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Major William Henry Mounsey of Castletown and Rockcliffe was a British spy who worked in Persia and Afghanistan. He was born in 1808 and christened on 25 January 1808 at Saint Cuthbert's Church in Carlisle in Cumbria.

MajorEdit

He had a military career and became a Captain in the 4th (The King's Own) Regiment of Foot. The regiment embarked for foreign service on 14 April 1832, seeing colonial service in Australia from 1832 until 1837, stationed variously at Tasmania, Sydney, Victoria (South Australia) and the Swan River Colony. The King's Own left Sydney in two divisions, the last of which did not arrive in Madras until April 1838. In 1841/1843 serving in the East Indies. In 1844 serving at Secunderabad, Madras, under General John Hodgson.[1] Mounsey was commissioned as an Ensign on 28 May 1829; promoted to Lieutenant on 4 January 1833 and to Captain on 14 April 1837.[2] Later he was promoted to the rank of Major.

ArchaeologistEdit

File:Dwarfie stane inscription by Bruce McAdam.jpg

Circa 1850 he became an amateur archaeologist, living in Carlisle with his sisters Margaret, Mary and Ann. After his retirement he wandered in the UK dressed in a Jewish outfit and was known as the "Jew of Carlisle". During military service in the Middle East he became fascinated by the Jewish culture. He is known for an inscription he left on the Dwarfie Stane, a Neolithic rock-cut tomb on the island of Hoy in Orkney, in Persian calligraphy.[3] Mounsey camped here in 1850 and inscribed: "I have sat two nights and so learnt patience". Above the Persian is his own name written backwards in Latin.[4] He also left his own mark on ancient sites in Cumberland. In 1850 he traced the course of the river Eden from the Solway Firth to its source in Mallerstang and set up a monument to mark the source of the river. It was an inscribed slate pillar with Hebrew, Greek and Latin elements. Striking was the Star of David. Unfortunately it was smashed in 1870 by railway workers. In Outhgill (Cumbria) there is a replica made of limestone, called the "Jew Stone",[5] placed a few years after the visit of a Jewish traveller, named Shalom Hermon, who saw the broken original in 1984. The Latin inscription translated reads: "William Mounsey, a lone traveller, commenced his journey at the mouth and finished at the source, fulfilled his vow to the genius and nymphs of the Eden on the 15th March, 1850". He even carved a 9th century Welsh verse on the walls of a pre-Roman archaeological site in 1852 and left other inscriptions near the river Eden. Possibly, he was the sculptor of a series of enigmatic faces cut into the sandstone cliffs of Eden gorge near Armathwaite.[6]

He was fascinated by a maze or labyrinth near the boathouse in Rockcliffe marsh. It was one of a number that have been cut on the marsh in the peat at different times. He believed these to represent Caerdroia, or the Walls of Troy, and to be restricted to land occupied by Celtic people.[7] In 1858 - the year in which Archdeacon Trollope published the results of his research - Mounsey drew attention to the description in a Welsh history book Drych y Prif Oesoedd, published in 1740, of a curious custom formerly prevalent among the Welsh shepherds. The custom consisted in cutting in the turf a figure in the form of a labyrinth, a turf maze, which they called Caerdroia.[8] His study Tales - The Children of Lir and Cath Cluana Tairbh, (1859), is just as Welsh version of Purgatorium S. Patricii, c.1860, held in the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. These are examples of his fascination for the Celts, but he was also interested in other cultures. Two books, one about Spinoza and another about Persia, are now available in libraries with his name "Mounsey", as former owner, stamped in them. He lived for some time with his brother George Gill Mounsey and others at the Castletown House near Carlisle (c.1870). He died in Carlisle in the last quarter of 1877. As far as is known he never married.[9]

BibliographyEdit

  • Tales-The Children of Lir and Cath Cluana Tairbh (main author: W.H. Mounsey; 1859)
  • Welsh version of Purgatorium S. Patricii (W.H. Mounsey; c.1860)
  • Major William Henry Mounsey, a British spy (Lex Ritman; 2010)

ReferencesEdit

  1. Cowper, L. & Cowper, J. The King's Own (1957)
  2. Hart, H.G. Hart's annual army list (1844)
  3. "Orkney: Peace with all the trappings of war" (21 Feb 2001) telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 27 May 2010.
  4. Ritchie, A. Prehistoric Orkney (1995) Batsford Ltd ISBN 978-0713475937
  5. Emett, C. William Mounsey and the "Jew" stone (1990) Castleberg ISBN 978-1871064100
  6. Scholes, R. Walking in Eden (1997) Sigma Leisure ISBN 978-1850584285
  7. Watt, J. A short history of Rockcliffe, Cumberland (1952)
  8. Matthews, W.H. Mazes and Labyrinths (1922)
  9. Hissem-Mounsey Family

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