• 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.

    Better outcome than many

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

    Born at Southwark, London, in 1871, a record is found for Ellen's baptism in 1877, on the same day as her younger sister Florence Clara was presented to 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 entirely 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.

  • Five Coker sisters baptised the same day

    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.

    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?

    Major step of faith

    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 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 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.

    Distant cousin connection

    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 atChatham, 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.

    Link to Athol Street, Bromley

    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.
  • 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