Sarah Bowyer, fl.1766-1783

Mother of Illegitimate Children Harassed by Parish Authorities

It is not known when or where Sarah Bowyer née Blake, was born. As a young woman she was a servant for three years to a Mrs Barns in the parish of St John Southwark, where she acquired a settlement. Moving frequently over the next several years, she attempted to secure a new settlement in two other parishes, but ended up in Bermondsey, the place of settlement of the man she eventually married.

Illegitimate Children

Sarah Blake and Thomas Bowyer formed a partnership sometime before 1766, when their first child was born. Thomas was a waterman. He had been an apprentice to David Ward Hall of the parish of St Dunstan in East, a waterman and lighterman. During the apprenticeship, Thomas lodged with his grandfather, Thomas Fowler, in Water Lane, Bermondsey, just east of Southwark. While Thomas asserted that this apprenticeship gave him a settlement in St Dunstan's, Sarah later claimed he told her it actually gave him a settlement in Bermondsey.

Sarah and Thomas had three illegitimate children together, each in a different parish: Thomas, born in Farthing Lane, Barnaby Street, in St Olave Southwark and christened on 31 January 1766; William, born on Hatchett Alley in St Botolph Aldgate in November 1768 and christened on 11 January 1769; and Joseph, born on Nightingale Lane in St John Wapping and christened on 29 September 1771.1

In August 1773 Sarah and one of their children, William (aged four years seven months), was removed to her supposed parish of settlement in St John Southwark. Upon arrival, she was put in the workhouse. After two weeks, William was removed back to St Botolph Aldgate, as the place of his settlement (as an illegitimate child, his place of birth). Sarah thereupon petitioned the authorities, signing with a mark, claiming "she never wilfully deserted the said child and the same still Continues in her Custody as a Nurse child to be taken care of by her which she is willing & desireous to do."

Apparently she was allowed to return to St Botolph's to stay with her children as in the following July she was once again examined by the parish concerning her settlement.

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No doubt frustrated by this continuing harassment by the authorities, she and Thomas married sometime between 1774 and 1776. They then had a further child, Rosamund (christened in November 1776), born in St. Botolph's.2 Nonetheless, she was examined in January 1776 about the legitimacy of William, who she acknowledged was born a bastard, and was now in need of parish assistance. Now seven years old, William may have been in poor health.

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It seems that Sarah's husband Thomas left the family soon after Rosamund's birth, as Sarah was forced to appeal for assistance to St Botolph's parish in 1778, claiming that he had left them destitute. The following June, Sarah and her children attempted to establish a residence in St Mary in Whitechapel. Sarah had a new baby with her, named Ann (christened in St Botolph's in June 1779),3 who was just three weeks old. She claimed it was her husband's, suggesting that either he had returned to the family, or that she had become pregnant by another man.

The parish refused her appeal, sending her and her four children (William appears to have died) back to her husband's settlement in Bermondsey. Bermondsey's parish officers appealed against the removal order, apparently unsuccessfully.

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Sarah Appears in Court

Deserted by her husband, and with two young children to look after, Sarah must have been in desperate straights. Four years later she and her son Joseph appeared at the Old Bailey charged with theft. They were accused of stealing handkerchiefs and ribbon from a shop belonging to Isaac Candler in Rosemary Lane, back in St Botolph Aldgate. Candler's wife Ann testified against them, as her husband was at sea. However, due to the Joseph's youth (he was eleven), and the fact that no stolen goods were found upon Sarah's person, they were both acquitted.

Thereafter, the Bowyer family disappears from the records in London Lives.

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External Sources


1 Family Search.

2 Family Search.

3 Family Search.

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About this Biography

Created by

Victoria Philpott 

Further contributions by

Robert Shoemaker