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Ellen Martha Anderson/Edgar

(1838-9 January 1873)






If my fantasy about her mother’s birth is right, Ellen Martha A (ca1838-73)(CR) was named for her maternal natural and adoptive grandmothers. She was still living with her parents in 1861 and it was at Mount Rosa that she married Donald Ramsey Edgar (DRE)(1838-1903) in 1865. He was the son of Scots-born, Halifax-based banker, Robert Edgar (1812-98). Robert was manager of the Halifax and Huddersfield Union Bank, which, in 1864, was described as having an exceedingly beautiful interior (below), arguably unsurpassed in the country. Oh, for the days when beautiful buildings were of value, particularly to banks. When Robert died, his house and a portfolio of shares were sold by auction within a month of his death. Probate was awarded to an architect and a lawyer, there was no mention of DRE.

Edgar fils was a drysalter. Wikipedia tells us "drysalters were dealers in a

range of chemical products, including glue, varnish, dye and colourings. They might supply salt or chemicals for preserving food and sometimes also sold pickles, dried meat or related items. The name drysalter or dry-salter was in use in the United Kingdom by the early 18th century when some drysalters specialised in the manufacture of dyes, and it was still current in the first part of the 20th century". In the later part of the C19th, a new chemical process (that was an unexpected outcome from otherwise unsuccessful scientific enquiry) saw the advent of brightly coloured aniline dyes from coal tar. Prior to this, textiles were dyed using natural colouring agents. So, not only did DRE deal in dyes, he also applied the chemistry to make and use them to colour wool.

Ellen and Donald

      Robert            Donald Anderson               Albert Edward               Edith Blanche

   (1867-77)             (1869-1916)                    (1870-72)                   (1872-1937)

I will candidly admit I have taken a wholly irrational antipathy to DRE. Thrice married to women of independent means (1865, 1874,

1885), he was also thrice bankrupt (1869, 1873, 1891). His marriage to her sister, Elizabeth, took place 18 months after Ellen's death. His third, to another Ellen, 24 year old Ellen Rolfe, daughter of renowned artist, Henry Leonidas Rolfe, was three years after Elizabeth's death. In 1877, a third Anderson woman, his mother-in-law Martha, died under his roof.

A newspaper report of his final bankruptcy, headed A Rawdon dry salter’s third failure, gave his liabilities as £4,465/2/9 and his assets

£379/11/11. The article explained his problem was that he spent more than he earned. He had arranged his affairs so that the household assets were the property of his wife and he “does not propose to make any offer to his creditors”. In 1892, however, The London Gazette (16 February 1892) lists a first and final payment by DRE, (“Cliffe Cottage, Rawdon (near Leeds)), and carrying on business at the Swan-arcade, Bradford”) of one shilling seven and a half pence in the pound to creditors (for younger readers, there are twenty shillings in a pound). He lived as a ‘gentleman’ while supporting his lifestyle on credit. Bankruptcy did not appear to be a social impediment. In 1878, he was admitted to the Freemason’s Lodge of Harmony in Bradford. There were regular newspaper reports of him rising through the ranks of regiments of various Yorkshire Volunteer corps, retiring as a Lieutenant-Colonel in 1892. These volunteer forces had been established to supplement regular army resources in the defence of England's eastern coastline. He died on the Isle of Wight in 1903. Both his children had already migrated to South Africa.

Ellen’s brief married life in Halifax was, not to put too fine a point on it, miserable. In those seven and a half years, she gave birth to four

children, one of whom died while she was heavily pregnant with her daughter. She had contracted a disease that becomes progressively worse over time and must have been symptomatic during at least one of her pregnancies. The cause of her death was ulceration and stricture of the bowel coupled with exhaustion (Mr Google links the condition with Crohn’s Disease). Symptoms include pain, cramps, bloating, nausea, vomiting and constipation; strictures can lead to perforation of the bowel. Even today, the condition is difficult to treat. Her baby daughter was six months old.

I hope that DRE was a charming man to compensate Ellen for her physical misery. He must have had something to stay afloat and be

well regarded through decades of business and financial chicanery. I suggested earlier that Ellen’s sister, Elizabeth (DRE’s second wife) may have been in the house, perhaps helping with the children, during Ellen’s ordeal. If so, and the memory had remained strong when she herself became ill some years later, avoiding anything like her sister’s suffering may provide a reason for Elizabeth’s suicide. While visiting the V&A’s exhibition on sustainable fashion in 2018, I read in a display that early use of aniline dyes had severe ill-health consequences - could Ellen and/or Elizabeth have contracted associated fatal conditions? Of all the conditions offered by Mr Google, none are gastrointestinal so his occupation cannot be shafted home to DRE as the cause of his wives’ deaths. In any event, it is unlikely that he, personally, was on his factory floor or that his wives came in contact with the toxic elements of his occupation. Ellen was the second of David and Martha’s daughters to predecease her parents.

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