The tragedy of Jane Dee

I think it’s time to take a short break from Italian genealogy, so I’ve decided to delve into the English side of my family tree instead! Looking at the various members of my extended family whom I’ve long neglected to explore, I decided to look at the life of Jane Dee (née Allen), my great-great-great-grandfather’s third cousin.

Jane Allen was baptised in the Herefordshire village of Colwall on 27 April 1805, according to the parish transcripts which are available online. Her parents were Sarah and Edward Allen – most likely to have been the same Edward Allen and Sarah Lockstone, who were married on 8 February 1802. Edward was a distant cousin of my own relations: his paternal grandfather Joseph was the younger brother of Richard Allen, my great-grandfather six times over. I am fairly confident that both branches of the family knew each other well, as they lived in the same village during the same period. It is also quite possible that in 1803 Edward Allen acted as godfather, or sponsor, at the baptism of his kinsman and namesake Edward Allen, who happened to be my great-great-great-grandfather!

While Jane’s father belonged to a fairly large family, her parents did not have many children themselves. In fact, I have only found evidence of them having two daughters: Jane herself, as well as her elder sister Kezia, who had been born in 1803, just over a year after her parents’ wedding.

Edward Allen worked as an inn keeper, and evidence from the latter half of his life suggests he owned or at least ran the Horse & Groom public house (later demolished and renamed the Horse & Jockey, which still stands to this day, albeit under a different name and purpose – in fact, it is now a Thai restaurant!).

The earlier Horse & Groom pub as it once looked in the 19th century. The building was later demolished to make way to the present building, which today serves a slightly different purpose… Image courtesy of P. Ferris/Colwall History Group (Facebook).

It is highly likely that both Jane and her sister Kezia helped out with the running of the family business. It may have been in this context that they met their future husbands. Kezia was the first to wed, for in March 1832 she married James King, a well-to-do farmer who lived at Groves End and who would later be listed on the census as “employing eight men”. The couple would go on to have two children called Richard and Sarah Ann, both of whom would lead long lives – long enough to even see the dawn of the 20th century!

Following in her elder sister’s footsteps, 27-year-old Jane also decided to venture into matrimony shortly afterwards. Her choice of husband, however, was somewhat more unconventional than her sister’s, for in July 1832 she married James Dee, a farmer who was seven years her junior and, presumably, had far fewer prospects. But if anyone had any misgivings, Jane apparently soon proved them wrong. Settling into marital life, she gave birth to her first-born son before a full year had gone by. The boy was christened Richard Allen Dee, the middle name an obvious reference to Jane’s family.

But all was not well in the home of the Dees. In fact, soon thereafter, the family ran into financial trouble. The local press of the time reported that James Dee had to convey and assign his real and personal estate to trustees for the benefit of his creditors. It is quite likely that Jane’s parents came to the couple’s rescue, and in view of subsequent evidence, it is quite possible that the Dees moved into the Horse & Groom with Edward and Sarah Allen.

Notice published in the Worcester Herald in November 1833 noting James Dee’s financial problems. Source: FindMyPast.

Jane gave birth to a second son, John, in 1834, but sadly the child died a few months later, his abode being listed as the Horse & Groom (this leads me to believe that Jane and her family lived at the pub, and probably worked there as well in order to make ends meet). James and Jane Dee’s personal and material losses were slightly compounded by the happy arrival of a daughter in July 1836, whom they christened Harriet Ann.

Alas, the couple’s happiness was to be short-lived. In September that same year, and only weeks after their daughter’s birth, James Dee died at the very young age of 24; his entry of burial refers to him as residing at the Horse & Groom. The cause or circumstances of his death remain unknown. Had he been ill for some time? Was his early death brought on by his recent financial strains? We will probably never know. What is certain is that the loss of her husband, and at such an early age, must have been a devastating blow to Jane. Fortunately for her and her children, her parents were by her side at the time, and it seems likely they would have provided for her and her infant children in this time of need.

Two years later Jane’s mother Sarah passed away; Edward Allen himself lived for another two years, dying in February 1841 of “old age”. Jane now became the head of a small family. Her children Richard and Harriet Ann were still under ten years of age, so she probably resorted to odd jobs and the occasional help from her sister Kezia to survive. Although still in her mid-thirties, Jane never remarried. Instead, it seems that she devoted herself to her children’s upbringing. By 1851 all three were living in Slad Acre, in Colwall (incidentally, one of their neighbours, Jonathan Lucy, was another distant relative of mine who is notorious in my family history for having hosted a group of American Mormon preachers in Colwall in the mid-1840s). By 1861 Jane, Richard and Harriet Ann were living at the Purlieu, in Upper Colwall, and while her son worked as a plasterer and her daughter as a dressmaker, Jane herself does not seem to have had a particular occupation.

Colwall’s Horse & Groom Hotel, as it looked in the early 20th century. The building was erected following the demolition of its predecessor, where Edward Allen and his family once lived. Image courtesy of P. Ferris/Colwall History Group (Facebook).

Within three years both Richard and Harriet had found partners of their own. In 1863 Richard married Harriet Ann Pugh, from nearby Castlemorton (coincidentally, one of her sisters, Susannah Pugh, would later marry my great-great-grandfather’s brother William Henry Allen). They would go on to have four children called Annie Matilda, James Allen, Ada Jane and William Hooper Dee, who were all born either in Colwall or in nearby locations. On the other hand, Jane’s daughter Harriet Ann married Henry William Pantall, of Malvern, in 1864; the marriage remained childless.

Although her children did not live far, Jane spent the remaining years of her life living alone at the Purlieu. Without an apparent occupation, at least according to the census, it is difficult to know whether she did have to earn a living, or whether she relied on her relatives for support. Her apparent loneliness makes me wonder whether she was some sort of recluse, or if she was difficult to live with… or whether she simply preferred to live by herself!

Unfortunately, tragedy knocked at Jane’s door once again in early October 1876, when her eldest son Richard died aged 43 of a renal ailment known as Bright’s disease. Even if they did not live together, Jane must have felt her loss as acutely as any mother would, so much so that she began to show signs of mental instability. Her son had not been buried long when it was decided that Jane should be removed from her home.

Unfortunately, mental health issues were poorly understood at the time, and little would have been done to actually improve her state. She was soon taken to the workhouse, where her mental state continued to rapidly deteriorate: at first, her fits were brief, and she could not remember any of it afterwards. Later she developed an incoherent speech, was often found undressed and wandering about, shouting without apparent cause and disturbing other “inmates”.Within a few days, on 16 November 1876, 72-year-old Jane (“a spare old woman”) was admitted to Burghill Lunatic Asylum. Her papers state she was interned following an attack which had been brought on by distress due to the loss of her son.

As days went by, her state became much worse, her screaming more common and her temper more violent, even trying to attack others by throwing herself against them, falling on the floor and injuring herself in the process. Such attacks caused several bruises on her body which, combined with the fact that she had stopped eating her food, contributed to weakened her slight body. To calm her nerves, Jane was given morphine in regular intervals, but this only had a temporary soothing effect: for most of the time she was “excited” and had little appetite.

By early January 1877 Jane’s physical and mental state had deteriorated beyond hope. By the 11th a medical report stated she had been suffering from diarrhoea for a full fortnight, which combined with the ongoing “excitement” left her very feeble. Her screaming fits and general exhaustion continued as before, all of which weakened her to the point where she was literally wasting away. On the morning of 15th January, Jane Dee died, never having recovered her senses.

Jane Dee’s death certificate, wrongly giving her age as 74. Her death was certified as being caused by “Old age, Mania and Diarrhoea”. Source: GRO.

Jane’s postmortem revealed her brain was “much atrophied” with “about 4oz of subarachnoid fluid draining away”. Some of her organs also showed signs compatible with emaciation, which would have been brought on by her slight constitution and progressive weakening over the last two months of her life.

Harriet, Jane’s only surviving child, passed away in Malvern in 1917 aged 81; she was survived by her husband and by her late brother’s four children, who by then had emigrated to Manitoba, in Canada. I have yet to find out whether Jane was buried near Burghill, or if she was interred in her native Colwall close to her husband and her two beloved sons. Her sister Kezia died in 1881, being survived by her two children.

The asylum at Burghill eventually closed down in 1994, and the main building was subsequently demolished. Source: Wikipedia.
This entry was posted in 1851 Census, 1861 Census, 1871 Census, Canada, Colwall, Death, England, FindMyPast, Genealogy, Herefordshire, Marriage, Mormonism, Women. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The tragedy of Jane Dee

  1. Teresa says:

    A tragedy indeed…how very sad to end one’s life in such a state.

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