Richard Bettison was my great great grandfather. He was born and brought up just outside Liskeard in Cornwall where, apart from a brief spell in the 1870s when he was in the Durham area, he spent the best part of his long life.
My great grandmother Lily was his daughter and she had two sisters and a brother who died aged one in 1881. I remember Lily and her husband George as a boy. By the late 1950’s early 1960’s they were in their eighties, retired and living in south Devon. My recollections of Lily was of a fairly strict lady who always liked a kiss from her young great grandson! Some years after her death I discovered that she never discussed her side of the family on any occasion. Her children, my great uncle, great aunt and my grandmother knew nothing of their mother’s side of the family.
I have just discovered why Lily never discussed her family and why, until very recently, we knew nothing about the Bettisons (or Bettinson – the variance of spelling changes during the 1890s and into the 20th century).
It turns out that her father, Richard Bettison, was a vile cruel man to all the little girls. This is exposed now in shocking news archive that I have just revealed.
It is a lesson for us all whilst we are going about our family history research – and that is to be prepared for the worse. The worst possible news could pop up at anytime as indeed it did for me completely out of the blue.
On the 2nd of December, 1887 The Royal Cornwall Gazette reported the ghastly truth of my great great grandfather’s behaviour towards his little daughters. It reveals how he violently abused them and how my great grandmother’s sister, aged nine years old, was not only physically but probably mentally damaged by this vile man. How she had to go through the trauma of appearing in court and having her name and age printed in the press. All the little details in the news item, including Bettison’s job, my great grandmother’s sisters age and name and the number of girls match exactly to my family history research.
The transcript of the events in court is below. It is disturbing reading. Historically it is quite eye opening in fact as it shows how not only the legal system but also society as a whole handled the abuse of children by their parents during the Victorian era. When I read this for the first time I was shocked beyond belief. I am deeply saddened of events 127 years ago that this should have happened at all. I am completely crushed that this should have happened to my great grandmother who I knew and remember. No wonder she never discussed her family.
Royal Cornwall Gazette, Friday, 2nd of December, 1887:
A Cruel Father.
Richard Bettison the worker of a steam crane on the railway, was charged with having on the 1st of November assaulted his child, Sophia Bettison, aged nine years.
The proceedings were the instigation of the Truro Board of Guardians, and Mr. Richards appeared to conduct the case for the board.
The defendant pleaded guilty to the charge. The child, Sophia, having been called, stated that on the 9th of November she did not do what she was told and her father beat her with a rope while naked. On the following Friday she ran away because her father threatened to beat her again. She then proceeded to the workhouse where she has been since.
Mrs. Bray, matron at the workhouse, gave her evidence of the child’s appearance at the gate of the house on the evening in question, and have her admission of her stating that she was afraid to go home as her father beat her. She was examined the next day, and the bruises on her back were frightful. They extended across her shoulders, which was scarred and had blood on them, and her legs were also bruised very much. Some of the scars remained on her at the present time.
Dr. Quicke, a medical officer at the workhouse, said he examined the child on the Saturday and found marks of severe and cruel beating over the shoulder and arms of the child, and the skin had been broken in some places, although there was no fresh blood then, the child having been previously washed. The wounds looked as if they had been caused by a small cane or rope, and the child said her father had flogged her with a rope.
The defendant here produced the rope with which he said he beat her.
The bench last if the beating was severer then necessary, to which a Dr. Quicke replied certainly.
Mr. Richards said it was only right that he should says that this was the third child of the defendant who had presented itself at the workhouse voluntarily under similar circumstances during the year.
The bench send defendant to prison for one month with hard labour.
My great grandmother Lily lived happily into her eighties and my memory of her although I was very young at the time will remain with me forever. Being born in 1877 she and her husband who was about the same age were a direct link with the Victorian era and I only wish I was a little older to have had the guts to ask them more about their lives particularly after they married in 1901. Lily died in 1962 a year after her husband.
I am still researching her side of the family history. I discovered that her only brother died aged just one year. I am not quite sure at this stage what became of the other two sisters, but I believe that Sophia sadly only lived until her late teens and died not far from Liskeard in about 1897.
Richard Bettison, my great great grandfather and the man who caused so much damage to the lives of these little children as far as I know lived into his late eighties and died in the late 1930s.
I will revise this page as and when I have more verified researched information.