Agnes Bessie Corke was born in the 4th Quarter of 1844 in the Registration District of Camberwell, London, although her actual birth place was probably Peckham.
The parents of Agnes were Matthew Corke and Ann Garland Corke nee Lee. They had married in Melcombe Regis, Dorset in 1839. Matthew had been born in Seal in Kent in 1815 but Ann was born in Dorset. They parented 9 children in all, of whom the first two were born in Weymouth Registration District and the remainder in Camberwell, London. Agnes was the first daughter and was the third child and the first child born in Camberwell District. Sadly three of the children died within the first 6 years of their life.
In 1841 Matthew was living in May Street, Melcombe, with his wife Ann and son Charles. Matthew was a Draper by occupation. The lure of the big City, getting back to Matthew’s birth area and better employment opportunities was probably the reason that by the time Agnes was born in 1844 they were living in Camberwell.
By 1851 the family had enlarged although two of their children by then had died. Agnes Bessie Corke was at this time 6 years of age. Matthew himself would appear to have done well by the move to London. The family are living in High Street, Camberwell and Matthew is shown as a Draper employing 12 people. However not all these employees were honest. On the 6th January Alfred James Whale, aged 19, was convicted at the Old Bailey of stealing 10 pairs of gloves, and other goods, value 21 shillings, the goods of Matthew Corke, his master, to which he pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to be confined for 12 months.
Unfortunately, after giving birth again in 1851, 1852 and 1853, Ann Garland Corke, Agnes’s mother, died in the 3rd quarter 1853, aged 39. A month after her death the child born in the same 3rd quarter, named Matthew, also died.
Tragedy struck again for the family in 1860 when Matthew Corke, the father of Agnes, died on the 31st March at home in Albert Cottages, Montpelier Road, Peckham. He was buried at All Saints Cemetery at Nunhead, Camberwell on the 4th April 1860. His son, William Olly Corke was his sole Executor of his Will, the Effects being less than £3000.
So what happened to the remaining children, including Agnes Bessie Corke?
The 1861 census (where Corke has been mis transcribed as Carter) shows that the family has split up. Agnes, now 16, is living in Hopewell Cottages, Choumert Grove, Peckham. Frederick Corke, aged 18, a Railway Officer, born Weymouth has taken over responsibility as Head of the house. Frederick is Agnes’s big brother by one year. Other occupants are Elizabeth Musgrave, aged 58, born in Seal, Kent, who is an aunt to the other occupants and has presumably volunteered to help look after the youngsters. Apart from Frederick and Agnes, there are two other children, George Norriss Corke, aged 9, and Ernest Corke, aged 8.These two boys, siblings to Frederick and Agnes, were both born in Peckham. The remaining living two children are William Olly Corke (not traced in 1861) and Fanny Anne, who is living with an uncle in Islington.
1863 Life changes for Agnes Bessie Corke as she is married to George Charles Shephard in the 3rd quarter at Camberwell.
1864 Birth of daughter Emily Agnes Shephard registered in 2nd quarter at Camberwell District.
1866 Birth of daughter Fanny Marian Shephard registered in 2nd quarter at Camberwell District.
1871 In the census for this year George Charles Shephard and Agnes Bessie Shephard are living at 67 Forston Street, Shoreditch. George is 30 and Agnes 26. George, born in Islington is a Commercial Traveller in printing and Agnes an assistant in the collar trade. Oddly, their two young children are not with them. They are both found living in Bridge Road, Downham Market, Norfolk with John A Crockford (aged 25) and his wife Elizabeth (age 23) and their 1 year old daughter. John is shown as a Merchants labourer. No known connection to the Shephard family. Emily(age 7) and Fanny(age 5) are both listed as boarders. Why the children were in Norfolk is not known. It is noted that in the house next door the Head of the house is a widow whose occupation is shown as Headmistress. Could she be teaching Emily and Fanny?
1878 In the 2nd quarter of 1878, the husband of Agnes Bessie Corke, George Charles Shephard, dies aged 37, and the death is registered in St Saviour, Southwark. However, in that same year, but in the 4th quarter, Agnes gives birth to a third child, Helena Annie Shephard. She is born in the Registration District of Malling in Kent.
1881 Living at 210 Walworth Road, Peckham we find Agnes Bessie Shephard, a widow, aged 36, a collar maker, living with two of her daughters, Emily, aged 16, a collar stitcher, and Helena, aged 2. Daughter Fanny, is not traced in 1881.
1882 On the 11th June at Christ Church, Southwark, both Emily Agnes and Fanny Marian Shephard are baptised. Parents are shown as Agnes and George Shephard, with his occupation shown as having been a Stationer.
1889. Fanny Marian Shephard marries on Christmas Day in the parish of St Jude in Southwark. She is a 24 year old spinster, without occupation, and her husband is John Bartlett, 25, a Packer. The residence for both is shown as 31 Oswin Strret, Southwark. Agnes Bessie Shephard is named as a witness in the record.
1897 Agnes Bessie Shephard remarries. Her husband is Alfred Bowdery. The marriage is registered in Lambeth in the 3rd quarter.
1899 Helena Annie Shephard marries 15/10/1899 in Camberwell Parish Church. She marries Fred Bartlett, 24, bachelor, a Porter, living at 3 Carlton Villas. Helena is aged 21 and her residence is shown as Maud Road. Helena’s sister Emily Agnes Shephard signs as a witness. Fanny and Helena had in fact married two Bartlett brothers.
1901 Alfred and Agnes Bessie Bowdery are now living at 2 Commerce Mansions, Coldharbour Road, Lambeth. Alfred is 58 and is shown as a Cab Driver (Groom) having been born in Blackfriars, London. Agnes is now 55. No occupation is shown. Her birth place is correctly shown as Peckham. There are no other occupants at this address.
1906 Problems have arisen in the life of Agnes Bowdery. She is found listed in the records of Constance Road Workhouse in the Parish of St Giles, Camberwell as having been admitted to the Workhouse on the 31st March. She is shown as being the wife of Alfred, a painter, and as being aged and infirm and is described as Insane. On the 9th April 1906 she was admitted to the Manor Asylum at Epsom, Surrey and was discharged from there on the 28th June 1906 and described as “recovered”.
1908 Notwithstanding her earlier release in 1906, on the 17th March 1908 Agnes Bessie Bowdery is admitted again to Manor Asylum at Epsom and she appears to have remained there until her death on 8th April 1914.
1911 In the 1911 census where initials of patients are given and not names, there is an entry under A.B.B. This is a lady aged 67, married, having been born in Peckham, so this must surely be Agnes. She is listed as a lunatic.
1914 The death of Agnes is registered in the 2nd quarter at Epsom, aged 70. She was buried in the Horton Estate Cemetery on the 16th April 1914.
The precise nature of the illness from which Agnes was suffering is not known. She had an elder brother William Olly Corke, born 2 years later, and whilst it may be of no significance, he had emigrated to Australia and was living as a single man, employed as a Draper, at Prahran in Victoria. He died in 1894. Unfortunately, it was a sad ending. He had suffered badly from Fits and in his distress he had committed suicide. Could these fits in fact have been a form of epilepsy and could that have also been the illness suffered by his sister Agnes?