Sunday, February 13, 2011

Applying some Jane Austen logic to the marriage of Thomas Charles MARCH, Queen Victoria's Pay-master

I've been tracing the residents of Charles Street, Berkeley Square, based on the 1871 census. This started with the family of Bram STOKER, the author of Dracula, but it is not he who lived on Charles Street. I looked at the Bram Stoker household beginning in 1881, their first appearance in the English census, including examining the three women servants they had then. One, Elizabeth JARRALD, was a widow in 1881, but I found her (assumed) husband, Charles JARRALD in 1871. Even though Elizabeth and Charles were already married then, he, a 22-year-old servant, was at his employer's house on census night in 1871. That house was No. 27 Charles Street.

A little nosing around at who Charles's employer might be quickly showed that Charles Street was full of the upper classes, and so I decided to detour a bit away from the STOKERs, but don't worry, we will get back to Mr. Dracula eventually.

To keep the connection with Drac going, I am now playing two concurrent games:
Six Degrees of Queen Victoria
Six Degrees of Dracula.

The Head of the household at No. 1 Charles Street in the 1871 census, Thomas Charles MARCH, has a Queen Victoria number of 1. In a couple of posts from now, I'll reveal his Dracula number, which may surprise you.

Here's a recap of the 1871 census return for No. 1 Charles Street, from the post "Thomas March of 1 Charles Street: One degree from Queen Victoria".

At home: Thomas, age 50, married, Clerk Lord Chamberlain's Office, born in Marylebone.
His wife, Arabella S. MARCH, 32, born in Basingstoke.
Daughter, Arabella MARCH, 14, born in London St. Luke's Chelsea.
Son, Thomas C. MARCH, 3, born in London, St. George's [Hanover Square].

Thomas and Arabella got married some time after the 1861 census.

There are two little nits about the details of that marriage that make it less straightforward than at first appears.

The first is the name of Thomas's wife. In the 1871 census she is Arabella S. MARCH. I haven't found a matching lady named Arabella in a search for the marriage in the database (which searches the GRO Index and Free BMD, among others). The closest match I've found hangs on the "S": Sarah COOPER. Her age and place of birth match Arabella S. MARCH from the 1871 census, so I have provisionally assumed them to be the same person. There is no other likely Thomas Charles MARCH who matches nearly so closely.

Making assumptions in a blog post doesn't bother me. I try to make it very clear when I am crawling out on a limb, and I hope anyone reading this who has more information, will tell me. In the meantime I hate to let the absence of concrete proof of the facts get in the way of a good story.

The parish marriage register for the Parish of St. Thomas Portman Square (shown in's database as St. Thomas Marylebone), shows:

On March 23, 1867, Thomas Charles MARCH, of full age, bachelor, Gentleman, of 93 Wimpole Street, Father's name Thomas MARCH (deceased), Gentleman,
Sarah COOPER, of full age, spinster, of 93 Wimpole Street, Father's name William COOPER, Gentleman.

The relevant entry is #425, found on page 213.
Source citation, from Ancestry: London Metropolitan Archives, Saint Thomas, Saint Marylebone, Register of marriages, P89/TMS, Item 006

The second nit is about Thomas's daughter, also called Arabella. On the one hand, she would appear to have been named for her mother, or at least, for the name her mother used in the 1871 census and later, but on the other hand, her birthdate is from the 1850s, before Thomas and Sarah (later Arabella) got married in 1867.

Arabella MARCH, Thomas's daughter in every census from 1871 on, was reportedly born around 1857, about 10 years before her parents' marriage.

I tend to assume, perhaps incorrectly, that single mothers in the second half of the 19th century were ostracized by society. Given that Thomas was working in the household more noted than any in English history for its propriety, Queen Victoria's, he is literally one of the last people I would expect to do anything remotely unconventional or scandalous.

This leads to some conclusions and assumptions.

The first assumption is that Arabella COOPER, later known as Arabella MARCH, the daughter, was born to married parents.

Given that, then the question is, were Sarah and Thomas actually married already when they got married in 1867? That seems unorthodox too, and is not my preferred hunch.

The second choice is that Arabella had either a different father, or a different mother, or both, and that one or both parents was either divorced or widowed. I rejected divorce, again because of propriety. It's something I wouldn't rule out conclusively, but it's low on the list of assumptions.

Then we consider: which parent was widowed? To conclude that either was, we have to assume that the marriage register was in error in calling the couple a bachelor and spinster. That does not seem likely, given who we're talking about, but I did look for evidence that either party had been married before. I found no evidence and decided to start a different line of inquiry: that Sarah gave birth to Arabella without marrying Arabella's father or that Sarah is Arabella's mother by adoption.

The out of wedlock birth seems almost inconceivable (pun intended and apologized for). Still, it was something I had to check out.

I searched in for a census return in 1861 for a woman born about 1838 in Basingstoke, with a daughter named Arabella.

Lo and behold, there emerged Sarah COOPER, unmarried, born about 1838 in Basingstoke with a daughter, Arabella COOPER, born about 1856 in St. Luke's Chelsea. Bingo! This doesn't prove Sarah to be Arabella's biological mother, but it does provide more clues. I would like to work more on the adoption hypothesis some time.

There is also the possibility that Sarah COOPER died and Thomas MARCH remarried between 1867 and 1871. I have not found evidence of such a death or such a remarriage, but my search has not been exhaustive. However, when Sarah COOPER, then Sarah MARCH died in 1888, the name under which probate was granted to her spinster daughter Arabella MARCH, was simply Sarah MARCH, no mention of Arabella.

And now, dear reader, cast your mind to the immortal words of Jane Austen as spoken by the insufferable Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice:

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

It is probably a truth also universally acknowledged, that a single woman in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a husband.

Sarah COOPER in 1861 lived with her daughter and one servant (Louisa HIGGS, b. 1843 in Cornwall), at 78 Sloane Street, Chelsea. Her occupation was "House and Funded Proprietor". Ka-ching! I think I hear the sound of the accountant's mind jumping into gear as Thomas MARCH meets the younger, apparently wealthy woman with a daughter, Sarah COOPER.

Or am I too cynical?

Regardless of the reasons, Thomas and Sarah I think we can safely conclude, are the people I've identified as Thomas and Arabella in later years. How Sarah became a Sloane Ranger and the mother of Arabella, and whether Thomas was taking a social risk by marrying her, are questions upon which someone else can base a good Victorian romance, but that won't be me. Believe it or not, I have focus, and it's Thomas I came here to talk about today.

Thomas March is the first of many interesting people we will meet on Charles Street in 1871. His story starts with Thomas March of 1 Charles Street: One degree from Queen Victoria.

This article is one in an ongoing series, starting with Bram Stoker, author of Dracula in public records: BMD (Birth, Marriage, Death).

Next: The end of Thomas Charles March, his wife and children, apart from one important detail

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