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!
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.
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.
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!