How do I find Great Grandfather Sewell?
by Ruth Pringle
This article was originally published in the August 2003 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
My grandmother, Mabel Harriet Sewell, 1884-1971 (seen here in the big hat) was very proud of being a Sewell and frequently told me about her family, showing me the old family photo album.
Gran had pretensions of grandeur. She took extra sewing lessons and was able to obtain a place as a nursery maid for the wife of Sir John Keir (a relation of Keir Hardy), in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, where she was born. She delighted in the fact that some Sewell cousins were only servant girls in the house, whilst she was ensconced with the Governess in the nursery, and she gloated over them!
Her father, Thomas John Sewell, 1855-1932 was a shoemaker, but Gran said that he was so good at his work that he made boots by hand for the gentry of Leamington. He had been an apprentice cordwainer (leather-worker) in Birmingham, when he had met his future wife, Ann Allibone, 1852-1906, and settled down to raise four children; Ethel, Mabel, Harry and Alfred.
Gran was religious and quite conventional, so it came as quite a surprise to find that she had a skeleton in her cupboard, and one that she quite admired. She produced a photo of her grandfather William Sewell, (b 1822, in Edgecott, Northamptonshire) and told me that he was so fed up with his wife that one day he had just walked out and never come back. Great Grandfather Sewell had plainly just (in the present vernacular) “done a runner”!!!
This William Sewell was the eldest son of William Sewell 1778-1856, parish clerk of Edgecott estate, and his second wife Sarah Hawkes 1798-1859. I don’t know why William left Northamptonshire, but he next appears in the 1851 census for Kenilworth as Butler to Lieutenant General Thomas Stewart, living at The Firs, Castle End. His brother George is a footman in the same household.
In 1849, on Christmas Eve, William made the mistake of his life when he married Mary-Ann Kemp, the daughter of Thomas Kemp, cattle-dealer. They went on to have at least four children; Elizabeth, William, Thomas and Mary-Ann. William Senior later left Kenilworth and set up a car/carriage carrying business in Leamington, as this slip of headed note-paper shows.
So – what went wrong? Was he just a rotter? Well, no, not according to Gran. Mary-Ann also took to religion and became a strict Plymouth Brethren, and she started to put restrictions on the household.
“Just look at her crabby old face” said Gran, “and he looks quite refined and handsome doesn’t he?” I had to admit that she was right.
William must have sent this photo from Australia, as it is marked with an address – E.C.Waddington, 109, Elizabeth St, Melbourne.
The story goes that he returned once, years later, just to check that his children were all right. He visited them all and then disappeared again! This time for good.
My questions are;
“Where did he go? Did he divorce, remarry, or cohabit? Did he have any more children? Did he return to Australia, stay in England or emigrate to the USA?”
One Australian researcher looked in the records there but didn’t find anything.
I have searched the Passenger lists to Australia and the Ellis Island lists to New York but there are many, many William Sewells at that time. If I find someone that I think is my William, how do I prove that he is the correct one?
All ideas will be gratefully received.
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