Broadcast on Wednesday 1st November during Unsigned Madness with @StephenAndAnne for @EGHRadio, with some superb theatre provided by Jim Herbert of Berwick Time Lines.
Court and Criminal records are a valuable resource for family and local historians. The transcript of the evidence given by numerous witnesses at the trial of Kate Webster in 1879 is no exception. This mid Victorian period experienced continuing social change, with many folks finding themselves upwardly mobile. As a result some either invented a suitable past to reflect their new position, or were deliberately hazy about the details. The evidence of John Church, the landlord of the Rising Sun is a prime example and led to the discovery of a fascinating backstory. Church had previously been in the army and admitted having lied about his occupation in his attestation papers. Having been implicated by Kate Webster of Mrs Thomas’s murder he had been arrested. Although subsequently cleared of any wrong doing his appearance in court sparked a serious bout of amnesia.
My name was Church before I enlisted—I believe my father's name was Church; it was as far as I know—my mother's maiden name was Body—I might have been in a situation in a public-house before I entered the Army—I might have been in a situation as barman—when I come to think may have been; I cannot say where exactly; it was in London—I was in London when I enlisted—I might have been in a situation as barman; I cannot recollect now—Q Do you mean, upon your oath, to say before the gentlemen of the Jury that you do not recollect?—A. I might have been—I might have been in a public-house before I was in the service, but cannot say where …
Many thanks to local historian Jim Herbert of Berwick Time Lines for that fantastic bit of theatre. So, who was John Church? In the 1871 census he gave his place of birth as Chalfont St Peter in Buckinghamshire, and whilst there is a body of bodies in Bucks, no birth of a Church was registered there with a mother’s maiden name of Body. There was, however, an illegitimate birth of a John Boddy in 1838, whose mother Martha married a wheelwright named Job Church on 30th November 1840. Job Church it transpires, was convicted at the Buckinghamshire assizes in 1843 for an unspeakable crime, resulting in transportation to Australia for life! The criminal records associated with this case describe Church as married with one child. However, this child was not John, but a Job Church junior born in 1841. This implies that Church was not John’s father at all and whose identity remains as yet unknown. By 1851 the remaining family the family are destitute and living as paupers in the Watford Union Workhouse. A valid reason perhaps to run off to the army and be hazy about his past.
A Halloween Special feature Michelle Leonard @GenealogyLass as James VI as broadcast on Anne's Rock Show at EGH Radio the 30th October 2017.
In keeping with Halloween, tonight’s pick from the past takes a peek into the enduring mystery that surrounds magic and witchcraft. The 16th and 17th centuries saw Europe in the grip of witch hunting mania and it is estimated some 100,000 people, mostly woman tried for the crime of ‘witchcraft’. However, nowhere was it so fervently hunted out than in Scotland. It is perhaps little known that Shakespeare’s the ‘Scottish’ Play was based on real events that took place in 1590 involving the then monarch James VI. Returning to Scotland by sea with his new bride Ann of Denmark the ship encountered a fearful storm that had James fearing for his life. Convinced witchcraft and sorcery was to blame he rounded up some 70 potential perpetrators at North Berwick amongst whom was the Geillis Duncan a healer from Tranent. No doubt the inspiration for Diana Gabaldon’s character of the same name in the Outlander series.
James took a personal interest in the trial and interrogated another woman named Agnes Sampson himself. Agnes confessed she took the Devil “for her maister and reunceit Christ”. It was heard that she and her fellow witches gathered in the churchyard to kiss the Devil’s backside and dug up graves to get finger bones for their spells. In 1597 James published ‘Daemonologie’ a dialogue on the subject in three books which also touched on topics such as werewolves and vampires. From which Michelle Leonard @Genalogy Lass reads the opening lines:
The fearefull aboundinge at this time in this countrie, of these detestable slaves of the Devil, the Witches or enchanters, hath moved me (beloved reader) to dispatch in post, this following treatise of mine (...) to resolve the doubting (...) both that such assaults of Satan are most certainly practised, and that the instrument thereof merits most severely to be punished.
On succeeding Elizabeth 1st in 1603, James was alarmed at the rather more apathetic attitude of his English subjects to the problem of witchcraft and the books were republished twice. They are credited as being the inspiration behind Shakespeare’s play. However, as it was first enacted in 1606 to a house packed with dignitaries and heads of state – could it perhaps have been another tool employed by James to incite fervour amongst his subjects?
An extract from the diary of Alfred Withers in 1857, broadcast on Anne's Rock Show, Monday 23rd October 2017 on EGH Radio.
Tonight we have another extract from the diary of Mr Alfred Withers who sailed to Australia in 1857 aboard the ship the James Baines. He is waiting at the quayside to load their luggage into a steamer which would take them to the ship, moored about a mile up river. Many of the items may seem odd for passengers to be taking with them, but in those days the cabins were largely unfurnished. The company names mentioned in the extract may also be familiar to some. Heal & Son was founded in London in 1810. However, Pickfords it is alleged can trace its origins back to ‘gun running’ 1646.
The immense quantity of luggage, pyramids of boxes, cases and chests, the indescribable quantity of beds and bedding that one would think that Heal & Son had been completely cleared out. Water cans, pannekins, stovepots, baths – enough to open a Warehouse in the Tin Ware line.
(Many thanks to local historian Jim Herbert of Berwick Time Lines for playing the role of Mr Withers so brilliantly!)
Whilst these are passengers of choice on their way to a new life in Australia, it should be remembered that many made the voyage at her majesties pleasure. Furthermore, before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War in 1775, Britain dumped its criminal detritus on the shores of America. It is estimated that some 50,000 Englishmen were sentenced to transportation to the American colonies between 1614 and 1775. Many of their names can be found in Peter Wilson Coldham’s ‘The Complete Book of Emigrants in Bondage’ of which I have a copy. Whilst I am delighted to report there is not a single Mossman amongst them, there are a significant number of Lamberts.
Broadcast on Wednesday 18th October 2017 during 'Unsigned Madness' with Stephen and Anne on EGHRadio
Hannah Clive had us all enthralled in the chat room last week with the grisly story of the discovery of a skull in what is now David Attenborough’s garden in 2011. An inquiry subsequently proved the skull to be that of Julia Martha Thomas who was brutally murdered, dismembered and then boiled by her maid Kate Webster in March 1879. Body parts were scattered about London with a foot being found in Tottenham, but the majority of what was left of Mrs Thomas was unceremoniously boxed and dumped in the Thames.
Well, being a general nosey parker as well as a genealogist more digging was required. I was not disappointed – the papers of the day covered the story extensively and often graphically, such was the Victorian taste for the macabre. The lengthy transcript of her trial at the Old Bailey on the 30th June that same year is also available online.
It transpires that Kate Webster was born Catherine Lawler in Ireland in 1850. She left a veritable trail of crime in her wake and served several prison sentences for theft between 1864 & 79 using several different aliases. The case in question, however, appears to be her first and last foray into murder. Perhaps she may have evaded capture if she had not left a note with her uncle’s address in Ireland at the crime scene. It was to her uncle that she fled with her five year old son and where she was apprehended on the 29th March. As a direct descendant of a gentleman who danced the hangman’s jig in 1816 I was intrigued to know more about her young son. Fearing the worst I set off to find out.
A child named John Webster aged about 6 years was admitted here on March 29th. His mother was charges with the murder of a woman named 'Thomas' in London. The boy was sent to the Workhouse with an order from W Ryan R.M. to have him admitted pending inquiry being made as to his reception into an Industrial School
That was narrated by my colleague Michelle Leonard @genealogylass reading from the Poor Law Guardians minutes held in Wexford County Archives. So - the uncle washed his hands of his nephew the same day his mother was arrested. Under the Habitual Criminals Act of 1869 made provision for children under 14 of women twice convicted of ‘crime’ to be sent to such Schools. As such the result is not unexpected. John Webster’s trail has run cold for the moment, and the lack of surviving census records in Ireland isn’t helping. If the normal pattern of events unfolded John Webster would have been returned to the parish of his birth, allegedly Kingston upon Thames, or they at least would have been responsible for his costs. A little more research may be required this side of the Irish Sea.
An extract from the Log of the 'James Baines' written in 1857 as broadcast on Anne's Rock Show - Monday 16th October 2017.
Nineteenth century newspapers are crammed with adverts for – and notices of passenger ships heading to the far off corners of the globe. One such ship the ‘James Baines’ set sail from Liverpool on the 5th January 1857 and arrived in Melbourne on Monday 23rd March after a total number of 77 days at sea.
Aboard, was a gentleman by the name of ‘Alfred Withers’ who recorded the daily events on board in a diary, which is now in the possession of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich in London. Seven days into the voyage on the 12th January the ship encountered a ‘hurricane’ in the Bay of Biscay of which Alfred wrote:
“Wind West, very strong Gale, a perfect Hurricane, sea what is called mountains high, but that is all nonsense. Waves are nearer higher than 30 feet, that is plenty high enough for when the ship is in the furrow of the wave they look as if they would curl over it, the sails which were not furled, blew away one after the other with a noise like the report of a Cannon, we were at last reduced to two close reefed Topsails and a fore sail in tatters, ropes snapping in every direction. Boats stove in, part of the Bulwarks washed away, the sea breaking over the vessel in beautiful style, the second cabin about two feet deep in water a sea washing down the Hatchway. Boxes and Chests afloat below, Bedding saturated, Ladies in hysterics, some on their knees praying, the scene altogether, what with the wind howling in the rigging, the sea roaring about us, the crying, laughing, praying etc below can be more easily imagined than described.”
Although the ship did encounter further bad weather this alarming storm had to be by far the worst. Tune in to Anne’s Rock Show every Monday from 9pm on EGH Radio for more tales of Stowaways, a dropped baby and albatross purse …