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A Whiff of Scandal 25th January 2009 BMD Indexes
It seems that one of our direct ancestors was an interesting lady, and not one to be taken lightly.


(Susannah) Eliza Paddon married James Harnett, a Solicitor, in London. Their son James was the Harnett who migrated to Tasmania, as did his sister Emily Mary Wragg (nee Harnett).

These facts had come from the book of the history of Elliot (near Burnie, in north west Tasmania).

The above information was part of the family tree my father compiled over 20 years ago. He had laboriously written to family members, providing a blank family sheet, asking for that and any other data they knew, and obtained the book from a member of the Harnett family.

Remember when there was no internet...?

Fast forward to 2008

We had the good fortune to be able to fly to the UK for a holiday, prompted by my cousin offering free accommodation, and the “Who Do You Think You Are? Live” 3-day annual genealogical expo in London.

We found more of the basic BMD data on her, as follows:
James Senior and (Susannah) Eliza married in June 1818, and he died in August 1828.

His widow, Eliza as she was known, remarried in 1829, to Charles Edward Birch. Unfortunately for him, he also died in March 1831. She married a third time, in June 1831, to Robert Ashton.

But wait, there’s more. No not steak knives, but there is a fair bit more to the tale.

The National Archives, London

This story was revealed, along with other data, in a series of legal documents which we found in the National Archives in London.

This is a wonderful resource for genealogical and other purposes. Entry is free, you register as a reader for free, then away you go. Firstly you have free access to all their computers and to the material they have free on the internet, which is the same as what you have at home.

Then the Pandora’s Box opens.

There are many series of documents they hold there, starting with the microfilmed data which is not yet transcribed. Then there are stacks of things only available by personally attending there. Usually you can find these in the indexes of their data, which is a good way of deciding what to go for if you can ever visit there.

James Harnett’s Will, Proved 25 August 1828

What a gem! Amazingly, it referred to his wife as “profligate” and he left her the princely sum of one shilling. It had some strict instructions that made it clear he had little trust in her.

He had last added a codicil on 2nd August 1828, so he died within weeks of that date. It got us curious.

Find out below why he was so concerned for the estate he wished to go to his 3 surviving children.

Really old records

We came across these legal cases, which are one of the groups of documents held off-site, at Cheshire. The procedure to see these is to request them, and then come back 3 days later to view them. Only 3 can be requested at a time. They are then available upstairs on the second floor reading room. You take your Readers Ticket to the counter and for this stuff, they bring out a box about 4’ x 1’ x 1’ (1.2 x .3 x .3 m), which is so big it arrives on a trolley. This you then take to a map table because that has a huge area. Then take the lid off, tip it on its side, and roll out this enormous roll of old parchments.
They are old, old parchments. All that has been done is that they have been numbered, in pencil, and the first couple of names are recorded to put into the index, so they can be found. It is a fascinating exercise. You only have to handle these a little to find your hands turn black from the ancient dust throughout them.
Being legal parchments, each sheet is about 4’ wide x 3’ high (1.2 x .9 m). They have been hand written in script writing, with each line going across the whole width of the page, with minimal space between lines. As legal documents, the entire page is written without a single full stop. It is impossible to just sit there and read them.
Fortunately, they are quite aware of this, and provide camera stands (if you are quick enough to get one in the morning). Our camera has a flexible viewer so I could easily see what I was aiming at. For each page I took a number of photos, to go down to small enough sections of the page to be able to readily magnify these again on my computer to transcribe them.

Then there is the task of transcription. As each photo is a portion I had to start with the top left corner, and transcribe what was shown line by line. I then went to the next photo to join up and continue each line and so forth. It’s a big task, and to transcribe it you have to get to recognise the writing, by putting words together that made sense and recognise how each letter or word was written.

I ended up with about 50 pages of these parchments. That’s 50 parchment pages! And many photos to cover each page! So that’s some hundreds of photos.
So far I have transcribed one parchment page in full, and some snippets of other pages.

The story continues

The legal case this page revealed concerned the property of John Stacie, (Susannah) Eliza’s maternal grandfather, the disposition of the proceeds of his estate (and whether some went missing), and the costs of various legal actions.
It seems the solicitors who handled the estate died before the legal action was finalised - Alexander Macdougall (in Nov 1835) and Thomas Dobson (in 1833 - intestate would you believe!).

Both of our Eliza’s parents had died, both of her aunts had died, and Eliza’s first 2 husbands had died without all of this being resolved. What a mess!
[The main item in the estate appears to have been the property at 2 North Parade, Bath. We went via Bath and photographed what we think is that property, and it is very centrally located in what must have always been a most desirable location.]

In these parchments we found that (Susannah) Eliza Paddon was under 21 at the time of her marriage.

John Stacie was her maternal grandfather, being the father of Eliza Stacie, who married John Paddon. John Stacie also had 2 other children – Sarah (Mrs. Russell, died 1823), and Susan (Mrs. Wright, died 1830).

John and Eliza Paddon had 4 children, so our Eliza’s siblings were Georgina Ann Paddon (who may have become Mrs. Gullan), John Stacie Paddon, and Theodore James Paddon.
We already knew that she had 3 children with James Harnett, 2 of them coming to Tassie. This document also shows that she had a daughter named Georgina with Robert Ashton by 1838. Wow!

We found it so interesting that we could go back another 2 generations, with siblings, via a source of data not usually used for genealogy. There’s plenty more to transcribe ... But wait, there’s more again.

Newspaper clippings.

We found other items elsewhere, almost by accident, as it was something akin to the needle in the haystack situation. Experience had taught us to look at a year or so at a time.
We found a newspaper of May 1829. She and Birch were issued a writ for them to produce Emily Mary Harnett, then a child of 7 or 8 years of age, to the Court of King’s Bench, at the request of the guardians appointed for her custody following the death of Emily’s father James Harnett Senior.

The story revealed in the writ was that they had removed her from her boarding school, where James had wanted her to stay, as their mother had, prior to his passing, entered into an adulterous relationship with Birch.


The last of the legal records revealed that the latest wranglings were an attempt by Ashton to claim that as she was his wife, her estate should be handed to him as the conclusion of their separation. Women will be ecstatic to hear he was not successful, and all his legal efforts were to no avail.

The Elliott book records that James returned from Tassie in 1859 after hearing of her death, having first come out in the mid 1840s and married in 1851. When he returned he had persuaded his sister Emily and her husband Thomas Wragg and their children to also emigrate, and a letter in the Elliot book showed this was much to the chagrin of Georgina, their half sister, who stayed in England.


So there we have it. She nicked off from her first hubby with another bloke, and later married him when she was conveniently widowed. When he keeled over in only 2 years, she hitched up again within 3 months. Her first husband had substantial means but cut her out of his will, she was after a goodly slice of a family inheritance that she claimed she had been diddled out of, hubby number 3 wanted her money when she said goodbye to him (but got nothing!), and who knows what else may have transpired.

Our fees as private detectives are quite reasonable – just a couple of tickets o/s will do!

Anita Payne

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