMA), usually it is to experience the gallery exhibits. Exhibits tend to be objects with supplemental images, maps, and other documents. Have you ever wondered from where those two-dimensional display items came? In most cases, they can be found among the PMA’s own archives.

The PMA’s archival holdings contain more than 2,000 individual collections, including: letters; journals and diaries; maps, surveys, and plans; business and organizational records; Peterborough newspapers; court and municipal records; artwork; and several hundred thousand photographic images. These items mostly have to do with Peterborough city and county, but there are some surprising items with, at first glance, little or no apparent local connections. Because of my interest in military and naval history, I will highlight one favourite document in this category.

It is a note of recommendation for Royal Navy midshipman John Roche (misspelled as “Roach” in the document). It states that he served on HMS Foudroyant from June to October 1799, behaved “with Diligence, Sobriety and Attention”, and was “always obedient to Command”. It is signed by the ship’s commander “T.M. Hardy, Captain”, who would become Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy (1769-1839), and is best remembered as Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson’s flag captain on HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. With some research, however, one would discover that the Foudroyant was Nelson’s flagship when Midshipman Roche served on board her – so … he may have known, or at least met, the admiral.

John Roche had a successful wartime career, participating in several major battles and rising to the rank of Commander. After the Napoleonic Wars, he retired from the Navy, emigrated to Upper Canada, and settled his family on a farm near Bailieboro. Later, he moved into Peterborough, where he died from a fall at the age of 70 years in 1848. His document came to the PMA as part of a collection from the Pengelly family – descendants of Captain Robert Pengelley, another Royal Navy officer, friend, and former Bailieboro neighbour of the Roches.

You never know what piece of history you may touch while exploring your community archives!

By: Don Willcock,  

The Peterborough Museum & Archives,

300 Hunter St E, Peterborough,