The Shaw-Kennedys

Clara Diana Shaw Kennedy
1855 – January 1902

James Frederick Shaw Kennedy
1849 – 24 November 1901

This is the coffin of the Clara Diana, kept in a building that backed up to the wall between the cemetery and the church beyond in West Highgate Cemetery. There were stacks of old coffins in this dark space and I did my best to look around before the tour guide moved us along, but I honestly don’t remember what he was saying at this late date. The tour was a bit of a whirlwind, and I didn’t have much time to linger or absorb information. I believe what he was saying is that this was something of a communal mausoleum and that Clara and the others had been interred in these moldering cubbies decades before.

Clara was the wife of James Frederick Shaw Kennedy, a member of the 79th Cameron Highlanders of Kirkmichael House, Ayrshire. I’m not quite sure what his rank was, but he was an officer. It’s also unclear when he served, but from his age, it’s most likely he was in India toward the end of the regiments’ service there and was possibly involved in the third Anglo-Ashanti War on the Gold Coast.

I can’t find a marriage record for them, but it was likely around 1873. It is unclear if they had any other children besides the son who appears with them on the 1891 census, Sidney Verner. On that census, they are living at 34 Earls Court Gardens (still there, and I could swear I stayed at a boutique hotel either right on that street or very nearby on my first trip to the UK) with their then-16-year-old son.

The ancestry site has the information from that census completely confused due to our usual friend, the Careless Census Taker. James is listed erroneously as the son of the woman next door (which would be tough as she and he are about the same age) but only he, Clara, and Sidney are actually living at No. 34. The neighbor at No. 33 has a domestic servant, however, and they do not which may be an indication that in spite of James’s status as a retired officer, they are not as financially sound as they might have liked to be. A record from 1893 reveals that James did a stint in the workhouse from April 28 – May 1st that year and was released on his own recognizance, but this supports the theory that they may have had some financial issues.

James was a character, however. In 1884 he had to go before the Old Bailey for breaking the peace and committing libel, charges to which he pled guilty and had to pay sureties in recompense. In 1881, he’s listed as retired, but on his son’s wedding banns in 1900, he’s listed as an officer in the army. It’s possible he was called back up as the UK was constantly Imperializing across the globe then. Perhaps he came out of retirement to restore the family fortunes. It could also be a matter of once an officer, always an officer.

Alas, there is almost nothing I can find about Clara. Both she and her husband died relatively young; she at 47 and he at 52. He died late in 1901 and she died just a few weeks later in early 1902.

The probate record following James’ death doesn’t get sorted until 1903, and I’m not sure what it means aside from that he died without a will. A gentleman is listed perhaps as the appointed executor. The estate — at least that being dealt with in probate — is valued at about £5450 which would be about £675,000 in today’s money. Quite a bit though not a vast fortune. If the man listed on the record is the executor, it’s possible this money all went to Sidney when things were worked out but whatever financial issues there were, there is money left upon his death. James had several years to repair any problems with his finances before he passed, and from what I can tell, Sidney was left in a comfortable state.

He seems to have lived the life of a gentlemen in the classic sense — a man of independent means who has no occupation. It’s also possible there was an additional family inheritance, perhaps going to him as the only or eldest male heir of whoever the head of the family was. Or he simply did well with the money left to him by his parents. In 1909, Sidney traveled to the US with his paternal uncle and appears to be still doing well financially. He is listed as having no occupation and the given address on his customs intake sounds posh.

Sidney served as an officer in WWI, apparently with distinction, and he reached the rank of captain. He survived the war (though a family ancestry record lists him as dying in Flanders because as I’m learning, many people are very bad at doing research), and returned home to his wife Alice and to a life of gentlemanly leisure.

Twenty years later, he is still living off “other means” when we find him again in the 1939 census. He, Alice, and apparently their adult daughter Marion are living at 24 Queen’s Gate Terrace (still there and looking quite fancy) in what appears to have been an elegant residential hotel. Marion is the youngest person there at 33.

I didn’t find a death record for Sidney so we shall leave the old Captain there at the dawn of WWII and hope he survived that war, too.

RIP Shaw-Kennedys

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