the teachers

During the early 1800s there were few national public schools, children were either taught at home or attended a school run by the town council or parish church. Boys from upper-middle class families would be taught by governesses alongside their sisters until they reached the age of 10 or 12 and then would often be packed off to boarding school and college to complete their education, or apprenticed as a clerk to a solicitor or similar profession. Less wealthy families endeavored to secure an apprenticeship in a trade for their sons and daughters. Most girls would not have the opportunity to enter into higher education, some attended private finishing schools in order to learn the social skills and artistic graces required to attract a husband of means.

William SUTTON and Susan MAY were married in 1806 at Exeter, Devon. They were both teachers, and during the early 1800s they lived at ‘Cadhay’ an historic Tudor manor house and estate in the parish of Ottery St Mary, Devon. William was the school master and music master at Cadhay school. By 1830 they had moved to Taunton, Devon and in Pigot’s Directory 1830, Susan SUTTON is listed running a ladies boarding academy in High Street, Taunton. They also had a boarding school at their house in Cannon Street where William SUTTON was school master. Susan MAY died about 1835 in Taunton. On census night 1841 the SUTTON family is living at Cannon Street – William SUTTON, age 60, school master; his son William Henry, age 30, school master; daughter Eliza Susan, age 25; also two servants and several pupils. William SUTTON died in October 1841 of consumption.

His daughter Eliza Susan SUTTON is found in the 1851 Census as governess to the family of Mr James CULVERNELL, a farmer employing 37 labourers at Clavelshay, North Petherton, Somerset. Ten years later she is governess to the five children of Mr Charles FORTER, attorney and solicitor of Stoke Road, North Curry, Taunton. In 1871 Eliza Susan is a governess and schoolmistress to about eight or nine children of the HOLE families at Harwood House, Timberscombe, Somerset. She died in 1873 in Bridgwater, aged 60 years.

William Henry SUTTON was the eldest child of William SUTTON and Susan MAY. He married Jane Penelope WELLINGTON in December 1842, in Glastonbury, Somerset. For the first three years after their marriage they lived in Melcombe Regis, Weymouth, Dorset where William Henry is recorded on his children’s birth certificates and baptisms as a school master.

Between 1846 and 1851 William Henry’s occupation is recorded as ‘Land Surveyor’ and the family was living at ‘Bathers’ 13 East Street, Broadway, Somerset. From the late 1700s, there was a boom in developing the country’s network of transport and communications, and many surveyors were employed in making maps, plans and surveys for the new roads, canals and railways. There was regular employment and good money to be made by men who had the mathematics and cartography skills to draw an accurate tithe map.

In 1852 Slaters Directory of Somersetshire lists Mr Wm Henry SUTTON as school master of ‘Legers’ a private boarding school in Wiveliscombe, Somerset.

On 19 November 1853, William Henry SUTTON, his wife Jane and their eight children, sailed from the port of London on the ‘Graham’ bound for Port Phillip and Sydney, Australia. Their 5-year-old daughter Eliza Susan died during the five month sea voyage. In the first few years in the colony they lived in the Wollongong area where William Henry worked as a school master, they then spent about two years in the new settlement of Purfleet, Manning River. The SUTTON family moved back to Sydney in 1860 when William Henry secured a job with the Great Southern Railway as station master at Petersham on an annual salary of £150 + £25 per annum in lieu of a house.

William Henry SUTTON was dismissed as Station Master in January 1868 under controversial circumstances involving a crash of a goods train and a passenger train between Petersham and Newtown stations. There was a coronial inquiry and a Supreme Court case which exonerated William of blame. He took the job of Writing Clerk, working 7 days a week, in the parcels office at Sydney Station at a pay cut of about £65 per annum. In 1868 William Henry and his wife were supporting six unmarried daughters and most likely their 18 year old son Fred. In April of the same year his eldest son William died of tuberculosis, and burdened with mounting debts William Henry filed for insolvency in October 1869. He continued to work in the parcels office until his death from cardiac arrest, aged 71 at his home at George Street, Waterloo, Sydney in August 1879.


Henrietta and Ada SUTTON were the youngest daughters of William Henry SUTTON and Jane Penelope WELLINGTON. They were both born in Australia and were home schooled by their father, mother and elder siblings. Neither of them married and they ran a small private school from their home ‘Merton’ 106 Station Street, Newtown, from the 1890s until the 1920s. Those in the family who recall the sisters in their old age, remember Henrietta (or aunt Ettie, as she was known) was a tall, thin woman and aunt Ada was short and round. One sister was quite deaf and rarely spoke, and the other evidently spoke enough for three people.

Frances Elizabeth and Rebecca WELLINGTON were two daughters of George WELLINGTON, a chemist of Yeovil, and his second wife Elizabeth SAMPSON. They were sisters of Jane Penelope WELLINGTON and aunts to Henrietta and Ada SUTTON. The two sisters became governesses and took up positions with families who could afford a live-in tutor for their children. A governess would have to be accomplished in many subjects in order to teach her young charges. The WELLINGTON sisters were most likely well-read, had a good grasp of mathematics, spoke french, would be able to draw, play an instrument, dance and sing.

From her signature inside a book, we know that Frances Elizabeth WELLINGTON spent some time living in Heidelberg, Germany, so she most likely spoke german. In 1851 she is the 28 year old governess to Rosanna GODWIN and her family of Blandford, Dorset. Frances’ half-sister Elizabeth was married to Simon GROVES, a chemist in Blandford Forum, so she had family close by. Frances does not appear to be in England on Census nights in 1861 and 1871 so perhaps she was living abroad with a family in Heidelberg during this time. In the 1881 Census she is either visiting or living with her sister Rosa and brother-in-law, Frederick HAYDEN, a chemist of Fordingbridge, Hampshire. Frances died in Bristol, England, aged 82, while living with her youngest sister Ellen, a retired draper.

In 1851 Rebecca WELLINGTON is working as the 16 year old governess in the houshold of Henry RICHARDS, farmer and land surveyor of Winterbourne, Kingston, Dorset. 10 years later she is the governess in the Reverend Walter ALFORD, the perpetual curate of Drayton and Muchelney, Langport, Somerset. In 1871 Rebecca, aged 37, is employed as the governess to the children of Joseph and Emma SYMES, a surgeon and medical superintendent of the Dorset County Mental Asylum, at Charminster. She is still employed in this position 10 years later in 1881. Rebecca died in Fordingbridge, in 1885, aged 52, most likely while living with her sister Rosa.

As a governess was usually single (I hate the word ‘spinster’), she relied heavily on savings she banked or put in an annuity fund to sustain her in her retirement. Many single women relied on their families to accommodate and support them between assignments and in their old age.

NEXT MONTH – The Rag Trade – Tailors and Drapers


4 thoughts on “the teachers

  1. Pingback: letter from father to son – 1879 | branches of our family

  2. Susan, this is really good and I am looking forward to more. Would you be so kind as to give me permission to put the photos of William Henry & Henrietta & Ada Sutton on my Ancestry tree?

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