Brief Wives

For hundreds of years, women who married inshore fishermen woke each day wondering if they would be a widow by nightfall.

Charles Dickens wrote about one Filey woman who lost her husband to the sea and searched for his body for three months (see A Loving Wife).

Available sources indicate that Elizabeth SPYVEE was 51 years-old when she married Richard RICHARDSON, so the suggestion that they had a child in their four years and eight months together has to be queried.

Born in 1816, Mary ROBINSON may have known Elizabeth, or at least have heard her story. Mary married Richard Anderson CAMMISH in September 1843 when she was 26 years old. Her headstone in St Oswald’s churchyard tells us that he left home one June morning and didn’t return.

Sacred to the memory of MARY CAMMISH, who died on 28th Nov 1882, in the 66th year of her age. She was for 35 years bathing attendant at Filey.

Her husband RICHARD ANDERSON CAMMISH, to whom she was married only 9 months, was drowned at sea and his body never recovered.

This stone was erected by the subscriptions of visitors and residents of Filey as a mark of respect for one who was in every way worthy of it.

In this instance, “written in stone” doesn’t mean that all facts presented are true. The marriage ended after just 155 days.

Richard was skipper of Jerome, a two-masted lugger built in Scarborough by Thomas SMITH in 1838 and purchased in July that year by Jerome VASSALI, a jeweller. An account of the sudden storm can be found at the Scarborough Maritime History website. (Scroll down to the seventh paragraph.)

The two recovered bodies were taken to Filey and buried at St Oswald’s on the 27th. John COWLING junior and Thomas WISEMAN have footholds on the FamilySearch Shared Tree but neither has a memorial in the churchyard.

Widow Mary chose not to marry again and appears to have been self-reliant. I doubt bathing attendants were well-paid but maybe the Vassali family helped out. Roman Catholic immigrants from Switzerland, they appear to have established branches in several Yorkshire towns. Their families are not easy to assemble. A Jerome Vassali aged 38 is a jeweller and master jet manufacturer employing 12 men in Scarborough in 1861 but I haven’t been able to establish who his parents are yet. If he is the son of shipowner Jerome his mother was born Jane ANDERSON and may therefore be related by blood to Richard Anderson Cammish. Captain Syd’s database indicates that Richard’s predecessor as skipper of Jerome was John FELL. A fisherman with that name married Richard’s sister Mary in 1830 and died in 1841 aged 33. Perhaps the respect afforded his widow derived more from a connection to the relatively wealthy “foreigners” than from her service as a bathing attendant.

Beach 131 · Reighton Sands

Scoured out

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