Maria Withers(1784 – 1854)


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Maria Withers was born in April or May 1784 at Rathfarnham, Co.Dublin, Ireland, where her father was serving as an officer in the army. Her father died before 1798 and her uncle Thomas Baker, her father's brother, died in 1798 leaving 1000 to each of the 5 children of Richard Withers, plus a further 10,000 in trust to be used to further them in life. The legacies to be paid when the children reached 21 or were married. The executors of Thomas Baker's will placed the legacies with the Attorney General and the children became Wards of the Court of Chancery, with their mother as guardian. In 1798 Maria and her brothers had come to London with their mother in connection with the declaration of the children as Wards of Court. They took lodgings with James Thomson, a baker, in St.Pancras. A short time after they went to stay with Thomson he discovered that Maria was heiress to a fortune, and despite the fact that she was only 14 and a Ward of Court determined to marry her, telling her that he had a fortune of 30,000 in Scotland, and that he would get this money and set up house at Greenwich and provide her with a Phaeton and Pair in which she could ride around Greenwich Park. It seems that the young girl was sufficiently impressed with the idea that she agreed to marry him. However, approaches to her mother fell on deaf ears so Thomson went to Doctor's Commons and, swearing that Maria was over 21, obtained a Marriage Licence, with which he secretly married Maria at St.PancrasChurch, having locked her mother and brothers in their appartment. Worried that this marriage might be declared void if her mother found out and raised the question of his lies to Doctor's Commons in obtaining the licence, he then published Banns for the following three weeks and married Maria again at St.Pancras three weeks later, again without her mother's knowledge until after the event. Maria said that initially he treated her well but after the second marriage he started to treat her badly, thinking that nothing could then be done about the marriage. Mrs Withers, however, made complaint to the Attorney General and Thomson was tried for swearing a false oath to Doctor's Commons, and for marrying a Ward of Court without consent either from the guardian or the court. He was committed to the Fleet Prison and then to the Marshalsea. Maria sought legal redress to get her marriage anulled but it seems that this did not happen. However she did not live with Thomson, but went on the stage as an actress and was sufficiently successful in this to be able to save a reasonable amount of money.  She then retired from the stage and seems to have gone to live in Bristol where her brother Samuel was living. There she married Matthias O'Hara, an Irish surgeon, and lived in Bristol. The 1841 Bristol electoral register shows they lived in Duke Street and the 1851 census shows the address as 12 Duke Street. The 1856 Post Office directory shows they were still living at 12 Duke Street. When Matthias died there were accusations made against Maria that her marriage to him had been bigamous because her marriage to James Thomson had never been ended, however, she was able to produce evidence that Thomson had died in the West Indies before her second marriage, and she won her case to administer O'Hara's will (1) (2).

Maria died as Maria O’Hara in a workhouse at CliftonBristol in December 1854.  In 1860 Maria's will was proved and probate granted, with limitations, to Samuel Hicks Withers nephew of Maria. In 1861 administration to the remainder of Maria's will reverted to the two Irish gentlemen who were the executors of her husband Mathias will.

(Sources: The King v Thomson (PRO), The Times newspaper)

The PRO papers also say that Richard Withers was previously Richard Baker but had changed his name at some point. The papers do not say why nor what his wife's maiden name was. The PRO papers give some details of the children of Richard & Susanna Withers, James, Henry (born c.1782), Richard (born c.1790). All three of these were witnesses in the Court Case, but not Samuel. However, Samuel Withers of The Butts, Bristol is referred to in The Times as a brother of James and Richard, and Henry lived in Bristol for a time. Henry died in 1806 at Tottenham Court Rd. unmarried. In 1851 The Times had an advert for the next of kin of Henry and gave some information on him, he had been in the Royal Navy. There were also some Times adverts seeking Richard & James and their next of kin presumably in connection with the inheritance that all the children had from their uncle Thomas. The information on the later life of Maria and the case against her re her second husband's will also comes from The Times.

The court case was reported and is contained in a book, an extract of which can be viewed here

The effects of this will were felt in 1863 at which time Samuel Hicks Withers was an executor and was mentioned in a court case referring to the will.