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A Deaf Cuban Revolutionary in London – Captain Juan Fernandez

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 17 June 2016

Unlike most of the South American countries, Cuba was one of the last to break away from Spain, and not without a bitter struggle.  One of the heroes of the struggle was Captain Juan Fernandez.  Juan Fernandez (born circa 1868) was U.S. born  to Cuban parents, and had been educated at both the University of California and at a college in Barcelona (Ephphatha).   For three years he served under General Antonio Maceo Grajales, second-in-command in the Cuban Army of Independence, as aide-de-campe.  It was in the course of this stuggle that he was deafened by an explosion near Bahia Hondo, when a mine that was being laid to disrupt the movement of Spanish troops on the railway there, exploded early, killing several insurgents.  It forced him to leave the army.

In 1896 he travelled to Europe to represent the army of liberation.  While in London, Fernandez spoke to meetings of deaf people on several occasions (Ephphatha).

In 1899, when Fernandez was in Paris,

while he was smoking in front of the Hotel Terminus, he was approached by three Germans, who knew his name and all about him, and began to rave about the selfishness of the United States Government in its relation to Cuba.  In the course of their talk one of them showed Fernandez a photograph of a German officer, whom Fernandez recognized as the man speaking to him.  The German went on to say that through Fernandez he could get the Cubans 250,000 francs at once and plenty more when required, with all the arms and ammunition necessary for a prolonged rebellion against the United States Government, if Fernandez would work in Germany’s interest.  At this Fernandez replied: “Gentlemen, I am a Cuban by blood, but I am a citizen of the United States, and will see you and Germany in — before I would raise a finger against the land of my birth.  I shall make this public, if it costs me my head.  Good day.”

Exit three Germans in great haste and confusion.

In addition to talking about the revolution, Fernandez also pronounced on other subjects regarding Cuba, for example the beauty of the Cuban ladies.  He was careful to distance the revolutionaries, who he described as being a mixture of all Cubans as well as being supported by Europeans, from anarchists, who were widely active at that time.  He condemned the assassination of the Spanish Prime Minister Cánovas del Castillo whose repressive policies helped foster political instability in Spain.

I was about to say that have not been able to find out much more about Juan Fernandez, then discovered an article in The Illustrated Police News, that says he married in St. Mary’s Islington one Maud Ashton, a deaf lady. That would have been in July 1898.  In actual fact, the records show he married Julia Ayshford (June Quarter 1898) –

AYSHFORD  Julia Georgiana    Islington  1b 535
Fernandez  Juan    Islington  1b 535

The article also says that the ceremony was conducted by the Rev. Dr. Kibley, Chaplain of the Deaf and Dumb Asylum.  The marriage certificate, were you to obtain a copy, would show that the newspaper made another mistake and that the ceremony was conducted by our old friend, the Rev. Gilby, chaplain to the Royal Association in aid of the Deaf and Dumb.   The extraordinary thing is, when I started writing this I had no idea that there was a deeper connection.  I just discovered this, in Ephphatha, for July 1898. p.115 –

London notesJulia Ayshford, previously Julia Franklin, was deaf from an accident aged 15 (see 1911 census).  She married the St. Saviour’s church stalwart and friend of Gilby’s, H.G.G. Ayshford, who died in 1893.  They had a daughter, also called Julia, who Juan adopted.  In 1901 they were living in Eastbourne.  Julia Fernandez died in Edmonton in 1933, aged 73.

In 1898 he held a commission in the U.S. Army – but perhaps that was related to the Spanish-U.S.A. War.  If that is the case, I would expect that there are U.S. Army records that would be worth checking.  From the record of his marriage online, I see that his father was a Presbytarian minister, also called Juan Fernandez, and that he was a widower.  If his father trained formally as a minister there may well be a record of that at some college.

Any Spanish speaking readers out there who would care to find out more about him and fill in some more details, please leave a comment below.  It would make an interesting addition to the history of Deaf people.  If you can tell us when or where he died that would also be of interest – he was certainly dead by the 1911 census when Julia was a widow working as a servant.
Juan FernandezTHE STRUGGLE IN CUBA . Glasgow Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), Friday, December 11, 1896; Issue 297. British Library Newspapers, Part I: 1800-1900

Daily News (London, England), Friday, December 11, 1896; Issue 15821. British Library Newspapers, Part I: 1800-1900

The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent (Sheffield, England), Friday, December 18, 1896; pg. 4; Issue 13178. British Library Newspapers, Part II: 1800-1900

The Morning Post (London, England), Saturday, August 14, 1897; pg. 5; Issue 39060. British Library Newspapers, Part II: 1800-1900

The Illustrated Police News etc (London, England), Saturday, July 2, 1898; Issue 1794. British Library Newspapers, Part I: 1800-1900

Ephphatha Vol 3 1898 p.37, p.62, and p.115

1911 Census Class: RG14; Piece: 2294

1901 Census Class: RG13; Piece: 880; Folio: 107; Page: 8

NB One of the witnesses at their wedding was Frank Hodgkins.


Deaf People in the First World War

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 7 December 2012

When the First World War began, the editor of the British Deaf Times (BDT), Joseph Hepworth, discussed the war, and among other things what possiblities there might be for Deaf people to help with the war effort (Vol. 11 p.204-6).  There had been a suggestion in the North Mail that the army could form a Deaf regiment whose officer would command by signs or sword movement, but Hepworth rejects this idea.  What he does urge is that people support  the Prince of Wales’ National Relief Fund.  He warns those wo are deaf to avoid loitering by bridges, stations etc because they may be guarded and sentries will be likely to shoot if a person does not answer a challenge.  Indeed in the next issue of the magazine, Selwyn Oxley says “several deaf people have been shot through being unable to hear the challenges of the sentries” (British Deaf Times, Vol. 11, p.220).  A few pages on we find the following story, culled from The Times;

Charles Carroll, who at one time was an assistant to Mr Cody, the airman, was shot by a London Territorial sentry. He was examining an Aldershot railway bridge, and was challenged six times by the sentry before the latter fired.

Carroll, who is almost stone deaf, is seriously wounded.

In fact, Charles Carroll died of his wounds, and so became another casualty of war.  As an aside, Cody was a great pioneer of aviation who had died a year earlier in an aircraft crash.  Carroll’s sister Maude married Samuel Cody’s son, who was himself to die in an aircraft when he was shot down in 1917.  A later editorial (p.253-4) is not unsympathetic to the reasons for this action, pointing out that if the person remained unchallenged, the sentry himself might be shot.

We also read in the BDT of Harry Ward, a 27 year old ‘born deaf and dumb,’ taught at the Oral school in Cardiff, and at one time under Hepworth’s care (Hepworth was missioner at Glamorgan and Monmouthshire), who somehow passed the medical and joined up (as three brothers had), entering the Munster Fusiliers (BDT, vol Vol 11, p.231).   Hepworth reiterated his position that Deaf people should not serve in the frontline, but would be better used in various service roles such as boot-making, or as joiners (p.254).  Discussion about this was still going on in 1916, when R.T. Skinner, House Governor at Donaldson’s Hospital in Edinburgh, entered into correspondence with Lord Kitchener, saying that deaf young men were eager to “share the Empire’s work” (BDT, Vol. 13, p.24).  The Labour Supply Department of the Ministry of Munitions replied that no opportunity was at present available to make use of them.

By 1917 the need for manpower was increasing to the extent that the BDT led with an article translated from French about deaf munition workers in Boulogne.  The Royal School Magazine, the magazine for the Margate Deaf School, tells us in July 1916, that one former girl pupil Violet Penny was “‘doing her bit’ as a munitions worker.  By July 1918 the same magazine tells us three girls and four boys who left from 1910-17 were employed as munitions workers.

This photograph was probably one of the lantern slides Selwyn Oxley would show when he was doing mission work or speaking to a public meeting about deafness.  It was taken in Willesdan at the firm Arthur Lyon & Wrench Ltd.

NB I asked my informant about the armaments. He suggests that the two bombs by the table on the left look like Cooper bombs, “the 25lb jobs used by the RFC on small planes like the Camel”…”Cooper bombs tended to be for targets of opportunity, so for example Camels in 1918 carried them to supplement the trench strafing they were doing.”

You can read more about munitions workers here

Other references are from The British Deaf Times and The Royal School Magazine