It seems more than coincidental that the sisters Georgiana and Cordelia Harriet Westbrook both married young dentists, at the same church and within a year of each other, and there is every reason to believe that their husbands Joseph Boden and Charles Hobbs were colleagues or friends. The marriage of Charles Hobbs and Cordelia Harriet Westbrook seems to have been as troubled as Joseph Boden’s two marriages, though I’ve yet to find any actual evidence of bigamy in this case. I thought it might be useful to take a closer look at the Hobbs-Westbrook relationship, to see whether it can throw any fresh light on this intriguing story of multiple marital deceptions.
Augustus Egg, ‘Past and Present, No 1’ (1858), from his triptych depicting the decline of a Victorian middle-class family
Cordelia Harriet Isabella Westbrook, often known simply as Harriet, was born on 3rd July 1812 and baptised on 13th August at the parish church of St Marylebone. She was the second, but first surviving, daughter of Thomas Westbrook and Elizabeth Molloy, who had been married at the same church four years earlier. Their first child, Mary Ann Isabella, had been born in June 1810 and christened at St Marylebone, but died five months later. At the time, the Westbrooks were living in Cow Cross Street, Holborn, but they were back in Marylebone for the birth of Cordelia Harriet’s younger sister Georgiana in April 1816.
The Westbrooks had no other children. Thomas had definitely died by the time of Georgiana’s marriage to Joseph Boden in 1838, and I can find no trace of Elizabeth in the 1841 census, so it’s possible that she was also dead by then. In an earlier post, I speculated that Harriet and Georgiana may have received a comfortable inheritance on the death of their father (Georgiana was described as being of independent means in the 1841 census), and that this may have made them an attractive ‘catch’ for Charles Hobbs and Joseph Boden, a pair of (impecunious?) young dentists. Alternatively, their father’s death may simply have increased the pressure on the two sisters to find husbands to provide for them.
We can only speculate as to how Harriet and Georgiana met their future husbands. Unfortunately, we don’t know exactly where in the parish of St Marylebone the Westbrooks were living in the 1830s, but it probably wasn’t far from the area north of Oxford Street where Charles Hobbs and Joseph Boden practised dentistry, whether separately or together. After his marriage to Harriet, Hobbs would be living in John Street, while Boden gave his address as Gresse Street at the time of his marriage to Georgiana and Great Castle Street when he married Elizabeth Robb.
Harriet would have been twenty-four years old when she married Charles Hobbs on 28th March 1837. Charles was somewhat younger: if the 1841 census is to be believed, he was about twenty-two at the time. Like her sister Georgiana a year and a half later, Harriet was married at the old church of St Pancras. This may suggest that the Westbrook sisters had moved into this parish, which at the time encompassed the area around Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street.
The marriage of Charles Hobbs and Cordelia Harriet Westbrook in the St Pancras parish register (via ancestry.co.uk)
Charles and Harriet were married by the curate, Rev William Wilson, but unfortunately the parish register throws very little light on the circumstances of the marriage. There is no information about the addresses or occupations of the participants, nor those of their fathers. The name of one of the witnesses is illegible and the other, one Thomas Candy, was simply the man who was married directly after Charles and Harriet (though perhaps it suggests that there weren’t many people present at the wedding?)
We have to wait until the births of their children to discover more about Charles and Harriet Hobbs’ circumstances. Their first child, Elizabeth Mary, was born on 18th October 1837, just seven months after the wedding (which may or may not be significant), and christened on 15th November at the church of St Botolph, Bishopsgate. A second child, Charles George, was born on 5th May 1839 and baptised nine months later at the same church. This is the first record to provide us with information about Charles’ occupation (‘dentist’) and about the family’s address, though at this stage all we know is that it was ‘Marylebone’.
In April 1841 Charles and Harriet Hobbs were back at St Pancras old church for the christening of their next child, Maria Georgiana, who had been born on 25th January. This record is much clearer about their address: they are now living in John Street, north of Oxford Street. Charles is again described as a dentist.
The Hobbs family were still at John Street in June of that year, when the national census was taken. Elizabeth is now 4 years old, Charles junior 2, and Georgiana (‘Maria’ has been dropped) 4 months. Interestingly, Charles senior is described in this record as an ‘assistant dentist’, which prompts the question: assistant to whom? Could it have been his bigamous brother-in-law Joseph Boden? The census record might provide a small clue as to Charles’ origins: he is said to have been born out of county (i.e. not in Middlesex), but then so were Elizabeth and Charles junior: they were born in the City of London.
After 1841, the movements of the Hobbs family become more erratic. According to later census records, their son Henry Richard was born in Dalston in 1844, their daughter Susan in Soho in 1848, and another daughter Emily in 1850. It’s possible that Emily was born in Tavistock Court, Covent Garden, which is where the family would be living at the time of the 1851 census. The census record finds Harriet with her six children, aged between 7 months and 12 years, together with a visitor by the name of Maria Brown and her daughter (?) Lydia, both of them described as upholsterers.
However, Charles Hobbs is nowhere to be seen. Harriet is said to be head of the household, though she is still described as ‘married’, so presumably her husband was still alive, though (temporarily?) absent.
Elizabeth Mary Hobbs married printer and compositor George Bateman in 1860, but I’ve yet to find a record of their marriage. The census of the following year finds Harriet Hobbs living at 116 Devonshire Street, between Marylebone High Street and Great Portland Street, with four unmarried children. With her are Charles junior, 20, who is working as a solicitor’s general clerk; Maria (Georgiana), 18, described as a ‘theatrical’; Henry, 17, a shirt cutter; and Susan, 13, who is still a scholar. There is no mention of Emily, who would have been 10 or 11 if she survived. Neither is there any sign of Harriet’s husband Charles, though once again she is said to be still married.
The last record we have for Harriet is from 1871, by which time she is living with her son Henry, now a woollen warehouseman’s assistant, and his wife Amelia and two young children, in Clifton Grove, Camberwell. The census record describes her as a widow, so I assume that Charles Hobbs had died sometime between 1861 and 1871.
I’m not sure when Harriet died, but she was no longer with Henry in 1881, when he and his family were living in West Ham, or in 1891, when they were back in Camberwell.
How are we to explain Charles Hobbs’ absence from the family home at the time of the 1851 and 1861 censuses? Is there an innocent explanation: perhaps he just happened to be working away from home, or perhaps visiting relatives, on each occasion? But then why can’t I find anyone matching his details elsewhere in the census records for those years? Perhaps Hobbs was in prison, or fleeing justice.
Alternatively, it’s just possible that, like his fellow dentist Joseph Boden, he had a second wife, and a secret life, elsewhere…