This story was submitted to us by Anne Ammunsden, whose exploration of the British Newspaper Archive led to some amazing discoveries and unravelled some mysteries that had baffled her family for generations
When I subscribed to the British Newspaper Archive I did so with the intention of trying to find some reference to a book review my mother sent me (when I was living in Tonga in 1986/7) about a book she thought I would enjoy. The book was a fictional story, located in Tonga, hence she thought I would be interested. I purchased the book in Sydney a few months after receiving the review, read it, and to my absolute astonishment discovered that there was a passage about real events surrounding my uncle’s death in Hong Kong, in 1941, when the Japanese invaded. I was blown away that these real events in Hong Kong could be conveyed in a fictional story about Tonga! After reading the book I stupidly lent it to a friend, and she never returned it. Since then I have been searching for this book in order to buy it again – but this is proving an almost impossible task now that I have forgotten the title and – worse still – the name of the author! I had hoped the BNA would solve the problem for me! But my near to 30 year search continues still, since I have not found a way of bringing up a book review from the late 1980s.
Since I got nowhere searching the newspaper archives for the hoped-for book review sent to me by my mother all those years ago (which would then tell me the name of the book of course!) – I thought that I would change my search criteria, just by way of contrast, to one word – “Asgill”. I am descended from a British army officer by the name of “Asgill” who was, though innocent, condemned to death by General Washington in 1782 – in retaliation for a crime he had not committed. He was eventually saved from the gallows by Queen Marie Antoinette, who pleaded his cause to General Washington. This being a well-known story I knew that just that one word would bring something up. And, sure enough, it did. 38 pages of “Asgill” articles!
What I didn’t expect, though, was that my search through those 38 pages of references to “Asgill” would bring about the solving of a mystery (within the present-day Asgill family) which has eluded them for the past 150 years. They have always believed that General Asgill had a son, called William Charles Asgill, who was the disinherited heir to the Baronetcy, and they’ve felt cheated ever since. It now transpires that their “William Charles Asgill” was, in reality, “The Swindler Asgill” who is written about in the following publications. Apparently “The Swindler” changed his name to “Asgill” in order to portray himself as the General’s nephew, and thereby swindle merchants of money to pay for his luxurious lifestyle! I was desperately hoping that one of the following articles would tell me the real name of “The Swindler Asgill” so that some closure could be had by the present-day Asgills by knowing from whom they really are descended. But it seems that “The Swindler” got away with his crimes and there appears to be no report telling the reader who this man really was.
Had he been caught he might well have been deported to Sydney, Australia, where this narrative by me began.
So now I have two searches to conduct, rather than one; Who was “The Swindler Asgill” and who wrote that novel about “Tonga”?
It’s lucky that I purchased a year’s subscription!