Genealogical Ponderings

the Professional Family History Blog

Professional Family History Blog
  1. More bigamist antics – the importance of using “offline” records

    1 Comment


    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?

    Letter extract

    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
    I remain
    Your Loving Husband
    Harry xxx
    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.

  2. My Bigamist Black Sheep


    Black sheep


    I recently took a break from my usual family history research in Cambridgeshire, Essex and Suffolk and investigated a family tale of my own – the black sheep of the family.

    Much of my own family history research has focused on my four grandparents and I have had little opportunity to investigate the family of my great grandmother, Edith Lilian Cowling formerly Dent.

    Looking back through some old emails recently I found the tale of Edith’s brother, Tom, who allegedly was a bigamist who ran off to Australia never to be spoken of again. Now quite often with family stories like these there has been some embellishment over the years and the reality is far less exciting. However, I couldn’t resist the urge to do a little digging.

    Henry Thomas (Tom) Dent was born in Woodford, Essex in 1886, the son of Henry Dent, a gardener, and Minnie Dent formerly Riches. In 1919 he married Kate Lilian Mant, the daughter of a railway guard, in Paddington, London and in August 1920 they had a daughter, Marjorie Edith Dent. It all sounds good so far, yes?

    Then the fun begins. I was having a play on Ancestry and typed in “Henry Thomas Dent” into the Australian records collection. The first result that caught my eye was a couple of entries in the NSW Police Gazette. Ah…

    Henry Thomas Dent was tried at the Sydney Quarter Sessions in December 1924 for, you’ve guessed it, a charge of bigamy. The documents include Henry’s marriage to  Lillian Kate Mant in 1919 in Paddington but reveal that 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. The entry on the Police Gazette relating to Henry’s discharge described him as 5ft 7.5in with fair complexion and brown hair. He was also recorded as having a long nose and a large mouth!

    Also included in the Police Gazette records was a reference to a photo book. As I have no photos of Henry, this had me very excited. Many of these photo books have recently been made available online at Find May Past and more information may be found here: New South Wales Gaol Photographic Description Books 1871-1969. Unfortunately, the book of interest here is not included in this collection and consultation with an Australian genealogist revealed that this book does not appear to have survived. Frustratingly, the same researcher found that Henry was not included in the surviving  Quarter Sessions Index or Gaol Entry books.

    However, more information was to be found in the newspaper reports for the trial amongst the marvellous collection at The National Library of Australia’s Trove website. Two of my favourite articles are transcribed below:

    First in the Evening News (Sydney) dated Thursday 6 November 1924:

    HENRY Thomas Dent, 38, carpenter, was committed for trial at Paddington Court to-day on a charge of bigamy. It was alleged that Dent was married at Paddington, England, in November, 1919, and on April 30, 1921, went through the marriage ceremony with another woman at Annandale. When arrested Dent, It was alleged, admitted that he knew his wife was alive when the second ceremony took place. ‘I don’t know, why I did It,’ he was said to have added. ‘I must have been mad’.

    and secondly, in the Evening News (Sidney) dated Wednesday 10 December 1924:

    Ignoring a promise to go back to his wife in England as soon as he had fixed up his affairs in Australia Henry Thomas Dent, 38, carpenter went through the ceremony of marriage with a woman he had known before the war, according to evidence at Darlinghurst Sessions today. Dent pleaded guilty to a charge of bigamy. Mr J W Abigail, for accused, said he had served over five years in the AIF. Acting-Judge Rowland: He was in the provost corps. It was stated that Dent married Lillian Kate Mant in London, in November 1919. There was one child of the marriage. He did not tell his second wife of his marriage in England. He had known her for 12 years and she had corresponded with him all the time he was abroad.
    According to the wife’s statement, Dent had not only failed to keep his promise to return, but he had prevented her coming to Australia. She had paid £23 for a steamer passage, but she had cancelled it on receiving a cable from Dent to the effect that he was leaving for England. However, he did not come. In 1920 he sent her £200, but she had received nothing from then until the end of 1922, when he commenced payments of £2 about every three months. Mr J W Abigail said that Dent had asked his wife to come to Australia but she said she would not leave her aged mother. Dent was remanded for sentence.

    This family story of the black sheep of the family turned out out to be true. I particularly like the quote from Henry ‘I don’t know, why I did It, I must have been mad’



Search Blog

Blog Archive

December 2018
« Nov    


Keep up to date with my latest posts

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.