This is a story full of SURPRISES!
How did the name of a respected twenty-one year old young man, son of a baron and a Roman Catholic, appear on the birth certificate of a baby girl born in the Church of England workhouse at St George, Hanover Square on 21 July 1819. Now that was a matter of conjecture and what a SURPRISE for me when I was researching my respectable Protestant line!
It intrigued me and I continued my search. Caroline Woller (or Wooler, or Wooller) was born in the workhouse of St George Hanover Square to Elizabeth, who was not quite fifteen and certainly not married. If you look at most birth records for this type of birth it is quite unusual to even have a father recorded, yet when I found Caroline’s, the name of the father jumped out from the page – Charles Clifford, Gentleman. It was a SURPRISE for me and I was immediately intrigued.
Who was Charles Clifford, Gentleman, and why had he abandoned this fourteen- year-
old girl to have her baby in the workhouse? It did not take me very long to discover who he was. Within a mile, in the upmarket suburb of Marylebone, was the Town House of Charles Clifford, 6th Baron Clifford of Chudleigh, Devon, the father of our young gentleman. So, one part of the SURPRISE had been uncovered.
The second part of this SURPRISE took more time for me to discover. Why was young Elizabeth placed in a workhouse? The immediate reason was, of course, because she was pregnant. Yet young Charles Clifford was openly claiming to be the father, so one must presume it was his father who insisted that Elizabeth be sent away. The next question that occurred to me was, “Why so close?” Surely this would not prevent the scandal being discovered. I began to delve into the Clifford Family, a well-renowned, well-liked, prosperous family in the London community. Young Charles, his second son, was renowned as a member of the “haut-ton”.
But there was one thing that stood out – another SURPRISE – Lord Charles, a Baron, did not sit in the House of Lords. I wondered why, then realised the obvious answer. He was a Roman Catholic. My research showed he was indeed a leading member of London Roman Catholic Society. At that time, he was not allowed to “sit” in the House of Lords, although this changed just a few years’ later in 1822. Therefore, their social circle would have mostly included the Roman Catholic Elite, so placing Elizabeth so close to home, but in a Church of England workhouse would have appeared to be quite a safe option. Again, was it on Charles Junior’s insistence that she remained close? I do not know.
The last SURPRISE is still to be found. It is a “brick wall”. I look forward to discovering when, why and how this young woman and her baby daughter left London and travelled to the other side of the world to live in Tasmania. Once in Tasmania, Elizabeth and Caroline’s lives changed for the better it would seem. They both assumed responsible roles in the household of John Bell Esquire. They both eventually married pardoned convicts. Their husbands supported them financially They both had several children who survived to adulthood. What started as somewhat a tragedy ended in triumph. That indeed would have been a SURPRISE for them, I feel.