Hannah Pollock’s adventures

Family historians who read this will realise how difficult my great-great-great-grandmother was to track down. She was Hannah Pollock, then Hannah Napier, then Hannah Short, then Hannah Napier again, then Hannah Rowney. With many variations in spelling.

Hannah Pollock’s birth, round about 1817, is a bit of a mystery. In some records she is said to be born in South Shields and in others in Scotland. When she married she named her father as Andrew Pollock, bottlemaker.

Map of the British Isles showing Leith, Thornaby and Walton on the Hill. Enlarged area shows North Shields, South Shields, Monkwearmouth and Bishopwearmouth.
The locations mentioned in this story (Map base from Google Maps)

There’s no mystery about Andrew Pollock, a Scottish bottlemaker. In 1796, in South Leith, he married Margaret Shotton, who lived in Leith, the port for Edinburgh. But her father, Ralph Shotton, was a mariner from “Shields”. The two ports at the mouth of the Tyne are North Shields, in Northumberland, and South Shields, in County Durham. There were many connections between South Shields and Leith involving maritime trade, and related to glassmaking, which used the sand ballast dumped by the boats.

There are some uncertainties about Ralph, who might have had a wife in both ports, but soon after marriage Andrew and Margaret came south along with Andrew’s brother (another bottlemaker), first to Walton on the Hill, in Lancashire, and then to South Shields. Their first child, Ellen, was baptised in Lancashire in 1797, and they baptised three more in South Shields, in 1804, 1807 and 1810. But there is no baptism for Hannah — born 7 years after their previous child — not in Scotland and not in South Shields. Margaret was 43 years old when Hannah was born, which is getting to the end of fertility, but her oldest child, Ellen Pollock, was 20. It’s possible that Hannah was Ellen’s biological daughter, raised by her grandparents. Ellen would go on to marry in 1827, and do very well — her husband became a grocer and their son became mayor of South Shields. The other daughter of Andrew and Margaret was too young to be Hannah’s mother, though she had a child out of wedlock in 1835.

The painting shows a rough river with a small boat being sculled towards steps up a stone wall. There are ramshackle wooden buildings onshore, partly suspended above the water. Other buildings appear in the distance, covered in mist.
The River Tyne, South Shields (1838), by John Wilson Carmichael. This is the area where the Pollocks and Napiers lived.

Hannah appeared to be doing well in life at first. In 1833, in Monkwearmouth, the port on the northern bank of the Wear near Sunderland, she married Robert Napier, a mariner, who turned shipwright in 1841, after the census. They lived in Monkwearmouth and had 5 children there. Hannah must have known how to care for children, because only one of these children died, the eldest, aged just 10 months, of cholera. However, in 1841, just five days after the birth of his youngest child, Robert Napier died, aged only 29. The death certificate identifies the cause of death as “contraction of the heart”, which presumably means that he died suddenly.

Old map of a town on a river.
Map of Monkwearmouth in 1835. In 1841 Hannah and Robert were living with their children in Hedworth Street, which is marked.

Hannah and the children appear to have returned to South Shields, where she would have had access to support from her family and also from Robert Napier’s family. Between 1844 and 1852 she gave birth to 5 more children in South Shields, all properly baptised and registered, and with the father’s name blank. The first of these was my ancestor (read about her wise choices here). Two of these children died in infancy.

In 1851 Hannnah was living — without a man — with her children in the worst area of South Shields, not far from her parents, Andrew and Margaret. I do not know whether one man was father of all the children born while she was a widow, but at a later stage, after leaving South Shields, most of them started using the surname “Dryden”. When my great-great-grandmother married, she identified her father as “Thomas Dryden, schoolmaster”. He was easily identifiable, living in South Shields with his wife and one daughter, in a rather better area than Hannah. It seemed very odd that the child of a schoolmaster would not be able to sign her name, and at first I assumed that Hannah had suggested a possible father, perhaps one of several candidates. However, I have some very small DNA matches with descendants of Thomas’s siblings, including with a descendant of one a brother who migrated to the USA in 1828, so it is possible that Thomas Dryden really was the father of all or some of Hannah’s children, including my ancestor.

A page of the census for South Shields. The address is 6 Cone Street, and the page shows 5 of the households living at that address. One of the households is Hannah Napier, age 33, with 5 sons and 1 daughter.
1851 England and Wales Census — Hannah living in Cone Street with 7 of her children

Then in 1854, Hannah married a bottlemaker called Peter Short. He was born in Newcastle upon Tyne of Irish parents, but had been living with his father and sister at Bishopwearmouth, where there were glassworks, and just across the bridge from Hannah and Robert in Monkwearmouth.

Hannah and Peter had their first child together later in 1854, in South Shields. In January 1855, Peter’s first wife turned up wanting money, and the two wives argued. Peter was convicted of bigamy and sentenced to 3 months. One newspaper report suggests that Hannah was aware he was married, though it is hard to see why she should take the risk of a bigamous marriage. Hannah and Peter had another child in South Shields in 1857 and at the time of the 1861 census had moved to Thornaby (then called South Stockton), in North Yorkshire. The Short household had Short children, Napier children, and Dryden children — in later life the Short and Dryden children would continue to vary their surnames. The house they were in would have been a huge improvement on a tenement in South Shields.

Soon after the census date, Hannah and Peter split up and Peter went back to the Monkwearmouth. And on 10 September 1862, Hannah — as Hannah Napier — married Andrew Rowney, another Irish bottlemaker, who really was a widower. They may have known each other for a long time, as in the 1840s he had lived with his first wife in South Shields, in the same area as Hannah lived while a widow. There is a community of bottlemakers who move around the same locations and intermarry.

Records of three marriages. An 1833 marriage is a transcript of the parish register. The 1854 and 1862 marriages are copies of the marriage certifcates.
Hannah’s three marriages

Hannah was healthy for just one month after marriage, before falling ill from “disease of the heart (11 weeks). Anasarca.” Anasarca is massive oedema all over the body. She was just 46 when she died on 17 January 1863.

Hannah’s surviving children ranged in age from 5 to 27, and after her death the younger children were cared for by some of the older ones. Thomas Dryden survived her by three years, dying, aged 61, in the South Shields workhouse infirmary of the consequences of “delerium tremens” — one of several alcoholic ancestors. Peter Short survived Hannah by many years, ending his days in the Sunderland Union workhouse in Bishopwearmouth, where he died in 1887, a few days before his 75th birthday. Andrew Rowney went to live with his married daughter and her family, in Thornaby, and died in 1875, before he was 60.

Most of Hannah’s children called one of their daughters “Hannah” and we have to praise her success in raising so many healthy children in difficult circumstances, and in keeping her children together and out of the workhouse. It’s sad that she died so young, at a time when she was living in a good house, with a man who might have given her some stability, I have had to invent her character for my novel, but I think the character I have invented is consistent with the facts of her life.