It was known that a close relationship existed between the Ennever, Thomas and Collins families in the mid-19th century because Robert Ennever had married two Thomas sisters, and that another sister had later married Henry Collins. It was then discovered that an illicit or bigamous relationship existed between Henry and his wife's niece, Mary Stothart Ennever, who was Robert's daughter. This particular story is told in more detail here.
It was also known that one of the Thomas sisters, Harriet Agnes, then married Charles Green Appleton and that Harriet had emigrated to Australia with children from her two marriages to join Charles, who had emigrated some years earlier. Two of Harriet's children, Robert George Ennever and William Thomas Appleton went on to found the confectionery business of Ennever and Appleton, in Australia. Harriet was then instrumental in bringing Henry Collins' younger sister to Australia to marry Robert George Ennever, Mary Stothart Ennever's half-brother. This story is also available in more detail here.
Two bigamous marriages
What has only more recently been discovered is that Charles Green Appleton, having married Harriet Agnes Thomas in 1850, then married her younger sister, Sarah Jane, in 1852 in what was clearly a bigamous relationship. The discovery of this marriage meant that Sarah Jane's marriage to Henry Collins in 1857 was also bigamous because although Charles Green had emigrated to Australia in 1853, he was still very much alive.
Shortly before Charles Green's emigration in 1853 Harriet Agnes had given birth to their son, William Thomas Appleton, one of the children who accompanied her when she too emigrated in 1861. It is not known at this stage if there were any children of the "marriage" to Sarah Jane but the sequence of events, as it related to Charles Green Appleton, is little short of astonishing with his second, bigamous, marriage occurring less than three months after the birth of William Thomas, his second son.
Charles Green Appleton (1822/3-1865)
Charles Green Appleton (1822/3-1865)
Harriet Agnes Thomas (1821/2-1894)
Sarah Jane's second and bigamous marriage is perhaps more readily comprehensible in that her "husband", who had also married her sister, had emigrated to Australia leaving behind his two "wives", Harriet and Sarah herself. Sarah's second marriage did take place, though, while her sister Harriet was still in England and four years before Harriet was to emigrate to join Charles Green Appleton.
The following diagram attempts to present the complex relationships that existed within the Ennever, Thomas, Appleton & Collins families but in summary the following is now known:
- Robert Ennever married two of the Thomas sisters, marrying Harriet Agnes (HAT) in 1843 after the death of his first wife, Mary Stothart (MST), earlier that year. He died in the Peckham House lunatic asylum from severe malnutrition at the age of 29.
- Two of the other Thomas sisters, Harriet Agnes (HAT) and Sarah Jane (SJT), also married twice, both of them marrying Charles Green Appleton (CGA1). Harriet Agnes married him in 1850 and Sarah Jane in 1852. The latter marriage was bigamous as Harriet was still alive.
- Sarah Jane then married Henry Collins (HC) in 1857 and this marriage was also bigamous as Charles was still alive, although he had emigrated to Australia in about 1853.
- Henry Collins then had children with his wife's niece, Mary Stothart Ennever (MSE), in another bigamous relationship. Although he shared a house with Sarah Jane and Mary Stothart and the children from both relationships, he never married Mary Stothart Ennever as far as we know.
- Harriet Agnes (HAT) emigrated to Australia with the 3 surviving children from her two marriages in 1861 and re-joined her husband, Charles Green Appleton (CGA1). Charles had, however, married bigamously in 1852 shortly before his own emigration.
- Robert George Ennever (RGE), having emigrated to Australia with his mother aged about 16, then married Maria Eliza Collins (MEC), sister of Henry, in a marriage almost certainly arranged by his mother, Harriet Agnes. Maria Eliza had emigrated to Australia in 1867.
- Harriet Agnes married Samuel Odgers Jane after the death of Charles Green Appleton (CGA1)
Understanding the reasons behind these extraordinary relationships
The real reasons for these illicit and bigamous relationships will almost certainly never be uncovered but several possibilities do exist and fall into the following main categories:
- Close family ties
- Moral attitudes
1. Close family ties
The high mortality rates in the Victorian era meant it was common for marriages to end on the early death of one spouse at a time when young children were still dependent on their parents. The Victorian family ties were close and families very often lived in very close proximity to one another and so it was not then uncommon to find, for example, marriages occurring between a surviving spouse and a sibling of the deceased spouse. Although these marriages were not unusual given the circumstances they were in fact illegal until the early 20th century although this was largely overlooked by the family and law-makers. Examples within the Ennever and related families can be found here.
Life, particularly in Victorian London, was harsh to an extent that is almost unimaginable today. Working hours were long and the conditions effectively unregulated, poverty was widespread, living conditions were very cramped and unsanitary and not surprisingly life expectancy was low. Bethnal Green, where Charles Green Appleton & Harriet Agnes Thomas lived in the early 1850s, was among the very poorest districts of London from 1841 to 1871 with life expectancy as low as 16 for the poorest classes.
It is entirely understandable that families and friends would be the major source of comfort to each other in such times but whether the harsh environment of East London in the mid-19th century and close family ties was a factor in the illicit and bigamous relationships seems remote but a possibility nevertheless.
2. Moral attitudes
As I mention elsewhere, 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 largely seen as taboo. Double standards were commonplace in Victorian society, however, so while sex by a married man with another woman was considered "natural", sex by a married woman with another man was acceptable reason for the husband to divorce her. And while the Victorian era was deeply religious it was also a period of widescale questioning of conventional religion.
Two Ennever children, Jane and James, were christened in an unusual church, the Sion Church in Mile End Old Town, London in the early 1800s. This church was part of a sect known as Lady Huntingdon's Connexion, and a biography of Lady Huntingdon indicates that her father was her half-brother, a fact that may have had a bearing on the later events I was interested in (except that it seems that the referenced website is poorly written and the relationship is not quite as portrayed)! After the death of her husband Lady Huntingdon founded a group within the Methodist Church and one of Lady Huntingdon's followers was a Martin Madan (1725/6-90) , who after an apparently mis-spent youth eventually became a clergyman and chaplain to a London female hospital which was the first voluntary hospital to specialise in venereal diseases. It seems that as a result of his experiences there he subsequently wrote a book, Thelyphthora, or A Treatise on Female Ruin, published in 1780 which argued at length for the social benefits of polygamy as a remedy for prostitution and the evils associated with it, and also made a case for polygamy not being un-Christian . Despite the storm of protest that greeted his book Madan always maintained that his views were consistent with the Holy Scripture. Madan himself was not believed to have practised polygamy although his godson, Samuel Wesley, son of Charles Wesley the famous Christian hymn writer did.
Jane and James Ennever were siblings of the Robert Ennever who illegally married a second Thomas sister after the death of his first wife. It was the second of these sisters, Harriet Agnes Thomas, whose second husband, Charles Green Appleton, later entered into a bigamous marriage with Sarah Jane Thomas, Harriet's sister. Sarah Jane then shared her aunt's husband, Henry Collins, and their home, together with children from both relationships (see above).
Interestingly, there was a chapel on Tabernacle Street, Norwich, which was leased to Lady Huntingdon's Connexion in 1775. Charles Green Appleton was born in Norwich in 1822/3 and in the 1841 census he can be found with his parents and siblings at Barrack Street. While no direct link has yet been established between the family and this church the proximity of Barrack Street (previously Bargate Street or Pockthorpe) to Tabernacle Street can be seen in the map:
Further research may clarify whether the views of Martin Madan were still being advocated in the 1820/1830s, but the adoption of these views by the families who attended the Sion Church, or other churches in Lady Huntingdon's Connexion, could be the element which would make most sense of these irregular marriages and relationships.
British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=22751
The Twickenham Museum http://www.twickenham-museum.org.uk/detail.asp?ContentID=178
Oxford Scholarship Online http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/oso/public/content/religion/9780198263692/toc.html
Encyclopedia Britannica http://encyclopedia.jrank.org/LUP_MAL/MADAN_MARTIN_1726_1790_.html
Christian Marriage http://www.christianmarriage.com/home/index.php?name=News and http://www.christianmarriage.com/home/index.php?name=News&file=article&sid=114
Wesley Center Online http://wesley.nnu.edu/john_wesley/wesley_journal/vol4/The%20Eleventh%20Part%20Section%201.htm
Norwich Evening News http://www.eveningnews24.co.uk/content/Features/DerekJames/StreetNames/StreetNamesB.aspx
There is more research to be completed before it can be certain that all the elements of this remarkable story have been uncovered and it is highly probable that we will never be able to properly comprehend the motivation for the complexity of the relationships although the reasons for the emigrations may be simpler to understand! It would only have needed word to get around for life to have become very difficult indeed for those involved.