The ‘young man of colour’ who sought employment as a ‘servant in an Hotel or gentleman’s private house’ by advertising in the Evening Gazette of Middlesbrough (25 October 1870) would have worked in the public eye, as would the ‘young female coloured servant’ who was sought for a public business, apparently the King’s Head Hotel in Tiviot Dale, Stockport, in 1891 [Liverpool Mercury 8 July 1891, p 4]. John Miller ‘a coloured servant of the defendant’ testified at his employer’s trial in Hinckley, Leicestershire on 18 September 1889. Joseph Bloxham was accused of permitting drunkenness on his premises (a beerhouse in Castle Street, central Hinckley) on 24 August. Miller said two men had not been served but Bloxham was found guilty and fined one pound with costs [Leicester Chronicle 21 September 1887 P 7 and 28 September 1897 P 7].
In 1856 the Star and Garter pub in London’s Shoreditch High Street’s resident barmaid was a ‘woman of colour’ whose husband George Thomas was charged with the theft of a cash box containing £50 when the pub caught fire. The inhabitants escaped in ‘a state of excitement and confusion’ and it was unclear how the box, rescued from the flames by the publican, had vanished [Morning Chronicle (London), 21 April 1856]. William Patterson aged 44 was a man of colour who ran a coffee house in Birmingham and was accused in July 1856 of handling money stolen from a vet by a workhouse boy from his new employer. The boy pleaded guilty and Patterson was sentenced to twelve months with hard labour, but he asked the court to increase the term to four or seven years so he could learn a trade. This was refused so Patterson remarked ‘Then you’ll soon have me here again’. The boy received fourteen days hard labour and then was to be sent to a reformatory for five years [ Berrow’s Worcester Journal 5 July 1856 p 6].
In Bury St Edmunds in 1859 ‘Black Charley’ Cooper failed to get a conviction against the two men who he said had run into him outside the theatre and led him to have to stay at home for ‘two or three days’. He was ‘the baked potato man’ and his wares had been spilled onto the street. But it was a case of misidentification and there were plenty of people who would say the two men were elsewhere, the magistrate’s clerk said. Cooper had been assaulted but not by the two men he charged, and so he apologised. It was reported in the Bury and Norwich Post (Bury St Edmunds), 13 December 1859.
Mary Ann Eastland found herself in court in London in March 1874. Married to an English sailor, during his absence at sea she had a child whose father was obviously coloured. She gave the child to a stranger, to deliver it in a foundling hospital. A servant in Wimpole Mews heard cries from a dung hole where a policeman found the baby, aged six weeks. It was placed in the workhouse and Mrs Eastland was charged with deserting her baby. Traced through the baby’s clothing, issued by the workhouse in Poplar where she had given birth she went to prison for five years, the judge commenting ‘the offence was a very heartless one’. The details appeared in both the London Morning Post 7 March 1764, p 7 and Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper of 15 March 1874. The child disappeared into the orphanage system of London.
John Dunbar was charged with abandoning his daughter in Halesworth in April 1872. She had been in Blything workhouse near Leiston for nearly three months. He offered to take the child and to pay any charges, which was agreed. Halesworth village was fifteen miles (24 km) from Yarmouth on the coast. Dunbar may have been working on a local farm [Ipswich Journal 15 March 1874].
Babes in arms were sent to wet nurses and if they survived entered the workhouse where children numbered one quarter of inmates. Most became institutionalised. Some children were placed in rural farm schools. There were many charities some with distinctive uniforms. Girls were prepared for domestic service; boys for service in the army or navy. Errant fathers were taken to court and forced to pay for their children’s upkeep. Victorians had a major problem, for effective efforts dealing with abandoned children could encourage adults to have (more?) children out of wedlock. Many orphanages were so uncomfortable with this they refused to deal with bastards. The orphan homes of Thomas Barnardo did not ask. Photographs produced as publicity by Barnardo include black children. When his son investigated opportunities for British orphans in South Africa in 1902 he reported ‘you must not send out children with the least trace of colour in them’ [Gillian Wagner, Barnardo (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1979) p 254. Other charity administrators disliked Barnardo’s success and worried about his methods. A public enquiry in 1877 alleged his ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs were fictitious. One witness was the ‘West Indian widow’ Mrs Elizabeth Williams (her husband Peter, a ship’s cook, had died) whose three children Annie (10), Eleanor (7) and Arthur (birth date not noted) had been in an early photograph [Wagner, Barnardo, pp 145-146]. Barnardo used the image and story in 1875, 1880 and 1898. Annie, Eleanor and their mother died from tuberculosis before 1881 and Arthur, after a spell in Jersey, became a domestic servant in Reading. 55,000 photographs were taken between 1874 and 1905. Alex Furguson was one of the young men who was taken in and taught a trade. Tens of thousands of the inmates of British children’s homes were sent to Canada, Australia and New Zealand (the last in 1952) and we might wonder how many were dark skinned. Children taken into care included in 1891 ‘an intelligent dark-coloured girl’ the illegitimate daughter of Harriet Evans of Hawarden Castle in Cheshire who was placed for her own protection in an industrial school because her surroundings were ‘dangerous’, duly reported in Chester’s Cheshire Observer of 21 November 1891 page 2 and Cardiff’s Western Mail of 31 October 1891.
Receiving twelve shillings a week wages, James Henry Lewis ‘a negro’ dressed in a showy costume and distributed leaflets outside a Holborn tailor’s shop. Mary Hill ‘a rather hard-featured woman’ had him summoned to Bow Street court in 1859 to answer questions about her illegitimate child. Mrs Hill, a widow, brought a six-month old girl ‘of a decidedly negro cast of features and tawny complexion’. Lewis asked the magistrate if the child looked like him (‘much laughter’) and was instructed to say guilty or not guilty. He said he was guilty and explained the widow had been nursing a coloured child for a neighbour and showed him saying she would like such a pretty baby. He said she already had her hands full with four white children and his wages would not support a baby but she said she would never trouble him. ‘I allowed myself to be persuaded’. Mrs Hill said he was a wicked man and he had been lying; there had been twins. The lawyer said the dispute was between him and the workhouse authorities not between her and Lewis – and Lewis was to pay three shillings a week for his daughter’s upkeep, reported London’s weekly Era on 9 October 1859.
In 1870 40-year-old Henry Codrington lived with his wife Sarah and children near Liverpool. He worked in Birkenhead as a horse bus driver and ‘was considered very steady and attentive’. They argued and she died minutes after being rushed to hospital. Codrington was distressed, admitting he had kicked her. They had come from the Catholic church where they had been celebrating the new year. Several newspapers reported the incident and that Codrington was a ‘negro’ and she had been drunk and caused a disturbance in the church. Codrington ‘the negro omnibus driver’ was placed in the workhouse at Tranmere in Birkenhead. There he exhibited signs of stress and jumped over the railings and spent hours in prayer. A day or so later he was injured when he tried to escape. There was considerable sympathy for him in Birkenhead, and the coroner was annoyed when the jury decided there was no evidence to indicate that he had kicked her, causing the fatal wound. The matter went to a local court where it was decided to have his trial in Chester. He was acquitted, but these events preyed on his mind and he tried to cut his throat in September 1870. He was sent to the asylum in Chester. There seem to have been two daughters and three sons [Liverpool Mercury, 3 January 1870, 6 January 1870 and 7 January 1870; The Times (London), 12 January 1870 p 5; Standard(London) 21 September 1870].
James Felix was a hairdresser who lived in London where he made two teenage sisters pregnant. Francis and Sarah Knowles met him when he lodged with their parents in Hackney. One child was born on 1 May 1877, the other on 31 May 1878. The sisters’ mother fled from the house, Felix moved into lodgings where the sisters joined him, their father seeming not to care. The two babies shown to the magistrate ‘had evidently African blood in them’. Felix was ordered to pay five shillings support for each of the children. Illustrated Police News of 31 August said it was ‘shocking and disgusting immorality’ [Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper (London), 1 September 1878].
A man born in Edinburgh was described as a ‘man of colour’ in the Cardiff Western Mail of 9 February 1875. William Henry Weaver was a sailor with a good reputation, had lived in America and had sailed in and out of Cardiff for fourteen years. This ‘young man of respectable appearance’ stabbed his landlady in the Bute Town area of Cardiff, and she was expected to die. A later report said he was ‘not a negro, his complexion being that of a mulatto’. His victim’s throat had been cut and he went to prison to await news of her fate. He was described as ‘an American half-caste’. A cook and steward aged 39 he was sent for trial at the assizes whilst the woman recovered. In March he was found not guilty of attempted murder, and guilty of unlawful wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm. He was sent to prison for seven years.
The colour of a parent was used as a term of abuse, the Nottingham court heard in November 1877. On 31 October the son of John Peters (‘man of colour’) came back from playing with the son of a publican named Thorpe. He said Thorpe had hit him. Peters went to discuss this with Thorpe, and a quarrel developed. Peters hit Thorpe ‘as though he was a bag of shavings’ leaving him with black eyes and a cut forehead. Thorpe called Peters a ‘black thief’, and Mrs Thorpe hit him with an iron bar. Peters was fined twenty-one shillings or that number of days in prison, the magistrate remarking that it would have been more but for Thorpe’s ‘black thief’ remark, reported the Nottinghamshire Guardian on 16 November 1877 p 6. James James, the two year old son of ‘a man of colour’ who managed a lodging house in New Street, Covent Garden, fell off a bed and was in hospital in August 1878, noted in Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper of 18 August 1878.
In 1888 Mary Jane Syminite, wife of labourer Joseph Syminite appeared in court in Huddersfield because a neighbour, a mill hand, did not like the couple and their daughter. Both women had to pay the costs of this dispute [Huddersfield Chronicle 18 August 1888 p 2. No marriage registrations have been traced]. Other children have come to light due to mentions in newspapers. When Charles Fowler who worked in Merthyr Tydfil was before the police court in Cardiff to pay maintenance for his wife Mary and their three children who had been receiving relief for three or four years, that she had a coloured child was said to have caused the marriage to break down. She had told him the ‘creole’ child was that of a servant girl in Treforest and she received five shillings weekly to look after it. A letter addressed to Mrs Fowler was opened by Fowler who found it contained stamps worth five shillings and a reference to the child being that of the writer and Mary Fowler. The black father was a sailor. In an argument she said the sailor was a far better man than he was. Fowler had to pay four shillings a week for his estranged wife’s upkeep.
One individual who emerges from these reports was James Peters. West Indian showman George Peters had two children with his wife Hannah, and the fame of son James (born August 1879 in Queen Street, Salford) is due to his sporting skills. He played rugby for Bristol then Plymouth from 1900, appearing in the Devon county side from 1903 and being capped for England 1906-1908. He worked as a carpenter and died in Plymouth in 1954. He has an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ref 70984.
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