“Shunter’s claim to fortune,” said a headline in The Northern Echo in 1911. “Romantic voyage to West Indies. Bid for rich estate of 1,000 acres.”

The story told how, “amid the cheers and general congratulations of his assembled friends and erstwhile comrade”, Herbert Graham left Newcastle Central Station on the 11.19 express bound for Barbados.

“He has gone on a most romantic and enterprising mission,” said the Echo. “He and his cousin (who accompanies him) are the claimants to an estate near the flourishing town of St Louis, reputed to be worth £100,000.”

Herbert was going in search of the riches that were lost when his great-great-uncle, John Graham of Darlington, died of fever in the West Indies in the 1820s.

John Graham seems to have struck out from his hometown in search of fortune, and he found it in Jamaica where, at the time of his death, he owned the Durham estate at Trelawny, where he had 91 slaves.

In his will, which was proved in Darlington on March 28, 1828, John Graham placed his plantation in a trust which was to pay £50-a-year to his mother, Margaret Graham of Darlington, and £200-a-year to his widow, Sophia. The other proceeds were to go to the family of Ralph Graham, of Aycliffe Village, who were his cousins.

Ralph had a waterpowered mill on the Skerne where he made sailcloth from flax.

But the trust arrangements became embroiled in a lengthy legal battle which the Aycliffe family obviously felt had denied them their dues – and so in 1911, Herbert set out on a voyage to win them back.

By Herbert’s generation, the Graham family had none of the riches associated with the slave trade. He and his brother George were born in Heighington in the 1870s; George spent his life working as a watchmaker and repairer with Bramwell’s in Durham while Herbert became a shunter with the North Eastern Railway.

“He is still on the sunny side of 40, and has the advantage of previous knowledge of out-of-the-way corners of the earth,” said the Echo, as he departed. “He has gone away realising the uncertain nature of his errand, but with the preconceived idea that, should his business at the West Indies not prosper according to his expectations, he may travel along to California, there to establish a new home for himself and family.

“South Australia has also been mentioned as his possible destination in case he determines upon emigration – everything depends upon circumstances.”

Herbert was on a wild goose chase. Where he ended up, we don’t know, but no riches flowed back to the Graham family whose descendants to this day reside quietly in south Durham.

With many thanks to genealogist Billy Mollon who has researched this story