A disturbing find in the family tree – Thomas Barfoot

I always wanted to have a ‘skeleton in the family cupboard’… it would be more exciting, I felt. That was until I found one and it made for an uncomfortable discovery.

I’d been doing some ‘digging around’ and found something interesting about one of the older siblings of G Grandfather Edward Barfoot: Thomas, who was 9 years older than Edward and born in 1846 so he was my Great Grand Uncle.

Thomas followed in his father, John’s, footsteps and decided to work on the barges plying up and down the Medway, taking general goods to London in the main. When he was 15 he was in the census and seems to have been part of the crew of the vessel: ‘The Hamilton of Hull’ (unclear on census). The Captain of the vessel, probably a barge, was John Pike from Hull, a married man, and the Mate was James Rose from Maidstone.

In 1866 he married Ellen Wadhams, from Strood in Kent and the couple set up home in Aylesford.

By 1871 he was shown on the census living with his first wife, Ellen, at High Street, Aylesford. They had no children at this time. They seem, from the records, to have not had any children (even ones who might have died).

However, he was ALSO counted on the census in Stepney in London on a vessel named the ‘Sir George Murray’. He was Captain and his mate was John Baker from Aylsford, aged 26. It could be that Ellen just named him as a matter of course when she was asked by the enumerator who stayed in the house on the night of the census… and thus, he was mentioned twice.

Thomas appears to have married for a second time…although no death for his first wife, Ellen, can be found. [Did she die or was she abandoned?] However, he marries Mary Ann Houghton (nee Beazley, widow of Thomas Houghton) on 25 Dec 1881. Looking in the census of that year, back in March/April – Thomas was Master and was already living with her as she was on the barge, ‘Millie’, with him along with her children Phillis Ann (sic) and Charles Thomas, aged 4 and 2 respectively and cited as his own children and bearing the surname ‘Barfoot’. Perhaps that’s possible although they were born as ‘Houghton’s in Camberwell. The boat was moored at Strood.

Thomas appears to have signed the census return himself… perhaps forms were delivered and collected later… so it would have been easy to falsify names etc if that’s what he did.

In 1882 Phyllis/Phillis is registered at Vicarage Road School in Greenwich at the age of 7 on 11 June 1883 and
Charles Thomas was admitted to the Lombard Wall School in 1885 on 16 November.The information showed they’d clearly moved from Griffin Road to York Terrace in the intervening years.

Then, in 1884 Lavinia Barfoot was born to the couple.

In 1889 he marries for the third time… Annie Elizabeth Stannard. Perhaps he wants someone to look after his child, Lavinia. I’m assuming that he’s abandoned Mary Ann and her two children. He marries on 22 Dec 1889 in Deptford at St Nicholas church stating that he’s a widower.

By 1891 the census doesn’t appear to exist… maybe a bad copy that couldn’t be read properly so it’s not been included. Although it would be very useful indeed to have the 1891 census… so it’s a shame that it can’t be found.

However, by 1892 it’s clear that Thomas is either a widower or has abandoned Annie Elizabeth… again, no death can be found for her for, two years later, he’s either ‘playing away’ or Annie Elizabeth has died although I can’t find her death entry – because he’s apparently been living with an Ann Clark. In late December of 1892 there are numerous newspaper reports in publications up and down the country (Edinburgh, Manchester, Nottingham, Gloucester etc) about the child, Lavinia, and Thomas and Ann.

Lavinia Barfoot pt1

Lavinia Barfoot pt2

Lavinia Barfoot pt3

Poor Lavinia was not found on the census returns for 1901, perhaps the school changed her name or she herself did so after leaving the institution. However, it seems that she stayed in Norfolk and died at the age of 18 in 1902. A sad and short life, really.

Thomas must have completed his term of imprisonment and clearly left Ann Clark to her own devices. I can’t find what happened to Mary Ann, though, and the children, too seem to have disappeared.

However, he appears on the 1901 census and has, incredibly, married for a fourth time!!!
In 1893 he married Eleanor Patty Bagge, a widow (nee Corbett, widow of Henry George Bagge) in the September quarter of that year. Earlier in the year he’d have done his ‘time’ for the cruelty and neglect to Lavinia, from January to June 1893.

By 1901 he’s a ‘lighterman’, one of the men who worked on the Thames barges. He’s living with
Eleanor, and her two children, Priscilla and Ellen, at 33 West Street, Greenwich. He lives there until his death in 1907.

What a terrible man he seems to have been… a trail of possibly abandoned wives, but certainly abandoned children!

Equally, I wonder how the family in Maidstone took the news of their relative? Presumably they were shocked and maybe tried to suppress talk of him within the hearing of the children. Lavinia Swinnock, his mother, was still alive at that time as were many of his siblings. Of Edward and Elizabeth’s children seven were alive at this time (my Grandmother hadn’t been born yet) and the older ones would certainly have realized that their uncle had been imprisoned for child neglect – and perhaps had to endure the gossip of neighbours!

Although not a direct ancestor – it’s not pleasant to turn up something like this in a family tree! My wish for a skeleton in the cupboard was, perhaps, not what I’d prepared for.

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