When one thinks of Victorian society, images of strict etiquette, sexual propriety and perhaps an era of prudishness come to mind. It was an era controlled by Evangelical ideals and talk of sex and sexuality was seen as taboo. Adultery by a married man had little or no consequence for him, while adultery by a married woman could make her world a nightmare. A wife could not divorce her husband for having an affair unless he had done something else that could hurt her, such as physically abuse her, whereas a man could divorce his wife simply for her infidelity.
Against this backdrop we have a surprising level of detail from birth and marriage certificates, census records and family name changes that indicate that Mary Stothart Ennever had nine children in what was an illicit and long-lasting relationship with her aunt's husband while under the same roof. This relationship presumably continued therefore with the knowledge and acceptance of her aunt, who she had lived with from early childhood.
Mary Stothart Ennever and her brother, William Thomas Ennever, had lost both their parents before they were seven years old and their mother, Mary Stothart Thomas, had died in 1843, less than a year after the birth of William. Robert Ennever, their father, almost immediately married his deceased wife's sister, Harriet Agnes Thomas, having two children with her before he was admitted to the Peckham House Lunatic Asylum in about 1847 where he died of Marasmus, a severe form of malnutrition, that August. This second marriage to his sister-in-law was technically illegal (see here for more information).
By 1850 Robert Ennever, his first wife and two of his four children with the Thomas sisters had all died, leaving his second wife Harriet Agnes with one child of her own and one step-child, Mary Stothart, who was also her niece. One of Harriet's children with Robert Ennever had died in Weaver Street in 1848 so it appears that she and the children had moved in with Harriet's mother, to be joined in November 1850 by her new husband, Charles Green Appleton. Also at the 20 Weaver Street address in 1851 were Harriet's young uncle and aunt, her mother's youngest children, so Mary Stothart Ennever was now living with the aunt with whose husband she was later to bear nine children. Perhaps it is these tragic events and the already very close family ties that influence Mary Stothart in the illicit relationship with her aunt's husband that was to follow. Meanwhile, Charles Green Appleton & his wife, Harriet, had moved to Mile End New Town, to become involved in a bigamous relationship of their own.
Mary Stothart Ennever was also sharing a house with her aunt, Sarah Jane Thomas and Sarah's husband Henry Collins in both the 1861 and 1871 censuses. Sarah Jane Thomas had married Henry Collins in 1857 and in 1861 they were living in Bethnal Green, London with their first 2 children. Mary Stothart Ennever was also living with them, with her son Edwin, and is recorded as unmarried. Edwin's birth certificate gives no father's name nor occupation and so it was assumed this was a "simple" case of an illegitimate child. Nothing very remarkable so far except that Robert George Ennever, son of Robert Ennever and Harriet Agnes Thomas later married Maria Eliza Collins, Henry Collins' sister in Australia.
Still in the UK, by the time of the 1871 census Henry Collins, his wife Sarah and their five children plus Mary Stothart and her three children continue to share a house and Mary is again recorded as unmarried. More than one illegitimate child was unusual but not unheard of, but three was a cause for further research which then identified two further children of Mary's, both of whom had died in infancy in the 1860s.
By 1881, Henry and Sarah had had at least six children but were no longer sharing a house with Mary. Mary by 1881 had had nine children, of whom six had survived but the family have not yet been located in the census. Her 8th and 9th children were born at 2 Spring Street, Bow but she is not at this address in 1881. Not surprisingly, no christenings have been found for any of Mary's nine children nor those of Henry and Sarah.
The birth certificates of Mary's first three children do not record a father, while another five record the father as a Henry Ennever, whose occupation is stated to be either a "Wood Carver" or "Carver" (no birth registration has been found for the Alfred Ennever, who died aged just two weeks in April 1878).
No marriage has ever been found nor has an unlinked Henry Ennever been identified from the detailed Ennever BMD and census records compiled by Patricia Hill or my own research. Henry Collins' occupation was a "Cabinet Carver" or "General Wood Carver" and it is clear that Henry "Ennever" is undoubtedly a fictitious representation of Henry Collins, used by Mary to disguise the real father's identity.
Mary Stothart Ennever and her family are then found in the 1891 and 1901 censuses at Warner Place, Bethnal Green under the name Collins, Mary now being shown as widowed. Since 1891 all Mary Stothart's children and their families have been known as Collins, further evidence if it was needed that Henry Collins was indeed the father of her children. Examples include Arthur William Collins' marriage to Elizabeth Harriet Paul in 1898, where his father is recorded as Henry Collins a Wood carver, George Alfred Collins' marriage to Caroline Old in 1899, where his father is recorded as Henry Collins (deceased) a Carver and Albert Alfred Collins' marriage in 1906 where his father is also Henry Collins (deceased), a Carver. Edwin James Ennever born in 1860 married as Edwin Collins to Mary Elizabeth Adams and had four children before his death, aged 37, in Bethnal Green, Mary re-marrying in 1900.
At Mary Stothart's death in 1933 she is somewhat strangely recorded, however, as the widow of an Edward Collins, a Wood Carver! Maybe this was one final attempt by her family to disguise the true nature of her relationship with Henry?
The "close" relationships that are recorded here are just a part of the extraordinarily intimate nature of the links between the Ennever and Collins families as can be found in more detail here. This excludes the related, but not directly connected, marriages of George Alfred Ennever, otherwise known as George Alfred Collins, to two cousins ie a daughter of each of two Illingworth sisters which can be found here.