Black Sheep Sunday ~ The curse on a Condemned Man’s Children!

All Saints Church in Goosey, Berkshire, England. Where Clara was born.  Copyright owned by Dennis Jackson.

All Saints Church in Goosey, Berkshire, England. Where Clara was born. Copyright owned by Dennis Jackson.

I occasionally contemplate how the sins of the father can effect his children.  Is a man of sin, condemned to death, the only legacy of his offspring?  Are they forever cursed by his wrongs in life?  Perhaps not.  Children should not have to pay for the crimes of their parents.  They are responsible for their own actions, their own mistakes and not those of others. However, like a chain reaction, one event, one experience can set others in motion and although no one should be held responsible for the evils of their parents perhaps in the eyes of society it taints a person.  A blemish one cannot hide for which one is not at fault!

My great grandfather and his siblings had to contend with this stain on their characters, born of their father’s crimes and his subsequent hanging. Though I had already learned of the fate of my great grandfather and is younger siblings I knew little of the effects on some of his older sisters.  It was the tale I finally discovered of his sister Clara Ann which was to be most disheartening.

Clara was the daughter of John Carter and his first wife Elizabeth Ann Thatcher.  Clara had been 12 when her mother died. Always awful to lose a mother, being an adolescent was probably that much more difficult.  She was still at home when John remarried to Elizabeth Ann Alder and when she mysteriously disappeared. In 1892, at age 16 she married Henry Breakspear, ten years her senior.  This was before her father had married, murdered, and been tried for the killing of Rhoda Ann Titcombe, his third wife.

Perhaps the fate of Clara had already been sewn up.  Perhaps the poor choices and the harsh personality of her father lead to Clara’s choice in a husband who seems was also aggressive, and possibly weak minded, and lost in his own right.

Prior to his marriage Henry Breakspear had also had at least one run in with the law.  A newspaper article details a case in which Henry was charged with having assaulted a young boy he was employed with labouring on a farm.  He had struck this 15 year old boy and kicked him according to evidence given.  Henry claimed he had lost his temper because of the boy’s sauciness and admitted to having assaulted him but not kicked him.  The beating was allegedly severe and Henry was described as possibly half-witted.  It appears Henry may have had a temper similar to that of Clara’s father!

The newspaper article.

The newspaper article.

Clara’s father John was hanged in 1893 after having been convicted of killing his third wife Rhoda.  Clara had in various trials and inquests given testimony along with her siblings evidencing her fear of her father’s violent and brutal temper. Clara and Henry had a son, Edward John, in 1894 (I have yet to discover whether there were any others).  It was possible that in Clara’s mind John’s execution, and now the birth of a child, would bring closure to all tragedy in her life but this was a far cry from the truth!

As though deja vu, 5 years later Clara’s would have to revisit tragic circumstances when Henry, in a state of unsound mind commits suicide by hanging and, Llewellyn Jotcham, the same coroner who investigated her father, now investigated her husband’s death.  I sometimes wish Clara had left a diary.  That I could peer into the depths of her soul and understand exactly what life with her husband had been but these are the frustrations of genealogy; These are the blanks we must fill with our own imaginings and emotions.

Death Record for Henry Breakspear 1898

Death Record for Henry Breakspear 1898

When we feel we have born all burdens in life that we can, life pierces us yet again with arrows!  In 1914 World War I breaks out and England sends it’s brave and naive young men off to fight for king and country.  Clara’s son Edward is now 20 and off he ventures to France and Belgium as a member of the 1st battalion, Somerset Light Infantry.  Just as Clara has been cursed by tragedy in the past, she is now met with the sad end of her son’s life in its prime! Killed in action 7 Jul 1915, Edward was awarded the Victory medal and star his name appears on the Ploegsteert memorial,
Comines-Warneton, Hainaut, Belgium.

Ploegsteert Memorial, Belgium

Ploegsteert Memorial, Belgium

I know little nothing yet of what became of Clara after all these horrors in her life.  I’d like to think she remarried, found some sort of peace.  Hopefully further investigation into her life will lead to findings as these!


Thriller Thursday ~ Sentenced to Hang

Catch up! Previous posts in this series before you read “Sentences to Hang”:

~Accident or Murder

~The Vanishing

~The Fate of Rhoda

~Dear John

~The Coroner’s Inquest

Reading Gaol

Reading Gaol

The inquest verdict, “Willful murder” and the assize trial upholding this result, there was nothing left for the judge but to pass sentencing.  As was the customary punishment for murder, my great-great grandfather John Carter was sentenced to hang.  Just as the line of a movie, the judge was quoted as saying:

“I have nothing to do but to pass upon you the sentence of the law, and that sentence is, that you be taken to the place from whence you came, and thence to the place of execution, there to be hanged by the neck till you be dead, and may the Lord have mercy on your soul.”

Sent to the infamous Reading Gaol to await his fate, John Carter, spent many days in prison to dwell upon his crimes, contemplate his death, and make his peace.

In Debtors’ Yard the stones are hard,
And the dripping wall is high,
So it was there he took the air
Beneath the leaden sky,
And by each side a Warder walked,
For fear the man might die.

Or else he sat with those who watched
His anguish night and day;
Who watched him when he rose to weep,
And when he crouched to pray;
Who watched him lest himself should rob
Their scaffold of its prey.

The Governor was strong upon
The Regulations Act:
The Doctor said that Death was but
A scientific fact:
And twice a day the Chaplain called,
And left a little tract.

And twice a day he smoked his pipe,
And drank his quart of beer:
His soul was resolute, and held
No hiding-place for fear;
He often said that he was glad
The hangman’s hands were near.

Excerpt from Oscar Wilde’s Poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1897)

Tuesday December 5th, 1893 the hangman’s noose was ready.  A hangman of renown and experience in England, James Billington–chief executioner of Great Britain and Ireland from 1891-1901–would be in control of the rope which encircled John’s neck and would soon violently jerk his head backward and sideways, fracture and crush his vertabrae, and soon cause him to cease breathing. 8 am John Carter was dropped!  That long drop through a trap door, a perfect penance for a heinous murder, by Capital Punishment advocate standards. Billington, it was said, had a lifelong fascination with hanging.  Creating model gallows in his yard, using weights and dummies, and rumoured use of neighbourhood strays. Perhaps the pleasure he took in his job was a sign of a psychy as perverse as that of his “clients”.

James Billington, executioner/hangman.

James Billington, executioner/hangman.

And he of the swollen purple throat,
And the stark and staring eyes,
Waits for the holy hands that took
The Thief to Paradise;
And a broken and a contrite heart
The Lord will not despise.

The man in red who reads the Law
Gave him three weeks of life,
Three little weeks in which to heal
His soul of his soul’s strife,
And cleanse from every blot of blood
The hand that held the knife.

Excerpt from Oscar Wilde’s Poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1897)

John Carter –in an amazing twist of events which opens old wounds– confesses to another crime.  He confesses to the prison chaplain–in his weakest moments and final hours of life–to the murder of his second wife Elizabeth Alder-Carter!  He describes where he had, years prior, unceremoniously and hastily buried her body. Having no reason to offer a confession, perhaps John felt remorse or perhaps he wished to save his soul from damnation–a secret wish for redemption.

John then took the final walk, a walk to the gallows, a walk ending in the swing from a rope!  His body was laid to rest or unrest on the Reading prison grounds. The police however had a new investigation ahead of them, another body to discover.

Thriller Thursday ~ The Coroner’s Inquest

A Coroners Inquest

Previous Installments of this Series:

~ Accident or Murder

~The Vanishing

~Dear John

~The Fate of Rhoda

The suspect, John Carter, arrested–housed at Faringdon Gaol– and the body found, a coroner’s Inquest was held in the Schoolhouse at Watchfield.  In Constable Charles Sparkes’ own words the horror of the scene unfolds:

I got an iron bar and with it I probed the floor of an outbuilding adjoining the house of the husband used as a stable–it was covered with litter.  I tested it all over until I came to one corner where there was a large wheelbarrow stood on its end and propped up against the wall in a corner.  I moved the wheelbarrow and found a tub which I also removed.  I then grubbed the floor and at about the third time I put the bar down I found I was on something.  As I pulled the bar out I smelt a deathly smell.  I at once called to Sgt. Benning who was in an adjoining shed and he brought a four grained fork with him but the earth was shallow and I knelt down and pulled the earth off with my hands.  I then found the body of the deceased with only a chemise on her body, there were only about three inches of earth covering the body.  Sgt. Benning and I then took the body out of the hole and placed i where the jury have seen it.  This morning I examined the hole and found it to be about two feet square and about 18 inches deep.  The body of the deceased was doubled up when we found it and being a small person it took up very little room.  I searched the house but saw no traces of blood and there were no marks of a struggle having taken place.  When I found the body it presented the same appearance as it does now, except that it has become more discoloured.  I saw a black mark round the throttle of the neck of the deceased about four or five inches in length and about three quarters of an inch wide, it appeared to be larger on the left side of the neck than on the right…

From the Coroner’s Report

John’s brother James testifies at the inquest explaining that the had met John in a field as he was returning from a milk run to Shrivenham Station.  John had confessed to his brother that he “did kill his wife”.  He claimed she had died directly after he had hit her and knocked her down.  He then proceeded to drag her into the blacksmith shop to be buried.  He had requested that James return to Watchfield to determine what the gossip might be about his wife Rhoda.  James had instead gone to the police.

James Carter

The testimony of several neighbours recounted the events of the days surrounding Rhoda’s murder but it was the testimony of Faringdon surgeon Coniston Spackman, ordered by the coroner to make a superficial examination of the body, which detailed the truly heinous violence Rhoda had endured and her corpse had been submitted to:

I found the whole of the body was very much discoloured particularly the head and face and the right side of the body–the hair of the head was very nearly off–it was hanging loose, the features were so much discoloured and swollen that they were almost beyond recognition.  On examining the throat I found three distinct marks, one on the right corresponding to the impression of a thumb and two on the left corresponding to the impression of two fingers.  I also found the thyroid cartilage discoloured, it was quite moveable,there was no fracture of the skull but the nose was broken.  The appearance of the head and face would lead to the supposition that it had been beaten severely or trodden upon.  I should say after death.  I found the skin of the whole body was easily removeable–that I attribute to decomposition but it might have been by scorching and there was a distinct smell as though the body had been scorched.  From all the appearances of the body, I am of the opinion that death was caused by strangulation.  The hair of the deceased smelt of fire.  I cannot give any opinion as to the time which has elapsed since the death but I should say about a week…

From The Coroner’s Report

Watchfield School where the inquest took place

Watchfield School where the inquest took place

The inquest results were clear and there was little question John Carter would be stand trial for the murder of his third wife Rhoda Ann!

…that the cause of her death was that she was strangled and killed by her husband John Carter on or about the twenty first of July in the year aforesaid at Watchfield aforesaid and so do further say that he said John Carter did feloniously, wilfully and of malice aforethought murder the said Rhoda Ann Carter

Thriller Thursday ~ The Fate of Rhoda

Rhoda Ann Carter (Nee Titcombe)

Rhoda Ann Carter (Nee Titcombe)

Previous posts for this serial:
~ Accident or Murder?

~ The Vanishing

~ Dear John

The community of Watchfield was fraught in suspicion and both relations and neighbours were concerned by the mysterious disappearance of Rhoda Ann Carter (formerly Rhoda Ann Titcombe).  The answers to questions of Rhoda’s whereabouts and the events of the past few days, provided by her husband John Carter were unfathomably bizarre and certifiably untrue. Police Constable Charles Sparkes, of Shrivenham, was called to seek satisfaction in this case!

That Saturday evening, Constable Sparkes called on John Carter to inquire after Rhoda.  John insisted that his wife had left for her sister’s home in Eastleach Friday morning.  He explained that he and Rhoda had argued the evening before.  She had planned to fetch her sister and bring her back to stay with them during her confinement.  “I had told her, you won’t.  I married you to look after my children.  I says to her if you go you stop there; don’t you come back here again!”, Carter claimed. Constable Sparkes had known Rhoda for many years and knew her to be short-tempered, perhaps this explanation bore a resemblance to the truth.  When asked if Carter expected his wife to return, he replied that she was expected to return by carrier on Tuesday.

Map of the Watchfield  area showing East Leach

Map of the Watchfield area showing East Leach

Rhoda’s mother, still concerned, accompanied Cst. Sparkes into the Carter cottage and indicated that her daughter’s belongings were all accounted for beyond one set of clothing.  Rhoda had left with nothing but the clothes on her back!  Cst. Sparkes felt the need to investigate further as Rhoda’s mother accused Carter of “doing her daughter in”!

A trip to East leach revealed that Rhoda’s sister Jane Weatley and her husband David had not been visited by Rhoda. Carter’s story, an obvious concoction, while Sparkes was away, Carter bolted. Found in a meadow outside Watchfield, Carter is arrested.   It was thanks to John Carter’s brother James that the police were able to track him.  James, on a milk run, had encountered his brother John. and upon inquiring what he had been up to was told, “I did kill my wife and bury her in the blacksmith shop.” This statement from James and his direction made John’s arrest possible but it was the gruesome evidence, later discovered by Cst. Sparkes and Sergeant Benning from Uffington, which would soon seal the fate of John Carter and resolve the mystery of Rhoda Ann Carter’s disappearance…the body buried under the out building used as a stable!  This evidence would be detailed at the coroner’s inquest!

John Carter's arrest.

John Carter’s arrest.

The case continued next Thursday!
post signature

Thriller Thursday ~ Dear John

Update yourself with the sorted tale by reading my previous posts regarding John Carter and his crimes:

~ Thriller Thursday ~ First Installment ~ Accident or Murder?

~ Thriller Thursday ~ Second Installment ~ The Vanishing

Other stories related to John Carter: Black Sheep Sunday: My Darkest Black Sheep , A Foundling Found , Travel Tuesday | Walking in Their Footsteps , and Military Monday ~ Lost Great-Uncle Nelson

Rhoda Ann Titcombe.  John Carter's third wife.

Rhoda Ann Titcombe. John Carter’s third wife.

It was 1889 and John Carter once again found himself the single father of now seven children– 6 from his first marriage and a son, John Nelson Carter, from his second.  He continued to spread the tale of his wife’s desertion; Her foray with another man, the so called “chap from Swindon”.  He continued to carouse the local pubs, his love or need for drink sustained. He had moved the family to his home town of Watchfield from Longcot and now frequented the “Eagle Inn”, an establishment owned by Joseph Pocock, the same man who had run John’s favourite Longcot haunt, the “King and Queen”.

The Eagle Inn, Watchfield, Berkshire, England

The Eagle Inn, Watchfield, Berkshire, England

It was in 1893 at the “Eagle Inn” that John Carter announced in a drunken state that he was to marry bar maid Rhoda Ann Titcombe–once again a member of the enterprising Mr. Pocock’s staff. Questioned regarding how he could possibly marry when his previous wife was alive and living in Swindon, John cajoled and offered them five pounds to find his wife “Dead or Alive”.  In April of that year John and Rhoda were wed, John listed as a “widower” on the registry.

It seems the short marriage may have been a bumpy one!  John was quite obviously a jealous man with a hot temper.  Two months after they were wed John was heard at a local feast saying that Rhoda was to dance with no other man.  “Should she want another man I will be the death of her”, a witness had later recalled him saying.  This was to be a foreshadowing of the events to come!

July 20th 1893, late into the night John’s 9 year old son Thomas Carter (my Great-Grandfather), was roused in the night by dreadful noise, “a banging from the next room”, his step-mother’s cry ” Lord have mercy upon us”, and then from the stairs a “knock, knock, knock”, much heavier than anyone’s walking.  The following morning Thomas was told his step-mother had gone to East leach and that he was to go fetch the cows.  John was to be busy in the smithy attached to the cottage all day and Thomas was warned off going near the forge and the wash house.

The friendly walk John and Rhoda took the day of July 20th was the last neighbours saw Rhoda alive and well.  And when Rhoda’s mother came in search of her the next day, John informed her that her daughter had gone to her confined sister in Eastleach.  Her mother left filled with suspicions and doubt!

Thomas, my great-grandpa age 8 or 9

Thomas, my great-grandpa age 8 or 9

Later that day, John sent his son Thomas on another errand.  He wanted a quarter hundredweight of coal and had sent Thomas to a local farmer and dealer to fetch it.  Soon after, a thick and noxious smoke coming from the Carter wash house disturbed a curious neighbour, Ann Butler, from across the lane.  Over she wandered, it was a hot evening and there seemed no reasonable explanation for the billowing smoke of a substantial fire.  Pushing open the door, Ann Butler, peered in to see a large tub surrounded by kindling and coal, but she was suddenly pushed out of the wash house by John, He abruptly slammed and latched the door behind them.  |i’m burning rubbish.” he explained but Mrs. Butler was hardly convinced.

Suspicions swirling, a small village soon embroiled in rumour and concerned chatter, neighbours and family were hyper vigilant.  Rhoda’s brother, David, aware of his mother’s worry and alerted by the wafting smoke came running to the house from a nearby cricket field and burnt his hand trying to enter the wash-house.  Eventually John opened the door for him so he could see what looked like a large tub boiling over with water.  John’s unfathomable response to David’s questioning, “I am boiling water to shave with.”

John maintained that Rhoda had run off to her sister’s in East Leach when he was bombarded questioning relations and two days later the local police constable Charles Sparkes was informed that Rhoda Titcombe had gone missing, her husband suspected. Cst. Sparkes set out to investigate this mysterious disappearance.

Another disappearance, another wife run off!  Was John Carter a rough, but pathetic “Dear John” always being deserted because of his hot headed disposition? Or was something more sinister afoot?  Certainly most of Watchfield believed something was most definitely amiss!

Questions stack one a top another as fieldstones on a wall the truth not yet laid bare, revelation still hovers in a fog of disconnected facts…
post signature

Workday Wednesday ~ Blowing Glass in West Bromwich

Image: The Glass and Lighthouse Works at Smethwick in the early 20th century. Glass cones can be seen at various locations across the site. Chance Brothers & Co., Limited, 100 Years of British Glass Making 1824-1924 (Smethwick and Glasgow, Chance Brothers & Co., 1924).

Image: The Glass and Lighthouse Works at Smethwick in the early 20th century. Glass cones can be seen at various locations across the site. Chance Brothers & Co., Limited, 100 Years of British Glass Making 1824-1924 (Smethwick and Glasgow, Chance Brothers & Co., 1924).

One’s occupation is often an all encompassing part of one’s existence.  Although today work takes up a great deal of our time and energy it may have been an even more consuming elements of life in earlier times when people laboured without the aid of complex machinery and advanced technology.  As family historians we are in search of the life stories of our ancestors which include their occupations. If we can track down this valuable information it can often lead to even more fascinating history regarding the lifestyle of our ancestors, and the economy of the time and place in which they lived.

Census records are one of the best sources of occupational information and the written scrawl in the occupation column of a census typically and expectedly reads Farmer or Farm Labourer!  Yes we have all experienced the inevitable sigh as we once again read the dreaded dull words.  Of course, farming is an admirable calling and essential however it is far more exciting when one encounters something far less commonplace.

In researching my husband’s family in England I was most pleasantly surprised by the Sheldons of West Bromwich, Staffordshire when my eyes scanned down the Census occupation columns to discover that many of the men in the family were glass makers.  How fascinating I thought!  Now how does one learn about glassmakers and glassblowers in West Bromwich of the 1800s?  Being some distance away–a whole ocean away in fact–I did what is now instinct to us all, I googled! The glassmaking dynasty of the Chance Brothers was the result of my search and a wealth of information regarding the company and its history!

Of course, I would have relished finding specific reference to the individuals on our tree but genealogy seldom works this way.  Often we must delve into historical research which gives context to the lives of our ancestors rather than expect to be handed the unique life story of an individual on a platter!  I determined to read further on the Chance Brothers Glassworks.

"Crystal Palace". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

“Crystal Palace”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

The enterprise was born from a long line of merchant and business endeavours of previous generations.  The moneys earned from these enterprises became the cash infusion for a glassworks business which began in Birmingham and then Nailsea, then  expanded to London and later overtook the British Crown Glass Company at Spon Lane, West Bromwich and Smethwick (the West Midlands) in 1824.  It was this company which became the famous Chance Brothers Glassworks.  It was this glassworks which supplied the glass for the Crystal Palace, sheet glass for the parliament buildings and fine optical glass for lighthouses.  William Chance IV commenced the industry and Robert Lucas Chance was the glassmaker and innovator.

Image: Robert Lucas Chance (died 1865). From a photograph. Chance Brothers & Co., Limited, 100 Years of British Glass Making 1824-1924 (Smethwick and Glasgow, Chance Brothers & Co., 1924)

Image: Robert Lucas Chance (died 1865). From a photograph. Chance Brothers & Co., Limited, 100 Years of British Glass Making 1824-1924 (Smethwick and Glasgow, Chance Brothers & Co., 1924)

It was 1851 when the company was contracted to work on the glass for the Crystal Palace, and during the 1850s Chance Brothers was known for manufactured beautiful ornamental richly coloured sheet glass designs which in the 1860s transformed into a more modern, lightly-tinted window glass.  It was during these decades that my husband’s ancestors were employed.  I am hoping to learn more about this company and the history of the British glass industry which may shed further light on the occupations of the individuals which inhabit this family branch!
post signature

Leaded Borders and Rosettes, richly coloured Executed by F Gimiez for Chance Brothers & Cox by Chromolith Lemercier, Paris

Leaded Borders and Rosettes, richly coloured
Executed by F Gimiez for Chance Brothers & Cox by Chromolith Lemercier, Paris

Surname Saturday ~ Bryant? Butler? …Overton?

Kinver, Staffordshire Postcard

Kinver, Staffordshire Postcard

It becomes terribly frustrating when you are researching an individual whose surname is entirely baffling!  One often expects to be puzzling over unknown maiden names but there are so many reasons a surname can be a mystery.  I’ve discussed the confusion of the French-Canadian “dit” name, and the anglo-sizing of German names in my family in previous posts but what about the bazaar and unexplained which cause shifts in surnames?

I have been chasing a brick wall ancestor for some time in my husband’s tree with little success.  James Enoch Butler Bryant was my husband’s 2nd Great Grandfather.  Assuming his last name was indeed Bryant and that his father was Joseph Barnett Bryant–the father with which he lived after arriving in Canada–I spent countless hours in search of this Bryant family in England.  But what happens when the Bryant I am in search of turns out to be a Butler?

After fruitless searching I decided that James Enoch Butler Bryant was a terribly unusual name.  It seemed a double surname, Butler and Bryant.  Of course, my first instinct was that perhaps Butler was the maiden name of his mother, or even of a grandmother; Often such names are carried through the generations in this way. I started to search for James and his mother Hannah as Butlers rather than Bryants in the England Census. It took some crazy further searching but I found a James Enoch Butler living with his mother Hannah Butler, grandmother, Alice Sheldon, and  his uncle Edwin Sheldon in West Bromwich, Staffordshire, England.  Well, it was a lead so I ran with it!

1881 England Census (unfortunately on two pages)

1881 England Census (unfortunately on two pages)

census 1881 (2)

It is funny how the more genealogical research one does the more instinctual it becomes.  I sometimes imagine it is the hand of an ancestor pulling us along, curling a pointer finger in a come hither motion, visible only to one’s psyche. Regardless of what triggers that sense of correct direction, it’s there!  It is this instinct which aids us to pick up signs, clues, and cues in tracking down the individual or individuals we are hunting.  I felt this lead tugging me onward.  The 1881 England Census indicated that Hannah Butler was married and because she was the daughter of the “head of household” Alice Sheldon I knew the likelihood was her maiden name had been Sheldon but where was her husband?  Beyond having the common last name Butler I had no idea who he was.  There were many Butlers in West Bromwich, as well can be imagined, and I could not find a marriage nor a birth record to indicate the Butler-Sheldon connection so a brick wall was soon laid, each resultless search adding one more solid brick.

It is never futile to try searching various sites in a variety of ways.  I finally did find a marriage record for Hannah Sheldon and a John Thomas James Butler in Neighbouring Dudley, Staffordshire, England in 1876 (James Enoch was born the following year in 1877).  Knowing now I likely had the correct family, I found Hannah Butler’s second marriage in Woodstock, Ontario, Canada to Joseph Barnett Bryant in 1882.  Most poingiant is the fact that, like Hannah, Joseph was also a single parent of a young boy about the same age as James Enoch.  Both were from West Bromwich originally so, while they married in North America, it is likely they met in England.  Five year old James Enoch Butler Bryant was obviously raised by Joseph Bryant as his own kin.

St. Peter's Church, Kinver.

St. Peter’s Church, Kinver.

The mystery now is: What happened to John Thomas James Butler?  Did he die between 1877, the year his son was born, and 1881, when he does not appear with his wife in the census?  Did he desert his family?  I have yet to track his death but this weekend’s free records access on Find My Past has produced one more document which both helps and complicates things further.  I thank John Thomas James Butler’s parents for naming him so prolifically for I found a parish baptismal record for John Thomas James Butler born 23 May 1858 in Kinver, Staffordshire, England to James and Jane (and yes, James was stricken out just as I have here).  More name confusion!  If Jane was his mother and no father was meant to be listed is Butler Jane’s maiden name or the father’s name? And although we know James was not meant to be written was that truly his father’s name but accidentally recorded or was it a complete error?

Baptismal Record of John Thomas James Butler 1858

Baptismal Record of John Thomas James Butler 1858

What I have learned is that John Thomas James Butler at the age of three can be found in the 1861 England Census in Kinver, Staffordshire living with 53 year old John Overton and his 52 year old wife Sarah.  My first instinct is that these are his grandparents but ironically the relationship field for John Thomas James Butler was left blank!  If these are truly John  Thomas James Butler’s grandparents was his mother’s maiden name Overton? Or perhaps Overton was indeed his father’s last name.  I think I must continue seeking the pieces to this puzzle! What else might I discover before the weekend comes to a close?

1861 England Census showing John living with the Overtons

1861 England Census showing John living with the Overtons

post signature

Thriller Thursday ~ Second Installment ~ The Vanishing

Sketch of John Carter from the Illustrated Police News.

Sketch of John Carter from the Illustrated Police News.

Wish to catch up on previous Posts about my Great-Great Grandfather John Carter?

~Black Sheep Sunday ~ My Darkest Black Sheep

~Thriller Thursday ~ Murder in the Family

~Thriller Thursday ~ First Installment ~ Accident or Murder?

Nothing truly prepares you for that horrific genealogical find!  That discovery which at first seems a wrong turn, a climb out on the limb of someone else’s tree.  Then the heart halting reality sinks deep into your bones and your blood chills as every element of your research forms proof that you indeed are related to someone …well…far less than savoury!  But I digress, I must not rush my tale for although I learned of this story completely out of sequence I’d like you to follow the events as they happened rather than as my research unfolded and revealed them to me.

I take you back to John Carter, my Great-Great Grandfather, whose wife, of 16 years, Elizabeth Thatcher has tragically died after a fall down their cottage steps, her head bashed against the stone floor below.  An accident as ruled by Mr. Jotcham, the coroner!

John Carter was a cowman–a farm labourer but one highly valued for his skills, which included those of a blacksmith.  He worked and lived on Broad Leaze Farm near Shrivenham. The character of John Carter is said to have been “bad”!

…but he seems to have generally found employment, as he was what was known as a “handy man.” When he married his first wife, whose maiden name was Thatcher, he was groom and gardener to a gentleman, but got into trouble over some fowls.  He was greatly addicted to drink, and used his wife so badly that he was repeatedly remonstrated with and summoned.

the King and Queen Pub

The King and Queen Public House at which Elizabeth Ann Alder was a servant in 1887

John frequented the local public house, the “King & Queen” in Longcot.  Perhaps drowning his sorrows, perhaps celebrating his new found freedom–though I doubt being left alone with six children could be considered free–John met 18 year old bar maid Elizabeth Ann Alder.  Not two months after his first wife had perished, a now pregnant Elizabeth Alder moved in.with him at Broad Leaze farm cottages and they were soon married 19 Oct 1887.

St. Andrew's Church Shrivenham.  Where John Carter and Elizabeth Ann Alder married in 1887.

St. Andrew’s Church Shrivenham. Where John Carter and Elizabeth Ann Alder married in 1887.

A neighbour, Mrs. Cordelia Enestone, commented:

…he treated her very cruelly, beating her in a terrible manner, and she used to run to me for protection.  Once one of Mr. Carter’s little boys refused to wash his hands before dinner, and she gave him a tap, and for that Carter beat her unmercifully.

Elizabeth gave birth to a son John Nelson Carter in 1888.  One September Saturday of 1889 Mrs. Enestone stopped to visit with Elizabeth who stood outside her door polishing her husband’s boots.  Excited Elizabeth explained that she and John had plans to attend the Faringdon bazaar if he made it home in time.  They did not attend the bazaar and the events of that night ended in the vanishing of John’s young wife!

Broadleaze Farm Cottages, Shrivenham.

Broadleaze Farm Cottages, Shrivenham.

John’s 10 year old daughter Martha, disturbed by the din of what sounded like a falling chair and table in the night was baffled by her step-mother’s disappearance asking her father where she had gone.

Observant Mrs. Enestone, remembered much later that:

…about nine that night she heard Mrs. Carter give one terrible shriek.  She had often heard her screaming fearfully, but this was quite different; it was one piercing shriek, and then all was quiet, and she never saw her again.

When asked about the disappearance of his wife in the weeks to come John responded:

She’s gone off with a chap from Stanford, they live in Swindon, she took my last 24 shillings and my only solace is the baby boy she has deserted.

He had contacted Elizabeth’s family to let them know she had run away and could not be found!

Had Elizabeth truly run off?  Run off with a “chap from Stanford”…deserted her year old son? The possible revelation next Thursday… 
post signature

Amanuensis Monday ~ With Love…

Frederick and Hester Martin (Courtesy of:  "Reynolda House Museum of American Art Archives")

Frederick and Hester Martin (Courtesy of: “Reynolda House Museum of American Art Archives”)

I enjoy amanuensis when the writing is reasonably deciphered! It is a peevish problem when one’s head is tilted this way and that begins to swim with visions of ambiguous scrawling handwriting with no hope of decoding what appears to require a WWII code breaker from Bletchley Park!  The fulfillment however when the secret of the original records’ message is revealed is a kin to magic!  Journals, letters, legal documents, postcards, are personal and can often reveal intimate details of our ancestors’ emotional, internal lives!

Some of my absolute favourite transcriptions are of letters of wartime context.  The sense of longing and sorrow associated with a lost loved soldier or a distant love in dangerous circumstances can be heart wrenching.

Here are a couple of heart weighing tales discovered from a few simple transcriptions~

Frederick Martin, a cousin of my husband’s was a gardener of much prestige first in England and later at Reynolda House, a magnificent estate in Winston, North Carolina, USA.  Frederick sadly died in France on July 22, 1917 during the First World War.  His wife was devastated and her candid emotion in a letter to his employer, Mrs. Reynolds is truly breathtaking:

Dear Madam, It is just a week ago that I received the news of the overwhelming sorrow that has befallen me. There is not much to tell. He was killed in action on July 22nd. He had been wounded the day before but had been of great assistance to the officers in looking after those poor fellows who were more wounded than he was. Tho slightly wounded went into action next day to meet his death. It was a great shock to me for I had the day before received two letters from him. Letters full of hope, cheer and saying how he would make up to me when the war was over for the past years of separation and anxiety. If only a year could roll back how gladly I would brave the submarines to go with him, for in nearly every letter he was wishing I was with him but can only hope it is for the best. I cannot yet realize he has gone but I know when I go back to Philadelphia and England, I shall have some bad days to go through. I do not know yet what I shall do but am writing the British Consul for a passport to England, but of course they may not be able to let me go. His major writes me that his death was instantaneous and that he died a hero’s death, that is as it may be but I know that I have been called upon to give up a life that was very dear and precious to me. I hope that Mr. Reynolds is better for the visit to Atlantic City and that the children and yourself are well. Please tell Lizzie I will answer her kind letter soon. With best wishes Believe me yours sincerely H. Martin.

A second–I’ll be it happier–wartime correspondence is a telegram written to one Lance Corporal Knowles from Paris, Ontario, Canada 15 Nov 1916 announcing a joyous event which I’m sure he was disappointed to miss, the birth of his daughter Gwendolyn:

Western Union Cablegram From Paris, Ontario Number of words 22/23 Dated 15 Nov 1916 —

To L co. Lance Corporal Knowles 163232 Fourteenth Platoon D company seventy fifth Canadian Army Post Office London.

Daughter Gwendolyn both doing well. Knowles

The original Telegram

The original Telegram

Fred Knowles, a relation of my sister-in-law, was lucky enough to return home to meet his daughter. However, he was so badly wounded at the Somme that he was invalided home and lost his left arm.

Fred Knowles meets his daughter Gwendolyn in June of 1917.

Fred Knowles meets his daughter Gwendolyn in June of 1917.

These personal letters were truly sent With love and for love…
post signature

Thriller Thursday ~ First Installment ~ Accident or Murder?

The Mugshot of John Carter

The Mugshot of John Carter

I have written about my 2nd Great-Grandfather, John Carter, and his crimes in previous posts but I thought perhaps a regular Thriller Thursday series detailing the case of his murderous deeds and my research might be most comprehensive and hopefully provide a suspenseful intrigue to tantalize the curious minds of readers! This is the first installment though I have written previously:

Black Sheep Sunday ~ My Darkest Black Sheep Revealed

Thriller Thursday ~ Murder in The Family

Now, shall I begin at the beginning of the story or at the beginning of my research?  Two very different commencement points! Perhaps it makes the most sense on a genealogy blog to focus on research.  If you remember from my Darkest Black Sheep article I discovered through a passenger list that my Great Grandfather, Thomas Carter, had been a British Home Child sent to Canada with a Fegan’s Home emigration party in 1898.  I was determined to trace Thomas’ family in England.  It was early days in my online genealogy career and I struggled especially with a name so common as Carter.  Luckily, I was able to narrow down the British hometown as it had been indicated in Thomas’ WWI file.  But it wasn’t until I started correspondence with a woman named Marjorie Kohli, the author of “The Golden Bridge: Young Immigrants to Canada 1833-1939”, that I was presented with the pieces I needed to finish the frame of this puzzle.

Marj found a family in the England Census, a possible match: John and Elizabeth Carter living Worton Hamlet, Cassington, Oxfordshire. John is an Agricultural labourer born in Watchfield, Berkshire and Elizabeth in Loncot, Berkshire. The children are Annie 1872; Clara 1873; Martha 1879. In the 1891 census they are in Maidenhead, Berkshire and the family now contains Thomas 1882; William 1885 and Nelson 1888.

It seemed a bit of a long shot but I decided to explore this family further.  A thorough google search which was a ridiculous needle and a haystack sort of venture remarkable produced “the needle”.  An obscure mention of a John Carter, Victorian murderer from Watchfield made my heart raise to my throat but I knew this is impossible!  No one finds their run of the mill farm labouring Great-Grandfather is a wife killer!  I set out to learn more about this particular John Carter and quickly disprove this outrageous lead.

Fortunate or unfortunate–depending on your frame of mind I suppose–each new piece to this research puzzle only proved the validity of my find!  A full picture began to develop as I scoured newspaper articles online, British Newspaper Archives was a fabulous source of information.  I collected every name in these articles, the police involved, the witnesses,and  the coroner’s name.  It was this meticulous searching and the mystery of three dead wives which led me to the coroner’s reports housed at the Berkshire Records Office.  Mr. Llewellyn Jotcham, the local coroner first met my 2nd Great-Grandfather in the year 1887 when his first wife–my biological 2nd Great-Grandmother, Elizabeth Thatcher–died from a fall down the stairs.  She was “in the family way and was expecting her confinement any day…She had been in a weak state of health…” according to her husband, John Carter in his statement during the inquest.  John had left for work and that was the last time he saw her alive.


Her daughter Annie also testified during the inquest describing her mother’s fainting spell and her fall down the stairs to the stone floor below.

I went to her and found she was fainting–she said oh dear–I tried to assist her–to hold her up–she had her hands on the stairs about her–all at once she fell backwards on me and we both fell together to the bottom of the stairs–she fell on the back of her head and on the stones of the room–she did not say anything but only moved her head one time–she did not appear to be sensible–I ran for Mrs. Giffon a neighbour who was working in the hay field–she came with me.

When we got back we found that she had been placed straight on the stones.  Mrs Inmans who lives next door was there and I suppose she did it–My mother was dead..

Mr. Jotcham concluded this was an accidental death and to my relief, after reading the reports I truly believe it was….this time!

But my 2nd Great-Grandfather was to meet with Mr. Jotcham again years later with a very different outcome!

Tune in next Thriller Thursday for a new installment…most thrilling of all!
post signature