Family Notes - June 2018
This is a sample of the information provided to members of the P*rr*tt Society in the most recent edition of Family Notes. Family Notes is a 56-page printed magazine that is distributed to society members every quarter.
Madness and murder in Edwardian Bristol
George Stephen Perrett (1855-1914) was the oldest child of Thomas Perrett (1834-1904) and Eliza Mozley. They were descendants of the Over Stowey Perrett family who had moved to Bristol, where Thomas’ father, James Perrett, worked as a tanner.
The family lived in Bristol and early in his life – certainly before the age of 6 –George lost his hearing following a fever and was subsequently considered to be deaf and dumb throughout his life, though he may have had some limited ability to use language.
There is no record of George attending school – the education of deaf and dumb children did not become compulsory until 1893 – so while younger siblings Thomas and Ellen were out at school, George would presumably have stayed at home with his mother. Perhaps he found some enjoyment in helping her to cook for the family, as by his mid-teens he had found employment as a baker’s assistant. His brother Thomas later went into the same line of work, so it is possible that the brothers worked together.
Despite his communication difficulties, George met – and apparently married – Jane Herbert in the 1880s, though it has not been possible to locate a marriage record for them and later George would say – via an interpreter – that he couldn’t remember where he’d married Jane. So perhaps they were never legally married at all. Certainly by 1891 they were living together as man and wife and in spring of 1899, Jane gave birth to a daughter, Minnie Ethel Maria Perrett, who sadly died later the same year. A second daughter, Alice Maud Perrett, was born in 1902.
George and Jane’s union was not a particularly happy one. When Jane drank alcohol it caused her to have a violent temper and most of the money George earned – 27 shillings out of 29 shillings per week – was given to Jane.
In November 1905 neighbours heard things being smashed in the Perrett house and later saw Jane running up and down the road, pulling her hair and dancing. Then, on the evening of 1st December 1905, Jane Perrett complained to Frederick Hobbs, her next-door neighbour, that men were hanging around in her backyard, but when he went outside with his dog there was no-one to be seen.
On 2nd December 1905 George left home at one o’clock in the morning to start
his work as a baker. He kissed his wife goodbye and said ‘good-bye’ to his
daughter Alice Maud who had woken up.
He asked “What’s the matter, Mrs. Perrett, are you ill?”
With George not yet returned from work, the concerned greengrocer called Mary Anne Hobbs from next-door who noticed that Jane appeared close to fainting, so took hold of her and commented that it appeared she was strangling herself. Tearing the cloth from her neck, they realised that Jane had cut her own throat.Together, Augustus Davies and Mrs. Hobbs managed to get Jane into an armchair in the kitchen. By now, other people had come to the house. Augustus went upstairs and found Alice Maud lying dead on the bed, wearing a chemise, white jacket and blue socks. Her forehead was cold and she seemed to have been dead for some time. Dr. O’Brien was called to examine the child’s body and noted that Jane was in a weak but excited state and of unsound mind to the best of his belief.
A coroner’s inquest was held on 5th December 1905 and George Stephen Perrett gave his testimony via an interpreter from the Bristol Christian Mission Deaf and Dumb Institute, which had been founded in 1884.
Augustus Davies the greengrocer, called as a witness, said that Jane had always been peculiar in her character, but she had seemed cheerful when he’d called on her the previous week and he’d never seen her in a drunken state.
Mary Anne Hobbs gave a similar account – Jane was strange in her manner and sometimes looked very wild, but she’d never seen anything to suggest cruelty towards the child. Jane then unexpectedly accused Mary Anne of saying she was going to put her baby on the fire, which Mary Anne denied.
The coroner’s inquest determined that Alice Maud had most likely died from
shock following the attempted strangulation and Jane was found guilty of wilful
On 20th February 1906 Jane was committed to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, where she would remain until her death on 10th November 1929. George continued to work as a baker in Bristol. On the 1911 census he gives his marital status as single and was living at a lodging house near the city centre. He died in Bristol in 1914.
We will never know exactly why Jane decided to take her daughter’s life that
day. Did she have an undiagnosed mental health condition? Was it a consequence
of syphilis perhaps or maybe post-natal depression? How had she been affected by
the earlier loss of her first baby? Did she struggle to communicate with her
husband? Was she afraid her husband would take her daughter away because of her
drinking? There are so many possible factors that might have contributed to this
P*rr*tts in prison
Nineteenth century gaol registers for Somerset have recently been made available on the Ancestry website and, as one would expect in this part of the country, there are a number of P*rr*tt items of interest.
James Prowse Parrott was admitted to Wilton Gaol on 6th October 1875 for using threatening language. He had been sentenced to six months imprisonment unless sureties could be found … which they duly were and he spent just three days in prison. James was the son of John Parrott and Mary Prowse, baptised at Wilton on 2nd February 1823. He appears on the 1841 census working as a baker in Aisholt. One can only imagine the type of language James must have used to result in such a punishment, as I cannot find any report of this in the newspapers.
In 1854 Simon Perrott of Marston was committed to Wilton Gaol for six months’ imprisonment. He was the son of Thomas Perrott and Ann, baptised as Simon Ashby Perrott in Marston in 1832. At the time of his imprisonment he was 22 years old, 5ft 4˝ins tall, with a fresh complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. Records show that he had a cut on his little finger and a mole on his neck, as well as ‘E.G.’ and a heart on his left arm which one supposes refers to a tattoo. His crime, along with Zenus Cliff and Charles Lewis, was “placing a wheelbarrow on the Wells, Somerset, and Weymouth line of railway, with intent to obstruct and injure an engine, tender, and track, and to endanger the safety of persons travelling on the line”. The wheelbarrow was spotted by the driver of a goods train on its way to Frome which smashed into the wheelbarrow without doing any damage to the engine. Following his time in gaol, Simon found work as an agricultural labourer and married Fanny Garrett, with whom he raised a number of children. There is no evidence of any further criminal misdemeanours.
Sometimes the most trivial offences could result in time in gaol. In 1824 Mary Ann Perrott aged 25 was sent to prison for “leaving her work”. Mary Ann was 5ft tall with grey eyes and brown hair. She had been born in Dartmouth, but her most recent place of residence was Kingsbrompton. Her crime resulted in one month of hard labour at Wilton Gaol. She was, most likely, the daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth who was baptised at Broadhempston, Devon on 15th December 1799.
A more serious crime was that of Robert Perrott, who was admitted to Ilchester Gaol on 15th July 1808. He was convicted of grand larceny and sentenced to seven years’ transportation. On 27th October 1808 Robert was delivered to the prison hulk H.M. Retribution on the river Thames. The Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette records that his crime was receiving malt and barley from J. Evans which had been stolen from a brewery in Bath, together with a bridle that had been stolen from Mr. Bendall of Widcomb. A search of the prison hulk registers reveals that Robert was never transported – he was, in fact, pardoned on 30th August 1811. He is probably the same Robert who was buried at Walcot St Swithin, Bath on 22nd January 1843.
In 1870 30 year old William Perrott was imprisoned at Wilton Gaol on a charge of bastardy for three weeks or to be released on payment of 6 shillings. The most likely candidate for this offence is William Perrott born 1840 in Clatworthy to William Perrett and Elizabeth Jones, particularly as his three oldest children – William, Elizabeth and Tom – were born prior to his marriage to Elizabeth Jane Stone in 1868. This family had moved to Cornwall by 1872 and afterwards to Salford, Lancashire. William died in Northwich, Cheshire in 1906.
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