Child Stealing at Wrexham 1893

by Annette Edwards

In February 1893 Wrexham Magistrates Court was packed by a varied audience anxious to hear the case of alleged child stealing. The accused was Alice Bellis, the young wife of Thomas Edward Bellis who lived at Borras, and she was charged with stealing the child of William Thomas. Mrs. Ellen Thomas appeared and confirmed she was the wife of William Thomas of 1 Kenyon Street, who was a carter at the Victoria Flour Mills. On the 9. February, in the afternoon the prisoner came to her house and asked if her name was Mrs. Thomas and did her husband work at the Victoria Mills, Ellen confirmed this was so, the prisoner then said she had come from Dr. Williams about a child. Ellen replied that Dr. Williams did not know her, Alice then enquired if she knew Dr. Davies and Ellen confirmed that she did. Ellen described Alice as a respectably dressed, lady like woman Alice asked if she could come in the house and explain, she told Ellen that a lady had given birth to a still born child at a house in Grosvenor Road and the woman was so ill that they dared not tell her that her child was dead, Dr. Davies had said that nothing would do but to find a child to pacify her.

Ellen told the court that she didn’t want her child to go, but Alice replied that Dr. Davies promised to bring the child back himself that night in his carriage and that there was a certified nurse in attendance. Ellen insisted she must have the child back that night to be fed, and Alice then told her that the lady’s husband would give £5 for a child to calm his wife, also that she was the sister of the lady who was only 22 and that it was all very sad. Alice then took the little girl, went down Holt Street and turned towards town. Soon after Ellen felt something was wrong, she went to see both Doctors who told her they knew nothing about the case and it was reported to the police. William accompanied the police in the search and they later went to Gresford, where PC Lea took them to the Bellis’s house at Borras, a man came to the door and when asked about the child he told them that it was his and tried to stop them going upstairs by saying his wife was ill and in bed. When they did go up, they found Alice in bed, and another woman who said she was a midwife.

The child was found to be safe and well and returned to her parents. Alice Bellis was then charged with stealing the child. Sarah Ann Williams, a witness said that Edward Bellis came for her that evening and asked her to go to his house where she found his wife with a child, but no sign of a birth having taken place, she thought that the child was a ‘very sharp child’ for a newly born. When the police arrived, Alice asked Sarah to tell them she was present when the child was born but Sarah declined to lie and told the police that about a month before, Alice had asked her to attend to her after her confinement, and that she appeared pregnant. It was decided that Alice should be committed for trial at Ruthin Assizes to be held on March 7., bail was allowed, Alice herself in £50 and two sureties of £25, she was confined in custody until the amount was found, and a large crowd watched as she was taken away to the County Buildings.

When Alice appeared before the court in March, she was found guilty, but it was decided she would have to be brought for judgement at the next court in July; again, she was bound over in the sum of £50. This time she was sentenced to six months imprisonment with hard labour. The judge took into consideration that as she had been convicted at the last court she had already suffered three months anxiety and mental suffering, on hearing the verdict Alice fainted, while her husband sobbed bitterly. In March 1894 there was a sequel to the case, Thomas Edward Bellis, was charged with deserting his wife, Mr. W Wynn Evans who prosecuted stated that it was an unusual case and referred to the incidents the previous year. Alice was the complainant this time, and she told the court that after she came out of gaol on January 18′ she found that her husband had left the home and gone to live with his mother. When she went to see him, Alice said his mother forced her out and told her she couldn’t live there as her son was only a lodger and she wasn’t going to keep her as well as him. Alice told the court that she was ‘ thrown on her own resources, “to make her living as best she could or starve”.

In cross examination she stated that she had £200 in a bank which her grandmother had left her. Mr. Li. Roe Browne, for the defence, said Thomas Edward was only 19 when he married Alice who was 27 and had made herself out to be a rich heiress. After she went to gaol he found out that the furniture in the house was hired, that she had been running up debts and borrowing money without his knowledge, and he had found himself in financial difficulty. He was now living with his mother, working as a bricklayer’s labourer, and didn’t want to live with his wife again. It was decided that Alice was entitled to maintenance from her husband and he was ordered to pay her 2s 6d per week. In May, Thomas Edward applied for the maintenance order to be discharged. Since March he had found out that Alice had been ‘leading a dissolute and abandoned life’ and evidence was given by various people to prove that she had committed adultery with a soldier at Gresford. Alice didn’t appear in court but sent a telegram from Clayton-le-Moors to say she couldn’t come, and that the charge was untrue. The court rescinded the maintenance order.

So what about Alice, who was she? I decided to try and find more about her and found a descendant of the same family. He knew nothing of this incident in Alice’s life and gave me the following information about Alice and her respectable background. The Fraser family included Generals and members of parliament.

Alice Mary Sutherland Fraser was born on 4. August 1863 in Rhosddu, Wrexham; she was the daughter of William Marrow Sunderland Fraser and Mary Candeland.

William M S Fraser was born in 1841 at Crowton and spent most of his working life as an engineer and surveyor at various mines around the Wrexham area he died at Sycamore Cottage Gresford and was buried in the Parish Church on 17th November 1891 the family lived at Plas Gwyn, Minera for some time where his father John Gun Munro Fraser was involved with the development of the new Minera Mining Company.

The mining firm of John Taylor & Sons formed the Minera Mining Company with 300 shares of £100 each. The company started work in December 1849, repairing old shafts, sinking new ones and installing an 80″ Cornish pumping engine. From the beginning, the Company Secretary was John Fraser. One can only speculate as to how he came to this position, but the following is worthy of consideration: One of the founders of the new company was Robert Roy, and the first of the new shafts that were sunk, Roy’s Shaft, was named after him. [Note: Robert Roy was brother to Annabella Campbell Roy, who was married to John Munro Fraser’s uncle, Major Andrew Fraser, Governor at Fort George, Inverness.] The mining company provided John with a substantial home in Minera known as “Plas Gwyn”, which housed the vaults for the company funds. John retired in December 1878. He was given £100 to cover the cost of moving to a new house, and an annuity of £160; he died at Dornoch House, Overton, Nr Frodsham on 21 June 1879 and was buried at Crowton.

Thomas Edward Bellis was born at Marford in August 1872; he was the son of Edward Bellis, a butcher and Martha, previously Randles. Edward died in 1885. Thomas Edward married Alice Fraser on 30. October 1891 at the Register Office, Wrexham; Alice gave her age as 23, when in fact she was 28. Thomas gave his age as 21, when actually he was only 19. After the marriage broke down there is no sign of Thomas, in 1901 his younger brother John is still living with their mother in Gresford. Martha Bellis died in 1912 at the age of 74.

By 1894 Alice had moved to Blackburn, where her brother William lived, and on 29 May 1897 she married John Arthur Hone.

The marriage certificate contains many discrepancies: It states that her name was Ella Alicia Mary Sutherland Fraser, a spinster, aged 24. Her father is correctly stated as William Marrow Sutherland Fraser, deceased. His occupation is given as a Captain in the Welsh Fusiliers, 23rd Regiment but her father spent his career as a mining engineer and there is no evidence that he ever served in the 23rd Regiment. John Arthur Hone was 23 and a Corporal in the 17’h Lancers. Clearly, Alice was not a spinster, having married Thomas Edward Bellis in 1891. Alice was born 4 August 1863, making her age 33 in 1897, not 24. On her marriage to Thomas she also understated her age – she was 28, not the recorded 23. Alice and John’s marriage took place in St Paul’s Church, Darwen, Blackburn, just a short distance from the home of Alice’s brother, William John Fraser, and his wife, Sarah Edith Wray, in Clayton le Moors. At Alice’s first marriage to Thomas, the witnesses were W J Fraser and E Wray. Were they aware of the deceit? Were she and Thomas were ever divorced; there is no divorce record extant under that name. Why did Alice feel it necessary to change her identity? One possible explanation is that her marriage to John Hone may have been bigamous. This was not uncommon in Victorian times. The cost of divorce was beyond the means of all but the wealthy, and if the misdeed was discovered, the penalties were generally quite light. More likely, though, was that she was simple trying to put her past behind her.

On 11 June 1896 the will of his aunt, Mary Laughlin McDonell, otherwise Fraser, of the Island of Grenada, left a legacy of £100 to “the two sons and four younger daughters” of William Fraser, to be divided equally among them. The will was probated on 01 May 1899 in Domoch. William had six daughters. One had already died by the time the will was drawn up, which begs the question of why Alice, the eldest daughter, was left out of the will. Clearly her behaviour was sufficient for Maly Laughlin Fraser to have left her out of the will.

In the 1901 census Alice is living at The White Hart, Adderbury, near Banbury, Oxfordshire, with her father-in-law, Charles Hone, who is the pub landlord. In that record she says that she is 28 (not 38) and that she was born in Aldershot, Hampshire. In the same census, we find her husband working as a groom in Alcester, Warwickshire, having apparently left the 17th Lancers Regiment.

In 1911 Alice and John have a 7-year-old daughter, Kathleen May, there is no birth registration to be found, but she was born on 17. February 1904 and baptised on 4. April at Adderbury. However, Alice’s hopes of having a family of her own were not to be. There was an announcement in the Alcester Chronicle on 28. February 1928 that Mr. and Mrs. John Hone wished to thank all friends and neighbours during the long and painful illness of their daughter. The death certificate gave the cause as ‘Lymphadenoma ‘

John Hone died in Alcester in 1934; Alice lived in the same house until her death in 1940. On her death certificate her age was given as 71, when in fact she was 76. Thomas Edward Bellis has still not been traced.

Many thanks must go to Dennis Vaughan, a member of the Fraser family for his contributions to the story.

Source: Written and researched by Annette Edwards. Feb 2016; updated April 2018


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