Moreover, my ancestors' souls are sustained by the atmosphere of the house, since I answer for them the questions that their lives once left behind. I carve out rough answers as best I can. I have even drawn them on the walls. It is as if a silent, greater family, stretching down the centuries, were peopling the house.

Carl Jung (1875 - 1961)

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Wedding Wednesday – Why did he marry her, and why didn’t it last? Musings on Bigamy, co-habitation and the four-month marriage of Maria McArthur and Mark Jarvis in Victorian London

My 2 x great Grandfather Mark Jarvis (1816 - 1875) married four times – not all that uncommon in a time when wives could die at a relatively young age. Leaving aside possibilities like romantic love and attraction, and home comforts as in having a sexual partner – Mark Jarvis needed to provide a home and some stability for four young children when his first wife, Ruth Jarvis nee Ellis, died in 1851 of Phthisis (Tuberculosis).
Eldest child Ruth was 13 and could have been expected to shoulder some of the responsibility, but there was George, 11, Frances at 9 and Eugenie who was 6. Mark’s elder sister Phillis Robinson who lived in the Stepney area of London too, would have been occupied in caring for her own four youngest children; Mark’s parents were already looking after two of his brother Henry’s children after the death of their mother; brother Charles was living in Kent, brother Jonathon was newly married and his relationship with his brother George may have been slightly strained since the latter had converted to the Mormon Church (this information from the family history of George and his wife Ann).
Everyone was poor – Mark worked as a labourer and a carman;  when he could, was an ‘engineer’ – an engine operator or ‘driver’. He and his family moved around quite a bit from his numerous addresses on marriage records as a witness and on censuses, obviously renting in the cheaper areas of Whitechapel and Tower Hamlets. The only other recourse may have been surrendering the children to an orphanage – but re-marriage could keep a family together.

Five months after Ruth died in 1851, Mark married Elizabeth McQuarrie nee Search, a widow some six years older than himself who was living with her unmarried adult daughter.
A need to have care for his children – he did have three daughters which may have weighed with him - and to share expenses makes sense here, as well as a friendship or any romantic association there may have been.

It’s hard to work out when they split up, but they must have been living apart by November of 1860, because although Elizabeth was not deceased,  Mark gave his marital status as ‘widower’ and married again, this time to Maria McArthur. Maria said she was a widow, and maybe she thought she was: she had left her former husband John McArthur sometime after 1851 after being married for at least 7 years. Maria and John had no children, and they lived with his parents. The marriage obviously didn’t work.

Perhaps a clue comes from the rapidity with which Mark Jarvis marries yet again – after whatever happened to their relationship and/or to Maria – to Rosina Edwards. He was very interested – I would say intent – on marrying. Mark Jarvis and Rosina Edwards (supposedly a widow, but I believe that was an error in the recording because she marries under her maiden name and there is no record of a former marriage I can find) married at All Hallows, Barking, on the 31st March 1861. Mark must have been quite sure that Maria was not going to re-appear and dispute this new marriage, because it was only 4 months since he married her. I’ve spent a lot of time looking for Maria and not found her either legitimately deceased, in another census, incarcerated, married again or immigrated. I’ve traced all the Marias and Marys I can, and sent for the wrong death certificates – Maria Jarvis, nee McArthur, nee Fudge does not leave a paper-trail. There are other ‘Maria Fudges’ and from the same area in Sturminster Dorset too, but Mark’s 3rd wife disappears.

Whatever happened to Maria Jarvis? Apart from a wild possibility of murder-never-discovered, the marriage to Maria was either a ruse of some sort by either of them to gain an advantage – and I can’t imagine what – or they both had good intentions, but Maria got cold feet when Mark divulged his plans for the future.
Why was he so keen on marrying? I believe Mark had a hope that he would immigrate to Australia or New Zealand, and a way to do this and prosper was to be married to a hard-working woman. A couple could make a go of it, but a single man may struggle a bit, and would have less chance of marrying in the Colonies, since women were in the minority. His son George was a sailor, and had sailed to both New Zealand and Australia by 1860. It’s possible he sent word home that his father could make a life there. So he and Rosina immigrated, had four children, and eventually lost contact with family at home. There is a whole different story relating to his children by Rosina in New Zealand re-establishing links with their now very elderly aunt Phillis and also the family of their Uncle George and Aunt Ann who had immigrated to Utah – that deserves a series of blogs!

Bigamy seems to be accepted in the Jarvis family around that time. Mark’s daughters Eugenie and Ruth both had bigamous marriages – Eugenie two of them plus a defacto husband for 12 years – and I have other London based family who also walked away from unsatisfactory marriages. Maria Jarvis, nee McArthur, nee Fudge was definitely not a widow when she married Mark. Poor abandoned John McArthur, a wax-work maker in Kingston Upon Hull, Yorkshire eventually lived with another lady and had children, but never married her. Victorians in the lower and working classes may have had many griefs and economic pressures, but they had hope for the future, and valued companionship and interdependence. It seems to have been the relationship which counted, and they were prepared to chance prosecution and social or family censure to live as a couple.



No comments:

Post a Comment