The story of my great-great-aunt, Elizabeth Robb, grows more intriguing with every new finding. I’ve just made a discovery which may provide the strangest twist yet in this curious saga.

A brief recap: Elizabeth, born in Malton, Yorkshire, in June 1820, was the youngest child of my Scottish-born great-great-great-grandparents, Charles Edward Stuart Robb and Margaret Ricketts Monteith. Some time in the late 1820s or early 1830s, the family moved to Charing Cross, London, and in February 1841 Elizabeth married Derbyshire-born dentist Joseph Woolley Boden at St. Martin-in-the-Fields.

'Trial for Bigamy' by Eyre Crowe

Last November I came to the conclusion that Joseph Boden was probably a bigamist. It appears that, three years before his marriage to Elizabeth, he had contracted a marriage to Georgiana Westbrook, and that Georgiana was still alive when Joseph married Elizabeth. Then I came across the record of Joseph’s death in 1855, which revealed that by then he and Elizabeth were no longer living together. All of this threw some light on the insistence in my 3 x great grandfather’s will that none of his inheritance should devolve to Elizabeth’s husband.

Now, astonishingly, it seems that Elizabeth herself may also have been guilty of bigamy. Two days ago, when conducting a routine search at Ancestry, I came across the record of a marriage at St. James, Paddington on 28 February 1842, between Elizabeth Robb, daughter of Charles Robb, and professor of music Edmund John Veneer, son of bootmaker Robert Vineer. Edmund was living in Salem Gardens (which was roughly where Salem Road, Bayswater, is today) while Elizabeth’s address is given vaguely as ‘Bayswater’.

Bayswater, from Cross' 1851 map of London (Salem Gardens at left)

Of course, it’s possible that there was more than one Elizabeth Robb, with a father named Charles, living in London in the early 1840s. But the description of Elizabeth’s father as a ‘gentleman’ (a status ascribed to my 3 x great grandfather in a number of records, including that of Elizabeth’s marriage to Joseph), together with the details of age and location, were enough to arouse my curiosity.

There are some other odd features in this marriage record. Apparently, Edmund and Elizabeth were ‘both minors’ when they married. If this were the case, then the approval of their parents would be needed, and yet none of their parents appears to have witnessed the marriage. The names of the two witnesses are difficult to read, but neither appears to be a relative, suggesting that family members were absent and might not even have known about the marriage.

I’ve confirmed from other records that Edmund was indeed under age at this date, though my 2 x great aunt Elizabeth would already have been 21, having been born in June 1820. Edmund John Vineer was born on 15 April 1821 in the parish of St. Pancras and baptised on 6 May at St. Marylebone. His parents, Robert and Ann Vineer, had at least two other children. Maria Louisa was born in 1827 at West Fitzroy Place, near Tottenham Court Road, and Louisa Phipps in 1833 at Little Albany Street, just north of Euston Road and not far from Regents Park. Both were baptised at St Marylebone.

The parish church of St. Marylebone

I’ve been unable to find any trace of the Vineers in the 1841 or 1851 census records. This may be because of the potential for misspelling and mistranscribing their surname, or it may be that they were living in the Paddington area, for which the 1841 records at least appear to be missing.

Maria Louisa Vineer was married in Islington in 1847, but I’ve yet to discover the name of her husband. On 27 July 1851, Louisa Phipps Vineer married solicitor’s clerk Alexander Crump, son of cabinet maker William Crump, at St. Marylebone. Unhelpfully the record gives the address of both parties simply as ‘St. Marylebone’. (Interestingly, Alexander’s brother William Alexander, was also a solicitor’s clerk whose son, William John, became a solicitor, JP, knight, and the first mayor of Islington.) Like her brother Edmund, Louisa was still a minor when she married, as was her husband.  It appears that their marriage was short-lived: the 1861 census finds an Alexander Crump, a supposedly unmarried clerk, living as a boarder in Hornsey, even though his wife Louisa did not die until 1867.

I can’t find any trace of Edmund John Vineer in the 1841, 1851 or 1861 census records. However, he turns up in the 1871 census records, living at 3 Latimer Street, Southampton, with wife Eliza Sarah, and three children, Edmund, Fanny and Charles. The date and place of his birth (about 1822 in St. Pancras, London) and his occupation (professor of music) are evidence that this is indeed the same person who married Elizabeth Robb in 1842.

A Victorian music lesson

At first, I thought that Edmund’s wife Eliza, who was born in Portsea, might be the Elizabeth Robb whom he married in 1842 – in which case, it would be proof that this was not ‘our’ Elizabeth. However, not only do the census records often refer to Eliza as Sarah Eliza, but she was 34 years old in 1871, meaning that she was born in about 1837: in other words, she would have been a child of about 5 in 1842.

This means that Eliza Sarah or Sarah Eliza was Edmund Vineer’s second wife. After further research, I’ve discovered that her maiden name was Plucknett and that she married Edmund in Alverstoke, Hampshire, in 1855. He would have been 33 and she 18. Their first son, also Edmund, was born four years later in 1859.

In 1881 Edmund and Sarah Eliza Vineer are living with their three children at Seaton House, Southampton. Edmund junior, 22, is working as a photographic printer, Fanny, 20, is a ballet vocalist, and Charles Alfred, 17, is a musician.

Edmund John Vineer died in 1889 at Middle Portland Terrace, Southampton. He was 68 and left an estate of £125. Two years later his widow can be found, with her young daughter Ethel, living with her widowed sister Amelia Holland in Portsea. Curiously, Ethel is said to have been born in 1883 in South Shields, suggesting that the Vineers may have moved around the country (perhaps taking part in musical performances?).

Victorian Southampton

Of course, there may be a simple explanation for all of this. The Elizabeth Robb who married Edmund Vineer in 1842 could be a completely different person from my ancestor. Moreover, she may have died before 1855, leaving Edmund free to move to Hampshire and marry his second wife Eliza.

On the other hand, I’ve yet to find any record of an Elizabeth Vineer dying between 1842 and 1855, or indeed any sign of the existence of another Elizabeth Robb with a father named Charles in London at this time.

An alternative, and more scandalous interpretation of the evidence, might be that, shortly after her marriage to Joseph Boden, Elizabeth Robb discovered the truth about his existing marriage to Georgiana Westbrook and separated from him. Or the marriage may have broken down for other reasons. Elizabeth then began a liaison with Edmund Vineer, perhaps without telling him that she was already married. (It appears that bigamy was more common in Victorian England than we might imagine, the financial and social cost of divorce meaning that many unhappy couples simply separated and took up with new partners.) What happened after that we can only guess. Perhaps Edmund, in turn, found out the truth about Elizabeth’s marital status, or perhaps she effected a reconciliation with Joseph. We know that Elizabeth and Joseph were living together in Lawrence Lane, St. Mary-le-Bow at the time of the 1851 census, though their lack of children may suggest a certain coolness in their relationship.

However, as noted above, by 1855 Joseph was living on his own at 100 Fetter Lane. Edmund Vineer, as we have seen, would already have departed for Hampshire by this time. Perhaps Elizabeth was still on her own at Lawrence Lane, or already living with her older sister Matilda in Gillingham Street, Pimlico, where she would die in 1860 at the age of just 39.

Elizabeth was found dead in her bed and the certificate speculates that the cause may have been a fractured skull sustained in a fall seven years before – i.e. in about 1853. Again, this is pure speculation, and one doesn’t wish to impugn the long-dead, but given her seemingly stormy relationship with Joseph, one wonders if this might have been the result of domestic violence…?