Not on my watch

Attempted theft under false pretences. The following news articles are too big for the page so I will stick with transcripts.

The News


From Wolverhampton Chronicle and Staffordshire Advertiser 25 July 1860 (p7 col3)

JOHN DENNIS, 39, no occupation, was charged with obtaining by false pretences a gold watch from Elizabeth Sherwin, whose brother is a watch and clock maker,of Burton-on-Trent, on the 12th of last March.
Mr. SPOONER prosecuted, and the prisoner was undefended.
It seemed tht the prisoner’s father’s name was Henry Dennis, a butcher, and that he lived at Measham, in Leicestershire, seven miles from Hugglescote, in the same county, where he had a nephew of the same name as himself, and who had also been a butcher, but was now a farmer. On the 12th of March the prisoner presented a note, written by his father from Measham, and instructing Mr. Sherwin to send him a lever watch, for which he would pay when next he came to Burton. The prisoner told Miss Sherwin that the note was from his cousin at Hugglescote, who wished to give the watch to his daughter, and she had better send a gold one. Miss Sherwin knew Mr. Dennis, of Hugglescote, and sent the watch. She, however, subsequently suspected that all was not right, and wrote to that person, who came to Burton the next day, and declared the note to be his uncle’s handwriting; and said he had given him no authority to write it. On his way home he met the prisoner, who told him that he had got a gold watch, for which his father had sent him to Mr. Sherwin’s, and that was for him, his cousin). His cousin told him that he had not told his uncle to get a watch, and he had better take it back. Prisoner did so; and now on his trial said that his father had sent him for the watch, telling him that the watch was for his (the father’s) nephew.
The JUDGE decided that no evidence had been presented that the prisoner knew that the order for the watch had not been written by his cousin, and his Lordship instructed the Jury to acquit the prisoner, which they did,


HENRY DENNIS, 63, butcher, was arraigned on the charge of forging an order for a watch and uttering it to Elizabeth Sherwin, on the 12th of March last. Mr. SPOONER prosecuted.
The prisoner is the father of John Dennis who was acquitted in the case last tried. The evidence showed that at a bout two hours after the time when John Dennis delivered the note referred to at Mr. Sherwin’s, the prisoner slso went there and delivered a note, dated from Hugglescote, and signed “Henry Dennis, butcher.” The note contained the following order, addressed to Miss Sherwin: — I have sent my uncle down to choose me a watch, Please to send it by the bearer.” She, however, refused to send the watch. Mr. Henry Dennis, of Hugglescote, denied that he had written the note, and deposed that it was the handwriting of his uncle, the prisoner. In his defence the prisoner now stated that the letter was given to him by his son, and that he did not himself write it.
The Jury found the prisoner guilty, and he was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment.

The story unravelled

The names, John Dennis, and two Henry Dennis make this a little confusing. Where do they fit in?

First trial

The alleged offence took place on 12 March 1860. The accused was John Dennis (39), son of Henry Dennis (63), butcher, of Measham. This Henry had a nephew also Henry Dennis, who had been a butcher, but was now a farmer living at Hugglescote.

On 12 March prisoner John presented a note at Sherwin’s shop ordering one gold watch for his father Henry (Measham), to give to his daughter (presumably John’s sister. Miss Sherwin gave John the watch, but afterwards became suspicious. Henry (Hugglescote) visited the shop next day and on his way home bumped into John, who said he had a watch for his father (Henry, Measham), but it was for Henry (Hugglescote), his (John’s) cousin, who told John that he had not requested a watch and to take it back, which John did. John was aquitted.

Second trial

This is essentially the same case, except that the accused is Henry the butcher of Measham age 63. He tried to pass on the blame, but the jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to two months. Note that in the first trial Miss Sherwin gave John the watch, but in the second said she did not send it.

The dates imply Henry was born about 1797-98, and John about 1820-21. No further genealogical information is provided.

So, we have a putative family tree.

First stab at tree. Henry of Hugglescote on right.

The 1861 census includes, at Church Street, Hugglescote:

Henry Dennis, head, 42, farmer of 25 acres employing 1 labourer and 2 boys, born Ticknall, Derbyshire, with family, visitors and 3 servants.

This is sure to be John’s cousin. Implied birth in about 1819. I cannot find him in other censuses, for example, was he a butcher in 1851?

A search for the other Henry Dennis produces in 1861: St Werburgh (Derby County Prison), widower, 65, butcher, born Measham. This is sure to be John’s father, born about 1796.

My family tree is so labyrinthine that remembering who is whom is close to impossible. However, I recall writing a semi-fictional story about the arrival of great great grandfather Henry Dennis, which surmised that he would be named after his aunt Sarah’s favourite uncle Harry, a butcher plying his trade in Measham. It took some finding, but here is a link to A new arrival.

That “uncle Harry felt a bit left out after Joe. And he does look after us pretty well.” Uncle Harry was Henry Dennies, a butcher who plied his trade in High Street, Measham, a walk of about an hour. From time to time he would visit and leave behind a cut of beef or a brace of coneys (as they called rabbit in those days) …”.

Henry (above) was born in 1788, which is not a close enough match, but he had his butcher’s shop on High Street, Measham in 1841 and 1851. Crucially, in 1841, he had two other butchers in the household both named named Henry (In 1841 ages: 40, and 20, but these could have been rounded down). Relationships are not given, so it is feasible that the Henry age 40, was the butcher of Measham and Henry age 20, was the former butcher, now farmer of Hugglescote.

1851 Census: Hugglescote

Henry Dennis, Head, Widower, 32, Farmer 100 acres 1 Labourer, b. Ticknall, Derbyshire
Elizabeth Dennis, Dau, 6, Scholar, b Measham
John Henry, Son, 4, Scholar, b Measham
Mary Ann, Dau, 2, b Hugglescote.

So, it appears we have the two Henrys, but where is the link? Logic implies that a brother or, unwed sister, of Henry (Measham) would be father of Henry (Hugglescote). Henry (Measham) was baptised on 3 November 1799, parents Henry Dennis and Elizabeth Healey. I have not been able to find anyone that fits.

We also have a son, John Henry, born about 1847 (1861 Census age 14, with the other family members), which doesn’t fit. I can find no other John Dennis that could fit; a page-by-page review of the 1861 Census reveals no other Dennis in the parish of Hugglescote. Could there be a Chinese whisper involved? Could thirteen be misheard, by someone not present, as thirty nine? It is well known that typesetters were often illiterate … Is it simply a typo? Would you really send a 39-year old on such an errand? Why not send your 13-year old son to fetch a present for his sister? It seems to be the Sherlock Holmes solution …

There is another clue, Daughter Mary Ann (Hugglescote), going on the 1841 Census, in 1860, was rising 21, coming of age, and her father or uncle might want to make a special birthday gift.

That would leave us with the following tree.

Tree showing three generatios of butchers.
Baptism of John Dennies 9 Oct 1820, son of Henry Dennies and Elizabeth HEALEY, Measham. NOTE registered April 13th 1824.

There are two obvious problems: the Henrys (green) would be father and son; and, while the baptism for John (blue) would be about right, it appears he died at best in infancy. It was normal to recycle first names of deceased children, but why name a second son John if the first had lived? The birthday girl (yellow).

What do I think?

Uncle Henry, butcher of Measham, wants to give his niece the coming-of-age present of a gold watch, but knows he cannot pay, so gives his 13-year old son, John (Henry) a note, which rather stupidly, he signs “butcher”, purporting to be from his wealthier cousin Henry, who everyone knows is a farmer. John obtains the watch, but returns it to its rightful owner and is released. In the second trial, the jury sees through the butcher and sends him down for 2 months.

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