The Tragedies of the Sturgess Family

Author: Paul Thompson
Date published: 13/12/2019
© Paul Thompson

Losing a child is heart-breaking for any parent. No one wants to have to bury their offspring. But a hundred years ago, when medicine was much more primitive and only available to those that could pay, child mortality was high and having to bury a child that had dies because of illness was a common occurrence.

For the Sturgess family who lived in Golding’s yard, off of Cheap Street in Newbury, tragedy struck three times, but only one of those was of illness. Two of their seven children were killed in terrible accidents.

George Sturgess was born in Kintbury in 1862. In his young adult life, he worked on the farms around Kintbury until he met and married Sarah Watts, also of Kintbury, in 1883.

By the time of the census in 1891, Sarah and George who was now a carman were living in Gilbert Court, off Cheap Street in Newbury and had 4 children:

Rhoda Ann (born 1884)
Fanny (born 1886)
Elizabeth Harriet (Born 1888)
Sarah (Born 1889)
[Elizabeth Harriet was not listed on the 1891 census, but appears as a daughter on the 1901 census]

Life seemed good for the family despite the fact that they were poor, but over the next eleven George’s family was struck down time and again.

Sarah Sturgess
Little Sarah was the first casualty. In 1893 she caught Croup, a virus that can cause inflammation in the upper part of the windpipe and died on May 18th, 1893 at just 3 years old. She was buried in Newtown Road cemetery on May 23rd.

Link to her burial page:

Rhoda Ann Sturgess
Rhoda’s life was tragically cut short, but her death in 1894 was one of a selfless heroine.

She was born on June 3rd, 1884 when the family were still living in Kintbury. Later reports stated that she had been born with only one arm, so her life was going to be a struggle right from the start.

On the evening of Monday 5th March, Rhoda and her younger sister (it is not reported as to whether it was Fanny or Elizabeth) were playing on Cheap Street near Gas House Lane. The younger sister without warning dashed out into the path of a manure cart that was travelling along Cheap Street and ran between the horse’s hind legs. Seeing the danger her sister was in, Rhoda ran after her and succeeded in pushing her sister between the wheels of the cart, so its wheels passed safely either side of her. According to witnesses, Rhoda tried to run out of the other side of the cart but was not able to get clear in time and was run over the heavy wheel of the cart and died shortly after, though there were not broken bones and her skin was undamaged, apart from a graze on her shoulder and chin.

The inquest returned a verdict of accidental death and no blame for the death was placed on the driver of the cart or anyone else. Rhoda had given her life selflessly to save her sister.

Rhoda Ann Sturgess was buried in Newtown Road cemetery, but we do not know the exact date as the records for that period are unavailable.

Link to her burial page:

Ellen Sturgess
Just five years later, tragedy struck the Sturgess family once again.

By this time, George and his wife Sarah had had two more children:

Alfred Henry (born 1892)
Florence Annie (born 1897)

On August 29th 1899, Ellen was playing with her sister Fanny and other children in Golding’s Yard (still off Cheap Street) where the family now lived. Propped up against the wall in the yard was a large tyre that belonged to a timber carriage wheel.

Ellen’s sister Fanny, now aged 14, was a witness at the inquest and said that during the children’s games, the tyre was said to have fallen and struck Ellen on the head. The other children were also caught under the tyre but were unhurt, but Ellen was dead.

The surgeon who attended the scene said that once again, no bones were broken, just a depression of the skull, but on further examination, he found and reported that the shock of the tyre impact had been transmitted through the skull to the base of her neck where the skull has fractured all the way across and that this was the actual cause of Ellen’s death.

The coroner at the inquest told Ellen’s father that he sympathised with George at the second loss of a child as he had also been the coroner at Rhoda’s inquest.

Ellen Sturgess was buried in the cemetery on September 1st, 1899.

Link to her burial page:

Sarah Sturgess (the Mother)
For George, life did not improve. Just three years later on October 28th, 1902 his wife Sarah passed away after suffering a cerebral haemorrhage and from exhaustion.

Sarah Sturgess was buried in the cemetery on November 1st, 1902.

Link to her burial page:

Life goes on
George Sturgess lived on in Newbury until he died in 1936, aged 73, whilst living in Jubilee Road.

He was buried in Shaw Cemetery.

Information about the fate of the remaining children is not currently known.

Credits: Thanks to Jackie Groves for her assistance in providing the inquest documents and for confirming the family link between Rhoda and Ellen Sturgess from her own research.

Sources:Inquest reports - Certificates - Research by Jackie Groves

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