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Despair

Anne-Marie Ford    -    31 March 2018

Despair was baptised as the son of Montague Smith and Elizabeth, formerly Smith, at Witcham, in Cambridgeshire, in the spring of 1856, together his elder siblings Alfred, aged three, and Sevinah, aged two.  However, when they and their parents are found in the 1871 census their father is recorded as Montague Gray, their mother, and all the children are said to be Loveridges.  Is this because one or both of their parents are also Loveridges? Surely the reason is that Elizabeth is the daughter of William Smith and Kerenhappuch Loveridge, baptised at Easton Maudit, Northamptonshire, on 17th January 1836? This would explain the use of both surnames. Montague Gray is less easy to pin down, but we know that he is the son of a Charles, which he himself declared at his second union. Although he uses both Loveridge and Smith at the baptisms of his children, he always uses Gray in relation to himself, in his marriage record, prison record and even census records.

The unusual name of Despair, coupled with several links to the family of Hemlock Smith in later unions, indicates a close connection to the descendants of William Curtis and Viramenta Smith, Hemlock’s grandparents. Viramenta, the daughter of James and Jemima Smith, was baptised in 1769, presumably her partner, William, was about the same age, but the birth of their earliest known child, Abraham, referred to by the Gypsiologists, took place around the end of the 1790s. Known baptisms include those of John, in 1800, James in 1803 and Edward in 1809. There were probably earlier births, prior to Abraham’s and a possible candidate is the Despair Curtis who is found in Buckden, in Huntingdonshire, a particularly favoured spot, in 1810, baptising a daughter, Mary, with his wife, Elizabeth Smith.  

Eighteen months later there is a burial at Buckden of Elizabeth Curtis, the wife of Despair; she was just 22 years of age.  If her husband is about the same age it would give Despair a birth date of c1789; could he be an earlier son of William Curtis and Viramenta Smith?  Or perhaps a much younger brother of William’s?  Whatever the case, surely this is the same Speers (sic) Curtis, a “chairmaker,” who, with his partner Jane, baptised a daughter, Margaret, in Ringstead, Northamptonshire, on 18th February 1825? This Margaret would go on to form a union with Francis Doe, using the surname Curtis, but also Pateman.

The 1871 census was the only one in which Despair’s mother, Elizabeth Smith/Loveridge, seems to appear; she and Montague had three more daughters in the decade following the census, Councelettie, baptised at Ravensden, in Bedfordshire, on 17th April 1873, Elizabeth, baptised at Haddenham, in Cambridgeshire, on 19th July 1875, but dying in 1878, aged 3 years, and Priscilla, born about 1877. Elizabeth also seems to have died in the late 1870s, as her younger children are living with their elder brother, Despair, in the 1881 census and Montague goes on to form another relationship, marrying Martha/Margaret Sherriff, daughter of James and Amberetta, in Northamptonshire in 1888, and naming his father as Charles, a hawker. They were to have two sons, Montague and Charles (the Charles born to Montague and Elizabeth appears to have died young).

Montague claimed to be 55 years old at his marriage on 7th October 1888, but the following year he obtained a pedlar’s certificate in Huntingdonshire, stating that he was 50 years of age. The general consensus, given his response in census records, is that he was born c1832.

So, at Little Paxton, Huntingdonshire, in 1881, Despair is found “in tents” with his wife, Chrysane, and their baby daughter, Elizabeth, aged one. (Chrysane was baptised as Christiana Smith, the daughter of Joseph and Sarah, in 1861.) Despair’s brother, Stephen, and sisters Councelettie and Priscilla, are also present, although the sisters’ ages have been transposed, and Councelettie recorded as a boy.  With them are Cornelius Loveridge, the son of Hemlock Smith and his wife, Sarah Loveridge, with his partner, Emma, formerly a Smith, and daughters Andretta, Henrietta, Emma, Angelina and Susannah.  This camping out together surely emphasises their connection, reinforced when Stephen Loveridge takes Andretta Smith as a partner, with whom, by the next census, he has little Leviathan and a baby, Charles.  In addition, Councelettie marries Hemlock Smith’s son, another Hemlock, in 1903, by which time they, too, have a little family, Christopher, Morany and, later, Hilda.

An unusual name like Despair is, of course, subject to corruption, especially in census records; was it Despair himself, or the enumerator, who gifted him with the name John in the 1891 census at Lavenham, in Suffolk?  Chrysane is recorded as Saney, Despair’s sister, Priscilla, is listed as a daughter, but as well as their first child, Elizabeth, the couple now have Queensnation, 9; Saney, 5; Levi, 2; Montague, an infant. (Levi had been born to Saney in February 1889, when she was sentenced, at the end of January, to a two-month prison sentence in Cambridgeshire for larceny.)

Despair and Chrysane are still to be found in Suffolk in 1901, at Wickham Skeith, where they are recorded as Spears and Crisanda.  Their daughter, named for her mother, Saney/Crisanda, now 15, is with them, as is Levi, who is said to be about 14, and they seem to have gained a 17 year-old son, Moses, as well as adding Arthur, 10; Cornelius, 8; Charles, 3, to their brood.  By 1911 Despair is recorded as Faires and Chrysane/Saney, if it is her, is listed as Sarah.  Cornelius remains with his parents, aged 19, and two children, Sevinah and Elijah, aged 9 and 7 respectively, have since been born.  There is also another son who did not appear in the previous census, another Despair, recorded, like his father, as Faires, and said to be about 16.

The name Despair was also used by his elder brother, Alfred, using the pseudonym Thomas Gray, who, together with his wife, Comfort Parker, had a Spares, who died in infancy.  The Ipswich Journal of 16th November 1888 records the inquest on ‘the body of Spaces (sic) Parker, aged six weeks:’

Comfort Parker said she was a travelling Gypsy, and lived with Thomas Gray, also a travelling Gypsy, as his wife . . . her son was born at Lavenham on 9th October.  On 7th inst., they were sleeping in a tent on Barsham Common and retired to rest at 9 o’clock.  The [baby] was sleeping on her arm . . . at about 4 o’clock she woke and found he was dead.  He had not been well, but she did not think it necessary to have a medical man.  She had had 12 children, nine of whom were living.  Thomas Gray gave corroborative evidence.  Mr. Edward B. Crowfoot, surgeon, attributed death to convulsions, and a verdict of death from natural causes was returned.

Comfort’s sister, Patience Parker, partnered Joseph Smith, brother of Chrysane, and they, too, named a son Despair. The little boy was born on Christmas Eve 1879 and baptised on 6th January 1880 as Speers Christmas Smith, but he also died young, at the age of one.

Despair’s son, named for his father, was to die in his twenties during the first World War, joining the Bedfordshire regiment 4th battalion as Spares Loveridge in 1914, he was killed in action in France in the spring of 1917. Posthumously awarded the British Service medal and the Victoria Cross, Spares left £3.17/- together with an army gratuity of £6.00 to his aunt, the daughter of Montague and Elizabeth, and wife of Hemlock/Woodlock, Councelettie Smith.

* Please see companion pieces ‘Hemlock’ and ‘Marilla.’

Copyright © 2018 Anne-Marie Ford