A Life Cut Short- Elizabeth Bell, Mereworth, Kent 

 

In a former blog, I wrote about the puzzle of John Billinghurst or Bell, born in 1800 at Mereworth, Kent, England. He was the illegitimate son of Sarah Billinghurst. In this blog I am continuing the story of the family of Josiah Bell and Sarah Billinghurst who married in 1801, in St Lawrence, Church of England, Mereworth after the above mentioned John Billinghurst, alias Bell was born.

Josiah Bell was the third child of Josiah and Mary Bell (nee Carpenter) and was baptized at St Lawrence, Mereworth on 17 March 1754. He married in the same church, on 9 November 1801, Sarah Billinghurst. She was the daughter of John and Sarah Billinghurst and was also baptized at Mereworth on 16 September 1764.

Elizabeth Bell, the eldest child of Josiah and Sarah Bell (nee Billinghurst)
was baptized at Mereworth on 29 May 1803. When Elizabeth was born her mother was 39 years of age.
Elizabeth Bell grew up in Mereworth. She was thirteen years of age when her father, Josiah Bell died in 1816. His death impacted greatly on the family.
Elizabeth remained single and died at 18 years of age. She was buried at Mereworth on 2 December 1822.

We can gauge very little on the life of this young woman with the bare dates of her baptism and burial. However, in the Mereworth Parish Chest, there is a list of medicines and medical expenses the parish overseers paid, for the care of their poorest parishioners.

In the list for 1822, we find many entries for members of our Bell families. In particular, we find numerous mention of medicines for ‘E Bell’. She may have always been in poor health, but we can gather she became very ill several months before her death and that every medical assistance was given her by the parish overseers.

I have extracted the following from the parish accounts.

July 27- E Bell Diuretic mixture 2/6
Aug 4- E Bell Mixture repeated 2/6
Aug 6- E Bell Eight powders 2/6
Aug 14 – E Bell Diuretic mixture 2/6
Aug 19 – E Bell Two blisters to the legs 3/-
Aug 24 – E Bell Large tonic mixture 3/-
Aug 28 – E Bell Large box ointment 9d
Aug 31 – E Bell Two blisters to the feet 2/6
Sep 3 – E Bell Large box ointment 9d
Sep 7 – E Bell A tonic 2/6
Sep 10 – E Bell Box of ointment 9d
Oct 14 – E Bell Box of ointment 9d
Nov 6 – E Bell Box of ointment 1/-

We do not know the cause of death of Elizabeth Bell, but it appears from the above entries it must have been a blessed release.
One can only imagine what her mother, Sarah, must have endured. She survived another six years before her own death in 1828, leaving a sorrowing son of 22 years.

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St Lawrence, Mereworth, 2004- Copyright, Nola Mackey

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More on the Alias of John Bell, Mereworth, Kent

In this blog, I try to answer the question concerning the alias used by John Bell or Billinghurst of Mereworth in the blog “The Story of an Alias- John Bell, Mereworth, Kent.”
I had struck this problem of interchanging of surnames and the use of an alias in earlier Bell research.
One theory I had concerning ‘aliases’ was that perhaps a girl had an illegitimate child, who was baptized in her maiden name and when the girl later marries, the child then takes the surname of the new husband or attaches it as an ‘alias’. An ‘alias’ means that he or she is also known by another name.
If my theory was right in this case I would be looking about 1800 for a female “Billinghurst’ who had later married a man with the surname Bell.

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St Lawrence, Mereworth, 2004. Image Copyright- Nola Mackey

I found in the Mereworth Parish Marriage Register, on 9 November 1801, Sarah Billinghurst married Josiah Bell.

A further search of the Mereworth Baptism Register found John, the illegitimate son of Sarah Billinghurst, baptized on 2 November 1800.
Perhaps it should be noted that John is believed to have been Sarah’s first child. She would have been between 35 and 36 years of age at the time.

As there were no records in the Parish Chest Accounts concerning the birth and care of John Billinghurst it may be that Josiah Bell was his father, but he didn’t claim him at his baptism. Whatever the case he certainly took responsibility for him.

After John Billinghurst died in 1860, all his children in subsequent Census Returns, Marriage and Burial Registers are recorded with the Surname of ‘Bell’.

In the 1861 Census Returns for Mereworth, are Thomas Bell aged 26 years, his wife Mary, and daughter Matilda. Also living in the same household are Thomas Bell’s brothers, George, Alexander, Josiah, Henry and Alfred Bell, and his sister Fanny Bell.

In later Census Returns the children are all married and are scattered throughout the village with their own families under the surname ‘Bell’.

The Story of an Alias – John Bell, Mereworth,Kent

I have mentioned in former blogs that I have been able to trace one of my ancestral family lines back to the Middle Ages. This is one of my Maternal Lines by the very common surname of ‘Bell’. This was done long before computers and the Internet. It has taken many years, to locate and review many records. Along the way, I have had the pleasure of finding many cousins of varying degrees, all of whom have helped me in some way sort out and put together the incredible history of a family, who resided in a small area of Kent for over six hundred years. In the 19th Century due to the Industrial Revolution, harsh weather conditions, and other economic reasons many were forced to emigrate, literally for their own survival, to all points of the globe.

One set of records in England we find very useful for family history research are the 19th Century Census Returns. Although the first Census was taken in 1801, the information collected was, in reality, a head count and not very useful to help with information on families. 1811, 1821 and 1831 Census Returns were very similar. However, the 1841 Returns had information on individuals which made it much more useful for putting together family groups. 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911 Census Returns give much information on individuals and are a great record for putting together and tracking family groups.

Although many of our Bell families emigrated to the United States of America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa before the 1841 Census was taken, it was important for us to find and document all our family branches, who had not emigrated, but remained in Kent or had moved to other places in the British Isles. The Census Returns could help with this project.

The birthplace of my 4X Great-grandfather Thomas Bell, (b 1782), the son of Thomas and Ann Bell (nee Lawrence), was Mereworth, Kent. This is a rural village near Maidstone.
Mereworth Village3 (2)
Mereworth Village-Copyright, Nola Mackey, 1980

I made a collection of all individuals with the Surname of Bell who stated their place of birth as Mereworth, in 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911 Census Returns. From these Census Returns, I was able to calculate the approximate year of birth for each individual. Using the English Birth, Death and Marriage Indexes I was able to find the Registration numbers and send to the Registrar of Births, Deaths, and Marriage for certificates, which helped to clarify and sort out family groups. I also utilized copies of the parish registers of baptism, marriage, and burials I have for Mereworth. Using these documents I was able to reconstruct many branches of the Bell family.

However, one family recorded in the 1851 Census at Kent Street, Mereworth, just did not seem to fit, although they claimed to have all been born at Mereworth.

This was the family of John Bell, aged 52 years, an agricultural labourer; his wife, Sarah, aged 38 years and children; Thomas, aged 14 years; Alexander aged 11 years; Josiah, aged 6 years; Henry, aged 3 years and Frances aged 1 month.

BELL, John,1851,Mereworth,Census Returns

1851 Census Returns for John Bell and family, retrieved from Findmypast, 31 January 2018

 

However, I could not find this family group in the 1841 nor the 1861 Census.

After listing the names and calculating the year of birth I was ready to search the Mereworth Parish Registers. To my great disappointment, I only found one baptism, Josiah, the son of John and Sarah Bell, baptized 19 February 1845. Were these children actually born and baptized elsewhere but had lived at Mereworth most of their lives? What was I missing?

I was not able at the time to locate the appropriate Mereworth Marriage Register, but I was able to get some names and dates from the surviving Marriage Banns Book. I was able to purchase various Bell marriage certificates for Mereworth, which included those of; John Bell to Ellen Sales; Thomas Bell to Mary Ann Watson; Harry Bell to Dorcas Emery and Eliza Bell to William Sudds. On each certificate, the father’s name was given as ‘John Bell, a labourer.
The only Bell marriage I was able to extract from a surviving church Marriage Register at Aylesford, Kent, was that of Fanny Bell to Edgar Wilson in 1871. She gave her father’s name as ‘John Billinghurst’ not ‘John Bell’. I then tried for a baptism entry at Mereworth for Fanny or Frances as the daughter of John Billinghurst. There it was. ‘Frances, daughter of John and Sarah Billinghurst, baptized 9 March 1851. As the 1851 Census was taken in early April- she was most likely the ‘Frances Bell’ aged 1 month’ in the Census.

I continued searching the registers for ‘Billinghurst’ and ‘Bell’ and found the following:-

⦁ James, son of John and Sarah Billinghurst, baptized 10 Sept 1843, buried 29 Sept 1843.
⦁ Josiah, son of John and Sarah Bell, baptized 19 Feb 1845.
⦁ Henry William, son of John and Sarah Billinghurst, baptized 30 Apr 1847
⦁ Frances, daughter of John and Sarah Billinghurst, baptized 9 Mar 1851.
⦁ Alfred, son of John and Sarah Billinghurst, baptized 19 February 1854, buried 7 February 1864.
I could not find baptism entries for Thomas and Alexander Billinghurst or Bell as sons of John and Sarah.

I then searched for a marriage of a John Bell or Billinghurst who married Sarah ‘Unknown’ before the 1843 baptism, of the first known child, of this couple.
I found a marriage of a John Billinghurst (a widower) to Sarah Marshall on 13 November 1842 at Holy Trinity, Maidstone.

I then found a John Billinghurst married Eliza Miller on 17 August 1823 at All Saints, Maidstone.

A search of the Mereworth Parish Registers for children of this couple found the following:-.
⦁ Elizabeth Bell born 1824
⦁ John Billinghurst, born 1826
⦁ George Josiah Billinghurst, born 1828
⦁ Sarah Ann Billinghurst, born 1830
⦁ Eliza Billinghurst, born 1833
⦁ Thomas Billinghurst, born 1835
⦁ Alexander Billinghurst, born 1839.
I was then able to find John and Eliza ‘Bell’ and their children in the 1841 Census at Mereworth.

Living next door was the Marshall family with a daughter named Sarah, who is most likely to be the Sarah Marshall who married John Billinghurst in 1842, after Eliza Billinghurst died and was buried at Mereworth on 14 November 1841.

Sarah Billinghurst died at Aylesford and was buried at Mereworth on 17 October 1856 aged 43 years. John Billinghurst died and was buried at Mereworth on 1 July 1860.
This explains why I was not able to locate the family of John and Sarah Billinghurst or Bell in the 1861 Census.

As often happens in family history research, we answer one question but bring to light more puzzles and questions. Why were the names ‘Bell’ and ‘Billinghurst’ so interchangeable in this family?

A Voyage with a Ship “Lamp Trimmer”

In a former blog, I wrote about the occupation of the “Lamp Trimmer”. Just what did he do and what was life like for him on a ship?

The following is an extract from the book “The Log of a Sea-Waif; being recollections of the first four years of my sea life”, by Frank Thomas Bullen (1857-1915) published by Smith, Elder & Company, London, 1899. (Available on-line[i])

This extract is in reference to a voyage of the coastal steamer the “Helen McGregor”. This ship was built in 1866 and was lost while attempting to cross out over the Clarence River bar in very heavy seas on 12 March 1875. Her Master was Captain A Turner. The below extract is believed to have taken place in the early 1870’s.

” I was overjoyed to get a berth, without anybody’s assistance, as a lamp trimmer on board a pretty little steamer, called the “Helen McGregor”, that ran regularly between Sydney and the town of Grafton on the Clarence River, called at Newcastle and sundry places on the river en route.

My lamp-room was a mere cupboard by the side of the funnel, on deck, and just abaft the galley. To do my work I had to kneel on, a hot iron plate in front of the said cupboard, exposed to whatever weather was going. But the cook had all my sympathies. In his tiny caboose, he had to prepare meals for seventy or eighty people, while all his pastry-making, butchering, etc (for we carried live sheep and fowls with us), must need to be done on deck. Now the vessel, though exceedingly pretty to look at in harbour, was utterly unfit to cope with the tremendous seas that sweep along the eastern shores of Australia. Somewhere, in one of Henry Kingsley’s books (The ‘Hillyars and the Burtons’, I think), he speaks of a little steamer climbing one of those gigantic seas like a bat clinging to a wall. That was a common experience of ours. Her motions were frightful. I have seen every soul on board sea-sick while she crawled up, up, up one mountainous wave after another, plunging down into the abysses between them as if she would really turn a complete summersault. Everybody was black and blue with being flung about, and the passengers, who had perforce to be battened down in the sweltering saloon, or the second cabin, suffered misery untellable.  Yet even that wretchedness had its ludicrous side.

To see our fierce little hunchback cook astride a half-skinned sheep, to which he held on with a death-like grip, his knife between his teeth and a demonical glare in his eye, careering fore and aft in a smother of foam, surrounded by the debris of preparing dinner, made even men half dead with fatigue and nausea laugh. But it was terrible work. As for me, I got no respite at all at night. For I had to keep the lamps burning; and she thought nothing of hurling both the big side lanterns out of their slides on the deck or shooting both binnacle-lights at once into the air, leaving the helmsman staring at a black disc instead of the illuminated compass-card. And often, as I painfully made my way forward with the side-lights after a long struggle with wetted wicks and broken glass, she would plunge her bows under a huge comber, lifting a massive flood overall, which seize me in its ruthless embrace and swept me, entangled with my burden, the whole length of the deck, till I brought up against the second-cabin door right aft, with a bang that knocked the scanty remnant of breath out of my trembling body. Down in the engine-room, the grey-headed chief-engineer stood by the grunting machinery, his hand on the throttle-valve, which he incessantly manipulated to prevent the propeller racing the engines out of their seats whenever she lifted her stern out of the water and the screw revolved in thin air. For the old-fashioned low-pressure engines had no ‘governor’, and consequently, no automatic means of relieving the terrific strain thrown upon them in such weather as this. And the firemen, who had to keep steam up, though they were hurled to and fro over the plates like toys, were probably in the most evil case of all.

binnacle

She must have been staunchly built, for she bore the fearful buffeting without any damage worth speaking of, except to the unfortunates who were compelled to attend to their duties under such difficulties. And after the gale blew itself out, and the glorious sun mounted triumphantly in the deep blue dome above, the scene was splendid beyond description. We always kept fairly close in with the land, except when crossing a deep bight, and the views we obtained of the magnificent scenery along that wonderful coast were worth enduring a good deal of hardship to witness. We arrived off the entrance to the Clarence River just at dark, and to my great astonishment, instead of going in, the sail was set, the fires were damped down, and we stood ‘off-and-on’ until the daylight. As soon as there was sufficient light to distinguish objects on shore, we stood in; all passengers were ordered below and everything was battered down. All hands perched themselves as high as they could on the bridge, upper deck, and in the rigging, while we made straight for the bar. These precautions had filled me with wonders, for I knew nothing of bar-harbours. But when, on our nearer approach, I saw the mighty turbulent breakers rolling in mountains of snowy foam across the river’s mouth, I began to understand that the passage through that would mean considerable danger. Every ounce of steam we could raise was on her, and the skipper, a splendid specimen of a British seaman, stood on the bridge, the very picture of vigorous vigilance. We entered the first line of breakers, all around us seethed the turmoil of snowy foam, with not a mark of any kind to show the channel, except such bearings as the skipper knew of on the distant shore. Perched upon the rail, a leadsman sounded as rapidly as he could, calling out such depths of water as amazed me, knowing our draught. Along came an enormous wall of white water, overwhelming the hull and hiding it from sight. “Lead-quick”! Yelled the skipper above the thunder of the sea; and Joe screamed: “Two, halt one, a quarter less two.” Ahh! A long and grinding concussion as she tore up the ground, then along came to another mighty comber overall. When it had passed we were over the bar and in smooth water, only the yeasty flakes of the spent breakers following us as if disappointed of their prey. A very few minutes sufficed to dry up the decks, and the passengers appeared well pleased to be in the placid waters of the river and at peace once more.

huge-anchor-light

What a lovely scene it was! At times we sped along close to the bank, while a great stretch of the river extended on the other side of us a mile wide, but too shallow for even our light draught. On gleaming sand-patches, flocks of pelicans performed their unwieldy gambols, and shoals of fish reflected the sunlight from their myriad glittering scales. Turning a sharp bend we would disturb a flock of black swans that rose with a deafening clamour in such immense numbers as to darken the sky overhead like a thunder-cloud. And about the bushes that clothed the banks, flew parrots, cockatoos, and magpies in such hosts as I had never dreamed of. For an hour we saw no sign of inhabitants; then, suddenly, we sighted a little village with a rude jetty and about half a dozen houses. All the population, I suppose, stood on the pier to greet us, who came bearing to them in their lonely corner a bit of the great outside world. Our skipper, though noted for his seamanship, was equally notorious for his clumsiness in bringing his vessel alongside a wharf, and we came into the somewhat crazy structure with a crash that sent the shore-folk scurrying off into safety until it was seen to be still intact. We were soon fast, and all hands working as Chinamen to land the few packages of goods, for we had a long way to go yet and several places to call at. Our discharging was soon over, the warps cast off, and followed by (as I thought) the wistful looks of the little community of Rocky Mouth, we proceeded up the river again.

Occasionally we sighted a homestead standing among a thick plantation of banana trees, each laden with its massive bunch of fruit, and broad area of sugar-cane or maize. From amongst the latter as we passed rose perfect clouds of cockatoos and parrots, screaming discordantly, and making even the dullest observer think the heavy toll they were levied upon the toiling farmer. Again we stopped at villages, each bearing a family likeness to the first, but all thriving and inhabited by well-fed sturdy people. Just before sunset we arrived at Grafton, having passed but two vessels on our journey up – one a handsome Brigatine, whose crew were laboriously towing her along at a snail’s pace in a solitary boat, and the other a flat-bottomed, stern-wheel steamer of so light a draught that she looked capable of crossing a meadow in a heavy dew. There was a substantial jetty built out from the steep bank to the end of which, after considerable fumbling about, we moored. The only house visible was a rather fine dwelling whose front verandah overlooked the jetty from the top of the bank. I was surprised to find quite a considerable town, with well laid out streets and every appearance. There was little inducement to remain, however, and I soon hurried on board again to enjoy some grand fishing over the side.

Here we remained for a week discharging our cargo and reloading with maize, cases of preserved beef and mutton, and bags of tin ore. Just before sailing, we received a good deal of farm produce, including several hundred bunches of bananas, for which there was always a good demand in Sydney. In order not to miss a tide we sailed sometime one morning before daylight, and when about twenty miles down the river, ran into the region of a bush fire. As we had to hug the bank rather closely just there, we had an anxious time if it, the great shower of sparks and sheets of flame reaching out towards us as if determined to claim us, too, among their victims.

The sight was terribly grand; the blood-red sky overhead and the glowing river beneath making it appear as if we were between two furnaces, while the deep terrific roar of the furious fire so near drowned every other sound. All hands were kept alert dowsing sparks that settled on board of us, and right glad was everybody when we emerged into the cool and smoke-free air beyond. After that, we had a most hum-drum passage all the way to Sydney…”[ii]

[i] The Grafton Argus, (Grafton) 8 January 1900, Trove, National Library of Australia website https://trove.nla.gov.au .Accessed 22 January 2018

ii   Bullen, Frank Thomas. The log of a sea-waif: being recollections of the first four years of my sea life. Smith, Elder & Co., 1899. Nineteenth Century Collections Online, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/5osDe9. Accessed 21 Jan. 2018. Gale Document Number: GALE|BJPYVT144389105

Pictures from Google Images http://www.thepirateslair.com/10-21-huge-anchor-light.html retrieved 22 January 2018