A BEEFEATER IN THE FAMILY?
Whilst doing some research on the people of Leigh (especially the women) who married and moved away I came upon the following interesting snippet.
In 1881 there was living at the Tower of London a Chelsea Pensioner and Warden of the Tower named Kester Knight. Living with him was his wife Elizabeth, born in Leigh and a son, Edwin Thomas aged 16 born in Chatham. Elizabeth was stated as being 54 which would have meant she was born about 1827. Edwin Thomas was a lawyer’s clerk.
Interestingly ten years later in 1891 Kester is still at the Tower but is married to a Mary Ann aged 64 also born at Leigh.
Kester had had a long and distinguished career in the service of the Queen. He was a Serjeant Major in the Royal Sappers and Miners and had been born in 1827 in Haslemere, Surrey the son of Thomas and Elizabeth Knight.
He was a carpenter by trade and joined up in May 1846 at Woolwich and served in Gibraltar for 5 years 8 months, where his first child had been born, in the Crimea and Turkey for 2 years 2 months, then in China for 2 years 9 months. In all he served 22 years 295 days and was discharged in 1869 at Chatham to live at New Brompton.
His medal tally is quite impressive:
Queen’s Crimea (Inkermann and Sebastopol)
Meritorious Service Medal 1869 with £10 annuity for gallantry in China
French Medaille Militaire
Turkish Crimea Medal
He is the only Yeoman Warder entitled to the China Medal, his MSM was one of only 15 and the French medal one of only 7 awarded to his regiment.
The citation for his French medal reads
‘Joined the Army at Scutari in May, 1854. Present at every bombardment. Specially selected by Colonel Tylden for important daily duties in the trenches of the right attack, and was subsequently strongly recommended by him for promotion which he received’’.
He was a Yeoman and Warder of the Tower from 14 July 1878 and in 1881 he was living at Broad Arrow Tower with Elizabeth and their son and in 1891 with Mary Ann in the same Tower.
In 1887 he was the senior RS & M and RE MSM annuitant. He died in Broad Arrow Tower and was buried at Bow 11 June 1894.
For a family history researcher the question of the potential two wives, same age, same birth place, was intriguing. Was it just the same woman and an interchange of names or had Elizabeth died and Kester remarried?
The first child (named Elizabeth) was born in Gibraltar so maybe that’s the answer.
However, the birth certificate of his son Kester Thomas confirms that his mother’s name was Mary Surridge. As she was 54 in 1881 she would have been born about 1826/7. But this poses another problem. The son was born when Kester should have been married to Elizabeth – so does it follow that they were the same person?
On 1 October 1826 at St Clement’s a Mary Ann Mitchell Surridge was baptised, the daughter of Henry and Elizabeth Surridge. Henry was the parish clerk. Problem solved? Oh No!
On 27 April 1828 Henry and Elizabeth baptised another daughter Elizabeth Mitchell Surridge.
So did Kester marry Elizabeth and then Mary – keeping it all in the family? Or did they just not get married?
At this period in history it was illegal for a man to marry his dead wife’s sister, that law wasn’t changed until the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act 1907, this is not the first time that I have come across this phenomenon in Leigh. As Toyah would say ‘It’s a Mystery’.
Or it was until I found the records of overseas marriages for HM Forces. No exact dates are given but sometime between 1850 and 1859 Kester married Mary Ann Surridge in Gibraltar. So Elizabeth as a mother appears to be a figment of the census enumerator’s imagination. Interesting though - did Mary Ann go to Gibraltar with Kester before they were wed – heaven forefend!