True Love as Revealed in a Will

It is unusual that we get to see inside the marriages of our ancestors, especially those who died over 400 years ago. But I was afforded just such a glimpse as I laboured at transcribing some of the many Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) wills belonging to my Norwich ancestors that are now readily available on Ancestry.

One of these is the will of Thomas Sotherton, my nine times great uncle. A grocer and politician and a man of considerable wealth, as the will makes quite clear, he was born about 1555 and married Frances Cheke after the death of her first husband, John Foxe.

Typically in these early wills the most one sees is the formulaic phrase: “well-beloved wife.” But Thomas made his love for Frances quite clear as he wrote his will while approaching death in 1608. (He signed the will on March 31st and was dead in May). I have updated the archaic spelling to make his declaration more readable.

And for as much as my dear and most loving wife hath in the time of my health and now more especially in this my troublesome and great sickness showed herself most loving and dutiful and with great respect hath tenderly and carefully regarded me and that as all times heretofore she hath most lovingly and tenderly nourished our children. And that she may the better be enabled to educate them and be mindful of me and the mutual love long continued between us and the memory of me dead and our children living charging her by all that love and the tokens and pledges of our love which shall remain to have a special care for the good of our children and their well training up in godly and virtuous exercises hoping that no second love or means shall cause her to remove that unfeigned most earnest promised love and remembrances vowed and professed as well to me in private as in the presence of some of our friends. Therefore the better to make my love more apparent even at this my last days which I expect to be but few I give unto my said loving wife…

 Thomas was buried in the church of St. John Maddermarket in Norwich. A wonderful monument, which still can be seen on the wall of the church, shows—in typical Jacobean fashion—the husband and wife kneeling on either side of a prayer desk with the sons behind the father and the daughters behind the mother. They had two sons and six daughters (although only five are depicted). Two daughters and one son carry skulls, indicating that they predeceased their parents.

One of the commentaries on the church gives the following amusing aside: “Thomas’s side of the monument carries his coat of arms—interestingly Frances’ side is blank. Suggesting (not too subtly) that her family was not the equal of her husband’s.” (

“It is a Better Country for Girls Than Home:” Chain Migration at Work

One of my favourite pieces of family memorabilia is a letter written in August 1877 by my great-grandmother, Mary Hamilton, to her friend, Jeannie Kirkwood, who was still back in Scotland. Mary had recently emigrated to New Zealand with three of her siblings, having sailed from Glasgow on the Marlborough on 12 October, 1876 and arrived in Otago on 20 January, 1877. On arrival, the family moved immediately to the small town of Palmerston (then known as Clifton), where their sister, Janet, was already established with her husband, John Kirkwood.

Mary had been born on 5 March, 1855 at Kirkfieldbank, a small village on the banks of the Clyde in Lesmahagow parish in Lanarkshire, to John Hamilton, a 38-year-old carpet weaver, and his 33-year-old wife, Mary Moffat. The fifth child when she was born, Mary would have three younger siblings by 1863.

In the 1871 Scottish census, Mary was living with her mother (her father was enumerated elsewhere) and her four sisters and two of her brothers in the Calton district of Glasgow. Mary herself and her three elder sisters were working as steam loom weavers, her younger sister still at school. Three years later Mary’s mother was dead of heart disease and a year after that her sister, Janet, who had married John Kirkwood in 1871, left for New Zealand. The Kirkwoods’ reports of their new life must have been positive enough to persuade Mary and her youngest sister, Jean (or Jane) to follow them in 1877, along with two of their brothers, James and Thomas. The two women are described on the ship’s manifest as domestic servants, steam loom weavers not being required in New Zealand. Both James and Thomas are listed as curriers. Mary’s letter to her friend and sister-in-law, Jeannie Kirkwod, indicates that domestic work had been easy to find, was well paid and something she liked well enough to recommend that Jeannie, also a cotton weaver, come and join them. Which she did, arriving in August, 1879 and later that same month marrying Mary’s brother, James. Family lore suggests the couple had been engaged before James emigrated.

Palmerston, 19 August/77

Dear Jeanie

I think you will never forgive me for not writing sooner. I have no excuse to make for myself but I will trust to your good nature not to think to [sic] hard of me and I will try and make up for it. You only ask me to write 3 lines well I will [scratched out] try if can [sic]. Well to begin I would advise you to come out here it is a better country for girls than home we are getting on very well and we like it very well. Jessie and me have got 26 pound a year we could get more wages but we would have more work so we think we are better with what we have. Give my love to all the Simpsons and tell them I am going to write a long letter to them. Tell Janet I am glad to hear that Willie Linsay and her is going together again. Tell her to give my love to Ellen and Hugh. I hope they are married. I think I will close now as this is only an excuse for a letter but I will write a long letter the next time. Love to your mother and Agnes and Archie not forgetting your own Dear Self. I am your loving friend, M. H.

Two other members of the Hamilton family followed: another brother, Adam, a cabinet maker, although his year of emigration is not known and their widowed father, John, in about 1885. The fate of the remaining two Hamilton siblings is not known. A brother, John, is said to have become a draper in London and sister, Margaret, disappears after the 1871 census.

She Ran Away With Her Music Teacher

Catherine Anne Parker, my 3X great aunt, was born about 1813 in Passage West, County Cork, Ireland, probably the fourth daughter and twelfth child of Richard Neville Parker and Margaret Skottowe. The Parkers were a prominent Passage West family, but by the 19th century were no longer financially well off, a situation probably exacerbated by the eventual birth of 14 children to Richard and Margaret. A number of these children emigrated to Australia and New Zealand, but the fate of Catherine Anne remained a mystery for many years.

Waterview, the house in Passage West where Catherine Anne was born

Burke’s Landed Gentry of Ireland[1] records her husband as Charles Jackson; other sources give his name as Charles or Francis Geary Jackson. But all the family sources agree that Jackson was her music master and that she ran away with him.

Catherine Anne Parker m. Charles Jackson 29 July 1835 at Monkstown Church against the advice and consent of her family.[2]

Cath. Parker & Francis Jackson  1835.[3]

The distinctive name of “Francis Geary Jackson” eventually broke down this particular brick wall. A simple Google search led to two bankruptcy notices in the London Gazette. The Francis Geary Jackson described here was certainly a music teacher, so the search for Catherine moved from Ireland to England.

Francis Geary Jackson, a music teacher, a bankrupt. 2 references. Of No. 50 Burr Street, Lower East Smithfield, Middlesex and then Mile-town, Sheerness, Kent. (London Gazette, 13th June, 1845)

 In the matter of the petition of Francis Geary Jackson, formerly of No. 50, Burr street, Lower East Smithfield, in the county of Middlesex, Teacher of Music, afterwards of Mile-town, Sheerness, in the county of Kent, and late of Blue-town, Sheerness, aforesaid, Organist, Teacher of Music and Musical Instruments, an insolvent debtor. (London Gazette 27 June 1845)

Tying in with this, the 1841 census for England revealed Francis Jackson, Professor of Music, born in Ireland, living in what appears to be a multiple family dwelling in Burr Street in the Parish of St. Botolph Without Aldgate in the Borough of Tower Hamlets in London. With him are Catherine, also born in Ireland, and a daughter, Frances, 5, Michael, 3, and Catherine, 4 months. Frances and Michael were born in Ireland; the baby, Catherine, in Middlesex. No birth registrations have been found for any of these children.

In 1851, the family is indeed living, as the Gazette suggests, on the High Street in Sheerness, Kent. Francis is described as an organist, 40 years of age and Catherine is aged 38. Michael has disappeared and there is an additional son, Frank, aged 9, born in Sheerness. No trace has been found of Michael, but although there appears to be no birth registration for Frank, there is a baptismal record.

Baptised Dec 24th 1843. Frank, son of Francis Geary & Catherine Ann Jackson. Abode: Banks Town. Occupation: Professor of Music. [4]

In 1853, Francis, described as a “musician,” sailed on the “Northumberland” from London to New York City, arriving there on August 13th of that year, declaring his intention to become a resident of the United States. [5] Exactly three years later, on August 21st, 1856, Catherine, Catherine Anne, 15, and Frank, aged 12, arrived in New York on the same ship.[6]

The family would not be together in the new country long, as on December 23rd, 1857, Francis died of tuberculosis in what was probably a tenement building for the poor at 89 Bleecker Street in New York. He was buried in a cemetery on Long Island.[7]

No further reliable sighting has been found of Catherine and her children. The likelihood is that, if they survived, they eked out a precarious existence in the lower east side of New York, amongst the poorest immigrants. A suitable warning for young women who were tempted to run away with ineligible, but presumably attractive, music teachers.


[1] Burke, Bernard. A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry of Ireland. New ed. London: Harrison, 1912, p. 552.

[2] Genealogical Notes in private hands in Ireland.

[3] Casey, Albert Eugene. O’Kief, Coshe Mang, Slieve Lougher and Upper Blackwater in Ireland. Birmingham, AL: Knocknagree Historical Fund, 1952–1971, vol. 4, p. 256.

[4] Register of Baptisms in the Parish of Minster, Isle of Sheppey, Kent. Family History Library Film #1866702 Item 3.

[5] Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving in New York, New York, 1820–1897. National Archives at Washington, D.C. Microfilm Series: M237. Microfilm Roll: Roll 130; Line: 24; List Number: 822. Available:

[6] Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving in New York, New York, 1820–1897. National Archives at Washington, D.C. Microfilm Series: M237. Microfilm Roll: Roll 165; Line: 7; List Number: 832.

[7] Manhattan Death Registers, 1795-1865. Family History Library Film #447560.

Sarah Catherine Martin

sarah catherine portrait


 My 4x great-grandaunt, Elizabeth Ann Parker (abt 1737 – 1808, daughter of Harding Parker and Catherine Neville of Passage West, County Cork, Ireland) and her husband, Sir Henry Martin, (Comptroller of the Navy and MP for Southampton, England) had a most surprising daughter. Her siblings were successful naval officers, appointed government employees and young ladies who married suitably or who remained quietly in the background as spinsters.

Sarah Catherine popped her head up above the crowd at the age of about 17, when the future King of England, Prince William Henry (later to be William IV), aged 20, fell in love with her and went so far as to apply to his parents for permission to marry her. Sarah would have met the prince through her father, when he was Commissioner of the Navy and resident at Portsmouth at a time when William was serving in the Navy. Sarah’s brother, Thomas Byam, would the following year begin his naval career as a captain’s servant aboard HMS Pegasus, which was captained by the prince.

Understandably, the idea of such a marriage horrified both William’s royal parents and Sarah’s humbler ones and Sarah was quickly removed from his orbit.

The reactions to the affair of both Henry Martin and the prince are revealed in a series of letters that Sarah’s brother, Thomas Byam, published in later life. These offer a fascinating glimpse into the aftermath of Prince William’s application to his parents, and inspire considerable sympathy in the reader for poor Henry Martin as he attempts to extricate himself and his daughter without offending.

 Henry Martin to Prince William Henry [Not dated] 1786

…With a heart devoted to you, I trust you will do me the justice to believe that I feel most sensibly the noble, the honourable part you have acted by me and my dear child: could I have foreseen the attachment you have been pleased to honour her with, I should certainly have removed her for a time from my house, that both your Royal Highness and she might have avoided the difficulties and distresses which must necessarily be the consequence of it. She is, thank God, tolerably well; but blessed, Sir, as she is with a superior understanding, she has with a becoming fortitude guarded against the too tender impression a declaration so unexpected, and so much superior to what she could ever presume to raise her thoughts [to], might otherwise have made, and which, had your Royal Highness’s station in life been more on a level with hers, she would naturally have felt, where every gratification of mind and person conspire to captivate the heart….

Prince William Henry to Henry Martin. Hebe, Jany. 31st, 1786.

…I must once more repeat –Dear Sarah! I feel for her more than I can express; she is an unfortunate and virtuous girl. God bless all your family, but I cannot help expressing my particular feeling for the best of womankind.

                                                I am

                                Your sincere and unfortunate friend,

(Letters and Papers of the Admiral of the Fleet Sir Thos Byam Martin, G.C.B., edited by Sir Richard Vesey Hamilton. London: Navy Records Society, 1898–1903).

Sarah Catherine did not ever marry, but she did make her mark once again in 1805 when her illustrated book of comic verse for children, The Comic Adventure of Old Mother Hubbard and Her Dog, was published. She had written this while living at Kitley House in Devonshire with her sister, Judith Anne, the second wife of the politician, John Pollexfen Bastard. Some sources suggest that Mother Hubbard was the housekeeper at Kitley, but more scholarly discussion sees it as an adaption of earlier similar tales. The book became an immediate best seller.

 Sarah died in 1826 and is buried beside her parents in St. Nicholas’s Churchyard, Loughton, Essex. In her simple holograph will, written on two slips of paper, she leaves everything to her unmarried sister, Lydia Maria, and her niece, Catherine Elizabeth, daughter of her brother, Henry William. It was one of Catherine’s descendants, Mary Emily May, who would lend the manuscript of Old Mother Hubbard to the Bodleian Library for an exhibit in the 1930s. It was later sold to a collector in the United States.

 An unusual life surely, for an eighteenth-century young lady and one that deserves to be remembered.

Kitley House today – a luxury hotel

Old Mother Hubbard (Wikipedia)