zondag 18 oktober 2009

Stephensons Chapter 5 - Forging Alliances

To find out about the marriage of Sarah Riggs and William Stephenson we will need to move forward in time.
There was a big age difference between the two sons of William (b. 1801). His oldest son, William was twenty two when he married Sarah Hudson in at St Hilda’s Church, South Shields on September 13, 1853. George would have been a nine year old schoolboy at the time.

Sarah Hudson’s father was a steamboat man, as was William, but on this document William Senior was recorded as a grocer, a move away from husbandman, mariner, labourer or Steam Boat Owner.

Why did they marry in South Shields? The township of North Shields was expanding rapidly, and by the 1850’s Christ Church could not manage the volume of ceremonies so it was quite common for couples to take the ferry across the Tyne to the south bank to marry. With further research I discovered that Sarah and Williams’ first child, Matthew Wharrier Stephenson was born in January 1854, only four months after they married – so its possible that a quick wedding had been highly desirable.

Just over two weeks later, on September 29, 1853, Williams father, William (b. 1801) married Sarah Riggs in the same church! Why did they wait so long to marry? I have no idea. Sarah was thirty six years old when they married and had already had at least two children with William. I can find no evidence of a previous marriage for Sarah, and William had been a widower for fourteen years before this marriage.

I have also not been able to find christening records in Tynemouth Parish for Sarah and Williams children Sarah Stevenson and George. It may have been they were christened at St Hilda’s in South Shields, but I have not been able to access the parish records listing christenings to look for them.

Sarah Riggs parents Robert and Ruth Ann had two other children, Richard Charlton (b.1819), and Elizabeth (b. 1822) Elizabeth married John Scott and had seven children, one of whom, Mary Jane (b.1852) married Nathaniel Galley and was the mother of Mary Galley as mentioned in Meg Stephenson’s family history, written in 1987.

Richard Charlton Riggs married first Mary Brazil and had at least eight children before her death in 1867, than he married Anne Schofield and another child was born.

But I digress slightly, and coming back to the Stephenson family, father William had several daughters to provide for. In 1856 Mary Ann Stephenson married John Edward Nesbitt. She was twenty years old. John Nesbitt was a boat builder, and on their marriage certificate William Stephenson was described as a ship owner.

Mary Ann and John had three children, John, David and Mary Ann. On the 1861 census they lived on Commercial Road South Shields, and John was described as a boat builder. In 1863 their last child was born, Mary Ann. She only lived a few months, and sadly, her mother, Mary Ann, died too – leaving John widower with two sons.

Within two years he had married again, this time Mary Ann’s sister Eleanor (Ellen) Stephenson. She was twenty seven. On this marriage certificate Ellens father William was described as a merchant. Was William trying to keep John Nesbitts boat building skills in the family by ensuring he married not one but two of his daughters? A boat builder would be a very useful ally to a ship owner. Sadly within a year of this marriage Ellen was dead, so the two time widower married again, and spent some time in China, before coming back to South Shields.

Elizabeth, William’s eldest daughter from his first marriage to Eleanor Davison Wharrier, Spent most of her childhood living with her maternal Grandfather Matthew Davison Wharrier, on Quality Row, Percy Banks, Chirton. Living next door was a family named Hills. Joseph and Elizabeth Hills had a son Stephen Hills. Stephen and Elizabeth Stephenson married when Elizabeth was twenty-three, and moved to Elswick in Newcastle where Stephen worked as a forgeman.

George (b. 1845), William son from his second marriage to Sarah Riggs,, married Sarah Jane Farrell in April 1866. They had a daughter Catherine one year later, then Sarah Jane became pregnant again, but she died in childbirth in 1868, and the baby died a few months later.

Sarah Jane Farrell’s death, and that of her new born baby, was the start of a sad time for George. The next year his mother, Sarah Riggs passed away, at the comparatively young age of 52, and in 1871 Georges father William also died, at home in Coble Dene.

William had been many things in his life, grandson of the third son of a tenant farmer, he used his strength and natural wit to carve a successful life for himself in a time of great change. The fast developing North Shields, and the technological changes which characterised the 19th century created a perfect environment for him to prosper. He changed jobs from husbandman, labourer and mariner, to becoming a steam ship owner and merchant. On Georges marriage certificate he described himself as a “gentleman” and as he was then sixty four years of age, deserved the retirement and status, after a life of hard work impacted by tragedy as he lost not only his first wife to an decease which was incurable at the time, but also the loss of several of his children. His prosperity could also be measured in the survival and success of his two sons William and George.

When Sarah Jane died, Catherine was left motherless, and lived with her maternal grandparents first in Bird street, and later in Charlotte street. George worked for Vickers Armstrong and was sent out to Constantinople as an envoy for the company there. He remarried in Turkey to Margaret Ann Smart, they had seven children, the first three were born in Turkey, and the last four in North Shields.

George Stephenson b. 1845
While he was away he prospered greatly, becoming a junior partner with Mr Smart but also rumoured to be gun running to Turkey. He came back rich, nicknamed “Stepha the Greek” on the Quay because of his past connections.
He was away from home twenty years in all, and though prosperous he was not well liked, not popular among any of the men on the quay, owners and employees alike.
He was not a nice man.
Meg Stephenson in 1987

I can find no marriage for Sarah Stevenson Riggs or for John Stephenson, the last child of William and Sarah. Records for these two children are sparse; I may have found Sarah on the 1861 census working as a general servant for a Scottish family named Murray in St John, Westgate Newcastle. In the same census John (aged 16) was living with his father and mother in Brunswick Place in Chirton, North Shields. I have no other record of his existence.

Chapter 6

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