The First Family of James Casbon in England

I have written about James Casbon (~1813–1884) many times, but most of my focus has been on his later years in England, his emigration to the United States, and his children who grew up there. However, he lived most of his life in England and had a large family there by his first wife, Elizabeth Waller. I have never told the stories of James’s and Elizabeth’s children. They would have been adults by the time James departed from England with his second family (wife, Mary, and their children) in 1870.

Technically, James’s living descendants in the United States—some of whom I know and correspond with—are closer in kinship to their English cousins than they are to me, since I am descended from James’s brother Thomas.

James Casbon, undated photo; courtesy of Ron Casbon

I’ll begin with a brief review of James’s and Elizabeth’s lives in England. James’s birthdate is not recorded, but from census records, it seems that he was probably born at Meldreth, Cambridgeshire in 1813 or 1814. Elizabeth Waller was born at Meldreth 11 September 1815 and baptized 15 October of that year, the daughter of William and Sarah (Johnson)
Waller.[1] James and Elizabeth were married at Meldreth 25 July 1835.[2] Elizabeth died of consumption (tuberculosis) 16 August 1852 at the age of 36.[3] James’s whereabouts after her death are unknown until he appears in the vicinity of Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, sometime in the 1860s. He married his second wife, Mary Jackson, at Stretham, Cambridgeshire, in 1866.[4]

The immediate aftermath of Elizabeth’s death is unknown, but there is reason to believe that it had a catastrophic effect on the family. At least two of the children, and probably more, ended up at the local workhouse, a destination reserved for destitute families and paupers. By 1861, the first census after Elizabeth’s death, there is no trace of the family as a unit. Only one of the children can be found in that census with certainty. By then, many of them would have been old enough to enter the workforce, so it is not surprising that they cannot be found together. However, it is odd not to find them at all.

Here is a chart showing James, Elizabeth, and two generations of their descendants, followed by biographical sketches of their children.

Chart showing descendants of James and Elizabeth (Waller) Casbon, numbered by generation and arranged in birth order (Click on image to enlarge)

William Casbon (~1836–unknown)

I held off on writing this post until I knew the answer to the two-William problem. Now that I have the answer, I can be more confident in what I say about James’s eldest son, William.

The only certain records we have of William are the 1841 and 1851 censuses of Meldreth and Melbourn, respectively. His age is given as 5 in 1841 and 15 in 1851, giving an estimated birth year of 1836. The 1851 census also tells us that William had already entered the workforce as an agricultural labourer.

Detail from 1851 England census, Melbourn, Cambridgeshire, showing James Casbon and his family; William, age 15, is highlighted ( (Click on image to enlarge)

After the 1851 census, the trail for William goes cold, or at least cool. I have found a few records that might pertain to him. The first is in a collection known as the “1861 Worldwide [British] Army Index” ( The collection includes a record for William Casbon, a private assigned to the 1st Battalion 20th (East Devonshire) Regiment of Foot in Gorakhpur, India.[5] I think this was probably James’s son, especially since he does not turn up elsewhere in the 1861 England census. Given the likely disruption of the family following his mother’s death, it’s plausible that William could have enlisted in the Army, perhaps after a stint in the workhouse.

There are two more interesting records. The first is the baptismal record of William Casbon, son of William Casbon and Lydia Lovely, at Whaddon (a village 1 ½ miles from Meldreth) in 1867 (no date given).[6] The child appears to have born out of wedlock in about 1860, based on his name being listed as William Lovely, age 11, in the 1871 census.[7] It’s plausible but not possible to prove that James’s son William was the father.

The second record is an 1869 criminal court record describing the conviction of Eliza Bacon, age 29, for “feloniously marrying Robert Bacon, her husband William Casbon being alive.”[8] This record might also refer to our William, but there is insufficient information to connect it to him with certainty. I have been unable to find any record of marriage or death for William.

Sarah Casbon (~1837–unknown)

The oldest daughter of James and Elizabeth, Sarah was baptized at Meldreth 8 October 1837.[9] She appears in the 1841 and 1851 censuses and then disappears from view. She would have been 14 years old when her mother died. I haven’t been able to find any further marriage, death, or census records for Sarah.

Lydia (Ann) Casbon (~1840–1885)

Lydia was baptized at Meldreth 20 December 1840.[10] She married, at Chester, Cheshire, 28 August 1859, Daniel Cross.[11] What was Lydia doing at Chester, more than 140 miles from Meldreth? One can surmise that she had found a position of some kind there, either as a servant or dressmaker (her occupation in the 1861 census). The parish marriage record gives Lydia’s father’s occupation as “farmer.” This was an exaggeration, since James was an agricultural labourer, a far cry from one who farmed his own land.

Lydia and Daniel had one son, William, born in 1867. Although I have not traced the family any further, it is evident from other Ancestry family trees that William had a large family. Thus, it is likely that Lydia and Daniel have living descendants today. Lydia’s burial is recorded at Chester on 8 May 1885.[12]

Mary Casbon (~1841–unknown)

Mary was baptized at Meldreth 19 December 1841.[13] Like several of her siblings, she disappears after the 1851 census. Given her age at the time of her mother’s death—about 11 years old—she might have spent some time in the Royston Union workhouse. While researching for this post, I came upon an 1861 census listing for Matilda Casbin, age 19, housemaid at a private home in Westminster St. Martin in the Fields, London.[14] Matilda’s birthplace is listed as Meldreth, Cambridgeshire. Given the last name, the birthplace, the fact that there are no other records for Matilda Casbon, and no other Casbons of that approximate age from Meldreth who are unaccounted for, I think this could be Mary.

Thomas Casbon (1844–1924)

Thomas was born at Meldreth 20 September 1844 and baptized there 15 June 1845.[15] He would have been 8 years old when his mother died. I haven’t found him for certain on the 1861 census, but I have previously written about my theory that Thomas and his father might have been listed in the 1861 census of Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, under the surname Randle. Thomas appears in a few newspaper articles of the late 1860s and early 1870s for minor criminal offenses such as public drunkenness and trespassing. He is recorded in the 1871 census living at Barrington, Cambridgeshire (2 ½ miles from Meldreth) and working as a “coprolite labourer.”[16]

In 1878 Thomas married Sarah Ann Wyers, a former domestic servant from Mepal, Cambridgeshire.[17] The couple had eight children—all but one of them boys—ensuring continuation of the family name. Thomas worked as an agricultural labourer and lived the remainder of his life at Brangehill (possibly a farm), near Sutton, Cambridgeshire. His death was registered in October 1924.[18] He was 80 years old.

George Casbon (1846–1897)

George was born at Meldreth 28 November 1847 and baptized 16 March the following
year.[19] George was sent to the Royston Union workhouse, probably shortly after his mother’s death. I wrote about him recently, describing his arrest and brief imprisonment for running away and stealing clothes from the workhouse. I have found entries in the 1861 census listing for the Royston workhouse that I believe are for George and his younger brother, John. They are represented by the initials “C.G.” and “C.J.” (last initial/first initial) on the census form.[20]

Detail from 1861 England Census, Bassingbourn, Cambridgeshire, Royston Union Workhouse, showing entries for “C.G.,” age 14 and “C.J.,” age 13; in this listing, the first initial represents the surname ( (Click on image to enlarge)

I believe he can be also found in the 1871 census as “George Carswell,” age 24, birthplace Meldreth, Cambridgeshire, residing in the Army barracks at Stoke Damerel,
Devonshire.[21] This suspicion is supported by the description of George’s occupation in the 1881 census as “formerly a soldier.”

George married Sarah Pearse in 1881[22] and the couple settled in Fowlmere, a small village about 3 miles from Meldreth. He was listed there as a farm labourer in 1891.[23] George and Sarah had a son and four daughters. Notably, all four of the daughters became domestic servants, one of the few options available to girls from the lower classes. One of these daughters, Hilda Mary Casbon (1887–1921), being unmarried, gave up her son, George, for adoption. George was later shipped to Canada as one of thousands of “British Home Children.”

George, the subject of this sketch, died at Fowlmere 18 October 1897 at the age of 51.[24]

John Casbon (1849–1935)

John was born at Meldreth 10 February 1849, three years before his mother’s death.[25] I believe he was also sent to the Royston Union workhouse, where he is listed as “C. J.” in the 1861 census. In the 1871 census, he is listed as an agricultural labourer at Meldreth.[26] In 1890 he married Sarah Pepper, a local woman who previously worked as a servant and cook in London.[27] John and Sarah lived on Drury Lane in Melbourn, Cambridgeshire, for their entire married lives and had no children. By 1911, his occupation was listed as “shepherd.”[28] John died in 1935[29] and Sarah in 1938.[30]

Emma Casbon (1851–1853)

Emma’s birthdate is not recorded, but her age was recorded as 2 years old when she died of “fever” at the Royston Union workhouse on 4 November 1853.[31]

Death registration of Emma Casbon, Union Workhouse Bassingbourn (Royston), 2 years old; cause of death “Fever” (Click on image to enlarge)

Her baptismal record of 13 August 1852—three days before her mother’s death—is marked “Private,” meaning the ceremony was performed somewhere besides the parish church—most likely at home.[32] Given the timing, this was probably done so that her terminally ill mother could be present at the ceremony, perhaps as a dying wish. The location of Emma’s death—the workhouse—is the most visible and poignant indication of the consequences of Elizabeth’s death. Without his wife, James, a poor labourer, no longer had the resources to care for his family. We don’t know when or how many of James’s children were admitted to the workhouse, but in Emma’s case, it was probably quite soon after Elizabeth’s death.

[1] Parish of Meldreth (Cambridgeshire, England), register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 8, no. 57; accessed as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” browsable images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 28 April 2017), image 201 of 699; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,542, item 5.
[2] Parish of Meldreth, register of marriages (1813–1837), p. 34, no. 100; accessed as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 29 Aug 2017), image 363; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,542, item 8.
[3] England, General Register Office (GRO), death registration (unofficial copy), Royston & Buntingford/Melbourn, 1852, no. 117; PDF copy, author’s collection.
[4] “Stretham Marriages 1558 – 1952,” PDF extract, database,  Cambridgeshire Family History Society ( : downloaded 2 September 2017), >Casben >Stretham >Stretham Marriages 1558 – 1952, James Casben & Mary Jackson, 3 Nov 1866; citing Stretham (Cambridgeshire) parish records.
[5] “British Army, Worldwide Index 1861,” database, Findmypast ( : accessed 11 Nov 2016).
[6] “England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” database, FamilySearch ( : 6 December 2014).
[7] 1871 England census, Cambridgeshire, Bassingbourn, ED 4, p. 13 (65 stamped), schedule 60, William Lovely in the household of John Willshire; imaged at Ancestry (( : accessed 29 Sep 20) >Cambridgeshire >Bassingbourne >ALL >4 >images 13-4 of 26; citing The National Archives, RG 10/1361.
[8] Central Criminal Court Calendar of Prisoners in Her Majesty’s Gaol of Newgate, Third Session, Commencing Monday, 20th of September, 1869, p. 10, no. 20; imaged in “England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment, 1770-1935,” Findmypast (, image 171 of 236.
[9] Parish of Meldreth, register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 49, no. 390.
[10] Parish of Meldreth, register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 54, no. 430.
[11] Holy Trinity parish, Chester, Cheshire, England, p. 173, item 2; imaged as “Cheshire Diocese of Chester parish marriages 1538-1910,” Findmypast (
[12] Parish of Christleton, Burials 1885, Refe. item 2,, p 15 Record group Part 1 – 1; imaged as “Cheshire Diocese Of Chester Parish Burials 1538-1911,” Findmypast ( :accessed 8 Nov 2016).
[13] Parish of Meldreth, register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 55, no. 437.
[14] 1861 England census, Middlesex, Westminster St. Martin in the Fields, Charing Cross, ED 10, p. 12, Matilda Casbin in the household of Lydia A. Knight; Ancestry ( : accessed 1 Oct 20) >Middlesex >Westminster St Martin in the Fields >Charing Cross >District 10 >image 13 of 29.
[15] England, General Register Office, birth registration (unofficial copy), certificate no. BCA205377, Royston & Buntingford district, Melbourne sub-district, no. 230, 20 Sep 1844; author’s collection. Parish of Meldreth, register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 61, no. 487.
[16] 1871 England census, Cambridgeshire, Barrington, ED 2, p. 14, schedule 52; imaged as “1871 England Census,” Ancestry ( : accessed 23 Aug 20) >Cambridgeshire >Barrington >ALL >2 >image 15 of 31.
[17] “England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837–2005”, FamilySearch ( 13 December 2014).
[18] “England and Wales Death Registration Index 1837–2007,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 25 September 2015); Ely, 3d qtr 1924, vol. 3B/144.
[19] Parish of Meldreth, register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 63, no. 501.
[20] 1861 England census, Cambridgeshire, Bassingbourn, enumeration district 5, p 77(stamped), verso (6th page of Royston Union Workhouse); Ancestry ( : accessed 24 April 2020) >Cambridgeshire >Bassingbourn >District 5 >image 23 of 25.
[21] 1871 England census, Devon, Stoke Damerel, St. Aubyn, Raglan barracks, p. 81 (verso), line 10; imaged as “1871 England Census,” Ancestry ( : accessed 23 Aug 2020) >Devon >Stoke Damerel >St Aubyn >Raglan Barracks >image 37 of 57.
[22] “England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837-2005,” database, FamilySearch ( : accessed 26 September 2015), George Casbon, 1881; from “England & Wales Marriages, 1837-2005,” database, findmypast ( : 2012); citing Marriage, Colchester, Essex, England, General Register Office.
[23] 1891 England census, Cambridgeshire, Fowlmere, ED 6, p. 14, schedule 86; imaged as “1891 England Census,” Ancestry ( : accessed 23 Aug 2020) >Cambridgeshire >Fowlmere >ALL >District 6 >image 15 of 20.
[24] “Deaths,” Saffron Walden (Essex) Weekly News, 22 Oct 1897, p. 8, col. 8; accessed through “British Newspaper Collection,”  findmypast ( : accessed 14 September 2017).
[25] Parish of Meldreth, register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 68, no. 540.
[26] 1871 England census, Cambridgeshire, Meldreth, ED 15, p. 6, schedule32; ; imaged as “1871 England Census,” Ancestry ( : accessed 24 Aug 20) >Cambridgeshire >Meldreth >ALL >15 >image 7 of 32.
[27] “England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837–2005”, FamilySearch ( : accessed 28 Apr 20); Royston, 1st qtr, vol. 3A/352.
[28] 1911 England census, Cambridgeshire, Melbourn, ED 9, schedule 82; imaged as “1911 England Census,” Ancestry ( : accessed 24 Aug 2020) >Hertfordshire >Melbourn >ALL >09 >image 168 of 299.
[29] England and Wales, “Search the GRO [General Register Office] Online Index,” HM Passport Office ( : accessed 30 Sep 20); entry for John James Casbon, age 85, 1st qtr 1935, Cambridge, vol. 3B/564.
[30] “Search the GRO [General Register Office] Online Index,” ( : accessed 30 Sep 20); entry for Sarah Casbon, age 88, 1st qtr 1938, Cambridgeshire, vol. 3B/553>
[31] England, death registration (unofficial copy), Dec qtr 1853, Royston & Buntingford District, vol. 3A/107, Melbourn Sub-district, no. 319; General Register Office (GRO), Southport.
[32] Parish of Meldreth, register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 75, no. 599.

The White Plague

The arrival of two death certificates from the General Register Office in England has helped to fill gaps in the life stories of two Casbon ancestors and also serves to highlight a topic I’ve touched on before—tuberculosis.

The certificates are for two sisters-in-law, Lydia (Burgess) and Elizabeth (Waller) Casbon. Lydia was married to Joseph Casbon (~1811–1847). She was born about 1812 and died in 1851.[1] Elizabeth was the first wife of Joseph’s brother, James Casbon (~1813–1884). She was born in 1815 and died in 1852.[2]

Here are the death “certificates” (copies of the official death registrations).

Death registration of Elizabeth Casbon. (Click on image to enlarge)

Death registration of Lydia Casbon. (Click on image to enlarge)

Starting with Lydia, we can see that she died 8 June 1851 at Meldreth (Cambridgeshire, England). She was said to be thirty-five years old and the “Relict [widow] of Joseph Casbourn, Labourer.” The cause of death is a most interesting word—Phthisis. Sarah Worland, the informant, was also the informant for the death registration of Lydia’s husband, Joseph, who died in 1847.

Phthisis is an old medical term that generally refers to the wasting away of the body from any cause, but during this period of time referred to pulmonary consumption, i.e., tuberculosis.[3] This diagnosis confirmed my earlier suspicions that Lydia, and probably her children too, had perished from tuberculosis. More recently, I wrote that her husband Joseph also died from a form of the same disease.

Now looking at Elizabeth, she died 16 August 1852 at Melbourn (Cambridgeshire). She was thirty-six years old, the wife of “James Casbon, Labourer.” She died of “Consumption
1 year,” i.e., she also died of tuberculosis.

It’s hard today to imagine the impact that tuberculosis (TB) had in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England. The disease had been around for millennia, but by the early 1800s had become epidemic.[4] Death rates in London and other major European cities were as high as 800 to 1,000 per 100,000 per year, meaning that up to one percent of the population died from the disease every year.[5] Young adults were hardest hit: in the late nineteenth-century England and Wales, almost half of the deaths in twenty to twenty-four-year-olds were caused by TB.[6]

TB has been referred to as the white plague or white death, perhaps because of the extreme pallor of those afflicted with the disease.[7] Unlike many epidemic diseases, its course was slow and progressive, sometimes taking many years to claim its victims. Charles Dickens described it in Nicholas Nickleby:

There is a dread disease which so prepares its victim, as it were, for death; which so refines it of its grosser aspect, and throws around familiar looks unearthly indications of the coming change; a dread disease, in which the struggle between soul and body is so gradual, quiet, and solemn, and the result so sure, that day by day, and grain by grain, the mortal part wastes and withers away, so that the spirit grows light and sanguine with its lightening load, and, feeling immortality at hand, deems it but a new term of mortal life; a disease in which death and life are so strangely blended, that death takes the glow and hue of life, and life the gaunt and grisly form of death; a disease which medicine never cured, wealth never warded off, or poverty could boast exemption from; which sometimes moves in giant strides, and sometimes at a tardy sluggish pace, but, slow or quick, is ever sure and certain.[8]

Although TB occurred in all social classes, “it was a disease above all spread by overcrowded homes, unhealthy working conditions and poor nutrition; it was in other words … a disease of the poor.”[9] Which brings me back to Lydia and Elizabeth.

We know that Lydia was poor. She was listed as a “pauper” in the 1851 census.[10] By that time she had lost her husband and two of her four daughters.[11] (A third survived her by less than a year.) Her death registration says she suffered from Phthisis for three years. In other words, she had been visibly wasting away for at least three years; but she likely contracted the disease several years before it became apparent. Life must have been difficult even before her husband died, and unbearable afterwards. We don’t know anything about the family’s home or living conditions but can guess that they were far from ideal. Lydia almost certainly received some poor relief from the parish, but not enough to lift her from extreme poverty.

We can also surmise that the family of James and Elizabeth Casbon was poor. James was a laborer his entire life, near the bottom of the social ladder. In the seventeen years of their marriage, Elizabeth had born eight children, the youngest only a year before her death. The ten of them were probably squeezed into only a couple of rooms. In the 1851 census, only the oldest son, William, was earning additional income as a laborer.[12] There were many mouths to feed on meager wages. Elizabeth probably already had symptoms of TB when her daughter, Emma, was born in 1851. (Emma was baptized just three days before Elizabeth’s death – was this done because she was dying?[13]) Young Emma died in November 1853 at the Royston Union Workhouse, located in Bassingbourn (a few miles from Meldreth).[14] The location of her death is another indication of the family’s poverty. Considering the circumstances, it’s amazing that the remainder of James and Elizabeth’s children, as far as I’ve been able to trace them, lived normal lifespans.

I’ll try to end on a more positive note. As sad as these stories are, they are a testament to the fortitude of our ancestors. It may be a bit of a cliché, but comparing their lives with ours today, we can look back on their endurance and survival with both gratitude and awe.

[1] 1851 England census, Cambridgeshire, Melbourn, p. 29, enumeration district 11c, schedule 114, Lydia Casbourn; image, Ancestry ( : accessed 22 February 2019), Cambridgeshire >Melbourn >11c >image 30 of 36; citing The National Archives, HO 107/1708/206. England, death registration (unofficial copy) for Lydia Casbourn, died 8 Jun 1851; registered June quarter 1851, Royston & Buntingford District, vol. 6/405, Melbourn Sub-district, no. 410; General Register Office (GRO), Southport.
[2] Parish of Meldreth (Cambridgeshire, England), Register of Baptisms, 1813-67, p. 8, no. 57, , Elizabeth Waller, b. 11 Sep 1815, baptized 15 Oct 1815; imaged as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 28 April 2017), image 201; citing Family History Library microfilm 1,040,542, item 5. England, GRO, death registration (unofficial copy) for Elizabeth Casbon, died 16 Aug 1852; registered Sep. qtr 1852, Royston & Buntingford Dist, vol. 3A/134, Melbourn sub-dist., no. 117; GRO, Southport.
[3] Robert Hooper, M.D., Lexicon Medicum; or, Medical Dictionary: Containing an Explanation of the Terms  … on All These Subjects , rev. 8th ed., Klein Grant, M.D., editor (London: Longman, 1838),  p. 1026, “Phthisis”; image copy, Hathi Trust Digital Library ( : accessed 6 February 2019).
[4] Thomas M. Daniel, “The history of tuberculosis,” Respiratory Medicine, Nov 2006, vol. 100, no. 11, pp. 1862–70; html edition ( : accessed 22 February 2019).
[5] Ibid.
[6] Richard Evans, “The White Plague,” transcript of lecture given at The Museum of London, 27 Nov 12; MS Word transcript, Gresham College ( : accessed 22 February 2019).
[7] John Frith, “History of Tuberculosis. Part 1 – Phthisis, consumption and the White Plague,” Journal of Military and Veteran’s Health, 22/2; online archive ( : accessed 22 February 2018).
[8] Charles Dickens, Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, reprint of 1st ed. (London: MacMillan & Co., 1916); html edition, Project Gutenberg ( : accessed 22 February 2019).
[9] Evans, “The White Plague.”
[10] 1851 England census, Cambridgeshire, Melbourn, p. 29, Lydia Casbourn.
[11] Jon Casbon, “Joseph and Lydia (Burgess) Casbon, Our Casbon Journey, 2 Mar 2017 ( : accessed 22 February 2019).
[12] 1851 England census, Cambridgeshire, Meldreth, p. 32, James Casbon.
[13] Meldreth Parish, Baptisms, 1813–1867, p. 75, no. 599, Emma Casbon; accessed as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” browsable images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 29 August 2017); citing Family History Library microfilm 1,040,542, item 5, image 234.
[14] England, death registration (unofficial copy) for Emma Casbon, died 4 Nov 1853; registered Dec. qtr. 1853, Royston & Buntingford Dist., vol. 3A/107, Melbourn Sub-dist., no. 319.

Joseph Casbon, Death Registration, 1847

Before getting to today’s topics, I have a couple of brief announcements. First, I’m happy to say that an article I wrote titled, “Thomas Casbon, James Scruby, and the Meldreth-Wayne County, Ohio Connection” has been published on the Meldreth History website. You can read the article here. Much of the information in this article has been presented in earlier blog posts, but the emphasis in the article is different, and there is some new information as well. I hope you will take a look.

Also, a previous article, “‛The Old Cow Got Round It’,” was also selected as the current Editor’s Choice on the Meldreth History site. The article in the website is nearly identical to an earlier blog post.

Finally, the blog will be on vacation for a while, as I will be doing a bit of traveling.

Now to today’s post. Joseph Casbon was the third son of Isaac (~1773–1825) and Susanna (Howes, ~1776–1840) Casbon. I have written previously about Joseph and his wife Lydia (Burgess). At that time, I only had three records or documents that mentioned Joseph by name. The first was a handwritten Casbon family history from about 1890 that mentioned Joseph as the son of Isaac (and gave the incorrect name for his mother) and the brother of Thomas, Williams and James.[1]

“Isaac Casbon Married Jayne Miller of Meldreth, Near Royston Cambridge shire Englan both were raised and born in this place There were born to them Thomas William Joseph, one dead he left no heirs James” (Click on image to enlarge)

The other two records were Joseph’s marriage and burial records. There is no record of his birth or baptism, so we could only estimate his birth year as 1810 or 1811 based on the age (36) given when he was buried in 1847.[2] Now we have one more record to add to Joseph’s file: a copy of his civil death registration, which I recently ordered from the England and Wales General Register Office.[3]

(Click on image to enlarge)

The most important new details in this record are the exact date and location of death, his age, occupation, and cause of death. We can see that he died on March 3, 1847 in Melbourn, Cambridgeshire. Melbourn is the village just east of Meldreth, where Joseph was probably born and raised. His stated age of 35 would give him a birth date sometime between March 4, 1811 and March 3, 1812. Since his burial record listed his age as 36, we need to extend the beginning of this range to 1810. His occupation was “Labourer.” Given his family background, it would have been unlikely to be anything else.

Two conditions are listed under Cause of Death: “Catarrh 4 months” and “Pulmonary Consumption” (the word under this is “Certified,” which probably means a doctor certified his death). Neither of these terms are commonly used today. Catarrh in its simplest sense means “a discharge from a mucus membrane.”[4] In America, the term was generally restricted to inflammation of the membranes of the air passages.[5] In England, catarrh referred more specifically to inflammation of the trachea and bronchi (what we would call bronchitis).[6] An 1856 medical dictionary has this to say of the English version:

It is commonly an affection of but little consequence, but apt to relapse and become chronic. It is characterized by cough, thirst, lassitude, fever, watery eyes, with increased secretion of mucus from the air-passages. … Sometimes, the inflammation of the bronchial tubes is so great as to prove fatal.[7]

Consumption, in the generic sense, meant “progressive emaciation or wasting away,” but the term was most often applied to pulmonary tuberculosis, as in Joseph’s case.[8] In the early 19th century, the cause of tuberculosis was unknown, and many believed it to be hereditary or caused by constitutional weakness.[9] It wasn’t until 1865 that tuberculosis was determined to be infectious, and not until 1882 that the causative bacillus was identified.[10] There were no effective treatments until the twentieth century.

To summarize the cause of death for Joseph, he had pulmonary tuberculosis, a chronic wasting infection. In his final months, he developed catarrh; probably an accelerated phase of his underlying condition, with increased cough and mucus production.

In my earlier post about Joseph and his family, I mentioned that five of the six family members died within a five-year period, and speculated that tuberculosis was the likely cause.[11] This is certainly supported by Joseph’s death record. It’s likely that the infection was spread among the family members, all living in close quarters.

I was curious about the informant for the facts of the death record, a woman named Sarah Worland. She was most likely Sarah Worland, born about 1788 in Meldreth, who lived within one or two houses of Lydia (and Joseph?) Casbon.

I have never been able to find Joseph in the 1841 census, the first census to list names of household members. I have no idea why he doesn’t appear in the census, but clearly he was living in Melbourn when he died in 1847.

[1] Handwritten Casbon family history, ca. 1888–92, photocopy, whereabouts of original unknown, private collection of Jon Casbon.
[2] Parish of Meldreth (Cambridgeshire, England), Register of Burials 1813-75, p. 47, no. 373, Joseph Casbon, 7 Mar 1847; imaged as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 28 April 2017), image 466 of 699; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,542, item 10.
[3] Cambridgeshire, England, Royston and Buntingford district, Melbourn sub-district, death registration, 1847, no. 92, Joseph Casbon (indexed as Caston, age 35), 3 Mar, Melbourn; image copy (downloaded as pdf file), General Registration Office, Southport, vol. 6/491.
[4] Robley Dunkinson, Medical Lexicon: a Dictionary of Medical Science; Containing a Concise Explanation of the Various Subjects and Terms of Physiology, Pathology, Hygiene, Therapeutics, Pharmacology, Obstetrics, Medical Jurisprudence, &c, 13th ed. rev. (Philadelphia: Blanchard and Lea, 1856), p. 179, “Catarrh’”; online image, Hathi Trust Digital Library ( : accessed 29 May 2018).
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid, p. 233, “Consumption.”
[9] John Frith, “History of Tuberculosis. Part 1 – Phthisis, Consumption and the White Plague,” Journal of Military and Veterans’ Health, vol. 22, no. 2, online edition ( : accessed 29 May 2018).
[10] Ibid.
[11] Jon Casbon, “Joseph and Lydia (Burgess) Casbon,” 2 Mar 2017, Our Casbon Journey ( : accessed 29 May 2018).

“Gay Girl,” the Story of Harry and Kate

This story doesn’t have a happy ending.

In my last post, introducing the “Chatteris Casbons,” I made brief mention of 13-year old Harry Casbon in the home of his grandmother, Emma Allpress, in 1881.[1]

Detail from 1881 census, Chatteris, Cambridgeshire.(Click on image to enlarge)

After considerable effort, I found Harry in the 1871 census, also living with his grandmother Emma. The “considerable effort” comes from the fact that the census entry is among the most badly misspelled that I have ever seen.[2]

Detail from 1871 census, Chatteris (Click on image to enlarge)

This record was transcribed as “Emma Trep,” with daughter Emma, son John, grandson Henry Skele, and son Lester Seklen.” I interpret the spelling of Emma’s surname as “Press,” with the last two letters “fs” being the typical way to write “ss” at the time. The census enumerator has left off “All” from Allpress. How he got Skele and Seklen out of Casbon is a mystery. (Hint to fellow researchers: when a surname search fails to find someone, try searching again with pertinent facts but leave out the surname. In this case, a search for “Harry,” born 1866-1867 in York, residing in Chatteris, yielded the 1871 census for Henry Skele)

As in the 1881 census, “Henry’s” birthplace is listed as York. The names Harry and Henry tend to be used interchangeably in records. There is little doubt that Harry and Henry in these two records are the same person.

I wanted to know more about Harry. Since he was with his grandmother in both censuses, it seems likely that she was raising him. If so, why? Based on his age in both censuses, he would have been born in 1867 or 68. Who were his parents? Emma had three children from her first marriage to John Casbon (~1818­–1848): Lester (1841­–1921), Sarah Ann (1844­–?), and John (1846­–1931).[3]  I could not find a record of Harry (or Henry) born to any of them in the 1860s.

Harry’s birthplace only added to the mystery. York (in North Yorkshire) is some 113 miles away from Chatteris. None of my records placed any of Emma’s children in Yorkshire. On the other hand, my records are incomplete. Any of the three could have been in York in about 1867.

I needed to find some kind of records of Harry’s birth. An initial search told me that a birth was registered for Harry Casboine in York, 1867.[4] This was a promising lead. Then I was able to find Harry’s baptismal record.[5]

Detail from baptismal records, 1867, parish of Holy Trinity Micklegate, York, Yorkshire (Click on image to enlarge)

We can see that Harry Casbon was baptized on July 20, 1867. His mother’s name was Kate Casbon, single woman. No father’s name is given. Who was Kate Casbon? If Emma Allpress was Harry’s grandmother, then Kate must have been Emma’s daughter. But, there is no record of a daughter named Kate being born to John and Emma Casbon. The only daughter on record is Sarah Ann, who disappears from census records after 1861.

A search for Kate in census records turned up a startling discovery. I found this entry in the 1871 census of Bradford, Yorkshire.[6]

Detail from 1871 census, Bradford, Yorkshire (Click on image to enlarge)

We see Kate Casborne, living in the home of Clara Brandon on Wharf Street in Bradford, Yorkshire. Kate is 25 years old and unmarried. Her birthplace is recorded as Chatteris, Cambridgeshire. Clara Brandon’s occupation is “Gay Girl,” and Kate’s is written as “do,” meaning ditto. You’ll also notice that two men, “NK” – names not known – were present in the house. If you haven’t already guessed, Gay Girl was a euphemism for prostitute.[7]

Is she Harry’s mother and Emma’s daughter? This record would explain why Harry was born in York. In the 4 years between Harry’s birth and the 1871 census, his mother could have easily moved from York to Bradford, a distance of about 30 miles. Kate’s birthplace of Chatteris doesn’t quite make sense, because Emma’s children were born in Colne, and she didn’t move to Chatteris until sometime between 1851 and 1861. But Colne is quite close to Chatteris (about 6 miles), and Kate could have easily listed her “home town” instead of her birth town on the census. Kate’s age of 25 in the census would give her a birth year of 1845 or 1846. Why can’t I find birth records for her, in Colne, Chatteris, or anywhere else in England? Is Kate her real name?

My questions were answered a few days ago, when I received an email containing additional information about Harry. I had been unable to trace Harry in any census records beyond the 1881 census, so I looked for death records instead. An online search told me that the death of Henry Casburn, age 14, had been recorded in the North Witchford registration district in 1881.[8] The North Witchford district includes Chatteris, along with other nearby parishes. Was this our Harry? I ordered a copy of the actual death registration, and this is what arrived in my email.[9]

Death registration for Henry Casburn, 18 Jun 1881, Chatteris, Cambridgeshire (Click on image to enlarge)

This shows that Henry Casburn, 14 years old, died at Slade End, Chatteris, on June 18, 1881. Henry was the “son of Sarah Ann Casburn, domestic servant.” Cause of death was “Tabes Mesenterica.” The informant was “Emma Allpress Grandmother.” Although not shown, he died on his birthday.[10]

It all came together. Harry was Sarah Ann’s son, and Sarah Ann was Kate. Emma raised Harry because Sarah Ann/”Kate,” an unwed mother, was working the streets as a prostitute.

As satisfying as it is to solve the puzzle of Harry’s birth, the underlying story is a very sad reflection of the times. Why did this happen? Although we can’t know the exact reasons, we can make some reasonable guesses.

The Casbon/Allpress household must have been under constant financial strain. 23-year old Emma (Taylor) Casbon became a widow, with 3 small children, ages 2, 4, and 6, in 1848.[11] She married John Allpress, an agricultural labourer, in 1850.[12] By 1861, she had four new daughters, the oldest being 10 years old and already working as an agricultural labourer herself.[13] Emma’s husband ,John, was not in the house in 1861; he was working on a farm in Somersham, about 5 miles from Chatteris.[14] The household could probably not support the three older children from Emma’s first marriage. They were not in the home in 1861, and were presumably working elsewhere.

What happened to Sarah Ann? Her 1861 census entry only lists her as a “spinster” (an unmarried woman), and a visitor in another household.[15] She might have become a domestic servant – that was very common for lower class girls. But if she was working as a servant and became pregnant, she almost certainly would have been sacked, and left with few options. Like the servant Ethel Parks in Downton Abbey, her dire situation could have driven her to work as a prostitute.[16]

On the other hand, the scenario above might reflect a stereotypical view of Victorian life and morals, and may not be the only possibility. It’s also possible that Sarah Ann chose this life as a better alternative compared to the harsh working conditions of the time. One author writes, “In actuality, the seldom-voiced truth was that in comparison to other occupations, prostitution was a leisured and profitable trade, by which women improved their circumstances.”[17] There is simply not enough information to know what led to Sarah Ann’s situation.

I don’t know what ultimately happened to Sarah Ann. After the 1871 “Gay Girl” census, I have lost track of her. I haven’t been able to find definitive census, marriage, or death records. We can only hope that things went well for her.

But we already know that things didn’t go well for Harry. He died from tabes mesenterica,  or “tuberculosis of the mesenteric and retroperitoneal lymph nodes” (from Latin tabes, a wasting away).[18] “Until the latter part of the 19th century it was a diagnosis frequently employed to cover a group of cases in children characterized by malnutrition, swelling of the abdomen, and frequent copious stools.”[19] Tuberculosis was common and generally incurable in the 19th century. Whether Harry’s condition was tied to his living situation, or just bad luck, is impossible to say.

I don’t have a good way to wrap up this story, other than to say that life wasn’t easy for many in Our Casbon Journey. I hope by telling the story we can have a better understanding of our heritage and of the struggles endured by our ancestors.

[1] “1881 Census of England,” database with images, Ancestry ( : accessed 25 January 2018), Harry Casbon in household of Emma Allpress, Cambridgeshire, Chatteris, Bridge St. schedule 35; citing The National Archives RG 11/1689/35/7.
[2] “1871 Census of England,” database with images, Ancestry ( : accessed 25 January 2018), Emma Trep (age 48), Cambridgeshire, Chatteris, Slade End, schedule 52; citing The National Archives, RG 10/1609/34/8.
[3] Jon Casbon, “Chatteris,” 31 Jan 2018, Our Casbon Journey ( : accessed 4 February 2018).
[4] “England and Wales Birth Registration Index, 1837-2008,” database, FamilySearch ( : accessed 20 January 2018), Harry Casboine, 1867; from “England & Wales Births, 1837-2006,” database, findmypast ( : 2012); citing Birth Registration, York, Yorkshire, England, citing General Register Office, Southport, England.
[5] “Yorkshire Baptisms,” database with images, findmypast ( : accessed 20 January 2018), image 109 of 117, Harry Casbon, 20 Jul 1867, Yorkshire, York, Holy Trinity Micklegate, p. 189, no. 1506; citing parish records; citing Borthwick Institute for Archives, University of York.
[6] “1871 England Census,” Ancestry ( : accessed 20 January 2018), entry for Kate Casborne in household of Clara Brandon, Yorkshire, Bradford, Wharf St, schedule 133; citing The National Archives, RG 10/4462/83/23.
[7] “Ex-French Emperor in 1871 Census,” 21 Mar 2005, para. 10; online archive, BBC News ( : accessed 31 January 2018).
[8] “England & Wales Deaths 1837-2007”, database, findmypast ( : accessed 25 January 2018), Henry Casburn, 2d qtr, 1881, North Witchford, vol. 3B/840.
[9] England, death registration (photocopy) for Henry Casburn, died 18 Jun 1881; registered 18 Jun 1881, North Witchford district 9D/15/59, Chatteris sub-district, Cambridgeshire; General Registry Office, Southport.
[10] England, birth registration (photocopy) for Harry Casboine, born 18 Jun 1867; registered 20 Jul 1867, York registration district 9D/15/332, Micklegate sub-district, Yorkshire; General Register Office, Southport.
[11] “England and Wales Death Registration Index 1837-2007,” database, FamilySearch ( : accessed 4 January 2018), John Casborn, 1848, 1st quarter, St Ives, Huntingdonshire, vol. 14:178, line 148.
[12] “England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837-2005,” database, FamilySearch ( : 13 December 2014), Emma Caseby, 1850; from “England & Wales Marriages, 1837-2005,” database, findmypast ( : 2012); citing 1850, 2d qtr, vol. 14/ 303, St. Ives, Huntingdonshire, England, General Register Office, Southport, England.
[13] “1861 Census of England,” database with images, Ancestry ( : accessed 25 January 2018), Emma Allpress, Cambridgeshire, Chatteris, Slade End, schedule 51; citing The National Archives, RG 9/1043/34/8.
[14] “1861 Census of England,” Ancestry ( : accessed 20 January 2017), John Allpress in the household of Frederick Watson, Huntingdonshire, Somersham, Margett’s Farm, line 5, schedule 193; citing The National Archives, RG 9/ 977/40/35.
[15] “1861 Census of Engand, Wales & Scotland,” database with images, findmypast ( : accessed 11 November 2016), entry for Sarah Ann Casborn in household of Martha Ann Moor, Cambridgeshire, Grantham, Spittlegate, Back Street, schedule no. 90; citing [The National Archives], RG 09/2351/90/17.
[16] Dr Brooke Magnanti, “Downton Abbey’s treatment of sex workers rings true today,” 5 Nov 2012, The Telegraph, html edition ( : accessed 8 February 2018).
[17] Jan Marsh, “Sex & Sexuality in the 19th Century,” n.d., para. 6, The Victoria and Albert Museum ( : accessed 9 February 2018).
[18] Stedman’s Medical Dictionary Illustrated, 23d edition (Baltimore: William & Wilkins, 1976), 1399, “t. mesenter’ica.”
[19] Jerome R. Head, M.D., “Tuberculosis of the Mesenteric Lymph-Glands,” Annals of Surgery 83 (May 1926), 622-33; image copy, U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, PubMed Central (PMC) ( : accessed 9 February 2018).