Day 1 in the British Library had revealed a mountain of information, and many interesting leads.
One of the most interesting was Edith Aileen Wharton. Growing up I didn’t associate her with the name ‘Edith’. More so, I remember hearing of her as ‘Nana’ from my aunties, uncles and my mam (Edith was my Great Nana). When I sit now, in 2015, and think of what image I have of Edith, it is mostly negative. ‘She lied about her age’, ‘she married a rogue’, ‘she was nasty’, ‘she chanted at us’, and ‘she was a witch’. That last comment may seem harsh, however, my visual memory of Edith is a picture that would hang on the wall at home. She stared at us kids, whom she had never met, as if she was judging our every move with apparent disgust. There was an eeriness to this picture which (no pun intended) still gives me a shiver down my spine:
Add to that Edith was born on Halloween, maybe she was a witch, right?
Witchcraft aside, Edith’s story – or what I have gathered so far – is interesting for many reasons. It begins on 31st October 1903, her birth:
Born on Halloween, 1903, and baptised on Christmas Eve, 1903, at Christ Church, Byculla, Edith’s parents were William Bernard Wharton, a mechanic, and Sophia Charlotte Wharton. Searching the records of her parents revealed sad insight into Edith’s early life.
Edith’s parents William Bernard Wharton, aged 24, and Sophia Charlotte Pereira, aged 19, married on 24th April 1901, at Christ Church, Byculla:
Sophia died on the 9th November 1908, aged 27 years, 1 month, 11 days, from malaria and exhaustion. She was buried at Sewri cemetery, Bombay, on 10th November 1908:
Edith was just four years old.
There is nothing here to confirm what sort of relationship young Edith, at this point aged nine, had with her father, however, she had experienced, in nine short years of life, her mother and step-mother’s death. This is a tragic start to life for any young person, and less than two years later further tragedy stuck.
On 20th January 1915, Edith’s father, William, aged 37 years 11 months, died of ‘Tubercle of Lung‘ (see here for further information on ‘Tubercle of Lung’). William was buried in Sewri cemetery, Bombay, on 21st January 1915:
At age 11, Edith was orphaned.
There is a very interesting hypothesis of what happened to Edith next, but that’s for a future entry.
What is known is that Edith married David Vincent Hassett, although, to-date I have been unable to locate any official record of this. David and Edith had two children: Elaine Cynthia Hassett and Leonard Havelock Hassett.
On the 30th August 1941, David Vincent Hassett, aged 44, died of Pulmonary Tuberculosis, and was buried at Sewri cemetery, Bombay, on 31st August 1941. Here, for the first time, I found an official recording of the nationality ‘Anglo Indian’:
Just over seven months after the death of David, Edith remarried. On 19th April 1942 at Presbytery Catholic Mission, Ranchi, Bengal, she married Clifford Melville Carr Smith:
This marriage record and some of the previous ones in this blog, present new and useful information which I will come back to in later entries. For now, there is one curious piece of information that stands out:
Clifford, aged 23, Edith, aged 34.
Marrying a man eleven years her junior is interesting in itself, however, one of the stories I spoke of earlier emerges here: ‘Edith lied about her age’. it appears at first sight that, yes, she did.
But did she really lie?
On 19th April 1942, Edith was 38. An almost 5 year slice off her age. It may be that this was just an oversight by a ‘busy marriage clerk’. This got me to searching for something to back up the information.
It didn’t take long:
The ‘Stratheden’ ship set sail from the port of London on 28th October 1948 bound for Sydney, via Bombay. Among the passengers on board were a married couple, Clifford Melville Carr Smith, aged 29 and Edith Aileen Smith, aged 40. On 28th October 1948, Edith would have been aged 44, three days from celebrating her 45th birthday – presumably in Bombay, their destination.
Instead, she celebrated her 41st birthday, again.
‘A busy marriage clerk’ in Bengal, India and an identical mistake by a ‘busy customs officer’ in London, England six years later? not likely.
‘Edith lied about her age’. Why? this remains a mystery, for now.
- ‘She lied about her age’, yes.
- ‘she married a rogue’, possibly.
- ‘she was nasty’, possibly.
- ‘she chanted at us’, i’m inclined to believe this, and
- ‘she was a witch’, the picture suggests so, let’s not rule it out just yet.
After her first eleven years blighted by tragedy: the loss of her mother, step-mother and father, perhaps Edith can be forgiven for some of her future actions. These early childhood experiences may provide some understanding and insight into some of her adult behaviours.
Edith Aileen Smith died on 26th September 1963. This is not the end of Edith’s story though.
Cover picture credit: David Wheeler