The Elusive Dobsons

This is the second of four posts about William Smith of Melmerby (1781-1857) and his family. In a previous post I said that William and his wife Mary Longrigg had seven surviving adult children:

John Smith (1815-1884)
Ann Dobson (1819-    )
Mary Sutton (1821-1882?)
Agnes Scott (1823-1898)
William Smith (1825-1905)
Elizabeth Harrison (1831-1900)
Lancelot Smith (1833-1889)

The oldest surviving son John inherited his father’s freehold property in Melmerby when William died in 1857. I will write about John Smith and his family later.

This particular post will be about Ann, who was a first cousin of my great-grandfather Lancelot Smith of Corballis.

Unfortunately, I know less about Ann and the family she married into – the Dobsons – than about any of her siblings. Actually, I have more questions than answers about her life. If any of my readers knows more, I would be pleased to get additional information or be advised of incorrect information or assumptions I have used here.

Ann Dobson (1819-????)
Ann was actually the fifth child but the second surviving child and eldest surviving daughter of William Smith and Mary Longrigg. In 1841 Ann was listed in the census records as living at home in Melmerby with her parents William and Mary Smith and five other siblings: John, William, Jane, Elizabeth and Lancelot. Ann would have been 21 years old at that time.

In July 1847, Ann married Benjamin Dobson in Melmerby Parish Church. Benjamin had a small farm of 11.5 acres; I think the farm was in Patterdale, Westmorland, although that is not certain. (Curiously, he was born in Southwark, London although his parents lived in the West Ward of Westmorland both before and after he was born.) Although Patterdale is in Westmorland, it is quite close to Penrith and, therefore, to Melmerby.

In this map, Penrith is in the upper right hand corner. The red line is the border between Cumberland to the north and Westmorland to the south. Patterdale is at the south end of Ullswater, one of the famous lakes in the Lake District.

In the 1851 census, Ann with her husband Benjamin Dobson and two young daughters (Margaret aged 2 and Mary aged 5 months) were visiting the Smith family in Melmerby. In the same census of 1851, Benjamin’s brothers Lancelot and Hiram, sister Caroline and his mother Margaret Dobson were all recorded as living in Patterdale. (Benjamin’s mother Margaret and her husband Lancelot Dobson had about eight children, some born in Southwark, London, and others in Westmorland).

In 1857, Ann was given £140 in her father’s Will of 1857. (Each of  her sisters received the same legacy.) This was a significant amount of money then. One estimate is it would be worth about £12,260 in terms of today’s standard of living. I imagine this money was very helpful to Ann.

The first big question I have is: where were Benjamin, Ann, Margaret and Mary in 1861? In the census for that year, they were not in Patterdale although Benjamin’s siblings Lancelot, Hiram and Caroline, as well as his mother Margaret, were still there.

The second question:  when (or where) Ann or Benjamin did die? Dobson was quite a common name in mid- to late-nineteenth century Northern England – particularly in Yorkshire and Durham  but also in Westmorland – and there are too many Ann Dobsons and Benjamin Dobsons in the civil registration records for reliable identification. I thought Benjamin had died in 1866 but now I am unsure. Possibly the Dobson family was not in Northern England, in which case their identification in the English civil registration lists is even more difficult.

Information I have been given (but have not fully verified) is that Ann and Benjamin had four children: Margaret (born September 1848), William (born May 1849), Mary (born October 1850) and Jane (born August 1855). I believe all the children were born in Patterdale.

Having searched diligently for any of the Dobson family members in the 1861, 1871 and 1881 censuses in England, I found none of them – which is odd. Further searches for Benjamin, Ann, Margaret and Mary Dobson in other records (e.g., emigration records, US and Canadian censuses and civil registration records in Ireland and Scotland) have all proved fruitless. So, where were the Dobsons?

What is even odder is that I think Ann’s daughter Mary Dobson re-appeared later. She was a small baby when visiting her grandparents in Melmerby in March 1851. But the next time I can maybe identify her is in 1891, when she was 40 years old. This raises another question: where was Mary living for the previous four decades? The most likely answer is: living in another country. But where?

In 1891, there was a Mary Dobson, born in Patterdale, who was unmarried and living with an aunt and uncle, Rebecca and Joseph Alcock in Threlkeld, which is west of Penrith and in Cumberland. Joseph Alcock was a master shoemaker and his wife Rebecca was a younger sister of Benjamin Dobson. So, unless Rebecca had two nieces called Mary Dobson, both born in or around 1850 in Patterdale, I think this Mary must be the daughter of Benjamin and Ann Dobson.

Rebecca Alcock died in Threlkeld in 1897 at the age of  80. In the 1901 census, Mary was still living in Threlkeld with her uncle Joseph, by then a retired shoemaker. Joseph died in 1904, aged 87. Mary stayed in Threlkeld and appears in the 1911 census living on private means, aged 60 and unmarried. So I assume she inherited the house and some money from her uncle Joseph. Mary died in 1922, aged 72, in Penrith civil registration district (which would include Threlkeld).

This is a very incomplete story about Ann Dobson, her husband Benjamin and her daughters Margaret and Mary. I hope I can improve it over time. More records may become publicly available. I do not believe Ann had any direct descendants but possibly someone better acquainted with the Dobsons than I am can add more information to this story.

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