Frederick Thomas Kenning Firmin


May 19, 2015 by auntkatefirmin

The posts have been jumping generations! This post returns to the generation of the American Kate Firmin’s aunts and uncles. Interesting information has turned up related to his life so it seemed timely to set out a preliminary summary of research to date.

Frederick was born in Bath in 1852. He was the fifth child (of ten) and the fourth son, but the first to be given what is known to be a family name, Kenning, after his grandmother, Sarah Kenning Firmin.  He was seven when the family moved to Wiltshire in 1859.

Frederick Thomas Kenning Firmin 1852-1908

Frederick Thomas Kenning Firmin 1852-1908

Fred at 19 was living at home in Islington in 1871 and presumably helping to support the family after the death of his father in 1869. He was working as compositor, basically a typesetter. He did not continue in this trade and there is no information about what other jobs or education he may have had earlier.

In 1874 Fred married Fanny Scarman, the daughter of Thomas Scarman who in his lifetime had been the sexton of the fashionable St. George’s, Hanover Square, in Westminster. At the time of the marriage, Fred’s occupation had changed to traveller – a representative for a manufacturer who travels and takes orders.

It is not known how the couple met and it is difficult to imagine how their paths might have crossed or who might have introduced them. Fanny’s family lived in Hanwell and Fred’s in Islington so their neighborhoods did not intersect. While both were middle-class, Fred’s family was in difficult circumstances as his father had essentially lost all his money shortly before his death in 1869 but Fanny’s living situation must have been much less precarious and certainly more settled so I wonder if her family thought it was a suitable match.

When their first child, Osborne, was baptized the family’s address was listed as 3 Grove Terrace, Hanwell (Greater London). The Hanwell address was closer to Fanny’s family than to any known Firmin family residences. Based on birth registrations, Fanny was in Kent when Osborne was born, and they are also know to have lived in Brighton. Due to Fred’s occupation the couple appears to have moved frequently – I wonder if Fanny might have stayed with her widowed mother during some of the time that Frederick was traveling on business. Cousin Fanny Firmin Hall’s correspondence stated that “Uncle Fred lived near us in Reading for some time,” but to date no records for Fred in or near Reading have been located.

At the baptism of their son Charles in 1876, the couple was listed as living in Shipley, Yorkshire. Charles died five days after being baptised, at the age of five months. Shipley was a mill town so it’s possible that at the time Frederick was a representative of a company selling machinery to textile firms.

The couple’s third child, Susie, was born in 1877. Her birth was registered in Marylebone parish, but no baptismal record has been located or appears in any logical online index. Her marriage documents give her father’s name as Frederick Thomas Kenning Firmin which confirms her identity. She is not mentioned in family correspondence (in which it is clear that the other cousins believed that Fred had only one child, Osborne).

Fred filed for a divorce from Fanny in 1878 citing a co-respondent with the surname of Kennedy and stating that his wife had moved out of the family home. The outcome of the suit is not recorded in the records on and family correspondence did not mention a divorce. Mr Kennedy denied the allegations. After this date no records have been found in England for Fanny in the census, for another marriage, or even for her death – although Fred listed himself as a widower in 1891. There is a tantalizing clue that opens the possibility that Fanny did not die young but instead left England. We know that Fred didn’t tell his family the entire story and he probably didn’t care to share the information that he had started proceedings for a divorce. It seems reasonable to assume that Fanny and Fred never lived together after 1878.

In the 1881 census Fred was a lodger, listed as being married, and working as a commercial traveller for a company selling machinery. Osborne was at school in Yorkshire and Susie (age 4) was a “visitor” in the household of Edwin Norris & his family. (A school master also boarded with the Norris family – was Susie already in school?) Fred continued to travel and sell machinery of some type – in 1891 he was in Hull, Yorkshire, and, in 1901, Penarth, Wales (Osborne was also in Wales at the time but over 100 miles west in Milford Haven).

Fred died in Staffordshire in 1908 when he was only 55 – his probate record has not been located and it may be that his estate was of very little value. HIs death certificate has not been ordered so the circumstances are currently unknown.

As I post more letters from the cousins, elements of Fred’s personality will be filled out. Just looking at his photo gives you a sense of a dapper man, perhaps someone who liked the finer things in life. Working as a commercial traveler must have meant long hours and constant negotiating. He may not have been an easy man to live with.

Something happened between Fanny & Fred and the details will most likely remain a mystery. This led to their separation, and a distance from their families and children, including emotional as well as physical distance.

Children of Frederick & Fanny (in brief)

OSBORNE – born 4 December 1874 and baptized 25 March 1875. He worked as a ship’s fireman and marine engineer, married a woman named Ruth Hancock from Lincolnshire and died in 1925. The couple had no children. Despite conflicting information from different records, it has been assumed there is only one Osborne Firmin of this age and he was born in 1874 in Kent, baptized in London, educated as a young child in Yorkshire, was counted twice in the 1891 census, and lived in various locations, mostly close to seaports. Based on the family correspondence, he never met his Firmin cousins.

CHARLES – born and died at age five months in Yorkshire, 1876.

SUSIE – born in London in 1877.  Susie married Frederick Ellis, a fireman, in 1896 but there is no evidence to date about where she grew up. The Ellises had four sons. Susie was widowed in 1912 and sailed to Australia in 1923. It is not known when her son Richard moved to Australia; he was married there about 1938 and living descendants are still in Australia. Both Richard and Susie remained there for the rest of their lives. The oldest son, Fred, moved to California with his family in 1932; the locations of his children have not been traced yet. As Ellis is a fairly common name, the movements of the other two boys, William and Charles, have not been confirmed – although Charles may be the man who raised a family in West Ham and Poplar. It is not known if Susie maintained a relationship with her father or if he met his grandchildren.

2 thoughts on “Frederick Thomas Kenning Firmin

  1. Karyn says:

    Very interesting. My gggrandfather was Fanny’s older brother. All my gggrandparents migrated to Australia but only Fanny’s brother Thomas returned to England leaving a large family behind in Australia. My research hasn’t revealed the whereabouts of Fanny and I assumed she died at an early age. Fanny’s brother George was the grandfather of Lord Lesley Scarman the Baron of Quatt, who was a very respected and well known judge.

  2. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment! I’ve come to the conclusion that Fanny made a difficult decision and moved to South Africa with Mr Kennedy where they behaved as if they were legally married and had at least two children together – if that is true, she died in Umzimkulu South Africa in 1935 as Frances (Scarman) Kennedy (the records are online at familysearch). Frederick told the census taker that he was a widower but I have no idea what he might have told his children. It seems probable that Fanny did not see her Firmin children after she left the house around 1878. I’m pretty certain that Frederick told his brothers and sisters that Fanny had died – based on his photo and the letters I’m assuming he was proud enough that he would not be open about Fanny leaving him for another man. What I wonder now is whether Fanny was able to keep in touch with her mother or any of her brothers or sisters or whether they disapproved of her setting up house with a Catholic who was probably still married to his first wife. Did Susie know that she had cousins in Australia? Did Susie have much contact with her Scarman relatives, did Frederick keep them apart, or was she just young and isolated by circumstances? The Firmin cousins knew Frederick had a son Osborne but did not know that he had a daughter. Either Frederick was out of touch because he traveled so much or he was a rather secretive or aloof person – or perhaps all of the above. There are many questions that we most likely won’t be able to answer unless some more family correspondence turns up. Please let me know if you turn up anything more about Fanny.

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