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!

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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 ~ 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… 
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