Thursday, 1 September 2016

An advanced search reveals much more about Matilda Johnston and her family.



My 3xGreat Grandmother Matilda Johnston married a Dancing teacher on 15 Nov 1803 in Edinburgh. Charles Stewart born on 07 Feb 1784 was the son of Charles Stewart and Margaret Law. 
   
It seemed Matilda mixed in fashionable circles in 1800 Edinburgh.Matilda’s father, Robert Johnston, wigmaker who is more than a humble barber by today’s terms has actually been recorded in old Edinburgh publications. 
As Matilda’s brother Henry Erskine Johnston, was a famous Shakespearean theatrical performer, much has been written about him. Thus because of this his father Robert Johnston was also included in a biographical sketch written in 1838. 
Henry Erskine Johnston

Described as a venerable personage 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 rubbed shoulders 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.

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.
So Charles had married into an interesting family. So too Matilda’s life with her dancing teacher husband and with four children one of whom was a music teacher sounds like it might have been filled with the spoils of the high life. 
There was a lot happening in the Johnston family. Her father’s influential position and popularity with local parliamentarians and legal folk is only part of it. In addition to her famous brother’s Shakespearean performances together with Charles social verve, her sister Sophia had married David Allan who was the Deputy Commissariat for NSW and various nephews and nieces were was off settling parts of NSW and Western Australia. This makes me believe she had a less than squalid life than some of my other Scottish relatives with social highlights such as balls, dances and theatre. Surely she had made useful connections.  see Sophia and David Allan's story -Six Degrees of Separation
Scottish Directory has Charles Stewart listed as Dancing Master in the 1805, 1809, 1810 directories at 5 Elder St and 4 James St. The Historic Music of Scotland website states that Charles Stewart was possibly the musician in Leith Wynd (Edinburgh), 1794-96, and definitely in Todrick's Wynd, 1800-01.
I was intrigued by Charles being a teacher of dancing and endeavoured to know more about this dancing master. What was the role of a dancing teacher in Victorian society?

Besides being a Dancing teacher he was a fiddler and composer.  The minuet, cotillion, reel, strathspey, and country dance were in season in Scotland around the turn of the century but sadly 50 years later it was less popular in favour of the waltz and quadrille. Initially, Stewart was assistant to Edinburgh dancing teacher, David Strange in 1802, and by the end of 1803 was described himself as Strange's successor. 
Stewart taught classes, gave an annual ball, and by 1805 advertised his 'First Book of Minuets, High Dances, Cotillions, etc, etc', as used by his late master, Mr Strange. Stewart was leader and repetiteur of Edinburgh's Theatre Royal Orchestra. Most dancing masters would have played the violin, fiddle or kit, so that they could demonstrate the steps to the dances with the music. 

Charles’ work appears in A Collection of Strathspey Reels Gigg's &c. [1799-1801?] and A Collection of Minuets, Cotillions, Allemands, High Dances, Hornpipes &c. [1805]. He also wrote “Miss Parker's Reel, a composition in A Major” for his brother in law Henry Erskine Johnston’s wife Nannette Parker. Nannette (b. 1782 in London) was an actress, dancer and singer, who married actor Henry Erskine Johnston. She was educated in Edinburgh, where her father was proprietor of the Royal Circus (where she probably danced with her mother. When she married Henry at around age 15 they were called the handsomest bride and groom 'ever seen in England.' 


Despite the attitude of the Catholic Church and to a lesser extent the Church of Scotland dance became part and parcel of Edinburgh social life.
But things were not fine for the young parents. It seems for a few years before his death Matilda had to appeal to her friends and or the public in the way someone seeks “crowd funding” or charitable benefits today.

Charles suffered ill-health from1811 and an announcement in the paper talks of a benefit ball in 1812. In a book written by John Glen (1895) he remarks: "There are some grounds for suspecting that Stewart, in 1811 or 1812, had either been bereft of his reason, or had become an imbecile, as his name dropt (sic) out of the public announcements about that time. This suspicion is strengthened by the appearance of two appeals made by his wife on behalf of his family.

“One of these appeals read: Benefit ball. On 1st March, Mrs. Charles Stewart (wife of Mr. C. Stewart, late teacher of dancing in Edinburgh) begs leave most respectfully to inform her friends and the public that the pressing necessities of a young and helpless family have again induced her humbly to solicit their countenance and support on the present occasion. “

Charles succumbed to whatever ailed him and died in 1818 aged 34.

Along comes William Strelley MD.....

As a young man William had studied Medicine in Edinburgh. William, the son of Robert and Elizabeth Strelley Esq. broke 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. 
Life should have smelt of roses for Matilda and perhaps it did for a time.
Matilda and William’s daughter Jemima Strelley was born in 1822. William is aged 42 and Matilda is about 37. However 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. At that time Matilda is having her second son to William. 
Oh poor Matilda .... Out of the frying pan and into the fire.
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 for these births as they didn’t need to be registered. 
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 and William is next found living in Basford England in 1951with a housekeeper who he later “married” .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.
You have to admire Matilda, when her first husband died she still had young children and her older ones were at home and unmarried.  Along came William Strelley who may have seemed like a good catch. Three children later she is a deserted wife. 
When life gave her lemons she made lemonade. By the 1841 census she is gainfully employed earning a living as a green grocer and later in 1851 as a toy dealer. She died a couple of years before William at age 40 while living with her youngest daughter and her husband at the teacher’s residence at Blackford.
The discovery and unfolding of Matilda’s story was documented in a previous blog.Matilda’s second family

 I told her I liked the sound of her family and asked for hints. Is it divine intervention or Dr Google that throws these hints my way?  Who would have thought her father, husband, brother and sister would be documented so well (when she doesn’t even have a baptism record). Something keeps me awake at night playing a name or an idea over and over in my head. Another blog has been written about her sister’s family and I’m pursuing the WA family of Henry Erskine Johnston’s son Harley. Surely this will warrant a story in the near future. After all his father was part of the handsomest couple ever seen in England. Of course these looks must run in the DNA shame about the music!!

Research tip: Ancestry can take you only so far. Explore Trees and resources and then start looking at other sources of information. Old Parish records from Scotland's People  OPR add much information where Ancestry leaves off. (A true Scot checks Family Search and Ancestry first then pays for records on Scotlands' People). Old books which have been digitised, directories, music websites etc have been invaluable here. Newspaper articles have added to the richness of the story.
Just for good measure I googled Matilda's musical son before I published this - up came the following from a book by D Baptlie "Musical Scotland-Past and Present" 1894.
 Woo hoo!













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