Roger James Magee

MARRIAGE NO.1

NORWICH 1838-1845


On 26th December, 1838, (Boxing Day - the day after Christmas) Roger, aged 24 married Elizabeth Chattleborough who was only 17.   It was a Church of England wedding by Banns, so I am assuming that Elizabeth was not a Catholic.  I currently have no baptismal or official birth record for their first born son James but calculated from the 1841 census, the only record I have of his existence, he was born in 1838.  Since Roger and Elizabeth were married right at the end of the year, one could guess that he was born before they were married, or at the very least Elizabeth was very pregnant.  A common enough story in this and every other family tree but it might explain why Elizabeth, who was a minor (the marriage record says as much), must have had her parents’ consent to marry.  This was not a rushed by Licence affair.  Mind you the witnesses do not appear to have been family members - Henry Buck and Charlotte Baxter, though I guess it is possible that Charlotte was a sister of Elizabeth’s.


Yet again one has to ask whether this was a love match or a forced marriage after a foolish sexual liaison.  And yet again I find myself hoping that it was youthful passion as no doubt most people would today - I do not, however, think that romantic love in the modern sense was necessarily a factor in marriage in the early nineteenth century even amongst the poor, and even though artists were prone to depict it in their works - the one on the left is by Edvard Munch, so somewhat later, but relatively timeless and appropriately ambiguous I think.


The young couple both give their address as Ber Street - depicted in the painting in the centre at the top of the page, which would give credence to the theory that they were already living together and young parents.  Maybe the birth of the child had drawn them closer together.  As always, who knows?


There are a few more pieces of information - Roger is now calling himself Roger (spelt Rodger Maggee) and cannot sign his name.  Elizabeth, on the other hand, can at least write her name.  But then her father, John, is a gamekeeper, which is a somewhat higher calling than labourer which is John Magee’s current position in life.  


There is also the remote possibility that there was a previous child - Sarah Ann - who was born and who died in 1837.  However, her surname is transcribed as Mage and there is indeed more than one family with that name in Norwich, so perhaps we should discount that possibility - for the moment anyway.  (The names are appropriate though - Roger’s mother was Sarah, and Elizabeth’s Hannah.)


Without further birth and/or baptismal records (as yet unobtained) I cannot say what Roger worked at throughout the marriage.  There seems to be only one more child - John who was born in 1841.  This seems strange considering the times and the fact that Roger was a Catholic, but then again, there could have been miscarriages or problems with fertility.


So what else do we know about this first marriage?  In 1841, as I said, their second son, John, was born.  He was four months old at the time of the census which was taken in June - so a February baby?  The family was now living at Fishgate Street, which no longer seems to exist, though Fishergate does - I can only assume that it was in the same area - near the river.  Roger (still Maggee) is now a bricklayer.  Why and how?  Well why is probably because bricklayers got paid more than servants, and also it is an open-air job - Roger ended up as a gardener after all.  How is a bit trickier.  I would not have thought he undertook an apprenticeship, though I confess I have not investigated this.  More likely is that he began as a labourer for a brickie and gradually learnt the trade.  Bricklayers were skilled workers and as such commanded higher wages than unskilled labourers and this was boom times for builders.  Another ancestor - this time a Dearman ancestor - James - was a bricklayer and I have written in more detail about bricklayers in his story.  (Click here)  


So the marriage seems to have been going reasonably well - James was employed and earning money and there were only two children to feed and look after, which must have given Elizabeth more free time too, but then tragedy strikes, although not in the usual way.  In 1845 both Elizabeth and her younger son John, then aged four die.  I have Elizabeth’s death certificate.  Contrary to my expectations of death in childbirth, in fact she died of smallpox after vaccination.  I have not obtained John’s death certificate, but am guessing that he died of the same dreadful disease, though which died first I do not know.  Elizabeth died on May 17th, John died in the same quarter but without his death certificate or a burial record I do not know  Was the disease brought on by the vaccination - apparently even then the chances of this happening were pretty small - I have seen numbers as low as 3%.  But then I guess somebody has to be in that 3% and unfortunately it looks as if Elizabeth was one of these.  She was 24.


So at the age of 30 Roger suddenly found himself a widower, with two small children, very soon to be just one, to care for.  He seems to have regressed to labourer rather than bricklayer, so was this another downturn in his fortunes?  His mother was with him when Elizabeth died and reported the death to the authorities.  Maybe she took charge of the children too.  Another common enough story in our family tree.  How did Roger cope?


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