Some of those in our Victorian Lives database had parents with backgrounds that were more out of the ordinary than others. Alfred Preston was one. We meet Alfred’s mother, before Alfred had been born, in Bodmin Jail in November 1848. Mary Ann Preston, then aged 22, and her brother Thomas, a 19 year-old sawyer, were arrested and charged with possession of a stolen watch, flute case and other items. Mary was four feet eleven inches in height, with dark eyes, hair and complexion and able to read and write. The pair were acquitted at the Lent assizes in the following March.
They were fortunate as, at the next Lent assizes the year after in 1850, Mary Ann’s husband William Preston was found guilty of burglary and stealing 20 gold and silver watches from William Budge of Callington and a timepiece and three dozen watchchains from Josiah Wadge of the same town. He was sentenced to 15 years transportation. This crime had taken place in October 1848 and was clearly connected to the charge of possession laid against Mary Ann and her brother. However, William had absconded, fleeing to Jersey in the Channel Islands, where he had married Mary Ann back in 1846. He was eventually apprehended on Jersey in November 1849.
After her acquittal, Mary Ann had followed him to Jersey, where Alfred was born in July 1849. In the 1851 census the one-year old Alfred was found at Back Lane, Callington in the household of his grandmother Ann Deacon (no relation!) Mary Ann is there described as ‘married’ and working as a soap boiler. But there is also a ‘visitor’ – Henry Pomeroy, an agricultural labourer. Yet Mary Ann and Henry had got married in Devonport in January 1851, three months earlier. Were they keeping their marriage quiet? If the family story that Mary Ann’s first husband died in October 1851 at Gibraltar is true then she was still legally married to William Preston when she married Henry in January 1851.
After a spell as a mine labourer, Henry Pomeroy went into the growing market gardening business at Calstock, which boomed after the railway expanded the market for fruit from the Tamar Valley. On growing up, Alfred followed his step-father into market gardening. However, after marrying 18-year old Grace Barkle in 1873, Alfred and his wife left for the mining settlement of Moonta in South Australia. It’s not clear what he did there but, somewhat ironically, he was recorded in 1877 as the victim of larceny. The pair, now with five children, returned to Calstock in the mid-1880s, where he went back into the market gardening business.
Alfred wasn’t finished with the law however. In 1895 he was involved in a civil case in a dispute with his half-brother Samuel over disputed money after the dissolution of their fruit-growing partnership. Alfred lost the case. Nevertheless. he went on to have a long and relatively comfortable life, which ended in Calstock in 1936, when he was aged 86. Alfred left an estate of £442 (equivalent to £31,500 nowadays).
(Thanks to Barbara Schenck for unearthing the story of Alfred’s father’s criminal career and the details of Alfred’s later life.)