Isabella Cousins, b. 1765

Widow and Twice an Illegitimate Mother

Early Life and Marriage

Isabella Cousins (Couzins) was born in 1765 and on 21 August 1785, at the age of 20, married Stephen Cousins at the parish church of St John, Wapping, in the County of Middlesex. When she was subsequently examined about her settlement and bastard children, she was unable to sign any of the examinations and used a mark instead.

Before Stephen Cousins married Isabella he worked as a servant for two years for a Mr Robinson, a victualler, who kept a public house called the St Andrews in the parish of St Botolph Aldgate. Following his death Mr Robinson's widow married Alexander Shaw, and Stephen continued to work as a hired servant at the St Andrews for another five years.

During the years Stephen worked for Mr Shaw at the St Andrews he met Isabella. After leaving the public house, Stephen went to work as a hired servant for a Mr Peak, who kept wine vaults at Wapping Wall. It was during this period that he and Isabella married. In 1788, Stephen went to sea on board the Barrington, an East Indiaman, bound for Bengal.

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Becomes a Widow

On 16 February 1789 Isabella received a letter from Stephen written on board the ship, and dating several months earlier, when the Barrington was still in the English Channel, and able to forward post through "The Downs" on the Kent coast. After this letter, Isabella never heard from or saw Stephen again. She did try to find news of him and the ship, but she was unable to hear if either made port. She told parish officials that the "best information" she received was that he had died, though she did not fully believe this.

After her husband’s disappearance and suspected death, Isabella was forced to provide for herself. She had no surviving children under her care and she gained eleven month's employment as a hired servant in the house of John Byron, a gentleman living in Patriarch Square, Hackney Road, in Middlesex.

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Illegitimate Children

During this employment Isabella "did prevail to suffer... John Byron to lie with her and to have carnal knowledge of her body whereby she conceived with Child". After becoming pregnant, Isabella lost her job and Byron moved to another residence on Surrey Street, off Blackfriars Road in Surrey.

Pregnant, with no accommodation or employment, Isabella entered the parish workhouse of St Botolph Aldgate on the 16th of March, 1796, at the age of 31. She had gained a settlement in the parish through her husband’s employment at the public house years earlier. On the 18th of March she underwent a bastardy examination in which she stated that she was with child, that the said child was likely to be born a bastard, and that it would be chargeable to the parish as she was unable to support it.

Isabella gave birth to a son on 11 April 1796 and baptised him John Cousins (not Byron) at St Botolph Aldgate church.1 John was admitted to the care of the parish nurse on 18 April 1796; however Isabella remained in the workhouse for her lying in period until the 10th of August.

Though no account of a Bastardy Bond (WB) exists in the St Botolph Aldgate records, John was entered into the Parish Register of Poor Children (RC) with 31 shillings and 10 pence for his care, indicating that John Byron had sent money to maintain his child.

Though Isabella stated in her examination that she could not care for the child, by the end August 1796 she had returned to the workhouse to retrieve her son and after this John Cousins was never readmitted to the parish’s care again.

For almost two years no record exists for Isabella. But on the 28th of May 1798 Isabella stated in a second bastardy examination that she was again pregnant with a child likely be born a bastard and that it would be chargeable to the parish as she was "poor and not able to provide for the same". She stated that Lawrence Lee, a gentleman of Barnards Inn in the parish of St Andrew Holborn "did get her with Child". Just prior to this examination, Isabella had been passed to St Botolph Aldgate from another parish, and had entered the workhouse on the 16th of May.

On 30 July 1798 Isabella gave birth to a daughter, baptised Isabella Couzins.2 And on 16 February 1799 left the workhouse. Her daughter stayed in the workhouse until being sent to Nurse Wright on 30 July 1799. The younger Isabella appears in consecutive Parish Registers of Poor Children (RC) from 1798 to 1800. The register for 1800, however, records her death on the 1st of February 1800, while "at nurse".

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Later Life

After this there are no more records detailing what happened to Isabella, or her son John. It is possible that John died in the 20 months between when his mother left the workhouse and when she next re-entered to give birth to John's sister. There are no records of him accompanying Isabella during the 10 months she spent in the workhouse between 1798 and 1799.3

Similarly, Isabella herself does not appear on the workhouse admissions register again and this may indicate she found adequate employment after the death of her daughter.

External Sources


1 Family Search records his christening in May 1796 under the name of John Couzins.

2 Family Search records this baptism in September 1798, with the name of both mother and daughter as Isabella Cowzins.

3 Family Search has no record of his death.

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About this Biography

Created by

Megan Jones

Further contributions by

Robert Shoemaker