Category Archives: Newspapers

I sincerely hope to see them all in court!

Court records can provide a level of detail not found elsewhere.

The website for the proceedings of the Old Bailey offers full transcriptions of all cases held at the Central Criminal Court from 1674-1913. Statements are recorded verbatim, so it allows us to see the words spoken by witnesses, prosecutors and defendants alike.

Take the case of Joseph Catling Gibbons, aged 52, who was tried for bigamy on 20th October 1890. He was being prosecuted by the wife of his bigamous marriage, who said:

I became acquainted with the prisoner two years ago, and went out with him for five Sundays—some information then came to me, and I wrote him a letter breaking off the acquaintance, and ceased to keep company with him about Christmas, 1888 about September, 1889, I met him and asked him if he knew me—he said, “What! after the letter you wrote to me?”—I said, “I wrote that in a temper; are you a married man?”—he said, “I have no time to speak to you now”—I said I would see him the next night—I met him the next evening, and he said, “I hope I may be struck dead if I am not a single man”—I then walked out with him till we were married on 8th July in the registry at Whitechapel—I lived with him six weeks at my mother’s house up to a fortnight ago; I was then told something, and went and saw his wife—that is her (pointing) I gave him in charge the same evening.

One of the witnesses was Rose S Hales, Joseph’s daughter. She told the court:

…the prisoner is my father, and the lady who has been produced is his wife—they have been parted for sixteen year—he allowed her 2s. a week up to Christmas last—she lives in the same house with me—my father called there about four months ago, and saw my mother and me; I cannot give the date accurately—he came to see his son’s baby, which was three days old—it was born four months ago—my mother was in good health at the time.

She later said:

you allowed her 2s. a week for ten weeks in the year, when you were at the Drury Lane pantomime—you were pantaloon there.

This kind of detail is rarely found in family papers, and cannot be deduced from census entries alone. It gives a clear insight into the dramas of this family (no pun intended).

Joseph Catling Gibbon’s defence was:

I left my wife eighteen years ago owing to her misconduct; she has lived with three different men, and has had several children, and I thought she was dead.

Rose Hales further stated that:

her mother had two children by another man, one of which was seven and the other two years old.

Joseph Catling Gibbons was an actor throughout his life. He used the stage name Tully Louis. There is a newspaper report in the Pall Mall Gazette on the 28 October 1890, found using the British Newspaper Archive at findmypast, which refers to his court case for bigamy under his stage name, confirming that they are one and the same. Tully Louis was a well-known pantomimist and comic actor of his time.

He perhaps wasn’t as much the injured party as he suggested at the Old Bailey. He married his first wife in 1860. By the 1871 census she was living with their two daughters and described herself as a ‘widow’. Joseph appears to have been missed off (or mistranscribed) in this census. In 1881, however, he records himself under his stage name, Tully Louis, and was living with Charlotte Louis and their 3 children, Eugene, Nellie and Josephine. There is no evidence of him having married Charlotte.

Six months after the hearing at the Old Bailey, the 1891 census was taken. Joseph was recorded under the name ‘Joseph Catling’ and lived with 6 children all with the Catling surname (including Eugene, Nellie and Josephine). His youngest son was 3 years old, so he must have been born shortly before Joseph began courting the unsuspecting Caroline Wooton in 1888. It seems that Caroline was ignorant of his first wife, so it seems likely she was also unaware of his 6 children and relationship with Charlotte.

Here’s proof of the tantalising glimpses court records can give into the lives of your ancestors. A criminal in your past can be of great use in providing new insights into your family history.

The miserly butcher!

Mr John Taylor of Great Dunmow, Essex, butcher, recently deceased, by his industry and economy had accumulated a considerable property, the knowledge of which he was desirous of keeping from the world; and, to gratify such a propensity, he secured his money in various parts of his apparel, where some of it has lain in a state of idleness for 80 years and upwards. A few days only previous to his death, Mr Taylor, at the earnest solicitation of his friends, made a will, but even then he did not disclose the whole of his property, which already proves to amount to several thousand pounds.

Bury and Ipswich Post, Wednesday 13 April 1825

Telling tales

I read an article in the New York Times this week about how important it is to children to hear their family stories.

Psychological studies have shown that children are more confident if they know about their family’s background and have heard stories of hardship and success from their older relatives.

Once you start to learn about your family history, it can become very addictive. In fact, even if it’s not your own family, the stories of people of the past are a fascination to us all.

The article suggests that from a psychological point of view, the stories are an important element of feeling part of a community and allow the continutation of traditions. These allow us to feel secure in our current situation, whether that be a positive or negative state.

Certainly, if Who Do You Think You Are? is anything to go by, by learning about your own family story, you can improve your understanding of yourself. At the very least by knowing about your family’s past, you will understand certain behaviours or traditions that have been formed in your own family’s culture.

The stories that bind us was published by the New York Times on 15 March 2013.


I read this interesting snippet this week.

SIR, — In this town there is an innkeeper who rejoices in the baptismal name of “Mahershalalhashbaz” (see Isaiah 8,i). I should think this is unique. He is commonly called “Maher,” but in the parochial and other lists the full name appears.

Report says (but I will not vouch for its truth) that his father wished him to be named “Uz,” but on the clergyman remonstrating he immediately said “Then we will have the other,” and produced from his pocket a slip of paper with the longer name.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
W. E.
Dereham, Norfolk, April 8.

The Standard
(London), April 11, 1892

Snippet from British Baby Names

The man in question was Maher Tuck, who I located in the 1871 census in Dereham. He died the year after this letter was written, aged 54.

In fact the letterwriter was incorrect in his assumption that Maher Tuck’s first name was unique, as although it was a rare name, there were other Mahershalalhashbazes living at that time. The name originates in the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament and is said to be the longest name in the bible.

More than most, it’s a name that required shortening, and other nicknames included Marc, Marshall and Baz.

The Brazilian acrobat

I’ve been helping a friend find out more about his circus ancestor this week. Manoel Antonio Dutocq we knew was an acrobat and a slack wire walker from Brazil. He married a woman from Cardiff and they had their children in London.

Finding his stage name was the key to the research. He performed as Don Jose Manoel and was known as the ‘Celebrated Brazilian Equilibrist’. The Victorian newspapers are full of reports of where he performed with Hengler’s Grand Circus. It seems they toured the UK and Paris in the 1860s and into the 1870s.

The Liverpool Mercury describes his act:

‘The skill displayed by Don Jose Manoel “the Brazilian Equilibrist”, is both surprising and gratifying. Two of his feats – the whole of which are performed whilst he stands upon a slack wire suspended between two poles – are especially worthy of notice. First, he places a glass of porter on a hoop and twirls it around his head and in all sorts of positions without spilling a drop of the liquid. Next he balances a sword upon the edge of a drinking glass, the latter resting upon a pipe inserted in his mouth. At the top of the revolving sword whirls a large-sized bowl filled with fireworks, which explode after the vessel has made two or three resolutions, enveloping the artiste in a shower of fire.’

Liverpool Mercury, 26 December 1864

He died in 1881, aged just 45, at the London Chest Hospital, probably of tuberculosis. Despite performing until he was in his mid-thirties, there are no reports of his death in the newspapers.