Susannah Barham (1814 – 1886)

An enigmatic lady

Susannah was the youngest daughter of James Barham, Painter, Plumber and Glazier and his wife Mary 

Susannah is a mystery. Her baptism is recorded in the Swanscombe Parish Register as September 11th 1814 and she was the last surviving child of James and Mary.  Her early life cannot have been easy as her mother had two further pregnancies resulting in three infants all of whom died within a week of birth.  Two years after the last of these, when Susannah was six years old, her mother died at the age of 40. Her father engaged Elizabeth Hazelton, a girl in her early twenties to help care for Susannah and her siblings but two years later she became pregnant with the first of eight children fathered by Susannah's father, so one would suspect that relations could have become difficult.

There is a Susannah Barham recorded in the 1841 census living in Swanscombe with a farmer called William Russell, presumably as a servant.  Her brother Alfred, is nowhere to be found but they are both named as executor and executrix of their father's will.  However after James' death Alfred  disappears again (this time for good) but a Susan Barham, born in Swanscombe in 1814 can be found in the 1851 census in Crayford as a servant in the household of Elizabeth Andym (This is the name as transcribed on but the surname is really unclear and could be Colyer. Susan's own surname is transcribed as Ratham but it is clearly Barham. 

There are several later references to Susannah Barham, but unfortunately there is also a snag. On 10th January 1853 a Susannah Barham married Joseph Edwin Wesbury, an upholsterer in Islington. They are recorded in the 1861 census living in Islington with their two children James Edwin (8) and Joseph Barham (5). 

  • Joseph WESBURY
    b 1833

  • m
  • Susannah BARHAM
    b 1814
family connector
  • James
    b 1853
  • Joseph
    b 1859

Susannah's age on the census was stated as 46 which is consistent with her birthdate of 11th September 1814 and her birthplace is given as Swanscombe.  So this appears to be Susannah, daughter of James Barham of Greenhithe.  However the snag referred to previously is a pretty large one -  the marriage certificate states that Susannah's father is "Charles Barham" an "oilman". So according to this there must have been two Susannah Barhams born in Swanscombe within a year of each other.

If we continue the story of Susannah and Joseph Wesbury there may be a resolution to this conundrum.  The first thing to note is that Susannah was 38 years old when she married Joseph and yet extrapolating from his age of 28 on the 1861 census he was at the most 20 years old. However both Susannah and Joseph were stated to be "of full age".  In addition to this Susannah was 7 months pregnant at the time as their first child, James Edwin, was born 2 months later. 

The following year Joseph appeared as a witness at the wedding of Charles Hazelton Barham and Eliza Sargent at St Saviour's in Southwark.  This is remarkable firstly in that it is a link between Susannah and the family of James Barham, but also in that there must be a friendship between Susannah and her half-brother.

The 1871 census holds another curiosity as Joseph, Susannah and the two boys are recorded living in Islington and yet  Susannah's age is stated as 48.  The ages of Joseph, James and Joseph jr are all correctly described as 38, 18 and 14. So once again it looks as if Susannah is not telling the whole truth!

Susannah remained with Joseph in Islington until her death. The 1881 census shows they were now by themselves and that Joseph was now earning a living as a tobacconist in addition to his upholstering. She died on 17th October 1886 of "Heart failure [from] myocardial degeneration" and her stated age at the time was 72, again consistent with the birth of James and Mary Barham's daughter in 1814.

That is not the end of the story however. Two years after Susannah's death on 24th September 1888 Joseph married again in Stoke Newington.  His new wife, Emma Reed, was also widowed, having previously married a man 20 years older than herself.  But it is her maiden name of Emma Hazelton Barham that is of more interest as she is yet another half sibling of Susannah Barham.  To add to this the 1891 census shows that they have moved to Erith (Emma's home town before the marriage) and Emma's youngest child, Frederick T Reed is living with them. Most significantly however, he is described as Joseph's nephew, which of course he would be if Susannah was indeed the daughter of James Barham.



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