James Casbon (~1813–1884): Final Days in England

Today’s post serves as a coda to my previous post about James Casbon (~1813–1884). In that post I mentioned that James might have been living in Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, as early as 1861. He was probably living there when he married Mary Jackson in 1866; and he was definitely living there when his son Amos was born in 1869. [1],[2]

Cottenham is located 14 miles north northeast of James’ home town, Meldreth, and about 6 miles south southwest of Stretham, where James and Mary were married and Amos was baptized.

Map showing location of Cottenham in relation to Meldreth and Stretham[*] (Click on image to enlarge)

This news article from the Cambridge Chronicle and University Journal of September 10, 1870 once again places James in Cottenham, as well as in a difficult situation.[3]

Newspaper image © The British Library Board; all rights reserved; with thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk) (Click on image to enlarge)

This brief statement conveys some very interesting information, and raises questions as well.

In addition to giving James’ home as Cottenham, it tells us that he had two children at the time, that he was convicted of neglect, and that he was being committed to “the Castle.”

Who were the children? They must have been Amos and his older sister, Margaret. Amos was just over a year old in September 1870. Margaret was probably born 1864 in Stretham.[4] Margaret and Amos were the two children who arrived in the United States with Amos and his wife Mary (Jackson) in December, 1870.[5]

In what way did James neglect his children? What was the legal definition of child neglect in nineteenth-century England? I found the answer in The Poor Law Amendment Act, 1868.

With regard to child neglect, the law states,

When any Parent shall wilfully neglect to provide adequate Food, Clothing, Medical Aid, or Lodging for his Child, being in his Custody, under the Age of Fourteen Years, whereby the Health of such Child shall have been or shall be likely to be seriously injured, he shall be guilty of an Offence punishable on Summary Conviction, and being convicted thereof before any Two Justices shall be liable to be imprisoned for any Period not exceeding Six Months.[6]

I’ve been unable to find any news article or other source giving details of James’ trial or conviction, so we really don’t know the circumstances. We know that James was perpetually poor. We don’t know enough about him to know whether he would willfully neglect his children.

Another question I have is, where was Mary? Presumably she was at home with the children doing the best she could. James was probably the breadwinner, and somehow fell short of his responsibilities.

Readers may wonder what “castle” James was being committed to. The Castle was the name of the building that served as the county jail (or gaol) for Cambridgeshire.[7] Originally a Norman castle, it served as the jail for centuries.[8] The original castle was torn down and replaced by a newer building in 1807.[9] This is the building where James would have been confined.

If he was actually in jail for the entire two months, he would have been released right before he and his family boarded the ship Great Western in Liverpool, November 11, 1870, bound for New York.[10]

Detail of passenger manifest from the ship Great Western, which arrived in New York on Christmas Day, 1870;[11] James’s surname has been misspelled as “Custon”
With the information available, it’s possible to create a timeline of James’ life in England.

(Click on image to enlarge)

A long chapter in James’ life came to an end in dramatic fashion. Coming out of the Castle and traveling to Liverpool to board the ship, James’ final days in England must have been hectic. Was the trip planned and anticipated, or was it a last-minute decision? How did he pay for the voyage? He must have had financial assistance, probably from his brother Thomas in Indiana. Whatever the circumstances, he was on his way.

[*] Detail from Ordnance Survey of England and Wales, Revised New Series (1903), Sheet 16, 1:253,440 (label boxes added). This work incorporates historical material provided by the Great Britain Historical GIS Project and the University of Portsmouth through their web site A Vision of Britain through Time (http://www.VisionofBritain.org.uk). Creative Commons license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
[1] “Stretham Marriages 1558 – 1952,” PDF extract, database,  Cambridge Family History Society (https://www.cfhs.org.uk/tokens/tokpub.cfm : accessed 2 September 2017), >Casben >Stretham >Stretham Marriages 1558 – 1952, James Casben & Mary Jackson, 3 Nov 1866; citing Stretham (Cambridgeshire) parish records.
[2] “Cambridgeshire Baptisms,” database, findmypast (http://search.findmypast.com/record?id=gbprs%2fb%2f323728303%2f1 : accessed 30 January 2017), Amos James Casben, 3 Aug 1869, Stretham; citing Cambridgeshire parish records (transcribed by Cambridgeshire Family History Society).
[3] “Cambridgeshire … Commitments to the Castle,” Cambridge (England) Chronicle and University Journal, Isle of Ely Herald, and Huntingdonshire Gazette, 10 September 1870, p. 4, col. 6, para. 13; accessed in “British Newspapers,” online archive, findmypast (https://search.findmypast.com/bna/ViewArticle?id=BL%2F0000421%2F18700910%2F049%2F0004 : accessed 25 March 2017)
[4] “Cambridgeshire Baptisms,” findmypast (https://search.findmypast.com/record?id=gbprs%2fb%2f323728146%2f1 : accessed 22 September 2017), Margaret Jackson, 24 Jul 1864, Stretham.
[5] Passenger manifest of ship Great Western, unnumbered p. 3, lines 27-30, James Custon (age 57) and family; imaged as “New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1891,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:939V-51S2-X5?i=106&cc=1849782 : accessed 10 November 2016), image 107; citing NARA microfilm publication M237, Roll 338.
[6] Hugh Owen, Jun., Esq., The Poor Law Amendment Act, 1868 (31 & 32 Vict., C. CXXII.) (London: Knight & Co., 1868), p. 26: 37; online image, Google Books (https://books.google.com/books?id=vWkZAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false : accessed 22 September 2017).
[7] Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambridge_Castle : accessed 22 Sep 2017), “Cambridge Castle,” rev. 08:28, 22 Sep 17.
[8] “A History of Cambridge County Gaol 1802-1829,” Victorian Crime & Punishment (http://vcp.e2bn.org/justice/page11587-a-history-of-cambridge-county-gaol-1802-1829.html : accessed 22 September 2017)
[9] “A History of Cambridge County Gaol 1802-1829.”
[10] “Home Ports,” Lloyd’s List (London), No. 17,651, 12 Nov 1870, p. 2, numbered column 7 (Liverpool … sailed, Great Western, 11 Nov 1870); accessed in “British Newspapers,” online images, findmypast (https://search.findmypast.com/bna/viewarticle?id=bl%2f0000861%2f18701112%2f024 : accessed 13 January 2017).
[11] Passenger manifest of ship Great Western.

4 thoughts on “James Casbon (~1813–1884): Final Days in England”

  1. That sounds like a pretty dire family situation, particularly for Mary. Do you think she would have reported her husband to the authorities, or would it have been more likely that a neighbor did it on the children’s behalf?

    1. I suspect situations like this were all too common then, as they are now. Was James a “deadbeat dad”? The fact that he came to America with family intact tells us that he did not intend (at that point, at least) to abandon his family. Without a lot more information it’s impossible to say how their situation would have come to the authorities’ attention.

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