Week 2: King: James Wombwell

The opener suggested for Week 2 of Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks is “King”. In the spirit of six degrees of separation, I would like to introduce you to James Wombwell.  For those of you that have read about last week’s ancestor, Jane Taylor, James was her father-in-law.

No, James was not royalty. Nor was he reminiscent of either the King, Elvis Presley, or Dr. Martin Luther King. But I can link him to a King of England in less than six steps. Actually, I only need 4.

  1. James Wombwell was the son of Zachariah Wombwell and Mary Webb.
  1. Zachariah’s parents were James Wombwell and Sarah Rogers
  1. James and Sarah had other children, including a son, George Wombwell.
  1. George Wombwell was a famous managerist. He exhibited his menageries to a royal audience, including, but not limited to, King William IV of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, predecessor to Queen Victoria. (Much has been written about my famous 5 times great uncle George Wombwell. As he is not an “ancestor” of mine, I won’t be telling his story here- links to some stories written by others about George Wombwell can be found at the end of this post. He really was a fascinating fellow and I encourage you to check out some of his stories.)

Early Life

James Wombwell was born 12 October 1821 to Zachariah Wombwell and Mary Webb and baptized in the parish of Stoke Newington 19 March 1823[i]. James’ father was a cow keeper. When James was twelve years old, his father, Zachariah, died. James had two adult brothers and he was one of four minor children that his mother, Mary raised. She supported the family as a dairywoman. James is found in the 1841 England Census with his mother Mary and several of his siblings. In this census, James’ age is reported as 15. (This was correct according to the instructions given to enumerators.)[ii] James Wombwell, age 20, appears in the 1841 Scotland Census, traveling the country with the Wombwell Caravans. While not certain it is the same James, it is possible that he is; many of George Wombwell’s kinfolk worked in the menagerie, at least for a time.

[i] Wombwell entries extracted from Stoke Newington Parish Registers. Information provided courtesy of M. Hardy, researched and complied by S.W. Jones, 2008.

[ii] Children under 15 were to be recorded by exact age- for persons over 15 the age was to be rounded down to the nearest 5. So a person who was over 15 and under 20 at the date of the census would be reported as 15. On June 6, James was about 19y 8m so he was correctly marked as 15. The “rounding down rule” was used inconsistently. It is likely the enumerator of the Scotland census rounded up. Enumerators were also told not to enumerate every household member, but only to enumerate those that spent the night in the household the night of June 5. Again, compliance was erratic; some travelers were double counted- both in their usual home and where they actually were.

Marriage and Family

James married Sophia Trigg, daughter of James and Ann Trigg, at St. Leonards Church, Shoreditch parish on 3 June 1842. James was employed as a porter at the time of marriage.


Londonstleonardshoreditchimage courtesy of http://www.ancestryimages.com

James and Sophia quickly began a family; just 9 months and 9 days after their marriage their first son, George Zachariah, was born. They had several more children including another boy Alfred, and at least 4 girls: Mary Ann, Helen Sophia, Fannie and Elizabeth.

1854 was undoubtedly a difficult year for James. He lost his youngest daughter, Elizabeth, and his wife that year. They are both buried in Abney Park Cemetery, Stoke Newington, as their daughter Mary Ann had been a year earlier in 1853.

Leaving England and Coming to New York

Four years later, in 1858, James married Matilda Powell, daughter of Thomas Powell. James’ occupation on the marriage record is laborer. Their marriage took place in Stepney, on the third of May. Immediately, they headed to America. They probably left London that same day for the (about) seven-hour train ride to Liverpool. They traveled from Liverpool to the United States on the ship Columbia, departing 4 May 1858.   James Woombwell [sic] age 37, his wife Matilda, age 21, and child, Ellen, age 7 (possibly Helen Sophia- it is unlikely Matilda at 21 is the mother, it is more likely Ellen is his child from his marriage to Sophia), are found on a passenger list of arrivals to New York on 9 June 1858, traveling in between decks (steerage).

Traveling in steerage would not have been much of a honeymoon! Conditions for those traveling in steerage were difficult; food rations were meager, privacy was practically nonexistent due to crowding and seasickness was rampant.

They traveled to America with family. William Chapman and his wife Charity are listed on the passenger list directly above the Wombwell family. A William Chapman was one of the witnesses to James and Matilda’s marriage. Charity Chapman, William’s wife, was a Powell before marriage, and Matilda’s sister.  Later that year, in November, more family joined them in America. James’ nephew Thomas came to America, also through Castle Garden.  He settled in upstate New York near Rochester.

Illustrated London News, May 10, 1851 Courtesy of the Mariners’ Museum In Steerage Steerage passengers slept, ate, and socialized in the same spaces. They brought their own bedding. Although food was provided, passengers had to cook it themselves. On rough crossings, steerage passengers often had little time in the fresh air on the upper deck. If passengers didn’t fill steerage, the space often held cargo.  Courtesy Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Illustrated London News, May 10, 1851
Courtesy of the Mariners’ Museum
In Steerage
Steerage passengers slept, ate, and socialized in the same spaces. They brought their own bedding. Although food was provided, passengers had to cook it themselves. On rough crossings, steerage passengers often had little time in the fresh air on the upper deck. If passengers didn’t fill steerage, the space often held cargo.
Courtesy Smithsonian National Museum of American History

James is not found in the 1860 US census, however it is possible he had settled to Rochester, New York by then; the William Chapman family is found there. Interestingly, James and William’s father-in-law, Thomas Powell, was from Rochester, Kent, England.

1863, James is found in the Rochester, NY city directory living on Chapin St. The directories at that time only listed head of household, usually the males. He remains on Chapin Street in Rochester for the next decade; his son Alfred is also found on Chapin Street the first year he is listed in the Rochester city directory. In the 1865 New York State Census, James indicated he was a widower who had been married 2 times.

It is unknown when exactly between 1858 and 1865 Matilda died, and it is also unknown what became of the child Ellen. Records of Mount Hope and Riverside cemeteries (two of the largest in Rochester, NY) were searched for them, no Matilda Wombwell was found, and the only Ellen Wombwell listed was a stillborn child. Nearby Brighton Cemetery records were also searched with no luck. James later moved to Frost Ave, perhaps to be near to Tremont St where his son, Alfred and young grandchildren lived.

Moving West


James moved about 1000 miles southwest to Missouri sometime after 1877, when he is last found in the Rochester city directory and before 1885 when he married his third wife, Martha Ann Ricketts, in Linn, Missouri. It is likely that he had moved there by about 1882, as that is when the first child he fathered with Martha was born. James fathered 5 children with Martha: Susan, James, John, Charles and William.

Why James removed from Rochester is unknown. His son, grandchildren and nephew stayed in that area. James has not been found in the 1880 census, neither in New York, nor in Missouri. Martha was born in Missouri. It is unknown if he had met Martha prior to moving to Missouri and moved there to join her, or if they met after the move. James’ occupation remained laborer through much of the years he is found in Rochester, perhaps employment was his reason to move.

James Wombwell remained in Missouri for the rest of his life. He predeceased his third wife in 1898. He is buried at Rose Hill Cemetery.

Links to information about George Wombwell and the Wombwell Menagerie:

A web search for George Wombwell will bring up numerous hits.  He really was quite remarkable in his time.  Although not directly descended from George, he is my very legitimate claim to “circus folk”.

I like Terrence Ruffle’s site. It is very informative and very readable.



Shaun Everett has also done a great history about George Wombwell and the Menagerie. http://www.georgewombwell.com

Wikipedia also has a page on GrGrGrGrGrUncle George. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Wombwell

8 thoughts on “Week 2: King: James Wombwell

  1. Hi Karen, thanks for the links, and great to hear from you!
    Glad you decided to start blogging, as this is your second post I assume you’re fairly new to this lark?
    Excellent reading, awesome research, as always.
    Greetings from dark, cold and rainy Blighty,



    • Hi Terence!
      Great to hear from you and thanks for your kind comments!
      Yes, blogging is completely new to me. I am bumbling along learning as I go.
      I’m really enjoying writing about the ancestors- of course it keeps sending me back to the research- but its been really rewarding.
      Greetings from chilly, rainy, Massachusetts!


      Liked by 1 person

      • No longer in NY Karen?
        And come on, reveal to me your occupation?
        I hope you take a peek at my site from time to time, I’ve subscribed to yours via RSS.
        All the very best, and keep up the good work,


      • Thanks Terence,

        I think i’ve added your site to my blogs I follow (really still bumbling through the wordpress logistics) and I have set up an about me page – and changed the “theme” of my blog so the “about me” will show up….


  2. Ah, so the animal husbandry in the Wombwell blood pervades, amazing huh?
    You’ll get the feel for your blog as you go, a kind of “walk before you can run” scenario. And there’ll be times when you think “why should I bother?”, but the muse will always return.
    You obviously enjoy your writing, which has plenty to interest the casual reader and the family tree addicts. I think you should add a subscribe and a contact button, but otherwise I’m hooked! And where’s my manners: I’ll give you a link on my site.

    Best wishes,



  3. Thanks for your blog! I learned more about my great-grandfather, another James, than I could have ever dreamed of. My grandfather is Charles Austin Wombwell, son of James and Martha. My father is Paul Francis Wombwell. This is awesome! My dad was excited when I shared it with him as well.


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