Branded for Bigamy

Proceedings of the Old Bailey always make for interesting reading, so here are some statistics about the crime of bigamy.

Did you know that between 1750 and 1800 there were over one hundred cases for bigamy, of which 86 cases were against males, 55 of whom were found guilty, 31 not guilty or case dismissed? Interestingly, of the 55 men who were found guilty their sentences were as follows:

15 Branded

30 Sentenced to various periods in prison

7 were transported

2 were fined

and one had no sentence recorded.

There were 19 cases against women who had allegedly married a second time twice whilst still married to their first husband, we had no idea is was such a common occurrence.

However, looking at these 19 cases we have only found 5 that were found guilty, if not found guilty then their case was simply dismissed. Those who were found guilty were given the following punishment –

Sarah Baker (branded)

Catherine Martin (prison),

Jane Allen (branded),

Maria Edkins (sent to House of Correction)

and Lucy Ahier (prison).

So with that we thought we would take a quick look at one of the five women that were found guilty – Jane Allen.

This case took place on 29th June 1785 with William Garrow, who had only been called the the Bar just over a year before, acting for the defendant.

Mezzotint of Sir William Garrow, 1810, held in the Harvard Law Library
Mezzotint of Sir William Garrow, 1810, held in the Harvard Law Library

On the 1st December 1782 Robert Allen, a butcher, married Jane Watson at Wapping church, Tower Hamlets, nothing exciting or unusual about that you would think, a perfectly normal marriage.

Jane Watson first marriage 1782 - bigamy

The problem arose when only two years later Jane, at St. Martin’s in the Fields, Middlesex, on the 1st September 1784, claimed to be a spinster when she married for a second time, her second husband being one Charles Burton. The problem with her second marriage being that her husband Robert Allen was still very much alive, thereby making her a bigamist.

Jane Watson 2nd marriage 1784

The court heard that Jane had lived with Robert as his legal spouse and Robert produced witnesses who were able to corroborate this.

Jane’s defense was that during the time she was married to Robert that he treated her in a most brutal manner, and forced her to submit to prostitution to maintain him before he abandoned her. Unfortunately the court found Jane guilty of bigamy and her sentence was to be branded.

Anyone convicted of a crime and sentenced to branding would be branded on the thumb with the letter ‘M’ to denote a ‘malefactor’ or ‘evil-doer‘, also,  slightly confusingly, ‘M’ for murder, ‘T’ for theft, ‘F for felon. Branding took place in the courtroom at the end of the sessions in front of spectators with a hot iron. It is alleged that sometimes criminals convicted of petty theft, or who were able to bribe the goaler, had the branding iron applied when it was cold.

Normal practice was that the gaoler raised the person’s hand and showed it to the judge to denote that the mark had been made.  It became the rule that before a prisoner was tried he was required to raise his hand so that it could be seen whether he bore the brand mark and was therefore a previous offender.

Being nervous and cross examined by Mr Garrow, 1807.
Being nervous and cross examined by Mr Garrow, 1807 (British Museum)

Sources used:

Old Bailey Online

London Lives April 1793

London Lives  October 1793 – September 1794

London Lives June 1785


Eliza Fenning: innocent but proven guilty

We are delighted to welcome our guest, Naomi Clifford, host of the blog Glimpses of life, love and death in the Georgian era to recount the tragic tale of Eliza Fenning, so have your tissues handy, you’ll need them!

Eliza Fenning

In the afternoon of 11 April 1815 two men came into the Pitt’s Head public house opposite the Old Bailey and seated themselves at a table. Their clothes marked them out as working men but they were clean and neat. One of them, an old man, was trying to write on a scrap of paper, but was so distressed, his hand shaking so much, that he could not manage it. His friend tried to take over, but he too could not form the letters. Eventually, the old man appealed to a stranger to help. “I want to tell the court that my daughter Eliza told me she was happy in her situation,” he said.

This simple and innocuous statement was crucial to his daughter’s fate, he said. The stranger obliged and the men left the pub and crossed over to the Old Bailey where Eliza Fenning was on trial for her life, accused of attempting to murder her employer and members of his family by putting arsenic in their dinner.

William Fenning, Eliza’s 63-year-old father, was deluded: his daughter’s short road through life had already been mapped, its course decided by a combination of personal animosity, class prejudice, conspiracy and official incompetence.

Eliza, aged 20, worked as a cook for Orlibar Turner, a law stationer living at 68 Chancery Lane, London with his wife Margaret, son Robert and daughter-in-law Charlotte. Turner also employed a maid, Sarah Peer, and two apprentices. Eliza was generally well thought-of; she was lively, amusing, amiable and hard-working. However, a few weeks before the poisoning Charlotte had threatened her with dismissal for going, inappropriately dressed, into the apprentices’ room to borrow a candle. Eliza had been upset by this and had declared to Sarah Peer that she no longer liked her mistress but seemed to put the incident behind her. In reality, it was Charlotte and Sarah who disliked Eliza.

Eliza liked cooking and wanted to show off her skill at making dumplings but Charlotte put her off. However, on 21 March, on her own initiative, Eliza asked the brewer to deliver some yeast. At this, Charlotte relented and agreed that Eliza could serve the family steak, potatoes and dumplings for dinner, and that she should also make a steak pie for the apprentices. Eliza got busy. She made the pie and prepared the dumplings. The apprentices ate at 2pm and the family at 3 so she set the dumplings by the fire to rise while she took the pie to be cooked at the bakers. When she returned she could see that the dumplings were not a success. They had failed to rise.

She must have taken remedial measures, which also failed because when she brought six dumplings to the table they were small, black and heavy. Nevertheless, the Turners ate them, as did Eliza herself. The effects were immediate. Charlotte was soon in excruciating pain and vomiting. Her husband and father-in-law – and Eliza – were also stricken. One of the apprentices, Roger Gadsden, who had picked at the dumplings in the kitchen, and later claimed in court that Eliza warned him not to do so, was also ill. Henry Ogilvy, a surgeon, was sent for, and soon there was another, John Marshall, in attendance.

Eliza asked her fellow servant Sarah Peer, who had not eaten any dumplings, to fetch her father who worked for his brother, a potato dealer, in Red Lion Street, Holborn. Sarah did not tell Mr Fenning it was urgent and said nothing about the sickness in the house, and her message slipped his mind until he was back at home. Between 9 and 10 that evening, he turned up at the Turners’ house in Chancery Lane and knocked. Now Sarah told him a barefaced lie. On the orders of her mistress, she said that Eliza was out on an errand. He went away entirely unaware that five people inside the house, including his daughter, had been poisoned. The family recovered. Whatever they had eaten had been insufficient to kill them.

Orlibar Turner seems to have immediately suspected the dumplings. Once he had recovered sufficiently he showed Mr Marshall the remains of the basin they had been prepared in. Marshall added water, stirred and decanted it and examined the sediment. He found half a teaspoon of white powder, which tarnished a knife. “I decidedly found it to be arsenic,” he later told the court. He did not detect arsenic in the remains of the yeast or in the flour.

Eliza Fenning

Eliza was the only suspect, as she had made the dumplings and, still suffering the effects of the poisoning, she was taken before a magistrate and sent to Clerkenwell Prison. When her parents were finally made aware of her plight, they raised £5 for her defence. Two guineas went to Mr Alley, a defence attorney, and the remainder to a jobbing solicitor who drew up the brief. This was the sum total of her legal resources: against her were ranged the Turners and their armoury of legal contacts, favours and knowledge. The prosecution was riddled with conflict of interest: their personal friend and solicitor worked as the clerk to the magistrate who had committed Eliza.

The case came to trial at the Old Bailey on 11th April 1815 and was heard by the Recorder, John Silvester.The case against Eliza was entirely circumstantial and focused on her general behaviour and attitude, and her potential access to the poison. Simmering with resentment at her dressing-down by Charlotte, she had stolen the arsenic and planned her murderous attack.

John Silvester c.1815
John Silvester c.1815

Orlibar Turner kept two wrappers of arsenic, tied up tight and labelled “Arsenick, Deadly Poison”, in an unlocked drawer in the office where the apprentices worked. It was used on the mice and rats who liked to eat the vellum and parchment. Two weeks before the poisoning, he noticed that it was missing. The drawer also contained scraps of paper, which the servants used for lighting the fire. During the trial, Roger Gadsden, one of the apprentices, said he had seen Eliza take paper from the drawer where the arsenic was kept. The implication was that she had seen it there and stolen it. In court Eliza said that when she needed paper for the fire she asked for it and pleaded for Thomas King, the other apprentice, to come to court to back her up. He was denied to her. Mr Ogilvy, who would have told the court that she herself had been very ill, was not called.

Eliza’s defence was feeble, to say the least. Her defence attorney Mr Alley barely spoke and was not even in court to hear the Recorder’s summing up. One of the jurymen was deaf. She was permitted to speak in her defence, but not for long. “I am truly innocent of the whole charge. I am innocent; indeed I am! I liked my place. I was very comfortable,” she said. She called five character witnesses.

William Fenning’s desperate attempt to submit sworn evidence of his daughter’s happiness with the Turners was in vain. The court would not accept his statement.

The guilty verdict and the death sentence, both predictable, were nevertheless a terrible shock, and not only to Eliza and her family. Many of the great and the good immediately started petitions: to the Home Secretary, Lord Sidmouth; to the Prince Regent. Letters were written to The Times (but not published).

Basil Montagu, a prominent Quaker, uncovered evidence that Robert Turner had had a previous episode of mental instability, appearing “wild” and “deranged”, threatening to kill his wife and himself. He sent his evidence to Silvester, who dismissed it as “wholly useless.”

An anonymous chemist decided to recreate elements of the crime himself. He made dumplings with arsenic – it had no effect on whether they rose or not. He asked his cook to make dumplings and then secretly contaminated them when she was not looking; no one noticed any change in their consistency. He even tried to convince the Turners, whose support was Eliza’s best hope of reprieve, by visiting them at home but, just as he was making headway with Orlibar Turner, John Silvester, the Recorder, entered the house and, backed by Robert Turner, convinced him not to sign the petition in support of Eliza.

The efforts of Eliza’s middle-class supporters failed. John Silvester’s hold over the case prevailed and Eliza’s execution was scheduled. She protested her innocence to the last. “The parting scene with her mother was heart-rending. They were separated from each other in a state of dreadful agony,” wrote William Hone.2

On the morning of 26 July 1815, Eliza rose at 4 am, washed and gave a lock of her hair to each of her attendants. She prayed until 7 and dressed.

“I wish to leave the world – it is all vanity and vexation of spirit. But it is a cruel thing to die innocently; yet I freely forgive every one, and die in charity with all the world, but cannot forget my injured innocence.”

She looked through the window at the other prisoners, who had been locked in their cells but who had climbed up to the windows to see her. “Good bye! good bye! to all of you,” she cried.

Dressed in white muslin gown and a muslin cap and pale lilac boots laced in front, with her arms bound, she mounted the scaffold. Before she dropped, her last words were “I am innocent!” She was followed by two others: a child rapist and a homosexual.

Amongst the 50,000-strong crowd was the writer and journalist William Hone, defender of press freedom and friend of the oppressed.

William Hone by William Patten
William Hone by William Patten

“I got into an immense crowd that carried me along with them against my will; at length, I found myself under the gallows where Eliza Fenning was to be hanged. I had the greatest horror of witnessing an execution, and of this particular execution, a young girl of whose guilt I had grave doubts. But I could not help myself; I was closely wedged in; she was brought out. I saw nothing but I heard all. I heard her protesting her innocence – I heard the prayer – I could hear no more. I stopped my ears, and knew nothing else till I found myself in the dispersing crowd, and far from that dreadful spot.”

Eliza’s parents were charged 14 shillings and sixpence for her body. They had to borrow the money. Her only possession, a Bible, was bequeathed to her mother. On 31 April she was buried at St George the Martyr, near Brunswick Square. There were a hundred mourners but many others tried to get in.

Fenning’s case continued to trouble and intrigue lawyers and scientists. Did arsenic really blacken knives? Was Marshall’s evidence true and believable? How much had collusion between the judge, the prosecutor and the witnesses been responsible for the guilty verdict and the failure of appeals for remission?

To the crowds of poor and angry Londoners, who knew that a defenceless working woman had been judicially murdered, these things were irrelevant. A thousand angry people gathered outside the Turners’ house. Some were arrested for behaving in a “riotous and tumultuous manner”. Police from Bow Street were stationed outside for days.

Commissioned by John Watkins, William Hone, who had reluctantly witnessed Eliza’s death, started gathering evidence. The Sessions Report of the trial was flawed; large sections were missing. The Important Results of an Elaborate Investigation into the Mysterious Case of Elizabeth Fenning proved Eliza’s innocence and detailed the efforts that the establishment had taken to ensure that she was executed. Silvester’s extraordinary intervention with Orlibar Turner, Basil Montagu’s doomed investigation into Robert Turner’s mental ill-health were detailed.

Hone’s publication itself became the story as Silvester, and the legal establishment tried to defend their conduct. Silvester had a reputation as a hanging judge and was biased against female defendants. There were rumours that he solicited sexual favours in return for mercy.

The Observer took the lead and its lies were repeated in newspapers across the country. The Fennings were said to be Roman Catholics, to be Irish, to have shown Eliza’s body in return for money; her father, they said, had urged her to protest her innocence only to preserve his own reputation. These allegations were printed up as handbills and pushed through letterboxes and pasted up in shop windows. John Marshall and Henry Ogilvy claimed that Eliza had refused medical treatment because she knew her plan had failed. “She would much rather die than live, as life was as no consequence to her” they said.

Even if you accept that many trials at this time were ramshackle affairs, the injustice of Eliza’s execution was a brutal shock but not a surprise. For middle-class families at a time of political change, with ideas of equality wafting across Europe, Eliza represented their greatest fear: the resentful servant with revenge on her mind.


Orlibar Turner was declared bankrupt in 1825 (Sussex Advertiser, 7 February 1825).

In 1828, John Gordon Smith, the University of London’s first Professor of Medical Jurisprudence, noted a claim in the Morning Journal that a son of Orlibar Turner had died in Ipswich workhouse confessing that he had put arsenic in the dumplings. I can find no evidence of this but Robert Greyson Turner was certainly living in Ipswich in 1820 (his wife Charlotte was from Suffolk) – he and his brother are listed in The Poll for Members of Parliament for the Borough of Ipswich.

On 21 June 1829, The Examiner noted that William Fenning, Eliza’s heart-broken father, was still living in London. “The unfortunate girl was his favourite child.” A William Fenning died in Holborn in 1842. If this is “our” William Fenning, he would have been 91.


Fans of the BBC’s Garrow’s Law will recall Silvester as the somewhat fictionalized “baddie”. He was sometimes known as “Black Jack”.

The Important Results of an Elaborate Investigation into the Mysterious Case of Elizabeth Fenning.


The Old Bailey online

Ben Wilson, The Laughter of Triumph. London, Faber and Faber, 2005

William Hone, The Important Results of an Elaborate Investigation into the Mysterious Case of Elizabeth Fenning , London 1815

The Poll for the Members of Parliament of Ipswich


Header image: An Old Bailey trial in the early 19th century. From Rudolph Ackermann, The Microcosm of London (London, [1808-1810]) British Library C.194.b.305-307

Not such a typical English summer’s day: a whirlwind hits Scarborough in 1823

Scarborough from the Spa by H.B. Carter (Government Art Collection)
Scarborough from the Spa by H.B. Carter (Government Art Collection)

On Tuesday 24th June 1823 the Yorkshire seaside town of Scarborough experienced a sudden and ferocious whirlwind. The weather had been unseasonably cold for at least a fortnight, with a bracing north to north-east wind; in fact, the whole summer that year was one of the coldest known since monthly records began to be kept in 1659. On this day, just before 3 o’clock in the afternoon, a thunderstorm burst from the west, but although the claps of thunder were loud enough to alarm everyone, the accompanying rainstorm was soon over and the lightning did no damage.

Ten or fifteen minutes later some people who had ventured back onto the beach were struck by the unusual appearance of the sky: storm clouds were brewing, one heading in from a south-westerly direction, with another, much lower one, scudding in from the north-east. When these two clouds met, they were described as being in:

violent agitation; an upper dense and dark stratum seemed to be pressing a lighter one down to the earth. They were then blended into one dense column, which descended to the ground . . .

Terrace Steps by Thomas Rowlandson, from Poetical Sketches of Scarborough in 1813
Terrace Steps by Thomas Rowlandson, from Poetical Sketches of Scarborough in 1813

The resulting whirlwind, which originated near the village of Falsgrave, sped overland over the turnpike road and, uprooting two large elm trees, passed by some bemused labourers at the waterfall below the terrace on Scarborough’s seafront, then ruined the day of a poor gardener by destroying his cabbage plants in a garden to the left before it passed onto the sands.

Spa Terrace by Thomas Rowlandson, from Poetical Sketches of Scarborough in 1813
Spa Terrace by Thomas Rowlandson, from Poetical Sketches of Scarborough in 1813

On the beach the whirlwind continued its mayhem by dashing a machine which contained a camera-obscura into the sea, smashing it into a hundred pieces. The sand on the beach was whipped up to a height of sixty feet, blinding a man who had decided that the bathing-machine in which he had been sheltering was no longer safe, and who had decided to make a run for it.  It was as well that he had done so for the bathing-machines were now directly in the path of the whirlwind. There were reported to be around forty bathing-machines on the seafront at Scarborough in 1813; these were now tumbled over into the sea, some ending up without their wheels or roofs.

Sea Bathing by Thomas Rowlandson, from Poetical Sketches of Scarborough in 1813
Sea Bathing by Thomas Rowlandson, from Poetical Sketches of Scarborough in 1813

There were two piers at Scarborough, one old and ancient, the other newly built using stones from the nearby White Nabb quarry and there for the security of the harbour. People were now seen running from these piers as quickly as they could. Some vessels were moored between the two piers, and in one, where the occupants were enjoying a glass of wine in a cabin, they were alarmed by a boy rushing down from the deck, shouting:

“The bathing-machines are running into the sea, – many have turned over, and some heels-over-head”.

With that their own vessel broke its anchorage and turned over on its beam-ends ‘to no small destruction of their glasses and Falernian [wine]’. Only the pier saved it from further damage.

Wreck off Scarborough by John Warkup Swift, 1863
Wreck off Scarborough by John Warkup Swift, 1863 (c) Shipley Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The whirlwind was now between the piers and heading for the harbour, the only port between the Humber and Tynemouth where ships of large burden could usually find a safe refuge from the violent easterly gales which often prevailed along the coast. It was not so safe on that day, however, with the column whipping up the water and sending foam and spray to the height of a ship’s topmast – the smaller boats were tipped upside down and broke free from their moorings. At last, the column rose ‘over the battery in rapid volutions, whirled into the clouds, and disappeared‘.

Cornelian Bay by Thomas Rowlandson, from Poetical Sketches of Scarborough, 1813
Cornelian Bay by Thomas Rowlandson, from Poetical Sketches of Scarborough, 1813

Many experienced seamen thought it had been a water-spout, but it left no trace of water when it first passed over the land. The sea had been taken up by the column but in the form of spray and foam.

From an eye-witness account of the destructive column:

It was quite perpendicular, and seemed at first to be thicker at the summit than below, resembling a trumpet. Its density was so great, that many persons thought it was the smoke of some fire on the sands; but the most compared it to the steam from a large brewhouse or steam-engine. The gyrating motion resembled a screw or the Cornu ammonis . . . the noise was very peculiar, and brought many people to their windows to see what was the matter. Some describe it as imitating the roaring of a great wind; some a crackling noise, like a house on fire; a military gentleman [said] it resembled the explosion of a mine underwater; but the majority considered it like the rumbling of heavy carriages.

No great damage seems to have been caused, and no lives were lost, but it was recorded that many small items such as baskets and umbrellas were blown away, never to be seen again.

A tailor in a high wind by George Cruikshank, 1819 (Lewis Walpole Library)
A tailor in a high wind by George Cruikshank, 1819 (Lewis Walpole Library)

Sources used:

The Monthly Magazine, or, British Register, vol. 57, 1824

York Herald, 28th June 1823

History, Directory & Gazetteer of the County of York by Edward Baines, vol. II, 1823

Poetical Sketches of Scarborough in 1813, illustrated by twenty-one plates of humorous subjects coloured by hand from original designs made upon the spot by J. Green and etched by T. Rowlandson

Header image: Wreck below the Grand Hotel; Robert Ernest Roe; Scarborough Collections

Margaret Tolmie – another ‘Waterloo Child’

The Battle of Waterloo was hard fought, and hard won by the Allied Forces. In the aftermath, as night fell, the men who were still able to answered the roll call of their names. The women travelling in the train of the army listened for news, desperately wanting to hear their loved ones listed as living.

The Battle of Waterloo, 18 June 1815 by Denis Dighton (painted in 1816) NT; (c) National Trust, Plas Newydd; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
The Battle of Waterloo, 18 June 1815 by Denis Dighton (painted in 1816)
NT; (c) National Trust, Plas Newydd; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

One such woman was young Mrs Tolmie: daughter of a corporal in the Royal North British Dragoons (the Scots Greys), she had travelled with the army, working as a nurse in Portugal and tending to the sick and injured. One man, whose life she had saved, married her in between battles. That man was Adam Tolmie, either a trooper in the same regiment as her father by the time of Waterloo or an infantryman in the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment of Foot. As the Scots Greys did not see action in Portugal during the Peninsular War, if Eliza was in Portugal and her father was serving in the Scots Greys, she had travelled independently: the Scots Greys were sent to Belgium following Napoléon Bonaparte’s escape from Elba in the February of 1815.

Scotland Forever! The charge of the Scots Greys by Lady Butler, 1881
Scotland Forever! The charge of the Scots Greys by Lady Butler, 1881

Later that year Eliza had followed her menfolk to Waterloo, a valiant effort as she was by this time heavily pregnant. The two men fought in the action at Quatre Bras on the 16th June, where her father, Corporal Woods, a veteran of the armed service, was thrown from his horse and trampled under the charge (but survived relatively unscathed) and her husband had his left shoulder ripped open by an enemy bayonet. Eliza spent the evening dressing her husband’s wound by the light of the campfire.

Black Watch at Quatre Bras, 1815, by William Barnes Wollen (1857 - 1936) - the 42nd Regiment was renamed Black Watch in 1881
Black Watch at Quatre Bras, 1815, by William Barnes Wollen (1857 – 1936) – the 42nd Regiment was renamed Black Watch in 1881

And so the army, under the command of the Duke of Wellington, progressed to the Battle of Waterloo on the 18th June 1815. As night fell on the battlefield Eliza, fearing she was both an orphan and a widow, took a lamp and set out to look for the two men, determined to bury them if they were dead or tend to them if they lived.

The Field of Waterloo by John Heaviside Clark (courtesy of the National Army Museum).
The Field of Waterloo by John Heaviside Clark (courtesy of the National Army Museum).

The majority of the wounded had already been taken off the field, but the dead still lay there. Eliza called out the names of her husband and father as she went, hoping for an answer in return. She passed a platoon of armed French grenadiers nestled in a hovel and forming a guard of honour to a dead general, but they let Eliza pass unmolested. Eliza searched throughout the night and by dawn had found the field where the Scottish regiments had fought, and where nearly 1,200 men had died. She began to recognise faces; finally a young drummer boy who had regained consciousness on the field told her that her husband and father had been on the front line, about 300m distant. Eliza hurried to the spot he pointed out.

There she found the body of her father who had been killed by shrapnel, but her husband, although he was badly injured, still clung to life. With the help of two other women she managed to move him to Mont Saint Jean where his wounds could be cleaned and bandaged and there, as a result of the stresses of the night, Eliza went into labour and gave birth to a daughter who was named Margaret. One version has the Duke of Wellington himself passing by shortly after the birth and, taking the babe in his arms, he kissed her forehead and told his staff officers, “Gentlemen, this is the child of Waterloo!”.

The Convalescent from Waterloo, Mulready, 1822 © Victoria and Albert Museum
The Convalescent from Waterloo, Mulready, 1822
© Victoria and Albert Museum

Adam Tolmie did recover, and he returned to his native Scotland shortly afterwards, having done with the army. The family settled first in Cockpen and then in Lasswade, Midlothian, where a further seven children were born to the couple (Jane 1817, Andrew 1819, James 1822, Eliza 1824, Isabella 1826, Mary Ann 1828 and William Edward in 1831).

On the 3rd June 1834, at Ceres in Fife, Margaret Tolmie (whose home parish was given as Lasswade) married James Thomson, a tailor from Ceres. Margaret, who was widowed between 1851 and 1861, followed in her mother’s footsteps and worked as a nurse, surviving in her old age on ‘private means’. By 1881 Margaret was living in Pathhead in Fife and, on the 22nd October 1901, she died there at 11 Commercial Street, aged 86 years, of old age and a fractured thigh. Her unmarried daughter Eliza, who had lived with her mother in her later years, had been present at the death.

The death certificate of Margaret Thomson, née Tolmie, names her parents as Adam Tolmie, a contractor, and his wife Eliza née Wood. Margaret’s death was reported as far away as New Zealand.


Kirkcaldy has just lost one of its prideful possessions in the death of rare old Margaret Tolmie. She had the unique distinction of having been born on the famous field of Waterloo on the day following the historic battle, her mother having been a daughter of a corporal in the 2nd Royal North British Dragoons (Scots Greys) and her father a trooper in the same regiment. With other “daughters of the regiment” Margaret’s mother sallied out from Brussels to seek for the living among the dead, though the wounded had already been removed. “Home they brought her warrior dead;” but “Meg’s” mother would not have it so. She searched and searched. And at last she found him, buried beneath a heap of dead. He still lived, and helped by two other women she bore him to a place of succour. But the excitement of the day overcame her, and on the red field of Waterloo the baby “Meg” was born. Truly, Kirkcaldy had cause to be proud of Margaret Tolmie.

(New Zealand Herald, Volume XXXVIII, issue 11848, 28th December 1901, page 2)

Kirkcaldy is some distance away from Pathhead – could this be a clue as to where her parents originated from? Or is it referencing her marriage at Ceres in Fife, where she lived for many years?

The Village of Waterloo in 1815 by George Jones, 1821, courtesy of the National Army Museum
The Village of Waterloo in 1815 by George Jones, 1821, courtesy of the National Army Museum

Researching Margaret’s life has, however, raised many questions for which we have not found the answers, and we are hoping that someone reading this might be able to fill in the gaps for us. Most sources do not name Margaret’s parents, merely giving the story of her birth. In some, Margaret’s mother is also a Margaret, saying that the daughter was named for the mother, but one source references some French tourists talking to Margaret in her old age, and in that her mother is named as Kate Maborlan, not Eliza Woods. As Eliza is named as her mother on the official record of her death, we have chosen to go with that, but it is possible that her mother did not survive the battlefield birth in 1815, and that Adam Tolmie swiftly remarried and Eliza is therefore Margaret’s stepmother.

And if anyone more experienced than us in tracing military records could locate either Adam Tolmie or Corporal Woods or Wood we would be delighted to hear from you. We have drawn a total blank in trying to find any mention at all which fits the known facts, although Woods is a very common name and Tolmie could easily have been mistranscribed for something else.

So, over to our readers . . .


Dundee Courier, 6th November 1901

Also see our previous blog post: Two ‘Waterloo Children’.


The Humbley siblings: named for victory

William Humbley, an army officer, gave his newborn son a name almost impossible to live up to – William Wellington Waterloo Humbley. Even more than that Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, stood as the child’s godfather. Little William Wellington Waterloo was born on the actual day of the battle, the 18th June 1815, at Sandgate in Kent according to information in the Cambridge University Alumni 1261-1900, but was not baptized until nearly a year later.

Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington by Richard Cosway, 1808. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington by Richard Cosway, 1808.
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

William Wellington Waterloo, of Eynesbury (now part of St Neot’s but then a neighbouring village), was baptized on the 10th June 1816 at the parish church in Boxworth, Cambridgeshire. His father, William Humbley of the 95th Foot, had served in both the Peninsular War campaigns and at the Battle of Waterloo (the 95th was also known as the Rifle Brigade, made famous by Bernard Cornwell in his Sharpe novels).

The 95th Rifles at the Battle of the Pyrenees, 1813. Watercolour by Richard Simkin, 1813. © National Army Museum Copyright
The 95th Rifles at the Battle of the Pyrenees, 1813.
Watercolour by Richard Simkin, 1813.
© National Army Museum Copyright

William Humbley had been a First Lieutenant at the time of Waterloo, and a note against his name on the Waterloo Roll Call says:

This officer had been present at almost every battle and action in the Peninsular, and when the long-looked-for silver war medal was given, in 1848, he received one with thirteen clasps. Severely wounded at Waterloo. Attained the rank of lt.-col. unattached, 1851, and died 26th October 1857, at Eynesbury.

His severe wound in that battle had been caused by a musket ball in each shoulder, one of which stayed there till his dying day.

The Morning of Waterloo by James de Vine Aylward (c) The Royal Green Jackets (Rifles) Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
The Morning of Waterloo
by James de Vine Aylward
(c) The Royal Green Jackets (Rifles) Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Four years after the birth of William Wellington Waterloo, William Humbley and his wife Mary had a daughter, and this child they named Vimiera Violetta Vittoria, Vimiera almost certainly for Vimiero in Portugal, and the battle there in 1808 in which the British, under General Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington, defeated the French forces and halted their invasion of Portugal. William Humbley, in the 95th, would have taken part in that battle: Vittoria obviously commemorated the Battle of Vitoria in 1813. Like her elder brother, Vimiera Violetta Vittoria was also baptized at Boxworth, on 11th August 1820, her father being named as a Captain of the Rifle Brigade of Tempsford in Bedfordshire. In later life, Vimiera used the name Victoria in place of Vittoria; she married Richard Rickett Wells, son of John Wells, a conveyancer from Eynesbury, in 1840.

Humbley - Vimeiro

Other battles that Captain William Humbley of the Rifle Brigade saw action in included Roliça, Corunna, Barossa, Salamanca, Nivelle, Orthes, and Toulouse; he was, in all, five times wounded severely in battle. He was placed on half-pay on Christmas Day 1818 and remained without employment until he was recalled to the army in 1854, at the age of 62 years, on the outbreak of the Crimean War.

Brigadier General Craufurd with 95th Rifles, 43rd & 52nd Light infantry during the retreat to Corunna (image via
Brigadier General Craufurd with 95th Rifles, 43rd & 52nd Light infantry during the retreat to Corunna (image via

William Wellington Waterloo Humbley grew up to marry, in 1857, Elizabeth Nelson Watson, an heiress from Gainsborough in Lincolnshire, although her middle name was not given in honour of the naval hero Admiral Horatio Nelson, but in a rather more mundane fashion was for her father, William Nelson Watson, Esquire.

HUMBLEY – WATSON. On the 27th ult., at S. George’s, Hanover square, London, Captain Wm. W. W. Humbley, late of the 9th Lancers, only son of Colonel Humbley, of Eynesbury, St. Neot’s, Huntingdonshire, to Elizabeth Nelson, only surviving daughter of the late Wm. Nelson Watson, of Gainsborough.

Sheffield Independent, 4th July 1857

Still, with Wellington, Waterloo and Nelson amongst the couple’s names, they were a fitting tribute to the military victories of the British army and navy of their time. The couple, who were later to divorce, continued the naming tradition with their son, William Wellesley Humbley, born in 1868.

Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758–1805), 1st Viscount Nelson, KB (attributed to) William Beechey. (c) Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758–1805), 1st Viscount Nelson, KB (attributed to) William Beechey.
(c) Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

So, the question remains, did William Wellington Waterloo Humbley live up to his name? It seems he did; perhaps with forenames such as those he had little choice but to follow his father into the British army, and Humbley junior achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel (unattached), as his father had before him. Harts Army List of 1888 has this to say of Humbley junior:

Lt. Colonel W.W.W. Humbley served with the 9th Lancers in the Sutlej campaign in 1846, including the battle of Sobraon (Medal).

The Battle of Sobraon 10 February 1846. Coloured aquatint by J Harris after H Martens, published by Rudolph Ackermann, 1 January 1848, courtesy of the National Army Museum.
The Battle of Sobraon 10 February 1846.
Coloured aquatint by J Harris after H Martens, published by Rudolph Ackermann, 1 January 1848, courtesy of the National Army Museum.

Lieutenant-Colonel William Wellington Waterloo Humbley lived, appropriately enough, at Waterloo Cottage in his birthplace of Eynesbury.

The Battle of Waterloo by Jan Willem Pieneman, 1824, courtesy of The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam
The Battle of Waterloo by Jan Willem Pieneman, 1824, courtesy of The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

Perhaps we should also spare a thought for William Waterloo Wellington Rolleston Napoleon Buonaparte Guelph Saunders, born in 1867 at Sutton Courtenay in Berkshire, the son of William and Maria Saunders? Quite what his parents were thinking when they gave their infant son such a mouthful of a name, with both opposing sides of the famous battle covered, is anyone’s guess!

Further reading:

Journal of a Cavalry Officer: Including the Memorable Sikh Campaign of 1845-46 by William Wellington Waterloo Humbley, M.A., Trinity College, Cambridge; Fellow of the Cambridge Philosophical Society; Captain, 9th Queen’s Royal Lancers.

Jackets of Green by Arthur Bryant.


The information that the Duke of Wellington stood godfather to William Wellington Waterloo Humbley is from the West Kent Guardian newspaper dated the 19th March 1842. Additional information on the battles at which William Humbley of the 95th was present is taken from the London Standard, 17th April 1844, and Vimiera’s wedding from the Cambridge Independent Press, 4th January 1840. She perhaps initially married without her father’s permission, with a second marriage to make the ceremony legal: her first marriage to RR Wells took place on 3rd January 1840 at St Peter Cornhill, where she was listed as 21 years of age, and on the 10th February 1840 the couple married once more, at St Andrew Holborn, with Vimeira this time listed as a minor.

The Staymaker c.1745; William Hogarth; The Tate

The Original ‘Waist Trainer’ – 18th Century Stays

Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Well, it appears that, courtesy of celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and others that we’re heading back to the 18th century idea of tiny waists, so we had to take a quick peek at the 18th designs; not the best piece of news for those of us that enjoy our cakes and chocolate, or maybe an essential item!

The Staymaker (The Happy Marriage V: The Fitting of the Ball Gown) c.1745; William Hogarth; The Tate
The Staymaker (The Happy Marriage V: The Fitting of the Ball Gown) c.1745; William Hogarth; The Tate

These items of undergarments are often mistakenly referred to as corsets, so let’s begin this blog by correcting the term ‘corsets’. Corsets did not in fact exist until the 19th century, until that time they were known as ‘stays’ and were an essential part of a woman’s wardrobe. The most fashionable stays were designed to pull the shoulders back until the shoulder blades almost touched. The resulting silhouette, with shoulders thrown back, very erect posture and a high, full bosom, is characteristic of this period and no other. They were used to support and create the fashionable shape of a woman’s body and to provide a rigid form on to which a gown could be arranged and fastened.

Stays 1770 - 1790 red damask
Stays 1770 – 1790 red damask, Courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum

They were originally made from thick linen on to which cane or whalebone was sewn, thereby making the garment extremely rigid.  The garment was so tight around the waist and rib cage that it’s no wonder women were prone to fainting as it must have been almost impossible to breathe.  It was more common for stays to be worn in England than it was in France and this applied to all classes of society, although the ‘working classes’ usually only possessed one, often made of leather which was worn constantly without washing!

Stays and skirt
Stays and skirt Courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum

Getting dressed must have been quite a performance, perhaps the only saving grace was that knickers hadn’t been invented at that time. Not something we would advocate doing in polite society today, but apparently, it was not unknown for women to expose part of their breasts. It was socially acceptable to do this at that time, but to expose your calf could have had you expelled from polite society.

18th century Italian Bodice - Met Museum
18th century Italian Bodice – Met Museum

By the 1770’s steel was being used in stay to increase their strength, but this, of course, made them even more rigid. This combined with tight lacing began to cause concern amongst doctors and others who voiced their concerns about this fashion – does that sound at all familiar?

corset Met museum
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum
1770 corset Met museum
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum

The alternative to ‘stays’ was the use of ‘jumps’. These were less boned and much softer and comfortable to wear. They laced up the front but still provided support for the bust making them far easier for a woman to put on herself without assistance.  These became very fashionable and were more accepted by the medical profession.


We came across the following publication ‘The enormous abomination of the hoop-petticoat, as The Fashion Now is‘ looking at the hoop petticoat and stays from the perspective of a  gentleman who proclaims himself ‘not to be a woman hater‘, so quite why he felt compelled to write about this subject we have absolutely no idea!

His article written 1745, described how the fashion had changed over recent years with the petticoat getting larger and larger to the point where it makes it impossible to sit close to a woman as her petticoat had taken over all available space. The sight of the curved hoop, he said was ‘enough to turn one’s stomach.’  He went on to say

‘In general, can anything be more out of nature,  grosser insult upon reason and common sense, than this monstrous disproportion between the upper and lower part of a woman? It is an old observation that women by their laced bodices, or stays, as they are now call’d, make themselves the reverse of what nature made them. Men are bigger about the chest and more slender about the waist than women: and there is  plain reason for it, which I need not mention. Yet the females have skrew’d and moulded their bodies into a shape quite contrary’.

English or French court dress, with wide panniers. Taken at the Fashion Museum, Bath. By Ludi Ling (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
As always our blog would not be complete without a caricature or two, so we have a couple of 19th century satires, courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Collection.

The stays design'd by an amateur - Gillray
The stays design’d by an amateur – Gillray
A current view of the machine for winding up the ladies.
A current view of the machine for winding up the ladies.

We end with a video showing an eighteenth-century lady getting dressed.

A new life in Australia for prisoner Sarah Bird (1763-1842)

Drawing of convicts in New Holland, 1793

In light of the recent controversy surrounding the television programme ‘Banished‘ we decided to share this letter that we came across in the Chester Courant 13 November 1798. It is a fascinating letter from a daughter to her father after she was transported to Botany Bay and gives an insight into life in Australia from a female perspective, and shows how incredibly astute she was in her determination to succeed as a business woman. She seems totally undaunted by the fact that she has been sent thousands of miles away from home without a man to support her. She may well have had someone, possibly an officer keeping a watchful eye over her and possibly writing her letter for her, but there is no indication of that in the letter. Would she have had the same opportunity had she remained in England? possibly not. Draw your own conclusions form her letter. If she wrote the letter herself then it would imply that she was from a good family and reasonably well educated, which begs the question as to why she should have stolen.

The letter is simply signed SB . . .

I take the first opportunity of informing you of my safe arrival in this remote quarter of the world, after a pretty good passage of six months. Since my arrival I have purchased a house, for which I gave 20 shillings and the following articles, three turkies at 15 shilling each, three sucking pigs at 10 shillings, a pair of pigeons at 8 shillings, a yard dog, also two Muscovy ducks at 10 shillings each, three English ducks at 5 shilling, a goat, five guineas, six geese at 15 shilling each.

I have got a large garden to the house and a licence. The sign is the ‘Three Jolly Settlers’. I have met with tolerable good success in the public line. I did a little trade in the passage in a number of small articles such as sugar, tea, tobacco, thread, snuff, needles and everything I could get anything by. The needles are a shilling a paper here and fine thread is sixpence a skein.

I have sold my petticoats at two guineas each and my long black cloak at ten guineas which shows that black silk sells well here; the edging that I gave 1 shilling and eight pence per yard in England I got 5 shillings for it here.  I have sold all the worst of my cloaths as wearing apparel bring a good price.

I bought a roll of tobacco at Rio Janeiro at 54lb weight, which cost me 20 shillings which I was cheated out of: I could have got 12 shillings a pound for it here. I likewise bought a cwt of sugar there and also many other articles. Rum sells for 1 shilling and sixpence per gallon there, and here at times 2 shillings.

Any person coming from England with a few hundred pounds laid out at any of the ports that shipping touch at coming here are liable to make a fortune. Shoes that cost 4 or 5 shillings a pair in England, will bring from 10 to 15 shillings here.

On our passage here we buried only two women and two children; the climate is very healthful and likewise very fertile as there are two crops a year of almost everything; and I really believe with the assistance of god, by the time I have paid the forfeit, according to the laws of my country, I shall acquire a little money to return home with, which I have not the smallest doubt of, and to be a comfort to you at the latter end of your days.

Any person that should have a mind to come here as a settler, by applying at the Secretary of States office, may have free passage and likewise two men and a farm here, which is great encouragement.

I should be very glad to hear from you at the first opportunity. I live by myself, and did not do as the rest of the women did on the passage, which was, every one of them that could, had a husband. I shall conclude with giving my kind love to my brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, so am dear father, your ever dutiful, loving and affectionate daughter, till death. SB

The Costumes of the Australasians watercolour by Edward Charles Close
The Costumes of the Australasians: watercolour by Edward Charles Close

Okay, so we were hooked, a fascinating letter but who was SB . . . well the answer was Sarah Bird. She was the daughter of Thomas Bird and his wife Anne and was baptized on 24th April 1763 at Nutfield, Surrey and had at least 3 brothers and 3 sisters according to the baptism records.

We have found a burial for one of her siblings, Amy who died in 1767;  unfortunately the writing on the gravestone is extremely badly worn away now, but both parents are named on the stone so obviously Thomas and Anne were able to provide a stone for their daughter. Courtesy of Charles Sale

She was convicted of stealing a handkerchief at Middlesex and was sentenced on the 19th of July 1794 to transportation for 7 years.  The court records described her as being aged 26, height 4 feet 6 inches, dark hair, grey eyes and according to the Oracle and Public Advertiser of 11th July 1794 her actual crime was that of stealing 4 handkerchiefs , a cotton curtain and a tablecloth, property of  her employer William Bryan, an attorney of  George Street, Westminster.

Sarah’s name appears on the record on the ship The Indispensable, on her maiden voyage as a convict ship carrying 133 female prisoners, under the command of Captain William Wilkinson. The ship left Portsmouth in November 1795.

Botany Bay by Charles Gore, c.1798
Botany Bay by Charles Gore, c.1798

We know from the ships route and from Sarah’s letter that it called at Rio de Janeiro for provisions en route and that the ship lost  2 prisoners during the journey. On arriving, Sarah, as she states in her letter, set up her own business and was the first woman in New South Wales to hold a liquor licence. It appears that despite the predicament she found herself in she was determined to make a good life for herself whilst there but retained plans to return to her father and family in England.

However, it seems that this plan to return home after her 7 years sentence was over didn’t happen as she became involved with a most unpleasant man, John Morris:

In January convict John Morris stabbed the gaoler before escaping from the gaol, to run home and cut the throat of his partner, Sarah Bird, from ear to ear. He was quickly recaptured, Sarah Bird and the gaoler survived their injuries. However, in March, Morris was tried, found guilty of attempted murder, and sentenced to hang. On reviewing the evidence placed before the court, Foveaux requested that the Judge Advocate carry out another investigation, paying attention to the personal involvement of Captain Wilson in the abuse Morris received on the day of his recapture. It was confirmed that Wilson had ordered that Morris’ head be shaved; on the way to the triangle, Wilson had repeatedly beaten the prisoner with a metal tipped stick until his body was welted, before the flagellator was called upon to administer 100 lashes. After the flogging, Captain Wilson directed that salt water be thrown over the lacerated prisoner, and then commenced to beat him again with his stick until Morris was double ironed using hot rivets that burnt his skin.
Foveaux declared that Morris had already received excessive corporal punishment and that the capital sentence was unwarranted. The trial verdict was therefore suspended pending further directions from England. Foveaux forwarded a copy of the evidence and advised Lord Hobart that as:
. . . much doubt has arisen in my mind concerning the propriety of putting the sentence of the court into execution, and as I conceive several other unjustifiable modes of punishment were exercised on the person of this wretched man, by throwing salt water over his back after having been flogged, his having been beaten with a stick by Captain Wilson in person and subsequent thereto, and as an additional torture irons were fastened on him with hot rivets, by which the unhappy culprit’s legs were burned. I have therefore judged it most expedient to suspend the execution of the sentence and to submit the merits of the case to His Majesty.

An article in the Sydney Gazette of 1804 said that Sarah had been in her bed when Morris ran into the house they had shared and, with his knife, he had slashed her across her throat from ear to ear. She tried to fight him off, receiving a wound in her left arm, extending downwards in an oblique direction across her wrist, cutting through sinew, all the while shrieking for help. Prior to this event, which led to John being sentenced to 30 years hard labour, the couple produced two daughters, Sarah & Ann(1802 – 1842). Ann followed in her mothers footsteps as a business woman and became a newspaper  proprietor.

So, despite the letter home to her father, Sarah remained in Australia and established herself as a successful business woman until her death in Sydney, in 1842 aged 79 which ties in perfectly with the baptism we found for her.

Black-eyed Sue and sweet Poll of Plymouth taking leave of their lovers who are going to Botany Bay
Black-eyed Sue and sweet Poll of Plymouth taking leave of their lovers who are going to Botany Bay, Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Header image: A View of Sydney Cove, New South Wales, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection


Sources used:

Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History

The Trial of the Twenty One

Old Bailey online

NSW State Archives and Records

Ann Howe, Australian Dictionary of Biography

Ann Howe, Wikipedia