Mary Ann’s parents
Although Manor Asylum records suggest that Mary Ann was born in 1844, research has revealed that she was actually born Mary Ann Rosser on the 17th of June 1837, the only daughter of labourer Mark Rosser (born c. 1811) and his wife Mary Ann (née Millman).
Mary Ann’s mother was born in 1816, the daughter of labourer Richard Millman and his wife Dinah of Kingsland (now Dalston) in Hackney.
Mary Ann’s parents had married in St Mary’s Church, Newington, on the 24th of April 1831. She had two older siblings, Henry, born in 1833 and Mark, born in 1835. Mary Ann was baptised in St Giles’s Church, Camberwell on the 3rd of February 1837.
The death of Mary Ann’s father – and her mother’s remarriage
In the 1841 Census we find the Rossers living in Edmund Street in Camberwell. However, tragedy would befall the family three years later in the 1st quarter of 1844 when Mark senior died aged just 32. We do not know the cause of his death. He was buried in St Giles’s Church on the 27th of March 1844.
Mary Ann’s distress at losing her husband is hard to imagine – at the age of just 28 she was left with three young children to bring up alone.
However, two years later, on the 26th of July 1846, Mary Ann remarried in St Peter’s Church, Walworth (Newington). Her new husband was widower George Watson. At the time of their marriage, the couple were living in Burdett Street, Lambeth. From the marriage register, we learn that George was an ‘excavator’, the son of gardener John Watson.
Mary Ann’s half-siblings
In the 1851 Census we find George and Mary Ann living at 21 Regent Street in Camberwell. George is aged 31, four years younger than Mary Ann, and is now working as a gardener.
Living with them are Mary Ann’s three children from her first marriage, all of whom have retained the name Rosser. Mary Ann has also given birth to two more children, Charlotte, born in the 3rd quarter of 1846, and George, born in the 3rd quarter of 1847.
George and Mary Ann would go on to have four more children together, Thomas (born in the 1st quarter of 1852), Charles (1st quarter of 1856), Hannah (3rd quarter of 1857) and Jane (1st quarter of 1859).
Mary Ann’s marriage to George Earing
The next time we meet our subject Mary Ann is on the 18th of November 1857 when, at the age of 20, she married 22 year-old brass founder George Earing at St Peter’s Church, Walworth. George was the son of cabinet maker William Earing and his wife Phoebe (née Balmforth). Although George signs his name in the marriage register Mary Ann makes an X-mark signature suggesting that she was illiterate at the time.
In the 1861 Census the couple are living at 2, Missionary Place in Walworth, a property they share with another young couple and an elderly woman living alone. George is described as a metal refiner and Mary Ann is working as an ironer.
A growing family – and a tragic death
Later that year the couple moved to Bedford Street in Walworth. Their first child, Mary Ann, was born in December 1861 and their second, Elizabeth, was born in November 1863. Both girls were baptised in St Mary’s Church in Newington.
By the time George was born in May 1866 the Earings had moved to 24, Clandon Street in Walworth, a property they shared with two other families. Their fourth child, Charlotte, was born in the 3rd quarter of 1869.
In the 1871 Census we find the family still living in Clandon Street. Once again George is described as a metal refiner and Mary Ann is working as an ironer.
In the 1st quarter of 1872 Mary Ann gave birth to her fifth child, a daughter called Hannah and two years later, in the 1st quarter of 1874, Alice Jane was born. Sadly, Alice Jane died in 1880 aged just 6. One can only imagine the effect this tragedy may have had on Mary Ann’s mental health.
The 1880s and 1890s
By the time of the 1881 Census the Earings had moved to 52, Blakes Road in Camberwell, a property they shared with a young couple in their twenties. Earlier that year Mary Ann had married tramcar conductor Albert Harwood in St George’s Church in Camberwell but the four other children were still living with their parents: 17 year-old Elizabeth was working as a shirtmaker and George, now aged 14, was a baker’s boy. 11 year-old Charlotte and Hannah, 9, were still at school.
In the 2nd quarter of 1882 Mary Ann gave birth to another daughter who was given the name of her deceased older sister, Alice. In the 4th quarter of 1886 Mary Ann and George’s last child, Maria, was born.
In the 1891 Census (which appears to have been very hurriedly and carelessly completed) Mary Ann and George are still living at 52, Blakes Road with their three daughters; 20 year-old ‘Harriet’ (we must assume this is Hannah), Alice and 5 year-old ‘Lillie’ (Maria’s name is given as Lillie in a number of official documents).
One wonders if the census enumerator spoke to the family at all – no occupations are given for George, Mary Ann or Hannah (though George is described as ‘employed’) and in the ‘Where Born’ section, next to each member of the family is written ‘NK’ (not known).
Admission to Camberwell Asylum – and transfer to the Manor
On the 4th of September 1899 Mary Ann, now aged 62, was admitted to Camberwell Asylum where she remained until the 27th of September when she was transferred to the Manor Asylum. This is the first evidence we have of Mary Ann’s mental health problems.
Her case notes on her admission to the Manor say she was suffering from ‘loss of memory and delusions as to time and place; thinks she has just come home and just seen her husband; says she has lost her purse and is looking about for it’. Another doctor observes that Mary Ann ‘does not know how old she is, how long she has been here or where she came from; is incoherent’.
Mary Ann’s health deteriorates
Mary Ann was to spend nearly ten years in the Manor and her condition deteriorated as time went on. In her case notes the following comments appear frequently: ‘is much demented – no idea of her surroundings’; ‘idle and demented, rarely speaks’; ‘cannot converse’; ‘remains in a dull and demented condition’; ‘occasionally wet…has dirty habits’; ‘has no idea of time’.
According to the Manor Asylum Visitors’ Book, Mary Ann was visited many times by her husband, her son George and her daughter Lillie (Maria).
In the 1901 Census we find George senior and 15 year-old Lillie living at 54, Caldew Street in Camberwell. George later moved in with his son and daughter-in-law at 113 Rushey Green in Catford.
Mary Ann’s death
The entry in Mary Ann’s case notes for 18th of June 1909 reads, ‘She was in her usual state of health yesterday, took her meals but after being bathed she had a sudden syncopal attack (loss of consciousness caused by a decrease in blood flow to the brain) just after her bath at 5.55pm. She was removed to the ward on a wheeled chair and put to bed but she did not regain consciousness. Death ensued at 6.13pm.’
Her certified cause of death was given as ‘(i) valvular disease of heart and (ii) syncope’. The Manor’s medical superintendent commented on the death certificate that Mary Ann had suffered from heart disease for six years. Mary Ann was buried in Horton Cemetery (grave 443a) on the 24th of June 1909. We know that her husband and daughter Lillie attended her funeral.
Mary Ann’s family after her death
George: Mary Ann’s husband died on the 14th of July 1915 aged 80. He is buried in Camberwell Old Cemetery.
Mary Ann: It has not been possible to find a death certificate for Mary Ann’s first husband Albert Harwood but on the 2nd of September 1889 Mary Ann, aged 27 and described as a widow, married 30 year-old bricklayer John Turk at Emanuel Church in Camberwell. The couple went on to have at least seven children together. Mary Ann died in Camberwell in December 1913 aged 51.
Elizabeth: On the 23rd of November 1881, at All Saints Church in Walworth, 18 year-old Elizabeth married labourer William Henry Burchell aged 21. The couple had at least eight children together. Elizabeth died in Edmonton in the 1st quarter of 1926 aged 64.
George: On the 6th of January 1884 George, aged 20, married Annie Maria Fuller at Emanuel Church in Camberwell. Annie was the 19 year-old daughter of labourer Benjamin Fuller and at the time of their marriage George was working as an ‘oilman’. The couple had at least three children. In the 1911 Census George was described as a ‘shopkeeper oil’. George died aged 84 in the 4th quarter of 1950.
Charlotte: At the age of 20, on the 25th of December 1888, Charlotte married 27 year-old bootmaker James Minster in St Stephen’s Church in Walworth. The couple went on to have three children together. Charlotte died in the 1st quarter of 1956 aged 84.
Hannah: On the 3rd of April 1892 20 year-old Hannah married Walter Down, a 23 year-old labourer at St Stephen’s Church in Walworth. By the time of the 1911 Census Hannah had given birth to seven sons and one daughter. Hannah died in the 4th quarter of 1956 aged 84.
Alice: Sadly, Alice died in the 2nd quarter of 1899 aged just 17. It was shortly after this that Mary Ann was admitted to Camberwell Asylum. Was it the death of a second daughter that tipped her over the edge?
Maria/Lillie: On the 24th of August 1912, Maria, aged 25, married 27 year-old foreman Thomas George Hasler. She sadly died in the first quarter of 1821 aged just 33. The couple had no children.