Census returns for James Henry Bensley, 1841-1861.
To find out more about Harry, we have to begin with a married woman named Susannah Elmer. Susannah was born Susan Ringer in Snetterton, Norfolk, in 1839, the daughter of James and Mary Ringer, but had already adopted the name Susan Elmer when she married William Elmer, a groom, in 1857, suggesting that she may have already been living with him before the marriage, which was recorded under both names.
Susan and William had a daughter, Louisa (1859), but appear to have separated soon after. By 1871, Susan—now styling herself Susannah Elmer—was living at Church Row, St. Mary, Thetford, Norfolk, and making her living as a hat maker. She had three more children, James (1865), Edgar (1867) and Ellen Mary (1870). She was still listed as married but was also listed as head of the household.
Ten years later, Susannah (still listed as married—William Elmer eventually died in Thetford in 1887, aged 54) and her family were living with Harry Bensley in Castle Street, Thetford. Harry, born in Stonham Aspall, Suffolk, on 20 May 1839, the son of James (1804-1840) and Jemima Bensley (1803-1842), was baptized James Henry Bensley at the local Anglican church on 23rd June. He was listed as Henry James Bensley in the 1841 census (it was common to reverse names shared between parents and children) and was living with his mother and three siblings: Robert (c.1832), Thompson (c.1835) and Mary Anne (b. 30 May 1836). Thompson also died in 1842, aged 8. Robert can be found in the 1851 census working locally as an agricultural labourer but I've found no later trace. Mary Ann (15) and Henry (12) are both to be found in the local Workhouse at Barham that year.
James Bensley, aged 22, is to be found in the 1861 census serving as an Ordinary Seaman in the Royal Navy. At the time, he was at sea serving on HMS James Watt.
Susannah Elmer, census records 1861-1881.
There seems to be no further trace of him until, as Harry, he is listed in the 1881 census as head of a household that includes Susannah Elmer. At that time he was working as a labourer at a saw mill and the pair had two young children, Harry Bentley (sic) Elmer (1876) and Alice Bensley Elmer (1878). Harry Bensley eventually married Susannah in Thetford in 1884. Whilst Louisa and James were living with their mother, 14-year-old Edgar had been consigned to the Union Workhouse as a pauper.
Edgar managed to survive and later worked as a labourer; he was living with his brother, James, in Magdelan Street, Thetford, by 1891. James married and moved to Brandon, Suffolk, where he had at least eleven children. Louisa, meanwhile, had a daughter, Lily Emma Elmer, in 1880. She married John Loynes in 1885 and had at least eight more children.
By 1891 Harry senior's family were living in St. Giles Lane, Thetford, the household now consisting only of Harry, Susan and children Harry and Alice. Harry senior was working as a labourer in a wood yard; his son, aged 14, was an agricultural labourer.
In November 1890, Harry junior had found himself in trouble when he was brought before Bury St Edmunds Assizes on a charge of arson at Thetford. The crime was stack-firing—in this case setting fire to a number of stacks of barley, oat and hay—and although he admitted the charge, he was acquitted with a warning.
The next sighting of Harry is in 1898 when he marries Ipswich-born Kate Green in Thetford. His mother, Susannah, died a year later, in 1899, aged 59, and Harry, his father, died in 1902. In his later days, Harry senior was living with his step son, Edgar, who, by 1901, was married (to Mary) and a father of two (Edith Harriet and Charles Edgar), living at 39 Magdalen Street, Thetford. Edgar and Mary subsequently had a third child (Stanley Clifford). They remained in Thetford, Norfolk, where Edgar died in 1934.
Harry senior's death was registered in Croydon in 1902.
34 Woodside Avenue, Croydon, was, by 1901, where Harry Bensley junior was living along with his wife Kate and daughters Alice Susannah (1899; who married Joseph Sage in 1920; died in London in 1926, aged 26) and Lily Edith (1900, who married Thomas R. O. Watson in 1921; died in London in 1937, aged 36).
At Willesden, HARRY BENSLEY, 28, described as a labourer, with no fixed abode, was charged with obtaining various sums of money by false pretenses in 1903 and 1904. Bensley had been brought from Cape Town by the Kenilworth Castle by Detective-sergeant Cole, and Detective-inspector Pollard stated he was alleged to have obtained £7 10s. on April 24, 1903, and £58 10s. subsequently from John Sidney Bradley, living at Paddington, and £200 on April 10 last from Thomas Jordan, of Kensal-rise, on the representation that he was heir to a lot of property at Thetford, Norfolk. Mr. Grant remanded the prisoner.The case came to court in Willesden on 26 September 1904.