One of the bits I enjoy most about researching family history is proving, or disproving, family rumours, stories and scandals. As the stories are passed down from one generation to the next they tend to get altered slightly. Sometimes the alteration is intentional, but more often than not it is unintentional; like Chinese whispers. When the truth is eventually discovered it is nearly always more interesting or exciting than the version you were originally told.
Meet the Beckwith’s
The story I heard – Adultery
This post is about a bit of family scandal my Grandad told me many years ago. Grandad’s mother, Ada Beckwith (1890-1972), was born and raised in Forest Gate, London. She had two younger brothers Fred (1898-1950) and Bob (1903-1956). Apparently one day Ada heard Fred and Bob having a fight in the street and she went outside to break the fight up. It turned out that the fight was due to Fred finding out that Bob was having an affair with his wife Alice (nee Haslar). The story goes that Alice and Bob then ran off to Canada together and had a baby, but Alice and the baby drowned in a boating accident so Bob came back to England.
Bob returned to Forest Gate, but the family wanted nothing to do with him. Ada was a very stubborn woman, and very fond of her brother Fred, so she refused to forgive or talk to Bob even when he asked to see her on his death-bed. Just before he died she did eventually see him, but still couldn’t bring herself to forgive him for what he had done.
I had attempted to research this story six or seven years ago and had found Bob going over to Canada on the passenger lists, but no sign of Alice with him, so assumed the story was not completely true or I had got the information wrong. Grandad passed away in 1992 so I couldn’t ask him to repeat the story. With the passenger lists now more easily searchable on Ancestry and Ontario BMD’s on Familysearch, I decided it was time to try and research the story again.
From Adultery to incest!
This time I started my search with Ontario Deaths, 1869-1937 and Overseas Deaths, 1939-1947 index on FamilySearch and immediately found the death entry for Bob and Alice’s baby. (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/JKZC-G2V)
|Name:||Robert Edwin Beckwith|
|Event Date:||29 Jul 1929|
|Event Place:||Lake Ontario Oshawa|
|Birth Date:||14 Feb 1929|
|Father’s Name:||Robert H Beckwith|
|Mother’s Name:||Alice Maude Goome|
|GS Film number:||2210922|
|Digital Folder Number:||4000421|
I was puzzled as to why Alice had the surname Goome though. I searched for Alice’s death entry to see if that would shed some light onto the puzzle and found the following entry.
Ontario Deaths,1869-1937 and Overseas Deaths, 1939-1947 index FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/JKZC-G2L)
|Event Date:||29 Jul 1929|
|Event Place:||Lake Ontario Oshawa|
|Birth Year (Estimated):||1870|
|Father’s Name:||Fred Wooef (sic)|
|GS Film number:||2210922|
|Digital Folder Number:||4000421|
My reaction at this point was “Ah! She’s a Woolf!” Ada’s mother was a Woolf, so maybe the story had suffered from the effect of Chinese whispers and Bob had run off with a cousin and not his brothers wife. That’s not as bad is it?🙂 I went through my list of Woolf family members looking for an Alice born 1870 and bingo! There she was! Alice Woolf born 21 July 1870 at Mile End …… OMG! That’s his mother’s youngest sister! His Aunt! He ran off to Canada with his Aunt and had a baby! No wonder Ada wouldn’t forgive him! This is awful news! Grandma’s not going to like this! How could he?! He looks like such a sweet man in his photo. This must be a mistake!😦
I decided I should now try and disprove my findings somehow. After all, Alice would have had to be aged 59 when she gave birth to baby Robert Edwin. How likely would that be? Plus the surname Goome was still a puzzle too, so hopefully my assumptions are wrong. I searched around on-line and saw that there were several cases where a woman of Alice’s age, and even older, had given birth to healthy children and survived. It wasn’t common, but it could happen.
My next step was to try and find somewhere where I could access local newspapers hoping it might have an obituary or even an article on the boating accident. I couldn’t believe my luck when I found the Oshawa Newspaper index on the OurOntario.ca website. A quick search showed they had a death notice for Alice Goome and Robert Edwin Beckwith in the Oshawa Times, 31 July 1929 (Local identifier: Ontario.BMD.299116). I noticed the time and decided to go to bed and look into how to order a copy in the morning as my eyesight was getting fuzzy from spending too long staring at the monitor!
The next day, whilst drinking my early morning cuppa, I emailed Oshawa Library with the details and asked how I could get a copy of the obituary. Later that same day I received a reply from a very nice Librarian who not only sent me copies of the obituaries, but three days worth of newspaper articles covering the tragedy! It was front page news and the articles also contained photographs of all the people involved in the tragedy and the houses they lived in.
The story was way more complicated than I expected and started long before Bob and Alice had an affair. Understanding the story was also complicated by lies and deceit by all the characters involved in the tragedy, false names, there being two different Alice’s involved and the newspaper getting the surname wrong on the first day of the three day coverage!
What the newspapers say
After several failed attempts at trying to type up what each article said, explaining who was really who and filling in the gaps with what the newspapers didn’t know, I decided it would be easier and less confusing just to summarise what the newspapers said followed by what really happened.
The newspapers start out on 30th July 1929 with the front page headline of the Oshawa Daily Times saying:
FOUR OSHAWA PEOPLE DROWN IN LAKE – WORST DROWNING TRAGEDY IN HISTORY OF THE BEACH; TWO BODIES RECOVERED.
The article tells of a terrible boating accident where a Grandmother, daughter and baby grandaughter from Oshawa go out in a row boat on Lake Ontario with a family friend and never return. The next morning the body of the Grandmother and baby are found close to the shore two miles east of Lake Park Beach. Police, Firemen, Life Guards and even a local farmer in his biplane searched for the other two bodies and never found them. The newspaper names the victims of the boating accident as Mrs Edward Gomme, her daughter Mrs Andrew Beswick and family friend Walter Stapley. The surname Gomme should have read Goome, Mrs Andrew Beswick should have read Mrs Robert Beckwith and the granddaughter was actually a Grandson! This was corrected in later newspaper articles and I suspect the error was made in getting the story to press quickly.
The next day the story is still front page news in the Oshawa Daily Times, but includes the following photographs with attempts to explain the relationships of the victims.
The newspaper paints the picture of the Beckwith’s and Goomes being a well respected family who moved to Oshawa six months ago and had made plenty of friends since their arrival. The whole community is very upset and said to be in mourning. Later articles state that Mr and Mrs Goomes had lived in Oshawa four years.
On 3 August 1929 the whole story takes a sudden twist and the front page headlines of the Oshawa Daily Times change to
LAKE DROWNING VICTIMS A MYSTERY – AUTOPSY INDICATES MRS GOMME AND BABY BECKWITH DID NOT DIE BY DROWNING.
Basically the coroner reports that Mrs Gomme and the baby didn’t drown, but he can’t say how they died. It also gets a mention in The Montreal Gazette 5 August 1929.
What really happened
Chart showing real names and relationships
|REAL NAME||AKA||NEWSPAPER ERRORS|
|Edwin William Goome||Edward Gomme|
|Alice Greengrass (nee Woolf)||Alice Gomme|
|Alice Maude Beckwith (nee Haslar)||Alice Maude Gomme||Alice Beswick|
|Robert (Bob) Beckwith|
|Robert Edwin Beckwith||Baby Beswick|
All the lies and deceit started long before Robert and Alice had an affair and ran off to Canada. It started some time before 1923 with a man called Edwin William Goome. Edwin was married with five children.
On 16 Aug 1923 Edwin abandons his wife and children sets sail from Southampton for Canada aboard the Canadian Pacific steamship Minnedosa. He lies on his Declaration of Passenger to Canada form and says he is single. He states he plans to live in Canada permanently and is going to stay with his Uncle Edwin Seymour at 103 Ann Street, Toronto and that his Uncle paid for his passage out there.
I suspect Edwin had been having an affair with Fred and Bob Beckwith’s Aunt, Alice Greengrass (nee Woolf), as ten months after Edwin set sail for Canada Alice abandoned her husband and set sail for Canada from Southampton aboard Canadian Pacific steamship Minnedosa on 12 Jun 1924. On her declaration form on arriving in Canada she stated that she was married, but travelling to Canada unaccompanied, and going to live with her Uncle, who also paid for her passage. She gives the Uncles name and address as Edwin Seymour at 103 Ann Street, Toronto and says she plans to work as a housekeeper. (Note the same name and relationship that Edwin gives on his form!). She states that she is going to live in Canada permanently and that her next of kin is her son-in-law F. Beckwith of 42 Acacia Rd, Leytonstone.
I would love to know who this Edwin Seymour is as I can’t find any family connection to anyone of that name for Alice or anyone in our family!
Alice and her husband, James William Greengrass, never had children of their own, but they did have an adopted daughter who, just to complicate things, was also called Alice. To avoid confusion I will refer to young Alice as Alice Jnr and Alice Greengrass as Alice Snr from here on in.
A few months before Alice Snr set sail for Canada Alice Jnr married Alice Snr’s nephew Fred Beckwith. I’m not sure when Alice started having an affair with Fred’s brother Bob, but she sets from Liverpool to Canada and arrives 23 Sep 1927 and says on the passenger list that she is going to stay with her mother Mrs Alice Greengrass, 160 Athol Street East, Oshawa . There is also a note on the form that her husband, F.W. Beckwith of 42 Acacia Rd, Leytonstone is to follow. The reason given for him not travelling with her on the journey is that he had purchased his ticket from Pickfords 206 High Holborn, London and had not been told that he needed a permit.
Bob Beckwith followed Alice a couple of months later. He departed from Liverpool 4 Nov 1927 aboard the Canadian Pacific steamship Montcalm. He states in his declaration upon arriving in Canada that his Aunt paid for his passage to Canada and gave her name and address as Mrs A Greengrass, 160 Athol Street East, Oshawa . He states he plans on residing in Canada permanently and he will work in the motor trade.
So now Edwin Gomme, Alice Greengrass, Alice Beckwith and Bob Beckwith are all in Canada. When reporting the tragedy the Oshawa Daily Times dated 31 July 1929 states:
The late Mrs Gommes was in her 59th year and had resided in Oshawa with her husband for the past four years.
Around January/February 1929 they must have moved out of Athol Street East to William Street East as the Oshawa Daily Times also says:
Both families lived happily together in their comfortable home on William Street, but Monday’s terrible accident removed three from their midst. Although they have only resided in William Street these past six months, during this period they have made many friends and the keenest sympathy has been manifested by neighbours towards the stricken men.
Vernons City of Oshawa Directory 1929 also lists them as tenants at 7 William Street East and lists Bob and Edwin as working as mechanics at General Motors.
Then the awful trip out on Lake Ontario in the boat. I guess I will never know what really happened out there on the lake that day. All my Grandfather told me was that Alice Jnr and the baby drowned in a boating accident. He never mentioned who else was in the boat, and he probably didn’t know, so all I have is that and the newspaper stories. Was it all a tragic accident, as the newspapers originally thought, and Alice Jnr and Walter Stapely’s bodies are still at the bottom of Lake Ontario? Or was it something more sinister seeing as the Coroner reported that Alice Snr and baby Robert had not drowned and Alice Jnr and Walter were still missing?
One interesting bit of the article in the Oshawa Daily Times 31 July 1929 is at the very end. When referring to Alice Snr the newspaper said:
She was a woman of kindly character and was loved and respected by all who knew her. Beside her husband she is survived by four sons, William, Ted, Frederick and George all residing in England.
An effort has been made to communicate with the sons informing them of their mothers death
Those that knew Alice Snr might not have thought so highly of her if they knew the truth! The sons referred to aren’t actually Alice Snr’s sons at all! They are Edwin’s. Whether they knew about Alice Snr or not I don’t know. I don’t even know if they knew their father was in Canada seeing as he said on his Declaration form on arriving in Canada that he was single!
Whatever really happened it is still a very sad story. I can understand why Bob came back home to Forest Gate. It can’t have been an easy decision to make though. I can also understand why my Great Grandmother found it so hard to forgive Bob.
I wonder what happened to Edwin? I have been unable to find him on a passenger list returning to England, so he might have stayed on in Canada. I haven’t really looked that hard though.
Both Fred and Bob Beckwith remarried in the 1930’s. Fred married another Alice in 1932! Alice must have been a very popular name back then! And Bob married Isabel Scott in 1936.
If anyone is connected to any of the people involved in this story, or has any information they think I might be interested in, please contact me as I would love to hear what other family members may have heard or what became of Edwins family left behind in England, Edwin in Canada and even the Stapely’s. I would also love to know who this Uncle Edwin Seymour is too!