Clara Coker baptism

Five sisters baptised the same day

By Warren Nunn

In family research, odd events draw your attention. Run-of-the-mill births, deaths, and marriages are what you would expect to find.

But it's the unexpected that gets you thinking as to what happened at the time that led several people in the same family to get baptised, for instance.

Such was the case on 8 March, 1888, at St Michael and All Angels Church in Tower Hamlets, Poplar, London when five sisters chose to be baptised. 

The five women who made a solemn commitment that day were the daughters of George Coker and Elizabeth Ann Pales.

Coker
1851 marriage entry for George Coker and Elizabeth Ann Pales. His first wife had died in 1847.


Clara was about 32, Emma, 27, Alice, 25, Florence, 23, and Edith, 17. At the time, only Emma was married.

So, what happened in their lives that they decided, en masse, to be baptised?

For Bible-believing Christians, this is a major step of faith; publically to declare faith in Jesus Christ.

You are clearly saying that Jesus is the son of God; He was fully God and fully man and He presented himself as a sacrifice for all humanity when He died on the Cross and rose from the dead to make it possible for anyone to have eternal life.

The key for believers is taking to heart the claims of Romans 10 verse 9, that if you "confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved".

Is that what why these Coker sisters were baptised in 1888?

There were a number of revival events in England in this era and it may be that the sisters made a faith commitment as a result of evangelical outreach preaching.

Of course, it is pure speculation to suggest that the sisters were born-again believers, but it best fits the evidence.

Consider the other option that five sisters would all decide to be baptised as adults at the same time.

Not impossible ... but less likely.

My connection to this Coker family is distant as a second cousin, four times removed to the sisters.

It is interesting to look at this family starting with their father, George, a master rigger, and first cousin of my distant grandfather William Coker. William was also a master rigger and had a successful business on the Thames River in London, as his will shows.

George was first married to Elizabeth Reed in 1838 at St George in The East, Tower Hamlets. They had two sons, James and George, before Elizabeth died in 1847. 

George remarried to Elizabeth Ann Pales in 1851 at Christ Church, Spitalfields, Tower Hamlets. Ten children followed between 1852 and 1871; seven girls and three boys. It is impossible to know from the records, but it seems not all survived to adulthood.

On the 1861 census, the family is at 7 Victoria Place, Poplar, London. George is aged 44, his occupation is ropemaker, and he was born at Chatham, Kent. Elizabeth is 34, born at Bermondsey, and their first six children are all living.

George Coker 1871 Census
The 1871 census entry for the Coker family at York St, Stepney, London.

 

By 1871, the family is at York St, Stepney,  with eight of their nine children. Only Clara is not with the family, but is at 110 Drummond Rd, Bermondsey, Southwark, in a house with her Uncle John's widow, Martha. Clara is also at the same address with Martha in 1881.

In 1881, George and Elizabeth and six of their children are at 57 White Horse St, Ratcliff, London. Emma, Alice and Florence are each described as machinists and are most likely working at the same factory.

Then in 1891, the family is at 33 Athol Street, Bromley, London. Only daughters Alice and Edith are with their parents. Alice is a braider and Edith, a draper's assistant.

Given this is the census closest to when the sisters were baptised in 1888, it's interesting to note they all gave Athol Street as their address that day.

What of the other sisters in 1891? Clara is not found on any census records and may have permanently left the country given a Miss Clara Coker, single, sailed from London to Wellington, New Zealand, on the vessel Rimutaka in February 1891. However, there is no record of her in New Zealand to confirm that.

Emma is with her husband, George King, and family at 21a Devonshire St, Holborn, London; and Florence is in service as a lady's maid in a house at Muswell Hill, Hornsey, Greater London.

Thereafter she appears to have become a nurse and may have gone to Australia for a time and returned to England. Also, it seems that both Alice and Ada were also nurses, so the women had servant's hearts.

Whatever the reason for the five sisters to be baptised that day, it stands as a testament of the strong family bond they shared.

Coker family baptism
The five Coker sisters baptised on the same day. Note that the church building is now known as St Michael's Court and no longer functions as a place of worship.

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