Black Mary, the Gipsy.

Posted: August 4, 2013 in Historic Interest
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 Brother and Sister Lived as Man. and Wife.

An inquest was held at Camberwell on Wednesday night on the body of Henry George Pickett York Lee, aged 55, a tailor, who died from poisoning by taking spirits of lemon. It was stated that shortly before his death the deceased divulged an awful secret. He said that some 45 years ago, while with a tribe of gypsies at Epsom, his father placed a dagger in his hand, and he plunged it into the back of a lady whom he subsequently heard was his mother. The jury found a verdict of “Suicide whilst temporarily insane.” The London evening newspapers published a remarkable story that was told by the widow of Lee. It is stated that she said she was the daughter of Squire Wagg of Chingford, Essex. Shortly after birth she was sold to a tribe of gypsies by the name of Lee, and placed in the custody of Rebecca Durham, of Collingwood-street, Shoreditch, who held the documents proving her birthright. Two or three years afterwards both she and the documents were stolen by a woman known as Black Mary, sister of Rebecca Durham, who brought her up for a time and subsequently placed her in the workhouse. After a while she was taken from the infirmary and again went to live with Black Mary, but in 1846 was stolen by the men of a gypsy tribe known as Johnson, who was a relative of the Durhams, and was taken on board a vessel lying off Wapping. She was then thrown overboard, but was rescued by a black named Jack Watson, a cabin boy, and sent to the house of Black Betty Benn, another member of the gypsy tribe, living in Wapping, where she stayed for around six months. At the expiration of that time a negro brought a woman named Mary Ann Ellis, and stated that she was her aunt. This woman actually turned out to be her own mother, and they all left. Ellis was afterwards murdered on Epsom Downs. The deceased was also the son of Squire Wagg, by Charlotte Powell, and was brought up by the gypsies until the murder, when he enlisted for a soldier to get away. She first saw deceased last November, and was married to him the following month. Shortly before Derby Day deceased met an old friend, who told him he and his wife were by the same father, and promised to introduce both to the father, but news was subsequently received that the father was abroad. After this deceased told her of the part he had taken in the murder, and he also told her he was present twenty years ago at a murder at a card party at Salter’s Hill, Norwood, known at the time as the “Card Party Affair.” Deceased had several times lately threatened to give himself up to the police, for the Epsom murder preyed so much on his mind, especially after he discovered they were brother and sister as well as man and wife.

Evening Express, 29th July 1897


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