In writing the last few posts about the four marriages at the centre of our story, I’ve realised that what we have here is actually a case of triple rather than double bigamy. Firstly, Joseph Boden committed bigamy by marrying my great-great-aunt Elizabeth Robb in 1841, since he was already married to Georgiana Westbrook. Secondly, Elizabeth committed bigamy in 1842 when she married Edmund Vineer, though she was still married to Joseph Boden. And thirdly, Edmund Vineer committed bigamy in 1855 when he married Sarah Eliza Plucknett, since he was still married to Elizabeth.
Of course, I’m writing as if the case for these individuals being bigamists were all done and dusted. But what if I’m misinterpreting the evidence? Could there be another explanation for the curious series of events that I’ve described in previous posts? In the next few posts, I want to take a closer look at the evidence for Joseph, Elizabeth and Edmund being bigamists.
Let’s start with Joseph Boden. It seems fairly certain that the Joseph Boden who married Elizabeth Robb in February 1841 was the same man who had married Georgiana Westbrook in December 1838. For that not to be the case, we would have to believe that there were two dentists going by the name of Joseph Boden, both living in the Oxford Street area of London, and both with fathers named John who were farmers, in the late 1830s and early 1840s. Given that this is highly unlikely, I suggest we proceed on the basis that this was one and the same person.
Having established that fact, we need to find evidence that Joseph was actually committing bigamy when he married Elizabeth Robb. Only one thing would exonerate him from this charge, and that is proof that his first wife, Georgiana, had died in the interim. However, there is one crucial piece of evidence that contradicts this possibility, and on that evidence the whole case against Joseph Boden currently rests.
Gresse Street and surrounding area in Greenwood’s 1827 Map of London (via http://users.bathspa.ac.uk/greenwood/home.html)
As I’ve mentioned before, a nationwide census was taken on 6th June 1841, nearly four months after Joseph Boden had married Elizabeth Robb. When Joseph married Georgiana Westbrook in December 1838, both bride and groom gave their address as 27 Gresse Street, off Rathbone Place and just to the north of Oxford Street. This was close to Great Castle Street, which Joseph gave as his address when he married Elizabeth Robb, and not far from John Street, where Georgiana’s sister Harriet Westbrook and her husband, another dentist named Charles Hobbs, were living in 1841.
The 1841 census for Gresse Street includes an entry for ‘Georgina Boden’, said to be aged 25, born in the county (i.e. Middlesex) and of ‘independent’ means. I think we can overlook the absent ‘a’ in Georgiana’s Christian name. How many Georgina or Georgiana Bodens were there in London, or anywhere else for that matter, at this time? The 1841 census was notorious for rounding ages up or down to the nearest 0 or 5, but Georgiana Boden née Westbrook actually was 25 at the time of the census, having been born in March 1816. And we know that she was born in Middlesex: in nearby Marylebone, to be precise. Finally, the address would appear to be the clincher. Even if there were another Georgi(a)na Boden of this age living in London at this time, wouldn’t it be an incredible coincidence to find her living in the very street that Joseph and Georgiana had given as their address when they married a little more than two years earlier?
Georgi(a)na Boden at Gresse Street in the 1841 census (via ancestry.co.uk)
So, as far as I’m concerned, the evidence that Joseph Boden became a bigamist when he married my ancestor Elizabeth Robb is all but conclusive. In fact, the 1841 census record prompts me, having established this fact beyond reasonable doubt, to move on to the next step, and to wonder why Joseph did what he did. That ‘independent’ status ascribed to Georgiana is intriguing. It seems unlikely that she was living on income supplied by Joseph. Instead, I wonder if Georgiana and her sister Harriet, as the only two surviving children of Thomas Westbrook, who had died in 1835, were the heirs to his estate? All we know of Thomas’ occupation is that he was a ‘trader’. But what if he were a wealthy one, and what if he left everything to his two daughters? Could this have been the motive for two struggling young dentists, friends or colleagues perhaps, to have ensnared the two sisters in marriage, in quick succession (Charles Hobbs married Harriet in 1837, Joseph Boden married Georgiana in 1838)?
Without further proof, this can only be speculation, and perhaps it’s more the stuff of late Regency fiction than early Victorian fact. However, it’s entirely possible that the marriage of Joseph and Georgiana ran into difficulties (as that of Charles and Harriet seems to have done a few years later), prompting Joseph to depart (or Georgiana to force him out), leaving his young wife to fall back on the money she had inherited from her late father.
Frustratingly, I’ve been unable to discover any trace of Georgiana after the 1841 census. She doesn’t appear in any later census records, nor can I find any record of her death, emigration or later marriage. But the search goes on.