by: Stephen Charnock
Despite dying at the relatively young age of
36, Henry had an eventful life. He got
married three times – two of which were bigamous and fathered supposedly eight
children; but this too was mired in tragedy.
He served in the army during WW1 but deserted several times leading to
imprisonment – something that he had experienced frequently before he joined
the army. Although he survived the war,
he died from septicaemia in July 1919. This storyboard provides a summary of his life and the impact he had on others.
Links provided on some pages give access to larger images
Henry was my second great uncle and while researching Henry’s life I was surprised by the wealth of material
that was available, including school records, prison records, newspaper
articles and some interesting army records and military correspondence. Many of
these, sourced by previous researchers to whom I am grateful, illustrate
society’s somewhat dismissive view on domestic violence as well as bigamy.
Henry Stamper Wilson was born in Workington, Cumberland, England on 31/10/1882.
Life Before Marriage
Henry Stamper Wilson was the
youngest of 12 children born to James Mugridge Wilson, a former train driver
and railway night foreman. Born in 1882
in Workington in Cumberland, his father died at the age of 60 in 1890 when
Henry was only 7 years old.
in today’s age be viewed as mitigating circumstances for his future
In 1901, when
Henry was 18 his mother died and he went to live with his sister and her
husband who lived only 100 yards away. Possibly
because he was living with his sister and her husband, unlike his 5 brothers
and stepbrothers who took up employment in the railways, Henry went to work at
the steelworks where his brother-in-law was also employed.
Henry Stamper Wilson and Esther Cape Hewitson were married on 28/7/1902.
Early Marriage Years 1902-1904
Henry did not live with his sister Mary for long as in July 1902, at the age of 19, Henry got married to Esther Cape
Hewitson, a self-employed dressmaker, in Workington. Their first child, James,
was born about six months later but died shortly thereafter. Nevertheless, two
years later they have their first daughter Mary.
James Wilson was born in Workington, Cumberland, England on Nov 1902 but unfortunately passed away shortly thereafter
Mary Wilson was born in Workington, Cumberland, England on 1/3/1904.
Start of a Criminal Career
Receiving Stolen Goods - December 1905
Sentence: 1month Detention - Carlisle Prison
It was not long however before
Henry started becoming a frequent visitor to the law courts. In December 1905 he was convicted of
receiving stolen goods and sentenced to one month’s detention in Carlisle
Prison. While Henry was convicted of receiving and pledging (pawning)
the goods, Esther was not blameless as she was the one that stole the goods
consisting of a gold albert and seal from a house she was cleaning. The superintendent at the court described
Henry as addicted to drink and a lazy fellow who would not work. It was his opinion that Esther had been forced
to work to provide for both of them and their child and that Henry had driven Esther
to steal. She was consequently bound
over for six months.
Knife Assault on Esther - April 1906
Sentence: Fined 20s
three months after coming out of prison, in April 1906, Henry again appeared in
court this time charged with assaulting Esther. On returning from a
night out he demanded Esther give him some money but she refused. He then cut
her on the neck with a knife. In the
Workington Police Court, Esther testified that Henry had “cut” her twice before
and had threatened to kill her.
Afraid for her life she moved out of the family
home at 52 Low William Street but moved only a few doors away to 45 Low William
Street. Henry was convicted of the
offence and fined 20 shillings (£1.00) rather than opting for the alternative
punishment of 14 days in prison.
After stating that there was no possibility of
them getting back together again, Esther was granted a separation order with an
allowance of 10s per week against Henry’s normal weekly income of 25s.
Although not reported at the time Esther must
have been five months pregnant when the assault took place as she gave birth to
Jane Hewitson in August.
Obscene Language - 31May 1906
was in court again in June 1906, only six weeks after his assault on Esther,
this time for using obscene language on William Street on 31 May 1906 – the same street on
which Esther was living. This time he
was fined 15s.
Jane Hewitson Wilson was born in Workington, Cumberland, England on 10/8/1906.
Separation Does Not Last
Esther’s previous assertion that she and Henry would not be reconciled, it
appears that the separation did not last, as their fourth child Gertrude was born
in February 1909
Gertrude Wilson was born in Workington, Cumberland, England on 24/2/1909.
Theft of Boys Suits and Goods - April 1911
Sentence: Imprisonment Carlisle Prison 2months
criminal career continued with another conviction for the theft of a couple of
boys’ suits and six shirts in April 1911.
This time he received a two-month sentence in Carlisle prison.
On Release from Prison - June 1911
On release in June 1911, it seems
likely that Henry and Esther were still together as William George was born in
Esther and Henry now had four living children of
ages 0, 3, 5 and 8.
William George Wilson was born in Workington, Cumberland, England on 23/3/1912.
2nd Assault on Esther - May 1912
Sentence: 1 month imprisonment Carlisle
10 weeks after William was born, Henry again assaulted Esther after returning
home the worse for drink, kicking and hitting her around the head and body. This time he received a one-month custodial
Obscene Language - August 1912
weeks after Henry was released in August 1912, he was fined 10s for using obscene
language in South Marsh street – again the street in which Esther lived. Somewhat surprisingly Henry complained at
court that he seemed to get summoned every time he opened his mouth or walked
up the street.
Theft of Boots - 9th Appearance in Court
Sentence: Imprisonment Carlisle Prison 2 months hard labour
Not three months later, in November
1912, Henry along with another individual were back in court again ,
this time for the theft of boots from outside a shop, valued at 17s 9d (£0.89p).
Despite Esther providing evidence that Henry could not have done it, Henry was
convicted and sentenced to two months hard labour. During the hearing, the magistrate mentioned
that this was Henry’s ninth appearance before the court and that both men were dangerous
3rd Assault on Esther - July 1913
Sentence: Imprisonment Carlisle 12 months hard labour
Things seem to come to a head in
July 1913, when Henry is charged with unlawfully and maliciously inflicting
grievous bodily harm on Esther. Reporting from the Belfast Telegraph states
that Esther was forced to leap through a window to escape her husband and
suffered bleeding from wounds on the back of her head and arm. Henry this time was sentenced to one year’s
hard labour in Carlisle prison.
Army Career - Kings Border Regiment: November 1914 - July 1915
would have been released from Carlisle prison about a week before Britain
declared war on Germany on the 4 August 1914.
Although nearly 32 years of age, Henry may have felt that joining the
army was a way of putting his past behind him and a way to start anew. Whether this is the case or whether he just
wanted to serve his country, Henry joined the King’s Border Regiment in
Carlisle on 24 September 1914. A note on the front page of his Short
Service Attestation papers states that Henry wishes for half his pay to be paid
to his wife.
Army and Lifes Up & Downs
In November 1914, Henry's battalion was posted
to Billericay near Southend and all seemed well, with Henry getting promoted to
Lance Corporal only one month later Around the same time, however, Henry and Esther’s second
eldest child, Jane, died at the age of 8.
It is not long before Henry was back in
trouble and in May 1915 he was reduced in rank back down to private for
The picture was probably taken during the brief period that he was a lance corporal
Bigamous Marriage to Daisy Busby - 23 June 1915
On 14 June 1915 Henry deserts the regiment in order to marry Daisy
Henrietta Busby at Southend Registry Office on 23 June. His
military record shows that he re-joins his battalion on 12 July only to escape
from his subsequent detention on 15 July. The following day he is arrested by
the civilian police in Southend for desertion.
On his arrest he admits to his bigamous marriage to Daisy stating that
he started going out with Daisy when the regiment moved to Billericay. Daisy did not know that he was married but
when she became pregnant, knowing that she came from a respectable family Henry
it is unclear, it appears that Henry was sentenced to one month’s hard labour
for desertion and committed for trial at the Essex Assizes for Bigamy.
Daisy Henrietta Busby and Henry Stamper Wilson were married on 23/6/1915.
Termination of Army Service in Kings Border Regiment
Henry was discharged from the Kings Border Regiment and issued with a protection certificate on 23 July 1915. What sentence he received for bigamy is
unknown but whereas a typical punishment prior to the war would have been two
years imprisonment, the maximum sentence Henry received must have been less
than six months as he re-joined the army, this time with the Middlesex Regiment,
on 12 January 1916.
Protection Certificates were issued to men to prove that they had a reason for not being in the armed forces
Tragedy affects Daisy Henrietta Busby - 2 December 1915
Life was not so kind to Daisy
Henrietta Busby. Having been conned into
a bigamous marriage with Henry when she was about three months pregnant, she
subsequently died in childbirth on 2 December 1915 along with her twin boy and
girl. She was buried in a family plot at
Camberwell Cemetery on 6 December 1915.
Died at Child Birth
Male Busby was born in Camberwell, London, England on 2/12/1915.
Female Busby was born in Camberwell, London, England on 2/12/1915.
Henry Rejoins Army with Middlesex Regiment
completion of his sentence for bigamy, Henry joins the 5th Reserve
Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment at Mill Hill in London on 12 January 1916
and confirms that his next of kin is Esther Wilson .
Absent without Leave: October 1916-March 1917
Sentence: 6 months detention (only 3 served)
as happened when he was in the Kings Border Regiment he absents himself, this
time from the Middlesex Regt for almost 5 months between October 1916 and March
1917. At his subsequent court martial on
28 March 1917 he is sentenced to six months detention.
Service with the BEF in France: June 1917
however, after only three months in detention for desertion in June 1917, he is posted to the 1st Battalion
of the Middlesex Regt as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in
Absent without Leave Again: 8 March - 13 April 1918
Sentence for Desertion: 3 months detention
as part of unit leave or more unusually personal leave, Henry is granted leave while serving with the BEF between 22 Feb 1918 and 8 March 1918. He fails to return to his unit on 8 March and goes absent without leave again
between 8 March and 13 April when he is arrested. Arrangements are made for his transfer back
to the BEF and he is escorted back to Southampton under escort. He
subsequently is tried by a Field Court Martial on 31 May and sentenced to three
months detention in the field.
Bigamous Marriage to Gertrude Klein - 7 March 1918
When Henry was granted leave from his unit between 22 Feb 1918 and 8 March 1918 it appears that he
returned to the UK as amazingly on 7 March 1918 Henry married Gertrude Klein in Homerton, Middlesex while falsely declaring himself to be a
widower . It is probably not surprising that he subsequently went AWOL.
Gertrude Klein and Henry Stamper Wilson were married on 8/3/1918.
Bigamous Marriage Undetected by Authorities
Henry's bigamous marriage to Gertrude
seems to not have been detected by the authorities and Gertrude continued to
use the surname Wilson until she married again in 1928 well after Henry’s
This is difficult to understand
as presumably Gertrude should have been claiming Separation Allowance and as such
when she filed the appropriate paperwork the Middlesex Regt should have noticed
that two spouses were attempting to claim the allowance against the same
Explanation of Separation Allowance:
Evelyn WIlson was born in Workington, Cumberland, England on 18/5/1918.
Henry Injured and Returns to UK from France - Nov 1918
As before it appears that Henry was released from detention early as his medical records show that he was wounded on 7 June 1918. He suffered an additional gun shot wound to
the knee in September 1918. This along
with him contracting Trench Fever may have been the reason for his posting back
to the Middlesex Depot at Chatham in October 1918.
Absent without Leave - Again! Never to Return - Nov 1918
Henry spent a month in hospital before being released on
furlough leave for Workington between the 6 and 15 Nov 1918.
It is not known whether Henry went to Esther in Workington
or possibly went to see Gertrude during his leave. What is known is that he did
not return to his unit on the 16 November. Maybe Henry felt that as the armistice
was declared on the 11 November his services were no longer required.
Middlesex Regiment - At a Loss: January 1919
Henry absence from the Regiment was not noted until the 29 January 1919. The
regiment appears to have had no knowledge of Henry’s whereabout until Esther wrote
to the Infantry Records Office on 25 July asking for details of her husband’s
death at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London where he had been admitted on 10
July 1919 and where he subsequently died on 20 July 1919.
Henry Stamper Wilson died in London on 20/12/1919.
Cause of Death - 20 July 1919
Bartholomew's Hospital confirmed in a letter to the OIC Infantry Records on the 3rd November that Henry had died
on 20 July 1919 from a carbuncle of the neck and septicaemia.
Esther Provides Next of Kin Details for Pension
The Infantry Records Office write to Esther on 5 Jan 1920 asking her to
provide details of Henry’s surviving children, brothers and sisters. Esther
replied on 15 Jan including details of all of Henry’s surviving children,
including Mary, Gertie and William George.
In her response, Esther also included another child, Evelyn, who Esther
stated was born on 18 May 1918.
Parentage of Evelyn Questioned - September 1920
Henry’s parentage of Evelyn was questioned by the Special Grants Committee in September 1920, presumably in
relation to pension entitlement, when they asked the Infantry Records Office to
query how Henry could be the father of the child when his record shows he was
serving with BEF at the time.
What a Sorry Life
It is difficult to appreciate the
full impact of the devastation that Henry caused during his life and the chaos
he may have left following his death. No
doubt those affected tried to rebuild their lives some possibly more
successfully than others. Esther got
remarried in late 1925 just a few weeks after she was convicted and fined 5s in
Oct 1925 at the Workington Police Court for keeping fireworks on unregistered
Unfortunately, her daughter
Gertrude then 16 was also fined 5s for selling fireworks to a child under the
age of 13.
Esther and her new husband
James who was 17 years her younger, along with Evelyn were all still living on
South Marsh Street in Workington at the time of the 1939 Registration. Esther lived a relatively long life dying in
Workington in 1964 at the age of 82.
It is hard to imagine that Daisy Henrietta
Busby’s parents ever forgave Henry for conning their daughter into a bigamous
marriage and her subsequent death at childbirth along with the twins.
Although there appears to be no official
recognition that Gertrude Klein’s marriage to Henry was bigamous, it is
difficult to imagine that Gertrude did not find out at least by the time of
Henry’s death. Gertrude continued to use
the surname Wilson until she also remarried in 1928.