Mary Ann Scott (1838 - ?) and George Cole(1839 - ?)

Dedication: This page is dedicated with love to my sister Sandra Lesley, on her birthday in October, 2001. Sandra has long had a fascination with Mary Ann.


Mary Ann Scott, as far as we know, was the third born of the children of William Scott and Mary Catharine Hyder. She was born on 10 May 1838, and as such was probably the first of the children to be born after the Births and Deaths Registration Act of 1837. As a result we were able to obtain a copy of the extract for her birth in January of 2000.

Birth Registration of Mary Ann Scott

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The document is interesting in the information that it gives on the family. We see that they are living at the Ship Yard at Chatham and that the father William is a Mariner. In terms of our search for the maiden name of the mother, Hyder, it was the first document we obtained which provides this information. With that we were later able to find the marriage entry for the parents. Birth registrations of the other children would also corroborate this information and increase our knowledge of the father's career.

We know little of Mary Ann's childhood. Third born, she was the oldest of the girls in the family and older than two younger brothers. She appears as a child of 2 on the 1841 census of the family still living in Chatham at the Ship Yard. By the time she was seven or eight her oldest brother, William, had gone to sea. At about the same time the family moved from Chatham to Woolwich where they stayed until about 1850 when the family moved to Portsea (mow Portsmouth) where the father became a prison warder at the newly opened penitentiary in Portsea.. We find that Mary Ann, in 1851 at the time of the is 12 years old and is 'at home'. These two census reports are included in the biography of her parents.

In 1856 Mary Ann signs her name as a witness at the wedding of her immediately older brother, John. Her signature indicates that she is not yet married (she is 18) and, to date, is the only example we have of her handwriting.

By 1861 her parents have moved to Woking where her father transferred as a prison warder (quite probably with the opening of the prison in 1859). It appears that Mary Ann went 'into service' during this decade and I believe we find her as a house servant for Elizabeth Shean who lives at 5 Clarence Parade in Portsea.[1]

1861 census

Marriage and Family

Family lore and other documents indicate that Mary Ann married George Cole. The marriage was registered in the third quarter of  1863 [FreeBMD] in Portsea.

Our next documentation for Mary Ann, from 1864, is the:

Birth Registration of George Ernest Cole

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From this certificate we learn that Mary Ann has married George Cole who is a seaman in the Royal Navy on the Her Majesty's Ship Conqueror. She is living at 21 Cambridge Street in Southsea.

It appears that there were no further children of the marriage.

Southsea Portrait Gallery, Athol
House, Kings Road (Entrance Norfolk Street), W. Amey Proprietor

Mary Ann's Working Career

It is not clear what occupied Mary Ann's time between her childhood and marriage. She was 'at home' at the age of 12 during the 1851 census which meant, if nothing else, that her formal education was probably finished. At that time she might well have been helping her mother in running the household, looking after four younger children and helping with the care of her father and older brother who was an apprentice carpenter. She may then have worked and that work may have been in a photographer's establishment.

Photography was a growing industry in England during that period, but most photographs were taken by professional photographers working in business set up for that trade. They usually took posed photographs in studios. The studio would be equipped with one or more backdrops which could be interchanged depending on the wishes of the subject. Several of the photographs that we have show such various backdrops, often not very well set up. We can often group photographs as having been taken at the same time by the backdrops in them.

Generally in these early days, photographs needed to be posed. The emulsions on the plates (glass plates were used -- film was yet to be developed) was slow and the subject needed to sit quite still or the resulting. Partly because of this most photographs taken in the early days are of only one person --easier to keep one still than two. The lighting was also critical and the photographer could control the light from his magnesium flash bar more easily in a confined studio environment. The few early photographs of persons posed for outdoors scene group photography often have one or more blurred images. Among the various problems of this approach of photographing only one individaul is that we do not have group photographs from which we can deduce who people are -- some of the most useful of these are 'four generation' photgraphs.

The roles that Mary Ann could have performed would include receptionist, handling bills and payments, assisting the photographer to set up backdrops and pose subjects. Perhaps she did all of these. She might also have been involved in developing plates, preparing them or other lab work associated with providing the finished prints for the client.

During her career, Mary Ann might have worked with more than one photographer. Many of the photographs do not have the photographer identified. However many do, and these are mostly from the photographer W.V. Amey located at 253 Commercial St. This was one of the main business streets in Portsea at that time (the street still exists but has been almost completely rebuilt as a result of damage during WWII.

It would be interesting to know if Mary Ann worked in photography prior to her marriage. It is most likely that upon marrying she became a housewife. However it is possible that she did not, and that she worked until her first pregnancy. Raising a child was considered a full time occupation in those days and it is likely that Mary Ann was at home for many years with her son George.

Some Photographs

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Mary Ann Scott and George Cole

These two pictures are taken against the same backdrop and were probably taken at the same time. It may well be that these are the equivalent of 'wedding photos' as weddings at that time were not the photographic events that they are today. In these photographs they appear to be in their early 20's and so I place them in time period 1860 to 1863, with a likelihood that they were taken in 1863. Noticed how posed the sittings are, with both having their left elbos on the back of the chair.

If these are indeed 'wedding photographs' the expressions are interesting! However these would also have been the result of the need for 'frozen' expressions while the photographer took his shots.

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Mary Ann Scott about 1865

George Cole about 1865


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These are two other photographs of Mary Ann. To me, the one on the left appears to be of a younger girl than in the above photograph, while the one on the right appears to be a bit older.

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Mary Ann about 1865?

Mary Ann about 1870?

George Cole

We have almost no information on George Cole. The 1861 census of Portsea includes a Cole family at 79 Milton with a child George 12 years of age. I assume this is the George that later married Mary Ann but we would need to see the marriage registration to confirm that. George's father, John Cole, in this family was a Waterman which would be consistent with George being a sailor in 1864.

There is an anecdote in the family to the effect that George went to America on a gold rush. The last that was heard of him was a telegraph home saying he had acquired some gold and was returning. It is not clear there can be much truth in this story, but who knows. The major gold rushes were in 1849 (California) and 1898 (Klondike).

In any case as we see below, by 1871, Mary Ann reports in the census that she is a widow.

1871 Census

1871 census

In this census we see Mary Ann listed as a head of a household living with her son George, now 6, in the same house at 14 Highfiield St. as the Lender (or Leader?) family. She lists her occupation as dressmaker and her son is a scholar. Mary Ann is listed as being a widow. It is interesting that she is reported as being 31 years old on this census which was taken on the 2nd of April; she would be 33 on the 10th of May. This is a ten year increase from the 1861 census. Once again we see the birthplace as Rochester.

1881 Census

1881 census

By 1881 Mary Ann and her son George are living with her mother and younger sister Eliza at 74 Stamford St. In this census taken on the 3rd of April we see her age accurately reported as 42 and see her birthplace recorded as Chatham. It is likely that Mary, her mother, provided the information to the census taker whereas in the previous two census reports she had provided the infromation. Possibly birthplace and birthdate did not have a lot of significance to her.

George, now 16, and is listed as a shop boy and it is possible he was working at the same shop as his mother who is now listed as a shop woman at a photographers. This confirms family lore which has it that she was a photographer's assistant and that as a result of this we have many photographs, a number still extant, of family members.

Many of the family photographs bear the identification of W.V. Amey, 253 Commercial St. (sometimes with just the address). It is likely that this is the photographer for whom Mary Ann worked. In the 1881 census William V. Amey, an unmarried man, can be found living at this address together with his widowed, retired father. However when we look at this address in 1861 we see that the location is a bookstore/stationary shop.

1891 census

1891 census

the 1891 census shows Mary Ann still living with her mother and sister at 74 Stamford St. The son George is no longer living with them.

Mary Ann's Estate

It appears that Mary Ann died in the four quarter of 1897 [FreeBMD which lists a death for a Mary Ann Cole age 59 in Portsea in Q4 1897]. Her older brother William was the executor of the estate. In his usually meticulous way and neat hand he liquidated the estate, paid the expenses, distributed the proceeds and wrote up a report on his actions. We have the original of William's statement for the estate and reproduce it here:

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Executor's Report, Summary Page

The estate accounts are written on two sides of a foolscap sheet. On the front is given the summary of the value of the estate, indicating that net of expenses it amounted to £127 - 19 -2.

We see that this balance is divided evenly between four netting each beneficiary the sum of £31 - 19 -11. Unfortunately we do not know who these beneficiaries are. We can guess that they include William and his brother John. Quite likely they include Eliza, if Eliza was still alive (more on this below) and might include brother Richard. The question arises as to why the estate would not have been left to son George Ernest Cole (with perhaps small bequests to siblings)? Was he dead at this time? Had he 'disappeared' in some way? Or was he one of the beneficiaries but only received an equal share?

The accounts are attested to be a "True Statement" and signed by William Scott.

Below this we have a paragraph explaining the disposition of the household effects:

"My Sister Mrs. Cole household effects were valued by Penny & Clark of Kings Road Southsea at the request of My Brother John & his Wife who would to take them all. I selected the Valuer who valued them at £27 - 10 -0.

I reduced the amount to £18 - 0 -0 which was paid by My Brother John who took the whole away"

This statement is also signed.

The statement is interesting from a few different points of view

1. It gives us the married surname of William's sister Mary Ann. This was our first knowledge of the married surname (although the husband was recalled with photographs and anecdotes, the name of the husband was not recorded and she was always referred to as 'Aunt Mary Ann'. With this it was possible to locate her in the 1881 census and find her son, his age and the fact that her mother and sister were living with her. We later were able to find her in the 1871 census

2. It indicates that the whole of her household passed to the brother John. We know that in William's line a photographic album passed down to the current time. Hopefully when we establish contact with some of John's line we will find more photographs and documents to shed light on the family history.

3. It is interesting to see the William performing the duties of an executor and how he carried them out.

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Executor's Report, Expense Details

This page details the various expenses that William incurred, as executor, in finalizing the estate. We see, in the first three lines expenses which were apparently associated with caring for Mary Ann during her last week of life. The first item pays for household expenses, a nurse and Eliza (presumably, the sister Eliza) for one week. Then we see Nurses Fees indicating that some sort of health care was being provided, as well as the services of a Mrs. Hatcher (one can only speculate on what these might be). We next see a charge for "Beer Wine and Whiskey", presumably served to the mourners after the funeral. We again see Eliza's name associated with "Mourning etc.".

After this we see an entry in the "Evening News". This is presumably a notice of death that we should be able to obtain a copy of once we determine the date of death. Next is mentioned the charge for mourning cards -- unfortunately we do not have a copy of one.We see the undertaker costs, some refinishing costs for the rooms of the house some wages for cleaning and to Mr. Hatcher for some repair work. Then the outstanding taxes are paid, the doctor is paid for his services and the costs for the administration of death registration and Letters of Administration (for closing the estate, presumably). Next we see a charge for the Headstone curbing for 2 graves.This is interesting. If we can find the date of death we should be able to locate the graves and find out who is there. Is it the husband George or the son George? And finally there is a present to the nurse who looked after Mary Ann in her last days.


In examining these two sheets we find a number of potential leads that will provide further information on Mary Ann's life. Additionally we learn that she is survived by her older brothers William and John and her sister Eliza and her brother Richard. Her other sister Emma  and brother George appear to have already died or 'diappeared' and are not included in the distribution of the estate. The fact that her son George is not the recipient of her estate is an indication that he has pre-deceased her.


[1]  the name spelling in the 1861 census is "Marian" and the birthplace is "Rochester" . These are close approximations for an entry that was made by a census taker probably on information for the head of the household rather than from Mary Ann herself. We note that the age is consistently not correct. Mary Ann was born on 10 May 1838 according to the birth registration document above. The census in 1841 was taken on 6 June and she was reported as being 3 years old which is correct. In 1851 it was taken on 30 March and she is reported as being 12, which is correct. In 1861 it was taken on 7 April and she is shown as being 21, whereas we are looking for a person who is 22. On the other side, a long search through the census of 1861 does not seem to reveal any other candidate for our Mary Ann Scott.

Research Remaining

There are many things yet to do in researching the lives of these family members

  1. Obtain the birth certificates of George Cole Senior (to confirm the assumption I have made on his birth)
  2. Obtain the marriage registration for Mary Ann and George
  3. Trace George Ernest Cole and determine if he had siblings and/or descendents.
  4. Find the death records of Mary Ann. Obtain a copy of the insert in the Evening News. Locate the 'two graves'.
  5. Obtain a copy of the will of Mary Ann. Gain an understanding of the value of the estate.
  6. Determine the details of the death of George Cole Sr.


The following have helped in preparing this page through sharing knowledge or materials

  • Iris (Simmons) Groutage; for many items including the notes from Lillian Scott
  • Jennifer (Groutage) Hart; for photographs
  • Philip Griffiths; for the copy of  Mary Ann Scott's birth certificate
  • Notes left by Lillian Scott, courtesy of Eythel Fry

This document is 'in progress'. Any errors are mine. Contributions to this account of Mary Ann's life would be much appreciated.

©Kenneth Scott and others, 2001, 2010

last modified 15 August 2010