MARRIAGE KATE EVELYN NASON
SOUTHSEA, BASINGSTOKE, BRIGHTON 1899-1918
Kate and Ferdinand Richard Holmes Merrick were married by Licence on Tuesday, December 12 1899 at St. John’s Church in Monkstown by Edwin Sandys Jackson, her stepfather. The witnesses were Thomas Merrick jnr. (Ferdinand’s father was Thomas) and William Henry Nason, who may have been Kate’s grandfather - the same name anyway. The fact that they were married by Licence implies haste, but is not necessarily the case. From the brief “amid universal protests” in her book, it would seem that the marriage was not really approved of, but she was 24 so what could anyone say? The fact that she was 24 also shows that she has skimmed over the years in her book - one minute she is 18 and then she is 24 and married. When she first met Ferdinand he was a student, now he is 30 and qualified, so my guess is that there have been quite a few years in between. Did they correspond I wonder? And then the witnesses were obviously family members, the clergyman was her stepfather, so it would seem that they all caved in in the end. I suspect she was that sort of woman.
However, when I came to writing up the children I realised that May, their first-born, according to her age of 10 months at the time of the 1901 census, must have been born in May 1900 (which would explain the name). This would mean that Kate was actually some 4 months pregnant when they married - voilà - the reason for the licence and the rapid escape to England is explained. None of the family need have known - they could have delayed the announcement of the birth until the appropriate time. One day I will get May’s birth certificate to confirm this theory. So maybe she was ‘fast’ after all!
Before moving on though, there is another small discrepancy between the found facts and Kate’s account. Records show that Ferdinand qualified in 1898 - just over a year before their marriage, and that he occupied positions in two different mental hospitals in Dublin in 1900. Now Kate and Ferdinand were married in 1899 - admittedly right at the end - December 12 - but she states that within six weeks they were in England. So either his two posts were very short-lived (I suppose he could have been in the first one for a year or so), or she has the time lapse wrong. However, on 31st March 1901 when the census was taken, they are indeed in England with a 10 month old baby, who was born in Southsea, Hampshire, so they must have been there since mid 1900. Maybe the second post ended badly, so they left for England. Maybe he had a better offer? Maybe Kate had gone on ahead to England to hide her pregnancy with Ferdinand following on as soon as he could extricate himself from his job. A little curious anyway.
Like all marriages that are undertaken in a fit of passion everything started out well. “We had very little money and few friends in England. We had each other, however, and nothing else seemed to matter. Presently we settled at Southsea ... It was here that the first of my eight children, May, was born, and our happiness seemed complete.” Ferdinand was a doctor attached to the Eastney Marine Barracks, and they lived in Festing Grove, Southsea a street of largely semi-detached houses, just behind the seafront. I think they were fairly substantial in size though, as one at least is now a B&B with 7 bedrooms. There were two servants.
They did not stay there long. “Soon after May was born my husband sold the Southsea practice and bought a larger one at Basingstoke where we spent the next ten years of life in dull and dreary respectability.” Once again Kate seems to have condensed lumps of time, but then I guess if you are writing your memoirs at the end of your life, time at the beginning of your life collapses. And that phrase, ‘dull and dreary respectability” says it all really. Life as a mother and doctor’s wife, however, packed full of incident that life must have been, seeing as how they were treating mental patients, must have been dull and dreary for her. Mind you she does seem to have thrown herself into it with her customary enthusiasm, recounting a couple of incidents with patients, and stating that “I lived only for my husband and our growing family.”
But the rot had set in - how soon we do not really know, and whose fault it was, it is also impossible to tell. Kate’s own account is of course biased. In her words: “It is sad to record that by this time my married life was now becoming very strained. My husband was frequently called away from home, leaving me to look after my children and the patients as well. ... I sought by a loving woman’s every wile to restore the family happiness we had once enjoyed, but in vain. We separated. I went away, taking my already large family with me. For a year I drifted from one seaside place to another, and then at last, moved by entreaties of friends, I returned. Reunited in 1914 ...” Whilst not exactly untrue the above account does not entirely accord with facts, which may simply mean that the passing of time has confused the sequence of events. In 1910 Kate filed for divorce. As yet, I do not have the record, so assume that she did not follow through, but must assume that this is when she left. However, in 1911 and 1913 Ferdinand’s registered address is Winton House, Basingstoke, yet in the 1911 census they are all together in West Ealing. She talks of him selling the practice and moving to Stanmore and implies that this was before the break-up - and yet she files for divorce in 1910. Three children were born in Basingstoke in 1903, 1907 and 1909, one in Paddington in 1910 and one in Hendon in 1912. All a bit confusing really, though I guess the essential truth is that the marriage was very shaky, at some point she left and they were reunited in 1914. Maybe she left more than once.
The last years of her marriage, which basically spanned the Great War, were spent in Brighton at Sylvan Hall “a lovely old-world house at Brighton, where we were as secluded as though we had been in the depths of the country.” Kate, herself seems to have taken part in the patients’ treatment, unqualified though she was. “At about this time I began to take an active interest in hypnotism and suggestive therapeutics, in which I took lessons from two eminent teachers. Before long I was able to do really useful work with chronic nerve cases, and the more I persevered the greater became my success.” Not something that would be allowed these days surely. They were supporters of the war effort, throwing parties for the soldiers and also to raise money. Irene, the last child, was born and the six older children were away at school - the girls at posh Roedean and the boys at posh Harrow. On the surface at least, all was well.
But it didn’t last. Sometime around 1918/1919 disaster struck. “Stocks that were held in trust for me as part of my inheritance were plummeting in price until they stood at only about a third of their original value. And suddenly my marriage was plunged into turmoil again and within a few days I settled myself in London for good, with all my children dependent upon me.” In 1920 she filed for divorce again with Ferdinand counter-filing in 1921, citing a Harry Sampson or Dalton as co-respondent. This is not mentioned in her book and I do not know what became of either petition. Presumably they came to nothing.
One last thing - during this period the surname got changed from Merrick to Meyrick. Was this Ferdinand’s or Kate’s doing? Why? Does Meyrick look more ‘refined’? Were there some bad connotations with Merrick?