Selina Matthews / Partleton / Kendall (1846-1901)


On 06 April 2009 I caught the tube to Victoria Station and walked along Victoria Street to meet up with Terry Partleton at Westminster Archives, circled in blue below. We'd visited this place, close to Westminster Abbey, a number of times before. Time really flies at the archives, but by lunchtime we were drawing a complete blank, as sometimes happens when trawling through endless pages of microfilms.

In the lobby of Westminster Archives I chanced upon this leaflet:

The archives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [often abbreviated to the LDS] are well known to anyone researching family history because the database is available online, free of charge, to everyone, at But if you want to see copies of the original documents, you have to make a visit in person to one of the LDS Family History Centres. So this leaflet seemed to present a perfect opportunity to make better use of the remaining part of the day.

I will level with you here... I'm not a big fan of organised religion, and I had always veered away from turning up in person at the LDS. One might be evangelized or proselytized, both of which sound very painful. You might come out with a bible under your arm and a 1000-yard stare in your eyes.

Actually, none of the above happens. The LDS are located in South Kensington, directly opposite a building which was assuredly my favourite place in the whole world when I was 12 years old - the Science Museum. It's in the red circle below:

The Family History Centre is a small, hushed, scholarly basement of the very grand LDS building which - frankly - emanates enormous wealth. The archive is supervised by very helpful, quietly-spoken, sober, austere-looking American Mormon gentlemen dressed in black suits. There's no evangelizing, and, though sombre, it's quite friendly.

So, after a short hop on a London bus, Terry and I were in the LDS archive. Our objective was to see the Parish Registers of Barbados of the mid-19th century.

Here's the first document we found. The year; 1861:

This is the marriage record of Henry Partleton, who had recently come to Barbados from London, and local girl Selina Ann Matthews. Just to be clear, Selina is Barbadian and is Caucasian. She is just 17 and is already pregnant by Henry.

Selina signs with a pretty girlish curl in her capitals. Henry probably never went to school. He spent his entire childhood on the move, week to week, never stopping, never resting, with his parents who were travelling actors in England, though it seems from this cert his dad may have settled down for a while at this time as a hotel keeper. Henry is illiterate and signs with a cross.

Selina's dad was William Henry Matthews, "planter", and she lived at "Crowther's Land" in the Parish of St Philip in the south-east of the island, circled blue below:

So, let's go look for Crowther's Land.

We learn some really useful stuff from this, which is an extract from a book called Laws of Barbados for Session 1881-1882.

Firstly, I'm going to infer, since the parish had "... for many years... allowed poor widows of the parish to occupy the land [ie Crowther's Land] as tenants at will, free of rent" , that Selina is from a poor background and that her mum might be a widow. Selina's dad does not witness the marriage and Selina herself in later life ends up in the poorhouse, so this seems a distinct probability.

Secondly, we read that Crowther's Land adjoins the well-known Sunbury Plantation, circled in red below, and this enables us to zero-in very close to the exact location of Selina's residence, somewhere near to Six Road Crossing.

Above is a map showing the location of Sunbury Plantation House, circled green, and below we see what it looks like, as it is a tourist attraction in the present day. This 300-year-old building actually burned to the ground during a disastrous fire in 1995, but has been "meticulously restored", so - if Selina ever saw the 'big house' of her neighbourhood - then we may step into her shoes and cop an eyeful:

Four and a half months after the wedding, on 26 October 1861, Henry and Selina have their baby, Eliza Wilhelmina Partleton:

We see from the above that Henry and Selina are are now in St George's Parish and are living at Thorpe Cottage.

Here's the position of St George's Parish, circled in red:

Thorpes Cottages are still there in the parish of St George. If you need a nurse, you can find two of them residing at Thorpes Cottages. I've blurred out the names, but if you are ever taken ill while on holiday in Barbados, you can look them up in the Barbados Yellow Pages:

In the map below, we see the exact location where Henry and Selina Partleton were living at this time, close to the parish church of St George, near modern Highway 4B:

And so we move on three years where we find Henry and Selina back at Crowther's Land. I'll suggest here that money is very tight and they have moved in with Selina's mum, and probably find themselves sharing a small house with some other members of Selina's family. Here Henry and Selina's second daughter, Lilian Georgiana Partleton, is born on 28 March 1864. The roof over her head is provided courtesy of the charity of the Parish of St Philip:


Three years later, 20 May 1867, and Selina has another baby girl, Rosina Albertina Partleton. Selina's moved again, back to the Parish of St George. Her address is described as "Near Jordans". Jordans is a big sugar plantation about half a mile east of St George's church, but it seems Selina is not actually living in the plantation:



Though it's a poor copy, you may notice that there's a glaring omission from this entry in the Baptismal Register. Henry is not named as the father of baby Rosina, and I've come round to the view that this is significant.


So what's going on? Has Henry done a runner? Has he died? Wouldn't he still be named as the father of Rosina even if he had passed away between conception and birth? We know that at some point in her later life, Selina remarries, which could only have been possible in those days if Henry were dead, in an era when divorces were extremely rare. So it could be that Henry has already pegged it at an early age.


So now Selina is in big trouble. She has no money, no breadwinner, no income, and three little girls to care for. It's a good time for us to move on to a new page to continue this story with Selina's daughter Lilian, who is to suffer severely as a result of her upbringing in poverty.



Click here to continue the story.

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