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Elizabeth Wilson Tier  Marriage no.1

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Portsmouth 1858-1865

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Marrying one’s uncle is one of those forbidden relationships, though I don’t think it is technically incest, and therefore a criminal offence.  My uncle was the first to discover this marriage and we do indeed have the marriage certificate for the marriage of Elizabeth Wilson Tier, 21 of 17 King St. Southsea, and a spinster at White’s Row Chapel, to William Harfield Wolfe, 28 a bachelor and mate of a coasting vessel of the same address.  His father is Thomas deceased and her father is James, a sailor.  The date is Friday, May 21st 1858.  The marriage is performed according to the rites of the Independents, and John Tier and Emma Louisa Randell are the witnesses.  Both my uncle and I searched long and hard to see if there was another William Harfield Wolfe or even another Elizabeth Wilson Tier of the right age, in case this was a marriage between cousins which is allowed, or of other people altogether.  But neither of us was able to find one, so we are forced to conclude that they were indeed, uncle and niece.  So these are the facts - well there was also the fact that she was pregnant.  The marriage was in May and Agnes Ellen was born in September of the same year.

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Whatever the theory the family must have known about it.  At least one witness is a member of her family - John Tier - probably her brother.  The marriage takes place in a Baptist chapel in White’s Row, a slum area of Portsmouth shown in the picture at right (can’t find a picture of the chapel though).  Both the bride and the groom are living at 17 King St., so may well have been co-habiting for some time.  Also the bride’s father was also living in King St. a few years later when the next census was taken, so may well have been living there when his daughter married.  (The photograph at right is of King St. today.) Maybe another clue, is that William gives his age as 28, though, he was, in fact, 32.  Though a clue to what I have no idea.  It could simply have meant he was coy about his age.  Whether the couple were, indeed, sexual partners and the children were theirs, or whether William was doing a noble thing at the behest of the family we shall probably never know.  Certainly when Agnes was born in September, the birth certificate states that her father was William Harfield Wolfe, seaman, but then it would wouldn’t it?

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So let’s analyse some of these facts.  The most salient and perplexing fact is their relationship - uncle and niece.  Not allowed.  I see, in my family history database that I have made a note that there was a small window of time when it was allowed, but I foolishly didn’t quote the source, and now I can find absolutely no confirmation of this.  So was this an amour fou - a grand passion that simply couldn’t be denied?  Or was this a case of sexual abuse?  He was ten years older than she after all.  Still you would think that by the age of nineteen or twenty she would have been able to take care of herself.  And then there is my husband’s theory, that he, poor man, had been roped in to make an honest woman of a young girl who was heading down a path of sexual promiscuity.

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But that’s more or less the last we know of William Harfield Wolfe.  We found a couple of records of sea voyages, but these did not shed much light and then he simply disappears.  I am still trying to track him down - maybe in South Africa where he married again? 


Three years later, in1861, Elizabeth is now living in Radnor Street and working as a milliner and dressmaker, but she describes herself as married and is calling herself Elizabeth Wolfe.  And both of the girls have taken on the surname of Wolfe, not just Agnes.  William is not there, but then he is a sailor, so could easily have been away at sea.  All of which implies, that at this stage anyway, the marriage was still alive.  I suppose one scenario is that she loved him, but that he died - most probably at sea - and that she was once again alone.  However, the fact that she never calls herself a widow counts against this theory.  If this is what happened then he would most likely have died around 1861, as there are no more children of this marriage.  Of course, if it was a marriage of convenience, then the lack of further children is not all that surprising.  Or, worst-case scenario, the marriage descended into an abusive relationship and she moved out, though still married.  It would be nice to think that she was able to find a small haven with her two girls and her sewing.

Whatever really happened, by 1865 the marriage is over, because she remarries.  In the meantime she continued working as a milliner and dressmaker.  Did she pine for him, or did she dread his return.  Or did she simply not care?  Was it all for show - to give her respectablility?  Whatever the case, she had her two girls and work to keep her occupied and then into her life comes Henry Joseph Tee and a new start.

I found the old photo of the couple of about the right age at the top of the page, on the web.  You can read a whole lot of things into it - does she look a tiny bit coerced?  She is younger than he.  He looks quite pleased or at the very least, satisfied.  She less so.  It just seemed right somehow.

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