The Correct and Improving Major Byron F. Caws

This is Richard Bond’s second blog post.

The Story So Far

At Dr. Johnson’s House in London there is a plaque that reads “Castigavit et emendavit” (“he corrected and improved) suggesting that these are H. W. Fowler’s words in recognition of Major Byron F. Caws’ contribution to the Concise Oxford Dictionary. Major Cawss’ grandson, Richard Byron Caws, erected the plaque in 1997.

What was Fowler’s major reason for making this inscription to Major Caws?

Dr. Johnson’s House Trust suggested the possibility that Major Caws might have been related in some way to Sir James Murray, the primary editor of the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. They advised that the City of London Corporation, a possible option for further information, maintains the statue with the plaque, but they suggested I contact the OED. I did so and am waiting for the reply.

I continued by consulting Jenny McMorris’ biography of H.W. Fowler. As there was no reference to Major Caws in the index, I read through the sections where the Fowlers may possibly have met a major, that is their time spent in service during the First World War, and also sections on when H.W. Fowler was writing the COD. There is no mention of Major Caws but there are possible clues.

McMorris mentions a kindly CO who helped the Fowlers in a non-language related capacity during the war, but no name is given. I wonder whether a Major would have filled a CO position during the First World War, but taken in conjunction with the meaning of the inscription, it is unlikely that this CO was Major Caws. Later on in the book, a retired army surgeon is mentioned who provided some assistance to Fowler and also a military correspondent in Jamaica. Again, no names.

A memoir of H.W. Fowler by George Gordon Coulton might possibly have some information, but I haven’t found a copy yet. (Drop us a line if you find anything!)

Ingrid Tieken suggested that Major Caws might have been cited with a quotation in the OED online, so I OEDed Major Byron F. Caws and all permutations of his name but did not find any results. I also found Richard Byron Caws’s family tree online but no links to the Major nor toSir James Murray so far. Investigations continue and any insights are welcome!

Introducing Major Byron F Caws

Recent research has turned up a post on the alt.usage.english website that seems to tie everything together. User ‘Mike’ says that he found Major Caws name mentioned in earlier drafts of the COD. I located a first edition online, but did not see any reference there to Major Caws.

In response to Mike’s post one user “Bartie” wrote: “Byron Frank Caws born Seaview Isle of Wight 1863 died Jamacia (sic) 19 April 1943“. Mike Barnes added more information he had found:

The [Jamaica Garrison] church is built just outside the entrance to the
main guardroom of Lathbury Barracks and immediately opposite to the
Obelisk erected in memory of those officers, men and families who
perished in the great calamity of 1907. It was built by S.R. Eustace
Fielding Esq., and the work was supervised by Lieutenant Colonel R.
Carey Commander Royal Engineers and Major B.F. Caws, R.E. while QMS V.
Sponsor was the military foreman of works. Incidentally, the late Miss
Phyllis Caws, daughter of Major Caws, maintained a constant link with
the church up to the time of her death on 4 January 1968. She was for
many years Sunday school teacher. Miss Caws’ funeral service was held in
the church with which she was connected for over fifty years.

Article in the Jamaica Times 
[Kingston, August 25, 1934]. Unwanted Guests Should Be Spat On. Mr. Marcus Garvey at Meeting of U.N.I.A. Convention Again Attacks
”Ginger”^1

[…]

1. Ginger was a pseudonym used by an Englishman named Major Caws, author
of a column called “Pepper Pot” in the Jamaica Times in the 1930s (Ken
Post, Arise Ye Starvelings: The Jamaican Labour Rebellion of 1938 and
its Aftermath [The Hague, Boston, London: Martinus Nijhoff, 1978], p.
197, n. 51).

— 
Mike Barnes

Caws as a young manOne writer indicated that they are the great-grandchild of Major Caws and invites to contact them for further information, so I wrote and received a lovely email in response with the following two photos of Major Caws.

At least we know what he looked like!

So now we are trying to find any of his contributions to the Jamaica Times “Pepper Pot” column in the 1930’s as ‘Ginger’, or any correspondence he may have had with H.W. Fowler.

 

Do you have anything to share with us to help us continue the story of Major Caws?

 

Caws in uniform

References:

McMorris , Jenny (2001). The Warden Of English. Oxford University Press

Coulton, G. G. (1935). H.W. Fowler. Clarendon Press.

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