Roger James Magee was born in Norwich to John Magee and his wife Sarah née Fuller. John was Irish and a Catholic and Roger was baptised in the very font shown in the photograph at right in the Catholic Chapel of St. John Maddermarket. He was also baptised as James - not Roger. Well, as we shall see, throughout his life he seemed to be uncertain as to whether he was Roger or James or Roger James, so much so that I sometimes wondered whether I had confused two different people, particularly when somebody contacted me about a different John Magee and Sarah Fuller.
In the end I decided that Roger was indeed the child baptised as James in Norwich on 14th August, 1814, as there cannot really be any other candidate. The baptismal record states that he was born on 15th July and that he was the son of John and Sarah (late Fuller) McGee. And there was a ‘sponsor’ which I assume is like a godfather - Abraham Fuller, who is possibly Sarah’s father, although he could just as easily be a brother or other relative, as I have so far not been able to trace her origins. The baptism is in the Catholic Chapel of St. John Maddermarket, but I do not know whether Sarah was a Catholic. John, was Irish, so we can safely assume that he, at least, was Catholic. James seems to have been the second child of John and Sarah - the first, also a boy, named after his father. Indeed all their children were boys - not a girl in the bunch.
The reason for my wondering about Sarah’s religion is that, on September 19th, 1816 three of John and Sarah’s children - Patrick, Roger and Neale were baptised together in the parish church of Shotley in Suffolk. So i initially thought that there may have been pressure from her side of the family for a Church of England christening. However, I now discover that the godparent or sponsor at a Catholic baptism must be a Catholic, which, would make Sarah a Catholic too, as the sponsor Abraham, is also a Fuller. But then again, I have no idea how rigidly the Catholic priests adhered to this rule. And, that said, there were probably many other pressures upon people to be baptised in the Church of England - John was at the time, for example, in the army and maybe they insisted.
Indeed the family was at Shotley because John, who was in the Royal Artillery was stationed at Shotley Tower. or so it says on the baptismal records. We are in the time of the Napoleonic Wars remember - well just after - the wars ended in 1815, and all around the coastline of England there had been Martello Towers built to help defend the country from a potential invasion. Shotley is just across the water from Harwich - still a major port, as is shown in the photograph at the top of the page, that I took on a visit a couple of years ago. Flat country, misty, a long line of cranes to service the container ships. The flatness would have been tempting to an invading army - hence the defences. In John’s day there were no cranes, but Harwich would have been a vital part of England’s defences. The church is somewhat squat and ugly looking from outside, but has a lovely interior with a beautiful ceiling and an interesting altar painting. So maybe the Shotley baptisms were an attempt by John to become more English, to belong to the community.
Whatever the reason, the fact remains that three of the children - Patrick, Roger and Neale were baptised at Shotley church. The first born, John, is not included (why? - because he isn’t dead) and James is now Roger - or James is dead and has been replaced by Roger without my discovering his birth or baptism. On the whole though, considering that Roger occasionally called himself James or Roger James, I am happy to assume that James and Roger are the same person - I guess parents are entitled to change their minds about their children’s names. Also, interestingly, a second Patrick (one can only assume that the first died) is baptised as a Catholic back in Norwich with a given birthdate after the Shotley baptisms, so not the same Patrick who was baptised at Shotley.
I think that John left the army in 1818 or thereabouts, but obviously moved back to Norwich at some point (probably after the end of the wars). Roger would only have been a small child of about four when this happened. There was to be one more child - Denis, so a comparatively small family for the times (and for Catholics!). But then it seems that at least one child (the first Patrick) died and maybe one other - Neale, as he does not appear in any of the census records. Mind you he would have probably left home by the time of the first census, and indeed may have left the country.
But back to Roger’s story.
He grew up poor - after the army his father appears to have been simply a labourer - certainly this is his stated occupation at the time of Roger’s first marriage which is the next thing we know about Roger. Nevertheless the family was relatively small - certainly no more than five boys and maybe only three, and so fewer mouths to feed. Whether Sarah worked or not we cannot tell - wives rarely reported their occupatins in census records, even though they may have taken in washing or sewed clothes at home. One thing is for sure - Roger received no education. He does not sign either of his marriage documents - merely makes his mark, so one has to assume that he remained illiterate all his life. It is unlikely that somebody in his position would have made efforts to improve his education late in life. He would have been too busy working.
And no doubt that working life began at an early age. The family would have been grateful for any extra income they could come by. What would a young boy in a town like Norwich have worked at? Agriculture was still the largest employer of labour in Britain, and it is possible that he walked out the to fields to work. His father is described as a labourer at the time of his first marriage, and a husbandman at the time of his second, so maybe John had worked as an agricultural labourer in the fields around Norwich and then was allowed to become a tenant farmer (a husbandman). His sons may have helped him in achieving this. On the other hand the first occupation we have listed for Roger is as a servant, so maybe he worked in a neighbouring mansion cleaning shoes or some other menial task. Whatever the work, we can be fairly sure that by the age of eight or so he was probably working pretty much a full day. Childhood did not have the same privileged status that it does today. It is extremely unlikely that he would have been at home with his mother - particularly seeing as how he was a boy. Girls may have stayed at home to assist their mothers - not boys. One writer says, that the working poor, “were in the habit of treating children with rough, even extravagent affection in good times, more often with casual indifference, and not infrequently with great brutality when in drink or in bad times.” However, I am guessing that Roger’s father was hardworking - hence the rise from labourer to husbandman, so maybe he did not have too bad a home life.
So - like most of the characters in our family tree, who were born well before the first census, we know very little about the early years, which is a great pity as it is these years that shape our personalities.