Alan Crosby’s blog: The woman who married her own sister

By Jon Bauckham, 3 March 2016 - 5:25pm

This week, columnist Alan Crosby came across a bizarre tale of bigamy and deception in 19th-century Northern Ireland. Can you help him find out more about the story?

Dr Alan Crosby is the editor of the Local Historian and a columnist for WDYTYA? MagazineThursday 3 March 2016
Alan Crosby
Read more blog posts from the magazine team
 
 

 

Marriage Woman Sister County Antrim Ireland

The scandal would have been hot gossip in County Antrim's rural community (Photo: Getty Images)

I came across a unique headline in a mid-1850s local newspaper: “MARRIAGE OF A YOUNG WOMAN TO HER SISTER”.

Who could resist! It appeared in the Belfast-based Northern Whig, and in the irritating Victorian way said that the incident happened at “the small village of ‘J’ on the borders of this county”, probably County Antrim.

According to the story, WS, a young man, was courting Miss F, a schoolteacher, but he and her father disagreed over the dowry and the match was broken off. Unfortunately, “an improper intimacy had been carried on between the parties, from which Miss F became enceinte" (and we all know what that means).

Filled with shame and afraid of being thrown out of her job, Miss F and her sister devised a cunning plan. They went to the registrar, the elder sister being disguised as a young man, and were married (or, as the reporter put it, “the indissoluble knot was tied”).

Mr WS then heard rumours that he had got married and, perhaps not unreasonably since this was the first he knew of it, tried to find some explanation. The registrar (who was presumably very short-sighted) confirmed that one WS had married a Miss F, and Miss F then confessed the deception. The obvious answer? Naturally, that the young couple (the real ones, that is) should marry.

But WS then announced that as Miss F was already married he did not want to commit bigamy. Her sister was welcome to her. In retaliation, Miss F threatened to prosecute WS for “seduction”. There, the newspaper item ended.

Two questions arise: first, how on earth do you show all that on a family tree; and second, does any Ulster family historian reading this know more about the bizarre episode? Post your comments below – I’d love to hear from you!
 

Alan Crosby lives in Lancashire and is editor of The Local Historian. He is an honorary research fellow at Lancashire and Liverpool universities.

 

Alan Crosby’s blog: Mr Liston’s Lonely Hearts Club scam?
previous blog Article
Alan Crosby's blog: My Irish ancestor's elusive origins
next blog Article
Alan Crosby’s blog: Mr Liston’s Lonely Hearts Club scam?
previous blog Article
Alan Crosby's blog: My Irish ancestor's elusive origins
next blog Article
We use cookies to improve your experience of our website. Cookies perform functions like recognising you each time you visit and delivering advertising messages that are relevant to you. Read more here