Contents of this page: [Introduction] [Other Evidence] [What happened next?] [Notes]
Caroline Windeatt was the daughter of John WINDEATT, a tanner, who is connected to the Totnes tree WINDEATTs. She never married but was left money by her father, her mother and her aunt in their wills. In 1828, she and her sister Elizabeth (who later married a William FOX) were the subjects of a scandal that must have shocked the respectable Devon trades people and caused her family considerable embarrassment.
Their uncle, James COSSERAT, a solicitor, initiated a libel action against a Mrs. WHITEHEAD (later to hit the headlines again as the mother of the murder victim of John Babbacombe Lee). Mrs. WHITEHEAD was accused of spreading gossip about COSSERAT to the effect that he had had an incestuous affair with his niece, Caroline, and had fathered a child by her. There had evidently been gossip prior to the court case but the details were now published for all to see and not only in Devon but even in a national paper, The Morning Chronicle.
What was the truth behind it all? I have not yet found a report of the judgement. For my part, I find COSSERATs defence not entirely convincing and I am inclined to think that there was something in the story. However, it does appear that ANDERSON, even if he was not an out-and-out blackmailer, had heard a rumour of goings-on and made it his business to investigate it further so that he would have some sort of leverage against COSSERAT which might later help him in his business dealings.
What would be the effect of such a scandal being published about a 'respectable family'? Certainly Caroline lived another forty years and never married but nor was she thrown out of the house nor cut off without a shilling as one might expect from the nineteenth century stereotype of the unmarried mother (Footnote 1). Indeed, her family seemed to go out of their way to compensate her by leaving her money in their wills. Her father who died in 1826 left her "income from his estate", her aunt Elizabeth left her 100 pounds in 1836, her aunt Mary (who is mentioned in the court case) left her the remainder of "all her estate" (after a previous bequest of 100 pounds to her sister, Harriet) while her mother left her "all her property" in 1855.
Patently she was not ostracised by the family, instead she was favoured over her sisters in the family wills, and one can only assume that they did not believe that she was guilty. Or perhaps they believed Caroline's explanation (as related by ANDERSON) that "her uncle had taken advantage of assistance rendered her father under embarrassment to effect her ruin" and were sympathetic to her predicament. An even more devious explanation might be that the family were complicit in her seduction because it was the price that COSSERAT had demanded for whatever help (financial or otherwise) he had offered her father.
Did she have a baby by COSSERAT? Possibly, but it would be extremely difficult to verify given that the child could have been baptised anywhere and under any name. Working class mothers generally kept their illegitimate children in the family but middle or upper class parents seem to have farmed them out and often never saw them again.
How was she related to COSSERAT? It appears that both COSSERAT and John WINDEATT married BROWNE sisters. John WINDEATT married Elizabeth BROWNE born 1768 the oldest of nine sisters. James COSSERAT married the youngest sister Lucy BROWNE [secondary source - information received]. I wonder how the scandal affected the relationship between the two sisters?
Below are links to two transcriptions of the newspaper accounts of her seduction by her uncle:
- Link to story appearing in The Morning Chronicle (London, England), Thursday, May 1, 1828; Issue 18293
- Link to a more detailed story appearing in in Trewman's Exeter Flying Post or Plymouth and Cornish Advertiser (published in Exeter, England), Thursday, April 24, 1828; Issue 3271.
- Link to more information on this family including her father's will and a speculative family tree
In 1823 prior to this scandal breaking, both George WHITEHEAD and James COSSERAT were both churchwardens of St. Mary's Chapel:
Covenant for title and title deeds of St. Mary's Chapel:
1. George Whitehead, esq., St. Marychurch James Nathaniel Peloquin Cosserat, gent. Torquay
2. George Cary, esq., Tor Abbey
3. Rev. Robert Hassell Fronde, archdeacon of Totnes
Rev. Tinney Belfield, incumbent of the Perpetual Cure of Tormohan, Paignton
Rev. John Sheepshanks, Torquay
- Source L1161A/PW 70 1 from the A2A archive search.
Here's a link to some photos of St. Mary's chapel, later St. John's church, from Terry Leaman's website.
Also on the A2A archives there exist the following Letters from 1824:
- Reference: 72/1/2/16a Letter from George Whitehead to J. P. Cosserat of Torquay, solicitor
- Reference: 72/1/2/16b Draft letter (to Cosserat?) concerning the arrest of Whitehead for debt.
These letters must be material to the subject. Was WHITEHEAD trying to blackmail COSSERAT? Or was COSSERAT attempting to intimidate WHITEHEAD?
Later in 1827 James COSSERAT himself went bankrupt:
BANKRUPTS. James, N. P. COSSERAT, Torquay, Money-scrivener. - Trewman's Exeter Flying Post or Plymouth and Cornish Advertiser (Exeter, England), Thursday, May 31, 1827; Issue 3230
Was his 1828 action for slander a vain attempt at recovering some money for himself?
COSSERAT died in 1833 aged 49 and was buried on 10 August in Tormoham (Torquay) (Secondary source - information received).
What happened next?
- In 1861 Caroline was living in Crediton with her sister Mary, who was a
respectable widow and mother of the local history author and frequent speaker
at the Devonshire Association: Richard John KING.
Caroline died in 1865 four years after the census. Did she really have an illegitimate child forty years before in 1824? And, if so, did she ever see him or her again?
WINDEATT, Caroline's younger sister, married a William FOX in 1833 but she died a few
years later in 1838 according to another researcher's data on World Connect. And then William FOX married another Elizabeth but
this time it was Elizabeth COSSERAT, a daughter of James!
If true, this means after his first wife died he then married the daughter of the man who had supposedly seduced her and her sister. All very strange . . .
"At St. Ewe, on the 11th instant, by the Rev. T. J. TREVENEN, WM. FOX, Esq., of Elfordleigh, Devon, to ELIZABETH, second daughter of the late JAMES COSSERAT, Esq., of Torquay" - from a transcription of pages from The West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser for July 1844.
Here are William and Elizabeth (nee COSSERAT) living at Elfordleigh house, Plympton in 1861 with his second wife and a daughter, Mary, from his first wife :Elizabeth WINDEAT.
Surname First name(s) Rel Status Sex Age Occupation Where Born FOX William Head M M 64 Retired Merchant Cornwall - Falmouth FOX Elizabeth Wife M F 49 Devon - Tormoham FOX Mary E Dau U F 26 Daughter Devon - Plymouth HURRELL Grace Servnt U F 42 Cook Devon - Loddiswell NORTHMORE Jane Servnt U F 43 Lady's Maid Devon - Cornwood RUNDLE Harriet Servnt U F 38 House Maid Devon - Bratton Clovelly AXWORTHY Jane Seldon Servnt U F 19 House Maid Devon - Cornwood FORD Thomas Servnt M M 57 Coachman Gloucestershire - Bradley
|Surname||First name(s)||Rel||Status||Sex||Age||Occupation||Where Born|
|KING||Mary Grace||Head||W||F||63||Annuitant||Devon - Berry Pomeroy|
|KING||Richard J||Son||U||M||39||Historical Student||Devon - St Andrews Plymouth|
|KING||Edmund||Son||U||M||34||Captain Indian Army||Devon - Buckland|
|KING||Mary Grace||Dau||U||F||27||Interest Money||Devon - Buckland|
|WINDEATT||Caroline||Sister||U||F||64||Interest Money||Devon - Berry Pomeroy|
|KING||Katherine J T||Niece||-||F||8||Overseas - British - Hong Kong - China|
|KING||Arthur F B||Nephew||-||M||6||Overseas - British - Hong Kong - China|
|FIELDING||Susan||Servnt||U||F||23||Cook||Devon - Crediton|
|LOOSEMORE||Elizabeth||Servnt||U||F||16||Housemaid||Devon - Crediton|
- Although I grew up familiar with the picture of the Victorian unmarried mother being thrown out of the house into the snow clutching her child, I have not found any supporting evidence in the WINDEATT annals. Illegitimate children frequently appear in the censuses living with their mothers and/or grandparents and when the mothers later marry, the children are unofficially adopted by the new husband. I should note, however, that these observations apply to the working class WINDEATT families.
These pages are being put together by Sandra Windeatt with a lot of help from many correspondents and in particular
Peter Windeatt, e-mail: -Staverton tree.
Phil White, e-mail: - Torquay tree.
last updated: 21 May 2001