A Sorry Tale of Love and Betrayal; 1880.

During my  perusals of various sites and old local newspapers I often come across some intriguing stories.

Such was the case a few weeks ago when I was mooching through the old Police Gazettes, a periodical which gives a fascinating and highly detailed insight into our Victorian ancestors lives and their mishaps or misdemeanors.

Should such a publication be issued nowadays, goodness only knows how many tomes it would run to and just imagine the poor old paper boy trying to shove that through your letter box!

In the said gazette of April 23rd 1880 a sad but unfortunately not rare case was reported.

“A child was left on the door-step of a house in Belgrave-Terrace, Radipole, Weymouth between 9 and 10 pm, on the 19th inst. £2 reward will be paid by Mr Superintendent Vickery to any person who will give such information as will lead to the discovery of the person who placed the child where found;”

The  house receiving the little live bundle was no 3 Belgrave Terrace, the home of 70-year-old Glaswegian lady.

What on earth could an elderly Scottish lady have in connection with a seemingly unwanted child?

(Belgrave Terrace no longer exists, but it was off Dorchester road, somewhere in the Lodmoor Hill area)

guide p3b

The article goes on to reveal yet more details- “a Male Child five weeks old, fresh complexion, dark hair, blue eyes, large mouth and nose; dressed in two head flannels, a white shirt, three under ditto, a white night dress, a black wool shawl, a white wool jacket, a white wool hood, a white fall, a piece of white gutta percha between a white cloth; these articles are all new. ” 

Obviously the baby had been warmly dressed for its night time doorstep delivery therefore presumably up until then had been well loved and provided for.

“The Child had a ticket placed on its breast, addressed to ‘P. Peck Esquire.’ Also on a piece of paper written -‘Take care of me, I have no mother.-Baby.’ In a bundle, tied up in a black and white Indian silk handkerchief, 3/4 yards square, were five napkins, two shirts trimmed with lace around the sleeves, a nightdress trimmed with lace around the neck and sleeves, a child’s flannel (old), a new mouth piece for child’s bottle, two brushed for cleaning the same, and some new wadding.”

Yet more evidence that someone had obviously adored and cared for this tiny scrap of humanity, so why would they give him up now?

A fairly vivid description of the person deemed guilty of the baby’s abandonment followed in the piece

“Supposed by a young woman, dark complexion, medium height, rather slightly built, speaking with a French or Italian accent; dressed in black dress, black jacket trimmed with black fur, black hat with heavy black fall, carrying a small bag or waterproof done up with straps. she had the appearance of a governess,”

family train station

The police, ( and no doubt those in charge of the parish finances) were eager to apprehend this ‘terrible’ being. They knew she had left via the railway station…but to where?

“£2 reward will be paid to any person who will give such information as will lead to the discovery of the person who placed the Child where found, by Mr Superintendent Vickery, Police Office, Weymouth.-Bow Street, April 23rd.”

But like most sensational stories of the day, there lies a lot more behind the melodramatic newspaper headlines.

Come the 30th April 1880 and the  Western Gazette declares that the good old police had got their man, (or woman as in this case.)

Superintendent Vickery had “Traced her to Waterloo Station, London and then left the Criminal Investigation Department to Apprehend her. this was done a day or two ago, and on Tuesday the woman (who is a German governess named Rasch) was brought to Weymouth. She admits her guilt”

At the start of May, the case was brought before the courts held in Weymouth’s GuildHall.

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Of course, human nature being what it is and has always been, locals jostled for space in the already packed out the courtroom, eager to absorbed every sordid detail of the terrible affair.

The numerous attending reporters jotted down all the juicy bits, well aware that such highly emotive tales sells their papers far better than boring old Council matters and the usual drunks and debtors that normally filled their columns..

One of many reporters following the case, the Bridport News declared that it was a story of “ALLEGED SEDUCTION AND HEARTLESS CONDUCT.”

Before the panel of local judges stood a sorry looking lass, German born Emma Rasch.

With Weymouth solicitor Mr Howard defending her, Emma’s sad story that was revealed before one and all was one that must have occurred numerous times over the centuries.

She had been employed by a gentleman and his wife as a governess at their home, Templecombe House, Templecombe, Somerset. (Oddly enough, I lived there for a short while and used to visit the doctor’s family who lived and had a surgery in that very same house!) Not surprisingly, this family were wealthy land owners.

Originally from Hanover in Germany, Emma was a well educated, well brought up young woman, who was staying with a friend of the family in Templecombe at the time of her employment.

Of course, their two tales of the tragic events differed widely.

Emma claimed that Peter was the father of her child, and that come the November of the previous year, when things were beginning to become too obvious, he paid her off with £50.00 in gold coins. She was told to take herself off to London and find herself some rooms there to have the baby. Off she obediently toddled and duly found a place to live, only problem was, that £50.00 wasn’t going to go very far at London prices, and babies don’t come cheap. Undaunted, Emma had written to Peter asking for support, surely he wouldn’t fail her and their child?

Poor gullible Emma, she wrote not once, not twice, but a whole series of letter to the errant father, by now she was destitute and had absolutely nowhere to turn to.

Finally, in desperation,  she wrote a final letter informing Peter that if she didn’t hear from him then she would take the child to his mother’s as she could no longer care for it.

His mother was the Scottish lady of no 3 Belgrave Terrace, Weymouth, the recipient of the baby bundle that April’s night.

The dye was cast, Emma boarded the waiting train, her journey from London to Weymouth was all too quickly over, a last few precious moments with her child.

train

In court, a tearful Emma vehemently declared that she hadn’t simply abandoned her child, “I did not desert it, as I rang the bell and waited and waited about until the door was opened.”

Having seen her child being safely taken inside and the door closed, a heart broken Emma turned and walked away, her only consolation being that she knew it would be much better off with family who could afford to care for it and love it.

Therein lay the crux of the problem.

For what ever reason, the family didn’t accept any responsibility for the poor child.

A young local girl, Annie Ames, was left to care for the abandoned baby that night and during the next day and a terrible chore befell her later that evening. Annie was made to take the hapless tiny bundle along to the Union Workhouse and handed it over to John Lee, the Weymouth Receiving Officer who took delivery of it.

Baby Rasch was now “chargeable to Weymouth Union,”

Weymouth Workhouse

A terrible crime in the eyes of the law and an offence definitely not taken lightly by those who held close to the town’s purse strings.

There was a certain amount of sympathy for Emma, after all she did what many young gullible girls had done before her, fallen under the spell of her employers false promises.

While she was in Weymouth standing trial she was “being allowed to remain at the house of a policeman under the care of his wife.”

The supposed ‘gentleman’ concerned, not surprisingly denied any knowledge of such events, claiming he didn’t know about the baby until it was placed at his mother’s home, he had never received any of her letters. As far as he knew Emma had simply left to return to Germany to take care of her sick mother.

All that was left to do was for the men of the town who sat in judgement to make their decision.

Who would they believe?

How harsh would their punishment be?

“Emma Rasch, we have come to the conclusion, and it is the only conclusion we can come to, that you have brought yourself within the limits of the law, insomuch that you have deserted your child, so as to leave it chargeable to the Union. The punishment we shall inflict will be of the very slightest description. Upon the consideration that first of all what you did we believe you did for the best of your child under the circumstances, and in consideration that you are a foreigner, the sentence we shall pass on you will be one day’s imprisonment, dating from this morning. you will therefore be discharged at the close of this court.”

With that closing statement the courtroom erupted, loud cheers and clapping echoed around the walls.

Though the spectators were ecstatic with the lenient verdict, Emma walked slowly from the courtroom, her head hung low. She was taken up to Dorchester Gaol and put into a cell where for 24 hours she sat and undoubtedly had time to deeply reflect.

Here she was, an unmarried mother, her child now in the Workhouse, her respectable family back home who possibly didn’t know anything about her ‘crimes’ or even worse, didn’t want to know. For not long after her release Emma packed her trunk and sailed back to Germany

woman over box

…without her son.

The man of the tragic case didn’t get off lightly either, “As Mr Peck left the Guildhall he was hooted by a large crowd and he took refuge in the Golden Lion.”

Good old Weymouth folk, never slow in coming forwards with their views on such matters!

A little footnote to this sorry tale sees the abandoned young child christened at the Holy Trinity church on the 9th May…

Holy Trinity.

…his given name was Victor.

A note hastily scribbled in the side column says it all, “Left at the Union-mother returned to Germany.”

Tragically, little Victor wasn’t destined to make old bones.

He died on October 23rd aged just 8 months and his tiny body was buried in a paupers grave along with others from the union Workhouse, their bones lay congenially in adjoining graves at the Wyke Regis churchyard.

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R.I.P. little man.

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Interested in more old views of Weymouth and Portland, check out my numerous local Pinterest Boards to see how our town once looked when your ancestors strolled its streets, browsed the shops and relaxed.

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The Victorian Backwater…fowling pieces, ospreys, auks and otters.

The Backwater, or Radipole Lake played  a large part of my childhood.

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I spent a lot of my childhood playing in and around here, I fished for eels from the riverside with nothing but a stick, string and bent pin for a hook,(not very successfully I hasten to add,) I watched the swans build their nests and later cooed over their fluffy babies nestled protected under their parents wings.

The Victorian also enjoyed the delights of this vast stretch of water, though not quite the same way that we do today.

rocks album view from rodwell

The Backwater was so named because it literally was the back water to the sea front…before the dam was built in the harbour, it was tidal right up as far as Radipole, boat excursions were popular in those days bringing tourists up river for afternoon teas at Radipole.

rocks album radipole lake

In 1847 a rare specimen of a fish was caught here, a King Fish of Shaw otherwise known as  Lampus Imperatus. It was a massive three foot in length, weighed in at a humongous 90 pounds.

So impressive was this fine (dead!) specimen that it was put on public display in Weymouth.

The same year, a rare bird was spotted feeding in the lake, a Spoon-Bill, or Plateba Sencorodia of Pennant. It was claimed by the Victorian writer to be a most beautiful bird, measuring almost 2 foot in length from the tip of its beak to the end of its tail. The Victorians loved their natural sciences and revelled in new discoveries…only problem was they liked to keep hold of their unusual  specimens, so first they shot them… then stuffed them!

This one  ‘dead-as-a-dodo Spoon Bill’ was down to a certain Mr Crocker Esquire no less.

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Mind you, their habit of approaching the wildlife with guns rather than looking glasses sometimes literally backfired on them.

Such was the case in 1856.

Thirty two year old John Gillingham, a whitesmith from Melcombe Regis was on the Backwater in a boat with his wife,  Eliza and young daughter, 12-year-old Sarah.John was out for a spot of sport, he had his fowling piece with him. He had just pulled into the side of the lake to let his wife and daughter off the boat, when somehow, the fully loaded gun that was resting in the boat suddenly discharged its contents, and young Sarah who was stood on the bank received the full blast of the shot at close range. Her arm was shattered with the force of the gun, and had to be amputated, the local paper stated that her life was in imminent danger. But Sarah was made of sterner stuff than that because by the next census, the family have moved to St Nicholas Street, where they ran the Welcome Home public house, and Sarah, now aged 18,  is still listed as a student at that point.

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In July of 1864, a spot of tourism promotion was the name of the day when a local man, Mr John Brett wrote to the Southern Times extolling the virtues of a boat trip on the Radipole lake, advising visitors to the area (in such flowery terms as the Victorians seemed to revel in,)  not to miss such a  delightful experience.

Maybe todays tourist board should find such a fine fellow as he.

CORRESPONDANCE

A BACKWATER EXCURSION

To the Editor of the “Southern Times.”

SIR- It is much to be regretted that some of the most interesting scene and sources of pleasure are lost to our visitors from want of knowledge of the circumstances under which they may be enjoyed. Such is the case relative to the delightful trip to the charming little village of Radipole at spring tides or even a morning 10 or 11 o’clock tide. No lake in Cumberland can be more lovely than our estuary at high water in the summer season.

boy girl child boat 1887

Fringed even to its margin with fields of grain or over-hanging honeysuckles, resounding with the song of the cuckoo, the lark, and the blackbird, often has my heart been ravished while gliding smoothly over its glassy waters at their contemplation, and while my thoughts have ascended from nature up to nature’s God, they have found language in the words of the poet-

“These are thy glorious works

Parent of Good.-Almighty.

Thine this universal frame

Thus wondrous fair,

Thyself how wondrous then.”

people rowing boats

After a morning spent upon the briny deep in viewing the boundless ocean and its margin of magnificent cliffs of chalk, or its cavers that the ceaseless waters have worn on the coast, how sweet to vary the scene by an evening trip on the placid waters that isolate our town from the main. A farm, ancient and substantial, adjoining the church, will kindly furnish refreshments of the class used at the marriage at Cann, in Galilee, as well as those of a less stimulating property. Our worthy old townsmen, Caddy, will furnish a boat like an old family coach, in which the children may dance Scotch reels, or possibly old Davy himself may amuse his fare with a hornpipe man-‘o-war fashion. As I know that, like myself, you are desirous of giving our visitors all possible enjoyment during their excursions, I lay aside the deep and important matters that are my usual study to refresh myself with this light ebullition, and request your kind insertion thereof.

Yours truly,

Weymouth

JOHN BRETT 

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Even though some of the more enlightened Victorian people saw the beauty around them for what it was, a pleasure to enjoy, many still wanted to capture those fleeting moments for all time, but were destructive to the nth degree in doing so!

‘1870 5 NOV

OSPREY AND LITTLE AUK AT WEYMOUTH. -Mr. William Thompson, writing to the Field, says :- An adult male osprey (Pandion Halicetus Gould ) was killed in the Backwater of Weymouth on September 22 last, and is now in my possession, having been brought to me in the flesh the same day. It was observed on the feed the previous day, when it caught a fish, either a mullet or bass. The osprey soared with its prey to some height, when it fell; but the hawk, making a swoop, recovered the fish before it touched the water, and flew with it inland. On the following day the osprey was again seen flying towards the Weymouth Back Harbour, and mobbed by some rooks and a kestrel. The birds crossed the Backwater, and on nearing the railway station the rooks beat a retreat; but not so the kestrel, who attacked the osprey, and gave the gunner the opportunity of bringing down the osprey with the right hand barrel, and the kestrel with the left. The kestrel was a female. Gillingham tells me that the osprey screamed when attacked by the kestrel. Little auk (Mergulus melanoleucos) was shot on the same day in the Weymouth Backwater.’

heron backwater quiver 1877

It wasn’t just the poor old birds who were on the receiving end of the Victorian sportsmans guns…so too were the resident mammals.

‘1884 6 DEC

HAMPSHIRE ADVERTISER

AN OTTER SHOT IN THE BACKWATER.

On Thursday a man, name Brewer, shot a fine dog otter in the Backwater. From tip to tail it measured over 3 feet, and it was in splendid condition. A short time since the female was trapped. There are now two young otters in the neighbourhood of the Backwater.’

(Mr Brewer was actually the keeper of the swans, he fed them three times  a day, took care of their every need, and was to frequently be seen on picture postcards of the era in his rowing boat attending the regal birds.)

http://www.eprowse.fsnet.co.uk/swans%20feeding1900.htm

During the 1870’s serious discussions had begun on reclaiming parts of the Backwater, but the major fears that once the tidal flows of the estuary were interfered with problems would arise in the harbour, the natural ebb and flow of the tides scoured the sands from the harbour, some were convinced that altering the lie of the land and nature would ultimately result in Weymouth harbour silting up altogether.

As we now know,  this large open expanse of waterway has slowly been eroded over the years with various plots of land reclaimed from the brine, being created here and there for building purposes, Commercial Road, Radipole gardens, Melcombe Regis gardens….until the Radipole Lake is a mere shadow of its former self.

But its history  has so many more stories to tell, murder, tragedy, joy….that’s for another time.

backwater

 

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Writing a book, blog, short stories or your own family history, then why not make them jump off the page, bring them to life with historical graphics.
I have a huge collection that cover illustrations from numerous Victorian articles about travel, prisons, children’s homes, poverty, philanthropy…
Check out my Etsy site for Victorian illustrations, many local ones being added all the time from my own personal collection.
https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/VictorianGraphics?ref=l2-shopheader-name

1859; The history of Weymouth’s swannery.

Growing up in Weymouth as a child, feeding the swans in the Backwater was a regular occurance.

Off we’d toddle, me and with my Mum, a bag of stale bread firmly clasped in my grubby little mitts. The walk down the Backwater road seemed to go on for ever, my short, stubby legs would start to tire…and I’m sure that I would have whinged and wined about “how much further.”

But when we reached the swannery where they would gather, I would forget all that…those majestic white birds would gracefully sail across the water with a haughty look in their eyes as they searched for any signs of a treat to come.

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Not until I became an adult did I realise quite what a history those swans had with Weymouth.

During the Victorian period, some of the swans that belonged to the Earl of Ilchester (which the estate still owns at the famous Abbotsbury Swannery) kept migrating to the backwater in Weymouth. The Earl became upset because Victorian man was very partial to a bit of wild fowl shooting, and the swans were seen as fair game. In 1859 It was decided that the Earl would make a present of any swans that landed on the Radipole lake and made their homes here, that way, they would come under the protection of the Corporation, and that they should do all in their power to protect them. (A fair few people were taken to court thereafter for peppering them with lead shot!)

By 1882 the flock had grown to 150 odd birds, so sucessful were they living and breeding in the vast reed beds of the Radipole lake. They led a life of luxury compared to most birds those days. Every morning at 9 0’clock sharp Mr Brewer, also known as Snatchy,  a Corporation ‘servant’,  would come to the same place near the old Melcombe Regis railway station with a pail of dried peas to feed the birds, and was back again in the evening for their tea. after their supper time feast, the birds would retire onto the reed island in the middle of the lake.Image

By the end of the century their numbers had increased to 200 odd. Weymouth would sell pairs of swans to other towns, partly to help keep the numbers down, but also to gain a bit of imcome from them, feeding them was becoming an expense that the council wasn’t overly keen on!

Snatchy Brewer died in 1899, after tending his flock for 22 years, but his job as keeper of the birds was taken over by his son Sam. They were fed and cared for for the following years until the Second World War, when a decision was taken to stop feeding the swans (due to food shortages) and let them fend for themselves.

These days it’s frowned upon to feed the birds with bread, but a new Bird Reserve on Radipole Lake with it’s little thatched hut sells the right food for the birds to devour, and kids still enjoy going along with their brown bag to feed the swans.

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Writing a book, blog, short stories or your own family history, then why not make them jump off the page, bring them to life with historical graphics.
I have a huge collection that cover illustrations from numerous Victorian articles about travel, prisons, children’s homes, poverty, philanthropy…
Check out my Etsy site for Victorian illustrations, many more, including local ones being added all the time from my own personal collection.
https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/VictorianGraphics?ref=l2-shopheader-name

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