The story of Emma Compton appeared unexceptional at the outset. However, we did uncover a few surprises during our research.

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The story of Emma Compton appeared unexceptional at the outset. She was a woman who never married, outlived the rest of her large family and died in old age in the asylum. And that, more or less, is what it turned out to be. However, we did uncover a few surprises during our research.

Emma was baptised at St Mary’s Church, Battersea on 4th September 1829. Her date of birth was recorded as 13th August and her parents were Henry and Theodosia Compton nee Smith. Their abode was ‘Battersea’ and Henry was described as a ‘Gentleman’.

Emma was Henry and Theodosia’s ninth and last child. The others, with dates of birth from baptism records where available, were:

  1. Louisa baptised 20th April 1808 at St Luke’s, Chelsea. Born 1st February 1808.
  2. Henry jnr baptised 20th August 1809 at St Luke’s, Chelsea. Born 19th July 1809.
  3. Theodosia jnr baptised 24th November 1811 at St Luke’s, Chelsea. Born 4th September 1811.
  4. Charlotte baptised 21st July 1813 at St Luke’s, Chelsea. Henry was described as a ‘Gentleman’ with abode given as ‘Jubilee Place’.
  5. Eliza baptised 2nd June 1815 at St Luke’s, Chelsea. Henry again described as a ‘Gentleman’ with abode given as ‘Jubilee Place’.
  6. Charles baptised 7th February 1819 at St Luke’s, Chelsea. Born 26th December 1818.
  7. Frederick baptised 14th January 1821 at St Luke’s, Chelsea. Born 5th August 1820. Henry described again as a ‘Gentleman’ with abode given as ‘Jubilee Place’.
  8. Henrietta baptised 28th January 1827 at St Mary’s, Battersea. Born 5th December 1826 Henry once more described as a ‘Gentleman’ with abode given as ‘Battersea’.

Jubilee Place is a road running north from the King’s Road in Chelsea.

Henry Compton had married Theodosia Smith on the 16th April 1808 at St Mary’s, Putney. Henry was the son of Thomas Bannister Compton and Elizabeth nee Roberts and was baptised at St Mary At Lambeth on 5th June 1789. He was the second of their eleven children and probably was born earlier in 1789. Theodosia was the daughter of Theodore and Ann Smith and was baptised at Brompton on 29th August 1784. 

When they married Henry and Theodosia’s ages were approximately 19 and 24 respectively. Their first child, Louisa, had been born about six weeks before their marriage.

1841 census

Theodosia aged 50 is living in Beaufort Street, Chelsea with Louisa (age recorded as 30), Theodosia jnr (25), Charlotte (23) Eliza (21), Henrietta (14), Emma (11), Frederick (20) and her mother Ann Smith (75). Theodosia is described as being of independent means. Frederick is a Post Office Clerk. The other members of the household have no occupation.

Beaufort Street leads south on to Battersea Bridge.

Frederick is recorded in the census in his mother’s household but he was in a relationship with Eliza Jessey Sutton, the daughter of Dudley Baxter Sutton, a Publican. In 1841, she was aged 25 and living as Eliza Compton in Britten Terrace, Chelsea with their first child, Sophia Sutton Compton aged 2. Their second child, Rebecca Louisa Compton, had been born and died in April 1841 before the census was taken. Britten Terrace was most likely associated with Britten Street, a road close to St Luke’s.  

Three members of the Compton family are not recorded in the 1841 census. 

Charles had died in 1820 aged one.  

Henry jnr had married in January 1840 at St Luke’s. His bride was Eliza Robinson, the daughter of an Army Officer, and his occupation, like his brother Frederick, was ‘Clerk in the Post Office’. His address was given as Beaufort Row. His father Henry’s occupation was given as ‘Clerk in Somerset House’. 

No 1841 census record has been found for Henry and Eliza. 

Neither has an 1841 census record been found for Henry snr.

A Clerk in Somerset House

It has been possible to piece together information about Henry snr from newspaper reports. These show that he was employed as a clerk at Somerset House, a building on the Strand next to Waterloo Bridge housing Government offices, and that he was called upon to give evidence in court cases involving stage coaches. 

The earliest example found is from August 1818 when the Portsmouth stage coach was seen to have been carrying 13 passengers on the outside of the coach at the Elephant and Castle when the licence only allowed for 12. Henry, described as ‘Clerk at Somerset House’, appeared as a witness to prove that the licence was indeed for only 12 passengers. The defendants, Clarke and Boyer, were fined £10.

After appearing as a witness in a number of other cases involving stage coaches Henry was involved in a different sort of case in May 1822. This time he was a witness in support of his friend Berard (or Bernard or Borard – different reports give different names) who was the plaintiff in a case brought against a man called Pope to recover money lost playing cards at Pope’s premises in Jermyn Street, St. James’s.

The basis of the claim was that the other players were servants of Pope and that the games had been rigged. Henry gave evidence that his friend had lost between £60 and £70 playing a game called Un, Trois, Cinque and then another £30 playing one called Rouge et Noir. [£1 in 1822 would be worth more than £160 in 2023.] In the course of evidence Henry disclosed that he had brought a similar action himself against other defendants.

Despite defence counsel arguing that, as a ‘frequenter of the tables’, Henry’s evidence should not be trusted the jury found for Berard and awarded him £92 damages and 40s costs. Henry was identified in the court report as a clerk in the Stage-Coach Department of the Stamp Office at Somerset House.

After appearing as a witness in a further stage-coach case involving a lost box of watches in 1830 Henry’s next reported court appearance was in a personal capacity in May 1832. It was in the Bankruptcy Court. Henry was described as a stage coach proprietor of St John’s Place, Battersea. It appears that he obtained his certificate of discharge from bankruptcy in July 1832.

Henry – Insolvent Debtors’ Court

However, a year later in July 1833 he was in financial difficulties again in the Insolvent Debtors’ Court. He was described as formerly a coach proprietor but now a clerk in his Majesty’s Stamp-Office at a salary of £160 a year. He apparently had been imprisoned with debts of £200. He also seems to have been involved in the misuse of bills of exchange. The report ends without the case being concluded stating that the insolvent was ordered to be brought up the following day for his discharge. Unfortunately, no further reports have been found so we don’t know what the outcome of the case was.

1851 census

The 1851 census finds that Theodosia and her daughters have moved to Hackney where they are living at 8 York Terrace. They are listed as Theodosia married aged 64 Annuitant, Louisa (43), Theodosia jnr (34), Charlotte (37), Eliza (35), Henrietta (24) and Emma (21). All the daughters are single and none have occupations. Theodosia’s mother Ann had died in 1846.

The household also includes George Compton aged 7 who is described as Theodosia’s grandson. His birth certificate discloses that he is Charlotte’s son and that his birth was registered as Willis George Compton in Putney on the 25th January 1843. He was born on the 26th December 1842. No father’s name was given.

Henry snr is missing from the family.

Henry jnr is in Camberwell with his wife Eliza and they have four children: Henry Augustus aged 8, Eliza (7), Georgiana (5) and Catherine (3). He is a clerk.

Frederick is living in Shoreditch with his wife Eliza, who he had eventually married in September 1849, and their two youngest children: Edwin (4) and Eliza (2). Their eldest living child, Fanny aged 9, is in the household of her maternal aunt Maria Wheeler in Chelsea. Their eldest child Sophia had died in Q4 1841.

1861 census

In 1861 Theodosia aged 75 is still living at 8 York Terrace in Hackney and still described as married. Living with her are all six of her daughters: Louisa (53), Theodosia jnr (50), Charlotte (48) Eliza (46), Henriette (34) and Emma (32). Charlotte’s son George (18) is in the household but he is now described as Theodosia’s nephew. He is the only person in the household with an occupation recorded. He is a ’Cockade Maker’. Henry snr is still missing from the family.

Henry jnr is still living in Camberwell with his wife and three daughters. Their son Henry Augustus who would have been 19 is not found in the census. Henry is a clerk at the General Post Office.

Frederick is living in Hoxton with his wife and their five youngest children. Their eldest, Fanny, is still living with her maternal aunt Maria. He is a commercial traveller. 

In June 1864 Frederick died aged 43. 

Theodosia dies and Emma enters the asylum

On the 8th December 1867 Emma was admitted to Hackney Workhouse and then on 18th December transferred to Hoxton House Asylum. We have a copy of the Reception Order for Emma’s detention as a person of unsound mind. This describes her as a Needlewoman of Holly Street, Dalston. Her age is given as 38 and it is noted that she had had a previous attack at the age of 36. The duration of the existing attack is said to be eight days and the supposed cause was the sudden death of her mother. 

Theodosia had died on the 26th November and was buried on the 2nd December. Her death certificate says she was found dead. There was an inquest and the coroner gave the reason for her death as ‘heart disease’. She is described as the widow of Henry Compton, Clerk in the Civil Service. This is the first mention of Henry since the newspaper report in 1833 of his court appearance as a debtor and indicates that he had died prior to 1867.

Emma’s next of kin are her brother Henry at an address in Kennington Road and her sister Louisa at an address in Westminster.  The facts indicating insanity are recorded by George Cochrane Millar, the Surgeon at Hackney Union Workhouse as ‘Says she is the Gypsy Queen and that she is very rich, talks continually about a Jewess and a Queen’.  He also says that he was informed by Sarah Green, who was probably a staff member at the workhouse, that Emma has been saying she is the Gypsy Queen and her father was a Black Man.

Hoxton House to Colney Hatch

In 1869 Emma was transferred from Hoxton House to Colney Hatch Asylum. The admission register and Emma’s case notes from Colney Hatch are held by the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA). These repeat the information in the Reception Order. Her ‘Form of Mental Disorder’ is recorded as ‘Mania’ with a supposed cause of ‘Sudden death of mother’. 

There is some information about her ‘State on Admission’ to Colney Hatch. 

‘Body & face free of bruises. A few nits in her hair. Tall and thin – of light complexion. Appears to have no fixed delusions and denies that she ever had those mentioned in the text [presumably the reception order notes]. Appears vain & conceited. Writes in exalted strain. Quite coherent. Sleepless at night. Heart & lungs sound healthy.’  

Under ‘Degree of Education, Habits of Life &c’ is written ‘Well-educated’.

There are a few further notes which mention that she is sometimes given opiates at night, that she is quiet and works well, and that she writes constantly to her friends in a conceited and rhapsodical manner. 

In May 1870 the notes record that she was sent out on trial for one month in the care of her sister. It doesn’t say which sister but it was likely to have been Louisa who was listed as her next of kin. It is noted that Emma had been living in the Convalescent Home. The trial was unsuccessful. After a week she returned to the Convalescent Home. Her sister reported that she would neither eat nor drink, nor get out of bed and wished to return to the asylum as she ‘found her home so strange’.  

The reference to a convalescent home is interesting. The long-serving chaplain at Colney Hatch, Henry Hawkins, who was in post from 1867 until 1900, was a proponent of Convalescent Homes as a half-way house to help patients to return to normal society. He founded a charity called “The After Care Association for Poor and Friendless Female Convalescents on Leaving Asylums for the Insane” which still exists today as the Mental After Care Association. However, this wasn’t until 1879 so well after the reference in Emma’s notes in 1870. It’s possible that there were informal arrangements before that. 

1871 census

There is an entry in the 1871 census return for Colney Hatch for an inmate aged 40 who is a Needlewoman with the initials EC that is probably Emma.

Emma’s siblings:

Louisa aged 63 is in St Marylebone in the household of her cousin Edward Compton, the son of Henry snr’s brother John. Louisa has no occupation.

Theodosia (60), Charlotte (58), Eliza (56) and Henrietta (44) are living at 31 Florfield Road, Hackney. They all have the occupation of ‘Needlewoman’.  There is no mention of Charlotte’s son George and no further records have been found for him. In the righthand column of the census form the sisters are bracketed together with a puzzling note that appears to be ‘All roise(?) from their birth’. It has not been possible to work out what this means.

Henry jnr and his wife are living in Kennington with their two youngest daughters, their eldest daughter having married.

Frederick’s widow Eliza is also living in Kennington with two of her sons.

The last entry in the Colney Hatch case book for Emma is in 1872 when she is described as ‘Melancholic. Neither dangerous to others nor suicidal. Habits cleanly. Health good’. 

She was discharged from the asylum on 29th October 1872 to the care of her sister Henrietta living at the address given for the sisters in the 1871 census, 31 Florfield Road, Hackney. 

Unfortunately, in April 1876 Emma was again admitted to an asylum via the Hoxton Workhouse. We again have the Reception Order which gives details of a second and seemingly more serious attack.

The order is dated 13th April 1876. The observations recorded by the workhouse surgeon, Mark Long, are that ‘She is very wild & excited in manner; She states that her sisters, though jealousy, have been most unkind to her & treated her cruelly’.   Her sister Eliza says that ‘She dressed herself in a ball dress to go out & when prevented became very violent & rushed into the street, calling “Murder”, & was brought back by a policeman with a crowd of people following. She continued violent all night, threatening her sisters’ lives & had to be locked in a room by herself’.

The duration of the attack is given as 14 days and its supposed cause is recorded as ‘Love Affair’. There is a note saying that Emma should be moved immediately to an asylum. It is directed that she be sent to Bethnal House Asylum. She was admitted there on the date that the order was signed.

Bethnal House to Banstead Asylum

On 8th August 1877 Emma was transferred from Bethnal House to Banstead Asylum. Unfortunately, there are no case notes from Banstead but there is an entry in an admission register. This describes her as a 47-year-old needlewoman. Under ‘Form of Mental Disorder’ Imbecile is recorded, which presumably is an error. Under ‘Supposed Cause of Insanity is recorded ‘Unknown unless it be a love affair’. Her bodily health is described as ‘Satisfactory’. It is noted that she is ‘Violent at times’.  

On 7th November 1877 Emma was discharged from Banstead Asylum to the care again of her sister Henrietta at 31 Florefield Road.

Emma’s sister Theodosia’s death is recorded in Hackney in Q1 1880. She was buried in Newham on the 3rd March. 

1881 census

In 1881 Emma aged 51 is recorded still living at 31 Florefield Road with Henrietta (53) and Eliza (65). Eliza’s occupation is given as needlewoman.  Charlotte’s name has been written on the census form but then crossed out. It has not been possible to find an entry for her elsewhere in the census.  

Louisa Compton (72) is still living in the household of her cousin Edward as in 1871. She is described as an annuitant. 

Henry is living with his wife Eliza and daughter Georgina at 194 Camberwell Old Road, Kennington. They are sharing the address with their daughter Eliza Augusta, her husband Hugh Fleming, and their six sons. 

Frederick’s widow Eliza is a lodging house keeper in Camellia Street, Kennington. Her death was registered in Lambeth in Q3 1881.

There is a death registration in Lambeth in Q1 1882 for an Eliza Compton which is probably that of Henry’s wife. Henry’s death was registered in Lambeth in Q2 1888.  

Emma’s sister Henrietta’s death was registered in Hackney in Q2 1891. She was buried in in Chingford Mount Cemetery, Waltham Forest on 6th April 1891. 

1891 census

In 1891 Emma (61) is living in Trelawney Road, Hackney with her sisters Louisa (83), Charlotte (76) and Eliza (74). Also in the household is their cousin Jane Penfold (58), the widowed daughter of Henry snr’s brother John.    

Louisa’s death was registered in Q2 1891 in Hackney. She was buried in Chingford Mount Cemetery, Waltham Forest on 21st April. 

Eliza’s death was registered in Hackney in Q1 1895. She was buried in Chingford Mount Cemetery, Waltham Forest on 26th March.

There is a death registration in Q1 1901 for a Jane Penfold in Steyning, Sussex; she had lived in Brighton between 1861 and 1871.

1901 census

In 1901 Emma (75) is recorded living with her one remaining sister, Charlotte (86), in The Grove, Hackney. 

Charlotte’s death was registered in Hackney in Q1 1902.

Fisherton House to Long Grove Asylum

On 21st August 1906 Emma was admitted to Fisherton Asylum from Hackney Union Infirmary.  Under ‘Nearest known relative’ is recorded the name of a Mrs Maria Skinner of ‘Inglehome’, Church Road, Harlesden, Middlesex. She is described as a friend. 

Emma was transferred from Fisherton House to Long Grove Asylum on 23rd August 1907 and died there on 8th March 1908. She was buried in Horton Cemetery on 14th March. The recorded cause of death is chronic Bright’s disease and ‘Syncope 3 days’. 

She is recorded as having no occupation and her last address is given as 3 Alice Place, Berger Road, London NE. 

An addendum: What happened to Henry Compton?

Having recorded Emma’s life one remaining unresolved question was to find out what happened to her father, Henry Compton snr, between the newspaper report in 1833 when he appeared in court as an insolvent debtor and 1867 when Theodosia’s death certificate described her as his widow. No trace of him was found in the 1841 census. 

The answer is that he fathered a second large family.

Henry Compton is not an uncommon name. We followed up a number of possible candidates without any success.  However, we then happened upon a Henry Compton of approximately the correct age (63) who appears in the 1851 census record living in Hastings, Sussex. He is recorded as having a wife, Anne Price Compton aged 40, and eight daughters aged between 15 and 1. His occupation is Assistant Surveyor. 

From baptism and birth registration records it has been possible to reconstruct the full extent of his second family. 

His ‘wife’ was baptised Anna Price Shekleton on 18th March 1807 at St Brides; Fleet Street, the daughter of Thomas and Ann Shekleton. Her date of birth was 15th February 1807.

The most common form of Anna’s surname seems to be Shekleton but a number of variations are encountered.

Children from Henry’s second family

Their children were:

  1.  Emma Compton Shackleton Baptised 4th September 1831 as Emma Compton at St Bride’s, Fleet Street. Parents Henry and Ann. Father’s occupation: Clerk Buried 9th May 1834 St Luke’s, Chelsea. Burial record gives her name as Emma Compton Shackleton.  
  2.  Charles Shackleton Baptised 9th April 1834 St Mary At Lambeth Parents: Henry and Anna Father’s occupation: Traveller Buried St Mary At Lambeth 29th April 1834 Name on burial record: Charles Shekleton
  3.  Anne Compton Shackleton Baptised 10th June 1835 at Holy Trinity, Brompton. No father’s name. Mother’s name: Ann.
  4.  Jessie Compton Shekleton Baptised 4th October 1837 at St Peter, Walworth. Date of birth from baptism record and birth registration: 26th August 1837 Parents: Henry and Anna Father’s occupation: Gent[leman] Birth registered Q4 1837 in Newington as ‘Jessie Compton Shekleton’. Mother’s maiden name ‘Price’. Informant: Father.  Father’s occupation: Gentleman
  1.  Clara Compton Shackleton Baptised 5th May 1839 as ‘Clara Delacourt Shakleton’ at St Luke’s, Chelsea. Parents: Henry and Anna Piece Abode: Mile End. Father’s occupation: Clerk. Birth registered Q1 1839 in Stepney as Clara Shekleton. Date of birth from registration: 16th February 1839. Mother’s maiden name Shekleton. Informant: Father. Father’s occupation: Gentleman
  2.  Elizabeth Shekleton Compton Birth registered Q2 1841 as Elizabeth Shekleton in Edmonton, Middlesex. Date of birth from registration: 16 March 1841. Mother’s maiden name Price. Informant: Father. Father’s occupation: Traveller

When the 1841 census was taken Anna Shekleton was living in Tottenham Hale, with three of her living daughters: Jessie 3, Clara, 2 and Elizabeth 10 weeks. Her oldest living daughter, Ann 6, was living in Oriel Court, Chelsea in the household of Eliza Lloyd, a school mistress. 

  1.  Frances Compton Birth registered Q4 1843 in Battle, Sussex as Fanny Compton. Date of birth from the registration: 16th September 1843 Mother’s maiden name Shekleton. Informant: Father. Father’s occupation: Surveyor of Taxes
  2.  Alice Compton Birth registered Q4 1845 in Battle. Mother’s maiden name given as Shakleton.
  3.  Maria Compton Birth registered Q2 1848 in Battle. Mother’s maiden name given as Shakleton.
  4.  Zara Compton Birth registered Q2 1850 in Battle. Mother’s maiden name given as Shekleton.

Maria was baptised on 30th August 1849 in Ore, Sussex Parents: Henry and Anna Abode: Oare Father’s occupation: Surveyor of Taxes. 

Ore is on the Old London Road leading north-east out of Hastings.

Frances, Alice, Zara were baptised on 23rd March 1853 in Guestling, Sussex, as was Maria again. Parents: Henry and Anne. Abode: Guestling Father’s occupation: Clerk. 

Guestling is a few miles further along the Old London Road, past Ore.

Anna Shekleton died in Betchworth near Dorking, Surrey in March 1856. Her death registration gives her name as Anna Price Shekleton Compton. She is described as the wife of Henry Compton, Surveyor of Taxes. Had they been married it would have been bigamously as Theodosia was still alive. Henry is recorded on the certificate as the informant.

In November 1856 it was reported in Perrys Bankrupt Gazette that Henry Compton, Surveyor of Taxes, of Reigate was to appear in the County Court as an Insolvent. 

The 1861 census records Henry snr and five of the daughters from his second family – Annie, Frances, Alice, Maria and Zahra – living in Croydon. He is a Government Pensioner.

Henry died on the 11th January 1865. At the time he was living in West Kent Park which was an area of relatively poor-quality housing near Forest Hill Station.  The informant recorded on his death certificate was a Mrs Ann Wood who had been his near neighbour in Croydon at the time of the 1861 census. Possibly she was his landlady as according to the census her income came from property. The daughters of his second family do not appear to have been involved. 

The limited information that has been found about Henry’s second family after his death is summarised below:

Ann [also known as Annie] – In the 1861 census she is recorded as unmarried and living with her father Henry and her sisters in Croydon. However, there is a record that she married Henry Stockwell, a stockbroker and member of a prominent Somerset family, in February 1860. His father was a surgeon as was one of his brothers, and another brother was a GP. Henry was admitted to Kingsdown House private ‘madhouse’ in July 1865 and died there in January 1867 with cause of death listed as Mania and General Paralysis. This is assumed to mean General Paralysis of the Insane, the final stage of a syphilis infection. Ann married John Hitchcock in May 1867 in Dublin. This is the last record that can be found for her other than a possible appearance in the 1911 census in Preston, Sussex as Annie Hitchcock.

Jessie – last record is 1851 census. Possible death registration in Hackney Q1 1879

Clara – appears as a servant in Ewell in 1861 census. Died Q1 1862 in Croydon.

Elizabeth – last record is 1851 census

Frances – no record after the 1861 census

Alice – no record after the 1861 census

Maria – no record after the 1861 census

Zara – married Harry Evans in 1871 She was an inmate at Hoxton House and then Banstead Asylum between March 1884 and January 1886 when she was discharged ‘Recovered’. Died in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire Q1 1924.

How much did Emma know about her father’s second family?

It appears from the baptisms and birth registrations of his second family that from around 1833, the time of his second insolvency, Henry was living in a number of different parts of London as Henry Shekleton. Possibly this was to avoid his debtors. He moved to Hastings in around 1843 as a Surveyor of Taxes when he once again called himself Henry Compton. From that point the Compton surname was adopted by his second family. 

It is notable that the first child of his family with Anna was a girl called Emma, the same name as his last child with Theodosia and the subject of this story, and that his second child with Anna was Charles, the same name as the second son of his marriage to Theodosia, who had died as an infant. Sadly, both these children had also died as infants.

The newspaper report from 1822 shows that he was a gambler and it is not unreasonable to suppose that this was the source of his financial problems. His insolvency reported in 1856 suggests that this may have continued through his life.

We can only guess how much Emma knew about her father’s second family. From Theodosia’s death certificate we can tell that by 1867 his first family knew that he had died. It can be surmised that some information may have filtered back to them, possibly through their Compton relatives with whom they seemed to have maintained connections  

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