This is the story of Reginald Blennerhassett Pinchin. He was a very colourful character who was sadly affected by mental illness. An adventurer and opportunist, he served in the armies of numerous countries, travelled the world as an entertainer and died at a relatively young age back at his birthplace of Anglesey.
He was born at Holyhead on 24th June 1887, the son of Captain John Fitzmaurice Pinchin OBE, Commodore of the LNWR Fleet at Holyhead for 12 years and distinguished Captain of HMS Scotia during WW1 and who later became Naval Consul to Norway. Captain Pinchin was himself an adventurer. During the Anglo-Egyptian War of 1882, and whilst Chief Officer of the ship that carried troops to Egypt, he decided to join the soldiers and fought with the Naval Brigade at the Battle of Tel-el-Kebir. Captain Pinchin died in 1929 at Conwy and was buried at St. Agnes Cemetery.
In 1901 Reginald was a pupil at the minor public school of Trent College in Derbyshire and may have also attended Manchester Grammar School. In 1904 he commenced an apprenticeship with the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) at the Crewe Locomotive Works. He served for a short time with the 2nd Cheshire Railway Engineers until he left the LNWR in 1908. Prior to leaving Holyhead in 1909 he took part in a number of concerts as a singer and in 1908 appeared at the King’s Theatre, Southsea as a ‘Versatile Comedian’. In 1909 he travelled to the USA and it is believed that he took part in the Mexican Wars of 1910 and in 1911 joined the US Army, but later deserted.
In early 1914 he arrived in Australia. In September of that year he joined the Australian Army under the name of Reginald Sarsfield. He was discharged 5 months later. A daughter Winifred was born in March 1915 to Florence Lockwood, whom he later married at Tasmania in November 1917. Winifred died in May 1919, aged 4 years. Just prior to his marriage he again joined the Australian Army under his birth name. His previous occupation was then recorded as a ‘Vaudeville Artist’. Unfortunately he was discharged from the Army two months later having been declared ‘Mentally Unstable’. It would appear that he had previously spent two years in a Mental Hospital at Victoria. The photograph of him in army uniform would have been taken during one of his short periods in the Australian Army. A son Allan Reginald Pinchin was born in January 1918.
Immediately after discharge from the Australian Army he travelled to New Zealand and was accepted in the New Zealand Army. He served with them until September 1919, including 15 months in France. His discharge was then due to a medical condition affecting his eyesight. In 1920 he spent 7 months at the Seacliff Mental Hospital in New Zealand. After which he decided to recommence his career as a Vaudeville Artist, travelling to San Fransisco in 1921. He adopted the stage name of R H Sarsfield. It would seem that by this time he had abandoned his family. His wife remarried in 1920.
He was a relatively successful, although minor entertainer, and over the next few years appeared many times in the USA, Canada and UK. He styled himself the ‘Globe Trotting ANZAC’. His act included singing, comic routines and mimicry. He also presented lectures using magic lantern slides on the scenic beauty of New Zealand and later using films to promote Canada. He appeared to be a ‘larger than life character’, very good at self promotion and creating an heroic persona for himself, making the most of his ‘war time experiences’. One of his claims was that he opened the first cinema in Ireland at Newry, County Down in 1910. (This was actually achieved the previous year in Dublin by author James Joyce). His career as a Vaudeville Artist in the UK seemed to come to an end in about 1927, undertaking most of his last performances in the south of England, stying himself sometimes as the ‘Singing Mountie’ or the ‘Irish Anzac’.
His father died at Conwy in 1929 and he returned to the UK from Canada in March 1931, possibly residing at his sister’s home at Portsmouth. He sadly died of Pernicious Anaemia at the Valley Home Infirmary, Anglesey on 19 September 1931, aged 44, and was buried at St. Agnes Cemetery, Conwy, close to his father’s grave.
Contributed by the editor.
© Holyhead Maritime Museum.
With thanks to Aled L Jones for the benefits of his research and the photo of Captain Pinchin. Also Rhodri Clark of History Points who first brought to our attention the grave of Captain Pinchin at Conwy – https://historypoints.org/index.php?page=conwy-grave-john-fitzmaurice-pinchin.