This is the story of Elaine Rivis Anderson who drowned at Bembridge, Isle of Wight on 26 December, 1907. She was just an ordinary Edwardian child. Maybe a little better-off than many but still just a child who died tragically the day after Christmas. Inspired by the poignant inscription on her headstone, this is the story of one Researcher's quest for information about Elaine and how she came to be in such danger on that fateful day in December, 1907.
I first discovered Elaine while on holiday with my wife on the Isle of Wight in March, 2003. We were walking through Bembridge one morning and were headed for the Lifeboat Station at the bottom of Lane End Road. We had walked this way many times before but for some reason, this time, we decided to go in to St Luke's Chapel, which is just before you come to a small parade of shops on the left. Walking around cemeteries is not something I make a habit of, but we are both interested in the local history of Bembridge so it seemed a good idea. It's only a small cemetery and it was not long before we found Elaine.
Safe in the arms of Jesus
Beloved Daughter Of
George and Jane Anderson
Who Was Drowned At Bembridge
December 26 1907
Aged 9 Years
Whether it was the poignant inscription on the headstone or the time of year that she died I am not sure but standing there reading the words I realized that I would have to find out more about this little Edwardian girl with the unusual middle name. I made a note of the details and put them away for when we returned home and then we left St Luke's wishing we had some flowers to place on her grave.
Little did I know at the time that I had missed something that would have made my search a lot easier...
The Search Begins
I had never attempted anything like this before and quite frankly was not sure if I would have the time that it would obviously take but decided to give it a go and see how far I could get. Also, I was not sure if I should be doing this. Was it right for me to dig up the past considering the tragic way in which Elaine had died?
I spoke to a friend at work about this and he said that what I was really doing was bringing her back to life for a short while and maybe other people might think of her now. So, armed with that philosophy, I began. I decided early on that I would use the Internet as much as possible in this search as this would save me time and the need to travel to various record centres.
My first attempt failed miserably with a name search on several Internet search engines. It was obvious nobody had recorded any information about Elaine on the Internet. So, it was down to me and I knew just where to go next.
The 1901 Census
There had been much publicity about the 1901 Census website - but, with that, many problems, due to the volume of people trying to use it - so when I logged on I was pleased to see it was up and running. Without going into too much detail, there is a great deal of information on this site - some of it is free and some you have to pay for. A basic name search is free, so I tried a search for Elaine with the Isle of Wight as her place of residence: with no luck. I then tried searching for her parents, George and Jane Anderson. This looked more promising as two results were returned showing a George and Jane Anderson living in Carisbrooke in 1901. Unfortunately they would have been too old to be Elaine's parents.
There was one other result for a Jane Anderson but she was 74 years old in 1901 - far too old to be the mother of a young child - but I made a note of her anyway and continued with the search.
It was time to forget the Isle of Wight for the moment and concentrate on a wider area. This time I keyed in a search for Elaine but left the place of residence blank. I also worked out that she would have been two years old in 1901 and I included this in the search too.
One result was returned and that was for an Elaine Anderson living in Lambeth, London but born in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. It was a start, but the unusual second name of Rivis was missing.
A subsequent search for Elaine's parents, using the same format but not including the age, seemed to provide the breakthrough I was looking for. Among the results of this search were one George Anderson - living in Lambeth, aged 39 - who was a confectioner and agent; and a Jane Anderson, also living in Lambeth, aged 26. George was born in York and Jane was born in Chatham, Kent.
The ages were right, as was the location, but I needed to confirm all of this. It was time to get the credit card out.
Time To Start Paying
I needed to find out more details of these two people living in Lambeth so, after submitting my credit card details, I tried again.
This time I started with George Anderson. I was now able to obtain his full address - 238 Clapham Road. Another option was presented to me at this stage and that was to be able to see all other people living at this address. Choosing this, I was presented with a page showing George Anderson as the head of the family. Next was Jane Anderson, wife of George. Things were looking good. I had to scroll down to the next entry and there she was...Elaine Rivis Anderson, aged two years.
The last time I had seen her name was in an old graveyard in Bembridge some weeks before, now here she was again. Her name showing on an old document as a two-year-old, oblivious of what the future would hold. I could not believe that it had taken me less than 30 minutes to trace her and I was so taken aback that I nearly overlooked the fact that there was another entry on the page, Hilder Kathleen Anderson, aged seven months. So, Elaine had a sister and she was born at Shanklin, Isle of Wight.
Did they live there some months earlier or did the mother, Jane, go there to have Hilda? If so, it would suggest that there were other family living on the island. This could be the connection that would lead Elaine to Bembridge on that fateful day some years later.
I then remembered the other Jane Anderson that I had discovered earlier. Could she somehow be linked to this family? The basic search that I originally carried out showed that she was resident at the Bembridge Hotel. This is very close to the harbour, so a more detailed search was required. The results were very promising.
She is described as 'Living on her own means'. This would suggest that she owned or ran this hotel. She was 74 years old in 1901 and had two granddaughters living with her: Kathleen G Hawkes, aged five years, and Mabella HS Hawkes, aged two (I was to find out later that the H was for Hilder, the same name that was used for Elaine's younger sister). Also living in the hotel were two servants, one a barmaid and the other a nurse domestic, presumably to look after the young children.
I was still not sure if she would play a part in this story, but there were two connections to the Andersons of Lambeth. Firstly and most importantly, Jane Anderson was born in York - as was Elaine's father George - and secondly, Elaine's sister Hilder had the middle name of Kathleen, the same as one of the granddaughters living in the hotel. Could this Jane Anderson possibly be George's mother, (Elaine's grandmother)? And could she, for some reason, be looking after George's sister's children (if he had a sister)? This would provide a vital Isle of Wight connection and could possibly explain why Hilder was born on the island. It would also give reason for Elaine to be here some years later. So, if George did have a sister living on the island, where did she live - and why were her children living with George's mother?
It was time now to move forward for a while and try and discover what happened on the day Elaine died. This would hopefully provide more information to fill in the many gaps that existed in my research.
The Isle of Wight County Press is the main newspaper on the island, so after visiting their website I sent an email asking if they could help. Surely somewhere in their archives there must be a mention of Elaine's death?
A few days later I received a phone call from them. Yes, they had found an article about what happened to Elaine and a copy of it was in the post to me.
A week later I received a photocopy of the newspaper article containing the report of Elaine's death. This is the full transcript of that article just as it was written in 1907:
DISTRESSING DROWNING FATALITY AT BEMBRIDGE
Yesterday (Friday) were confirmed the worst fears which had been entertained as to the fate of a 9-year-old girl named Elaine Anderson, niece of Mrs Hawkes, proprietress of the Royal Spithead Hotel, when her dead body was found in the Harbour there. The girl, who belonged to Aldershot, was on a visit to Mrs Hawkes, to spend the Christmas holiday. After playing with some friends on Thursday morning she appears to have gone to the breakwater and to have been blown off into the water by the strong wind which was blowing or to have fallen off. She was missed about midday and the gravest apprehensions were caused by the discovery of her hat floating in the water on the St Helens side of the Harbour later in the day. Dragging operations were then commenced and the body was recovered yesterday (Friday) morning by Mr Richard Mursell and other fishermen. The facts have been reported to the Deputy Coroner and an inquest will be held in due course. The distressing occurrence has cast quite a gloom over Bembridge.
At last, everything was starting to fall into place. Another quick check on the Census site confirmed everything.
The Mrs Hawkes mentioned in the report was in fact Jessie Hawkes who I am now sure was George Anderson's sister as she too was born in York. She married George Hawkes who was a licensed victualler 1 from Cork, Ireland. In 1901, he would have been 63 and Jessie was 40.
Jane Anderson of The Bembridge Hotel (which was just up the road from the Royal Spithead) must have been the mother of George Anderson and Jessie and it would seem that Jessie's children Kathleen and Mabella were staying with her rather than living at the Royal Spithead Hotel. This was a much grander hotel which would have been no place for young children. This probably answers the question of why Elaine's sister Hilder was born on the Island. There were other members of the family here and it was the ideal place to convalesce.
In the report of Elaine's death, Mrs Hawkes is described as proprietress of The Royal Spithead Hotel, yet in the census records of 1901 George Hawkes is classed as head of family and Jessie has no title. This suggested that by 1907 George Hawkes may not have been alive - or if he was, played no part in the running of the hotel.
And yet, with all of these answers, there was still much to find out...
Return To Bembridge
It was now August and time for another visit to Bembridge. I needed to return to the cemetery in Lane End Road. So, a weekend break was booked and a week later we were there again and this time I discovered what I had missed before.
Looking carefully at Elaine's grave I noticed that she was not alone. I gently eased some grass away from the stone surround and discovered the name Jane Meek Anderson - died 18 September, 1904: Elaine was buried with her grandmother. This suggested that the two grandchildren, Kathleen and Mabella, no longer lived at The Bembridge Hotel and by 1907 would most likely be living back with their parents at the Royal Spithead Hotel.
We were just about to leave when I saw something out of the corner of my eye.
Directly opposite Elaine's grave is a family grave containing Jane Elizabeth Hawkes (This was Jessie Hawkes, Elaine's Aunt) who died at Hawkhurst, Ryde on 6 June, 1923, aged 66 and George White Hawkes (her husband) who died on 10 October, 1906. So, I was right to assume that George Hawkes was not alive at the time of Elaine's death. Also mentioned on this grave is their only son, Neville, who was killed in action at Ypres on 19 November, 1914, aged 20. Not many soldiers who were killed in the First World War were ever returned home and, as I was to find out later, Neville is buried in a military cemetery in Ypres. It was still a mystery why he never showed up on the 1901 census, but more of that later.
Having found so much information I was tempted to call it a day but I then remembered a gentleman by the name of John Woodford who lives in Bembridge. John is a local historian and a collector of early Isle of Wight postcards. I also have a modest collection of Isle of Wight cards and have come across John's name many times. I was not sure of John's address so I posted a message on a Bembridge website forum and it was not long before someone sent me his address.
I wrote to him enclosing a copy of my research and a short time later he kindly replied with some interesting information. He sent me details of the sea wall where Elaine was playing on the morning of 26 December, 1907, - but, most importantly, he included a faded photocopy of the inquest report on Elaine's death.
This proved to be a priceless document as far as my researches were concerned. I spent some time deciphering the text as some of it was in poor condition but the information it revealed made the time spent worthwhile. There were dates, times, names and places. With this information - along with my own research - I have now been able to piece together what happened on 26 December, 1907.
So, if you ever visit the small cemetery of St Luke's Chapel in Lane End Road, go through the gate and you will find Elaine halfway up the path on the right-hand side. I am sure she would not mind if you leave some flowers and if you were to wonder about this little Edwardian girl - and what happened on that December day in 1907 - this, to the best of my knowledge, is the story...
Elaine Rivis Anderson 1899 - 1907
Elaine began her short life in Cheltenham in 1899 and by the time she was two years old had moved to Lambeth in London with her parents George and Jane. Her mother fell pregnant again and gave birth to her sister Hilder on the Isle of Wight where George's Mother, also Jane, lived, at The Bembridge Hotel. George's sister Jessie had married an Irishman named George Hawkes and they too lived in Bembridge, running The Royal Spithead Hotel, just a short distance from her mother. They also had two children, Kathleen and Mabella who stayed with their grandmother at The Bembridge Hotel. A nurse domestic was employed to look after them: the Royal Spithead Hotel was a much grander establishment, not the place to bring up children.
By 1907, George and Jane Anderson had moved again, this time to Aldershot where George became manager of The Aldershot Institute and it was this Christmas that Elaine spent at Bembridge with her Aunt Jessie. She arrived at Bembridge on Saturday 21 December and stayed at the Royal Spithead Hotel with her Aunt Jessie. Jessie's husband George died the previous year and her mother Jane passed away on 18 September, 1904, so her two children now stayed with her.
Jessie's only son Neville was also at home for Christmas. His life was also destined to end early, but not yet.
Christmas day came and went and on Boxing Day Elaine was playing indoors with Mabella, her younger cousin. At around 11.45am, they both decided to go out and play on the sea wall which surrounded the Bembridge side of the harbour.
They took their hoops and went out onto the sands near the wall. The wind was very strong and because they wanted to go on to the wall they decided to return the hoops to the hotel garden in case they were blown into the sea. Mabella took both hoops and headed back towards the hotel garden.
Elaine started to follow but had only taken a few steps when a strong gust of wind caught her brown felt hat and blew it over the sea wall. She turned and ran back to the wall and as the tide was out she climbed down the 24 steps on to the sea bed.
At this point, Mabella had reached the garden gate and turned to see if Elaine was following her, but she was nowhere in sight. Mabella walked part of the way back but could still not find Elaine. Thinking that Elaine was hiding from her, Mabella returned to the hotel garden where she waited for a while and at approximately 12.20pm went indoors. Elaine, meanwhile, was on the sands and although the tide was out there was still some deep water in a large hole made by a dredger which was used to keep the harbour clear of sand and silt.
It was in this hole that Elaine fell whist trying to retrieve her hat. The water was freezing and her heavy coat dragged her under very quickly. Within just a few short minutes it was if she had never been there.
Her hat continued to be blown across the harbour towards the St Helens side. At about 1pm, Henry Attrill, a boatman from St Helen's, found Elaine's hat at The Point on the St Helens side of the harbour. He thought nothing of this as he was always finding hats that had been blown away from their owners by the strong coastal winds and it was not until 10am the next day that he found out that a child had been lost.
When Mabella arrived back in the hotel without Elaine, Jessie asked her daughter where she was and she told her mother that Elaine was on the sea wall. Jessie sent Mabella out again to call Elaine in for lunch.
The young girl went out and searched right round the sea wall but saw no sign of Elaine and when Mabella returned to the hotel with the news, her mother called her eldest daughter Kathleen down and sent her out to search. Her son Neville and a friend also joined in. One of the hotel staff was sent out on his bicycle in case Elaine had wandered up to the village. Everybody joined in but she was not to be found and as it grew dark the search was abandoned.
The Next Day
The next morning the search resumed. Local fishermen William Henry Cawes and Richard Mursell began to drag the channel in the area between where Elaine's hat had been found and the sea wall. At about 11am they finally found her body close to the Bembridge shore.
The news soon spread and a great sadness fell over the village.
An inquest was held at The Royal Spithead Hotel on Saturday 28 December, where the coroner, Mr FA Joyce, came to the conclusion that Elaine had accidentally drowned and supposed that this was one of those accidents that could not possibly have been avoided.
It was decided that Elaine should be buried with her Grandmother at St Luke's Chapel in Lane End Road.
The End Of The Road
It is here that I shall end my search. I could go on and try and find out more about Elaine before she died but I think that I have now completed what I originally set out to do. The one thing that would finish this story completely would be to find a picture of Elaine.
Who knows - maybe one day...
But What Of Neville?
The one thing that puzzled me about Jessie Hawkes's only son Neville was that he hadn't shown up in the 1901 Census Records. I have since discovered why.
One of the problems I encountered whilst researching this family was the duplication of forenames. Members of the family named their children the same and also married people with the same forenames as other family members. This proved to be very confusing as you can see from the list below:
- George Anderson: Elaine's Father
- George Hawkes: Elaine's Uncle
- Jane Anderson: Elaine's Mother
- Jane Anderson: Elaine's Grandmother
- Jane Hawkes (Jessie): Elaine's Aunt
- Hilder Kathleen Anderson: Elaine's Sister
- Mabella Hilder Hawkes: Elaine's Cousin
- Kathleen Hawkes: Elaine's Cousin
So, with this in mind I made an assumption that maybe Neville was known by his father's name, George.
To check this out I did a search on a births, marriages and deaths website and came up with an entry for a George Neville F Hawkes who was born in Bromyard and whose birth was registered January/February/March 1894. The town name rang a bell and, after checking back through the census records, I discovered that Neville's sister Mabella was also born in Bromyard. This then solved the mystery of why I could not find Neville. I returned to the census web site and before long found Neville entered as George!
In 1901, he was living at what appeared to be a private school in Cheltenham (Elaine was also born here). The address was 9, Montpellier Terrace and there were three other students staying at this address2.
Just as a final check I decided to investigate Neville's military past and did a search for him on the Commonwealth Graves Commission website. This proved to be very easy to use and it was not long before I came up with his details.
His name was listed as George Neville Forde Hawkes, a trooper in the Royal Horse Guards. Date of Death 19/11/19143. He is buried in Sanctuary Wood Cemetery in Ypres, one of the few soldiers in that cemetery to have marked graves.
1 An Innkeeper.
2 It is now an Indian Restaurant.
3 This does not match the memorial in St Luke's Chapel which states he died on 20/11/1914, but inaccuracies of this type would have been quite common at the time.