Select Hurst Miscellany

Here are some Hurst/Hirst/Hearst stories and accounts over the years:

Hirst and Hurst in the 1881 Census

Numbers (000's)

The Yorkshire Hirsts were mainly concentrated in the Holme valley in the West Riding.  Towns and villages such as Huddersfield, Almondbury, Batley, Dewsbury, Meltham, Mirfield, and Slaithwaite had sizeable Hirst populations.

The Diary of Sarah Hurst

Sarah Hurst was born in 1736 and died in 1808.  For four of these years, from 1759 to 1762, she kept a diary which has been preserved.  Her father, like his father before him, was a tailor in Horsham in Sussex.  The elder Hurst had also been something of a local dignitary, serving as Surveyor of the Highways and Overseer of the Poor.

Sarah's diaries at this time revealed her to have been a remarkable young woman: she was well-educated, at ease in polite society, kept the accounts of the family business, did needlework for lady customers, and wrote poetry in her spare time.

One of the main stories that ran through the diary was Sarah’s love for Henry Smith, with whom she fell in love when only sixteen years of age.  From the diary it is clear that much of Sarah and Henry’s affair was carried on in secret as the Smith family generally opposed the marriage, mainly because Sarah’s father was a local tradesman while they were a family of London merchants.  

Defying family expectations, Sarah and Harry married in secret at Slinfold church on 28 April 1762.  The pages of the diary were cut out around that date so we do not know the full story of the marriage.  Until the question of the dowry was sorted out, Sarah and Harry kept their marriage quiet.  Sarah was forced to lie on several occasions, including to her mother-in-law who was fiercely against the marriage.  This was an entry at that time: 

"Friday, 8 October 1762

Go down to Mrs. Wicker and find there Dr. Smith’s wife and my Harry’s mother.  The former wishes me joy and says she heard I was married.  I answer people will say anything.  Captain Smith’s mother seemed greatly agitated and said she knew it was not so.  It’s wrong to be too positive, but we too often believe what we wish.  Poor woman, she will be horridly vexed when she knows it’s true."

Jemmy Hirst, An English Eccentric

Jemmy Hirst was born in 1738 to a farmer family in Rawcliffe in the East Riding of Yorkshire.  Even at school he kept a pet jackdaw and trained a hedgehog to follow him around.  His parents' hope that he would become a priest never materialized after he was thrown out of school for his pranks.  Hirst was apprenticed to a tanner, fell in love with his daughter and became engaged to her.

Reputedly Hirst's eccentricity began when his betrothed died of smallpox after he rescued her from a flooding river. At first Hirst retired to his bed and reputedly contracted “brain fever.”

When he recovered, he continued his habits of animal training.  His first success was his later favorite, a bull he named Jupiter and trained to behave as a horse so that he could ride him and use him to pull his carriage.  The carriage itself was made of wicker and had unusually big wheels, looking like a lampshade upside down.  When Jupiter found it hard to pull, Hirst fitted it with sails.  The experiment was unsuccessful and the carriage crashed into a shop window in Pontefract.  Hirst was then banned from the town.

Hirst rode Jupiter in a fox hunt, using pigs as pointers instead of dogs.  He would go to Doncaster races dressed in a lambskin hat with a nine-foot brim and a waistcoat of duck feathers.  Hirst blew his hunting horn to summon the poor and the elderly to his house for tea.  Sometimes the visitors found that the refreshments were served from their host's favorite coffin.  Hirst hung the walls of his house with bits of old rope and iron and wrote doggerel verse.

Hirst's fame grew enough that King George III was intrigued and invited him to visit London.  When he arrived there in his carriage he attracted much attention in his flamboyant costume.  During the visit one noble began to laugh.  Jemmy proceeded to throw a goblet of water in his face because he was clearly "having hysterics."  He announced that he was pleased to find his monarch a "plain-looking fellow" and invited him to visit him in Rawcliffe for a good brandy. The king did not oblige, but reputedly gave him a number of bottles from the royal wine cellar.

Jemmy Hirst died in 1829.  His will left £12 to twelve old maids who were to follow his coffin and two musicians, a fiddler and a bagpiper who were to play happy songs.  Only two old maids obliged.  He left his accountant a piece of rope to "go hang himself with."  The rumor went around that Hirst had had his own coffin built with windows and shelves which he kept in his front room.  He would charge people to sit
in it.

The Early Years of Cricketer George Hirst

George Herbert Hirst was born in Kirkheaton on 7 September 1871 at the Brown Cow public house in St. Mary’s Lane.  The pub was run by his mother’s parents James and Sarah Maria Hirst.  James also farmed six acres attached to the pub.  

George left school at the age of 10 and went to work as a wirer for a hand-loom weaver.  He also helped his grandfather droving the cattle but, as his granddaughter said, he told her that he always "played cricket from noon till night otherwise." 

He recalled in 1937, when asked to write a passage for a brochure to raise money for the new Kirkheaton pavilion:

“At the Old Brown Cow Inn there we boys played our cricket in the yard and the intake field below.  It would be about 1885 or 1886 when I joined Kirkheaton. We lads practiced cricket and football every spare moment we could get after work.  In fact, our parents said we lived at the ground.  Practice with a ball makes the player – well we got our share."
Later he worked in Robson’s dye-works on the other side of the valley, and all the time he was playing cricket as a “Saturday man,” first for Elland, then for Mirfield, and afterwards for Huddersfield.  In 1889 he played his first game for Yorkshire when he was only 17.

Hursts in America by Country of Origin


There were in addition 290 Horsts who immigrated to America from Germany, some of whom adopted the Hurst name.

Hurst Nation

Colonel Fielding Hurst led the Sixth Tennessee Cavalry, a Union regiment, in SW Tennessee during the Civil War.  His family also owned a block of land that served as an enclave for Union sympathizers in a rebel state.  It became known as the Hurst Nation.   The land was about five miles wide and stretched 15 miles down the west side of what was then McNairy county.  The Hursts controlled the numerous east-west routes from the Tennessee river to Memphis that traversed their holdings.

Siding with the Yankees did not sit well with most of the Hurst neighbors.  Many considered people like the Hursts worse than the Yankees.  One citizen wrote:

"Tories, as we called them, were our worst enemies.  These were the men of our own and adjoining counties who had gone over to the Yankees.  Those were the meanest and cruelest class we had to deal with.  They scrupled less at murder and all sorts of outrages, most of them being the very scum of the country."

This was one line of verse that was written at the time:

"Despair for the children who lie now in bed.
The widow, the aged, the soldier who bled.
For out of the "Nation" comes a sickness and curse -
God save us all from the demon called Hurst.

Like vandals of old through our land they did ride
With hunger and death always close by their side.
Came terror, his herald, but the wailing comes first
We know he is coming, that demon called Hurst."

In West Tennessee, the site of much guerrilla fighting, Civil War scars have run deep.  Hostility toward the Hursts took generations to undo.  That animosity stoked stories, even legends, through the years.  The story has been told how, on a patrol to LaGrange, Hurst carried with him a band of Confederate prisoners and, at every mile post, killed one, cut his head off and hung it on a post. 

Surprisingly, the Hurst home still stands.  Some say it is the oldest structure in McNairy county.  It is said to be haunted.  According to legend, Hurst died there after being shot by one of his many enemies.  Some have suggested that he died at the top of the stairs on the second floor.  On the anniversary of his death, the blood reappears and he can be heard screaming.

These Hurst tales may have been exaggerated and Hurst painted more of an ogre than he actually was.  Resentment against him grew in the South after the defeat in the Civil War.

Reader Feedback - Henry Hurst, Revolutionary War Soldier


Henry Hurst is one of my relatives and served in the Revolutionary War.   I believe he had a brother from John Mill Creek who also served in the same war.  

Henry Hurst was the son of Elisha Hurst.  He was born on 27 October, 1762 in Frederick county, Virginia and married his first wife Elizabeth Kiser (born the same year) there.  She died in Shenandoah county, Virginia. He died in 1844 in Morgan county, Kentucky.  

Any information you might have, also the names of others who have researched him or relatives, etc.  

Linda Gay Tooley (

The Hurst Family in Australia

William Hurst and Mary Keep had married in Wootton, Bedfordshire in 1814 and they had eight children, four in Bedfordshire prior to William’s transportation to Tasmania in 1823 and four more after Mary joined him there in 1829.

These children enjoyed remarkably long lives.  A newspaper report in 1919 noted that two were still living, Elizabeth aged 89 and William aged 82.  The ages of the six that had died were Ambrose 94, Sarah 90, Rebecca 89, Rhoda 78, Leah 75, and Emma 35.

The total combined ages of the family reached 632 years, which was believed to be a record for one family.  Elizabeth in fact lived onto 1923 (aged 93), William to 1927 (aged 90).

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