A COUPLE from Newport have begun a project to chart and celebrate the history of the men and women from all over the world who settled in the city to work in the docks.

Rebecca and Paul Eversley began The Historic Dock Project to highlight the role played in the history of Newport’s docks by migrants from other parts of the world, in particular Africa.

“The Historic Dock Project was inspired by the story of a local family,” said Mrs Eversley.

“My mother-in-law, the late Mrs Emily Eversley nee Johnson, and William ‘Bill’ Eversley, of Ruskin Rise, The Gaer and formerly of 17, Kingsway.

South Wales Argus:

(Emily Eversley-nee-Johnson, outside 17 Kingsway, Newport)

“Emily’s father, Benjamin Johnson, was born in Liberia in 1892.

“He was part of the Kru tribe - known for strength and seafaring capabilities - and sailed the waters surrounding the UK with many other men (often from Freetown, Sierra Leone). Many settled in Newport and Cardiff.

South Wales Argus:

(Benjamin Johnson - taken from his shipping card)

Mr Eversley added: “Their link to the coast in Sierra Leone was strong and many sailed from Freetown to Britain as young boys, spending their working lives at sea until it was no longer possible.

“Having settled in Welsh ports much of the history has been lost. Many do however remember a ‘Johnson curry’ which was cooked every Whitson after the walk and we still make it for the family today.”

The late Emily Eversley’s husband Bill was also a seaman as was her brother ‘Benny’ Johnson. Emily recalled the connections to more than 50 families and so the research began in an effort to save what would be lost.

South Wales Argus:

(Bill Eversley and an unknown friend onboard a ship)

When told what her memories would be used for, Emily said: “Go and tell the people. This is important.”

The arduous process of recording Emily’s memories and digitising the family’s collection of photographs and documents was the first stage of the project.

“It became clear that this was much more than a personal project and that something official needed to be set up,” said Mrs Eversley.

Mr and Mrs Eversley began working with the Merchant Navy to record their memories and help families locate ancestors who served at any time during their working life.

South Wales Argus:

(Benjamin Johnson)

They discovered that the African side of the story had not been covered in great detail and that, while families may be aware of an African connection, they may not know any details.

Mrs Eversley said: “We currently use the information in schools and community groups and have been working with The Bigger Picture in Pill on a lottery-funded First World War project called Them, Us, Then, Now and Our Future, which charts the location of relatives during the war.

“The information that we gather has enabled some of our seamen to be recognised in the Temple of Peace in Cardiff at remembrance events which acknowledge the sacrifice the BAME community.

“It is important for us record and create a database where we can access information on a forgotten group of people who sacrificed so much.

“It is equally important for us to create the database for schools to access Welsh history and dockland history in a way that celebrates its vibrancy.

“Wouldn’t it be great if instead of reading ‘African family’ or ‘Irish families’ we had names and faces to add to the story?”

South Wales Argus:

(Material gathered by the ongoing Historic Dock Project)

The Eversleys are calling for people to come forward if they know of a connection to Africa and are willing to research their relatives at no cost to preserve the information for future generations.

They also welcome any funding support for database or research costs.

For more information about the couple’s work, search Historic Dock Project on Facebook and Twitter.