Annie Tier Before marriage
The key fact of Annie’s childhood is that she was illegitimate. We do not know exactly when she was born, as we have no birth certificate or baptism record. Subsequent records would seem to suggest that it was in 1856. And indeed the bmd index for that year, particularly the June quarter, seems to be virtually unreadable, so let us assume that it was then.
Her mother was Elizabeth Wilson Tier, a sailor’s daughter from the coastal village of Emsworth, just round the corner from Portsmouth. Annie, however, was born in Portsmouth - well so she says in the records that we have, and there is no real reason to doubt this after all. Her grandparents, James and Mary Ellen were definitely living there at the time, and Elizabeth would most likely have been either living at home or nearby. Elizabeth was young- nineteen or twenty - although not so young that she could have been seen as too young to know better. She was also a dressmaker and milliner, an employment that she pursued, and passed on to her children, for many years. My uncle found some advertisements she had placed in local papers and she describes herself in this way in several of the official records we have. Certainly before she married she would have had to either support herself, or contribute to her upkeep - unless, of course, the father was somebody with whom she was living and who could maintain her.
But back to Annie. There is no reason to believe that she was unloved, for all that she was illegitimate. Did illegitimate children suffer the stigma that their mothers did I wonder? Would Elizabeth have been ostracised, or would her parents have rallied round? Whether or not they were outcasts, certainly Annie would not have had a privileged childoood.
In 1858 Elizabeth fell pregnant again - to the same man, we do not know. One illegitimate child could perhaps be forgiven - but two? Certainly before the second child she was married - apparently to her uncle William Harfield Wolfe a sailor working on coasting vessels. Why him, we shall leave to Elizabeth's story. Although it is tantalising to know whether he is Annie's father.
But for whatever reason Elizabeth settled into the life of a sailor’s wife in Portsmouth, whilst pursuing her dressmaking. And this went on for several years - there were no more children from the marriage - which is interesting in itself, though Annie and Agnes took the Wolfe surname for the census of 1861.
Was he kind to the little girls? Did he love them, even if they weren’t his own? Or was he drunken and abusive? Again there is no way of knowing. The childhood of Annie could have been everything from idyllic albeit with the limitations of her social status, to horrific. What is certain is that quite a large part of it would have been spent in and around and looking at boats. Both her ‘father’ and stepfather (we shall come to him) were sailors, as was her grandfather who lived nearby. And they all worked on the smaller coasting vessels that are shown in the lovely paintings above.
And indeed when Annie married at the age of 22 in 1878, the witnesses were her sister Agnes, and her stepfather Henry Joseph Tee. She has reverted to calling herself Annie Tier though and no father’s name is written on the certificate. Is this because she didn’t know who he was, or because she didn’t want to say. If it was her uncle, after all, she probably would not have wanted it to be known. She was married in a Baptist church - her mother’s first marriage was in a Wesleyan chapel , and there is a strong strain of nonconformity in the Ellis line. Her bridegroom was William (known as Willie) John Richards a shipwright in the Dockyard, and therefore, maybe a step up the social ladder. Her sister was to follow her to the altar two years later.
Whatever Elizabeth’s marriage was like, by 1865 it was over, for she then married Henry Joseph Tee, another sailor. Annie would have been nine years old. We have no idea what happened to William - but this belongs to his and to her story. As far as Annie was concerned she now had a stepfather - who gave the two girls his surname - at least they are both using it in the 1871 census. And again they would resume the watching of the boats and the assisting their mother with her sewing - and with the new babies who now began to be born. There would be three of them - two boys and a girl and I am sure the two little girls would have played a major part in looking after them. Responsibility would have been thrust upon Annie from an early age. Did she love them or did she resent them? Nine years is a big gap between siblings isn’t it? And was she close to her sister Agnes? You would think so would you not, as she would have been one of the few certainties in her life.