Sunday, November 26, 2017

Just who was Cordelia Knight?

On 27 Feb 1823 the Lord Sidmouth arrived in Sydney carrying a cargo of female convicts and stores for the colony. One of those convicts was Cordelia Knight.  She had been tried at the Old Bailey in the previous June and found guilty of stealing 20 yards of silk, with a death sentence being pronounced. Luckily for those of us who descend from her, her death sentence was remitted to transportation for life.

This was her second appearance at the Old Bailey. The first had taken place in April 1820, when she was found guilty (under the name Cornelia Knight) of stealing 11 yards of printed stuff and sentenced to one month in Newgate gaol.

On the voyage to New South Wales she took her four daughters: Sarah, born 16 Nov 1810; Lucretia, born 7 Jul 1814; Mary, born 7 Dec 1817; and Caroline (sometimes called Louisa), born 23 Apr 1821.  The eldest three girls had all been baptised in Hampstead, Middlesex, on 11 Jan 1818 as the children of John & Cordelia Knightes [sic]. The youngest was not baptised until 1828 in Windsor.

St John-at-Hampstead, where three of
Cordelia's daughters were baptised
[Chris Gunns, via Wikimedia Commons]

So the natural course of events would be to search for the marriage of Cordelia to a John Knight or Knightes. The only such marriage people have found is the marriage of John Knight and Cordelia White on 5 Jun 1810 in Bloomsbury.  The date looks reasonable, given the birth of their first known daughter, therefore many people have seized on it and used it in their family trees. Subsequently, more and more people have copied that information, so that it seems to many that it must be correct.

But there is a problem with this. 

Cordelia's first conviction, in April 1820, says she was aged 26.  This would indicate a birth about 1794.  At her second conviction in Jun 1821, she is still said to be 26, though she should have aged a year by then.  This would make her born about 1795. The 1828 census of NSW says she is 33, indicating a birth about 1795. Her ticket of leave, granted in  1830 says she was born in 1794 in Hampstead, and her conditional pardon in 1852 says she was born in 1795 in Hampstead. Finally, her burial record in May 1853 says she was 57 years old, pointing to a birth in 1796.

So most records point to a birth in 1794-95, with only her burial record – when she was unavailable to provide the information – gives a birth about 1796. And the convict records state she was a native of Hampstead, and these records are usually correct in this regard.

And here is where the problem arises. Why would someone born in Hampstead (and whose children were baptised there) go down to Bloomsbury to get married? And not only did they marry there by banns, they were both said to be "of this parish", which means that they were definitely living there at that time (though not necessarily born there).

Further, most online trees have decided that she was Cordelia Elizabeth White, who was baptised on 7 Oct 1781 in St Peter le Poer in London. This is 14-16 years before Cordelia Knight always claimed to have been born. And she was not born in Hampstead, as the convict records state our Cordelia was. And there is no single record showing the woman who was transported to NSW having a middle name of Elizabeth. Could this really be the same person? 

There are other online family trees that say Cordelia's surname was Rudd, but none of them give any source for this or place of marriage to check.

Just because only one event for a particular named person has been found, it doesn't mean that it is the correct one. Even now, not all records are online, and not all records have survived. It was not unusual for a parish priest or clerk to forget to record some of the events.  If other surviving records provide conflicting information to the one record found, then it should not be accepted as the truth without further confirming evidence being found.

1 comment:

  1. I have included your blog in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at

    Thank you, Chris