Saturday, July 6, 2013

Thomas Cook: Gang Member, Corn Thief, and Drunkard?

I have been promising to do a blogpost on Thomas Cook, my four times great grandfather, and the father of William Cook Senior, and grandfather of William Cook Junior, about whom I have written previous blogposts, William Cook Senior and the Case of the Purloined Ferret, and William Cook 1849-1908, Saskatchewan Pioneer. I have found a handful of newspaper articles in a database of old British newspapers about a Thomas Cook, and I am fairly certain that most of them apply to our Thomas. As some of them are of an inflammatory nature, I do have to say that I have identified that more than a few Thomas Cooks were living in Timberland and the Timberland area in Lincolnshire in the nineteenth century.

Thomas Cook was born in 1797 in Metheringham, Lincolnshire, and was christened on April 10, 1797 in St. Wilfred Church there. He was the eldest child of William Cook and Elizabeth East, about whom I know little as yet. What I do know is that they were married in Metheringham at St. Wilfred Church on April 12, 1796, and all of their five known children were baptised in the same church. Thomas’s siblings were Richard, born 1798, John, born 1800, Rebecca, born 1803, and William, born 1805. It is possible that Thomas’s brother, John Cook, was the father of another Thomas Cook who lived in Timberland at the time of our Thomas and his family, but more of this later. It goes without saying that the common nature of these given names and surname makes research challenging.

Our Thomas Cook married Elizabeth “Betsy” Pearson on February 18, 1822 at Oswald’s Church in Blankney, Lincolnshire, where he was residing. He was twenty-five and she was thirty-four. She had been born to William and Elizabeth Pearson in 1788, also in Metheringham.  By 1823, the family is living in Timberland, where their first child, Rebecca, is born. Her brothers, Thomas and William, are also born there in 1824 and 1827 respectively. I am not aware of any other children born to this family. This may have been due to Betsy’s older age when she started her family. I am also not certain why the family was living in Timberland, but they appeared to be the first of this line to do so. Thomas’s occupation is described as “labourer” on each of the children’s baptism records.

Chronologically the first newspaper article to be considered is the following, dated January 22, 1830, from the Stamford Mercury, the newspaper from which all the articles presented here are taken.

Thomas Cook in Stamford Mercury, January 22, 1830
accessed via Find My Past
I believe that the “accomplice” may well have been our Thomas Cook, as I have yet to identify another Thomas Cook of about his age living in Timberland proper at about this time.  Interestingly, I cannot yet find him and his family in the 1841 Census of England. This may mean that he was not living in Timberland for a period of time sometime between 1827 when their last child to be baptised there, William, was born, and 1851 when the family appears in Timberland on the census. Did he “get out of Dodge” to avoid the repercussions of his testimony—“lying low” in his version of a nineteenth century witness protection program? If he were a corn thief, and his son William a ferret thief, this may well be a case of “the apple not falling far from the tree”. Nevertheless, it is common not to find people in the census due to their not having been enumerated, or due to mistranscription. Of course, this is all not so idle speculation, and I hope the connection of this story to him does not have Thomas turning over in his grave.

In Timberland in the 1851 Census, the fifty-four-year-old Thomas is described as an “agricultural labourer”. Living with him are his wife and his son Thomas, who is listed as being twenty-six years old. Living in the town is another Thomas Cook, twenty-two years of age, born in Martin, Lincolnshire, and a “farm labourer”, who is the son of a John Cook. Three years later, on May 19, 1854 the following appears in the Stamford Mercury:

Thomas Cook in the Stamford Mercury, May 19, 1854
accessed via Find My Past
Of course, the Thomas Cook in question could have been any of the three Thomas Cooks, but I tend to think it was more likely Thomas Cook the elder. It seems to me that a fifty-seven-year-old man would more likely be the possessor of a “silver watch”, and it feels more probable that a man of his age would have had an advanced enough drinking problem to find himself embarrassed in such a way. If this is our Thomas, it means that we now have a bit of evidence of possible alcoholism going back another two more generations than we were  previously aware, his grandson William most certainly having had a problem with alcohol.

The next newspaper article, again from the Stamford Mercury, and dated May 23, 1856, indicates that Thomas and his son Thomas both were having their homes sold at auction:

Thomas Cook in the Stamford Mercury, May 23, 1856
accessed via Find My Past
As both Thomas Cook Senior and Junior are mentioned in this notice, it is therefore almost certain that these are our Thomases, and it is most informative to know exactly where they were living and to have a description of their dwelling. It is interesting to note that they were living behind the Jolly Drayman, the same establishment where the William Cooks Senior and Junior distinguished themselves with their antics. (Note also that "John Vickers", the plaintiff in the case of the Purloined Ferret, is also living in the same complex of homes, which speaks to William Cook's access to his ferret). 

The very same year, but on December 5th, the following appears in the Stamford Mercury:

Thomas Cook in the Stamford Mercury, December 5, 1856
accessed via Find My Past
This seems to indicate that our Thomas possibly, even briefly, was the proprietor of a public house, The New Inn, and then it was put up for sale. Perhaps when his previous home was sold he needed to live elsewhere, and then took up residence at The New Inn, which was newly constructed.  It, too, was to be sold, and may have occasioned him needing to move again. (I have not been able to rule out that one of the other two Thomas Cooks was the operator of the Inn). In addition,  I have not been able to ascertain if The New Inn stands today, and the current name and address of it. That he did not continue to be the proprietor for any great length of time, if he were the proprietor, is revealed in the 1861 Census, where he is an “agricultural labourer” and lives “in town” with his wife and grandson, Samuel, and next door to his son, Thomas. This would situate him in a similar setting to where he was in 1856, when he lived behind the Jolly Drayman, close to Thomas Junior. It may also mean that he never moved when his home was sold.

Thomas died in January 1862 and was buried on January 21st at St. Andrew’s Church in Timberland. His wife Betsy died three months later in April 1862, and was buried at St. Andrew’s on April 14th. He was sixty-five and she was seventy-four at the time of their deaths.

Which brings me to the question of their daughter, Rebecca.  One of the advantages of doing the research for these blogposts is that I find out new and unexpected information about the people about which I am writing, and their family members. Prior to writing this blogpost, I had no further information about Rebecca, as I could not find any marriage or death data on her. Taking note that Thomas Senior and Betsy were living with their eight-year-old grandson Samuel Cook in 1861, I looked to see if Thomas Junior or his brother William had a son by that name. They did not. Finding no evidence that Thomas Senior ever had other sons, I looked into the possibility that Samuel was the son of Rebecca, born out of wedlock. I found a baptism record for Samuel Cook/Holmes, who was the son of Rebecca Cook, “single woman”, and Samuel Holmes, dated December 5, 1852, at St. Andrew’s Church in Timberland. The civil birth registration lists him as “Samuel Holmes Cook”. The only other record for Samuel I have been able to find is that on the 1871 census he is seventeen years old, and is a “servant” living in Ropsley, Lincolnshire, the residence of his father, Samuel Toynbee Holmes, who is now married with a family. I believe that Rebecca died between the birth of her son in 1852, and 1861, when he is living with his grandparents. I can find no other census or marriage data for her beyond this, (although I did find her in the 1851 census as a “house servant” in Timberland). I believe that she may be the Rebecca Cook who died in the district of Sleaford, Lincolnshire, where Timberland was situated, in 1855. She may have been beloved in her family as both of her brothers named daughters after her, i.e. Thomas had a daughter Rebecca born in 1858, and William had a daughter Ann Rebecca born in 1850. Rebecca’s may be another sad story on my tree of a woman In Victorian England. More to come from the pages of the British press.

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