Who do you think you are?
Esther Rantzen

Esther Rantzen - how we did it

Crime and citizenship records

We now knew for certain that Montague had lived in America for some years, and that he had ultimately returned to the UK to remarry. Esther wanted to know whether he had to answer for his earlier crimes when he returned to Britain.

We headed for the National Archives at Kew in London (see Related Links). The National Archives holds many court and prison records that can be helpful in discovering more about what a criminal ancestor did and what happened, providing he or she was arrested and brought to trial for the crime.

Unfortunately, as Montague Richard Leverson fled the country and was never apparently brought to trial or punished for his fraud, no further information on his case survives in the remaining criminal justice records. However, while searching in the National Archives, Esther came across his name in other files relating to his return to the UK.

At the time of Montague's return, the majority of foreign citizens immigrating to the UK did not naturalise. However, where available, useful information can be found within records relating to naturalisation and denization (where a foreigner becomes a subject of Britain but doesn’t have the rights of a natural born subject or someone who has been naturalised). They can reveal details about the nationality, profession, family, birth and place of residence of those who wanted to formalise their position or settle in Britain permanently.

In Montague's case, we found an intriguing document dating back to 1922. It was an application to regain his British citizenship after many years abroad.

The application confirmed that he had indeed arrived in America in 1867 (the year the reward for his arrest appeared in The Times). It also revealed that he was living in Bournemouth in 1922 and that he denied ever having been convicted of any offence or bankruptcy.

Within the documents Esther even found favourable references, including a police report, regarding his 'good character and respectability'!

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Esther looks at documents at the National Archives relating to Montague's return to the UK

It seems that whatever Montague did, he got away with it, and Esther felt glad that he had managed to escape his nefarious past to live out the rest of his life with his new wife in his home country.

Step 2 - newspapers

We now knew that Montague Leverson was the black sheep of the family who fled to America. But what about the rumoured family murderer?

Roger Appleby, curator of the Museum of the City of London Police, contacted Esther again. He had dug up some more information about Montague.

In an earlier copy of The Times, dated 5 May 1848, Roger had found mention of 18-year-old Montague appearing in court for shooting and wounding a woman called Priscilla Fitzpatrick. Her life had been 'placed in imminent danger' as a result. The shooting had taken place in Bloomsbury. Armed with this date and location, a search of the local newspaper, The Globe, revealed further details. Local newspapers may be found in the British Library Newspapers collection (see Related Links).

We learned that Priscilla had been a servant in the home of Montague’s father. As she was cleaning the parlour windows, Montague had been playing with a rifle pistol belonging to his brother. Not realising it was loaded, he pulled the trigger and Priscilla was shot in the chest. As Esther read on she discovered that Priscilla later died from the wound at University College Hospital, but not before she had repeatedly insisted that the shooting was 'perfectly accidental'. Due to Priscilla's dying protestations, Montague was saved from facing murder or manslaughter charges.

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Esther learns about the family 'murder'

So not only was Montague Leverson the fraudster who fled to America, he was the accidental 'murderer' of family legend too. It appeared to Esther that Montague had well and truly broken the mould of their family's longstanding respectability!

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