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4:53pm on Sunday, 30th April, 2017:
I found a pretty good description of one of my Victorian ancestors, Edward Cook, who was my paternal grandfather's maternal grandfather. He was 5 feet 5 ½ inches tall with dark brown hair, brown eyes, an oval face and a fresh complexion. He had a scar on the left side of his forehead, another scar on his knuckles, a third scar on his right knee, and had lost all his upper front teeth by the age of 40.
I know this because he spent regular monthly spells doing hard labour in Gloucester Gaol, always for the same two offences. The first offence was neglecting his wife and family.
From the Gloucester Journal, 23rd January 1875:
Edward Cooke was warned to appear for drunkenness and neglecting his wife and six children. On his consenting to allow his wife and children 12s. a week the case was adjourned for a month. It was stated that the man's earnings were about 25s. a week; that his wife paid the rent - 5s. a week, towards which she received 2s. 6d. a week from a lodger, that two of her children went to school, and that she herself went out nursing to help keep the others.
The second offence was not doing what he promised the court he'd do.
From the Gloucester Journal, 6th February 1875:
Edward Cooke, a labourer, was charged with deserting his wife and six children, and leaving them chargeable to the Union. Some three weeks ago, on being brought before the Bench, he undertook to allow them 12s. a week, none of the children being able to work. Since then he had never paid her anything. The case was adjourned for a fortnight in order that defendant might have an opportunity of paying full amount, in default of which he will be committed.
He kept this up with a relentlessness that caused his wife (my grandfather's grandmother) to became destitute. She had to appeal to the Gloucester Union workhouse, for which her husband was deemed liable. This newspaper article from a couple of years later explains what kept happening:
From the Gloucester Citizen, 14th November 1877:
NEGLECTING TO SUPPORT A FAMILY
Edward Cooke, labourer, of Sudbrook, was charged with neglecting to support his wife and six children and leaving them chargeable to the Union. Mr Thurston deposed that the wife and children of the defendant were at present chargeable to the Union. The defendant had been guilty of systematic neglect, and his wife had constantly come to the Union for relief. Defendant worked at the corn stores at the Docks. He had already had one month's imprisonment. All the money that he got he spent in drink. The wife in reply to the Bench said her husband earned good wages, but seldom brought any money home. He could not get so far as that, owing to the public houses between his work and his home. She was quite destitute before applying for relief. One month's imprisonment with hard labour.
This seems to have come to a head some four years after the first offence:
From the Gloucester Journal, 24th May 1879:
Edward Cooke was charged with leaving his wife and five children chargeable to the Gloucester Union since June last. It appeared that at that time defendant left Gloucester. In November he was proceeded against and ordered to pay, but absconded. He had recently been apprehended at Sharpness, where he was employed as a corn-weigher. Defendant, whose arm was in a sling, said he broke it a fortnight ago. He denied that during the year he had earned enough money to keep himself. It was stated that defendant owed the Union £60 18s. 6d., and had never made any enquiry about his family. The Bench considered it a bad case and sentenced the defendant to two months' hard labour.
The most telling extent of the neglect is the fact that the number of children he had dropped from six in 1877 to five in 1879. Fortunately, one of these was my grandfather's mother. No wonder she misreported his name (she said it was William Cooke) on her wedding certificate.
It's a little dispiriting that some of the best information I have about one of my long-dead ancestors was only recorded because he neglected two of my other long-dead ancestors.
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