Tragedy in Liverpool

Around 1900, a young Livepool family commenced a fifteen year connection with the Toxteth Workhouse and other poor law institutions before being dispersed across North America. Two Sandow girls, Mary Jane aged 11 and Grace aged 6, were brought destitute into the workhouse on 13th Apr 1899, their mother Mary sentenced to one month in prison. They described their mother as married, their father William a dock labourer. The couple, Mary Jane Whitehead and William (Henry John) Sandow, were teenage neighbours in Wolfe Street, Toxteth in 1881, living together in Lamport Street in 1891, then in Grafton Street with three children by 1896.  William was born in Dumbarton, Scotland in 1870, the son of John Sandow and Mary Jane Rea, his birthplace fortunately identifying him on several otherwise ambiguous documents. An orphan in 1881, William’s fosterparents were William Reside, a dock labourer, and Jane Rea. Jane died in 1888, and William Reside was living with Mary and William Sandow in the 1890s in Lamport St and Grafton St, identified as William’s stepfather. That should strictly mean that Jane Rea/Reside was his mother, but one can never be sure what step-relations actually mean in the census returns. In any case, Jane Rea and Mary Jane Rea declared different fathers at their marriages in 1861 and 1867 respectvely so they are hardly the same person. Both were born in Belfast, and some relationship, if any, might explain why William was with the Resides.

Street in Liverpool in 1890s

Street in Liverpool around 1910

Grafton Street with court houses down the alley. 1950s.

Liverpool family 1895.

The Crisis

There are no recorded signs of anything wrong in William and Mary’s family up to the birth of son William James in 1896. William was obviously still at home in 1895-96 for William James’ birth. Then something had gone seriously wrong by 1899 when Mary was convicted, the children neglected and taken into public care, and William had left. Mary’s first mention in the workhouse registers was for a minor injury requiring admission to the surgical ward for 3 days in 1898. The children were not involved, perhaps because her mother Mary Boyd (Boyle at the 1881 census) was living at home, now in Maynard Street. The next incident was the month in prison in April 1899, offence not known. The two daughters were admitted to the workhouse for five months but 3-year old William James is not mentioned so he was presumably looked after elsewhere. Her mother is at a different address (and now Mary Whitehead according to the children’s account, which might be hazy of course, and William Reside’s when his turn for the workhouse came after a stroke). Mary Sandow was admitted again in July 1899 for a foot injury requiring 5 days treatment. The children were not involved. On 30 Aug 1900, all three children were brought destitute to the workhouse by the police and admitted for a month. The home address is unchanged, but Mary’s mother (now unnamed) has moved again. A week later, the two daughters were admitted again for a month.

At the 1901 census the three children were all living in institutions. The girls were in the Nile Street Holy Trinity Industrial School for Girls, while William was in the workhouse itself. William was back in the workhouse for February 1903 with chicken Pox, now from the Richmond Lodge home. Again in 1906, he was admitted to the workhouse for two weeks. The 1911 census finds William, now 14, at a children’s home in Wavertree. The girls, 22 and 17, were not found anywhere. Nor was their mother or grandmother in any of the streets given.

Finally, Mary Sandow was admitted to the workhouse medical ward three times in 1916, in January, April and December, from different addresses, aged 41-46, no reference to the children as next of kin. She was still a charwoman, but was now the widow of William. She died there on 1 Jan 1917. Her death certificate gives her address as 92 Upper Canning St, one of the three addresses given to the workhouse. The cause of death was simply dementia, which could mean anything.

Toxteth workhouse, Liverpool

Richmond Lodge Home for Boys in 1900.

Toxteth Industrial School for Girls around 1900

Workhouse outing for boys around 1900

William Henry John Sandow

Mary had always described herself as married until 1916 when she said she was a widow. Young William James described his father as a deceased soldier in the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders when he married in 1919. However, William had never served in that regiment (checked with regimental records) and in fact he was living in Manchester until 1953. In 1901, William was living in Bolton (Lancashire) with a wife Rose, working as a railway constable. Whatever the cause, Mary was increasingly involved with authority and institutions, while William had left home.  In December 1906, working again as a stevedore, he married Emily Smith in Manchester, living together in Salford in 1911. He served in the merchant navy during the 1914-18 war, his ships including the SS Bourbon, the SS Manchester Corporation, and the SS Moorby. Emily died in 1920 and William married again in 1921, Sarah Vickers, who died in 1932. In 1939, he was living alone in Salford, still working as a dock rigger.

Wolfe Street, Toxteth, where both Mary and William were living in 1881

Liverpool Docks in the 1890s

SS Manchester Corporation

SS Moorby

The family’s Sandow ancestry

William Henry John’s ancestors came from Cornwall, the Sando/w/e homeland since about 1400, perhaps earlier. By 1800 they were beginning to migrate, especially from the Chacewater-Redruth-Blackwater area to newly opened mines in East Cornwall. His great great grandfather John Sandow (1768-1826) was born at Blackwater in 1768 and moved east to St Teath, where his grandfather John Sandow (1801-after 1851) married Alice Blake in 1830, raised a family there, and then moved to the lead mines of the Isle of Man before the 1841 census. Some of that family married on the island, sons James and Henry emigrated to Massachusetts in the USA, daughter Mary moved to Liverpool where she married John Renshaw in 1864 and lived in Toxteth Park until she died in 1892. Son John went to sea, marrying Mary Jane Rea in Liverpool in 1867. Their only child William Henry John was born at Dumbarton in 1870, after which there is no further sign of the mother Mary Jane. William’s father John was at sea again in 1872, steward and cook on the schooner Western Maid of Peel, Isle of Man, dieing there at Braddock in 1875. It is very likely that this Sandow family shares the same origins as my own family, our earliest common ancestors being Anthony Sandow (ca 1700-1742) and Gertrude Pengrowse (ca 1700-1786), married in 1728 at Kenwyn, Cornwall.

The Cornish mining landscape in the 1890s

The Manx mining landscape in the 1890s

The sequal

The daughters Mary Jane and Grace were last seen at the residential industrial school in 1901 where they would have learnt a trade and eventually been placed in suitable employment by The Toxteth Board of Guardians until they came of age. William James was still in a children’s home in 1911. According to family sources, he emigrated to Canada as an ex-serviceman after WW1. The girls were believed to have emigrated, Mary Jane to the USA and Grace to Canada, with no further news. However, William James did give his sister “Mae Sandow” as next of kin in 1915, with an address in New Hampshire, USA (not too far from her great uncles Henry and James Sandow in Massachusetts). The following sequence traces the girls in the USA for a few years, although the evidence is imprecise.

  • A Mae/May Sandow, born in England in 1890-93, entered the USA in 1909-1910 (US censuses 1920, 1930).
  • Mary Jane Sandow, referred to as Mae, was living in New Hampshire, USA, in or before 1915 (brother William James’ WW1 next-of-kin, the only positive record).
  • In 1910, a Grace Sandow, aged 16 (born 1894), born in England, crossed the Canadian border on her way to Vermont (close to our Grace’s great uncles in Massachusetts and our Mary Jane’s address in New Hampshire) – name, age and birth OK but vague.
  • Mae Sandow, aged 30 in 1920, born in England, immigrated in 1909, a hospital nurse lodging in Brooklyn, NY, USA (1920 census).
  • May Sandow, aged 37 in 1930, born in England, immigrated in 1910, a tea room proprietor, lodging in Brooklyn, NY, USA (1930 census).

The best interpretation of these sightings, if they are relevant, is that Grace and Mary Jane were shipped to Canada in a party of Liverpool workhouse children before 1910 (see William James’ story below), they both made their way to New England in 1909-10, where Grace is lost sight of. Mary Jane sent her New Hanpshire address back to Liverpool before 1915 and then moved on to Brooklyn, NY, by 1920 where we lose sight of her too after 1930.

William James Sandow in 1918, Merchant Seaman registration

Finally, William James was one of a large party of teenage boys destined to sail to Canada on the Empress of Ireland from Liverpool on 9 Feb 1912, but his name was taken off the passenger list (he was in the workhouse infirmary from January to May). He enlisted at St Helens for war service on 6 Feb 1915. Aged 19, he had been working as a farm labourer not far from Liverpool, and was posted to the Welsh Regiment as no. 24652. He was sent to France in April 1916, where he was shot in the foot and received a blow to the head from an enemy rifle butt in July. Disabled by his wounds, he was transfered to an agricultural labour company in Lancashire as no. 534785. In 1918 he registered as a merchant seaman (coal trimmer). On demobilization, he claimed and was granted compensation for his wounds. His first wife Margaret Carter died a few months after the marriage in 1918, leaving a newborn daughter Grace. He then married Sarah Jane Lyon a year later, the family growing to three children including Grace. Finally, they all sailed to Quebec, William leaving Liverpool on 12 Apr 1921 and Sarah with the three children on 4 Nov 1921, both on the Canadian Pacific Melita, with the intention of settling in Canada. In 1922 William reported their new address in Bellville, Ontario to British Army Records.

Useful websites



This entry was posted in family history, genealogy, Liverpool, Merchant Ships, Sandow, SS Bourbon, SS ManchesterCorporation, SS Moorby, Western Maid, Whitehead and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.