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A Kingston Bagpuize Family Tragedy – 1849

Al Jefferies

I suppose that, when I started to investigate my ancestors, I had some idea that times were hard for many of them, but the events of one year in the family history made it very clear just how desperately hard life could be for the poor and underprivileged.

The story first started to unfold when I obtained the parish records for Kingston Bagpuize and found that eight members of the Jeffries family were recorded as having been buried in 1849, seven of them in the space of about 10 weeks. Because the deaths took place after the start of the Civil Registration Scheme in 1837, I was able to obtain the death certificates from the General Registration Office. Had the deaths happened before 1837, the cause of the deaths would have remained an intriguing mystery. The certificates revealed that the seven deaths which occurred close together resulted from Typhus Fever and the eighth, a two week old girl, from Spina Bifida.

This table contains a collection of Jeffries Family events
Name Date Age Length of Illness Relationship
Henry 09th Mar c 73 20 days My ggg grandfather
Ann 28th Jan 70 14 days Henry’s wife
William 30th Mar 43 28th January Henry & Ann’s third son
Moses 27th Jan 31 03 weeks Henry and Ann’s seventh son
Mary Ann 05th Apr 18 05 weeks Daughter of Henry & Ann’s second son, John, and his wife, Charlotte (née Webb)
Albert 08th Feb 14 21 days Son of Henry and Anne's second son, John and his wife, Charlotte (née Webb)
Eliza 27th Feb 07 01 month Daughter of Henry and Anne's second son, John and his wife, Charlotte (née Webb)
Mary 04th Sep 02 wks   - Daughter of Henry and Anne's fourth son, Jonathan and his wife, Elizabeth (née Bason)

It seems likely that they contracted the most virulent of the forms of typhus, Epidemic Typhus (Rickettsia prowazekii), which is spread by the human body lice (Pediculus humanus corporis). A basic overview of Epidemic Typhus can be found here whilst a more technical description of all types of Typhus is here.

This suggests that quite a few of the family were living in close proximity and in poor hygiene.

However, despite the name of the disease, the parish burial records do not suggest that there was an epidemic of Typhus Fever in the village. There were 7 burials in 1848, 15 in 1849 (including the eight Jeffries) and 10 in 1850.

Because lice move around slowly and because the disease is not spread by air or water, it is perhaps understandable that it was confined, but it does raise some interesting questions. Would the local doctor, John Barrett, have insisted on the family being isolated? What precautions would have been taken by those looking after the affected people and those dealing with the corpses? Would the clothes and bedding of the deceased, such as they were, been burnt? Were there any special requirements for the burial?

The deaths were a tragedy for all concerned, of course, but I would just like to look at it from the view point of Charlotte. Poor Charlotte had already lost one child in 1841 and her husband, John, in 1844. Then in the space of about 10 weeks in 1849 she lost three more children, both John's grandparents, and two brothers-in-law, followed about five months later by a niece. In 1881, at about 70 years of age, she was still working as an agricultural labourer. She probably died in 1887.

Finally, I should like to pay tribute to those women, whom the death certificates name as the informants and as having been present at death. I suspect that they would have looked after the family members in the time from contraction to death, even though there must have been some risk to themselves. These are the women who helped my family –

Mary Mapson, of Kingston Bagpuize (Henry and William). She was the wife of John, an agricultural labourer. They had at least six children.

Harriet Bradshaw, of Kingston Bagpuize (Ann). She is probably the Hart. Bradshaw in the 1851 Census in KB, described as a pauper agricultural labourer, a widow aged 65. Ann Rouse, of Draycott Moor (Moses) Martha Bestley, of Kingston Bagpuize (Mary Ann) Jane Hutt (Albert and Eliza). She is living in Draycott Moor in 1851 with her husband, Thomas, and their family. Both are described as Farm Labourers.

Source: Al Jeffries, London, October 2007