Monday, 24 December 2007

Sarah Boyle

You have probably never heard of her. She is Didactophobe's great great grandmother. She lived between about 1860 and 1944. She was orphaned at an early age and was looked after by her grandmother. Sarah married a man called John Reddock in 1875. Within six weeks, he had abandoned her to join the army, leaving her pregnant. Life in those days was not easy for single mothers: no council house; no truckloads of welfare benefits. She didn't know whether her husband was alive or dead, and she took up with a man called John Smith. A very ordinary man: a poor labourer, as unremarkable as his name.

Within a few months, she found herself pregnant by him. What to do then? She got married: she committed bigamy. She needed a man to protect her (that is the way the world was) and she had found a man who would love her and look after her. So they married in late 1880. Irony of ironies, within a century one of her descendants would be divorced on the grounds of five year desertion. If that had been open to her in 1880, there would have been no problems. But this was the Victorian era.

Sarah gave birth to her second child. Marion was sickly and would die within the year, of measles and bronchitis. Ailments of the poor. Sarah worked as a steam loom weaver to support her children and her new husband John laboured away.

At some point in late 1881 or early 1882, John Reddock was discharged from the army. He came looking for his wife, and discovered her living with another man. She was also pregnant, expecting twins.

Sarah was charged with bigamy and appeared for a first hearing in court. She was almost eight months pregnant: she was committed to prison on remand. After five weeks, she came back to the court for a second hearing. Her lawyer, Arthur Sturrock, asked the court for leniency, given that she had already spent time in prison. She was sentenced to two months: no backdating of sentences in those days, nor time off for good behaviour. She was sentenced on 6 April and it would be 6 June before she was released from prison.

On 10 April 1882, at 2am, the prison governor was woken from his slumbers. Sarah was going into labour. At 7.30am, she gave birth to a son, whom she named John after his father. Shortly afterwards, the second twin was born, stillborn. The sex was not recorded.

What happened then? Don't know. By 1891, she was living with her grandmother and John Smith, the son she had given birth to in prison. Her second husband had disappeared. Her bastard of a first husband had custody of their daughter and was reproducing at a fine old rate with his second wife, whom he married bigamously.

Sarah lived a long life and died of cerebral thrombosis on 9 March 1944 at the age of 83 (approx). What happened to her in the intervening 53 years? Don't know. Maybe I shall find out some of her story. I certainly intend to try. I hope and pray that she had some happiness.

I am no socialist. I am no feminist. But stories like this make you realise how and why they began.

God bless you, Sarah. May you rest in peace.

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