Contrary to what I had intended I have (due to being distracted by other projects)  been neglecting my little blog. In view of that fact I thought I’d share a little something that I started some time ago. It’s still a work in progress and as you may have gathered from the title; it’s a complete work of fiction.

Windsor House

September 1894

The old wooden chair rocked unsteadily as the octogenarian carefully lowered himself down onto it with the aid of two walking sticks and a flurry of women. They (his daughters and wife) constantly fussed over him and, at times, it became far too much for an old, grumpy man who (for most of his life) was used to standing on his own two feet. Today however Enoch made an exception. He was tired and he was in pain. He gingerly fingered the lump that was growing at the base of his neck and swiftly received a smack on the hand.

“Don’t touch it!” his wife snapped.

He scowled at the woman who had been his wife for the last 17 years. She was right, of course, but he had to put on a show nevertheless. Mrs B (as he and the rest of the Colony affectionately called her) knew it too. She was a strong willed woman with a surprisingly good head for business but she still knew when to let a man have the upper hand. Her eyes sparkled with amusement as she looked at him but she said nothing in response to the look he gave her. He held his gaze and though his mouth remained in the same position he couldn’t stop his eyes from softening and eventually smiling. He’d married her not long after the death of his first wife and all-in-all, throughout the years, Maria had been a good wife who looked after him well.

She patted him on the shoulder affectionately and went over to join the conversation between his daughters, Elizabeth and Emma. He watched her slightly hunched back recede and turned his attention inwardly. Women’s talk held no interest for Enoch.

It was essentially a sobering sort of day further enhanced by the continuing cool weather and naked trees. He looked at the one on his right; a cape lilac. A scraggly looking tree in winter, this one had a child’s wicker pram parked in front of it. He recognised it as belonging to his little granddaughter, Edith. She’d probably be around somewhere, watching the proceedings with her pet dog by her side. Poor little mite, he thought to himself. Elizabeth’s death three years earlier had left Edith motherless at only six. It had shocked and grieved the whole family but none more so than James, his son.

Enoch took off his hat and smoothed what was left of his hair in readiness for the photographer. The man was running late as usual. Firmly planting his walking sticks on the ground, he used them as a lever to carefully swivel himself to the side of the chair. He turned his head and looked up at the sign above the door.

“M. Barratt. Wardrobe Dealer & Registry Office”

“Office hours from 10-12am & 3-5pm”

He owned it but it was really Mrs B’s business. She’d been running it for 15 years; almost as long as they’d been married. Enoch chuckled. She’d probably still be running it if she had the chance. But it was Enoch’s sickness and his ever increasing need for care combined with Mrs B’s age that had resulted in her eventual decision to retire. He was grateful but he knew it wasn’t an easy decision for her to make. It was probably why she wanted the photograph taken.

Enoch lowered his head and examined the assortment of goods within the shop. Ladies’ and men’s clothing, sewing machines, beds and bedding, drapery, furniture and an assortment of groceries all vied for space on the shop floor. He looked towards the spot where Baker’s Patent Mangle had sat for nearly three years. It was such a heavy, awkward contraption. They eventually sold it, but they may as well have given it away.

It dawned on Enoch that this particular moment would probably be the last time he would see the shop looking just as it was. The auction (arranged by B.C. Wood & Co.) had been scheduled to take place in one week. All the stock would be sold as well as the counters, showcases and fixtures. The shop would be gutted; an empty shell of what it once was. Not one for showing emotion, Enoch grunted and thoughtfully rubbed his right hand over his whiskered chin. It was starting to feel like the end of an era. He too was at the end of his life. He was now 82 and the cancer that he’d earlier been admonished for touching had been diagnosed at the start of the year. The doctor couldn’t predict how long he had left but Enoch knew, within himself, that the curtains were slowly closing.

“Pa? You look so thoughtful. What are you thinking of?” He looked up into the concerned face of his eldest daughter, Elizabeth. So engrossed in his thoughts, he hadn’t seen her approach him.

Her hand rested on the back of the chair. Enoch patted it absentmindedly.

“Not much, my dear. Old times. Reminiscing.”

Elizabeth nodded and smiled. “The photographer has finally come. Do you need a hand turning around?”

“No. No. Let an old man have his dignity.”

Under the watchful eyes of the women, Enoch again used the trusty walking sticks to help swivel his body so that he was once more sitting facing Murray Street with his back to the shop. He sat quietly as he felt the presence of both of his daughters directly behind him. To his left stood Maria; proud and staunch to the last. Directly in front of him, on the opposite side of the street, the photographer was putting the final touches on the setup of the camera. He listened as Emma told her sister that she’d given the man strict instructions to ensure the whole shop was photographed.

His adjustments complete, the photographer stood up and raised his hand as a signal to Enoch’s small party that he would soon take the photograph. Enoch shifted his weight to make himself more comfortable and ignored the unnerving wobble as the chair failed to sit plum on the uneven ground. He positioned the walking sticks between his legs and held his hat firmly upon his knees. He knew his wife and daughters were doing similar such things and that, like him, they had adopted a face devoid of all expression.

Resisting the urge to move, Enoch sat motionless as he stared at the box on stilts that, remarkably, would capture the three of them and the memory of Maria’s shop for all to see.

Several minutes passed and Enoch spent them in contemplation of all that had been. So much had happened to him in his lifetime. So much great change had occurred. The photographer lifted his head. It was over.

Despite being young and having a life that is very much saturated with technology I don’t always immediately jump on the latest bandwagon. In this instance, I’m about ten years late but hey, better late than never.

I have always known of Flickr but I had previously held no interest in starting an account. It wasn’t until I was pondering about what to do with the photos of ‘unknown’ people that I thought that perhaps a platform such as Flickr may help. One quick look and I was sold.

Users are able to upload photos, place them in sets (i.e. photos belonging to a particular family), tag them and write descriptions. You’re also able to follow other users who’ve uploaded photos. I’ve already started following users such as the State Library of South Australia (love their photos!), Archives New Zealand and The British Library and looking upon their collections of old photos, advertisements etc are an absolute joy for anyone who loves history.

As stated earlier, my main aim will be to share the photos of people who are unknown; starting with soldiers from WWI. I’m hoping that sharing them, tagging them and putting them on Flickr in an orderly fashion will enable a curious person to stumble across them and (fingers crossed!) recognise a face or two. If you’re interested in having a look at my Flickr photostream please visit:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/113587752@N04/

I haven’t uploaded any photos as yet but as Perth swelters through 44 degrees Celsius (111 degrees Fahrenheit) tomorrow you can bet that I’ll be spending most of the day inside in the cool, scanning and uploading photos to my heart’s content.

My goodness. How the year flies by! But what a wonderful year it’s been. Though my blog posts still remain sporadic, behind the scenes, family history research is still very much a dominant factor in my life.

So what have I been up to this year?

Brickwalls were finally broken when I discovered my Great x 5 Grandfather, George Vandeput Crosbe (Playing Detective). As I delved into his life I was amazed and incredibly proud to learn of all that he achieved as a Lieutenant Commander within the Royal Navy (I promise he’ll be featured in a future blog post).

I was out and about more often this year; visiting the Midland Railway Workshops Heritage Day, Open House Perth and Heritage Perth weekends. I also visited the State Library of Western Australia a lot more and had to contain my excitement when I held in my hands (and then photographed the entire contents) a day book written by my Great x 3 Uncles. This day book has since been dubbed the ‘Hurst Day Book’ and throughout the year I’ve been carefully transcribing it, creating an index of the entries and adding footnotes to provide more detail on the people mentioned within it. It’s taken an awful long time but I’m exceedingly proud of the work I’ve done so far.

I also broadened my research efforts. I went on two family history trips down south with Matt, poured over page after page of newspapers on Trove and I started to purchase and read more books which related to my ancestors in order to gain a better understanding of what their lives were like and what they may have experienced (I definitely recommend The Bride Ships by Rica Erickson). I’m learning that it’s important to remember that though your ancestor may not be mentioned in a particular book or article, the information within is still likely to be relevant and should not be ignored.

I made contact with some wonderful people (cousins!) both in person and online. I’ve loved meeting some of them face to face to collaborate on research and I love the regular emails I receive from those who live outside of Western Australia. These emails always make me smile and it’s wonderful knowing that I have people out there in the world who I can bounce ideas/theories off of with the click of a button and a quick tap-tap-tap on my keyboard. Technology and it’s ability to connect people never ceases to amaze me.

Of course despite the highs, there have also been moments of frustration and as I’ve researched some lines (as usual, it’s mostly Mum’s side) I’ve lamented the fact that I didn’t (and my Mum didn’t) ask my Nan and Pop questions that now plague my mind. I was only a teenager when they passed away and at that age family history was a very distant thought. I can’t turn back time; I can only keep digging.

So, to my lovely readers and followers out there, thank you for your continued support throughout the year. Despite the limited quantity, I hope you find the blog posts entertaining and informative. To my family, thank you for putting up with me waffling on about theories or simply wondering ‘why?’ I know my incessant questioning can sometimes be a pain in the butt, but thank you for listening anyway. To Matt, thank you for continuing to push me out of my comfort zone. It’s making me braver and it’s making me a better researcher. I promise I’ll get the Nicholsons eventually.

To everyone, please don’t ever stop asking questions. And if you have stories that should be told but no one is asking you questions, tell them to your loved ones anyway. If talking about it is difficult, write it down. Believe me; they’ll be someone out there who’ll be immensely grateful that you did.

Take care and I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and a safe and joyful New Year!

Merry Christmas

And yes, that is me (about age 7) and my brother in the above photo. I also still remember how this photo came about. Having been scared of Santa for many years, on this particular day, I put on my brave pants and said to Mum “I think we should get our photo with Santa today.” So we walked over and had our photo taken…just in our everyday clothes…which also explains the cheesy ‘I’m feeling proud of myself grin’.

Mary Elizabeth Theakston is my Great Grandmother and because of our ancestral link, she stands so incredibly close but (frustratingly) just out of my reach. She is a woman who I look upon as one who held many secrets; one who did not divulge the details of her past to many people. There is so much of a mystery about her that my curiosity is often heightened to a point where I’ve daydreamed of sitting down with her in the hope that she’d tell me all. But with daydreams being only daydreams I’ve resigned myself to gathering information from all areas in order to slowly put the pieces of the puzzle together and hopefully obtain a clearer picture of what her early years were like.


The hereafter holds no terrors for any one who has panted through the past week in Perth. Even the mercury had to crawl through the top of the glass to cool itself, and pyjamas formed the most rational dress for those who could not afford to sit all day in a bath of cold water with a chunk of ice on the head.

1898 – In a time when air conditioning was only something one could dream about, relief from the hot Western Australian February summers was almost non existent. The temperatures in mid February soared to maximums of 39°C and the people of Perth and surrounding areas tried in vain to cool themselves. Adding to their woes, plagues of mosquitoes stormed through their homes and increased the discomfort of trying to sleep during the heat. Relief finally arrived in the afternoon of 13th February when the ‘Fremantle Doctor’ (which had been absent during the heatwave) lazily made an appearance and provided a welcome cool breeze.

It was also on this date, amidst the heat, mosquitoes and frustration, that Edith Alice Maud Theakston gave birth to a little girl; my Great Grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Theakston. Despite her normal residence being Short Street in Fremantle, Edith’s labour took place in, what was then, a rather remote location: Rockingham. Mary came into this world in the Postans family home (which today would’ve been located in Hope Valley) with the assistance of a young, 18 year old woman, Hannah Postans. Hannah’s 27 year old brother, Frederick Stephen Postans, was a further witness to the birth.

It is at the very beginning that herein lies the first mystery; conspicuously absent from Mary’s birth certificate was the name of her father. It is this absence that adds further weight to possible reasons as to why Edith gave birth in such a remote location, away from her family and home town. Mary was illegitimate. It is of course possible that Edith, while heavily pregnant, just happened to be passing by when the onset of labour halted her travels but in a world where pregnancy before marriage was severely frowned upon, I personally can’t help but wonder whether Edith was purposely sent away to live with the Postans in order to give birth far away from the curious eyes of the Fremantle locals (many of whom would’ve known her).

The absence of a father begs the first question: who was he? Why did Edith choose to not give his name when she registered the birth? Was the man who fathered Mary completely unknown to Edith? Were there unhappy circumstances surrounding the conception? Was he known to Edith but she chose to be discreet?

Nevertheless, Edith did not put Mary up for adoption and instead brought her home with her, and (by all appearances) decided instead to call her daughter, Elizabeth Veronica (her name was registered as Mary Elizabeth so I shall continue to call her Mary so as not to add confusion).

Mary/Elizabeth soon became known to everyone as Vera (a nickname probably derived from her middle name). During her very early years, it’s likely she grew up surrounded by lots of people; her mother, Edith,  grandmother, Emily Theakston (nee Freeman), grandfather, Hugh James Theakston (until 1902), her aunts and uncles as well as the people coming and going who lived at the boarding house on Short Street in Fremantle. Her life in Fremantle, how she was treated and how she was raised as a child is the second mystery. No one seems to know anything, so, to gain some perspective of what was going on throughout her life, I will, at times, look to family members.

Two years after Mary’s birth, Edith (living at Short Street) was still single and decided that she’d “walk out” with a heavily built man by the name of George Crick. An angry, violent man, the pair began arguing which resulted in George striking Edith in the mouth. Her sister, Florrie intervened and George swiftly turned on her, punching her in the eye. Where was Mary when all this was occurring? Who cared for her when Edith went out?

Capture

Edith’s singlehood eventually came to an end on 19 March 1902 when she married Joseph Sedgwick Attwood; a 27 year old man who had previously been a Private in the West Australian Mounted Infantry and had participated in the Boer War in South Africa. They were married in ‘The Church’ in Fremantle according to the rites and ceremonies of The Church of England. Witnessing the marriage were Edith’s brother, Hugh James Theakston and Robert Crossfield, a man from South Australia who may have been brought up by Edith’s parents. There was no notice in the paper of either the engagement or wedding and no write up about the nuptials themselves. By all appearances it was kept rather’ ‘hush hush’ which is befitting considering Edith, at the time, was an unmarried mother.

Mary was four years old and now had a stepfather to help care for her. As it turns out, Edith’s marriage was quite a pivotal point in Mary’s life. Whether or not Joe was her birth father may never be known but what is known is that Mary seems to have taken on Joe’s surname, Attwood.

Continuing to grow up as Vera Attwood, Mary lived with her mother and Joe in Fremantle on 25 Cantonment Road (not far from grandmother, Emily who lived on 22 Cantonment Road) up until 1904. At this point, she was six years old and she was required by law to attend school where she would learn all the basics such as reading, writing and arithmetic. Along with her schooling, it’s likely Edith would’ve also given  Mary instructions on matters relating to ‘keeping house’ such as sewing, ironing or cooking.

Princess May Students

Students at the Princess May School in 1908 – did Mary attend this school?

While Mary was experiencing the excitement of attending school for the very first time, Edith was finding that people (no matter how many years may have passed) still liked to gossip and speculate. In September 1906, a Mrs Elsegood was talking about Edith’s reputation to other people. Whatever it was she was saying, Edith deemed it “false and defamatory slander” and took decisive action. Whatever that action was, it worked. A letter was drawn up which retracted the statements and apologised and Mrs Elsegood signed it; giving Edith permission to print it in the papers in order to show people that she was in the wrong.

da0a928e-0319-4820-85f7-d92292a6778a

Throughout the 1900s, Mary, her mother Edith and stepfather Joe, made several moves around Fremantle. From 1905 to 1907 they lived on 34 Old Cemetery Road and then from 1909 to 1910 they lived on 34 Alexander Road. It wasn’t until 1911 they moved into a house at 1 Church Street in Fremantle which would become the family’s long-term residence.

Church Street

1 Church Street which today is Stevens Street

Aged 13, Mary was now a teenager and for the next ten years would be slowly growing from a girl into a young woman. Though she remained living at the Church Street house, further information about Mary during this time is very scarce. What was going on in Fremantle and Western Australia during this time? How would it have affected Mary’s life?

On 30 January 1911, the people of Fremantle celebrated Anniversary Day (now known as Australia Day) by holding a Children’s Gala at South Beach. Approximately 15,000 people arrived from Fremantle and even from other suburbs such as Perth and Midland Junction; travelling by either train or tram to attend the Gala and participate in the festivities. Mary would’ve been young enough to join in the fun and games and perhaps received some fruit or sweets that were handed out on the day. Could she have attended the popular event with Edith and Joe?

For the delight of the children there were foot races, skipping races, sack races, and Siamese-twins races, swimming events, and duck hunts, while sundry other minor attractions demanded the attention of the youngsters. Fruits and sweets were distributed as far as the supplies would go, but the demand was in excess of the supply, which in itself was not small. Handed out to the clamouring children were 7,000 bags of lollies, 36 cases of fruit, and five cases of toys, while cash prizes of small amounts were also paid over to successful competitors.

Children's Gala

A section of the crowd enjoying Anniversary Day at South Beach.

In 1912, Mary turned 14 and under the Western Australian laws was no longer required to attend to school. Assuming she did finish school at this age, her place would now be within the family home at Church Street where she would help her mother with various chores. Perhaps she was also starting to take an interest in the latest fashions and admired what was printed in the newspapers in the ladies’ section.

Latest Hats

Designs for three smart hats printed in the Sunday Times – May 1912.

The onset of war in 1914 was probably a time in Mary’s life which was both scary and filled with uncertainty. At the start she was 16; old enough to know what it meant but perhaps young enough to be a little naive as to the aftereffects. The Australian population in itself was enthusiastic for war and many men of all ages and backgrounds immediately enlisted to fight for the British Empire.

Waiting for War News

While men went away to fight, some women took up the jobs that became vacant and there were also some who volunteered as nurses or war correspondents and like the men, saw the impact of war first hand. Many however and most likely in Edith and Mary’s case, remained at home. Staying home didn’t necessarily mean that they did nothing. Some women visited and helped care for wounded soldiers, they held confectionary sales, rattled collection tins, organised fetes, baked cakes, organised care packages and more often than not, they knitted. Could Mary have helped in ways such as this while at home?

It was the death that came with war that would’ve been felt the most within the community. Families lost husbands, sons, cousins and friends and the whole of the country grieved for the lives that were tragically cut short. Mary would’ve seen the devastation first hand.  Her uncle by marriage, Herbert Howard Liverton enrolled in the Australian Imperial Forces on 28 February 1916. Just over a year later on 2 April 1917 (four days before his seventh wedding anniversary), he was killed in action while in France. Mary’s aunt, Ivy Gladys Rose Theakston was now a widow.

H Liverton

Private H. H. Liverton

A year later each member of the Theakston family placed notices in the paper in memory of Herbert’s death. The Attwood family was no exception with the notice stating that it was “Inserted by Edie Vera, and Joe Attwood”.

In Memoriam

It was during this same year on 11 November 1918 that the Great War finally came to an end. There had been four years of fighting and throughout that time Mary had shed her teenage years. She was now 20 years old.

Throughout 1919 the soldiers slowly returned to their homes and various repatriation organisations were set up in order to help them learn new skills, obtain employment or cope with their injuries. Despite the war coming to an end, life as everyone knew it would never truly be the same as it was before the war. The innocence of the nation was lost.

Mary’s life would’ve continued on in much the same way. It’s likely she was still at the Church Street residence with her mother, Edith and stepfather, Joe and (if she didn’t have some sort of employment) it’s also likely she was still helping around the house.

After a very long hiatus from records we finally see Mary reappear in 1921 at age 23. On 6 November, Emily Theakston (nee Freeman) the matriarch and long running boarding house keeper on Short Street died suddenly from a heart attack at the age of 65. Her unexpected death sent shockwaves through the Theakston family (newspaper notices placed by her children appear year after year in memory of her death). Her funeral was held two days later with her children and grandchildren in attendance. Amongst those grandchildren listed was “Vera Attwood”.

It is this last entry in the newspaper that I choose to close on the story of the early years of Mary Elizabeth Theakston’s life. Unfortunately (and perhaps remarkably) she never spoke to anyone about her upbringing or her early years and no one ever asked her questions about it (which may also simply be a reflection of the time). By all appearances it seems to me, from around this point forward, as if something happened. Perhaps Mary found out the truth of her illegitimacy from her mother. Perhaps she found out that her name was actually Mary Elizabeth and not Elizabeth Veronica. Perhaps she’d been living under the lie that Joe was her father and much to her great shock, was told that he wasn’t. It is looking to the records that helps tie the story of Mary/Vera together.

The years after 1921 are very important because of the evidence that arises. At some point in 1922 or 1923, Mary met Arthur Harold Harwood. He obviously swept her off her feet because in 1923 she had a son, Lindsay Gordon Harwood. She remained with Arthur and they had another child, this time a daughter, Ailsa Katharine Harwood on 26 September 1924 in East Coolgardie. She married Arthur on 29 July 1925 and on 13 January 1926 she gave birth to Arthur William Harwood.

Throughout all these years Mary’s mother was most likely suffering from the illness pernicious anaemia. At the time there was no known cure of the disease and on 17 August 1927 she passed away at only 50 years of age. She was buried the next day in Fremantle Cemetery and her obituary appeared in The Daily News a few days after that. Edith was highly respected within the district and was noted to have a “bright and genial disposition” which helped her make a large circle of friends. The obituary also states that she was survived by one daughter. This daughter was Mary and she was not listed as being a part of the funeral cortege.

It is Edith’s death certificate which lists the full name of her daughter: Elizabeth Veronica.  But it was an electoral roll which relates to Mary which slides the last piece of the puzzle in place. She first votes on 19 December 1931 in the Australian Federal Election. Living at 4 Benporath Street in Victoria Park, she gave her name: Vera Harwood.

The records further indicate that there was some confusion as to what Mary’s name actually was. Once, she voted as Vera. Twice, she used the name Ivy. In later years she used her registered name, Mary Elizabeth. Certificates for her future twelve children (four of whom died in infancy) show that sometimes she was Ivy, sometimes she was Mary Elizabeth, sometimes she used the surname Theakston and sometimes Attwood. As an example, my Nan’s death certificate states her mother’s name to be Ivy Attwood.

The possibility that she was adopted has also been pondered but I feel that this is something that is doubtful. The idea of a married couple adopting a child was not uncommon but the idea of a single young woman adopting a child in an era where children before marriage was frowned upon is highly unreasonable. There’s also the evidence of Mary’s grandmother, Emily. Emily Freeman was most likely born Emily Head; the illegitimate daughter of Ellen Head and William Dale. Though by all appearances she grew up under the care of Bell Freeman (and adopted his surname) it looks as if she still knew who her mother was and who her half siblings were. Perhaps it was Emily who was concerned enough to send her daughter away to escape gossip but being aware of her own situation and upbringing, did not wish Edith to give her baby up entirely (see my previous post, Deciphering Clues # 1 and Deciphering Clues # 2).

The truth is, despite all the questions, I haven’t got an answer. Mary remained silent regarding her past for her entire life and it may be that the truth of her childhood, her mother and father, the life she lived before she met Arthur and even the reason why she appears to have never seen her family again will forever remain a mystery, and I will have to be content with imagination.

Mary Elizabeth Theakston & Family

Mary Elizabeth Theakston (centre) surrounded by family and friends.

Sources:

For those who have previously read the story of Christopher Edwin Theakston you would know that he was very naughty. Unlike many of the convicts who were sent to Australia throughout the years Christopher could certainly not legitimately cry poor as the reason for his actions. For nearly 30 years he had held a trusted and comfortable position as a Clerk (in fact he was Chief Cashier for many of those years) within the Bank of England and, by all appearances, was doing quite well for himself.

Appearances, however, were deceiving. His real situation was actually quite dire and the advice regularly given by Charles Dickens’s character, Wilkins Micawber in the novel David Copperfield springs to mind.

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery.

Christopher was living outside his means and was most certainly indulging his whims. His financial position was in a miserable state and when he realised he was about to be caught out for embezzling the separate amounts of £1,000 and £100 while working for the Portsmouth branch of the Bank of England he immediately took flight.

Before doing so, however, he gave himself a head start. On 21 March 1861 he wrote a note to the bank and used his frequent attacks of gout as an excuse for why he could not come to work that day. Perhaps testament to the good character his fellow Clerks thought him to have, they believed his note and Christopher was excused without issue.

Gout

The day soon passed and the Clerks were still none the wiser. They all departed for home without having found the whereabouts of the missing money that they had been investigating and two particular Clerks, Mr Wyatt and Mr Godden, decided to pass by Christopher’s house in order to drop off the Telegraph and Punch.

Once there, they first spoke to one of his servants who made a “statement” to them which must have incited some suspicion.  Then, not long after, they spoke to his son. His son (it is unknown which son this is but it is likely it could’ve been Arthur as he is the eldest) had a letter to pass on to Mr Wyatt but only did so when Mr Godden had gone home.

Letter to Wyatt

Post Script

The letter was not destroyed and upon being presented to the Agent of the Bank of England, enquiries were made and they soon discovered that instead of being confined to his bed with gout, Christopher had in fact left Portsmouth on a train bound for London.

His journey involved different means of transport probably in the hope of throwing the Detectives off the scent. Having departed Portsmouth that same morning at 7:30am, he first got off at the Kingston station. From here he hired a fly and proceeded to Clapham and at Clapham he travelled by omnibus to Regent’s Circus (today known as Oxford Circus). This was the last place that he was spotted and from this point, the trail went cold. Despite having written of the regret and terrible situation in which he’d now placed his children, his escape and journey was made accompanied by “a lady of the town” who went by the name Randall and who he’d previously cohabited. It is the selfishness of this action which, to me, speaks volumes.

A reward was offered by the Bank of England with a notice printed in The Morning Chronicle. The description provided gives a rare glimpse as to what Christopher would’ve looked like in 1861.

47 years of age (but looks older), 5 feet 9 or 10 inches high, pale complexion, grey hair, rather bald on crown of head, full grey whiskers, large features, stout made, is afflicted with gout, and walks lame in consequence, toes turn inward, carries a walking-stick. Dressed in dark clothes, black hat, and, supposed, a sort of Inverness cape.

He had probably chosen London to hide in the hope that he’d blend in with all the other people that lived there but in reality, he and Randall couldn’t stay hidden forever. Just over two weeks later, on 7 April 1861, a Census was taken. All the names of all the people occupying houses had to be recorded. Whether this played a part in Christopher’s eventual capture may never be known but there is the chance that they were spotted and it could’ve helped the Detectives searching for them.

Assuming false names and identities, the couple had been living at 24 Palace Road in Lambeth as Mr and Mrs Wood. Christopher gave his name as Joseph E Wood (interestingly, Joseph was the name of his father) and Randall was named Matilda E Wood (perhaps taking his late wife’s first name?). While Christopher’s occupation was stated to be a ‘proprietor of houses’, funnily enough, his age and place of birth given were correct and not a lie.

On 29 April 1861 (just over a month since he first absconded) the jig was up. His claims in the letter to Mr Wyatt that “I shall be no more by the time you receive this, or very soon after” were nothing but empty words. He’d had a month to end his life (if that’s what he truly wished) but he made no attempt to do so until the very last moment; when the police were bashing down doors in order to apprehend him. It is this fact that makes me believe that he never really had any intention to end his life in the first place.

Apprehension

In spite of his protestations to be left alone to die, Christopher was sent to Westminster Hospital so that his throat could be sewn up. He was kept under constant surveillance by the police in order to prevent him from causing more damage to himself and it was while Joseph Huggett was keeping watch that Christopher made the following statement:

I think they had better let me lie here for three months, as I then shall be well. It will be like three months’ imprisonment, and then, perhaps, they will forgive me, considering the number of years I have been in the service.

Not surprisingly, his thoughts were once more turned towards saving his own skin. Hopeful as he may have been, nothing was to come of it. The Bank of England certainly couldn’t let him off and as Mr Huggett immediately stated to Christopher, once they make allowances for one, they’d be making allowances for all. When the case was examined before going to Court however, perhaps in a show of kindness to him, the Prosecution only brought up the matter of the £100 and not the £1,000.

Once he was fully recovered he was removed (I’m sure much to his dismay) from Westminster Hospital and was sent, by train, to Portsmouth Gaol to be examined by the Magistrates. He was still suffering from gout and he was most likely under a great deal of stress and worry at having to face the consequences of his actions. When he finally arrived he was so weak that it gave concern and the authorities immediately took him to the Portsmouth Gaol Hospital. By 12pm on 31 May 1861, he made his appearance.

Weakened State

By the end of the examination the Magistrates deemed that there was enough evidence and that the case was serious enough to warrant a trial. Christopher appeared at the next Portsmouth Quarter Sessions on 10 July 1861.

Described in the Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle as one “of superior education” Christopher, evidently, was still suffering greatly and was noted to be “in worse health than before”. The position of trust that he once held and the fact that he would’ve been well-known to the people of Portsmouth most likely contributed towards the trial having “created the greatest interest” in Court. The public (as well as Randall) all crowded into the Sessions’ Room to hear the details of the case and when the charge was formally read, Christopher stated that he was “Oh, guilty, guilty!”.

His counsel made an appeal on his behalf (bringing up his long service to the Bank of England) and stated that Christopher now threw himself on the mercy of the Court. In passing the sentence, the Recorder however felt that the Bank of England had already been quite merciful to him by not pursing the matter of the £1,000.

Christopher Edwin Theakston, you have pleaded guilty to an indictment charging you with embezzling the sum of 100l. from the Bank of England, and you have been very mercifully dealt with by the counsel for the prosecution in the observations which were made, and your counsel has placed before me all the topics which he could suggest, in mitigation of punishment; but I must recollect that you were in a position of great and unusual trust, removed from those temptations which, if they do not excuse, at all events extenuate the conduct of persons who stand in your position. You were removed from them by character, by position, by education and by the actual receipt of money from your employers. It is essential, when a case like this comes before the court, that the sense of guilt of persons should be unmistakably marked by a person sitting in my position, and therefore it is with great pain, recollecting the degradation I shall reduce you to, and remembering those children whom you ought to have recollected before you committed this office, that I order you to be sent to penal servitude for four years.

Sentenced to four years imprisonment but at the same time still being unwell meant that for several months he remained in the Portsmouth Gaol Hospital. By October of the same year it was reported that he was finally transferred from Portsmouth Gaol to Millbank Prison.

Transfer

Millbank Prison

Millbank Prison in 1829

From this point on (as also previously stated in my first post on Christopher) the trail runs cold. He was still far from completing his four year sentence so it’s assumed that he remained in Millbank Prison until about 1865. At the same time, given the constant reports of his ill health, one has to wonder whether he in fact died in prison. If this was the case, where is his record of death? Did he actually end up completing his sentence and changed his name so that the shame of his actions wouldn’t follow him? Did he immigrate to another country? What happened to him? How did he spend the latter years of his life? Where in the world did Christopher Edwin Theakston go?

Sources:

  • The quote by Wilkins Micawber courtesy of Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilkins_Micawber).
  • Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle etc (Portsmouth, England); Saturday, 1 June 1861; Issue 3217; Gale Document Number: BB3206069310.
  • The Morning Chronicle (London, England); Tuesday, 26 March 1861; Issue 29394; Gale Document Number: BC3207269062.
  • Ancestry.com 1861 England Census (database online): Class: RG 9; Piece: 351; Folio: 168; Page: 40; GSU roll: 542620.
  • The Times (London, England); Saturday, 1 June 1861; Page 12; Issue 23948; Gale Document Number: CS202414273.
  • The Hampshire Advertiser (Southampton, England); Saturday, 13 July 1861; Page. 4; Issue 1976; Gale Document Number: R3208806135. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II.
  • Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle etc (Portsmouth, England); Saturday, 13 July 1861; Issue 3223; Gale Document Number: BB3206069520.
  • The Bristol Mercury (Bristol, England); Saturday, 19 October 1861; Issue 3735. Gale Document Number: Y3206704964.
  • Photograph of Millbank Prison courtesy of Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Millbank_Thomas_Hosmer_Shepherd_pub_1829.jpg).

The keys to patience are acceptance and faith. Accept things as they are, and look realistically at the world around you. Have faith in yourself and in the direction you have chosen. [Ralph Marston]

Matilda Elizabeth Crosbe (the wife of Christopher Edwin Theakston) had the unfortunate luck (for both me and her) of dying in 1850 at the relatively young age of 42. Having missed the 1851 Census, she was however recorded in 1841 and it was from this Census that I first obtained a few scanty details about her life.

When the Census was taken on 7 June 1841, Matilda would’ve been heavily pregnant with her third child and was living at Landpost Terrace in Portsea, Hampshire with her husband and two sons, Arthur and Edwin. She was listed as being 30 years of age (born around the year 1811) and despite living in the county of Hampshire, she was recorded as having not been born there.

Since the very first time I added Matilda to my tree the next step has always been to find her parents. Though I had an approximate birth year, the absence of a birth place meant that I’d be searching very widely.

I took to the challenge and searched everywhere; trying the spellings Crosbe, Crosbie and Crosby. Lots of records popped up but none that matched Matilda. I was frustrated and I was disappointed so I did what I always do when something’s not going quite right. I put it aside for another day to be looked at with fresh eyes.

When I eventually did come back to Matilda it was because I’d found a new determination to finally discover the answer once and for all. I came across a baptism record (one that I’d originally discounted) which stated a Matilda Elizabeth Crosbe was baptised on 9 July 1827 and this time, instead of thinking “can’t be it”, I looked closer.

image

If only I’d done so earlier. Matilda may have been baptised in 1827 but the record itself states she was born on 25 April 1808. It was most certainly an ‘oh my God’, gasp inducing moment. Even more exciting, I finally had the possible names of her parents: George Vandeput Crosbe (a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy) and Leonora.

As tempting as it was to declare that this was my Matilda, I decided to keep digging. After all, the birth year I had was 1811 and this was 1808. Close, but I wanted to be sure.

The unusual middle name ‘Vandeput’ meant that I had a much easier time finding information for George. A quick search on Ancestry and there it was, the marriage record belonging to George Vandeput Crosbe and Leonora Ann Stroud. They had married on 26 November 1803 in St Peter’s Church in Ash, Surrey.

St Peter's

Their signatures (especially George’s rather elaborate one) was a source of much delight and with fingers firmly crossed, I decided to try and find a Will for George.

image

It is here that I must wholeheartedly thank the State Library of Western Australia who have signed up to trial the eresource, ‘Discovery’ through The National Archives (UK). Although the trial was supposed to end on 22 May 2013, it appears to still be running (http://slwa.wa.gov.au/find/eresources/featured_e-resources). Signing in using my Library card ID, it was through Discovery that I searched the National Archives collection and downloaded George Vandeput Crosbe’s Will…for free!

My initial elated response soon went cold however when I transcribed the Will and read that he’d left property to his daughter, Matilda Elizabeth Crosbe in the event of his wife’s death but that the name of the said wife was, Elizabeth Crosbe born Stroud. Where was Leonora?

A quick search on Family Search revealed that George had married Elizabeth Stroud on 21 September 1815 in Portsea. What had happened to Leonora? Was Elizabeth Leonora’s sister?

Curiosity suitably piqued, I followed Elizabeth Crosbe nee Stroud. She’d died on 17 August 1840 age 52 in Lower Belgrave Street, Pimlico. Even more interesting, it was on this street that Christopher Edwin Theakston’s father, Joseph also lived.

Elizabeth

Feeling ever more confident that this was my family, I used Discovery once again and downloaded another document which provided notes on an Executor’s application relating to Elizabeth’s death. It was in this document that I finally found the smoking gun.

image

Name and Address of the Claimant, Mrs Matilda Elizth Theakston (wife of C. E. Theakston). Niece.

Matilda was listed as Elizabeth’s niece which meant that George did remarry and in fact married Leonora’s sister. Matilda also gave her address as 7 Landpost Terrace in Hampshire; the same street she was living on when the 1841 Census was taken.

Eureka!

Sources:

  • Matilda Elizabeth Theakston; Oct-Nov-Dec 1850; Portsea Island; Hampshire; Volume 7; Page 97 (FreeBMD. England & Wales, FreeBMD Death Index, 1837-1915 [database on-line]).
  • Matilda Theakston – 1841 Census [Class: HO107; Piece: 414; Book: 2; Civil Parish: Portsea Town; County: Hampshire; Enumeration District: 5; Folio: 24; Page: 1; Line: 25; GSU roll: 288811].
  • Matilda Elizabeth Crosbe – Dorset, England, Births and Baptisms, 1813-1906 [Dorset History Centre; Dorset Parish Registers; Reference: PE/SPY: RE 1/1, 2/1-2, 3/1-2].
  • Photo of St Peter’s Church courtesy of Michael FORD (http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1517252).
  • George Crosbe Esquire; Ref. AS/1/5 [Ancestry.com. Surrey, England, Marriages, 1754-1937 [database on-line].
  • Will of George Vandeput Crosbe, Lieutenant in His Majesty’s Royal Navy of Island of Guernsey [National Archives UK; Ref: PROB 11/1712/268].
  • “England Marriages, 1538–1973 ,” index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/N24L-W96 : accessed 04 Oct 2013), George Vandeput and Elizabeth Stroud, 21 Sep 1815.
  • Number: 877 Elizabeth Crosbe, Widow of Lieutenant, who died: 17 August 1840. Notes on executor’s application for money owed by the Royal Navy [National Archives UK; Ref: ADM 45/12/877].

With three Great Grandfathers and three Great Great Grandfathers having worked either within the Midland Railway Workshops or for the West Australian Government Railways (WAGR), it was a given that I’d be attending the Midland Railway Workshops Heritage Day in order to see the buildings that, in some way, played a part within the lives of my ancestors.

Running for nearly 100 years, construction on the Midland Railway Workshops began in 1897 with the first buildings completed in 1904. As the workshops grew, extensions were added and additional buildings constructed. Their main purpose was to build and repair steam locomotives, carriages, wagons, tracks, signals and station furniture for the WAGR. At their peak the workshops employed over 4,000 people and remained in use until their closure (which was met with widespread disapproval) in 1994.

Today, the Midland Railway Workshops are heritage listed and are a marvel to view. In some instances it almost seemed as if the men that worked there had only recently left, with clocks, safety notices, signage and even names of employees still attached to the buildings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was a beautiful day which made exploring the workshops a joy. People were everywhere and it felt good to see families, children and elderly revelling in an important piece of Western Australian history. Personally, I thank my Mum and brother for joining me and I hope they enjoyed the day as much as I did.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Further information:

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 106 other followers