Life of a Soldiers Wife
In the course of family history research, we often get dead ends, when we just can’t identify our ancestor. This is more common with female ancestors when we may just have a first name to work with.
This is the case with my ancestor ‘Eleanor’.
When I first discovered the parents of my 4x gt Grandmother Dinah Dawson, were William and Eleanor Dawson, I was pleased, thinking that Eleanor would be a reasonably easy name to research. But the course of family history never runs smoothly.
Research into the various members of this family, has been made more difficult by the various members, at different times, in different places, being sometimes entered as Dawson and at others as Dowson.
This maybe due to variations in accents. Perhaps a Suffolk accent in London, or a Kent accent in Suffolk.
Dinah was the wife of Henry Frost, they married in 1850 in Ipswich, but by 1861, they were living at St Mary Abbotts, Kensington, a very poor area of Notting Dale, where other family ancestors were also living.
(She was well documented, appearing in every census 1841 -1901).
The next step was to check the Stradbroke baptism records which gave her baptism date as 3rd April 1831, along with her sisters, Caroline 9th April 1826, and Frances 29 June 1828, and brothers Edgar, 19 January 1834 and Edgar Brixton 15 November 1835. Their parents were William Dawson, workhouse master and wife Eleanor.
It was reasonably easy to check back into William’s ancestry, and that his family came from Stradbroke, where he was baptised in 1787. I have not chased this any further back at the moment, but it appears that this Dawson family were fairly well established in the Stradbroke area. Further researches revealed that William had been a professional soldier, and he had fought at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
So then we checked the 1841 census, to discover that Fanny aged 13, Edmund aged 11 (for some time I have assumed this to be a mistake and that it is Edgar, but the age is wrong) and Dinah aged 9, were in the Hoxne Union Workhouse. Caroline was working locally as a female servant, in the house of 78 year old Mary Garrod.
At that point we were unsure whether this was because their father was the master, or if they were orphans. It appeared they were orphans, as there was no mention of their parents.
For years I thought that the workhouse enumerator had mistakenly included Edgar as Edmund, and given him the wrong age. But a recent search has revealed an interesting connection.
In the household of a Louisa Musk aged ’30’ an Agricultural labourers widow, (living in Stradbroke, but not born in Suffolk), and her children, (who have common family names, Eleanor, William, Frederick, Edmund, Caroline and Elizabeth), was Edgar Dowson (Dawson) aged five.
Further searches, revealed that Louisa’s maiden name was Dawson, and that she married her husband Edmund Musk, 7 April 1829. There is a reference to an Edmund Musk being transported to Van Diemens Land (Tasmania), for seven years in 1832 for larceny. But it appears there was also another Edmund Musk in Suffolk at this time, and unlikely that Louisas husband was transported. Was Louisa another daughter of William and Eleanor?
NB Edmund Musks death was recorded in Suffolk, in June qtr. 1841, and Louisa remarried in 1842, to George Burleigh/ Burley/ Barley. She had a further six children. (Anna, Fanny, George, Shadrach, Harry and Albert ).
William Dawson had died by 1841. A search for William’s death showed he died in Stradbroke, late 1837. This was a fortunate date as a researcher, as it meant he had a death certificate. (National registration began earlier in the year).
I applied for his death certificate which showed, he had died in Stradbroke on 8th August 1837 aged 50, his occupation was given as Soldier Pensioner. I was surprised that this was the occupation given, as he would probably be better known as the workhouse master in Stradbroke.
But where and who was Eleanor, there was apparently no record of her death, or a remarriage.
If William had been a soldier, it meant he could have married anywhere in the country, or even the world for that matter. Searches were not bringing up any suitable marriages in Britain. There was one couple with the same names in the north of England, but they were obviously not the right couple, by occupation, their children and death dates.
Even though I imagined Eleanor would be an easy name to research, she could also have been entered in the records as, – Ellen, Eleanora, Helen, Helena, or Nellie. Even Dawson, was occasionally entered as Dowson, to further complicate searches.
Wildcard searches, eventually bought up the births of three more children, two of them in London, but much earlier, Caroline, James, and Frederick. Caroline was baptised in Stradbroke as ‘Dowson’ on 25th April 1813. James was baptised at Marylebone on 5th June 1815 to William Dawson (a soldier) and Eleanor. Frederick was baptised at St Margaret Westminster on 13th January 1817, born on 10th December 1816, they were living at New Peter Street, with William described as Private in the 1st Guards.
William Dawson was discharged from the army in 1825, (another daughter, Caroline was born the following year in Stradbroke), and presumably soon after this he would have taken up the post of workhouse master at Stradbroke. It seems this was a common occupation for ex military men.
Presumably the settled life, led to the birth of their further six children.
Discharge date 2nd June, aged 38 years. He had served 19 years and 5 months in total with the First Foot Guards, now, Grenadier Guards. (He must have signed up in 1805/6), (5 yrs 1 month as a Sergeant: 9 years 4 months as a Corporal and 5 years 1 month as a Private) These figures were used to calculate his pension. He had to retire due to ‘the diseased state of his ankle, and had previously been a labourer. Home village Stradbroke Suffolk. (5’8″ grey eyes, fair complexion, although this is difficult to read).
Whilst the information is available for William Dawson, the same cannot be said for his wife, the only information we have to date is as his wife, when children are baptised.
Two children were baptised with the name Edgar. The first, in January 1834, and in November 1835, another, Edgar Brixton. We have to assume that the first Edgar died, but no record for that has been found. Records exist online for an Edgar ‘Britton’ Dawson, army discharge in 1879, so he appears to have followed in his fathers footsteps. I have been unable to follow this link as yet.
Could Brixton hold the clue. It seems to be a common occurrence following the death of one child, to give another the same name, and add the mothers maiden name. However searching for Eleanor Brixton, bought up no matches. I wondered if the second Edgar had been born in Brixton, but again no results. I had to leave research at that for a while. Then several years later, new information came online. I did a simple search again for a marriage of William Dawson to Eleanor, and hey presto, a result.
A record appeared for the marriage of William Dawson to Eleanor Briton on 18th September 1810, at St John the Evangelist, Smith Square Westminster. Witnesses appear to be Richard Letton and Elizabeth Briton. Lucky to have survived, the record looks as though it has been in a serious fire.
The surname of Eleanor, may not be ‘Brixton’, but it is not far off, and perhaps the vicar of Stradbroke Church misheard, when baptising Edgar. The date would fit the birth of the older children. I haven’t found any children born between 1810 and 1813, but perhaps William was involved in army activities at this time. However, there is a Louisa ‘Musk’ /Dawson, born 1811, according to the 1841 census. (As William and Eleanor Dawson had two daughters named Caroline, the possibility that the older Caroline baptised 1813 (no further references discovered), was actually the Louisa Dawson – Musk, (who has no birth/ baptism reference).
A search for the birth of a suitable ‘Eleanor Briton’, reveals just one, although this search was done using only online records.
Eleanor Briton, born 6th and baptised 23rd December 1791 to William and Jane at St Mary Magdalene, Woolwich, Kent.
Presumed children and descendants of William Dawson – Eleanor Briton.
Louisa c1811(married Edmund Musk 1829, then George Burleigh 1842). At least 12 children. (Entered in 1841,51,61,71,81 census’).
Edgar Brixton 1835
This is where the story will have to end for now, but hopefully as new information becomes available, we can take it further.
Update December 2021
As three children of William and Eleanor Dawson were living in Hoxne workhouse in 1841, it was presumed that both parents were dead. William certainly was as we have his death certificate.
But extensive searches of the census entries has bought up some interesting findings.
In 1841, we find an Eleanor Dawson working as a nurse at Bosmere and Claydon Union Workhouse, (Barham). This is a different workhouse to Stradbroke, (Barley Green), but reasonably close. Her age is given as 45, and stated, she was not born in Suffolk.
This may answer a number of questions, including why no death or burial entry has come to light, but it poses more.
- Why was she living/ working in a different workhouse, to where her children were.
- Why wasn’t she with her family.
- How long had she been a nurse.
- Was she as much involved as William had been, in running the workhouse, when he was workhouse master.
- Which workhouse had he actually been master of.
I then tried to follow Eleanor’s life, post 1841. Perhaps she had remarried, but where, when and to whom? Again, finding an entry for her in 1851, or suitable death/ burial, bought up nothing, until I tried ‘wildcard’ searches for ‘Eleanor born 1791 +/-5 years at Woolwich, Kent’.
Amazingly an entry, mistranscribed as ‘Danson’, appeared.
Working in the Workhouse at Barham Suffolk, as a nurse, was Eleanor Dawson aged 59. She was widowed and born in Woolwich Kent. This seemed to be too much of a coincidence.
A wide search of the 1861 census gives these details – at 4 Stream Mill Place, Ipswich in the house of Aaron Ribbons and family, was Eleanor Dawson aged 76, a lodger born in Woolwich Kent. Aaron Ribbons was a beer House keeper.
- Birth in Woolwich may point to her father being a mariner of some kind (looking in to this possibility). She appears to have had at least two sisters. Elizabeth – witness at her marriage and Mary.
- William Dawson appears to have become a soldier c1805, in which case, Eleanor married into the military life in 1810.
- William and Eleanor had a large family over 25 years, but perhaps Eleanor was actually a ‘career’ woman. On the other hand, following the death of her husband, perhaps poverty forced her to give her family up to the workhouse system, so that she could work to support them.
- Did she continue to receive a pension from Williams army service following Williams death?
The Final Chapter
Update May 2023
I have a copy of the Burials for Suffolk, from Suffolk Family History Society but searching the burial entries, found there was nothing for the death of Eleanor Dawson, which seemed odd, considering she seemed to have been working and living in various locations and workhouses in the county. The last reference to her was in 1861 in Ipswich After that there were no more census entries. It would seem most likely she would have died, given her age.
As a last resort I did a country search for her death, between 1861 and 1871, suddenly a death in Kensington appeared, of Eleanor Dawson in 1870, aged 80. This is where the Frost family from Ipswich had settled.
I applied for the certificate, and it couldn’t have been any better as a proof of the fact we had the right person.
On 7th June 1870, Eleanor Dawson aged 80 (born c1790), died at 24 Dartmoor Street Kensington. She was the wife of William Dawson a soldier, and died from ‘decay of nature’. Present at the death was Dinah Frost, of 33 Dartmoor Street, her daughter, and my direct ancestor.
And so, after many years of searching, and what at times has seemed like a wild goose chase, the final piece of the puzzle, pulls all the information we had together, to confirm my ancestor Eleanor – Briton – Dawson.
Line of descent
- CWH married MDS
- Winifred Tranter married Charles Harvey
- Florence Frost married Frederick Tranter
- Harry Frost married Caroline Lovell
- Thomas ‘Henry’ Frost married Dinah Dawson
- William Dawson married Eleanor Briton
- William Briton married Jane (Innocent?)