Monday, September 28, 2009

The Wife of His Youth: Elizabeth Beddoes

Old Map of St. Mary's Parish, Islington

Very little is known about Thomas Sutherland’s first wife, Elizabeth Beddoes, who seems to have been eclipsed by the younger and—in all probability—more refined Grace Hogg. We do have the report of her death in The Scotsman: “Elizabeth Beddoes, wife of Mr. Thomas Sutherland, Tailor, died in the 64th year of her age, at Edinburgh on 22nd August 1824.” Also surviving are the Canongate Burial guides, which record that August 23, 1824, Elizabeth Beddoes wife of Thomas Sutherland, Tailor, of Hill Place, died of bowel complaint.

But beyond the details of her death, she is a mystery. This is in all probability due in part to the fact that she did not participate in what would become the definitive act of the family, namely, relocating to Upper Canada. But it may also be due to the destruction of her eldest son’s papers, where she was most likely to be remembered. Alternately, Beddoes herself may not have corresponded with how the family wanted to preserve itself—not up to snuff, as the expression goes. Ultimately, we are left with conjecture.

We do know Beddoes was older than Thomas Sutherland by about a dozen years, and possibly a Quaker. While it may have been a love match, generally when a young man of the era married an older woman, it was because he was ambitious and she was settled (meaning beyond the flightiness of youth), and perhaps in possession of some financial security. Given that their first known child was born in March 1797, it has generally been assumed that they married in 1796. However, a September 25th, 1794 marriage record for a Thomas Sutherland, “batchelor,” and Elizabeth Beddowes, spinster, both of the parish of Saint Mary (in London), has survived. Sutherland’s signature does appear to match that preserved on another document, while Beddoes notably signs her name without the W inserted into the official record. Her signature seems labored, as if she was not a practiced writer, unsurprising for the time. No further information is provided about them, excepting that they were married by license, and the event witnessed by James Sutherland and John Powells (the latter appears to be someone habitually pulled in when a witness was required).

Soon after, they must have relocated to Edinburgh, as their son, Thomas Sutherland, Jr., reported in at least two different censuses that he was born there. What did Beddoes think of this? What was involved in a 34-year-old woman agreeing to marry a 22-year-old sailor-tailor and move countries? Perhaps she had a desire for adventure; perhaps the young TS “cut a dashing figure.” But when we come right down to it, I’m inclined to believe she was a highly pragmatic woman. For one thing, TS himself valued such qualities. But more to the point, at the time the options for a single woman of little means were exceptionally limited, and they would diminish as she aged. Marriage was—literally—a lifeline for many.


  1. Just a nod and a hello - I came across your blog because of Field Talfourd, but now I'm here it all looks interesting! I look forward to exploring.

  2. I have much much more on the Talfourds, I simply haven't had time to post. I will try to get something up soon.

  3. Hi there! I came across your blog while doing some research on Elizabeth Beddoes. I am a great-great-great-great grandson of Thomas Sutherland and Grace Hogg. I am just starting to read your posts - have not gotten through all of them but I'm amazed and thrilled to read them. How did you get an interest in Thomas?

    I'm an amateur family genealogist and this is so exciting to discover!

    You've written a paper about Thomas? Is it available to read? My email is Would love to see what you've had to say about him and his life!

  4. I hate to post again but I just read through your posts and I feel I need to amend my above comment. Perhaps I'm the descendant of Thomas Sutherland and his FIRST wife, Elizabeth. We have copes of the history Winning wrote about our family (she and my great-grandfather were first cousins). I've always found the information concerning Thomas' marriages a bit odd, but mostly attributed them to mistyping on the writer's fault.

    I am a descendant of Thomas' son George. He was a unique individual, three times married (two of his wives were sisters of each other). I also have some information on the painting of Grace and her daughter. There have been several copies floating around.