Beware of exploring the North Devon Journal! My fond illusions about the respectability of my Victorian forebears have been undermined by my research ! My great-grandparents were John and Ellen Cawsey of Barnstaple. I was aware that my grandfather, Thomas, was the youngest of a very large family, and I inherited a family portrait taken in about 1873, showing John and Ellen, with 10 children ranging in age from 2 to 22 years old. I recently found out more about the family from the census returns (1851-1881) and the Barnstaple Parish Registers; there were 17 children born to John and Ellen, but 5 died in infancy. Ellen herself died when Alfred was born; her funeral and his baptism took place on consecutive days in 1875. Having determined the basic facts, my next step was to find out more about their lives.

The North Devon Athenaeum has name index slips to the North Devon Journal in the last century. 'Cawsey' provided references to two items, in the issues for 6 January 1859, and 7 March 1872. There was a little difficulty in finding the 1859 item. I spent some time with the film reel without success, before asking to see the original newspaper. It turned out that only a part of the issue for 6 January 1859 had survived and seemingly it was not recorded on the film. There was no such problem with the 1872 item.

The following is the text of the 1859 item.

Petty Sessions

Offence Against the Bye-laws

Ellen Cawsey of Union St., Derby, was summoned at the instance of Sarah Cure, her neighbour, for using towards her abusive and violent language on the afternoon of Friday the 24th ult. The parties are both married women whose husbands are employed at the lace factory, and the cause of the quarrel appeared to be the fact that someone had attached a placard to the boundary wall of the factory which imputed to the defendant an improper connection with one "Farmer George". Mrs. Cawsey, having a suspicion that complainant had some hand in casting the foul imputation upon her fair name, applied to her certain uncomplimentary epithets, which it was alleged by one of the witnesses Mrs. Cure freely reciprocated.

- Several persons gave evidence, pro and con, and the Bench inflicted a mitigated penalty of 1 s. and 12s.6d. expenses, cautioning each to be more correct in her deportment in future.

We shall never know what they meant by 'abusive and violent language', but we can be sure that it was not ladylike! And who was "Farmer George"?

The 1872 item was a very long report, and the following is very much abridged.

Abbreviated from North Devon Journal 7 March 1872

Assault Case - Husband and Wife

John Cawsay, employed at the lace factory, was brought up in custody charged with assaulting his wife. Ellen Cawsay, the complainant, figured in court with her eye frightfully black, cut and swollen. She declared that she did not wish to press the charge. He was a very good husband before he picked up with bad company.

She did not wish to hurt him, but for protection for herself and 11 children, whom she had to work very hard to help support - not one being able to support him or herself and to prevent him taking away what little things she had got. She had had 16 children christened, and she thought it hard to be served as she was. Her husband hearkened to his brother out at Derby, who had a dog, and was out poaching all winds and weathers. About eight o-clock on the previous evening she went to the Union Inn, found her husband there and told him he had better bring his sovereigns home for the support of his family. He swore, said she had no business to come after him, and struck her on the eye.

Mr. Thorne, defending John Cawsay, submitted that what Mrs Cawsay did was improper and unjustifiable for her to go to a public house for him! If she had not gone there, the assault would not have occurred. He had been at work all the week, and his being in a respectable public house on Friday evening and nothing to give his wife cause of complaint. She went in, and without a word struck him such a blow with an umbrella that it was broken in the scuffle. She was the aggressor, and in the scuffle received a black eye: prisoner did not retaliate after she struck him. She aimed a desperate blow at his head with the warmer, and the impression was left on his hat; that was more than human nature could bear, and he believed any man would have done something then in retaliation. He was apprehended and locked up without a warrant, and he submitted that in that respect he was an injured man. What earthly reason was there for that? He though their petitions ought to be reversed.

Mr. Thorne called witnesses who deposed that defendant was sober and quiet before his wife came in. She came in like a mad woman and struck him with the umbrella without his having struck or spoken to her, and then she aimed a warmer at his head. Three women took Mrs. Cawsay out: she struggled to get away and wanted to come back again.

After hearing the evidence, Chairman fined John Cawsay the small sum of 1 and expenses. It was a most brutal, unmanly and cruel assault, and had his wife not desired not to press the charge the punishment would have been very much more severe.

Ellen stretched the truth a little in the first paragraph. It was untrue that 'not one child was able to support him or herself; at this time the 2 eldest boys were over 20 years old, and at least 4 boys were wage earners; and certainly in 1871 (the census), she had had a 'servant', one Jane Brooks. But the sob-stuff worked! The Chairman's remarks show that she won his sympathy despite the evidence supporting John's version of events. Was John himself a 'deprived child'? He was the son of John and Prudence Cawsey, and the NDRO holds the record of a 'Settlement Examination' dated 1827, touching the settlement in Fremington of John (pauper), Prudence, and two young children. These examinations normally led to the legal expulsion of the family from the parish to avoid the liability for Poor Law support by the Parish. This record also contains unique and useful information about John (senior), his working history and origins. I shall be following this further. But when I get depressed by the misdemeanours of the Cawseys I will turn to the Hunts of Brat ton Fleming - the highly respectable Yeoman family into whom young Thomas married!

David Cawsey