The Barcham Family

Orphans and Single-Parent Children

Gwen Brock, a descendant of the Edwards family of Trenoweth, St Mary's, Scilly Isles, discovered the death notice for  Catharine Barcham Allen, who died at St Mary’s, on April 6, 1843, aged 17, the daughter  of Catharine (Edwards) (1897–1841)  and the late William Allen, the customs agent on St Mary's. Both parents died before 1841. After William died their daughter lived in Falmouth with her married aunt Frances (Edwards) Notwill.  Catharine Barcham Allan was born the year after her aunt Ann (nee) Edwards (1807–1877) married William Ayres Barcham (1794–1841).

This discovery led to research into the lives of some other children who lost their father or mother when they were quite young. Recently, a study has been published which shows that grief counselling by psychologists might do bereaved children more harm than good. Before the age of the nuclear family, relations and neighbours gave practical help as well as sympathy. Nevertheless, in spite of family support, it must have been difficult for the surviving parent to cope. Fortunately, there were grandparents, uncles and aunts and other relations who were able to help. It is apparent that families’ members were closer to their cousins than at present. In fact, the limb that has been studied has three single parent sons who married their cousins who had also lost one of their parents when they were young.

The descendants of William Barcham (1747–1777), who himself died at the age of 30, are illustrated in a chart which outlines the lives of bereaved families. In seven consecutive generations there were parents who died at a young age leaving a widow or widower to bring up their children, usually with the help of a step-father or step-mother. The focus is on how the children coped with their loss and grew up. These bereaved single parents and one-parent children showed a great deal of fortitude, initiative and resourcefulness. Since their fathers died young, the children did not inherit their fathers' farms, homes and businesses, so they had to fend for themselves. Almost all the children were studious at school and some were indentured apprentices. Later the girls made good marriages; the boys were industrious and prospered in their professions and occupations; and raised families. Some made remarkable achievements, and have passed on their talents to their children. A few, though, suffered mental health problems, although there is no way of knowing whether these resulted from their childhood experiences.

Some of the many other families who lost a parent at a young age are mentioned in a supplementary document.