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{$text['mgr_blue1']} Nessworthy 6

Would the second Robert Nesworthy please stand up!!

by Anne Brooks


Robert Ridley Nesworthy, the first son of Matthew and Mary (Ridley) Nesworthy, born South Shields, has become a serious contender for the title of "most challenging ancestor of the year" award. This is my own private award, which I give out in the glow of my computer screen, late in the night, when all my resources have been exhausted.

Long before I started to seriously look at the Nesworthy line, a contact told me that Robert Nesworthy had committed bigamy by marrying twice, once in South Shields and then, later, in North Shields. I made the error of not asking for the source of this information; when I finally began to research the line, my contact had disappeared into the vapors of the internet. Nevertheless, the seed was planted in my mind and I set out to discover the truth.

The truth has been difficult to find; the documentation has led to more questions. From the censuses, we can say this: There were two families, one in South Shields, and one in North Shields, with a Robert Nesworthy as the head. In South Shields, the parents were Robert and Elizabeth; there is a marriage documented in the parish records (index) for St. Hilda between Robert Nessworthy and Elizabeth Young on 19 May 1862 (1). The marriage has not been found in the GRO index to date, and has not been seen in the parish records to verify if Robert's father was Matthew. In North Shields, the parents were Robert and Susannah. They started having children in 1870; no marriage has yet been found. The birth certificate of one of their sons states that Susannah's maiden name was Shields (2).

The evidence

Front Street, Tynemouth,

Front Street, Tynemouth about 1900: From an old postcard

To begin, in the 1861 census (3), Robert Nesworthy, can be found in his family home, unmarried, age 16, a boat builder apprentice, born South Shields.

In 1871, a Robert Nesworthy is present in the home of James Sheals (a widower) in North Shields (4). He is identified as son-in-law, age 26, married, ship carpenter, born South Shields. Neither Susannah, nor their firstborn son, William, can be found in that census to date. On the other side of the river, in South Shields, in that same census, (5) Elizabeth Nesworthy is with two children, designated as wife, married, boat builder's wife; Robert is not present.

In 1881 (6), Robert Nesworthy can be found with Susannah; he is 36, a boat builder, now born North Shields. Elizabeth Nesworthy, in South Shields (7), has four children with her; she is designated as the head of the family, and married. Robert is not present.

In 1891 (8), Robert is still with Susannah; he is now 46, a boat builder, and a return to a birth in South Shields. Susannah is noted to have been born in Yarmouth. The family, including three sons and a daughter, are living at 5 Fawcus Buildings in Reed Street, Tynemouth. These cottages were originally built for the workers at the Pow and Fawcus chain and anchor works - a firm which left the area in 1875. Elizabeth , in South Shields (9), remains head of family, and married with four children; no sign of Robert at home.

By 1901, Susannah can no longer be found. Robert Nesworthy is with Elizabeth and one son, living in South Shields(11). Robert is designated as head, married, age 56, shipwright, born South Shields.

Scandal in Shields?

Fawcus Buildings, Tynemouth 1933

Fawcus Buildings, Reed Street, Tynemouth 1933 (10)

Does this mean there is only one Robert Nesworthy, and that he did, in fact, live with two different women? If there was no formal marriage document between Robert and Susannah, it could not be construed as bigamy, which was a very significant criminal offense in those times with severe consequences. Collectively, there were thirteen known children born, many with duplicate names. One researcher has suggested that this alone would be reason why it was not possible. He said, that duplicate naming of children was never done, unless a child died. But if you were hiding the fact that you lived a double life, and your wife insisted on a name, would you disclose the fact that you didn't want to use it because you already had a son or daughter by that name?

The other reason given against the theory of two wives, is that North and South Shields were too close together to hide it. Yet others claim each were highly insular communities, separated by a river, in different counties, and looking towards different major centers for their commerce. At the community level, husbands working on boats were often away, and absences easily explained.

Continued in column 2...

Page added: 22 April 2005
Last updated: March 20th 2012

A question of spelling

Tyne Collier loading coal at the Albert Edward Dock on the River Tyne

A Tyne Collier loading at the Albert Edward Dock. About 1890

It has been suggested that the spelling of this name has significance. Nesworthy belonged to the line from South Shields, and Nessworthy, to those from North Shields. Is this something that has simply evolved over the years in these communities, or has it always been a reflection of two separate lines? More importantly, how do you prove it? What official documentation exists from that era? Having personally owned the maiden name 'Nosworthy', I can attest to the fact that your own signature is a "the" primary source. The determined effort of others to place an 'e' in my name, regardless of how many times I spelled it, is living proof that how others write your name is suspect. This then, diminishes the importance of the spelling on censuses. Susannah and Elizabeth, were both documented as Nesworthy and Nessworthy, in the original censuses, depending on the year.

Even more official documents can be misleading. On the birth certificate of her son, Frederick, Susanna's maiden name was given as Shields. Susanna could only make her mark. If she could also not read, she would not have been able to correct the documentation of the spelling of Shield, if in fact it was a variation like Sheals, which may in fact, be her maiden name. Original signatures in this era are difficult to find.

All of this begs the question, where is the second Robert Nesworthy? If there are two, we have only yet found one birth in South Shields; we have found only one marriage; we have not found even one date of death, only a possible death registration for a Robert Nessworthy, age 67, but registered in Beverley (Yorkshire), 1910 (12). If there are two, only one can be the son of Matthew and Mary (Ridley) Nesworthy. Without a solution, we cannot be sure whether the family in North Shields or the one in South Shields, is connected to Matthew and Mary, and by extension, the line back from there.

If there are two, would the second Robert Nesworthy please stand up!

Christ Church North Shields today

Christ Church, North Shields

North Shields Fish Quay

The Fish Quay, North Shields

Update: September 2005

The marriage entry in the parish records for Robert and Elizabeth has now been seen. They married, after banns, at St. Hilda's Church, South Shields, 19 May 1862. Robert Nessworthy, of full age, bachelor, boat builder, residing in the Parish of St. Hilda. Father: Matthew Nessworthy, master mariner. Elizabeth Young, of full age, spinster, residing in South Shields. Father: Robert Young, mariner. Robert signed his name, while Elizabeth could only make her mark. Witnesses were George Jones and Euphemia Laurenson; both made their mark. Sam Stewart, Curate.

Anne Brooks

Anne Brooks


1 GENUKI Online index Durham, South Shields, Register of Marriage, St. Hilda (1859-1868).
2 Frederick Nesworthy: England and Wales, Civil Registration Index: 1837-1983 Birth Tynemouth 10b 178
3 1861 England Census: South Shields, RG9/3793, folio 110, pg. 27, sched. 171.
4 1871 England Census: North Shields, Tynemouth, Northumberland: RG10/5119; ED 6; folio 78; pg. 36; sched. 2111871
5 1871 England Census: South Shields, Durham; FHL film 1342209; RG11 5020/81; pg. 7.
6 1881 England Census: Nouth Shields; RG10/5038; ED 5; folio 7; pg. 8; sched. 25
7 1881 England Census: South Shields, Durham; FHL film 1342209; RG11 5020/81; pg. 7.
8 1891 England Census: North Shields: Tynemouth, Northumberland: RG12/4228; ED 7; folio 104; pg. 2; sched. 91881
9 1891 England Census: Westoe, South Shields, Durham: RG12/4154; ED 11; folio 77; pg. 23; sched. 167
10. The Archive Photographs Series (North Shields): The Chalford Publishing Company. Stroud, Gloucestershire (1997)
11 1901 England Census: South Shields: RG13/4728, ED 16, folio 88, pg. 21, sched. 176
12 Robert Nessworthy age 67: Death Certificate: Beverley September 1910 9d 56

From: 1); 2); 3 - 9); 10) 11)

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emailIf you have any questions or comments about the information on this site in general, or you have further information regarding this article, please get in touch with us by email: Anne or Alan. We look forward to hearing from you.

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