Another discussion point in the life and times of James MAYBRICK is the belief that he may have fathered several illegitimate children with his “wife”, Sarah Ann ROBERTSON. The first well-known mention of this idea appears in Trevor Christie’s ‘Etched In Arsenic’, published in 1968.
However, this is not the first written reference.
Both references do not explicitly name Sarah Ann ROBERTSON, but they offer enough hints to confirm they are indeed one and the same.
We know Sarah Ann ROBERTSON was recorded working for ‘Dewdney’s Hair Jewellers’ on Fenchurch Street in the heart of the City of London in 1861, thanks to the census. James and Sarah could have been courting when this census was taken. James may have arrived in London in 1858, the summer of ‘The Great Stink’, but he cannot be traced in the England, Wales or Scotland census of 1861. Sarah was older than James by one year.
ON THE BIBLE
During Paul Feldman’s investigation into the Maybrick Diary in his book ‘Jack the Ripper: Final Chapter’ (1997), his team uncovered a bible belonging to Sarah Ann ROBERTSON. This is the first reference we have of Sarah Ann ROBERTSON being the wife of James MAYBRICK, and it comes as early as August 1865, when James inscribes her bible with a birthday message. Inscription below:
From my earlier research, I discovered Sarah Ann ROBERTSON was born Sarah Ann TAYLOR – on August 2nd 1837. I am confident this bible is genuine as the provenance via the Bills and Hartnett families stands up to scrutiny. Some have suggested Sarah could have written the inscription herself, but I believe I have more than adequate proof that the handwriting is James’s. For example, the way he writes the M initial is idiosyncratic.
NO RECORDED MARRIAGE
Sarah Ann ROBERTSON certainly appears to believe that she was a MAYBRICK by May 1866, when she signed her name as Sarah MAYBRICK as a witness to her mother’s second marriage. In the 1871 census, she is living with her mother. In the intervening ten years between 1861 and 1871, either James and Sarah Ann married legally (of which no record can be found in Britain) or agreed to a sham marriage. Another alternative is that Sarah Ann might have believed she was legally married, but the ceremony was not legitimate. I did lean towards this theory in my book.
IN TWO PLACES AT ONCE
Bizarrely, James was listed in both the English and Scottish censuses of 1871. This is because he travelled on the days the census was taken in each country. Sunday, April 2nd 1871, he was declared as living with his parents in Liverpool before boarding a ship to New York.
In the Scottish census, he is listed under parish as ‘Vessels’. This means he was on a ship. We can see the boat was ‘Cuba’ under ED. I have evidence that Cuba did indeed stop off at Glasgow on its way to New York. It arrived in the United States on April 14th, 1871. The passenger list also confirms James was on board that ship.
WHERE TO START?
Some evidence suggests that Sarah Ann ROBERTSON and James MAYBRICK re-kindled their romance after he married Florence CHANDLER in 1881. At what point, we cannot be sure, but it is quite possible that Sarah Ann was living in Liverpool at some point after 1881 up until when James died in 1889. I do not believe it is likely that any children were born in this period, as Sarah Ann would have been 44 years old in 1881. The average age for menopause in the Victorian era was around 40. It is not impossible, but unlikely.
I believe the first child was most likely born between May 1861 (after the census) and before August 1865 (the first reference we have of Sarah and James being married).
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT SARAH’S MOVEMENTS?
In the codicil of Thomas CONCONI’s will, which he dates October 24th 1866, he states, “…and bequeath all my household goods, furniture, plate, linen and china to my dear friends Sarah Ann MAYBRICK the wife of James MAYBRICK of Old Hall Street, Liverpool now residing at No. 55 Bromley Street, Commercial Road, London”.
We could interpret from the wording that Thomas CONCONI states that both James and Sarah Ann resided at 55 Bromley Street in October 1866, having previously resided in Liverpool. It would be far safer to assume that at least Sarah was living at 55 Bromley Street at the time of the codicil and that James was living in Liverpool.
We know Thomas himself only returned from sea in April 1866, before just a few short weeks later marrying Christiana CASE (nee ROBERTSON) in Mile End. His will and codicil were created later that same year.
CONCONI then went back into active service in 1868 aboard the Princess Charlotte. Three years later, in 1871, Thomas was back and living at 55 Bromley Street with his wife and Sarah Ann, who was still using the MAYBRICK name.
The naming of a servant is intriguing. This implies to me some element of wealth. I believe 55 Bromley Street was probably owned or rented by James MAYBRICK for Sarah and her family. Thomas’s salary from the navy, probably well-paid relative to his peers, would still be unlikely to put him in the wealth bracket that could afford a servant. Two years later, in 1873, we find Thomas on the electoral register still on Bromley Street, but now at number 9. Two years after that, he is in Sheerness in Kent.
WHERE WAS JAMES DURING THIS TIME?
In 1866, James had been associated with an address in London – 46 Lime Street, which was most likely a work address. We know he was also named as a guest at a wedding in Sunderland in August 1866, and he was referenced as being from London. This wedding interests me for other reasons, which I will post about another day.
In 1867 he was listed as living at his parent’s address in Gore’s Liverpool directory, with an office at 28 Chapel Street. Four years later, he was still at his parent’s address for the 1871 census. This leads me to believe that James and Sarah must have stopped living together in London around late 1866 / early 1867.
The codicil would corroborate this in Thomas CONCONI’s will. I suspect any parting must have been on cordial terms and that the upkeep of 55 Bromley Street softened the blow of him moving back to Liverpool without her. Perhaps there was an agreement that he would travel back to London regularly to see her.
By the early 1870s, we know James spent much more time in Liverpool. We find him on the Electoral Register in 1871 and 1872.
By the mid-late 1870s, he was splitting his time between Liverpool and the United States. Could Sarah Ann have moved up to Liverpool after the 1871 census? Could she have been living on Osborne Road in Tue Brook? There is a possibility James moved into Normanston in 1873. From 1873 to 1875, the electoral register showed only James’s business address. This means he was still in Liverpool, but we do not know where he was living.
We know by 1873, Thomas and Christiana CONCONI had moved to 9 Bromley Street. Is this because Sarah followed James to Liverpool? Did she potentially move into Normanston with James? Was 55 Bromley Street no longer going to be funded by James? Or was 1873 the year they actually separated?
WHAT WAS THE PROCESS WHEN CHILDREN DIED?
From July 1st 1837, every birth and death in England and Wales should have been recorded with the local registrar. It is worth noting that the local registrar need only be local to where the mother lived, not where the birth or death occurred. If any children were illegitimate or otherwise, their births and deaths must be registered similarly. However, it was not until January 1st 1875, that law made this mandatory. There is a belief that as much as 10% of all births and deaths may not have been recorded between 1837 – 1875.
Illegitimate children could be registered without the father’s name being recorded. In most cases, the child took on the mother’s maiden name. Sometimes, the father’s name was entirely made up to avoid any identification. Thomas CONCONI’s will gives a distinct impression that he at least believed Sarah and James were legally married.
Searching the genealogy records, we can only find two children listed for James MAYBRICK with the surname MAYBRICK. James Chandler and Evelyn Gladys were born to Florence, his legitimate wife.
If the children did exist, their births or deaths were not registered as MAYBRICK. Having painstakingly gone through systematically all births and deaths of MAYBRICKs in both London and Liverpool on the genealogy websites, I found no leads. This suggests that if there were children, they were not legally registered as MAYBRICKs. This means they may have been registered as ROBERTSONs if they were registered legally at all. If this were the case, it would confirm that Sarah Ann knew she was not legally married to James.
I found many promising leads that went nowhere. It was not until I found the existence of Dr George Hugginson WILSON that things began to make some kind of sense. I then focused my search on Liverpool-born ROBERTSONs with the maiden name ROBERTSON between 1873 to 1876. I also cross-referenced these births against deaths. I found a hit. Catherine Ann ROBERTSON.
Online genealogy records can only tell you so much. So, I ordered the birth and death certificates. In the meantime, whilst I waited, I hunted to see if I could find any scraps of other information which could be useful.
I found a burial record dated 28th September 1875 for Anfield Cemetery. The same cemetery where James MAYBRICK and his family are buried. It states that Catherine Ann ROBERTSON was around a year old when she died.
The address was given as 20 Cornwallis Street, Liverpool. Naturally, I looked up that address on both the census and electoral records. In 1871 John MACDUFF, a tailor, is living at that address with his wife. In 1881, the occupier is now a widowed woman called Elizabeth HUGHES – a midwife. If you have read my Normanston posts, you will know why that is interesting to me.
Searching the electoral register, I discovered Elizabeth HUGHES had been resident at that address since 1873.
At this point, I have a coincidence of a doctor in midwifery living at an address connected to James MAYBRICK and a midwife connected to an address of a deceased child called ROBERTSON. Could, by chance, these two things be connected?
BIRTH OF CATHERINE ANN ROBERTSON
Above is a curious record. The birthdate is 25th September 1874. There is no father’s name, and the person who is named as a witness happens to be Elizabeth HUGHES, the midwife and occupier of 20 Cornwallis Street. The birth took place in the house. The mother is named Mary Ellen ROBERTSON. Clearly, it does not say Sarah Ann.
DEATH OF CATHERINE ANN ROBERTSON
Okay. This is strange. Why has the mother’s name changed? She is now named Catherine Ellen ROBERTSON on this record. The child was not only born at 20 Corwallis Street, but they also died there. Now, this record references the mother as being a domestic servant. Elizabeth HUGHES happens to be present at both birth and death. The date of death is 27th September 1875. Her death was registered, and her burial took place on the same day – the 28th of September 1875. Was this usual practice?
Why was the child buried at Anfield Cemetary, some four miles away from Cornwallis Street? Coincidentally, the same cemetery James MAYBRICK was later buried at?
There are literally dozens of Mary ROBERTSONs and Catherine ROBERTSONs on the 1871 and 1881 censuses in Liverpool. It is possible one of the above records contains a mistake.
Since originally publishing this post, I came across some new information. A coincidence that is worth noting. Samuel John Berry CALDWELL was the surgeon who certified Catherine Ann ROBERTSON’s death.
In 1876, James MAYBRICK is recorded in Gore’s directory as living with his parents at 77 Mount Pleasant. According to the medical register of the year prior, Samuel CALDWELL just so happened to be a lodger at 76 Mount Pleasant. Well, isn’t that curious?
CONNECTING THE DOTS
I know I need more to prove this theory conclusively. From earlier research, I discovered that Dr George Hugginson WILSON was working at Liverpool Royal Infirmary. As there were several places in Liverpool that offered midwifery, how can I connect Elizabeth HUGHES to Dr George Huggginson WILSON? One potential avenue is to access the hospital staff files stored in the Liverpool archives. Did they know each or work together? Can I link Samuel CALDWELL to George WILSON? Well, they were both masons, for a start.
Until I am able to gather more conclusive evidence, I leave this post as an open question. Was Catherine Ann ROBERTSON the illegitimate child of Sarah Ann ROBERTSON and James MAYBRICK?
I would be as so bold as to suggest it is very possible.
JACK THE RIPPER: THREADS
Think you know Jack the Ripper? Think again.
In ‘Jack the Ripper: Threads’, Jay Hartley presents a compelling fictional exploration of the idea that the infamous serial killer was actually James Maybrick, a cotton merchant from Liverpool. Using a mix of fact and fiction, this historical crime thriller brings to life actual events and characters from the era in a way that will challenge everything you thought you knew about this unsolved case.
With gripping prose and meticulous attention to detail, Hartley paints a vivid picture of Maybrick’s life and his possible involvement in the gruesome murders that terrorised London’s Whitechapel district in 1888.
But the story doesn’t end there. Did one of Maybrick’s family members murder him in 1889, bringing an end to the Ripper’s reign of terror?
This debut novel will keep you on the edge of your seat as you follow the clues and try to piece together the truth behind one of history’s most baffling mysteries.
So if you’re ready to challenge your assumptions and dive into a world of intrigue and deception, ‘Jack the Ripper: Threads’ is the book for you.