Tragedies on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent

At my Aunty Betty’s funeral in Eastbourne on Friday 12th February 2016, my cousin Peter gave me some papers and correspondence to do with family tree research that he had found at her flat.  In amongst them were four pages of notes to do with research sent to her from Hampshire.  I don’t know who did the research and it seems his wife has connections to the Backlers on the maternal side from these comments in the notes:  “Joseph Summers Backler married Emma Gilman on 16th March 1856.  They were my wife’s maternal g[reat]/grandparents and Leonard George Backler is my wife’s [maternal] grandfather.  He died in 1921 aged 61.”  I have been able to trace most of the names in these Hampshire papers to my blog pages.

This blog page is about William Backler (born 1807) and Catherine Backler, their son William Charles Backler and various descendants, where the picture is incomplete.  The notes do not show anything of the origin of the older William or when he married Catherine, but from further research I have located a daughter, Jane Catherine Backler, christened in Alverstoke on 27th July 1828, about whom nothing further is known.  Her brother, William Charles was christened at St Mary’s, Portsea on 13th October 1833, when the family were living at White’s Row, Portsea.

By the time of the 1851 census, Catherine was living at Bell Alley, Minster on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent.  She is noted as a pauper, born in Gosport aged 44 and a widow.  Living with her were two daughters, born in Portsmouth, both described as paupers:  Ann Backler aged 12 and Amelia Backler aged 11 about whom nothing further is known.  There was also a grand-daughter, Sarah Jane Elizabeth Backler aged 8, who was born in Sheerness.  William had obviously passed away between 1840 and 1851, after they had moved to Kent, as their daughters birth dates in Portsmouth evidence.  William Charles was not living with them, because at the age of 17 he was residing at Her Majesty’s pleasure in Longport Gaol, in Canterbury, Kent, serving a sentence handed out on 11th April 1851 of 1 day and 1 month plus a whipping, for oyster stealing and larceny.  At the age of 17 he was too young to have an 8 year old daughter, so either Sarah was fathered by someone else, who is yet to be identified, or the census is wrong and she was only 8 months old.

By the 1871 census, Catherine was described as the relic (ancient word for widow) of a seaman and she was aged 72, living at 1 Smith’s Buildings, Mile Town, Sheerness, which would mean she was born in 1799 and not 1807.  Mile Town is situated close to the docks and the steel works.

Following the censuses through, in 1871, Emily Backler was on the scene as a 25 year old dressmaker, born in Woolwich, but living in Sheerness.  She was described as a seaman’s widow, although it is not clear which Backler she married.  She had a sister Sarah Ann Backler, a domestic servant aged 19, born in Sheerness (baptised 31st March 1852 at Holy Trinity) and Emily’s niece Ada Backler, presumably Sarah Ann’s daughter, aged 1 and also born in Sheerness, living with her.

In the next census in 1881, another Emily Backler, born in Sheerness aged 64 was described as a seaman’s widow, living at 6 Alma Terrace and again it is not clear which Backler she married.  She had Emily Ada Backler, a blind grand-daughter aged 11 and Sarah Ann Watson, aged 29, a seaman’s widow, born Sheerness living with her.  From their ages, it would suggest that Sarah Ann Watson, was the dressmaker Emily’s sister Sarah Ann and Emily Ada was her niece as noted above for each of them in the 1871 census.

In the 1891 census, Emily Ada was living at the District Indigent School for the Blind, London Road in the parish of St George the Martyr, London.

I can find no record of the other people mentioned above in Kent.  This is not surprising as most of the men have died, leaving  a number of widows, and there are no male descendants.  I suspect that the remaining women have got married and consequently changed their surnames or they have moved away from Kent.  What is certain is that the number of widows would yield desperate living conditions for them and their children.  It is tragic because of the young deaths amongst the seamen that brought about this situation and the final tragedy was one young blind woman living away from her family.

I need to find further information about these Backlers on the Isle of Sheppey and their inter-connections.  What seems certain is that they migrated there from Hampshire.  I do not know to whom William and Catherine were related in Hampshire, but Catherine was born in 1799 or 1807, depending on which census is taken.  If William was in the same age range, he was around at the time of George Backler (born 1799) and Leonard Backler (born 1812), so it is likely that he is a brother of one of these men.  Also, I don’t know whether the older Emily was William Charles’ wife, which seems improbable because she was born in 1817 in Woolwich.  He was christened in 1833, and if he wasn’t her husband there must have been another male Backler on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent, as yet unidentified.  Further research is needed.

UPDATE: 26th February 2020 – William Backler was buried on 7th April 1845 at Holy Trinity, Sheerness, constructed in a more modern way than the other local churches of yellow brick and located in the town centre.

William Charles Backler, along with Thomas Alfred Backler aged sixteen months were both buried on the same day – 19th September 1866 and at Saints Mary and Sexburga church, Minster on the Isle of Sheppey. This is known as Minster Abbey and has a wonderful hill-top location overlooking the Swale. There is a quaint museum next door.

UPDATE: 28th May 2020 – following the release of more Kent records on Find My Past – Jane Catherine Backler (b. 1828) married Alfred Warner in 1846 at Minster on the Isle of Sheppey. Ann Backler (b.1839) married John Jacobs, the son of the town crier, on 20th March 1854 also in Minster at Saints Mary and Sexburga church. Amelia Backler (b. 1837) married Charles Hodges at Holy Trinity, Sheerness, Sheppey on 19th January 1857. In the 1841 census these three sisters had a fourth sister, Harriet Backler, aged 8 about whom nothing further is known.

Sarah Ann Backler’s and Emily Backler’s father was Leonard Backler, born 5th May 1815 and baptised at Holy Trinity, Queenborough, Sheppey on 24th December 1815. A lovely old church with the war memorial on the street outside this front entrance.

Their mother was Emily Frances Lee, who married Leonard in 1839 in Minster. Sarah Ann, a seaman’s widow in the 1871 census, married William Henry Watson on 2nd January 1876 at Saints Mary and Sexburga church, Minster and then Henry Wickett in 1884. Emily Backler married John Pankhurst in 1873 and they had a daughter Fanny R. Pankhurst, who was 4 in the 1881 census. Leonard’s parents were William Backler, a bricklayer, who was buried on Sheppey on 22nd April 1860 and Mary Halls. This William is not to be confused with William the seaman, who died in 1845, so it appears that there was another family of Backlers on Sheppey during the same period.

Frances Backler was born 1844 in Woolwich and baptised on 6th October at St. Mary Magdalene. She married Thomas Smith, a corporal, on 29th April 1867 in Sheerness, where her father was noted as Leonard Backler and her mother as Emma. Leonard was born in Woolwich too and Emily Backler was a witness, which suggest that she was her sister and that noting her mother as Emma may have been a transcription error.

There were earlier marriages on Sheppey involving two Mary Backlers to James Donohue in 1822 at Minster and to Richard Coppins on 12th October 1830 at All Saints, Eastchurch. I have not been able to identify the parentage of either Mary or where they originated.

There were also three births on Sheppey where nothing further is known, William John Backler in 1858, Thomas Twigg Backler in 1861 and Charles Alfred Backler in 1865.

As all of the lines identified on Sheppey at this time were female Backlers, and the only male line was from William Charles Backler, he seems to be the likeliest father, although another family could have appeared on the island. As William Charles died in 1866, the dates fit with him as a parent and Charles Alfred may have been the twin of Thomas Alfred, who was born the same year. Thomas Alfred was buried on the same day as his father.