Saved from Cannibals by Captain James Ceronio

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New Guinea Cannibals
New Guinea cannibals. – Image Library of Congress
Yes, some people were saved from cannibals by my distant relation. You see, he was a ship’s captain. He had been raised on the east coast of what would become the United States. But he didn’t stay there indefinitely.

James Montague Delare Ceronio was born 1782/1783. He grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He died December 6, 1860 in Chandernagore, India. This fascinating man was married 3 times. First to Elizabeth Beckford of Australia. Then to Mary Poles on November 15, 1811. Finally to Catherine Amanda Charters on March 1, 1823. How would he help some people be saved from cannibals?

My distant cousin, Marilyn Long, writes: “I went to Chandernagore where James died in 1860 from fever as he was passing through. I [could not] locate any record of where he [is] buried. Maybe he was taken back to Calcutta or maybe his grave [is] just unidentifiable.”

saved from cannibals
James Ceronio’s Signature.

James’ Illustrious Parents

James’ parentage was not unremarkable. His mother was Catharine Jekyll Hicks and his father was Stephen Ceronio. Stephen and his brother Angel had served as agents during the time of the revolution. He answered to the secret committee, which included a few famous men, such as Benjamin Franklin.

In the 1791 Philadelphia City Directory (something like our modern phone books) he is listed as

Ceronio, Stephen merchant 1 Penn St.

In the 1793 Directory, Stephen is again mentioned as

Cer[o]nio Stephen, merchant, 5 No. 6th St.

It should be noted that the directory for 1793 may have been compiled in 1792. Stephen is not mentioned at all after that.

James’ Father’s Demise

A Ceronio died in the famous Yellow Fever outbreak in Philadelphia in 1793. Could it have been James’ father, Stephen? It has been suggested Stephen removed to Batavia, East Indies in 1793.

But Catharine Hicks remarried in 1794 in the same church she had married Stephen ten years before. This suggests Stephen was dead. Evidence also suggests there may have been friction in the marriage. Catherine’s 2nd husband was Jaques Servel, a ship’s physician.

The Family Moves!

Surprisingly, in searching out James’ mother, I found she not only remarried, but died on 18 Aug 1808 in Calcutta, West Bengal, India! So it seemed to me at first that maybe Stephen did survive and go overseas. But would his former wife really have followed him there? Then I realized it was probable Stephen’s son James did what Stephen intended to do. Perhaps an invitation to do so had been extended to James, or perhaps he had intended to join his father all along. Whatever the case was, James did, indeed, relocate to India. And he took Mom with him and probably his brothers Edward and William as well.

Who was Catherine’s 3rd husband? It was one Benjamin Browne. Benjamin was born in Minchin-Hampton, Gloucester, England in 1767 and died a little less than a year before Catherine did. He is listed as a marine pensioner who died at 40 years of age. Once again, Catharine had married a man of the sea.

Captain Ceronio Goes to Fiji

Researches provided tidbits – tiny glimpses – in the activities of my relative, the Captain. For instance, the following:

JMD Ceronio a naval architect, European inhabitant of Bengal, for 1825.

Proposal of Messrs Ceronio and Gayraud to establish a rum distillery at Agra.

There was a P. M. Gayraud in Agra listed in the directories as an English citizen, 1837 & 1838.

Name: Jeykell Eveline Catherine CERONIO
Event type: Birth
Date: 24 Nov
Year: 1824
Location: Agra
Parents: James Montague Delare, resident at Agra; Catharine Amanda
Notes: On the river off Allahabad
Event type: Baptism
Date: 27 Oct
Year: 1831
Location: Agra
Parents: James Montague Delare, resident at Agra; Catharine Amanda
Notes: On the river off Allahabad
Transcribed by:British Library
India Office Records Reference: N/1/29 f.337

There were many other minor findings that referred to James Montague Delare Ceronio’s career. Some of them related to Australia. But the item of particular interest to us relates to Fiji, once called Feejee. James would help some to be saved from cannibals! We read:

Saved from Cannibals

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW:1803-1842)
Sunday 24 September 1809


Account of the City of Edinburgh’s passage to the Fejees Concluded.—Last week’s Gazette mentioned that Mr. Berry, Mr. Ceronio, and a boat’s crew were by the vessel’s blowing off obliged to remain on shore a night at the island of Opuna, whose inhabitants are cannibals, as well as those of Tnogataboo and the cluster of Islands called the Fejees.

The King of Opuna treated his guests with much civility, as the two gentlemen had assured him of their intention to bring the vessel in for the purpose of opening an entire trade with the island, of which his majesty being very desirous, he condescended to notice the strangers, whom he entertained with a hospitality ill according with his TRUE character. The dingy monarch, delighted with the promise, invited his guests to supper, and lo! ““two porkers smoaked upon the board.””

The next morning the vessel appeared in sight, and the boat went off to her; and, as Mr. Berry considered he might make a purchase of swine from those natives, he went on shore again with a few articles of trade, but was detained with his boat’s crew as prisoner, until they should be ransomed from the vessel, which had stretched towards Gora, about 30 miles to the S. W. of Opuna.

The natives with much persuasion permitted one man, with an Otaheite boy to put off for the vessel with the intelligence; and night coming on when they were a considerable distance from the land, with a heavy sea, two small paddles, and both totally exhausted with fatigue, they lost all hope, and resigned themselves to a momentarily expected fate, when in the vessel’s course in standing off and on, the little wretched vehicle was discerned almost close under her bows, and was [with] the utmost difficulty saved from being run down.

Thus were the lives of these two people saved, and information was received of the situation of Mr. Berry and his boat’s crew, on hearing which Mr. Ceronio went in a boat to their rescue, and succeeded in extricating Mr. Berry and his men from a situation equally perilous and irksome.

What If Your Relatives Were Saved from Cannibals?

You’ve heard of cannibals. But how would you feel if you learned a relative of yours rescued people from the hands (mouths) of cannibals? Would you say to yourself, “Too Cool? My relative made sure he helped some be saved from cannibals!”

Note: You might also enjoy Catharine Jekyll Hicks Ceronio Servel Browne Buried in West Bengal, India


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