My great-great-aunt Elizabeth Boden née Robb lived for five years after the death of her bigamous husband Joseph in 1855. In the last post I described the circumstances of Joseph’s death from tuberculosis, in a boarding-house in Fetter Lane, Holborn, and suggested that the couple had almost certainly separated by this time.
I also speculated that, following the effective end of her marriage to Joseph, Elizabeth may have gone to live with her older sister Matilda at 30 Gillingham Street in Pimlico. We know that Matilda moved to London at about this time, following the death of her employer Lady Frances Bassett of Tehidy Park, Cornwall. We also know that Elizabeth would be living with Matilda in Gillingham Street at the time of her death.
Victorian death-bed scene. Illustration for Dickens’s “Mrs. Lirriper’s Lodgings” by E. A. Abbey. American Household Edition (1876) of Dickens’s ‘Christmas Stories’, p. 206. (via victorianweb.org)
Elizabeth Boden died on 11th January 1860. She was thirty-nine years old. Her sister Matilda, who registered the death three days later, was in attendance, but no medical personnel were present. The death certificate includes a couple of intriguing items of information. Firstly, Elizabeth is described as the widow of Joseph Woolley Boden, whose occupation is given as ‘dentist professed’. I wonder about the inclusion of that adjective ‘professed’. Is it simply an objective statement of Joseph’s qualifications for the job, or does it reflect some scepticism on Matilda’s part (reflecting what Elizabeth had told her, perhaps) about those qualifications? Did the sisters come to the conclusion that Joseph had deceived the world about his medical expertise, as well as his marital status?
The other interesting point is the cause of death. This section of the certificate reads as follows: ‘Found dead in bed, probably resulting from fractured skull from a fall – 7 years since’. Knowing what we know about the Bodens’ marriage, the obvious question that comes to mind is: did she fall, or was she pushed? ‘7 years since’ dates the accident (if such it was) to 1853, two years before Joseph’s death. Was the fall simply an unfortunate accident, or did it result from a violent marital argument that precipitated Joseph Boden’s departure from the family home? Either way, it seems that the fall had a lasting impact on Elizabeth’s health, perhaps requiring constant care from her sister Matilda, and probably resulting in her eventual death.
A Victorian image of domestic violence: ‘The Bottle’ (1847)by George Cruikshank (via Wellcome Library)
Elizabeth Boden was buried in Tower Hamlets Cemetery. This may seem an odd choice, until we recall that her older brother (my great-great-grandfather) William Robb had moved to Mile End in about 1855 and was now to all intents and purposes head of the family. He may have made the arrangements for Elizabeth’s burial.
My theory that Matilda devoted herself to caring for her younger sister Elizabeth in the last few years of her life receives some support from the fact that, just over a month after the latter’s death, Matilda would finally marry. On 21st February 1860 Matilda Robb married Frederick King, a silk dyer and the son of a builder, at the impressive neoclassical church of St George, Hanover Square. The couple gave their address as Gillingham Street and both were described, discreetly, as of ‘full age’. Matilda was, in fact, just a few months away from her 55th birthday. Presumably the couple had been prevented from marrying before this date by Matilda’s duty of care for her younger sister.
Frederick and Matilda King would only have a few years together as husband and wife. I haven’t found a record of Frederick’s death, but it must have occurred before Matilda’s death in 1870, since her death certificate describes her as his widow. Matilda died on 25th August 1870 at the age of 65, having suffered from diarrhoea for four months. In another instance of sibling care, Matilda spent her last days in the home of her brother William at 31 Turners Road in Mile End Old Town, which is where she died. Her sister-in-law, William’s second wife Marianne, who was probably effectively her carer, registered the death.