A bigamist in the family

After a short life, lived in the shadow of illness, Ellen Miriam Poulton, my great grandmother died at the age of twenty-three, leaving behind three children. Her two sons, Sidney Herbert and Stanley George, for whom there are birth certificates were born in November 1906 and August 1908. Her daughter, Ida Frederica, had no birth certificate, in some places her date of birth is recorded as July 1907, elsewhere it is recorded as July 1909: the latter date seems more likely, although it does not accord with the age recorded on the 1911 Census return.

Ellen had children when she was eighteen, twenty and twenty-one, and it seems there was a further pregnancy when she was twenty-two. Her death certificate from Saint James infirmary in Balham is dated 5th March 1912.  Under “cause of death” William M. McCormac the doctor has written, “Pelvic Cellulitis (originally puerperal June 1910) Septic Peritonitis.” Ellen seems to have died from an infection associated with pregnancy and from inflammation of the peritoneum that was possibly caused by the infection from the year before.

Ellen’s death brought the dispersal of her three children. Ida stayed with her grandmother in Wandsworth, Stanley was sent to a Poor Law School in Hampshire and joined the Royal Navy at the age of fifteen. There is no record of where Sidney spent his childhood years.

Ellen’s death was registered by “E. Knox” who is recorded as “cousin.” Hoping the search would give me more clues about my great grandmother, I searched for “E. Knox.” There were not many cousins and I quickly discovered that Ellen’s cousin Emily had married Nathanael Knox in 1911. He was forty-three when they married and Emily was twenty-four. The marriage is on the returns for Medway in Kent and in the 1911 Census, they are shown as being married for less than a year.

What was baffling was that they are shown as being married again in 1926, when Nathanael was fifty-eight and Emily was thirty-nine. Why the second marriage?

Nathanael’s first wife had separated from him in 1907 and had left to go to Australia in 1910. Perhaps Nathanael felt that having been separated for four years and his wife having left the country, he was free to marry. However, he was never divorced.

The marriage in 1926 was after Nathanael’s first wife had died in Australia. Would it have been because the authorities knew the first marriage was not legal? If so, would he not have been prosecuted? Having seemed to have been married for fifteen years, was it the case of making sure the right thing was done for the sake of pension and inheritance and other matters?

The problem with records is that they don’t provide a narrative.


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