Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Harriet Smith, gentleman's wife

St James Church, Tong, built 1727
 © Copyright Humphrey Bolton
licensed for reuse under this CC Licence
Harriet Smith is one of those people whose story can only be told in terms of "daughter of..", "wife of...", mother of...". Anything we know of her character or actions has to be deduced or guessed.

She was born in Armley, near Leeds in Yorkshire, on 18 July 1817, the second daughter of James Smith and Martha Naylor. Her baptism in September that year took place in the Bethel Independent Chapel in Leeds. Her mother's family, the Naylors, were stonemasons from Pudsey, a market town between Leeds and Bradford. Her father's background is obscured by the difficulty of accurately tracing a name like James Smith.

Harriet married Ben Bentley in October 1839. The ceremony took place at St James church in the tiny village of Tong, chosen perhaps because it was mid-way between Pudsey and Ben's home town of Gildersome. Their first child, William, was born the following April. Perhaps Harriet had a miscarriage or still birth between William and her next child, Martha Ann, born in 1845. John Henry arrived in 1847, Alfred Pearson in 1849 and daughter Harriet in 1851. Then came a twelve year gap before Walter Smith was born in 1863.

I've described previously how Ben Bentley became a little too ambitious in making money and in 1856 found himself sentenced to four years penal servitude. He was in Portland prison in Dorset, on the south coast, from 1857 until December 1860. For his wife Harriet the whole experience must have caused both shame and anxiety. She would have had little or no opportunity to visit Ben so far away from Yorkshire. Did she miss him? Was their re-union a joyful one, or did Harriet take a while to come around to accepting Ben back into the marriage bed? We can only guess.

The death in 1861 of her daughter Martha, still in her teens, must have been a great sadness for Harriet. More sadness would have surrounded the bankruptcy in 1865 of her son William. Her first grandchild, as far as I can tell, arrived in 1870 with the birth of a son, James, to Alfred Pearson Bentley and his first (and only legitimate) wife Annie Reed. Several more grandchildren followed.

Harriet died in Dewsbury on 19 December 1876 at the age of 59. She was buried in the Soothill Nether cemetery at Earls Heaton, and the burial is recorded in the Dewsbury Quaker records. The record notes that she was "NM", not a member. Ben's burial, twenty one years later, appears in the same records without the "NM", so perhaps he was, or became, a member. Less than twelve months after Harriet's death he remarried.

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