Friday 28 November 2014

Death of a Don Juan

Sometimes it seems that genealogical discoveries are like uncovering a door to a room that you never knew existed — how could you have been so blind to it before? If there happens to be an unexpected wealth of evidence then there may be many other doors leading from that room, but which do you take first? An insatiable curiosity could easily lead to haphazard research. This was my situation a few weeks ago when researching a distant ancestor from Nottingham, but I wanted to create a picture as full and continuous as I could.

This person was a Thomas Watts, born c1900 to a William Watts and Elizabeth Bond. For reasons I will cover in a later post, Thomas was an inmate, aged just one, at the Beech Avenue Workhouse, Nottingham, in the 1901 census.[1] For related reasons, neither Thomas, nor his brothers (Francis and George William), nor their mother, wanted to be found in the 1911 census.

This didn’t leave me with much information on Thomas, but then I noticed that another researcher, Katie, had indicated that Thomas had been in court over a paternity case in August 1921. The reason that this never showed up in the searches of the British Newspaper Archive (BNA) was that the image was taken when the page was not flat. The binding volume had warped this right-hand page all down its left side, and the article being in column one prevented its successful OCR. Once located, it was possible to create the following enlightening transcription:



Thomas Watts, Westminster-street, described as a coal-dealer, appeared at the Nottingham Summons Court to-day, at the instance of Sophia Seymour, Hawthorn-street, the Meadows, who applied for an affiliation order.

Mr. H. B. Clayton, for the complainant, said defendant was a regular Don Juan. "He's in a tangle. There are two similar cases against him this morning, and in addition he has got married. As a matter of fact, he was keeping company with three girls at once." added Mr. Clayton.

The Chairman (Mr. F. Acton): Anticipating the promised polygamy laws!

Mr. Clayton said the child was born in September, 1920, and defendant went off to Canada, where he had been able to evade service of the summons until recently. When he knew the girl was in trouble he gave her a ring and arranged for the wedding. Complainant found he was keeping company with two other girls so he bolted and went to Canada, and last Easter got married to somebody else.

Defendant, who admitted the paternity, said that after arranging for the wedding he went out one night and found her drunk in the company of two soldiers, and when he explained the matter to her mother she advised him to give her a good hiding.

An order for 10s. a week was made.

Lucy Bannister, a barmaid, of Manvers-street, then stepped into the witness-box and said that Watts was the father of her child, but in cross-examination she admitted that she had now been living with a man for a week and had previously had an illegitimate child by another man.

This case was dismissed.[2]

I was aware of Sophia Seymour because she later married George William Watts, the younger brother of Thomas, in 1924.[3] The child in question, Ada Doris Seymour, was born 1 Sep 1920, well before that marriage, and there was no father recorded on the birth certificate.[4]

So, it looks like Thomas was “a bit of a lad”, as they say. He disappeared off to Canada on 7 May 1920 onboard the Haverford, sailing between Liverpool, England, and Halifax, Nova Scotia. His stated occupation was simply “Labourer”.[5] The Haverford arrived in Halifax on 18 May and the incoming passenger list indicated he was going to settle there permanently, that he was single, and that he was a carpenter but was going to take up farming.[6]

The status of being “single” is interesting because he had also managed to marry a different woman, Ethel Wayman, just before he left for Canada — it was registered 1920-Q2,[7] and took place around that Easter according to the newspaper report. Ethel did not travel with him on this occasion.

Thomas made an appearance in the Canadian census of 1921, in the town of Kapuskasing, in North Ontario.[8] His status was now “married”, and his occupation was “miner” with an income of CA$ 700. His occupation is a little confusing because he was lodging at “Spruce Falls Co. Ltd. Campus”, together with many other men. Information on Wikipedia suggests that this was a new wood-pulp company, formed in about 1920 and directed by a V.P. of the Kimberly-Clark company, to whom the timber resources had been sold about the same time.[9] The other people lodging at that same campus were from many different countries (Austria, England, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Russia, Scotland, and Sweden) and were either labourers, carpenters, or other occupations concerned with wood pulp; Thomas seemed to have been the only miner. A possible attraction to the area was that after the war, the Canadian government needed to maintain the development of Northern Ontario by increasing its population, and its offer of 100 acres of land to any family willing to settle up north must have brought folks from far and wide.[10]

Thomas returned to England in July 1921. Although there is no visible record of his return in any of the passenger lists, he declares this return date on a subsequent trip (see below). Unfortunately for him, once he was back in the country then the summons could be served and he was in court by August 1921, as the above transcription shows. That case resulted in a maintenance order of 10s per week, and he and Ethel remained in England for a couple of years.

Their first-born, Frances Irene Watts arrived on 24 Nov 1922, and Frances would later marry Harry. S. Murphy and go on to have 13 children.[11]

The family all went to Canada together on 24 Nov 1923 onboard the Doric.[12] Canada was using a new per-person immigration Form 30A from July 1921 to December 1924 (and occasionally as early as 1919), and this had far more details than the normal passenger lists.[13] Unfortunately, the handwriting of the booking agent, J. Hall, was dreadful. Collectively, their completed forms indicate that they were destined for Lower Melbourne, Québec, to stay with a friend, William Roberts, and to eventually settle. Their next-of-kin was given as Mrs. S. Wayman of 10 Bombay Street, Nottingham; the mother of Ethel. Thomas had £25 in his possession, and gave his occupation initially as “Dealer” but then corrected it to “Coal Merchant”. He gave his reason for leaving Canada previously, in July 1921 (via Montreal), as “Illness at Home”. One of the hardest pieces to decipher was his previous location in Canada, which was given as “Kappess Cas. Ont.”. Well, “Ont.” Is obviously an abbreviation for Ontario but the rest was a mystery for a few hours. Then I realised, this was a corruption of the town name Kapuskasing, and the booking agent simply didn’t know how to spell it.

The stamp at the bottom of the Form 30A for Thomas reads “Thos. Cook & Son. 16 Clumber St. Nottingham”, and that caught my eye.

There are genealogists who are only interested in lineage — genealogy in the literal sense — and there are those who are interested in all things historical, especially when there’s a personal connection. Although this stamp had only a passing relevance in the life of Thomas Watts, I was interested because I thought I remembered that store from my youth, although it was then called just Thomas Cook. It may be a slight digression but I just had to see if it really was the same, and if it was still there. Could my ancestor have used that same store back in the 1920s? I still couldn’t get my head around the idea that someone back then might just pop into a travel agent and book a trip all the way to Canada.

A check in the directories of the 1920s gave the following list of stores around that address:[14]

E. C. Spall & Co.
Fancy Jewellers
J. Howitt & Son
Paperhanging merchants

Midland Railway parcels receiving office
T. Cook & Son (manager: Frank Paling)
Excursion & tourist contractors
Dennis & Roberts Ltd (managing director: Thos. Roberts)
Wholesale druggists & drysalters

These addresses are on the East side of Clumber Street, below the Lincoln Street junction where the even numbers descend from 26. In order to try and find a picture of the store, I went to the Picture the Past Web site which hosts a photographic history of the East Midlands. I was lucky to find the following excellent view of the store:;EQUALS;NTGM013464&prevUrl
Figure 1 - 16 Clumber Street, 1944.[15]

The current store location is now on Long Row, a couple of hundred yards south of there, so was my youthful memory correct? I approached the Thomas Cook Archive to see if they could help me, and they certainly did. They explained that Thomas Cook & Son opened its first office in Nottingham, at this 16 Clumber Street address, back in May 1879; just a few months after Thomas Cook himself retired from the business he had founded in 1841. Remarkably, the main Nottingham store has only been located at three different addresses in the past 135 years:

16 Clumber Street (May 1879–WWII)
47 Clumber Street (WWII–Oct 1970)
16 Clumber Street, again (Nov 1970–May 1998)
3 Long Row (Jun 1998–present)

These dates nicely confirmed that I was correct: it was the same store. Some researchers may not have considered that a travel company, or any company, might have its own archive, but it’s always worth checking. Their archive was very helpful, and even managed to provide me with an image of the store from 1910. Notice the poster for “Canada” in the centre of the window:

Figure 2 - 16 Clumber Street, c1910.[16]

Once in Canada, disaster quickly struck the family! Thomas died the following year, aged just 24, in Danville, Québec.[17] A transcription of the burial record doesn’t reveal many clues as to what happened:

Thomas Watts, miner, of Asbestos Quebec aged twenty four years, late of Nottingham, England, died on the third day of April, A.D. nineteen hundred and twenty-four [3 Apr 1924] and was buried on the fourth day of the same month and year [4 Apr 1924], by me,
H.O.N Belford, Priest

D. M. Riddle
D. H. Boutelle

However, his name appears in a list of Québec mining accidents hosted on the Web site for the Denver Public Library.[18] These are the relevant details from p.124 of that online index:

1923 DEC 12 WATTS, THOMAS Canadian Johns Manville N 121
1924 MAR 25 WATTS, THOMAS (24) Canadian Johns Manville F 149

They give the date of his fatal accident and of a previous non-fatal one. He was working for a company called ‘Canadian Johns-Manville’ which was actually the Canadian branch of the US Denver-based Johns-Manville Corporation, a leading manufacturer of products containing asbestos. The Johns-Manville Mine was previously known as the Jeffrey Mine, and lies adjacent to the town of Asbestos (Shipton Township, Richmond Co.), just a couple of miles east of Danville.

Johns-Manville acquired the mine in 1918 and invested in steam shovels to move the ore from the pit. Prior to that, it was unearthed using compressed-air drills and blasting, and brought to the surface using steam-driven winches.[19] The mine has since grown to become the largest open-pit asbestos mine in the Western hemisphere.[20],_Quebec_-_Canada_-_29_July_2013.jpg?uselang=en-gb
Figure 3 - Jeffrey Mine, 2013.[21]

But what actually happened to Thomas? How did he die? The extracted lines from the index of Québec mining accidents give two page numbers: 121 & 149. The author, Jerry Sherard, indicates these relate to 1909 through 1936 Mining Operations in the Province of Quebec – Canada, although I couldn’t find this publication. With the help of the author, I realised that it is actually a series of separate publications, and that it has gone under a couple of different titles.[22] The following transcriptions were kindly provided by the author to help me complete this article:

From the 1923 report, page 121, 1923Dec12, Canadian Johns-Manville Co., Ltd., Thomas Watts, occupation miner, lifted heavy rock and sprained right lumbar muscle, non-fatal.

From the 1924 report, page 149, 1924Mar25, Canadian Johns-Manville Co., Ltd., Thomas Watts, age 24, occupation driller. Numerous abrasions on face, hands, left leg and back.  Incised wound on head and internal injuries.  While at work drilling, a large piece of rock above him near the top of the pit wall fell down bringing with it some frozen earth.  Two large pieces of this frozen earth struck Watts, injuring him fatally.

So many injuries in just a short space of time suggest it was very dangerous work. In 1949, mounting issues over safety and wages would lead to a violent and lengthy strike in that area.

Ethel and a 1½ year-old Frances very soon returned to England on 12 May 1924.[23] Her destination address (“10 Bonbery St, St Anne's Hill Rd, Notts”) was a mis-recorded version of her mother’s address: 10 Bombay Street, St Ann’s Well Road, Nottingham. This must have been a terribly arduous journey, travelling alone with a small infant, because Ethel was already 7 months pregnant with their second child. I just cannot imagine how she coped on a two-week journey by train and ship, but her son, also Thomas Watts, was successfully born in Nottingham on 26 Jun 1924.[24]

I could not find any evidence that Ethel ever revisited Canada — it would have been very expensive — but she did place the following family notice in the local paper the following year:[25]

WATTS - In loving memory of my dear husband, Thomas Watts, who died in Canada, April 3rd, 1924, aged 24 years. Gone but not forgotten. Ever remembered by his loving wife and children.

The National Probate Calendar recorded the place of his death as Sherbrook Hospital, Québec .[26] This lies about 40 miles south of the mine and suggests that his death was not instantaneous.

WATTS Thomas of 18 Lennox-street Nottingham died 3 April 1924 at Sherbrook Hospital Quebec Canada Administration Nottingham 27 May to Ethel Watts widow. Effects £178 12s 9d.

This is a tragic story of a promising life cut short by a single twist of fate. Ethel eventually remarried to a William Dixon in 1927, and continued to live her days in Nottingham.[27]

[1] "1901 England, Wales & Scotland Census", database, FindMyPast ( : accessed 20 Nov 2014), household of William Watts (age 42); citing RG 10/3191, folio 135, page 19; The National Archives of the UK (TNA).
[2] “A Nottingham ‘Don Juan’: Coal Dealer’s Trio of Lovers”, Nottingham Evening Post (17 Aug 1921): p.5, col.1.
[3] England, marriage certificate for George William Watts and Sophia Seymour, married 22 Dec 1924; citing 7b/842/249, registered Nottingham 1924/Dec [Q4]; General Register Office (GRO), Southport; the writing on this certificate is particularly scrawly and hard to read.
[4] England, birth certificate for Ada Doris Seymour, born 1 Sep 1920; citing 7b/665/55, registered Nottingham 1920/Sep [Q3]; GRO.
[5] "UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960", digital images, Ancestry ( : accessed 25 Nov 2014), entry for Thomas Watts, age 20, departing from Liverpool, England, for Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 7 May 1920 on the Haverford; citing BT 27 (Records of the Board of Trade: Outwards Passenger Lists), TNA.
[6] "Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935", digital images, Ancestry ( : accessed 25 Nov 2014), entry for Thomas Watts, age 20, arriving at Halifax, Nova Scotia, from Liverpool, England, on 18 May 1920 on the Haverford; citing "Passenger Lists, 1865-1935", Series: RG 76-C, Roll: T-14799, Library and Archives Canada;
[7] Transcribed GRO Index for England and Wales (1837–1983), database, FreeBMD ( : accessed 25 Nov 2014), marriage entry for Thomas Watts and Ethel Wayman; citing Nottingham, 1920, Jun [Q2], vol. 7b:1272.
[8] "1921 Census of Canada", database, Ancestry ( : accessed 27 Nov 2014), entry for Thomas Watts (b. 1900), Kapuskasing (O'Brien Tp [Township]), Temiskaming [Timiskaming] District [now in Cochrane]; citing reference no.: RG 31; folder Number: 88; census place: Temiskaming, Ontario; page no.: 15; Library and Archives Canada.
[9] “Kapuskasing: Spruce Falls”, Wikipedia ( : accessed 27 Nov 2014).
[10] “History”, Kapuskasing: Ontario ( : accessed 27 Nov 2014).
[11] Transcribed GRO Index for England and Wales (1837–1983), database, FreeBMD ( : accessed 27 Nov 2014), birth entry for Frances I. Watts; citing Nottingham, 1922, Dec [Q4], vol. 7b:629. FreeBMD marriage entry for Frances I. Watts and Harry S. Murphy; citing Nottingham, 1943, Jun [Q2], vol. 7b:842. "England & Wales deaths 1837-2007", database, FindMyPast ( : accessed 27 Nov 2014); citing Nottingham, 2000, Jun [Q2], volume: 6891F, page: F69A.
[12] "UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960", digital images, Ancestry ( : accessed 27 Nov 2014), entry for Thomas, Ethel, & Francis [Frances] Watts, departing from Liverpool, England, for Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 24 Nov 1923 on the Doric; citing BT 27 (Records of the Board of Trade: Outwards Passenger Lists), TNA.
[13] "Canada, Ocean Arrivals (Form 30A), 1919-1924", database, Ancestry ( : accessed 27 Nov 2014), images for Thomas, Ethel, and Frances Irene Watts, arriving in Halifax, Nova Scotia, from Liverpool, England, on 13 Dec 1923 on the Doric; select surname: Watts, birth place: Nottingham, and arrival: 1923; citing RG 76, Library and Archives Canada; Department of Employment and Immigration Fonts, Microfilm Reels: T-14939 to T-15248.
[14] Wright's Directory of Nottingham & Neighbourhood, 1920, searchable PDF files (Archive CD Books, 2002). Kelly's Directory of Nottinghamshire, 1922, searchable PDF files (Archive CD Books, 2003).
[15] Clumber Street from Lincoln Street to number 16, 1944. Photographer: W. Spencer. Acknowledgment: Nottingham City Council. Displayed by permission of Image ref: NTGM013464.
[16] No. 16 Clumber Street, Nottingham, c1910. Image displayed by permission of the Thomas Cook Archives (
[17] "Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967", database, Ancestry ( : accessed 27 Nov 2014), image for Thomas Watts, buried 1924 in Danville, Quebec; citing Gabriel Drouin, comp. Drouin Collection, Montreal, Quebec; Institut Généalogique Drouin.
[18] Gerald ("Jerry") E. Sherard, comp., "QUEBEC MINING ACCIDENTS: 1909-1936", index, Denver Public Library: Digital Collections, June 2007 ( : accessed 28 Nov 2014).
[19] Joan Kuyek, "Asbestos Mining in Canada: A brief presented to the International Ban Asbestos Conference", Mining Watch Canada, 13 Sep 2003 ( : accessed 28 Nov 2014).
[20] Matthew Farfan, "The Jeffrey Mine, Asbestos", Townships Heritage WebMagazine ( : accessed 28 Nov 2014).
[21] Image by Bryn Pinzgauer (And they call it a mine!) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.
[22] Report on mining operations in the Province of Quebec, series of yearly publications (Quebec : L.-V. Filteau, 19101929). Issued by: Dept. of Colonization, Mines and Fisheries, 1909; Dept. of Colonization, Mines and Fisheries, Mines Branch, 19101917; Dept. of Colonization, Mines and Fisheries, Bureau of Mines, 19181927; Dept. of Highways and Mines, Bureau of Mines, 1928. New title: Annual report of the Quebec Bureau of Mines for the year ... Example catalogue details: HATHI TRUST: Digital Library ( : accessed 28 Nov 2014).
[23] "UK, Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960", digital images, Ancestry ( : accessed 28 Nov 2014), entry for Ethel, & Francis [Frances] Watts, arriving from Montréal, Québec, in Liverpool, England, on 12 May 1924 on the Canada; citing BT 26 (Records of the Board of Trade: Inwards Passenger Lists), TNA.
[24] Transcribed GRO Index for England and Wales (1837–1983), database, FreeBMD ( : accessed 28 Nov 2014), birth entry for Thomas Watts; citing Nottingham, 1924, Sep [Q3], vol. 7b:659. "England & Wales deaths 1837-2007", database, FindMyPast ( : accessed 28 Nov 2014), entry for Thomas Watts; citing Nottingham, 2002, Dec [Q4], district number: 6891A, register number: A76A, entry number: 088, date of reg: 1002.
[25] "IN MEMORIAM", Nottingham Evening Post (3 Apr 1925): p.5, col.8.
[26] "England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966", digital images, Ancestry ( : accessed 28 Nov 2014), entry for "Thomas Watts", died 1924, Nottinghamshire; Principal Probate Registry, Calendar of the Grants of Probate and Letters of Administration made in the Probate Registries of the High Court of Justice in England.
[27] Transcribed GRO Index for England and Wales (1837–1983), database, FreeBMD ( : accessed 28 Nov 2014), marriage entry for William Dixon and Ethel Watts; citing Nottingham, 1927, Dec [Q4], vol. 7b: 643.

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