Dengate Shop Fire
Written by Jane Walsh (Walmsley-Flynn), Charles Walsh's great granddaughter
Charles was the son of Michael Walsh and Sophia Dengate, born 3 March 1863 in Woolwich, Kent, where his father was stationed with the military.
Charles was a cobbler, in the army and in civilian life. On the 15 February 1885, he married Alice Mary Marsh, who already had an illegitimate daughter. They had four children together, Charles Ewart (born 10 September 1889), Alice Celia (born 12 October 1885), Ivy Hypatia (born 28 August 1891) and Eva Grace who died in 1895 aged 10 months.
Charles and Alice had a parrot renowned for his screaming. Alice was fond of cats and flowers, some- where is a picture of her with her cat and a pot of fuchsias.
Inexplicably Charles left the family home in Dover, apparently telling them that he was going to buy a newspaper, or some other basic commodity and never returned home. Soon after, he bigamously married Beatrice Rosetta Ranger in Hackney Register Office, on 4 November 1908. Beatrice was pregnant at the time. Very soon after their illegal nuptials, Charles and his new bride Beatrice set sail for Johannesburg in South Africa, where they remained for the rest of the lives, leaving his former family in poverty, where Alice was forced to take in lodgers to help support her family.
In South Africa, Charles set up home and a cobblers shop in Johannesburg, w here he fought in the Boer War. Occasional letters would come back to his children in England from his shop in Johannesburg. One such letter dated 24 September 1919 to his daughter Celia arrived with £20 for her birthday to "do as you think best with it."
We now know that he was a pillar of society there, member of the church and they had five children, Eileen, who died as a child, Ronald, deaf from meningitis, Kathleen and Sheila and Marjorie.
In 1944-46, Geoff Walsh (my father) was at Harvard University, USA, as a Rockefeller scholar. One day he went to visit his cousin Margaret Friend in Hamilton, Ontario. That day, a letter arrived from Sheila Walsh, in South Africa, to her aunt, Margaret Friend, to say that Charles Walsh, Margaret's brother had died. The Canadian family knew that Charles had married and had another family, but the British family did not know any of this! Margaret said that on no account was this information to go back to Britain, soDad did just that! His father, a child of the first family, was not upset, but intrigued.
The search was on! It took 51 years from then. Of course in those days communications were quite different, he would not have got away with that now! I remember Dad telling me, in the early 1950's "We have a family in South Africa; one day we will find them."
He tried all the old addresses in South Africa, from letters, but got nowhere, and was about to give up, when one of my neighbours, who had lived in Johannesburg, told us about a radio programme over there called "Where are They Now?" It was broadcast on a Sunday in the hope of finding families. Dad asked them in 1996 to ask for the family of Charles Walsh, especially Sheila, from the Canadian letter fame, as he was Charles' grandson.
Sheila was not listening to her radio as it was broken, she was trying to fix it, and whilst twiddling the dials, heard her name. Kath's son, Don also heard it in his garage whilst mending the car. They could not really understand, as the names were right, but Charles did not have a grandson called Geoff. They phoned the radio station, and then sadly for them came the realisation that their father was a bigamist. They had absolutely no idea. He had completely covered his tracks. Equally the British family did not realise that they did not know about us. They wanted to get in touch with us, but had to let the news "sink in". Later they said he "always had secrets". Not half!
In June that year, Sheila, George, her husband, and Bruce, their son, were going to Paris for a short holiday. I arranged to fly over to meet them, only could manage 24hrs and I took my youngest, little Jane aged 4.
Well, if any one did not believe the story, or thinks Darwin is wrong, I have other info! We flew in to Charles De Gaulle airport (enormous). Bruce met us at the gate, we were to meet his Mum, Sheila Walsh, my half-great aunt, at the "Meeting Point", amongst a million others. I asked Bruce not to point her out. I had never seen a picture of her, but got her straight away, obviously a Walsh, and the double of how I remember Ivy, her half sister. We had an amazing time together, like two pieces of a jigsaw. Another few years and I doubt we would have found them, as the name has almost gone.
In 1997 Geoff (Dad) went to South Africa to meet them all.
We think Beatice found out that he had been married before. All correspondence went to his shop. Just before she died, in the 1970's, she had cancer and knew she was dying. Whilst staying with her son, she became very upset and had a big bonfire in the garden. Nobody could understand it, but with hindsight she was probably trying to spare her children the knowledge.
What a tale; be sure your sins will find you out!