Monday, 23 January 2017

Free to Marry

Thomas McKeith was the fourth son of Robert, a sawyer, and Mary McKeith (née Bertram). He was born on 13 December 1808 at Jarrow, Durham, and was baptised there just short of a year later. Thomas was an elder brother of my 4x great-grandfather, Barty Keith.

Thomas's baptism.
From the Durham Bishop's Transcripts.

Thomas married Mary Robson, a widow, at St Hilda's, South Shields on 9 July 1844. Their daughter, Elizabeth Ann McKeith, was born the following year. 

But Thomas was actually harbouring a secret, and it wasn't long before he was found out and exposed. His secret was outed in contemporary newspapers for all and sundry to read. Thomas McKeith was a criminal.

The following is from the Durham Chronicle, 2 March 1849:

THOMAS MC'KEATH (41) was charged with having, at the parish of Jarrow, unlawfully married Mary Robson, his lawful wife being then alive. - Mr DIGBY SEYMOUR appeared for the prosecution: the prisoner was undefended. The prisoner it appeared was first married at Trenan [sic], in Scotland, on the 12th December, 1828, to Margaret Neil. The first marriage ceremony of the prisoner was performed by the then officiating minister of Trenan, at the house of the first wife's mother. On 9th July, 1844, he was again married to one Mary Robson, at St. Hilda's Church, South Shields. On the policemen going to the house to apprehend him, he was under the bed. Prisoner acknowledged the charge against him, and said he was married 18 or 19 years ago; the name of his first wife was Margaret Neil. He had not seen her for seven years. He had got married again two years after he had seen her. Both the first and second marriage were proved; the first marriage by the prisoner's first wife's brother; the second by the sexton of St. Hilda's Church, South Shields. In extenuation, prisoner said he had written to his wife, but had received no answer. She had, on a previous occasion, told him that she liked another man's little finger better than his (the prisoner's) whole body. The man to whom she alluded, it appears she had been living with, and to whom she had had a child. Under these circumstances, he had married again. In fact she had told the prisoner herself, that she was lawfully married to the man whom she was living, and that he (the prisoner) was free. The person prisoner had married at South Shields, he said knew under what circumstances she had married him. He had told her that he was married; and that his former wife was then living. - Guilty. - Sentence deferred until the second wife should be sent for."

Similar articles also appeared in the Durham County Advertiser and Newcastle Courant on the same date. The Newcastle Guardian covered the story on the following day, and added some extra details.

"... When the policemen went, in January of the present year, to apprehend him on the charge of bigamy, he found him hid under the bed; he asked him why he had done that, in reply to which he said he was afraid of his two wives (laughter). In defence, the prisoner said his first wife had told him that she had married again to a man named Hornby, to whom she had a child. She added that she liked Hornby's little finger better than his whole body (laughter). She told him she had no claim upon him and he had none on her, and as he wanted a home he thought he could not do better than take to Mary Robson (laughter). - The jury found a verdict of guilty, and sentence was deferred, his lordship wishing to know whether the prisoner, previous to the second marriage, told Mary Robson about his having been previously married to a woman who was still alive. His lordship added that in all cases of bigamy the second wife ought to be produced as a witness. The solicitor for the prosecution said the woman was a cripple, and when the prisoner was apprehended she did not attend at the police-office to complain."

On the 9 March, the following appeared in the Durham Chronicle:

"In reference to the case of THOMAS MC'KEATH who was charged and found guilty of having, at the parish of Jarrow, unlawfully married Mary Robson, his lawful wife being then alive on whom sentence was deferred until the woman Robson should be sent for, for the purpose of seeing whether she was cognisant, at the time she married Mc'Keath, that he had another wife who was then living, Mr DIGBY SEYMOUR stated to his Lordship that the woman had come, and who said that she did not know, and that he had deceived her. - hard labour for one year."

I was surprised to find this story, so naturally I did a little more digging. I already had the date of Thomas's lawful marriage, so quickly found it in the Scottish registers on ScotlandsPeople. He and Margaret Neil were married at Tranent, a town in East Lothian, rather than Trenan, as named in the first article. Thomas was described as a coalier, or collier. 

Thomas and Margaret's marriage at Tranent, East Lothian, Scotland.

I also found that Thomas and Margaret had two daughters; Marion, born in 1830 at Tranent, and Margaret, born in 1833 at nearby Prestonpans.

There is no doubt that things in the relationship turned sour, and Thomas deserted his wife and daughters. He obviously returned to Jarrow, his birthplace and where his mother and siblings still lived. Perhaps he believed that he had put a great enough distance between himself and Margaret? Thomas obviously thought he could get away with bigamously marrying the "crippled" Mary Robson, but he got his comeuppance in the end.

I can find no record of Margaret's involvement with a man named Hornby, with whom she supposedly had a child, but I did find another. In late 1841, a boy named Daniel Arrington was born in Tranent. His supposed father was named Daniel too, and his mother was Margaret Neil.

I can only assume that his relationship did not work out either, and Margaret was deserted once again.

Margaret later died on 21 March 1873. Her son, Daniel Arrington, was the informant of her death. It's quite interesting to see just what and how much he knew about his mother's life prior to his birth.

Margaret Neil Keith's death certificate.

Daniel informed the registrar that his mother was the widow of Thomas Keith, a journeyman sawyer. Thomas was indeed a sawyer, and it is of course possible that he travelled while doing that job. However, his mother was not a widow, as Thomas was not yet dead. This perhaps implies that following the bigamy revelation back in 1849, communication between Thomas, his daughters, and his legal spouse completely broke down. 

Thomas doesn't seem like a very nice man, and his treatment of both Margaret and Mary just doesn't sit well with me. He deserted Margaret and his two young daughters, then took up with Mary Robson, a "crippled" widow with young children because he was in need of a roof over his head. I imagine he thought that was the best he could do at the time.

Despite this, it is obvious to me that Thomas McKeith was quite a character - take that how you will. He evidently had a knack for making people laugh, and was very humorous in his responses even in a court setting. This is clearly a family trait as his brother Barty was very much the same, although I haven't found any evidence of Barty being so cruel.

Thomas McKeith later died in 1889. Mary Robson had died three years earlier.

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