Henry Thomas Dent was the subject of my last blog post, My Bigamist Black Sheep. An uncle of my paternal grandmother, family members remembered him to have been a bigamist with one wife in England and another in Australia!
Using online records I had found that Henry was tried at the Sydney Quarter Sessions in December 1924 on a charge of bigamy. He had married a Lillian Kate Mant in 1919 in Paddington, London but on 30th April 1921 Henry married an Elsie Victoria Usher at Annandale, New South Wales “the said Lillian Kate Mant being then alive”. Henry was sentenced to six months hard labour. Initial searches of indexes at New South Wales archives in Australia had not found any additional information.
Since that time I am very excited to report that, with the assistance of a genealogist in Australia, I have been able to access the court papers for the case in question and a gaol entry book entry including a photograph of Henry, over 50 pages of information! Included in the case papers was another photograph of Henry, his marriage certificate to Elsie, letters from Henry to Lilian and depositions from Lilian, Elsie, and Elise’s father, Joseph Usher.
The documents reveal that Henry had first arrived in Australia in 1911. He had met Elsie in around 1912 in Mount Victoria and therefore knew her before he married Lilian Mant. He joined the AIF (Australian Imperial Force) in 1914 and was in correspondence with Elsie whilst he was away on active service during the First World War.
Henry had previously been in Children’s Court in Sydney in September 1924 for refusing to pay Lilian Mant maintenance for their child in England. It was at this time he was accused of also being married to Elsie Usher, his response to which was “yes but I don’t want her to know anything about it”. In fact when a warrant was issued for his arrest on the bigamy charge in October 1924 Henry was quoted as saying “I thought they had forgotten all about it”. Was Henry a little naive or a bit of a chancer?
The examination of Lilian reveals that Henry returned to Australia in 1920 to be demobilised from the army. He had told his wife he would return to England as soon as he received his discharge. The image above is the first page of a letter Henry wrote to Lilian in July 1920, only a month before their daughter was born. As you can see it begins “My Darling Wife”. It is full of terms of care and affection and is signed off “I remain your Affectionate Hubby, Harry XXX”. Lovely for me is the fact that “Biddy” was the pet name for my grandmother and Doris was her sister. However, the letter does reveal that Henry had already got a job working as a carpenter at the “Hotel Australia” so perhaps he had already decided to stay in Australia.
On 25th April 1921 Lilian, determined to be reunited with her husband, purchased her passage to Australia and was due to sail in around July 1921. The date of the purchase was a mere five days before Henry married Elsie Usher! Unsurprisingly, Henry cabled Lilian telling her not to come, with promises that he would soon be home.
The last letter Henry sent to Lilian is transcribed in full below:
“12 Dec 1921
Box 13 Oxford St
My Dear Kiddie
I hardly know how to write to you after so long an absence. Well, I sent you a Cable today, saying that I would write explaining but now that I come to do it on paper I hardly know what to say.
Well I am extremely sorry that I have kept you so long without any news but I have had to keep quiet for a purpose & now that everything is OK I will do my best towards you, so if you are still willing to come out here I will arrange a passage for you on this side or you can do it over there, just as you like, I know it takes a long time but I hope everything will be alright.
I met my old Pal on Saturday Mr Pickard & he told me you had wrote to him & I was rather surprised but still, I suppose you did not know what to do.
Well I must draw to a close as I was to catch the Mail so trusting it will not be long before we meet & settle down, & that you are keeping well, so with best love & kisses to you & Babs
Your Loving Husband
PS It is not much use putting on the address where I am living as I might be leaving there after Xmas.”
The lack of a return address is telling and the tone of the letter very different from the previous one even if Henry did end with “I remain Your Loving Husband”. The phrase “I have had to keep quiet for a purpose” I find particularly intriguing. Did Henry know his days of “getting away with it” were numbered?
Over in Australia Henry’s second wife, Elsie, declared on examination that “since going through the form of marriage with him I have lived happily with him” and her father, Joseph, stated “he has always been a well behaved man”. In fact when Henry had served his gaol time he returned to Elsie, and they had two children.
Did Henry know Lilian before he met Elsie? Was Elsie a particularly forgiving woman or had she been his first love from when they met in 1911? Of course we can’t know for sure but the romantic in me would prefer it to be the latter.
The key point here is that there is so much information that is NOT available online. Don’t stop there. If you can’t visit an archive in person to carry on digging use a researcher local to the area. Who knows? You may end up with a treasure trove like this one.