Family Misfortunes

Something pushed William HUNT from his birthplace in deepest Lincolnshire and across the Humber; and then perhaps he was pulled a little further north to Scarborough. He married Jane Elizabeth ROBINSON there in 1869. She had also moved north from her birthplace in Hull, but only about forty miles, a third of the distance William had travelled from Wainfleet.

The census enumerator in 1871 found them in Hoxton Road, a narrow street of terraced houses not far from Scarborough Prison and the Workhouse. William, 23, was working as a plumber and glazier; Jane Elizabeth, 28, had William Henry, approaching his first birthday, to care for.

A second boy, Charles, was born in Scarborough shortly after the census but the family then moved a few miles south to Filey, where first daughter Martha Ann arrived on 24 August 1872. She was followed by brothers John Robinson and Alfred late in 1873 and 1874.

When the census was taken in 1881, the Hunt household contained five children, but John Robinson and Alfred’s places had been taken by Jane Davison and John Alfred Harold. The missing boys had died within days of each other in January 1875. I couldn’t find a cause but suspect one caught a childhood disease, perhaps scarlet fever, and gave it to the other. The worried parents baptized Alfred at the Ebenezer Chapel on the thirteenth. John Robinson died a day or two later and was buried on the sixteenth. Alfred followed him to the grave on the twentieth, after just 9 weeks of life.

A year after the 1881 census a third Hunt child was taken in the most distressing of circumstances. Newspapers couldn’t agree on where the coroner’s inquest was held but were otherwise on the same page.

On the same day, the Scarborough Mercury, offered this:-

DEATH FROM AN OVERDOSE OF SWEET NITRE

On Saturday last an inquest was held at the Crown Hotel, Filey, before Mr. J. M. Jennings, on the body of Martha Ann Hunt, aged nine years, who died very suddenly on Friday. The mother said that she only gave her daughter two small spoonfuls of sweet nitre. She had purchased one ounce and the remainder was in the bottle. The medical officer said that there was about six drachms left and that two drachms had been given to the child. The jury returned a verdict that deceased “Died from an overdose of sweet nitre incautiously administered by its mother.”

The verdict must have put a terrible burden of guilt upon Jane Elizabeth. New England Popular Medicine (1848), accessible on Google Books, says: –

…The dose is from one to two drachms. A tea-spoonful may be given, every two hours, in a severe fever, in water or in any other simple liquid. The sweet nitre relieves spasms and nervous strangury.

The book also states: –

There is hardly a medicine in more common use than the sweet spirit or spirits of nitre, nor one which is more deservedly popular.

A hundred years or so after Martha Ann’s death, the American FDA banned the over-the-counter sale of sweet spirit because its use had become associated with fatal methemoglobinemia.

The loss of three children was more than enough to persuade the parents to move away from Filey. FamilySearch offers evidence that the Hunt family crossed the Atlantic aboard the City of Chester in 1888. Two of the children married in the United States and the Shared Tree shows that William and Jane Elizabeth had at least five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Sadly, they endured another loss in America. Firstborn William Henry died in New York at the age of twenty-one. The span of the parents’ lives – and details of their forebears – have yet to be determined.

Mark of Man 50 · Crab Pot

Filey Brigg