Oh Eliza!

Over the years I have managed to connect very nearly all people named Dennis or Dennies, born, baptised or resident in Oakthorpe, Donisthorpe, Measham, Moira and Bagworth, with some from Church Gresley and other nearby places, in south east Derbyshire and north west Leicestershire, so when someone crops up I am keen to find out where they fit.

I seem to have the habit of finding things while looking for something else. Findmypast have added some non-conformist records for Derbyshire and I thought I would see if it adds anything to my exploration of Andrew’s Kindred. So far it has not, but it did lead me to look at the newspaper archive, where I found an article about an Eliza Dennies who had stolen a collar. I think this was probably a muslin-backed lace collar.

Ram Inn, Ibstock. Via Geograph, copyright: the bitterman.

What the papers say

The Leicester Mercury 27 Jul 1844 reported that Eliza Dennis, Bagworth, was committed for trial, charged with stealing a muslin-laced collar, property of Harriette Tunstall.

The Belper News 10 Aug 1844 reported that Eliza had pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one month’s hard labour.

On the same date the Leicester Mercury, reported on the Leicestershire Midsummer Assizes of Mon 5 Aug, before Lord Chief Justice Denman. It said that Eliza Dennis, 14, was charged with stealing a muslin-lined collar on 13th July at Ibstock. She was sentenced to one calendar month’s hard labour, two weeks of which solitary.


I have so far been unable to find out anything about John Tunley or Harriet Tunstall, but I did already have Eliza in my tree. She was baptised at Measham on 8 Aug 1830, daughter of Thomas and Ann (whose maiden name I have yet to discover; some say Hinks, but that must be different family). Our common ancestor was Eliza’s grandfather Henry Dennis, born 1718, Measham.

Imagine: a 14 year old young woman – she would not have been seen as a girl at that time – in solitary confinement! What impact would this have on her young life? There are several papers online that deal with the physical and psychological impacts of solitary confinement, though I think these are to do with considerably longer spells than two weeks. Nonetheless, it would be a stiff ordeal for a teenager and would probably just further entrench any resentment for authority that she already had.

What happened to Eliza after that is a complete mystery: she seems to have disappeared without trace! In 1844 an Eliza Dennies was buried, but she was born in 1843. In 1848 an Eliza Dennis married someone, presumably one of the four men on the same page: Joseph Blount, James Davys, Joseph Knight, John Proudman; but the 1851 census and index of deaths both draw blanks. One tree owner has Whetton and, indeed, an Eliza Whetton of the right age appears in the 1851 census, but that Mr Whetton’s bride was Eliza Plummer. I have not found a record of emigration, voluntary or otherwise.

A mystery it remains …

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