There’s something about Mary…


A few weeks ago I wrote about my Clarke/Bailey family at Hartismere Union Workhouse. In that posting, I mentioned that whilst I had located the Bailey/Clarke family group, the wife (my gtx4 grandmother – Mary Bailey née Clarke) was missing from the group.

Well, thanks to a combination of help from Ann Berwick, who commented on that posting and gave me the first hint of her whereabouts, the good people at RootsChat.com, and the very helpful Steve at Ipswich Record Office, I have been able to locate Mary Bailey and an additional Bailey child called Emily.

Mary was in prison.

This is the first time that I have uncovered a relative in prison, let alone them being an ancestor. Naturally I wanted to know why they were serving time in Ipswich County Gaol.

After hearing from Ann that Mary may have been serving time for a crime, I checked the 1841 census and sure enough found Mary and a 6mth old Emily Bailey listed at Ipswich County Gaol and House of Correction. Ipswich Record Office was my next point of call to see what kind of records were available for the gaol. Shortly after emailing, I receive a reply from Searchroom Assistant, Steve, who provided me with the following information which not only proved that she was the correct Mary Bailey, but gave a hint at the crime she committed.

Age: 29
Father: William Clarke
Crime: Ill-using Children
Abode: Botesdale
Sentence: 6 calendar months
Year 1841

Further details can be found in the Gaol Book. Reference 609/31 page 277. A copy of this is held on microfiche.

I was pleased to see William Clarke and Botesdale mentioned, as I had not revealed this to the archivist… but “Ill-using children”?

I really wasn’t expecting that – I was expecting to read about how she’d stolen a loaf of bread to feed her growing brood and narrowly escaped transportation. I had to know more. However, whilst I’m about to employ a researcher to dig deeper in the Ipswich Archives to get the real nitty-gritty gaol details, I moved over to the exceptionally and eternally helpful folks at RootsChat.com (who have smashed so many of my brickwalls in the past) to ask for their thoughts on this ambiguously named crime.

Not long later, forum user “suffolk*sue” joined in the thread and through her own research found a newspaper article in the Ipswich Journal, dated 13th March 1841 relating to the crime. She warned me it was long and harrowing. She was right.

When reading the news article, it turns out that William Bailey (Mary’s husband) was also charged with the same crime -

William Bailey, 35, labourer, Botesdale, was charged with not having provided sufficient food and raiment for his children, Louisa Bailey, 5 years of age; Ellen Bailey, 8 years of age; and Emma Bailey, 11 years of age; whereby they had become sick, and ill, and emaciated. There was another count, containing a charge of assault.

The report goes on to explain how both Emma and Louisa were found bruised, hardly clothed, dirty and hungry in Botesdale and Stanton respectively.

Louisa was brought back to the house [Hartismere Union Workhouse] , nearly naked, and very much beaten about the head and face – she was a complete skeleton. There were three or four severe bruises to her head and her right eye was black. She was placed under the care of a surgeon, but could not bear any food in her stomach, until she had been in the house three days. There were two children by the second wife [that's Mary's children with William], who were fat and well clothed – the prisoner [William] having five children in all.

Emma Bailey explains to the jury how she and her sister Louisa would sleep on a sack with straw in it, whilst the younger children (of William and Mary) would sleep in a bed. She also explains how these younger children would be fed well and that food would be taken away from her and her sister. The prosecution and the witnesses also detail the public flogging that William would enact upon his children with sticks and belt straps.

William was charged with assault on his daughter Emma Bailey and sentenced to two months in Ipswich County Gaol, with the second month in solitary confinement.

Now it was the turn of Mary.

Mary Bailey, 29, the prisoner’s wife, was then charged with having, on the 15th October last, assaulted Emma Bailey her daughter-in-law [mother-in-law and daughter-in-law are old terms for step-mother and step-daughter].

The Bailey’s neighbour Elizabeth, wife of John Smith was called as a witness and described how she had regularly heard cries from the house nextdoor and how in the previous July she had tried to intervene but was told by Mary that she should mind her own business. Mary responded:

“It is all wrong. I only boxed her ears because she told me I was a liar. Mrs. Smith said if I did not leave off she would call the police. I told her she had no right to knock at my window, and that if she knocked at mine, I would knock at hers.”

The jury found Mary guilty.

Mary was then indicted for an assault upon her daughter-in-law, Louisa Bailey, on the 26th October last.

Mr John Thornton , governor of the Hartismere Union House,  said that Louisa was brought to the Union House on the 27th January last, very much marked by violence, Her eye was very black, and there were two distinct wounds upon her head.

“Her sister did that by shoving her down against the door” - Mary Bailey

Mr W. Miller, assistant to the Union’s surgeon said that there were bruises to her face, neck and shoulders, and that these would have been caused by a beating rather than a fall.

Emma Bailey then stood in the witness box and spoke out against Mary, saying that the bruises were caused when Mary had shoved Louisa “down upon the bricks when she took a piece of bread from her father”. She also added that one day, whilst their father was at work, that Louisa had gone to the pantry for some water, when Mary had knocked her against a post.

“That is quite false. You did it yourself. You said you would murder her. You said if you went into the workhouse with her, you would cut her throat.” – Mary Bailey

“I always said my mother-in-law did it” – Emma Bailey

“Did you ever say that you would cut your sister’s throat?” - Mr Palmer (Prosecution)

“No Sir.” – Emma Bailey

The jury found the prisoner guilty and both were placed at the bar.

The Chairman (E. Godfrey Esq) concluded:

William Bailey, you and your wife have been found guilty of this abominable offence of half-starving and mal-treating, those children of your first marriage. There is no doubt in the world that the offence has been mainly committed by your wife; but you could have in some respects, controlled her, and indeed, in some respects, it appears that your conduct was better than hers, for you did give them bread. This cruelty and mal-treatment took place occasionally whilst you were at work; and it is considered in your favour that, until your second marriage you treated your children kindly, and that you were a respectable man.

The sentence of the Court us, that you, William Bailey be imprisoned for two calendar months, the last month solitary, and then discharged; and that your wife be imprisoned and kept to hard labour, as far as she is capable, for six months, first and last months solitary confinement.

This is just a selection of pieces from the article, which is very long and detailed, but it really shows Mary Bailey to be a ‘wicked step-mother’. I’ve always had pride in my ancestors so it was a shock to find that actually I really don’t like this person at all.

Her prison sentence certainly explains why she was absent from the family in 1841, with William having already served his sentence by the time of the census in June 1841. Mary was only half way through her sentence.

I am hoping that the Prison Gaol Book will give me further information about her time in prison, and perhaps also give me information that is hard to find elsewhere – like her hair colour, height, health….

As sources go, this newspaper report is very well written and highly details. It includes quotes from the children, both William and Mary, their neighbours, descriptions of their income, their clothing, their home set-up and really gives an insight into how the family lived and struggled. It’s a shame that it is such a harrowing account and I am unable to feel any respect for Mary or William for what they did.

I am only pleased that Mary’s eldest child Caroline Clarke escaped the family and started afresh.

About Andrew Martin

+Andrew Martin is owner and lead writer for History Repeating and Family Tree UK. Genealogist, historian, writer, photographer and would-be archaeologist. He'd love a time machine, but worries that it might take all the fun out of it.
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