William Edwards, a shrimper from Margate and Maria Harcour from Bombay

William Edwards was a fisherman, shrimper and labourer and lived in Margate, Kent. He was born 22nd October 1804 in St Laurence, Kent and baptised in the local church 18.11.1804.

William Edwards baptism 1804 St Laurence, Kent

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He married  (by banns) Maria Harcour, 26th August 1829 at the Parish Church of
St John’s in Margate. The wedding was witnessed by the Parish Clerks rather than family or friends. Perhaps this indicates an opposition to the marriage?  Or perhaps the Parish Clerks were the only people that day who could write and were therefore the only people allowed to sign as witness to a marriage where two people signed by their mark?

Maria Harcour and William Edwards marriage cert

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According to the 1851 census, Maria was born in Bombay, East Indies c.1811 (the 1841 census notes her as ‘Foreign born’).

I’d like to know who Maria’s parents were? Was Maria British? How did she end up married to a shrimper in Margate?

I searched the IGI for a birth and found no reference for a ‘Maria Harcour’ born in India. Maria signed her mark on her marriage certificate so I have to assume she was illiterate (or perhaps pretending to be in order not to show up her illiterate husband..?!) and so her surname may have be misspelt or misheard by the writer.

Perhaps her name was Har Kaur?

Her daughter’s birth certificate (Sarah Ann Edwards) gives Maria’s surname as ‘Hacker’. I’ll need to order her other children’s birth certificates to gain a consensus but in the meantime, I searched the IGI for anyone called ‘Maria’ or ‘Marie’ (omitting a surname) born in India between 1800-1815.

I found the following with surnames similar to ‘Harcour’ or ‘Hacker’:

  1. Maria Hawker, Birth Date: 05 Aug 1815 Christening Place: Quilon, Madras, India, Christening Date: 30 Sep 1815, Father’s Name: Frederick Hawker, Mother’s Name: Mary.
  2. Maria Margaret Harcourt, Birth Date: 24 Apr 1806, Christening Place: Bellary, Madras, India, Christening Date: 13 May 1806, Father’s Name: Hillary Harcourt, Mother’s Name: Margaret Torriano.
  3. Maria Hasker, Birth Date: 12 Mar 1816, Christening Date: 27 Nov 1825, Christening Place: Vizagapatam, Madras, India, Father’s Name: William Hasker, Mother’s Name: Cawder Bee.

None of them show birth dates in Bombay but perhaps Maria was born in Bombay and christened in Madras (a trading post and naval base). These are the closest references I could find in both name, place and date. 

I don’t think ‘Maria Margaret Harcourt’ is our Maria as Maria Margaret was married in 1832 to a John Stow and her father was given as Capt Hillary Harcourt Torriano of the East India Company Madras Engineers. I’ve as yet been unable to find further info on Maria Hawker and Maria Hasker. If one of these two are Maria Harcour then she would have wed age either 14, or 13 respectively. William wed age 24.

It was possible for a girl to marry at 12 and a boy at 14. Even if the parents disagreed with the decision, there were legal ways in which the marriage could take place such as calling banns in a different parish to that which they belonged.

Perhaps Maria had been married before and wed in her married name? The marriage entry says she was a spinster but it’s known that sometimes info given at time of marriage may be incorrect for any number of reasons. 

At the time of Maria’s birth The East India Company held rule in India. Her father could have been any among civil servants, military personnel (most regiments served in India at some point), mariners, medical staff, chaplains, railway workers, law officers, merchants, planters, free mariners, and missionaries.

Only a small number of British military men stationed in India could bring their wives and many men would marry in India (both English and local women) though marriage with Indian women became less common after 1830.

Some young British women would travel the 5 months to India to try and bag themselves a husband amongst the East India Company men. Perhaps Maria’s mother was one of these hopefuls. 

I guess it’s possible Maria may have been Indian as some British took Indian servants back to Britain where many Indians laboured under European names. She may have been a ‘ayah’ ( domestic servant) or a nanny. According to the National Archives:

“This arrangement was attractive for many Asian women, as ayahs were not generally paid a wage, whereas travel of this kind involved a fee. However, although they were promised their passage back home, often they were left stranded, especially in London.”

 Domestic slavery continued in India into the 1840’s:

I think I’ll have to do a bit more digging before I can come to any conclusions. If anyone has any further suggestions I’d be interested to hear them.

William Edwards and Maria Harcour’s children and census records

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