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Sons to a murdered mother; a family scatters (from ‘Bisset Generations’)

September 8, 2011

[Originally published 03 March 2011, Bisset Generations]

John Shaftoe Wilthew and Susannah Charlton had 5 sons (all my 1st cousins, 5 times removed) between them, and Susannah had one son from her previous marriage.

  • John Shaftoe Wilthew (Jnr – baptised 21st July 1833)
  • Charlton Wilthew (baptised 5th July 1835)
  • George Edward Wilthew (baptised 30th July 1843)
  • William Willmett Wilthew (baptised 8th February 1846)
  • Henry Wilthew (born 1848)

Their first three sons were baptised (and probably born) in Whickham, County Durham. Henry was born and baptised in Monmouthshire, South Wales. I have been unable to find any GRO registration certificate for William Willmett Wilthew, but it would seem possible that if he was born around the time they moved – in the 1851 census he is recorded as having been born in Wales, but he is recorded in the Durham Bishop’s Transcripts of having been baptised back in Whickham.

From the news reports of the events of 1859 I believe that at least one of the sons (but not William Willmett Wilthew or Henry Wilthew, who were present in the room at the time of their mother’s murder) left to join the army, but I have little indication of which this might have been. John Shaftoe Wilthew junior I have no record of after the 1841 census. Charlton Wilthew and George Edward Wilthew both appear living with the family in the 1851 census, but neither appear in an 1861 census record in the UK which I have found so far. In fact, the entire family disappears from the 1861 census as far as I can tell.

John Shaftoe Wilthew

The couple’s first son, baptised in 1833, appears in the 1841 census living with them in 1841. After this point, I can find no record of him (or at least of a John Wilthew I can confirm is one and the same person).

Charlton Wilthew

It’s possible that Charlton may have joined the army. He is present with the family in 1851, employed as an ‘apprentice moulder’. He does not appear in the 1861 census, but from at least 1865 until the events of 1880 he was living in Pennsylvania, USA, his occupation in the 1880 census listed as a ‘Boss Heater Role mill’.

Charlton Wilthew in the US Federal Census 1870

Charlton Wilthew in the US Federal Census 1880

[United States federal Census: Year: 1880; Census Place: Pottsville, Schuylkill, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1193; Family History Film: 1255193; Page: 506A; Enumeration District: 228; Image: 0507.]

George Edward Wilthew

It is possible, but unlikely that it would have been George Edward who was the son who joined the army. He can be found with the family in the 1851 census, listed as being in school, aged 8. Unless they were taking in recruits at the age of 14 to the army (assuming by the reference in the trial that the son who joined the army joined in 1857 at the latest) AND at this tender age he felt able to stand up to his father and take a weapon from him!

George Edward remained in Wales until his death in 1878 (aged only about 43). He married a local girl, Elizabeth Dwyer – he, his wife and one of their daughters all died within year of each other, although without seeing the GRO certificates of death I can only speculate they all died from some illness in the household.

William Willmett Wilthew

William Willmett Wilthew appears to have emigrated to Australia (and possibly New Zealand) by 1867. I’ll have to investigate this further, but he seems to have been a partner in at least one glass company. I’m uncertain whether, up until this point, he was living with a relative and emmigrated once he reached adulthood, or whether he ended up in an institution and was then sent there. Given that he ended up working in a glass company, there could be some connection with his cousin William Wilthew (and Great Uncle William Gillis).

William Wilmett Wilthew in the 1870 Sands Directories: Sydney and New South Wales, Australia, p442.

William Wilmett Wilthew in the 1870 Sands Directories: Sydney and New South Wales, Australia, p442.

Henry Wilthew

I can find little record of Henry Wilthew following the events of 1859 either.

Overall, it seems to show a pattern of the sons either (1) disowning their family or (2) escaping the stigma attached to their family name in the north east of England following the events of 1859. One ended up in the US, one in Wales and one in the Antipodes.

As to which son joined the armyI can hazard a guess that it was most probably John Shaftoe Wilthew junior, as he is the only son who completely disappears from the census records and I have no record of any occupation or career. It could also have been Charlton Wilthew, but given his apprenticeship in 1851, and the fact it was similar to his career in the USA, I suspect it not to be (I can also find no record of Charlton Wilthew enlisting in the US army, which would be a possibility).

That said, Charlton Wilthew obviously had a gun in 1880… but it was America.

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