Saturday, 11 March 2017

Bigamists and Paupers - some more thoughts on Elizabeth Mashford Lewis Atkins.

Image: Elizabeth Mashford Lewis Atkins and her son by Edward Atkins, James Haynes Atkins. 

Ancestry research involves bringing together the threads and knots of information and conjecture in an attempt to stitch together a full picture. Sometimes it just leads to more tangles and holes in the story.

What is heartening is how often we have been staring into such a 'hole' and then, later, find the information which fills it in.  The plan now is to see if we can get some additional information from a professional researcher in Gloucestershire.

In the meantime, researcher, Luke Harris has some more thoughts on Elizabeth Mashford, and I post information as it comes to hand so that others might access it, even if we have not confirmed points made in the discussion:

"As for bigamy, I have looked into the laws at the time. There would have been enough evidence for the Police to investigate the matter, and for all we know if they saw the notice they may have questioned both Elizabeth and Edward. 

However, if the Police laid a charged of bigamy the Courts more than likely may have found her not guilty. It all depends on what defence Elizabeth Atkins had. She could honestly claim she believed her husband was dead or believed he was dead because they had been no contact at all.

It happened a lot of time to many women in the 1800's, because even though divorce was available it was only on every narrows grounds and they was no legal aid and the cost of lawyers forced many men just to leave their wives especially during the gold rush era. As a result, the police were exposed to lots of cases of deserted wives.

However, common law expected that women should wait seven years before they decided to remarry and Elizabeth Lewis did not do this. As a result, it becomes a grey area of law and even if the police knew about the matter, they may have decided to do nothing about it.

When Josiah Mashford remarried, it was a clear-cut case because the police knew about his first wife and where she was. Nobody knew where Peter Lewis was or what happened to him, and Elizabeth Lewis was crafty because she said:
“If Peter Lewis who left his Wife and Children Destitute in Melbourne 12 years since, is still living, this is to caution him or any other person…” 
she did not say Peter Lewis who is still alive and she also threw doubt upon the matter by saying “or any other person.” I think she was trying to cover herself by careful use of words.
As for being in Melbourne -  I think the Lewis family was there for two reasons. First it was the era of the gold rush and thousands of South Australians left the state and moved to Victoria and Peter Lewis may have thought he would have a go at mining.

It may have been a case of him saying to Elizabeth, “you stay in Melbourne with the two kids and I will go to the gold fields” and he just never returned. It may have taken Elizabeth some time to work out she was a deserted wife.

Alternatively, in 1853 Jane Mashford married George O'Brien, in Melbourne and the Lewis family may have gone to Melbourne for the wedding and Peter Lewis took an opportunity to take off because The South Australian Police could not enforce any laws in Victoria. Nevertheless, Elizabeth Lewis returned to Adelaide very pregnant with Henry Lewis and without a husband.
You can go to the State Archive to see the Divorce list for the 1800's and there is no Elizabeth Lewis or Elizabeth Atkins. Divorce was not a simple matter in the 1800's and remarkably few people did it. Another reason why people did not like to get a divorce is because the Press would publish all the details and nobody wanted that.

Image: The overgrown gravesite in the Gladstone cemetery, of Elizabeth's daughter, Mary (Polly) Atkins Ross and her husband, Greek sailor, Charlie Ross.

The first piece of evidence that Elizabeth was in Gladstone was 1872 when she purchased the block of land so she did not leave him at the time of the notice, as far as we can tell. 
I think James Atkins, along with George and John Lewis, did get a block of land as well.
In addition, I have been researching Edward Atkins’ family in Gloucestershire and they seem to be in twenty-century terms “dysfunctional.”

 I use that term with a pinch of salt because they were urban working class people and victims of the Industrial Revolution, as  so many were. The social conditions in the cities for working class people were terrible and as soon as a husband died they was no income and people could not pay the rent etc etc. There was a lot of poverty 
 and Ann Atkins was on poor relief in 1861 and living as a lodger with her daughter Mary Ann Atkins.

It seems her other children were not helping her which suggests the family was not very close or the family bonds had broken down. Two sons, George and David ended up in gaol at different times. The oldest son Charles just suddenly dropped dead one day and there was a Coroner’s investigation.

However, the most interesting fact is Mary Ann Haines Atkins was committed to Gloucester County Lunatic Asylum and died there. I know you have to be careful about mental health issues and mental health hospital in the 1800's as many people were committed when they did not have a mental health problem, but two of Edward Atkins grandson ended up in Parkside hospital in Adelaide.
As for the Destitute Asylum, there were two forms of relief, Outdoor relief and Indoor relief. Elizabeth Atkins I think would have received outdoor relief, which means she would have received food etc because she had her brother’s house to live in.

However, if she had a mortgage she would still have to find the money to pay the Bank. A good book about the history of welfare in South Australia in the 1800's is called “Rations Residence Resources: A history of social welfare in South Australia since 1836” by Brian Dicky.

Another good book which has helped me is about women and the Law in South Australia in the 1800's and is called “In her Own Name Women in South Australia History” by Helen Jones. 

In terms of being sure that Henry Edwin Atkins and our Edward Atkins were one and the same, we cannot be absolutely sure, but there is strong evidence it is highly likely.

I have been going through my emails you sent me from a few years ago and at one stage, you hired a researcher in England, I think her name was Lynne Cleaver and she in turn, sub-hired, a person called Geoff Swinfield to look at the court case of Henry Edwin Atkins at the National Archives.

One way of proving the link between the two men would have if Geoff found any letters of support from Joseph and Ann Atkins making an appeal to have the death sentence changed to that of transportation. Geoff stated in your email that the appeal documentation was in a bad state and not good enough to transcribe.

As a result, any letter from Joseph Atkins is now impossible to prove. However, in his profession opinion he stated:

“Re Edward Atkins being one and the same are that they are indeed the same, more evidence point towards this than against.”

The other factor is all records for a Henry Edwin Atkins born 1812 Gloucestershire are lacking in England. Normally, what a person can do is find a baptism record for a person, and if there are no problems, follow that person through the English census records through from 1841, to 1851, 61, 71, 81, Census records etc until they die. There is no burial record for Henry Edwin Atkins and no census record for him. This suggests he emigrated somewhere, or some other factor, like transportation.

Your researcher made some further suggestions including a search of the Worcestershire Archives to see why Joseph Atkins moved from Gloucestershire about 1830, the same time Henry Edwin Atkins was charged. In addition, a search of the Gloucestershire Archives to look at records including the Cheltenham Poor Relief records in regards to Ann and Maryann Atkins hardship. He/She also suggested Regimental Records for Joseph Atkins at the National Archives.

As for the Gloucestershire Archives, I really do not know what a search will show. As mentioned, you can go to the Gloucestershire Archives Website and in their search field; I typed some names including Mary Ann Atkins and George Atkins. (Henry Edwin Atkins’ brother).

That is how I found out that Mary Ann Atkins was in the Asylum (and the 1871 census record) and what dates etc, and that George Atkins died as a Pauper in the Cheltenham Union Workhouse. However, the website did state that there were no other details e.g. family members etc."

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