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Susannah Hastings

By Julie Smith

Susannah Hastings (1816-1869), was a spinster lady who was killed in a freak accident by her nephew Edward Hastings Forder. Originally arrested for murder Edward was found guilty of manslaughter. This is their story.

The story starts off a bit confusing but I am pretty sure I am following the same family. In order to try and clarify things I went forward another generation through one of Susannah’s brother’s line and have now linked the Hastings into our family tree! Not what I expected when I first looked at this last year! Very distant but on our tree nevertheless.

According to all three censuses that Susannah appears in, she was born in Great Yarmouth in 1816. However I have been unable to find any records of her baptism although I have found one for her sister Sarah Rebecca, mother of Edward Forder.

Baptismal records state that Sarah was baptised on 19 June 1822 and her parents were Joseph Hastings a shipwright/sail maker and his wife Susanna nee Pitcher. The couple had married in St Nicholas, Great Yarmouth on 17 May 1807 and although his parish was given as St Pauls, Deptford I believe he was born in Yarmouth.

As far as I can ascertain their other children included Joseph baptised on 16 May 1808 and died 5 months later in Oct, Susannah baptised on 26 June 1809, Joseph Pitcher on 7 October 1811, James Henry 10 February 1814, Mary Ann on 24 April 1816 and George Thomas on 31 August 1819.

Now either Susannah lied about her age and was in fact born in 1809 or there was an elder sister who died prior to 1816, however, I cannot find either a death or a second baptism for a Susannah Hastings within the appropriate timescale. Just to confuse matters Mary Ann’s year of birth ranges from 1816 to 1822 on the censuses!

I don’t think it makes a great deal of difference to my story and hopefully it will become clearer when we get to the 1861 Census which should confirm I am following the correct family.

So back to the beginning.

In the1841 Census, Susannah and Mary were living in Gaol Street working as milliners.  I have also found a Joseph Hastings aged about sixty living on South Quay with 21 year old George and 18 year old Sarah. Both men were listed as Shipwrights and I believe this to be Susannah and Mary Anne’s father and siblings.

By 1851 Susannah is living on her own in Broad Row and lists her occupation as milliner and dressmaker. Living next door is Edward Forder a hairdresser along with his wife Sarah Rebecca who is Susannah’s younger sister, and their son two year old Edward Hastings Forder who ultimately would cause the death of his Aunt Susannah.

Their sister Mary Ann is living in Colbys Road with their brother George Thomas Hastings and his wife and son. George is employed as a shipwright. Mary Ann does not give an occupation.

Another brother James is living with his wife and 4 children in Sherrington Buildings and his occupation is given as boat builder. Finally, who I believe to be the last of the surviving siblings, Joseph is living with his wife and their four children in Howards Buildings. His occupation is given as boat builder employing 2 journeymen and 2 apprentices.

According to the 1869 Post Office Directory it looks like the brothers worked together as there is a listing for Hastings Brothers Ship and Boat Builders, South Denes Road.

Sarah married Edward Homan Forder in 1846 and as far as I can tell they only had one child Edward Hastings who was born in Yarmouth on 24th August 1848 and baptised shortly after on 11 September.

It would seem that by 1861 all was not well in the Forder household as Sarah and Edward were not living together. Edward was living with his sister Martha who was a lodging house keeper, in Harrisons Buildings in the town. He was still employed as a hairdresser.

Sarah and her son Edward now 12  were living in 17 Market Row with her two sisters Susannah who is a bonnet maker and Mary Ann who gives her occupation as shop keeper. Sarah is also employed and is working as a milliner.

Although the census does not intimate that the ladies were sisters I am sure that they are from the same family mentioned at the beginning of this article, however, the years of birth do not tie up! Susannah has been consistent with her year of birth being 1816, however, Mary Ann’s year of birth is 1822 whereas Sarah’s is given as 1828!

On the 5th of January 1867, The Norfolk Chronicle reported the death of Sarah’s estranged husband Edward Harman Forder whose body had been pulled from the sea on Sunday 30th December 1866.

The article confirms that 5 years after the last census he was still living apart from his family.

Although the report makes no mention that this was nothing other than an accident, during reports of the death of Susannah is was intimated that “after a long career of dissipation (Edward) he committed suicide by drowning himself, and the son little profiting by this sad example, pursued an utterly reckless and abandoned course”.

Things did not get much better for Sarah as in Aug 1868 she was heading for bankruptcy. According to the Notice of Assignment she had a business in Market Row where she was working as a draper, haberdasher and dealer in jewellery. She assigned all her estate and effects to William Barnard also based in Market Row.

If this wasn’t bad enough what was to follow must have had a devastating effect on Sarah knowing that her sister Susannah’s death was indirectly caused by her only son.

By all accounts it would appear that Edward Hastings Forder who was spoilt as a child, turned into a very unpleasant man. His childhood must have been traumatic, his parents seemingly separated by the time he was 13 and when he was 19 his father committed suicide.

Edward had been apprenticed to a local draper but was a most untrustworthy servant.  His habits were most dissolute and he formed a discreditable liaison with a young female. He left his situation as a draper and took lodgings with the female in question in an obscure row.  At the time of the incident had no current employment and due to the dissipated life he led, him mother paid him a small weekly allowance if he would live away from home. In addition, he had been a great deal of trouble to his friends and had caused them much distress.

The 1869 Post Office Directory show that Susannah and Sarah were neighbours. Sarah lived on her own at 15 Market Row and listed her occupation as Fancy Repository. It is difficult to say exactly what she sold, bearing in mind what she was selling when she almost ended up bankrupt it could be she had started up selling toys, and gifts like embroidery and purses. Living next door at number 17 were her two spinster sisters The Misses Susannah and Mary Ann Hastings who were milliners and dressmakers. According to a newspaper report outlining the accident it says that Mary Ann was an invalid but does not go into any further detail as it isn’t relevant to the case.

Now to the incident in question.

It would seem that at about 9 o’clock on the evening of Wednesday 30th June, Edward arrived at his aunt’s shop, a little worse for wear demanding money from his mother who was sitting in a room behind the shop talking with her sisters. The ladies refused his demands for cash and he immediately started getting excited and swearing stating that “money he wanted and money he would have”.

When no funds were forthcoming he went into the shop and smashed a china mug. Susannah had followed him through and told him that he should not destroy her goods and ordered him to leave the premises immediately.

He opened the door to go out of the shop but turned and came back in. His mother still declined to give him any money and he then said he would go upstairs. At that point Susannah intervened and said “You know this is my house and I shall not allow you to go upstairs”.

Disregarding his aunt he went to the foot of the stairs, his aunt following. In addition to the three sisters a friend by the name of Mr Downing was in the room. Mr Downing, a fish merchant saw Edward raise his arm and ran to protect Susannah but he was too late and her nephew’s fist hit her under her right ear and near to her carotid artery. Susannah stumbled towards Mr Downing and exclaimed “Oh! He has killed me”. Shortly afterwards she went upstairs to her bedroom followed by her sister Sarah, and threw herself on the bed and fell into unconsciousness. The surgeon was sent for and Mr Norman (this was Richard Robert Bowles Norman, surgeon and Doctor of the town and father in law of Dr Thomas Lettis of whom I have already written about) attended her during the whole of that night. She never regained consciousness and died the following morning at about 6 o’clock.

In conjunction with Mr Charles Palmer and Mr Colley a post mortem examination was undertaken. The deceased’s head was opened up and in the right hemisphere of the brain there was a large quantity of extravasation blood caused by the recent rupture of an artery. There was previous disease of the artery which made it liable to rupture and a slight blow combined with excitement would, under these circumstances, cause death.

Edward was apprehended by Inspector Berry during the night following the unfortunate incident he was in a brothel, in Row 85 off King Street in the company of the paramour named Barlow with whom he had been cohabitating, and taken to gaol.

The incident was reported in numerous papers throughout the Country but I have used the ones issued in Norfolk as a source of information as they have gone into greater depth. Having said that, I do wonder if some of those reporters were present or even awake throughout the proceedings as there are a couple of anomalies between reports but you should get the gist of it!

Edward Hastings Forder (20) No occupation was indicted for feloniously killing and slaying Susannah Hastings (59) a maiden lady and his aunt, on 30th June 1869.

Mr Cherry prosecuted; the prisoner undefended. One reporter wrote that – “Forder seemed but little affected at the serious position in which he was placed, and was throughout the investigation quite collected and composed. He looks even younger than the age given, and is below the middle height, and of slight build”.

Mr Cherry in opening the case, said the circumstance were very simple, although of an extremely painful character, for the prisoner was a nephew of the unfortunate woman whose death he is charged with accelerating.

They then go into great depth of how the incident came about followed by the testimony of the surgeon, Mr Norman which I have already covered.

His Lordship told the jury that what happened did not justify the act of the prisoner or reduce the measure of manslaughter, even though it was possible that she could have died a natural death shortly afterwards. 

Mr Norman had said that he should have thought she died from apoplexy and both he and another surgeon, Mr Palmer, said that her death might have been caused by excitement alone considering the state of her health at the time.

The prisoner asked Mr Palmer if there was any marks of a blow either internal or external on the head of the deceased. Mr Palmer said there was not but a blow might have been struck without leaving any marks. When the prisoner was apprehended by Inspector Berry, he said in answer to the charge “It was only a bit of a push”, and afterwards at the station house he refuted what the doctor had said, and told him he was exaggerating – it was an accident. In defence the prisoner called the attention of the jury to the evidence of the medical men, and alluded to the absence of any proof that a blow had been struck.

The inquest lasted upwards of four hours and his Lordship having summed up, the jury, after just a few minutes deliberation, returned a verdict of guilty, and his Lordship asked Mr Downing what had been the previous conduct of the prisoner; he said he had been the terror of his family for a long time past.

His Lordship told Forder that if he went on in his course of ruffiany (sic) violence the probability was that his end would be an ignominious death on the scaffold and said that he was not at all sure that he ought not to send him to penal servitude. He did not, however, suppose that he intended to kill his aunt, and in consideration of his youth his sentence would be eighteen months’ hard labour.

After sentencing Edward was received into custody at the county gaol from the prison at Great Yarmouth.

He more than likely served his sentence in Norwich castle which was used as gaol for felons and debtors until1887, when it was bought by the city of Norwich to be used as a museum.

His prison sentence of hard labour meant that he would have been subject to tiring physical work which served no purpose. He most likely would have spent endless hours walking on the wheel of a treadmill.

If Edward had served him full sentence which is more than likely, he would have been released sometime in early 1871. He was soon on his way to the United States and arrived from Liverpool at Ellis Island, New York on 24 July 1871. The journey aboard “The City of Baltimore” would have taken about 6 weeks and cost £5 for steerage (also called tween decks) and today would be in the region of about £400.

I don’t know whether or not he visited his mother and Aunt Mary Ann prior to his departure, however, as he had no money before he was incarcerated he would need funds to enable him to pay his travel and living expenses for his journey and I assume his mother would be his obvious choice.

It would appear that Edward made a new life for himself and settled in Brooklyn, New York and on 14 June 1875 he married 25 year old Emily Ann Johnson who had been born in Chatham, Kent.

I do not know when she came to America but her mother had died when she was only 33 years old leaving her husband with 3 children under the age of 6. Things did not get better for the family and sometime at the beginning of 1866 her father served 3 months in Maidstone Gaol during which time his father and 2 of his children died.

According to the 1880 Census taken on 1st June, Edward who was employed as a Law copyist, Emily and their two daughters, Lilian born in 1875 and Florence in 1879 were living in Kings, Brooklyn where they seemed to remain for the foreseeable future.

Edward died on 23 July 1911 at the age of 61 and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Brooklyn a few days later on 26th.

I wonder how much of his previous life, if any, his wife and children knew. He certainly seems to have changed his life around and I wonder if his mother Sarah knew about his new life and family. Certainly things did not end up well for her.

She and her sister remained in Market Row, the 1871 census shows that they were living together with Sarah running a Fancy Shop and Mary Ann continuing as a milliner. However, at some stage Sarah ended up in Yarmouth Workhouse and died there in December 1879 at the age of 57 and was buried in the churchyard of St Nicholas on 23rd Dec.

As for Mary Ann, she continued working as a milliner and by 1881 was living in Row 57, No 1. The 1891 Census shows her living in Marshall Buildings, Nelson Road where she died the following year and was buried on 26th May 1892 at the age of 76 in the churchyard cemetery.

Susannah had also been buried in the churchyard of St Nicholas on 4th July 1869 and yet having spent their lives together, in death they would be buried in different parts of the cemetery.



2 thoughts on “Susannah Hastings

  1. Great story. Although I am never happy to find that any of my ancestors were less than honest, it is always a bonus for my family history files, because they always add so much more information to the story of my family. We can’t choose our ancestors, but some of my dishonest ones have definitely given me hours of interesting research and some very sorry tales to tell.

    Thanks for sharing. 🙂


    1. Thank you. it is sad that we can only really find out so much about some of our ancestors because of the “not so good” life they led. It is important to follow their lives forward as sometimes I have discovered that “the “bad” things they did was because they thought they were doing the right thing for their family.


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