William Smithson CORTIS practiced medicine in Filey for over ten years. In that time his wife, Mary Jane née GREEN, gave birth to five children. Two of three sons survived into adulthood and both qualified as doctors. The elder, William Richard, blazed an adventurous trail to Australia and father, stepmother, brother, and two sisters duly followed him there. You may find a fourth son recorded in a British Census but “Albert” is a mistranscription of Herbert who, when not treating people for ailments, was thrilling those who turned up at cycle racing tracks in the early 1880s. Herbert Liddell CORTIS became widely recognized as the greatest cyclist of his generation and was still being remembered as such forty years after his death.
William Richard had a longer life, dying at 61 in Perth, Western Australia, at the beginning of 1909. He packed a great deal into his span – a shipwreck, fighting in a war, owning racehorses, becoming an MP, giving evidence in murder trials and being charged with an unlawful killing himself. He married three times and none of his brides were Anne Barnby HILL.
Blame “the system”! Humans make mistakes like this too, of course. When I happened upon this marriage a couple of days ago I was quite prepared to accept it. The Australia connection fooled me initially but I went back to old notes and recently donated information and began to find more credible pieces of the Cortis Family jigsaw.
Titanic was not the first White Star Line vessel to hit an iceberg. In 1864 one of the company’s first steam-powered sailing ships, Royal Standard, got into a scrape in the South Atlantic. The people onboard lived to tell the tale, the ship making her way to Rio de Janeiro for repairs and then returning to Liverpool, her home port. The ship’s luck ran out in October 1869 when she was wrecked on the coast of Brazil. William Richard Cortis, on his way to Australia, was among the survivors.
William returned home rather than continue his journey to the antipodes and within a year had married Mary Julia MOORE in Camberwell. The newlyweds almost immediately sailed for the Australian Colonies but Mary Julia soon died in Tambaroora of tuberculosis, aged 23.
On 15th January 1873, William married Florence FYANS, daughter of the late Captain FYANS (4th King’s Own Regiment and formerly Commissioner of Crown Lands for the Western District, Victoria), at Christ Church, St Kilda, Melbourne. By the time William is reckoned to have married Anne Barnby Hill, Florence had borne one son and was pregnant with another. They would go on to have nine children together – and then divorce about 1905.
I haven’t found any evidence that William took up with a younger woman while still married to Florence but, as he approached sixty, Edith (family name not yet found) became the doctor’s third wife. On the 5th October 1908, The West Australian was reporting her funeral “in the Anglican portion of the Karrakatta Cemetery”. The screen image of the death notice is too heavily printed to be sure but, aged 23 or 28, Edith died well before her time.
(Family Notice via Trove.)
Within three months, William Richard Cortis was also dead. On the 6th January 1909, The Geraldton Express reflected on “A Varied Career”.
Dr. William Richard Cortis died suddenly yesterday at the W. A. Club. He was over 60 years of age, and during his career had been a prominent surgeon, legislator, soldier, and magistrate. During the past six or eight months he acted as Resident Medical Officer at Kookynie. He came to the city about a month ago, having obtained leave. For two or three years he held the position of Resident Magistrate and Medical Officer at Derby. The post-mortem examination revealed the fact that the cause of death was angina pecoris (sic), and although the deceased had taken a quantity of morphia to alleviate the pain, this had nothing whatever to do with his end. Deceased was a man of fine physique, but during the last year he was overtaken by a trouble which no doubt undermined his health, and this was accelerated by the recent death of his wife, which preyed on his mind. Last year, while Resident Magistrate and Medical Officer at Derby, he was called upon to stand his trial on three separate occasions for the alleged unlawful killing of a man named Gerald Ascione.
William Richard’s short-term in Government is officially recognized here.
My thanks to Elizabeth Kennard (USA) and Peter Donkin (Australia) for kindly offering information on the Cortis Family that might otherwise have remained hidden from me. I have several more leads to follow and hope soon to make the necessary corrections to the pedigree on FamilySearch. I won’t be at all surprised to discover that the William who married Anne Barnby HILL and William Richard are cousins with a recent common ancestor just three generations back in north Lincolnshire. CORTIS isn’t a common name.