Attempted Murder, Bigamy and Bankruptcy

I might not have been here writing this blog had Henry Harwood succeeded in murdering my 2xGreat Grandfather William Marsh. William married my 2xGreat Grandmother Kate Harwood nee Cock in 1857 and again in 1869. I had always had the feeling that Kate had committed Bigamy by entering the first of these marriages. The other day while conducting some research on the British Newspaper Archive website I found my proof. William also became bankrupt later in life and died in the Workhouse. Can’t help but feel sorry for him.

William Marsh was born in 1806 in Hampshire. His parents were George and Mary Marsh.I don’t know anything about his childhood but know he married a lady called Hannah Freke White in Portsea, Hampshire on 12 September 1830. They were to have seven children together and on the 1841 and 1851 census were living at 3 Clock Street, Portsea. William carried out his business as grocer from this address.

A report in the Hampshire Telegraph 15 September 1855 tells of an attack on poor Hannah by Private Robert Bowie of the first battalion Rifle Brigade. He stole from her a black Coburg cape and struck her a violent blow. On appearing in court Robert was sentenced to 1 month’s imprisonment.

Report in the Hampshire Telegraph, 15 September 1855, on the robbery from Hannah Marsh

After 26 years of marriage Hannah died in September 1856 and was buried on 16 September that year. William would be 50 years old and within 7 months of Hannah’s death he marries Kate some 21 years his junior. Did he rush into this relationship with his eyes closed, still in grief at the loss of Hannah? He had children to care for and a growing business to run. As would  become apparent all to soon, Kate had entered into a bigamous marriage.

Kate Cock was born in Portsea in 1827 and marries Henry Harwood on 03 March 1851. Henry is a Boot maker from Salisbury, Wiltshire. They were to have a son Henry James born on 31 March 1854. Sometime over the next three years Kate and Henry separate and on 18 April 1857 Kate and William are married at the parish church Portsea. Kate is said to have received information about Henry’s death and William believed that Henry had deserted her and had since died.

A bigamous marriage

They had lived together for three years as man and wife and had had two children before the awful event that took place on the 20 June 1860. I have managed to put the story together with the help of newspaper reports at the time of the incident and the ensuing court case.

It was 11 months prior to the attempted murder that Henry Harwood appeared at the home of William and demanded his wife. William had received a letter from Henry the previous month, this was the first William knew that Henry was still alive and for me there will always be a question mark over whether Kate genuinely thought Henry to be dead. William treated him kindly and did not turn him away. There was a second visit to the house by Henry in which he demanded to see his child, who William had taken in and looked after with his own children. Henry asked to see his wife so the matter could be settled amicably but Kate refused to see him. Henry said he would not come to the house again if he could have his child or at least be allowed to see him. William was not in agreement of the child going to live with his father but apparently agreed that he should see him.

On 20 June 1860 Kate and Henry met in the street. Henry wanted to know why she wouldn’t let him see his child. Kate had on a previous occasion torn the child from his arms when they were embracing in the street. She told him it was not her wish that he did not see his child but William’s, going so far as to say that William would throw her out if she spoke to him or allowed him to see the child. Henry said he would take her back if she would return but Kate said that he would not keep the two children she had with William.

After this encounter  Henry is said to have gone and had a few glasses of porter. He was to use this as his defence, saying he could not recollect what then took place. At around 10pm that evening William who was now running a beer house as well as his grocery business from the adjoining property, was sitting in his tap room. Henry appeared somewhat excited and walked up to William saying “Give me my child” pushing him, William felt a sharp pain in his left side. Witness to this altercation was William’s son, also named William who was a baker. He saw the knife in Henry’s right hand and rushed to his father’s aid. He saw the knife thrust at his father’s left side and struck Henry two or three times. Henry made off through the shop. Outside William Webber, a resident of Clock Street, had seen Henry enter the premises and heard the scuffle. He witnessed Henry running from the premises pursued by three or four people and saw Henry drop the knife, which he then picked up and latter passed on to P.C. Hales.

William was examined by Dr.Garrington who discovered a wound about three-quarters of an inch long over the last rib on his left side. The knife had hit the bone preventing a fatal result and William fortunately only suffered a superficial wound. Dr.Garrington told the police constable, who was with William, that the knife dropped by Henry could indeed have made the wound. P.C. Hales apprehended Henry on Havant Street that night and charged him with stabbing William Marsh. Henry replied to this “Are you joking”? P.C. Hales said that the prisoner appeared to have been drinking and on searching him found ‘a short clubbed stick with a large knob at the top, secreted on his person’.

Henry was committed for trial on the charge of attempting to murder William Marsh. At the trial the whole of this sorry story came out and Henry was found guilty of unlawfully wounding not attempted murder. The jury also recommended him to ‘merciful consideration’. The judge having directed the jury to acquitting the more serious charge said the offence usually warranted a severe punishment but the case was of an exceptional character and would adopt the recommendation of the jury. Henry was sentenced to 3 months imprisonment with hard labour.

As to what happened to everyone after these events. Henry would have served his time and on the 1861 census I found him back in Salisbury with his son Henry James now aged 7. Henry however dies in October that year. Poor Henry James I assume returns to his mother and William and the 1871 and 1881 census returns show he followed a career in the Royal Navy.

William and Kate carried on living in Clock Street and on 31 December 1861 had another child together, Robert Edward, my Great Grandfather. So as I said at the beginning had Henry killed William I would not be here. In both 1867 and 1869 I have found bankruptcy adjudications against William.

Portsmouth Times and Naval Gazette -Saturday 23 February 1867 – One of many bankruptcy reports I have found referring to William

William died on 31 December 1870 in the Union Workhouse, Portsea of Stomach Cancer. He and Kate had re-married  at the Register Office, Portsea on 09 July 1869. This time a legal marriage.

William and Kate’s 2nd Marriage Certificate


William’s death certificate

I found Kate on the 1871 census still living in Clock Street as a Grocer, she must have taken over the business. The three children her and William had together are with her. There for the moment her trail runs out. I have not been able to find her death or find her on any subsequent census returns. I have searched marriages in case she married again after William’s death but no luck there either.

So ends this sorry story. Nobody wants to think ill of their ancestors but do I see William as a kind, forgiving man, who would have allowed Henry Harwood access to his son and who stuck by Kate even though she appears to have lied to him. Or was it as Kate told Henry that William would not allow him to see his son and threatened to throw her out. The answers to that are lost in the passing of time.

Newspaper extracts copyright THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD taken from the britishnewspaperarchive website