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  • Writer's pictureWendy Percival

Birthday of a Black Sheep

Today is the 170th birthday of one of the Black Sheep of my family – Edward Henry Coules Colley.


It was a while before I found out exactly why he was considered a Black Sheep. A letter received by my aunt when she wrote to her uncle, Edward’s youngest son, Ernest, asking that very question, was less than conclusive. After telling her that his father had come from a family who loved “high life and parties” and had been “the playboy of them all,” Ernest announced, “and there I will close my book on him, with no regrets.’



Of course that wasn’t good enough for me! I needed to know more and it wasn’t until I was deep into my family history research that I discovered the answer. Edward, it seemed, had lived a double life!


He’d married my great-grandmother, Frances (nee Ellisdon) in 1867 but while living in Camberwell, London, with Frances and their family of 4 children, it transpired that Edward had acquired another “wife” a couple of miles away in Newington – an American born woman called Elizabeth Woolf. The couple also had family of 4 children!


During this time Elizabeth was living with her uncle and by the 1881 census, she was calling herself Mrs Colley.

Edward is rumbled!


The balloon went up in 1886 and by the 1891 census, Frances is on her own with her children, having to work as a waitress to keep the family, though when their father left (or perhaps, was kicked out) the younger children had had to spend a short spell in the workhouse, as I wrote about in my post, A Brush with the Workhouse.


It seems that Edward and Frances had married in haste – she was already pregnant with their daughter Rosina, born 5 months after the wedding but who sadly died 3 months later. Perhaps their rush to the altar for propriety’s sake didn’t bode well for their long term relationship.


When Edward’s transgression was discovered, he and Elizabeth quit England for Australia where they went on to have many more children, though not marrying until they were both in their fifites, in 1906. Edward died in 1919 in Perth. Elizabeth outlived him by 26 years, dying in 1945, aged 89.


As for the wife Edward left behind, Frances (picture above) – she emigrated to California with her children in 1901. She never married again and died two years after her husband, in 1921, aged 70.


 


9 Comments


Carolyn Retallick
Carolyn Retallick
Sep 17, 2021

How fascinating! I haven’t, as yet, found anything as interesting in my boring tree! I wonder if your ancestor had any idea he would be rumbled in the 21st century!! 😂

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Wendy Percival
Wendy Percival
Sep 17, 2021
Replying to

Yes, it always amuses me to think how he’d have no idea that his dark secret would finally be exposed! My great uncle would probably be mortified, after going to such lengths to gloss over everything in the letter to my aunt. I’ve tried to find out more about the “high life and parties” reputation but not come across anything yet. In fact, the family seemed to have been quite industrious and inventive within the engineering sector. Perhaps it was a case of “worked hard, played harder”! 😂

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Hazel Anne Pegram
Hazel Anne Pegram
Mar 03, 2021

Wow massive connection here,my partner is a relation of Edward Henry Coules Colley and Elizabeth Woolf.His grandmother was Laura Leah one of the aboves children wait till i tell him what I've just found out,even what we do know is hair raising.

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Wendy Percival
Wendy Percival
May 20, 2021
Replying to

Goodness Hazel! What an intriguing story! Laura would have been my great aunt - though, of course, I never knew her. Dare I ask what were the "strange circumstances" in which Robert Briggs's body was found? Yes, I fear, there are always mysteries we'd love to know the answers to but which will elude us as time goes on. It doesn't stop us hunting, though, does it - especially when they're as fascinating as this one is!

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Wendy Percival
Wendy Percival
Sep 18, 2020

😂 Funny how we’re always keen to find the naughty ancestors!

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Helen Baggott
Helen Baggott
Sep 18, 2020

How amazing! I'm still looking for my Black Sheep. I know they're out there...

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Wendy Percival
Wendy Percival
Mar 03, 2021
Replying to

Keep looking, Helen! I’m sure you’re right. 😉 (Sorry about my belated response. I was sure I’d replied as I remember reading your comment but Wix doesn’t seem to have published my answer. Ahhh, technology, eh?)

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