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Leviathan Lee

Anne-Marie Ford    -    29 September 2017

On the 2nd June 1850 Britannia and William Hoadley/Oadley baptised a daughter, Leviathan, at St. John the Baptist’s Church, in Leytonstone, Essex. Her name was a significant one in Britannia’s family, for she had been a Buckley before her marriage in Barking, Essex on 19th February 1844, and had a cousin with this exotic name. The Buckley family that frequented East Anglia, particularly the county of Essex, were a well known and important tribe of Romanies.

Britannia had been baptised in Suffolk on 12th December 1824, the daughter of Hiram and Margaret, and Hiram himself was the brother of Elijah Buckley, who, with his partner Elizabeth Smith, had also named a daughter Leviathan, baptised at North Wootton, Norfolk on 17th February 1828. This Leviathan would marry the year after the birth of her cousin’s daughter, to John Lee, a member of another important Gypsy family.

Both Leviathan Lee and members of the Nicholls, Chilcott and Young families were to figure in a court case which came before the Maldon County Court in the summer of 1863, and was reported in the Chelmsford Chronicle of 26th June that year:

Manslaughter at East Ham – Inquest on the body of William Nicholls, 24, a Gypsy, who was killed in a fight with John Lee, another Gypsy. It appeared that the deceased and Lee belonged to a tribe of Gypsies encamped on waste ground at North Woolwich. A few days ago a quarrel took place between two others of the tribe, named Lazarus Smith and Harran, but who, after fighting together for three hours, they shook hands and became friends again. On returning to the camp, however, the wife of John Lee, and the mother of the deceased Nicholls, took the matter up and fought with each other, when Lee interfered on behalf of his wife, and deceased on behalf of his mother. This fight was the subject of investigations the next day . . . at the Woolwich Police Court, when the case was dismissed. On the 15th inst., the camp broke up, and the whole tribe, numbering upwards of a hundred persons, proceeded towards East Ham. On their route Lee and Nicholls selected a spot to fight; feeling dissatisfied at the magistrate not dealing with the case, and after fighting for an hour and a half, Lee was heard to declare he had had enough and wished to give in. The deceased, however, persisted in continuing the fight, saying he was quite fresh and could “fight through a summer’s day.” They again fought and in the last round Lee struck the deceased a heavy blow under the left jaw, knocking him down and rendering him insensible. Medical aid was obtained, but the deceased expired half an hour afterwards. A post-mortem examination made on the body proved death to have resulted from an effusion of blood to the brain by a rupture of one of the blood vessels, produced by a blow or fall. The jury, after a short consultation, returned a verdict of manslaughter against John Lee as principal, and Charles Chilcott and Albert Young as aiding and abetting in the fight. The whole of the men are in custody, Lee having been apprehended on Wednesday evening.

The Lazarus Smith mentioned in the article was actually Leviathan’s brother, his alternate forename being George, and he sometimes used the surname Buckley, which was, after all, his father’s name. The family seem to have been committed to fighting, Leviathan and George’s father, Elijah, having died as a result of a fight in 1832 and buried in Essex, aged, 34 years.

The Evening Standard of 26th June 1863 also reported on the Nicholls case, but added witness statements:

Witnesses included Thomas Bryan, a forgeman of North Woolwich: “Deceased kept dropping to prevent Lee hitting him . . . the ground was very slippery, and as they were slipping about Lee struck deceased a blow under the right jaw . . . they fought for over an hour, and it was a fair a fight as could be.” Francis Smith, uncle of the deceased, and Walter Young, gave a similar account of the fight and that it was “fought fair.” George Binks spoke to seeing Charles Chilcott pick up deceased several times during the fight. Albert Young acted in a similar way for Lee.

The newspaper concluded with some details of the Gypsy tribe awaiting the verdict:

During the inquest nearly 200 of the Gypsy fraternity congregated outside, and when the result became known and the three men were taken away in custody, the uproar was extraordinary, the women throwing themselves on the ground and shrieking their shrillest, while the men hallooed and howled most discordantly.

It was to be only about three weeks, however, before the men appeared at the Central Criminal Court, on 15th July, and this was reported in the Evening Standard on the following day, when it announced “John Lee, Charles Chilcott and Albert Young, three good-looking young men of the Gypsy tribe,” were to come to trial, accused of the manslaughter of William Nicholls:

In cross-examination it was elicited that the deceased was a practised pugilist, although on the occasion of a former fight with another individual, he had been cautioned by the surgeon who had been necessarily called in to attend him, that he must not attempt to fight again, or the result might be fatal.

It was, the article continued, proved that Leviathan’s husband, John Lee, “was a remarkably quiet and well-disposed young man,” and the jury “after a moment’s consultation returned a verdict in favour of all the prisoners, who were at once discharged.”

Two years prior to these events, in the 1861 census, Leviathan and John Lee had been found in West Ham, staying in the Woolwich Road, with their sons, Nathan, who had been baptised at Bedingham St. Andrew, Norfolk on 28th September 1853, and Logan, baptised at Catton, Norfolk on 4th March 1860; John is recorded as a horse dealer. This probably explains the family travelling to Ireland, where we find them in 1872, since it was an important market for good-quality horseflesh. It was here, on the west coast, in County Galway, that young Logan died of scrofula, a condition he had suffered for five years, on 25th September 1872. Surprisingly, his grave is to be found neither in Ireland nor England, but at Cathcart Old Churchyard, Renfrewshire, Scotland.

The inscription on Logan’s gravestone, “Here lie the remains of Logan Lee, the beloved son of John and Lavithen (sic) Lee and brother of Nathan Lee and grandson of Elizabeth Smith,” record his antecedents and it was here that his mother, Leviathan, was to be buried, just nine years later; her death, on 23rd December 1881, records her age as 52, a soft goods hawker, like her father, the wife of John Lee, a horse dealer, and the daughter of Elijah Buckley and Elizabeth, formerly Smith. The informant was Alfred Reynolds/Smith, her first cousin, the son of Ambrose and Sanspi Smith.

It may seem an irony that, of all those Gypsies involved in the court case resulting in William Nicholl’s death, Leviathan Lee’s cousin, Britannia, mother to her own Leviathan, was to form a union with a Nicholls. However, the mother of William Nicholls was a Smith before her union with his father, also a William. She was baptised as Carehappy Smith on 11th November 1813 at Aldburgh, Suffolk, daughter of Hambro (Ambrose) and Marilla (formerly Draper). Carehappy’s father, Ambrose Smith, was Elizabeth Smith’s brother, and therefore Carehappy was another first cousin of Leviathan’s. The entire affair appears to have involved extended family members, rendering it unremarkable that Britannia should form a second union with somebody to whom she was probably distantly related.

Following the death of her husband William Oadley (perhaps the William Hoadley whose death, at the age of 44, was recorded in the September quarter of 1869 in the registration district of West Ham), the widowed Britannia married a Nicholls. The union is recorded in the June quarter of 1872, in the registration district of West Ham, where Britannia Odley (sic) married James Nicholls. Her death appears in the records five years later, in the registration district of Woolwich, in the December quarter of 1877, as Britannia Nicholls.

Copyright © 2017 Anne-Marie Ford