Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Victorian Tragedy – part 2 of 3

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” - Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina.

Researching my ancestor Rebecca Hardy has been like doing a jigsaw puzzle where, first, I had to find the pieces.  I hope I have found the right pieces and put them together correctly.

Following on from the story of Mary Ann Simmonds* in part 1, Rebecca Hardy probably married William Simmonds in 1852, although this is one puzzle piece I haven’t found yet.  William and Rebecca had three daughters born in the Wisbech area of Cambridgeshire, Caroline, Lydia and Susannah.  In the 1861, Census Rebecca, recorded as born in Norwich age 33, and her daughters were living in the Wisbech workhouse in Cambridgeshire.  People ended up in a workhouse when they had no money and no other options.  As stated in Mary Ann’s story, life in work houses was regimented and tough by did provide food, shelter and sometimes work.  William was not living with his family in 1861 and I have yet to find where he was.

By sometime around 1862, the family were all together in Woolwich, Kent, where son Thomas was born, before they moved to Plaistow, Essex.  Rebecca hardy died 18 January 1865, in Plaistow, age 35 years old.  Her causes of death were listed as Jaundice, Partus Prematurus (sic) and Exhaustion, which sounds like complications around a premature birth. I have no record that the child survived.

One other thing to note, as per part 1, the mother’s name on Caroline and Lydia’s birth certificates was given as Rebecca Harding.

So what was Rebecca’s life before she met William Simmonds?  In the 1851 census, Rebecca, recorded as born Norwich aged 22, is listed as being a lodger and concubine living with Ann Taylor, John Briton and William Smith.  Concubine probably indicated living with a man she wasn’t married to, perfectly acceptable in the present, rather than prostitution.  Rebecca had neighbours who were listed as prostitutes in the census.  Based on the order in which her household’s names were listed, I assume she was co-habiting with William Smith, which, as explained in Mary AnnSimmonds’ story, means he is probably also my ancestor.

Anyone good at maths might have noticed that the various ages for Rebecca found in different record so far mentioned don’t all add up.  This is quite common in family history research due to a combination of ignorance (if the person didn’t know), lies and administrative errors. Norfolk Parish Registers have recently been digitised, so I searched for baptisms of Rebecca Hardy and Harding for a period between 1825 and 1835 in the vicinity of Norwich.  Luckily for me, there were very candidates and I was able to narrow it down to one possibility.  Rebecca Hardy was born 12 February 1830 and baptised 27 February 1830, in Norwich St James with Pockthorpe, the daughter of Jonathan Hardy, a glazier and Mary “late” Carr**.

The one complication was that I found a burial for a Rebecca Hardy on 30 Oct 1831, at St Miles Coslany, Norwich, infant.  However, looking at this register infant seems to indicate under one and children aged 1 or older had their age listed.

I had not been able to find my Rebecca Hardy in the 1841 census.  As I couldn’t find a marriage for her parents, I decided to look for a Rebecca Carr instead.  I found Rebecca Carr aged 9, in Whissonset, Norfolk, living with Jonathan and Mary Carr** and some other children.  Jonathan Carr was a Farmer and my guess is that the three minors in the household were all grandchildren.

Having found Rebecca, I then needed to locate Mary Carr.  As for Jonathan Hardy, his story will be told in part 3, except to say that an 1836 record indicates he was married with one child and he was no longer in a position to take care of his family.  Mary Carr, age 22, was buried 24 December 1834 in Whissonset.  I also found burials for Jonathan Carr on 20 November 1845, and Mary Carr on 7 November 1846, both in Whissonset.  This would have left Rebecca an under-aged orphan, so I thought it was likely that she would have ended up in a workhouse.

By some piece of luck, I found an index of Gressenhall Workhouse inmates on a Norfolk Museum website.  Rebecca Hardy of Whissonset was on the list as being “out” or discharged in January 1849.  It also made two references to the Guardians minute books, which happen to be available to browse on  On 28 February 1848, Rebecca was brought before the board charged with refractory behaviour, which meant insubordination or violence.
She was punished with solitary confinement and to be kept on a bread and water diet for two days the following week.  Then on 22 January 1849, Rebecca Hardy was allowed a sum of 2 pounds on going into service of Mr Stammers of Gressenhall for 12 months.  Presumably after completing her 12 months service, Rebecca made her way to King’s Lynn where she was living in 1851.

While I have found and put together some of the puzzle pieces, there is still more to find.

*I have stuck with one spelling variation for names in this story so as to not confuse the reader, however in the original records I have come across other variants of several names.

**Both Mary Carr’s are listed in some records as Mary Ann, presumably namesakes of Mary Ann Simmonds.

Notes on Lineage: Me > Dad > John Edward Blake > Alice Mary Elliston > Mary Ann Simmonds (AKA Hardy) > Rebecca Hardy

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