Thursday, August 23, 2018

Ninteen under twenty-four... and that must be a record. That's nineteen babies, in twenty-four years.

Baby shower for Tiffany, expecting Easton, May 18 2013
Happy and healthy pregnancies today
I thought that my paternal great-great-grandfather, Richard Toon, had a large family: two wives and fifteen or more children. That was before I started looking at the Bennetts... and found Walter Bennett and his wife, Elizabeth nee Weston, who raised their family in Leicester: at first, on Caroline Street, then on Sheridan Street, and by 1911, at 95 Knighton Fields Road West--a typical Leicester brick terraced house, with two or three bedrooms at most.

The information on the 1911 census is incredible, shocking, and sad. My mouth dropped open when I read it.

Walter is quite a distant relative, first-cousin-three-times-removed, on my maternal side. His father was John Bennett born in 1798 in Hinkley, Leicestershire, my great-great-great-grandfather. Walter's sister, Roseanna Bennet born 1827, married John Gask: their daughter, Elizabeth Alice Gask, born in 1854 married Henry Bonnett, my great-grandfather. I found Walter Bennett and his wife Elizabeth while rambling through the censuses looking at Roseanna's family... and what a family it is. (There will be more Bennett stories!)

The 1911 census is a mine of information. Not only does it list everyone in the house on the night of Sunday, April 2nd 1911, it is also completed in the head of the house's own handwriting. It not only gives the ages and occupations of everyone in the household on that night, it also tells you how long the couple (if a couple and not a single householder) has been married, how many children have been born to the marriage, and how many are still alive in 1911.

Walter and Elizabeth Bennett? They had been married 24 years in 1911. During that time, Elizabeth had given birth to nineteen, yes, 19 children. NINETEEN! Within twenty-four years... can you imagine? And very sadly, only eleven were still alive in 1911. That's an infant, or childhood, mortality rate of almost 50%. Horrific. That's an average of one child every 15 months... six months or less between pregnancies. Ouch.

I cannot believe that life was any less precious in 1900 to 2019. I cannot believe that the loss of a child, no matter how young or old, was any less traumatic than it is today, just because it happened more often, and especially in families at the lower-end of the earnings spectrum. How hard must that have been... to carry nineteen children to term, or nearly, and then find that only half survived childhood. How fearful each pregnancy must have been... and how precious and loved, every one those remaining children.

It seemed important to find all of their names, and say them out loud. Not all were baptised, not all were registered, and there is still one birth and three deaths missing (Ada died long after the 1911 census), but I found eighteen of the nineteen children born to Walter and Elizabeth within those first twenty-four years of marriage:
  • Walter H Bennett, born 1884
  • James Bennett, born 1885
  • Harry Bennett, born 1886
  • John Bennett, born 1889
  • Elizabeth Harriet Bennett, born 1890, died before 1901
  • Florence Bennett, born and died in 1891
  • Elizabeth Bennett, born in 1892, died in 1893
  • Emily Bennett, born in 1894
  • Grace Bennett, born in 1895
  • Florence Bennett, born in 1897
  • William Bennett, born in 1898, died before 1901
  • Ada Bennett, born in 1899, died in 1916
  • Cyril Bennett, born in 1900
  • Ernest Bennett, born in 1901
  • Mary Bennett, born in 1903
  • Evelyn Harold Bennett, born in 1908, died in 1977 (yay!!!)
  • Leonard Walker Bennett, born in 1909, died before 1911
  • Edith Evelyn Bennett, born in 1910.
The "missing" baby Bennett, to make up to 19 the babies born before April, 1911, most likely came in 1887 or 1888, between Harry and John. All the births appear to be single pregnancies--there is nothing to suggest any multiple births. I haven't tracked down all the deaths nor their causes... you can see from the two Elizabeths that they were not stillbirths or days old, but months or years. Little people.

Anyone who thinks that maternal or infant health care is not important, read this. Anyone who thinks that family planning and the availability of contraception is not important, read this. Because no family should have to lose that much.

And... that woman deserves a medal! She on lived to the (relatively) good old age of 65. I don't think there were any more children born after Edith Evelyn in 1910, but you never know... Walter, he lived to be 75 years old. I hope all the surviving children looked after them both in their later years.

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