Forebears: Cambridgeshire

My last post began an exploration into the early English origins of Our Casbon Journey. I presented data from parish (church) records from 1560 through 1699, showing where baptisms fitting a particular spelling pattern were reported throughout England. Baptisms in Cambridgeshire were recorded earlier and far outnumbered those of any other county. This post will examine Cambridgeshire baptisms in more detail.

Let me begin by explaining a little bit about England’s counties and parishes. Counties can be defined in several ways, but for the purposes of this discussion, they are considered historic administrative and geographic divisions that date back many centuries. The word shire is an older term for county and we frequently see it used as a suffix in the formal names of many English counties. Thus, Cambridgeshire means Cambridge County.

The historic counties of England; Cambridgeshire is highlighted in yellow; this image made use of data provided by the Historic County Borders Project (http://www.county-borders.co.uk) (Click on image to enlarge)

Parishes were the basic geographic and administrative unit of the Church of England (and the Roman Catholic church before that). Parishes were associated with individual towns or villages, except in cities, where there could be multiple parishes. Parishes carried out both religious and basic governmental functions within their boundaries. They were responsible for tasks such as law enforcement, maintenance of roads and highways, and relief of the poor. In the nineteenth century, civil parishes were created to take over the secular responsibilities previously carried out by the ecclesiastical, or church-related, parishes. Both types of parish coexist today.

In 1538, during the time of Henry VIII, parishes were required for the first time to record every baptism, marriage, and burial that occurred within their boundaries. Before this, there had been no universal or systematic method for recording vital events. The earliest records were kept on paper and many of them have been lost. In 1558, Queen Elizabeth ordered that the records be written on parchment. These were more durable and more of these have survived. During the time of the English Civil War and Commonwealth, 1642–1660, many records were lost or destroyed. These gaps often make it difficult to trace family connections beyond the mid-to-late seventeenth century.

In Cambridgeshire, most parish records are available online, either as transcriptions or actual digital images (copied from microfilm). I have tried to find and save a copy of every record with the Casb___ spelling pattern that is available. As mentioned in the previous post, I found records of 255 baptisms that occurred in Cambridgeshire between 1560 and 1699. Let’s look at these in further detail.

The following map and table show the parishes where these baptisms are recorded. In addition to the name of the parish, the number of baptisms (in parentheses), earliest year of baptism, and predominant spelling(s) of the surname are provided.

Interactive Google map showing the parishes in Cambridgeshire where Casb___ baptisms are recorded. The red outline is the approximate county border during the 16th and 17th centuries. Click on a marker to see more details. See below for descriptions of color coding and different markers

Parish (# of baptisms)Earliest baptismPredominant Surname(s)
Babraham (2)1595Casbolt(e)
Balsham (1)1691Casbout
Barrington (4)1682Casbolt
Bartlow (1)1699Casebolt
Bottisham (4)1672Casbone
Burwell (52)1565Casburn, Caseb(o)urn(e), Cawsb(o)urn(e)
Cambridge (6)1613Casboll, Casbone, Casbolt
Ely (8)1622Casborn, Cas(e)bo(u)rn(e)
Fowlmere (21)1582Casbolt(e), Casbourne
Fulbourn (3)1661Casbon
Grantchester (2)1584Cas(e)bowle
Great Abington (4)1685Cas(e)bolt
Hildersham (6)1571Casbolt
Isleham (23)1567Cas(e)born(e)
Linton (57)1560Casbo(u)lt(e)
Little Wilbraham (4)1673Causbone
Littleport (3)1686Cas(e)bo(u)rne
Melbourn (34)1578Casbold(e), Cas(t)bolt, Catsbold
Orwell (1)1580Casbold
Stow cum Quy (2)1696Cazborn, Caseburn
Stuntney (1)1653Casborne
Thriplow (15)1575Cas(e)bo(u)lt
Wendy cum Shingay (1)1563Casbolde
A table showing parish (# of baptisms), year of earliest baptism, and predominant surnames

While summarizing this data, I noticed that there are regional differences in how the surname is spelled, and identified four distinct areas. The names always begin with the same Cas(e)b– pattern, but the ending is different in each area. These areas are depicted by the four marker colors on the map.

I’ve selected an “epicenter” for each area. This is the parish where the greatest number of—and usually the earliest—baptisms were recorded. The epicenters are represented on the map by the markers with stars.

Here are the four patterns and areas:

  • rn(e) ending: Casborn, Casbourn, Casborne, Casbourne, Casburn, etc. These are the predominant spellings in the parishes indicated by black markers. The parishes are: Burwell, Ely, Isleham, Littleport, Stow cum Quy, and Stuntney. All are located north of Cambridge city. Both the greatest numbers and earliest records of baptisms in this area come from Burwell, the epicenter. Burwell is unique in that Cas(e)b– is usually followed by urn or urne as opposed to orn(e) or ourn(e) in the rest of this area. The –urn spelling is still associated with Burwell today. There is even a Casburn Lane in Burwell!
Number 1, Casburn Lane, in Burwell; Google Street View image
  • lt(e) ending: Casbolt, Casboult, Casbolte, Casboulte, etc. These parishes are represented by the blue markers and are found in the southern and southeastern parts of the county. They are: Babraham, Balsham, Barrington, Bartlow, Fowlmere, Great Abington, Hildersham, Linton, and Thriplow. Linton is the epicenter, with both the most (57) and earliest (1560) baptisms. The Casbolt spelling is most often seen today.
  • ld(e) ending: Casbold(e) and Catsbold; represented by grey markers, the parishes are Melbourn, Orwell, and Wendy cum Shingay in southwestern Cambridgeshire. Although the earliest record is found in Wendy (1563), many more records (34) are found in Melbourn, so I have marked that parish as the epicenter. Surnames ending in –olt are also common in Melbourn. Melbourne is adjacent to the –olt area, so it’s not surprising that there should be overlap between the areas. Linguistically, –ld is much closer to –lt than either one is to –rn, so perhaps the surname in these two areas (-olt and –old) have a common origin.
  • on(e), –owle and –oll endings: Casbon, Casbone, Casbowle, and Casboll. These surnames, indicated by orange markers, occur in Bottisham, Cambridge, Fulbourn, Grantchester, and Little Wilbraham. The parishes are in the near vicinity or a bit east of Cambridge City, which I’ve named as the epicenter. In general the surname came to these parishes later than the other areas, so perhaps the name changed as people migrated. the –n and –l endings seem to be a mix of the northern and southern areas. This area also has the smallest number of baptisms—19 total.

What does all this mean? I can only guess. One possibility is that the surname developed independently in at least two parts of Cambridgeshire—the -rn(e) variant in the north and the -lt(e) and -ld(e) variant in the south. Or maybe there was one point of origin, long before church records came into being, and the spellings and pronunciation changed as descendants migrated to other parishes. I would dearly like to know. It would take a detailed Y-DNA study to find an answer.

Future posts will look focus on individual parishes in Cambridgeshire.

More Servants!

My last two posts profiled two individuals who entered into domestic service as a ladies-maid and footman, respectively. Before I leave the topic altogether, I want to pay tribute to many other Casbon family members who worked as domestic servants. I’ve combed through my files to find those Casbon relatives who were listed as servants on census or other records. It turns out there were quite a few! I know precious few details about most of them, but collectively, I think their stories are worth the telling.

All of the servants featured in today’s post are women. This should come as no great surprise. Employment opportunities for women during this time frame (mid 1800s to early 1900s) were limited, and domestic service was one of the most common occupations for working-class women. In 1911, although the numbers were already declining, twenty-eight percent of working women in England were employed in domestic service.[1]

Men constituted a much lower percentage of the domestic service workforce. Men had access to a much greater variety of trades and occupations.“Most of those employed in domestic service in Victorian times were women, outnumbering men at over 20 to one by 1880.”[2] There was a tax on male servants, so they tended to be employed in larger, wealthier households.[3] The majority of female servants worked in middle-class households; where having at least one servant was considered essential.[4]

Here are the Casbon women I’ve discovered who were domestic servants at one time or another. They are presented in roughly chronological birth order and grouped by families.

John Finnie (1829-1907), “Maids of All Work” (1864-5), ©The Geffrye Museum of the Home.[5]

Mary Ann, Edith, Jane and Martha Casbon

I’ve listed these four together because they were the daughters of William (1805–1807) and Ann (Clark, ~1812–1869) Casbon, of Meldreth, Cambridgeshire. William was an agricultural labourer with a large family.

Mary Ann was born about 1831 in Meldreth.[6] in the 1851 census, we find her listed as the only servant in the household of John Campkin, a “Grocer & Draper” living in Melbourn.[7] By 1861 Mary Ann was working as a cook in a London public house.[8] I haven’t located her in the 1871 census. In 1875, at the age of forty-four, she married a widower named Joseph Sparrow.[9] She had no children. Her date of death is unknown, but occurred after 1891.[10]

Edith was baptized at Meldreth in 1835.[11] In 1851, sixteen-year-old Edith was working as a “house servant” in the home of Elizabeth Bell, a widow in Whaddon, Cambridgeshire, with a farm of 166 acres (quite large for that time).[12] There were also two male servants in the household, a horse keeper and a shepherd. She married William Catley in 1860,[13] and together they had seven children. She died in 1916 and was buried in Melbourn.[14]

Jane was baptized in 1840 at Meldreth.[15] In 1861 she was living at home but listed as “Servant,” so she was presumably working elsewhere.[16] In 1871, she was listed as “House Keeper,” again in her father’s household, so it is unclear whether she was keeping his or someone else’s house.[17] She married John Camp in 1881[18] and had two children. She died in 1904, age sixty-four.[19]

Martha, who was twenty-four years younger than her sister Mary Ann, spent most of her life as a domestic servant in London. In 1871, Martha was listed as “Housemaid” along with one other female servant (the cook) in the household of a civil engineer.[20] In 1881 she was the sole servant in a small household consisting of a Scottish woolen merchant and his sister.[21] She was again the sole servant in 1891, this time to a chemist and his wife.[22] In 1901 she was the lone servant for a Presbyterian minister and his wife.[23] The last record we have of Martha as a servant is in 1911 (the last year census records are available). At that time fifty-six-year-old Martha was serving as the cook in a household with three other servants.[24] Their master and mistress were a retired draper and his wife. Quite a few servants for two people! Martha never married. Sometime before 1839, she retired to Melbourn, Cambridgeshire (the sister village to Meldreth).[25] She died in Cambridge in 1947 and was buried in Melbourn.[26]

Sarah Casbon

Sarah was the daughter of Thomas (~1807–1863) and Jane (Cooper, ~1803–1874) Casbon. Thomas was the patriarch of the “Peterborough Casbons.”  Sarah was born about 1834 in Somersham, Huntingdonshire.[27] In 1851, she was the only servant for a widow and her daughter in Chatteris.[28] She married Richard Baker in 1857[29] and had at least eight children. She died in 1904, age sixty-nine.[30]

Priscilla Casbon

Priscilla was the daughter of William (~1835–1896) and Sarah (West, ~1823–1905) Casbon of Meldreth. William was an agricultural labourer and Priscilla his only daughter. She was born in 1862.[31] In the 1881 census, she was employed as the only servant for a banker’s clerk and his wife in Cambridge.[32] In 1891 she was living with her parents at home, with no occupation listed.[33]

Priscilla’s story has an interesting twist. When she was thirty-four, in 1896, she married a seventy-seven-year-old widowed gentleman named Charles Banks.[34] He was definitely a “sugar daddy.” He never had children. When he died in 1904, his estate was valued at
£12, 232, divided between Priscilla and two other beneficiaries.[35] There is evidence that she remarried a man named John Wilson in 1908 and was still alive in 1939, but I’m not certain this is her. I would love to know more about her story!

Julia Frances Casbon

Julia was born in 1866, the daughter of George S (~1836–1914) and Sarah (Pryor, ~1831–1903) Casbon. George was a wheelwright in Barley, Hertfordshire, and originally from Meldreth. In the 1891 census, we find Julia working as one of three female servants in the household of a retired Army officer in Kensington, London.[36] She married Henry Brassington, a bootmaker, in 1899.[37] They had two sons. Julia was ninety-nine years old when she died in 1965.[38]

Kate Casban

Kate was the daughter of John (1843–1927) and Mary Anne (Hall, ~1840–1880) Casban. She was born in 1874.[39] In 1891, at the age of seventeen, she was one of two female servants employed by a single unmarried woman.[40] She married Frederick Gunn in 1898[41] and had two children. I haven’t been able to pin down the date of her death.

Margaret Alice Casban

Born at Melbourn in 1875,[42] the daughter of Samuel Clark (1851–1922) and Lydia (Harrup, ~1853–1924) Casban, “Alice,” like her cousin Kate, was already working as a servant in 1891.[43] She was one of two servants, the other a footman, working for the proprietor of a pub.[44] She married Thomas William Francis in 1898[45] and had seven children. Date of her death is uncertain.

Olive Louise, Maud Emily, Hilda Mary, and Elsie Lydia Casbon

These four sisters were the daughters of George (1846–1897) and Sarah (Pearse, ~1847–1912) Casbon. George was originally from Meldreth but settled in nearby Fowlmere where he was a farm labourer. The family was probably quite poor. Sarah, the mother, went to work as a charwoman after George’s death. The daughters would have had few other options than going into domestic service as soon as they reached a suitable age. A striking feature of this family is that all four daughters died at an early age. I don’t know the cause of death for any of them.

Olive Louise, the oldest, was born in 1884.[46] by 1901, she was the sole servant for a tea buyer and his family, living in Croydon.[47] In 1911, she was one of two servants, the other the cook, for a much larger family, also in Croydon.[48] She married Thomas De Rinzy[49] in 1911 and bore him a son that same year. [50] Olive died in 1916, thirty-two years old.[51]

Maud Emily was born in 1885.[52] In 1901 at age fifteen, she was working as a kitchen maid in Melbourn,[53] and in 1911 she was the cook for a London single woman.[54] She died later that year at the age of twenty-six.[55]

Hilda Mary was born in 1887.[56] In 1911 she was living with her mother in Fowlmere, but occupation was listed as “General (Domestic),” which suggests that she was doing service work outside of the home.[57] By 1914, she was working as a domestic servant in Surrey. We know this because of the fact that she gave birth to a son in June 1914.[58] The birth certificate states that she was “a Domestic Servant of 140 Beckenham Road Penge.”

Birth certificate of George Casbon, 11 June 1914. (Click on image to enlarge)

An unwanted pregnancy was possibly the worst-case scenario for an unmarried female servant. If she became pregnant, she could be “immediately turned out of the house without a character to join the ranks of the unemployed.”[59]

I have handwritten notes from a relative stating that Hilda abandoned her son at the Croydon Infirmary, and that he was later taken in by the Mission of Good Hope, a well-known organization that placed children for adoption. This fills in some blanks in another story, that of how young George came to be placed with Dr. Barnardo’s Homes and then sent to Canada as a sort-of indentured servant.

I don’t know what became of Hilda after the birth, except for her death, at age thirty-three, in 1921.[60]

The youngest sister, Elsie Lydia, was born in 1890.[61] She was the sole domestic servant at the White Ribbon Temperance Hotel located in Cambridge, 1911.[62] I presume that Elsie later found a position in Kensington, London, because that is where here death was registered in 1919.[63] She was thirty years old.

The stories of these thirteen women are in many ways typical for female domestic servants of their era. With the exception of Martha, they did not work as servants for the greater part of their lives. Most of them started work in their teens and continued until they found husbands and had families of their own. They generally worked in smaller middle-class homes with one or two servants. Other than the four daughters of George and Sarah (Pearse) Casbon, they generally lived “normal” lifespans.

This is far from an adequate description of their lives, since it is based largely on “snapshots” taken every ten years with the census. Nevertheless, their stories provide insights into our shared heritage and deserve to be told.

[1] “Women and Work in the 19th Century,” Striking Women (http://www.striking-women.org/module/women-and-work/19th-and-early-20th-century : accessed 27 January 2019).
[2] “Who Were the Servants?” My Learning (https://www.mylearning.org/stories/the-victorian-servant/280 : accessed 27 January 2019).
[3] Kate Clark, “Women and Domestic Service in Victorian Society,” The History Press (https://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/articles/women-and-domestic-service-in-victorian-society/ : accessed 27 January 2019).
[4] “The Rise of the Middle Classes,” Victorian England: Life of the Working and Middle Classes (https://valmcbeath.com/victorian-era-middle-classes/#.XE3gilxKiUk : accessed 27 January 2019).
[5] “File: John Finnie. Maids of All Work, 1864-65 (higher colour).jpg,” Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_Finnie._Maids_of_All_Work,_1864-65_(higher_colour).jpg : accessed 27 January 2019).
[6] 1841 England census, Cambridgeshire, Meldreth, ED 19, p. 9, High St., Mary Ann (age 10) in household of William Casbon; imaged as “1841 England Census,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=8978 : accessed 27 January 2019), Cambridgeshire >Meldreth >District 19 >image 6 of 9; The National Archives (TNA), HO 107/63/19.
[7] 1851 England census, Cambridgeshire, Melbourn, ED 11b, p. 3, schedule 8, Church Lane, Mary Casbon in household of John Campkin; imaged as “1851 England Census,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=8860 : accessed 27 January 2019), Cambridgeshire >Melbourn >11b >image 4 of 25; TNA, HO 107/1708/177.
[8] 1861 England census, Middlesex, Islington, ED 36, p. 27, schedule 153, Mary Ann Cusbin in household of Richd Munford; imaged as “1861 England Census,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=8767 : accessed 19 November 2018), Middlesex >Islington >Islington East >District 36 >image 28 of 84; TNA, RG 9/16/55.
[9] Church of England, Parish of St. Lukes Finsbury (Middlesex), Marriage Records, 1871-6, p. 245, no. 489, Joseph Sparrow & Mary Ann Casbon, 26 Dec 1875; imaged as “London, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1921,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1623 : accessed 10 Aug 2016), Islington >St Luke, Finsbury >1867-1881 >image 494 of 747; London Metropolitan Archives, record no. p76/luk/058.
[10] 1891 England census, London, Hackney, ED 23b, p. 31, schedule 47, 33 Benyon Rd, Mary A Sparrow (indexed as “Spawn”); imaged as “1891 England Census,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=6598 : accessed 29 October 2018), London >Hackney >West Hackney >District 23b >image 32 of 34; TNA RG12/190/98.
[11] Church of England, Meldreth (Cambridgeshire), Register of Baptisms, 1813-77,. 44, no. 345, Edith Casburn, 29 Mar 1835; imaged as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,”FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/search/film/007567609?cat=210742 : accessed 28 April 2017), image 219 of 699; FHL film 1,040,542, item 5.
[12] 1851 England census, Cambridgeshire, Whaddon, ED 4, p. 15, schedule 43, Edith Casbon in household of Elizabeth Bell; Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=8860 : accessed 27 January 2019), Cambridgeshire >Whaddon >4 >image 16 of 23; TNA, HO 107/1708/34.
[13] Meldreth, Register of Marriages, 1837-75, p. 50, no. 99, William Catley & Edith Casbon, 13 Oct 1860; imaged as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007567609?cat=210742 : accessed 29 August 2017), image 397 of 699; FHL film 1,040,542, item 9.
[14] “Index of Cambridgeshire Parish Records,” database/transcriptions, Cambridge Family History Society, Edith Catley, bu. 22 May 1916 at Melbourn; print copy in author’s personal collection.
[15] Meldreth, Register of Baptisms, 1813-77, p. 54, no. 429, Jane Casbon, 29 Nov 1840; FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/search/film/007567609?cat=210742 : accessed 28 April 2017), image 224 of 699.
[16] 1861 England census, Cambridgeshire, Meldreth, ED 15, schedule 133; J Carston in household of William Caston; Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=8767 : accessed 27 January 2019), Cambridgeshire >Meldreth >District 15 >image 25 of 32; TNA, RG 9/815/64.
[17] 1871 England census, Meldreth, enumeration district (ED) 15, p. 21, schedule 125, High St., Jane Casbon in household of William Casbon; “1871 England Census,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=7619 : accessed 27 January 2019), Cambridgeshire >Meldreth >District 15 >image 22 of 32; TNA, RG 10/1363/25.
[18] “England & Wales Marriages 1837-2008”, database, findmypast (https://search.findmypast.com/search-world-Records/england-and-wales-marriages-1837-2005 : accessed 30 March 2017), John Camp, 1st qtr, 1881, Royston, vol. 3A/323; General Register Office (GRO), Southport.
[19] “Search the GRO Online Index,” HM Passport Office (https://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/certificates/indexes_search.asp : accessed 27 January 2019), deaths, Jane Camp, J[un] qtr, 1904, Royston, vol. 3A/299.
[20] 1871 England census, Kent, Lewisham, ED 4, p. 61, schedule 214, Martha Casbon (indexed “Carbor” in household of John H Greener (indexed “Greeno”); Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=7619 : accessed 19 March 2018), Kent >Lewisham >Lee >District 4 >image 62 of 80; TNA, RG 10/763/89.
[21] 1881 England census, London, Hammersmith, ED 28, pp. 41-2, schedule 186, 100 Godolphin Rd., Martha Casbon in household of John Weir; “1881 England Census,” Ancestry ((https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=7619 : accessed 19 March 2018), London >Hammersmith >St Paul Hammersmith >District 28 >image 42 of 68; TNA, RG 11/60/143.
[22] 1891 England census, London, Lambeth, ED 20, p. 4, schedule 20, 156 Clapham Rd., Martha Casbon in the household of Frederick Glew; Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=6598 : accessed 27 January 2019), London >Lambeth >Kennington First >District 20 >image 5 of 45; TNA, RG 12/400/96.
[23] 1901 England census, London, Hammersmith, ED 3, p. 90, schedule620, 214 Goldhawk Rd., Martha Casbon in household of Henry Miller; “1901 England Census,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=7814 : accessed 20 March 2018; TNA, RG 13/: accessed 20 March 2018; TNA, RG 13/9/124.
[24] 1911 England census, London, Lambeth, ED 10, schedule 109, 76 Tulse Hill SW, Martha Casbon in household of Thomas Drake; “1911 England Census,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=2352 : accessed 27 January 2019), London >Lambeth >Norwood >10 >image 220 of 421; TNA, RG 14/2109.
[25] 1939 Register, Cambridgeshire, South Cambridgeshire, ED TBKV, schedule 34, High St., Martha Casbon, “1939 England and Wales Register,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=61596 : accessed 27 January 2019), Cambridgeshire >South Cambridgeshire RD >TBKV >image 5 of 9; TNA, RG 191.63261,
[26] “Melbourn Burials 1739–1950,” p. 73, Martha Casbon, 19 Jan 1947; transcriptions, Cambridge Family History Society, Melbourn burials, Martha Casbon, bu. 22 May 1916 at Melbourn; print copy in author’s personal collection.
[27] 1851 England census, Cambridgeshire, Chatteris, ED 3e, p. 1, schedule 1, Park Rd., Sarah Casborn in household of Ann Curtis; Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=8860 : accessed 27 January 2019), Cambridgshire >Chatteris >3e >image 2 of 48; TNA, HO 107/1765/371.
[28] Ibid.
[29] Church of England, Peterborough (Northamptonshire), St. John Parish, Marriages, 1855–1866, p. 76, no. 152, Richard Baker & Sarah Casbon, 22 Jun 1857; imaged as “Northamptonshire, England, Church of England Marriages, 1754-1912,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=9199 : accessed 19 January 2018), Peterborough, St John >Parish Registers >1855-1859 >image 41 of 66; Northamptonshire Record Office, Northampton.
[30] “Search the GRO Online Index,” deaths, Sarah Baker, M[ar] qtr, 1904, Peterborough, vol. 3B/146.
[31] “Search the GRO Online Index,” births, Priscilla Banks, D[ec] qtr, 1862, Royston, vol. 3A/227.
[32] 1881 England Census, Cambridgeshire, Cambridge, ED 2, p. 14, schedule 59, 8 Parker St., Priscilla Casbon in household of Edmund Wilson; Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=7572 : accessed 26 January 2019), Cambridgeshire >Cambridge >St. Andrew the Great >District 2 >image 15 of 48; TNA, RG 11/1669/43.
[33] 1891 England census, Cambridgeshire, Meldreth, ED 13, p. 18, schedule 134, Witcroft Rd., Priscilla Casbon in household of William Casbon; Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=6598 : accessed 27 January 2019), Cambridgeshire >Meldreth >District 13 >image 19 of 27; TNA, RG 12/1104/68.
[34] “England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837-1915,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=8913 : accessed 24 April 2018), Priscilla Casbon, 3d qtr, 1896, Bedford, vol. 3B/732; GRO, London.
[35] “Find A Will,” Gov.UK (https://probatesearch.service.gov.uk/Calendar#calendar : accessed 27 January 2019), Wills and Probate 1858–1996, search terms: “banks” “1904.”
[36] 1891 England census, London, Kensington, ED 17, p. 30, schedule 157, 40 Evelyn Gardens, Julia F Casbon in the household of Thomas Fraser; Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=6598 : accessed 27 January 2019), London >Kensington >Brompton >District 17 >image 31 of 51; TNA, RG 12/32/73.
[37] Church of England, Barley (Hertfordshire), Marriage registers, p. 136, no. 271, Henry Brassington & Julia Frances Casbon, 19 Sep 1899; “Hertfordshire Banns & Marriages,” findmypast (https://search.findmypast.com/search-world-Records/hertfordshire-banns-and-marriages : accessed 14 October 2017).
[38] “England and Wales Death Registration Index 1837-2007”, FamilySearch, (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVCK-W896 : accessed 4 September 2014), Julia F Brassington, 1965, 4th qtr, Harrow, vol. 5B/961/153; citing GRO, Southport.
[39] “Search the GRO Online Index,” births, Kate Casban, M[ar] atr, 1874, Edmonton, vol. 3A: 203.
[40] 1891 England Census, Middlesex, Edmonton, ED 1, p. 49, schedule 284, Langhedge House, Kate Casban in household of Maria Rowley; Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=6598 : accessed 28 January 2019), Middlesex >Edmonton >District 01 >image 50 of 54; TNA, RG 14/1081/27.
[41] Church of England, London, Edmonton, St James, Marriages 1851-1917, p. 159, no. 318, Frederick Gunn & Kate Casban, 9 Apr 1898; “London, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1932,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1623 : accessed 22 March 2017), Enfield >St James, Upper Edmonton >1851-1917 >image 206 of 506; London Metropolitan Archives.
[42] “Search the GRO Online Index,” births, Margaret Casbon, D[ec] qtr, 1875, Royston, vol. 3A/320.
[43] 1891 England Census, Surrey, Croydon, ED 34, p. 9, schedule 48, 25 Wellesley Rd., Alice Casbar in household of George E Wheeler; Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=6598 : accessed 28 January 2019), Surrey >Croydon >District 34 >image 10 of 89; TNA RG 14/591/44.
[44] Ibid.
[45] “England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837-2005,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:269S-X5P : accessed 13 December 2014), Margaret Alice Casban, 2d qtr, 1898, Croydon, vol. 2A/529/38; GRO, Southport.
[46] “Search the GRO Online Index,” births, Olive Louise Casbon, J[un] qtr, 1884, Royston, vol. 3A/444.
[47] 1901 England census, Surrey, Croydon, ED 81, p. 8, schedule 45, Olive L Casson in household of John Percy Lewis; Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=7814 : accessed 26 January 2019), Surrey >Croydon >District 81 >image 9 of 55; TNA, RG 13/648/8.
[48] 1911 England Census, Surrey, Croydon, ED 18, schedule 63, 18 Avenue Rd, Norwood S.E., Olive Louise Casbon in household of Reuben Glasgow Kestin; Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=2352 : accessed 20 March 2018), Surrey >Croydon >North Croydon >18 >image 126 of 699; TNA, RG 14/3385.
[49] “England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837-2005,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:267B-M1S : accessed 14 November 2015), Olive L Casbon, 2d qtr, 1911, Croydon, vol, 2A/631/105.
[50] “Search the GRO Online Index,” births, Thomas Jessop Cavendish De Rinzy, D[ec] qtr, 1911, Croydon, vol. 2A/644.
[51] “Search the GRO Online Index,” deaths, Olive Louise De Rinzy, D[ec] qtr, 1916, Croydon, vol. 2A/473.
[52] “Search the GRO Online Index,” births, Maud Emily Casbon, D[ec] qtr, 1885, Royston, vol. 3A/471.
[53] 1901 England census, Cambridgeshire, Melbourn, enumeration district 9, p. 9, schedule 44, Maud Carton in household of Albert Spencer; Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=7814 : accessed 28 January 2019), Cambridgeshire >Melbourn >District 09 >image 10 of 27; TNA, RG 13/1296/9.
[54] 1911 England Census, Surrey, Penge, ED 2, schedule 138, Maude Emily Casbon in household of Adele Maude Everest; Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=2352 : accessed 20 March 201), Surrey >Penge >02 >image 276 of 809; TNA, RG 14/3406.
[55] “Search the GRO Online Index,” deaths, Maud Emily Casbon, D[ec] qtr, 1911, Croydon, vol. 2A/408.
[56] “Search the GRO Online Index,” births, Hilda Mary Casbon, D[ec] qtr, 1887, Royston, vol. 3A/466.
[57] 1911 England Census, Cambridgeshire, Fowlmere, ED 5, schedule 26, Hilda Casbon in household of Sarah Casbon; Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=2352 : accessed 28 January 2019), Hertfordshire >Fowlmere >05 >image 52 of 265; TNA, RG 14/7557.
[58] England, birth certificate (PDF copy) for George Casbon, born 11 Jun 1914; registered June quarter, Croydon district 2A/618, West Croydon Sub-district, Surrey; General Register Office, Southport.
[59] Tessa Arlen, “The Redoubtable Edwardian Housemaid and a Life of Service,” Tessa Arlen Mysteries from the early 1900s (http://www.tessaarlen.com/redoubtable-housmaid-life-belowstairs/ : accessed 28 January 2019).
[60] “Search the GRO Online Index,” deaths, Hilda Casbon, J[un] qtr, 1921, Croydon, vol. 2A/312.
[61] “Search the GRO Online Index,” births, Elsie Lydia Casbon, S[ep] qtr, 1890, Royston, vol. 3A/490.
[62] 1911 England Census, Cambridgeshire,Cambridge, ED 7, schedule 135, 160-1 East Rd, Elsie Lydia Caslon in household of George W Sheet; Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=2352 : accessed 20 March 2018), Cambridgeshire >Cambridge >St Andrew the Less >07 >image 274 of 313; TNA, RG 14/9107.
[63] “Search the GRO Online Index,” deaths, Elsie Casbon, J[un] qtr, 1919, Kensington, vol. 1A/217.

Was my Third Great Grandfather a Convicted Thief?

Sometimes there are long gaps in records, especially for people who lived before censuses were taken. You might only have records for birth (or baptism), marriage, and death (or burial)—commonly referred to as “BMD” records, with no information about what happened in the intervals between these major life events.

Such is the case with my third great grandfather, Thomas Casbon. Thomas was born November 3, 1803 in Meldreth, Cambridgeshire. He married Emma Scruby October 9, 1830 in nearby Melbourn. The 27-year gap between his birth and marriage is a silent period in Thomas’ life.

Or at least it was.

Here’s an interesting record I found on the Findmypast website:[1]

(Click on image to enlarge)

This is a register of criminal court proceedings for Cambridgeshire held in the year 1822. I’ve marked the pertinent items. Thomas Casborn was tried during the October Sessions, convicted of larceny, and sentenced to seven years’ transportation. Sessions were courts that met quarterly to try a variety of civil and criminal offenses.[2] They were generally held in the county seat – in this case, Cambridge.

The sessions were also reported in the local newspaper:[3]

Cambridge Chronicle, 25 Oct 1822; 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)

I’ve included the entire article, as I think readers might find it interesting, but here is the paragraph in question.

(Click on image to enlarge)

There are a couple of interesting terms in this report: harvest home – a festival traditionally celebrated on the Sunday nearest the harvest moon in late September or early October;[4] haulm – “the stems or tops of crop plants (such as peas or potatoes) especially after the crop has been gathered.”[5]

You can see that Thomas’ surname was spelled Casburn in this report. Was he my ancestor? Spelling of surnames was still highly fluid at that time, so minor variations do not rule out anyone with a similar name. The fact that the stolen watch was located in Bassingbourn possibly points to “my” Thomas, because Bassingbourn is quite close to Meldreth. (Thomas’ father Isaac and mother Susanna (Howes) were married in Bassingbourn in 1800.[6]) But this is weak evidence at best.

To complicate matters further, there were quite a few men named Thomas, with similar surnames, living in Cambridgeshire at the time. These included the names Casborn, Casbourn, and Casburn. As a matter of fact, if you read the entire Cambridge Chronicle article, you will see that another man named Thomas Casburn was charged with disturbing the peace in the parish of Burwell. (The Casburn spelling is strongly associated with Burwell.) How can we tell if the man convicted of larceny was my ancestor?

Fortunately, there are other records that help to narrow down the field.

(Click on image to enlarge)

This is a partial page from a register of prisoners on the convict hulk Leviathan.[7] A hulk was a decommissioned ship used as a floating prison.[8] Masts, rigging, and other components necessary for sailing were removed, rendering the ships unseaworthy, but still able to float.[9] They were used to house prisoners in England from 1776 until 1857, when the practice was finally banned.[10] Many convicts were placed on hulks temporarily, while awaiting transport on convict ships to Australia and other Commonwealth lands. But a few served their entire sentence aboard the hulk.

HMS Leviathan was first launched as a 74-gun ship of the line in the British Navy in 1790. She fought in the battle of Trafalgar. She was decommissioned and converted to a prison ship in 1816, and anchored in Portsmouth harbor.[11]

Prison Hulks in Portsmouth Harbour, oil on canvas, Daniel Turner; © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London (Click on image to enlarge)

The register of prisoners shows that Thomas Casborn was the 6,072d prisoner registered on the ship’s book. He was one of four prisoners brought aboard from Cambridge on October 31, 1822. All four were convicted of grand larceny (“G.L.”) and received seven-year sentences. If you look back at the Cambridge Chronicle article, you will find the other three names. All except Thomas were transported to New South Wales (“N.S.W” in the last column) on May 8, 1823. Thomas served his entire sentence aboard the hulk and was discharged October 18, 1829. I believe the reason Thomas was not transported is that this was his first offense.[12] The other three men were repeat offenders.[13]

Most importantly, this register shows that Thomas was nineteen years old at the time of his conviction. This gives him a birth year of about 1803 and helps us to narrow down the list of men who might have been Thomas. I can only find two potential candidates:

  • Thomas Casbon, my third great grandfather, and
  • Thomas Casburn, baptized October 3, 1802 in Burwell, Cambridgeshire.[14]

There were also Thomases baptized in 1792 and 1808, but these are too far outside the margin of error to be listed as nineteen years old in 1822.

So, the list is down to two. But which one was the prisoner on the Leviathan? I needed more information.

With a little research, I learned that the records of the Cambridge Quarter Sessions are maintained at the Cambridgeshire Archives. I emailed the Archives, along with a copy of the news clipping, to see if they could tell me anything more about Thomas Casborn who stole the silver watch. I received this polite reply on October 4th.

I have looked at the Quarter Sessions order book for 1822-1826 (ref QSO/14) and there is indeed an entry for the trial and conviction of Thomas Casborn. There is no personal information about him other than that he was “late of the parish of Melbourn [my emphasis].” This may help you identify whether this is the Casborn you are searching for or not.[15]

He also mentioned that other supporting papers for the October 1822 sessions are located in the archives, but to access these I would have to hire a professional researcher for a fee. These papers might contain additional background information about Thomas Casborn, but they might not. I’m hoping to visit the archives myself in a couple years, so I decided to forego the professional researcher.

Besides, I think the information I received answered my question. Thomas Casborn, the convict, was from the parish of Melbourn. The parishes of Melbourn and Meldreth are next-door neighbors, and my ancestors lived in both at one time or another. As I mentioned already, “my” Thomas was married at Melbourn. There are no records of other men named Thomas with this surname living in or near Melbourn at the time.

Have I proved that “my” Thomas was the man convicted of larceny in 1822? I think the evidence is pretty strong. What do you think?

It might sound like I’m celebrating the fact that I’m related to a thief. Although it does add a bit more color to the family history, I think what I’m really celebrating is that I’ve been able to link my ancestor to these records, and because of that I now have a more complete picture of his life.

What was life like for Thomas on the hulk? Some generalities can be made. Prisoners were required to do hard labor at the dockyards or river banks.[16]

This work was backbreaking, exhausting and very public; convict chain gangs provided a moral spectacle and example for all who saw them. The rations … were inadequate, in that they did not provide the convicts with the energy or nutrition required to perform such arduous work. This was done on purpose – the parliamentary act authorizing the use of hulks stipulated that convicts were to be fed little other than bread, “any coarse or inferior food”, water and small beer.[17]

Discipline was said to be severe and convicts were frequently locked in irons. Mortality rates were high, although this does not seem to be the case on the Leviathan.[18] Of the 444 prisoners brought onto the Leviathan in 1822, only eight died while in captivity.[19]

These would be considered extreme and inhumane conditions by today’s standards. In Thomas’ time, harsh punishments were the norm, although criticism of the hulk system did occur.[20]

© The British Library Board (Click on image to enlarge)

I have another set of records from the Leviathan, known as Quarterly Returns. These list the prisoners on board at any given time, and they include entries about prisoners’ “Bodily State” and “Behavior.” Most of Thomas’ entries list his bodily state as “good” and behavior as “very good.” However, in 1827 his behavior was listed as “indifferent.”[21] After five years imprisonment, this would not be surprising. In 1828 and 1829, his behavior was once again “very good.” Perhaps by then he was seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

How does this change how I think of and feel about my third great grandfather? I don’t know if I have an answer. I never knew him, so everything I know about him is based on limited information. Now I know that he committed a criminal act, when he was old enough to know better, and was punished accordingly. Did he “learn his lesson” after serving his sentence? It would seem so. He married Emma Scruby one year after his release from the Leviathan. After another sixteen years he was somehow able to come to the United States, where his family was able to prosper in ways that would have been impossible in his mother country. There is nothing to suggest he was anything but a model citizen after coming to America. The balance sheet seems to be in his favor.

Nothing of this has been passed down in our family history that I know of. Who knew about it? His wife Emma would have surely known. The children, who ranged in age from thirteen to two years old when they emigrated, might have had an inkling. If they did know, it seems that they kept it to themselves.

His conviction and imprisonment on the Leviathan must have influenced his decision to emigrate. By coming to America he was able to put the past behind him and start over with a clean slate.

[1] “England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment, 1770-1935,” database with images, Findmypast (subscription site) (https://search.findmypast.com/record?id=TNA/CCC/HO27/023/00041&parentid=TNA/CCC/HO27/00950248 : accessed 26 September 2018), entry for Thomas Casborn, October Sessions, 1822, Cambridge; citing The National Archives, HO 27, piece 23.
[2] “England Quarter Session Records,” FamilySearch Wiki (https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Quarter_Session_Records : accessed 10 October 2018), rev. 26 Dec 15, 02:53.
[3] “Cambridgeshrire Quarter Sessions, October 18 and 19, 1822,” Cambridge Chronicle and Journal, and Huntingdonshire Gazette, 25 Oct 1822, p. 3, col. 4; online image, The British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000420/18221025/008/0003 : accessed 26 September 2018).
[4] “British harvest: how long does the season last, when is harvest day, plus history and traditions,”Countryfile Magazine (https://www.countryfile.com/how-to/food-recipes/british-harvest-how-long-does-the-season-last-when-is-harvest-day-plus-history-and-traditions/ : accessed 11 October 2018), 9 Aug 2018.
[5] “haulm,” Merriam-Webster (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/haulm : accessed 11 October 2018).
[6] “England Marriages, 1538–1973 ,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:N63P-B9H : accessed 4 November 2015), Isaac Casbill and Susannah Howes, 15 Oct 1800; citing; FHL microfilm 1,040,367.
[7] “HO 9. Convict hulks moored at Portsmouth: Portland, Captivity, Leviathan: Register of prisoners,” p. 213 (stamped); PDF download, The National Archives (http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C4286832 : accessed 10 October 2018). (file HO-9-8_1.pdf).
[8] “List of British prison hulks,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_British_prison_hulks : accessed 10 October 2018), rev. 31 Aug 18, 08:44.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] “HO 9. Convict hulks moored at Portsmouth: Portland, Captivity, Leviathan: Register of prisoners,” p. 145 (stamped).
[13] Ibid, pp. 154, 163 (stamped).
[14] “England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NVPC-NNY : accessed 10 October 2018), Thomas Casburn; citing FHL microfilm 887,403.
[15] Alan Akeroyd (cambs.archives@cambridgeshire.gov.uk), to Jon Casbon, email, 4 Oct 2018, “Cambs quarter sessions, October 1822”; privately held by Casbon [(e-address for private use)].
[16] “Convict Hulks,” digital panopticon (https://www.digitalpanopticon.org/Convict_Hulks : accessed 11 October 2018).
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Jon Casbon, review of Leviathan prisoner register, cited above.
[20] “Convict Hulks,” digital panopticon, previously cited.
[21] “England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment, 1770-1935,” database & images, findmypast (https://search.findmypast.com/record?id=TNA/CCC/HO8/011/00204 : accessed 26 September 2018), quarterly returns from Hulk Leviathan, Mar 1827, p. 192 (stamped), no. 6072, Thomas Casborn; citing The National Archives, HO 8, piece 11.