Friday, 3 July 2015

Matilda's Second family.....

When I visited Edinburgh about 8 years ago I really felt “at home” despite the weather and the wind. This really surprised me as my relatives had come from Glasgow and I certainly didn’t get that same glow when I visited Glasgow last year. However in the mean time I have discovered relatives down the maternal line had come from Edinburgh.
The subject of this story is my maternal 3rd great grandmother, Matilda Strelley nee Johnston born in St Cuthbert’s Edinburgh around 1785.I found about her by working upwards from grandmother’s father Bill Strelley, putting a few pieces together, overcoming the poor handwriting in documents. The piece de resistance was finally making the connection back to William Strelley MD of Derbyshire and the famous Strelley family.
I first found Matilda as a deserted mother of three in the 1841 census. It appears her husband William Strelley MD had returned to Derbyshire and later taken up with the housekeeper. 
As a young man William had studied Medicine in Edinburgh. William, the son of Robert and Elizabeth Strelley Esq breaks with the family tradition of Derbyshire land management, militia or mining by moving to Edinburgh. After finding out about his father’s death in 1813 he was then informed that he didn’t inherit from his father’s large estate.It is thought that he might have been provided for quite generously from his grandmother’s estate. 
Details are a bit sketchy about his time in Edinburgh but William’s inclusion in the Rev Kerry’s historical documentation of the Strelley family tree printed in 1891 merely notes him as William Strelley MD. He and his family have been scratched off the official family tree presumably through his marital choices and/or other misdemeanours. While living and practicing in Edinburgh he “marries” Matilda Johnston from Edinburgh and later returning to Derbyshire he starts a relationship with Elizabeth (Limb?) in Basford around 1840 or 50s. There is no record of the marriage to Elizabeth Strelley and as Matilda is still alive until 1865 (William out lived Matilda by two years) he is probably living out his days with his much younger “wife” in a de facto rather than bigamist relationship. In 1867 he too dies of old age at Codnor.
William’s marriage to Matilda is unrecorded and could be explained as an “irregular marriage” under Scottish law. These marriages come about merely by the exchange of promises before witnesses, betrothal and consummation of the marriage or by simply passing oneself off as reputedly being married. This form of marriage was recognised by Scottish law and explains why no official marriage record exists. Irregular marriages at the time are not viewed in the same way in England where a marriage is a religious event and is not legal unless celebrated in the parish church by a Pastor or Minister of Religion. Usually this occurred after reading the Banns over three successive weeks.  An irregular marriage between Matilda and William may have been unacceptable to the very traditional and respectable Strelley family of England. 
Matilda and William’s daughter Jemima Strelley was born in 1822. William is aged 42 and Matilda is about 37. About this time William is a resident in the National Jail of Scotland in Edinburgh. It is a debtors’ prison. A newspaper article printed in 1824 reports on the hearing of an assault charge in the prison in 1822. A not so nice picture is painted of William’s character by the prosecution. By 1824 Matilda is having her second son to William. 
There is evidence from census and other documents that these two Scottish children, Jemima born 1822 and William Strelley  born 1824, were born in Edinburgh. There is no parish evidence available. Perhaps they regained an element of respectability when Georgina Grace Greasley Strelley is born and christened in the Strelley family fold (Ripley) Derbyshire in 1828. At some point William and Matilda separated.
William Strelley b: 1781 in Pentrich; IGI has about 1777 of Denby, d: 1867 in Basford Greasley Parish
... + Matilda Johnston b: 1785 in Midlothian, d: 01 Oct 1865 in Blackford
...... Jemima Strelley b: 1822 in Edinburgh, d: 1898 in Newington, Edinburgh
...... William Strelley b: Abt. 1824 in Edinburgh shire, Edinburgh, d: 17 Jun 1898 in Blackfriars Glasgow
...... Georgina Grace Greasley Strelley b: Ripley, Derby, d: 08 Jan 1907 in Muckart Perth Scotland

The “Edinburgh” Strelley family tree
There have been some atrocious examples of handwriting in the Scottish census particularly affecting our family records but by sheer good luck Matilda Hagily (sic) and the children are located in the 1841 Census. Matilda is living in the parish of St Mary’s, with her children Jemima dressmaker, William shoemaker apprentice and Georgina. Matilda is a greengrocer and her husband is not listed and cannot be located in either Scottish or English Census of that year. Living next door is William and Elizabeth Lindley and family including Annabella. This name keeps popping up over the years. 
Matilda and the children in the 1841 census - no sign of husband William

In 1851 Matilda is noted as a widow living with Georgina in St Stephen Edinburgh. She’s a dealer in toys. Despite an exhaustive effort, Matilda’s nowhere to be found in the 1861 Census.
At the age of 80 she died of old age in October 1865. William Martin her son-in-law notifies the Register Office her death in New Street Blackford County Perth. Presumably Matilda had moved there to be close to her youngest daughter and her family. Her death certificate reveals her parents as Robert Johnston deceased hairdresser and Elizabeth Watson.
Matildas death certificate

Further investigations add her parent’s marriage to her story. Robert Johnston, vintner married Elizabeth daughter of James Watson, on 06 Aug 1771 in St Cuthbert’s Edinburgh.

Robert Johnston marries Elizabeth Watson 1771

That looks like all there is to the Matilda’s story-I have her parents, husband, and 3 children.
A few things puzzled me:
  • The name Annabella Lindley had popped up a few times. Once in the 1841 census and again in Georgina’s death certificate as her mother’s maiden name.
  • Annabella and her children are associated with Matilda’s daughter Jemima Strelley in the 1841, 1861 and 1871 census.
  • Some people had wrongly assumed that Annabella was William’s second wife on Ancestry trees and she was (wrongly) mentioned in the documentation of Georgina’s death certificate as her mother. The previously Stewart comment is also curious,

Georgina's Death Certificate 1907

And then it all unfolded. Matilda’s story was much more interesting.....
  • In daughter Jemima's records Jemima had been the maiden Aunt /carer for the Rennie family plus a Lindley child.
And then it all unfolded. Matilda’s story was much more interesting.....
  • I discovered a marriage between the Rennie child and a Stewart.
  • And when searching backwards (as I often do) for Mary Lilly Stewart’s grandfather I chanced upon some of his records which revealed his mother was none other than our Matilda Johnston!
Matilda had married Charles Stewart, a teacher of dancing on 15 Nov 1803 in Edinburgh. Charles Stewart was born on 07 Feb 1784 in Edinburgh as the child of Charles Stewart and Margaret Law. Our Matilda had been previously married...
Charles Stewart  and Matilda Johnston's Marriage Certificate

Thus it was revealed Charles and Matilda Johnston had the following children:

  1. Robert Barclay Stewart was born on 19 Oct 1804 in Edinburgh. He died on 16 May 1885 in Edinburgh. He married Ann Ema Lilly on 31 Oct 1830 in Edinburgh (St Stephens Parish).
  2. Elizabeth Stewart was born on 12 Jun 1807 in Edinburgh. She married William Charles Andrew Lindley on 04 Jun 1832 in Edinburgh.
  3. Matilda Stewart was born on 08 Apr 1806 in Edinburgh. She died (probably before 1838). She married Peter Robertson Nicholls on 19 Nov 1832 in St Cuthbert’s Edinburgh.
  4. Charles John George Stewart was born on 08 Jun 1817 in Edinburgh. He died in 1863 in Edinburgh.
It was Robert’s granddaughter Mary Lilly Stewart of Liverpool who married Thomas Rennie. Thomas had been the ward of Jemima Strelley after the death of his parents.
The penny dropped again.
How serendipitous. 

 Elizabeth Lindley (nee Stewart) who lived next door to Matilda in the 1841 census was Matilda’s daughter and Annabella was her granddaughter. Death certificates support this.
Later it is revealed that Robert, a music teacher and sister Elizabeth moved to England and lived with their respective families. Somehow or other Jemima’s ward, the now grown up Thomas Rennie meets the Stewarts in Liverpool in his travels as a laundry business manager and marries Matilda’s great granddaughter Mary Lilly Stewart. How serendipitous. 
Not a lot is known about Charles, the teacher of dancing but I’d love to know more about this dancing master who is recorded as living at 5 Elder St and 4 James St. With Charles Stewart’s early death on 7/6/1818 Matilda is widowed with 4 children aged between 1 and14. Along comes William Strelley and by 1822 she is pregnant again with the beginnings of her Strelley family.
Hunting around the old St Cuthbert’s parish records then reveals Matilda’s siblings (but not Matilda’s records) and more is revealed about her father, Robert Johnston who is more than a humble barber by today’s terms.
It appears that Matilda’s brother Henry Erskine Johnston was quite famous and much has been written about him and his father Robert Johnston especially in a biographical sketch written in 1838. 
Described as a venerable personage ,father Robert’s original occupation was a barber and wigmaker. Generally he would have trimmed or shaved beards or was employed in dressing hair and making wigs. His shop was in the High Street of Edinburgh and “was frequented due to its proximity to the Parliament House by gentlemen of the long robe” Thus he mixed with people in high places and was entrusted with caring for the adornment of these most public people. He was described as a vintner in Matilda’s marriage certificate when she married Charles in 1803 and was known for many years to be the keeper of an oyster tavern in Shakespeare Square (Nos 4 and 10) until his death in 1826. William Strelley may well have felt very comfortable with such an influential father in law in Edinburgh. 

Shakespeare Square in Edinburgh (The Scottish Post Office Directory has him at both 4 and 10)
Below are details of Robert Johnston and Elizabeth Watson’s children:

  1. John Puller Johnston was born on 13 May 1773 in Edinburgh Midlothian.
  2. Henry Erskine Johnston was born on 03 Aug 1775 in Edinburgh, Scotland. He died on 08 Feb 1845 in Belgrave, London. He married Nanette Parker on 19 Jun 1796 in Southwark, St George, Surrey England.
  3. William Johnston was born on 22 Oct 1776 in Edinburgh, Midlothian.
  4. Robert Johnston was born on 15 Mar 1779 in Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland. He died on 17 Mar 1858 in Wigtown Burgh, Wigtownshire, Scotland.
  5. George Johnston was born on 03 Jun 1780 in Edinburgh Midlothian.
  6. Margaret Johnston was born on 19 Aug 1784 in Edinburgh.
  7. Matilda Johnston was born in 1785 in Midlothian. She died on 01 Oct 1865 in Blackford. She married Charles Stewart on 15 Nov 1803 in Edinburgh.
  8. Jessey Johnston was born on 22 Sep 1785.
Serendipity once more?

Matilda’s records could not be found but her birth date appears to be around that of Margaret and Jessey- may be an error or change of name?
It is Henry Erskine Johnston who was the famous sibling and whose biographies reveal so much about Robert Johnston. Henry, named after one of Robert’s famous learned clients Sir Henry Erskine went on to become a famous Shakespearean performer and pantomime actor. As a little aside his son, a renowned surveyor, Harley Robert Johnston went on to establish the Australind township in the new colony of Western Australia where none other than William Strelley’s brother in law, Joseph Harris and family were also influential in the establishment of the colony, and indeed Joseph was the Doctor employed at Australind for a short time .Small world, just a coincidence or serendipity once more?

Matilda’s legacy.......

Originally the Matilda in my mind had three children who I have descended from and I felt a little sorry for her. After all she had married William Strelley who ended up broke and in debtors’ prison, on assault charges and who left her to live in Derby with another woman. Jemima, William and Georgina, their children have all been documented in the story “William Strelley M.D. -He’s the black sheep of the family” written a few years ago.
William and family appear to have been removed or left off from the Strelley Tree as documented by Rev Kerry. Possibly the children of such a situation are not recognised in the English legal system and inheritance is big business when it comes to Strelley family fortunes.
But Matilda had a whole other life with her dancing teacher husband and with four other children one of whom was a music teacher. She lived in Edinburgh at a time when her father was influential and popular with local parliamentarians and legal folk. Her brother was famous for his Shakespearean performances and her nephew was off settling Western Australia with other Strelley relatives. This makes me think she had a less than squalid life than some of my other Scottish relatives with perhaps social highlights such as balls, dances and theatre. There are too many coincidences in this story to think that there weren’t some useful connections made over time. Perhaps for a time she even lived in Derby and enjoyed some of the spoils of the Strelley wealth and English social stature of William’s relatives. 
I like you Matilda and I like your extended family. I’ll keep on digging for information on you and your family (Could you send me some clues?) xxx


  1. Robyn, very thorough and informative article, but can't read the green bits....can you change them? We knew nothing of William other than the brief mention of his birth on Kerry's tree. It is nice to know more about him being as he is such a close relative to me. Greg,

  2. Dear Mr Anonymous, I've fixed it up. How is the red? So what do you think about our Mr William Strelley MD? Cant work out if I like him or feel sorry for him.
    Cheers Robyn