Ellen Jessie Coker

Ellen Jessie Coker - caught up in bigamy

By Warren Nunn

You know those English period dramas where an unsuspecting young lady becomes besotted by an older man, falls pregnant, gets married and then discovers that he already has a wife?

If you think such tales are solely from the fertile imagination of a writer, think again. Those things really did happen back then ... and most likely still happen today.

As the stories go, the older man is sometimes a cad and leaves his younger bride to return to his legal wife and her money ... or so the stories sometimes go.

It's no surprise when, as a family researcher, you stumble on a similar story in your own lineage. My great grandfather Harry Coker's first cousin, Ellen Jessie Coker had such an experience.

And while it is hard to tell from the records, it seems she had a better outcome than many other women who faced similar circumstances. 

Born at Southwark, London, in 1871, Ellen was not baptised until 1877 on the same day as her younger sister Florence Clara at St George's Church, Battersea.


Ellen Jessie Coker's baptism entry as well as her sister, Florence Clara's. The family was living at Currie St, Battersea.
On the 1871 census, they were at Hill St, Newington.


By 1891, the family had moved back to Newington and it was in that part of London that Ellen fell for the charms of the older man, a silk hat maker named Peter Sinnott. Note that the surname spelling varies between Sinnott and Sinnett. By July 1900 Ellen was pregnant, so she and Peter Sinnott married at St Andrew's Church, Lambeth.



The wedding entry for Ellen Jessie Coker and Peter Sinnott. There are a couple of things worth noting. Peter gives his age as 41 ... 
and his occupation as warehouseman; neither of which were accurate.

To that end, it is worth comparing Peter's signature with that on the following wedding entry. It is for a Peter Sinnott, aged 25, hatter, who married Louisa Ellen Webber at Lambeth in 1876. As further information reveals, it is the same Peter Sinnott who, 24 years later, claims to be only 41 and who marries Ellen Coker.



The following reveals that, within a couple of weeks, the unpalatable details of Peter Sinnott's subterfuge were uncovered as he faced court .. and then three months in jail. One of his sons confronted his new wife and the secret was out.



Jail time for Peter Sinnott (incorrectly recorded as Linnott).
Note his correct age of 53 is given. That is confirmed
from other records that reveal he was born May 1850 (see next image).


Peter Sinnott's christening record for 19 May 1850 in Liverpool



A newspaper report of the case correctly names him
Peter Sinnott, but gives Ellen Jessie's maiden name as Coghill
rather than Coker. The wedding date should be 16th, not 6th
but everything else is correct.

Here is a transcription of the above report:

East London Observer 01 August 1903, p6
Singular Story of Alleged Bigamy.-A hatter named Peter Sinnott, aged 53 living at Vincent-street, Shoreditch, was charged at Worship-street Police-court on Thursday with contracting a bigamous marriage with Ellen Jessie Coghill*, his lawful wife being still alive. The second wife, a pale and delicate-looking woman, who carried a baby, said she lived with prisoner for six months. At the end of that period she informed him of her condition, and they went through a form of marriage together at St Andrew's Church, Lambeth, on July 6#, 1900. He told her he had never been married before. Witness added that the previous night prisoner's son, who was an entire stranger to her, came to the house while his father was out and told her that prisoner's first wife was living. He showed her the certificiate of marriage, and when prisoner came home she taxed him with having committed bigamy. Prisoner replied, "Yes, I have been married before. My wife is living at Plaistow." Witness broke down during the recital of her evidence and sobbed bittlerly. Prisoner, who was committed for trial, said he was guilty of the charge, but his second wife was innocent of it altogether.
*Should be Coker. #Should be 16th

The report shows that Peter Sinnott did not try to deny his duplicity and told the court that Ellen had no knowledge of his lawful wife and their children.

However, as 1901 and 1911 census records reveal, Peter remained with Ellen and they had a second child. As an aside, Peter and Ellen used the names John and Ellen that Peter and his first wife also gave to two of their children. This causes added confusion when researching what happened to various family members.



1901 census entry for 22 Peabody Buildings B Block, Lambeth, London
Peter Sinnott, head, aged 50*, silk hat maker, born Liverpool, Lancashire
Ellen Sinnott, wife, aged 30, born Kennington, London
John Sinnott, son, aged 6 months, born Lambeth, London
*On the 1900 wedding certificate, he gives his age as 41
and his occupation as warehouseman.
They are still living at same address, Peabody Buildings. 


1911 census for 15 Ellesmere St, Gorton, Lancashire:
Peter Sinnott, Head Married M 60 1851 Silk Hatter Maker Liverpool
Ellen Sinnott, Wife Married 11 years F 40 1871 London Lambeth
John Peter Sinnott, Son M 11 1900 School London Lambeth
Ellen Sinnott, Daughter F 5 1906 School Manchester Harpurhey.

It's interesting to note that Peter and Ellen moved out of London after the court case and his time in jail.

At some point thereafter, there was a move back to London because that's where Peter died in 1923.

We first find Peter Sinnott as a married man on the 1881 census at Parsonage Walk, Newington with his first wife. They were living at a pub.


1881 census for 13 Parsonage Walk, Newington
Peter Sinnott, head, mar, aged 30, silk hatter, born Lancs Liverpool
Ellen Sinnott, wife, mar, aged 28, born Wellington, Staines (near Taunton, Somerset) 
Louisa Sinnott, dau, aged 4, born Surrey Southwark 
Peter H. Sinnott, son, aged 2, born Surrey Southwark 
John Sinnott, son, aged 7 months, born Surrey Lambeth

In 1891, the family had grown to six children and they were still at Newington.


1891 census for 17 Darwin Buildings, Newington
Peter Sinnott, head, aged 40, silk hatter, born Lancashire Liverpool 
Ellen Sinnott, wife, aged 38, born  Somerset,  Taunton,
Ellen Sinnott, dau, aged 14, bodice maker, born London, Southwark 
Peter Sinnott, son, aged 12, born London, Southwark 
John Sinnott, son, aged 10, born London, Southwark 
James Sinnott, son, aged 8, born London, Peckham
William Sinnott, son, aged 6, born London, Peckham
Thomas Sinnott, son, aged 4, born London, Southwark 

There is an ancestry.com tree with a photograph of what may be above Ellen Sinnott with her adult children. Given Ellen (maiden name Webber) died in 1939 according to the researcher, the image must have been taken in the 1930s judging by the age of the adults. Without further information about the image, it's difficult to make any other observations.

After the 1911 census, it is difficult to track what happened with Peter Sinnott and his second wife Ellen Jessie Coker. While a death record in 1923 is found for Peter Sinnott, information about Ellen Jessie dries up. As yet, no further details can be confirmed about their children John Peter and Ellen.

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Jessie Elizabeth Coker

A genealogical study

Tracing the life of Jessie Elizabeth Coker, the daughter William Frederick Coker and Elizabeth Jane Mead, highlights for me the essence of doing genealogy.

Jessie Coker wasn't a difficult person to identify in the records but it was the records of those with whom she lived that helped to confirm much about her despite the absence of some vital information.

She is first found in the England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index born in the first quarter 1884 in Lambeth, London. Then we find her at school in 1896 near to where the family lived at Newington/Walworth, London, and born 15 January 1884.


Entry for Jessie Elizabeth Coker in register of St Paul's School, Walworth, London, a short walk from where Coker family lived at Heiron Street at the time. Gives her birth date (14 Jan 1884), address (8 Heiron St) and the fact she left school 25 Sep 1896 due to ill health.

That is confirmed on the 1901 census where the Coker family is indeed found at Heiron St, Newington, London. Jessie's father had passed away in 1899.




Jessie Coker on 1901 census at Heiron St, Newington, London. Transcript reads: Elizabeth Coker, head, widow, aged 42, charwoman, own account, born Kennington, deaf; Edith Coker, dau, single, aged 19, machinist, worker, born Lambeth; Jessie E. Coker, dau, single, aged 17, leather stitcher, worker, born Lambeth; Kate A. Coker, dau, aged 7, born Newington; Frank A. Coker, son, aged 2, born Newington; James Meade, boarder, widow, aged 40, public house painter, born Kennington. Given Elizabeth Coker's maiden name was Mead, this James Meade may have some family connection.


Ten years later, Jessie is found with sister Edith on the 1911 census at 23 Cumberland Rd, Walthamstow, an address that remains vital to tracking family members thereafter. In 1911, Jessie's married name is Duggan and a 1908 marriage entry is found between Jessie and John Thomas Duggan at Southwark. However, John Duggan's whereabouts in 1911 is a mystery. We can't know for certain but there is a possible death for him in 1912 in Lambeth, London.



Jessie Coker, now Duggan, on 1911 census with sister Edith (who died in 1914) and her family at 23 Cumberland Road, Walthamstow. Seemingly lived the rest of her life at this address. Census transcript: Walter CAUSER,  Head Married M 30 born about 1881 Fitter Constructional Iron Work In Connection With Building Bermondsey London;  Edith Florence CAUSER, Wife Married 6 years F aged 29 born 1882 Lambeth London;  Walter William CAUSER, Son M aged 5 born 1906 Deptford London;  Frank Alfred CAUSER, Son M aged 3 born 1908 Deptford London;  Jessie Louisa CAUSER, Daughter F aged 1 born 1910 Walthamstow Essex;  Jessie Elizabeth DUGGAN, Sister In Law Married F aged 27 born 1884 Lagner confectionery industry (no explanation on occupation but obviously something to do with the production of confectionery) Lambeth London.


What we do find next in 1939 is that Jessie is still at 23 Cumberland Road, Walthamstow but here is where things get interesting and some further investigation is required to confirm several points.

She is found under the name Jessie Elizabeth Forster, widow, but the surname Duggan is written above the Forster surname, a common practise where officials later added married surnames in the 1939 register. That usually denotes a later marriage. In this case, it would be the reverse.



Jessie Coker (now Forster) on 1939 register with nephew William Causer as well as a Frederick William Forster who is most likely the son of her reputed second husband Frederick Forster senior.

Also found in the same house with her is her nephew William Causer, who is her sister Edith's son with Walter Henry Causer. W.H. Causer also later married Jessie's sister Kate after Edith passed away. That seems to confirm that Jessie had a  marriage or some connection to a man with the surname FORSTER but no entry for that has been found.

The possible answer is found by following the parentage of Frederick W (William) Forster, born 18 Nov 1904, who is found on the 1939 register with Jessie Elizabeth Forster (nee Coker) and who is described as an ex-Navy man.



Navy record for Frederick Forster junior that confirms him to be same person on 1939 register.

By following his service details he was born at Barnsbury, London, which is in the Islington area.

On the 1911 census, a Frederick William Forster is found with his father Frederick John Forster. His age is given as 7 born at Islington. That basically fits with the Navy record.




Frederick Forster senior with Frederick jnr on 1911 census. He is described as a wireman both on his 1904 marriage as well as the 1911 census, confirming this to be the same person.


However, Frederick John Forster is not with his wife on 1911 census. He married Daisy Peck in 1904 and they had four children, only two of which were alive in 1911.

The assumption is that they separated and Frederick John Forster married (or co-habited) with Jessie Elizabeth Coker at some point after John Duggan died. Remember there is a probable 1912 death for John Duggan.



Frederick John Forster married Daisy Florence Peck in 1904 but is not with her on 1911 census. Seems to have either married or co-habited with Jessie Elizabeth Coker at some time after this and died before 1939. This is a probable death for Frederick Forster in 1934.

Then there is another twist to Jessie's life found in the details of her probate entry in 1964. She is still living at Cumberland Road, and the beneficiary of her estate is her nephew William Henry Causer whom she may have raised as her own child given his mother died within weeks of his birth. Perhaps she died as a result of complications from the birth. 

Given William Causer is found with Jessie in 1939 and is named on her probate record, it is a fair assumption that their relationship was more likely to have been more like mother and son rather than aunt and nephew. And it is not an unusual situation even today for a close family member to raise a sister's child.

As an example, my paternal grandfather John Alexis Dobbs Coker, who was Jessie Coker's second cousin, was raised by his mother's sister.





Jessie Coker (Duggan/Forster) probate entry


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Harold George Blanchard Card

Tribute to a young man whose short life ended on the battlefield in France

©Warren Nunn (First published 14 Jan 2017)

On 22 August 1918, Harold Card’s short, drama-filled life ended when a German shell burst near the village of Etinehem in the Villers-Bretonneux region of France, not far from the Somme.

Just like millions of other young men who had needlessly died on battlefields in the course of human history, Harold never lived to realise his potential; he did not marry, raise a family or build a career.

He came into the world in March 1892 in what is now known as the North Shore area of Sydney, Australia’s biggest city.

He was the son of an English-born couple, Albert Card and Emily Florence Coker who married in 1882 at Westwood, near Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia where Florence—she was known by her second name—grew up after her parents brought their young family out to Australia in 1870.

About a year before they married, Florence had a male child she named Francis Coker who only lived for a few weeks.

It seems possible—although it’s not known for sure—that Albert may have been that child’s father given they married 14 months later.

Harold Card Postcard
A postcard that Harold Card received from his father, Albert, in 1905 after he went to London, leaving behind his wife and teenaged son. The other side of the card includes an image of Albert.

At some point thereafter, Albert and Florence moved to Sydney in New South Wales because that’s where Harold was born a decade later. Given Florence had already given birth to a child; it seems she must have had issues having children because of Harold’s arrival 10 years into the marriage.

The Cards next moved to Perth, Western Australia around the turn of the century because they are found on electoral records in 1903 where Albert is described as a conveyancer.

Beery, bungling, blackguard

Albert Card had been secretary of the North Perth Roads Board as well as having been the North Perth municipality’s town clerk but he appears to have been anything but competent in that job because in 1904 The Sunday Times newspaper had an article which highlighted his questionable actions.

It is titled: Currish, Card, a beery, bungling, blackguard.

In hindsight, it is easy to see the man was emotionally unstable.

Publically disgraced, Albert abandoned his family and left to live in England. More details of that can be found here, including that he took his own life in 1921.

In November 1905, Albert did send Harold a card from London with the words:

“Am surprised no letter from you, arrived here on Monday last; received baptism from London fog on Tuesday-wish you a merry xmas and happy new year-keep cool-write. Dad”

Such correspondence must have been emotionally confusing for a 13-year-old boy trying to come to terms with his dad leaving the family home and going to the other side of the world along with all the horrible things being said about him.

Cross-country move

Florence’s mother Emily Coker (nee Lee) left her husband James Thomas Coker in Rockhampton about 1904 and travelled across to the other side of Australia and joined her daughter in Perth.

They lived only a handful of streets from each other and it’s certain that young Harold had both his mother’s and grandmother’s influence to counteract the trauma of having been abandoned by his father.

Before Harold was born, his grandfather James Thomas Coker had been jailed for fraud, so there is little evidence of a lasting, positive male influence on his life, and there is no surprise that Emily left James and headed west to Perth.

Signing up for service.

In 1916, when Harold signed up to fight in WW1, he was employed on Perth’s tramway network which had only been established in 1899.

Without sighting his employment record—which could be available in the government archives—it’s not known what role young Harold had.

There are about 50 pages in Harold’s service record starting with his sign-up form dated 1 June 1916. It gives his mother’s address as 149 Palmerston St, East Perth, which is only a few minutes’ walk from a previous address, 515 Newcastle St, East Perth (that part of the street is now a small business centre), which has been crossed out on the form.

There is also a sober entry “Father missing”.

What the form also reveals is that Harold had previously been rejected for service because he had undergone an operation for varicose veins, which seems an odd condition for someone in their early 20s.

On this occasion, though, No 2299 Harold George Blanchard Card was deemed fit for military service and assigned to the 43rd Battalion. By October he boarded a ship at Fremantle that first went to Melbourne before heading to France via England.

He was described as 5ft 10ins (1.78m) tall, weighed 153 pounds (about 70kg), had hazel eyes, light brown hair and he had a scar on his right leg (perhaps from his operation).

Wounded in action

In March 1917, Harold first saw action and in August received a gunshot wound to his back and both arms. One can only image how anxious his mother was when she received this bland telegram a few days later:

Reported private Harold Card wounded will advise anything further received.

That was followed by a second telegram:

Not reported private Harold Card admitted Third London General Hospital Wandsworth England fourth August gunshot wound left arm back.

Unwelcome news.

The wound must not have been too serious because there is a note that it had healed by 14 September, so Harold was sent to the training area at Hurdcott in Wiltshire where was he stationed for several weeks before being sent back to France in November.

He was at Rouelles (24 November 1917), Saint-Omer (28 March 1918), Boulogne (8 April 1918), Havre (18 April 1918) and then in the Villers-Bretonneux region where he was killed in August.

As was the case with countless other soldiers on that dreadful arena of war, Harold had several bouts of diarrhoea.

Gallant, dedicated soldier

There are two letters giving background to Harold’s service in France. He was a runner which meant he had the task of getting vital information to headquarters or other units and would have been at risk from snipers, stray bullets and shells, etc.

A letter from Lt. A.H.Dalziel, sent from 3rd London General Hospital and 12 September 1918 reads:

Dear Madam. Your letter of 24th Sep. just to hand in which you ask for information re the late Pvte. Harold Card. As I was doing duty with another company of that particular day, I was not actually with him when he was killed, but if you write to the O/C "A" Coy 43rd Btl (Captain J.J.Moran) he will give you more information that I can as to the place and nature of his death. Speaking of Harold as a man and a soldier, I can say this (and for a long time he was continually with me, being my runner); as a man he was straight and good living and liked by all, and as a soldier he was always ready and fearless in his duty. When the occasion arose, and it was necessary to get information sent back to headquarters, no matter what the risk, I always knew that so long as he could move the information would arrive where it was required. And no soldier can show greater devotion to his duty than to place it before his own life, and this Harold was always prepared to do. His death was a loss to the whole company, and I am sorry that I cannot give you the exact locality of his grave, but I am sure Capt. Morgan will give you all the information in that respect. His death was instantaneous. In conclusion, please allow me to express for myself and his comrades in the company, our deepest sympathy for you all to whom he was so dear. Yours sincerely, A.H.Dalziel, Lt.

It was common for the military to write that “his death was instantaneous” because it was felt it would be too much for the family to read that their son had suffered painfully for hours or days.

It's easy to conclude from the above narrative that the phrase was added for such a purpose because it doesn’t fit otherwise.

A lieutenant in Harold’s battalion also wrote to Florence:

Dear Madam, Returning health permits me to perform a duty which I feel is long overdue. Doubtless you have been already notified of your son’s death in action on August 22nd. On that day, the 43rd Battalion was advancing to attack near the town of Bray (Bray-sur-Somme), north of the Somme. We were being heavily shelled, for we were under the observation of the enemy. At about 7 o’clock in the morning a large shell burst among the section to which Pte Card was attached and he fell with a hopeless wound to the groin, dying almost at once. Three others of the section were killed and three wounded. Unfortunately, I was myself wounded at this time and so cannot say exactly where your son was buried; but the cemetery will probably be very near the spot where he and so many of his comrades fell that day. That is near a cross roads just half a mile north of Etinehem, now far behind our lines and out of range of all German shells. Pte Card was a good and brave soldier, esteemed by both officers and men throughout the Battalion, and one and all. We wish as we may to express our great sympathy with you in your sad loss. And yet we believe he fell, as all brave men wish, advancing in the face of the enemy. Frank W. Thomas, Lieut., 3 Platoon, “A” Coy, 43rd Btn. A.I.F

From the above, the first letter gives no details of Harold’s death but Lieutenant Dalziel’s describes Harold as a soldier who did sterling service as a runner.

Official recognition.

In the second letter, Lieutenant Thomas describes the battalion advancing on the town of Bray-sur-Somme which is only about 3km from Etinehem when a shell-burst killed Harold and some others.

Harold was buried about 2000 yards (1.8km) from Bray-sur-Somme but the co-ordinates in his record don’t match normal longitude and latitude.

Treasured possessions

Harold was an exemplary soldier and the only “blemish” on his record was a minor disciplinary incident in England over burning a naked light after lights-out.

For Florence, the grief must have been unbearable and she treasured the return of his possessions as well as medals and other honours.

In 1919, Florence was sent her son’s effects that included a pipe, devotional book, a compass, a money belt, a woollen cap comforter, tobacco pouch, letters, a card photo, and a German machine gun belt.

In 1922, Florence received a memorial scroll, as well as a British war medal and a Victory medal.

Florence also had a memorial card printed that has an image of Harold in uniform with the words: In loving memory of my dear son Harold G.B.Card 43rd Battalion killed in action “somewhere in France” August 22nd, 1918, aged 26 years 5 months.

It also had the following verse:

They have laid our son down to rest

In the flag with the Southern Cross,

And we mourn for him as one of the best,

For his death was Australia’s loss.

He has sailed on his last commission

To that beautiful place called rest,

And his head is gently pillowed

On the Great Commander’s breast.

Deeply mourned -

Inserted by his loving mother.

Note: I am a first cousin, twice removed of Harold Card who was a first cousin of my maternal grandfather. See the relationship: http://tinyurl.com/gwvqoy5


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James Thomas Coker

James Thomas Coker, embezzler

© By Warren Nunn

According to immigration records the Royal Dane on which James Thomas Coker arrived in Australia did so in November 1870 and not 1869 as the above entry records.

At right is part of the prison record of  a criminal who spent time in Queensland's infamous St Helena Island jail. He embezzled money as a servant of a municipal authority. I am one of his many descendants.

What do you do with the information that someone who went before you carried out a serious crime - an abuse of trust - for years before being found out?

He made no attempt to deny his guilt when confronted with the accusations. That does not excuse his actions. You can't hide from the facts, nor can you wear them as some sort of badge of honour.

The man was my grandfather's grandfather on my mother's side. His name was James Thomas Coker, town clerk of the North Rockhampton Borough Council from 1883 to 1890.

He was the third son of a successful businessman, William Coker, who was a ship chandler in Stepney, London, in the mid-1800s. When James was born in 1841, business was booming for the company run by his father and grandfather.

Business fails, money disappears

By 1852, both men were dead and the future was less certain. By 1867, the business was gone along with property and sums of money that William senior had left in his will to the six grandsons.

By July 1870, James had left England for Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia. From about 1885, he had the role of town clerk. In those times, the town had municipal authorities for both sides of the river.

When the Cokers arrived on the Royal Dane in November 1870, the family unit also included wife Emily and children Jane (11), Emily (9), Ada (7), Leonard (5), Arthur (4) and Henry (my grandfather's father, aged 2).

JamesThomasCokerAndEmilyLeeJames Thomas Coker and Emily Lee.


Nine more children were born to the couple in the ensuing 15 years, but only James Martin, Albert Napier, Herbert Leslie and Archibald Lawson survived to adulthood.

Whether Coker honestly served the council at all is open to conjecture because, from 1886, he had a second set of books and was keeping money for himself.

An incident in 1888 should have shaken Coker out of his deceitful ways or at least caused authorities to have a closer look at the council. It came when the mayor, John Wallis Rutter, was jailed seven years for fraud.

At that time, Coker was in the thick of his scheme but auditors had not picked up on it.

It is often said criminals don't stop until they get caught. That was certainly true in the case of James Thomas Coker.

Perhaps the seeds of doubt were growing in October 1888 when councillors discussed at length Coker's claims that a third person other than he and the mayor had access to the strongroom.

Trying to cover his tracks

In July, Coker reported a burglary at the council offices during which the mayor's room was entered, a quantity of spirits stolen and a valuable lamp broken.

The newspaper report of the meeting is somewhat disjointed but mentions Coker's belief about a third key and, crucially to what transpired 18 months later, the disappearance of the butt of a receipt book he received from a committee chairman.

That was when Coker suggested the existence of a third key. Thereafter, the strongroom lock was changed. By August 1890, the pressure was building and, reading between the lines, perhaps the mayor and other alderman, had firm suspicions about their town clerk.

A report in the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin newspaper on Saturday 2 August 1890, leaves the reader in little doubt that James Thomas Coker's days were numbered.

Judgment day beckons

The paper reported a "mysterious silence" about the council's finances which were supposed to be tabled at each fortnightly meeting. That had not been done for several months.

The paper's closing observations are worth recounting verbatim:

"Only one conclusion can be come to after considering all the facts - that the Town Clerk has repeatedly disobeyed, the resolution of Council, and that the Mayor, if he has not approved of such a course of procedure, has shielded him from all blame. But why all this silence about the finances? Are they in such a bad way that His Worship does not care to have the facts published? The Council - and if no alderman has the courage then the ratepayers - should demand that the clandestine procedure be at once abandoned."

A fortnight later, the paper again reported on Coker's objections to anyone else handling the rates books.

The report reads: "The meeting of the North Rockhampton Council on Wednesday was rather lengthy, a good deal of time being wasted in discussing a motion introduced by Alderman Noble. That councillor, with a view to setting the finances to rights, brought forward a proposal instructing the Town Clerk to make out a copy of the rates in arrears, the copy to be given to the junior in the office, the latter to have the power of receiving money tendered in payment. The reason for this appears to be that the Town Clerk is understood to be averse to anyone touching the books in his absence. On the face of it the idea was a good one, but then there is no reason, so far us we can see, why another official besides the Town Clerk should not have access to the books. It may be, as Alderman Nobbs said, that Mr Coker does not care for anyone to interfere, but that gentleman's wishes in the matter should not be allowed to operate prejudicially to the interests of the Council. Of course he cannot always be in the office - it would be unreasonable to expect it; but it is equally unreasonable for Mr Coker to imagine that ratepayers are going to call time after time with their money. If he is obstinate in the matter, and no other conclusion can be come to after reading Alderman Nobbs's remarks, it was manifestly the duty of the alderman named, to have said so straight out. The half-yearly statement of receipts and expenditure, was laid on the table, and will no doubt be published in a few days. The Mayor has promised that now the accounts have been brought up to date a report of the state of the finances shall be laid on the table at each meeting."

About six weeks later, James Thomas Coker was arrested for embezzlement and admitted to having a second set of books on which he issued receipts for moneys received.

NorthRockhamptonBoroughCouncilBuildingNorth Rockhampton Borough Council Building in 2018.


Full admission and restitution

He said he took about £450 and it emerged his actions started about four years earlier. Coker handed over a list of the sums misappropriated and also a number of butts from receipt books.

Justice was swift in those days and by 18 September 1890, Coker had received a four-year sentence, to be served on the infamous St Helena Island in the mouth of the Brisbane River.

It was 21 October when prisoner No.3802 arrived on St Helena and assigned to cell No.283. It was to be his home until 17 October 1893 when he was released on three months “special remission”.

In the record of his time there, Coker was twice cautioned for “offences”. The first was having in his possession a lead pencil and a bag of chillies. The second was for insolence.

His physical description was dark complexion, 5ft 10¼in tall, medium build, brown hair and brown eyes.

Coker’s former mayor John Rutter was also on St Helena. He had been in cell No. 51 since February 1888 and was not due for release until September 1893.

Petition for early release

Eighteen months after he was sentenced, Coker's wife Emily submitted a petition for his early release.

In the meantime, Emily supported herself and her youngest children as a nurse/midwife.

When he did get out of prison, James Coker returned to Rockhampton, eventually setting up as a land agent.

The Coker name was again associated with the council when son Arthur (1867-1945) was elected an alderman in 1903.

Around 1904, it seems James and Emily decided to part ways as she moved to Perth, Western Australia, apparently to live with their eldest daughter Jane.

The two youngest sons, Herbert and Archibald, followed her out of Queensland. Herbert was last heard of in Kalgoorlie while Archibald ended up in Victoria.

FOOTNOTE: The author, Warren Nunn, started his journalism career at The Rockhampton Morning Bulletin on 3 July 1972.

© The material on this page is the sole work of the author.

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Ode to Grandad

Written by Cyril Coker’s granddaughter Bettrys Wellings.

Ode to Grandad

What a great man at the age of 85
To achieve such great things and still be alive -
To fight for his country, to have a family,
To publish a book, and start another three.

So many things to love about his ways
So many things – how to portray?
He lived the Christian life, as a true believer should
And encouraged others in their walk, as much as he could.

How could you not love the curl in his hair
The big knuckled hands, and how he slouched in his chair.
How could you not love, the pigeon-toed walk
The scuff noises he made, as his thongs hit the chalk.

How could you not laugh at the same jokes every meal
For the way Cyril told them – it was always a funny deal.
How could you not love the hoarding of lots
From buttons to screws, to 1000 milk bottle tops.

How could you not love the ditties and dance songs
And labels on bottles saying “? Gee, It sure pongs!”
How could you not appreciate the crosswords and his persistence,
For the hours he spent pondering over questions of resistance.

How could you not love the innocence at dinner,
Where snoring at the table – he was often the winner.
How could you not chuckle at the dripping of the nose,
Where unnoticed the water would drop t’wards his toes.

How could you not love the long weekly ITMA’s
The cursing of technology, especially the computer.
How could you not join in the viewing of ‘The Bill’
With cup of tea in hand, but no water – at his will.

How could you get annoyed with the Chev’s piercing squeal,
Since Grandad couldn’t hear it – it was not a big deal.
How could we not love the little inventions,
For the bluetacked pyjamas must make a mention.

Surely these behaviours, these traits are the ones we will miss
For times spent with Grandad were always such bliss.
His wittiness, his charm were always a blessing
And each of us here takes a special memory that needs caressing.

So, God’s blessings to you Grandad, our friend and forefather
You will continue to be a part of us, now and ever after
But now you are blessed, as to rest you are lain,
Sweet dreams, my special Grandad, until we meet again.

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