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)

Friday, 4 July 2014

That Jarvis family - whatever happened to Ruth Elizabeth Jarvis' children?

Just this last week I was surprised by new information on my Jarvis family. Once Mark Jarvis (I wrote about his marriages in a previous blog post) arrived in New Zealand, his life appears to be more straightforward. But his children left behind continued to lead complex, restless lives. I haven't yet posted on Eugenie Jarvis (1845 -1902) who had a series of relationships with husbands, and de facto partners to rival her fathers' but I was unaware that her elder sister Ruth Elizabeth Jarvis had three children by James Holliday, a hawker in cutlery. 
For some time what Ruth was doing when the 1861 census came around was a mystery to me. I knew she had married James Burtinshaw when she was about 30. James was a fisherman from Sussex, who worked out of Cornwall and Devon and they married on the 24th August 1868 at St Andrew's church Plymouth. She stated that she was a spinster and lists her address as the Devon & Cornwall Hospital, Princess Place.

I have made some attempts to find out more from the British Archives on this Hospital, but little exists on the nursing staff from that time. It appears, in the light of her claims on the 1901 census (where she is a 'night nurse' at the 'lunatic asylum') and in 1911 as a 'District Nurse - not working' - that she had begun her training as a nurse or a nursing assistant  there. I'll write more on what happened to Ruth after her marriage to James Burtenshaw broke down, and she moved on yet again, this time to Wales.

In an effort to fill in that missing 1861 census year I searched under her first name only, and found a Ruth, born 1836 (2 years out) in Harlow, and apparently the wife of a James Holliday and the mother of 2 children, Ellen Holliday (4) and Alice Holliday (1). Because Ruth listed no children born to her on the 1911 census, and had no children with her in any other census, I gained the impression that she was living with James and his own birth children - probably temporarily as a 'de facto' partner. James is listed as married to a 'Mary' in the 1851 census. 

But when I sent for Alice's birth certificate last week I found that Alice was indeed Ruth's biological child, and that Ruth had at least 3 children by James Holiday beginning her relationship with him when she was only about 16 years old: Caroline Elizabeth Holliday (1855- 1857); Ellen Caroline Holliday (1857 - 1897) and Alice Holliday (1859 - ?). James was about 22 years older than Ruth......

There are a number of trees on Ancestry of the Holliday family which include Ruth, but no-one else has made a connection with the Jarvis family so far although I have been in touch with one tree owner connected with Ruth's daughter, Ellen who went on to marry and have children of her own. 

Life with James, a street Hawker, sounds as if it was hard. Hawkers, Peddlers, Costermongers - sometimes these terms were interchangeable but a Hawker seems to have been a street seller with a barrow or dray; at least some type of means to wheel or transport his (or her) wares. They typically called out what they had to sell and there is a lot of comment in newspapers of the time about noise and unruly behaviour by Hawkers.

Henry Mayhew, writing his exhaustive (and exhausting) volume on London Labour and the London Poor in  1861 calculated that a cutlery hawker would earn about 15/- weekly. Cutlery Hawker statistics.
Henry used few resources for his statistics and was apt to make some wild assumptions (not unknown even today in the field) so these weekly earnings could be a bit unreliable. In the Morning Post of Thursday, 2nd April 1857 we can find this report stating their living was precarious, but 'if they were prudent' it could be managed. Accounts vary from versions of  cheerful, devil-may-care descriptions of street life to appalling descriptions of the Whitechapel area where Ruth and her family lived.  
 "The best paid occupation appears to be prostitution, and it is a melancholy fact that a nest of bad houses in Angel Alley, supported chiefly by the farmers' men who bring the hay and straw to Whitechapel market twice a week, are the cleanest-looking dwellings in the district. The windows have tolerably neat green blinds, the doors have brass plates, and inside the houses there is comparative comfort, if not plenty. While the wretched virtuous population are starving in black holes, or creeping out in the hour of their wildest prosperity to purchase sixpennyworth of refuse meat from the stall opposite the greasy, sawdusty shambles, the inhabitants of this court of vice know little, at least for a few years, of want and suffering. If their ranks are thinned by death or disease, there are always fresh recruits coming forward; and must be while there are as many houseless women as men, and nothing but low threepenny lodging-houses, where little or no distinction is made between the sexes. I heard a child in the street - a boy about eight years of age - telling another boy what a man had given his mother as the price of her shame. The boys and girls here are men and women at ten or twelve years of age." Ragged London

The Welcome Library gives a pretty harrowing account of Thomas Street conditions, where Ruth, James and their little daughters were living in 1861, probably in rented rooms: Thomas St conditions.  Relief from the Poor Law Unions may have been hard to access, as James moved from place to place and the Unions sought out, and billed, the home parish of those in need. Local councils, small shop-owners and the general public seem to have found Hawkers a nuisance, but their wares were not only goods in demand but also the only means of earning a few pennies for many, including women and children.

Ruth Elizabeth Jarvis - like her father Mark - seems to be good at 'reinventing' herself. From her life as the eldest of four children and an ailing mother in 1851, she went on as the wife of a man 22 years older and the mother of three children in 1861, then the wife of a sailor in 1871, and onwards as a nurse, and the wife of a customs officer in 1881. 

But what happened to her relationship with James after 1861? Why did she leave  Ellen, possibly her only surviving child, in the care of others?To find out more, I need to first research Ellen Caroline Holliday: get her marriage certificate to Jacob Rodrigues, and try.... if at all possible, to find out what Ellen was doing in 1871 when she was 14. 

And where is lost Alice, the baby of the family in 1861?

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