Saturday, 1 March 2014

Miss FitzHenry the gallant governess - but who was she?

A new newspaper database has gone online from the National Library of Wales. Although the papers are mainly from Wales (and some are in Welsh), provincial papers often did what we would now call "retweeting", and filled up column inches with stories they had harvested from other publications. So even if you ancestors weren't Welsh, their exploits from the rest of the UK and even abroad may be featured in these newspapers. The website is searchable by keyword and even better, it's free.
Thank you National Library of Wales

So, naturally I put in the keyword "Fitzhenry" and was very surprised when this article turned up at the top of the list. It's from "The Weekly Mail" (which was published in Cardiff and circulated throughout Wales and into the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire and Somerset) and dated 21 Aug 1897

Hats off to Miss FitzHenry, but I've no idea who she was!
This are the clues I'm working from. 
She is stated as English (rather than Irish) which narrows it down a bit. 
She would have to be educated to be a governess (rather than just a nanny) and have conversational French.
She is described as young, but I'm assuming that she would be at least 18 years of age to be out in the world, and perhaps less than 30. If so, this puts her birthdate between 1867 and 1879.
She is unmarried.

Saint Aubin-sur-Mer is on that curve of the northern French coast between Cherberg and Le Harve and. It would be a nice place for a summer holiday if you were a French family from Paris, which evidently Prof. Ernest Minault and his family were, as the Lycee Victor Hugo is in Pari.
What do we know about Prof Minault? 
Again very little. From Ancestry's "Paris and Vicinity, France Electoral Rolls, 1891" collection, he was born in Saint Sauvant in the Department of Vienne on 26 April 1861 and lived at 9 Rue Vintimille. Madame Minault was not listed as French women did not have the vote at this time.

I have one strong contender, Henrietta Fitz-Henry, the daughter of Captain William Fitz-Henry of Winchester and Ashtead.
On the English censuses, she is always a teacher.
She is not present in the 1891 census, but returned to London for the 1901 census.
She was born in St Peters, Jersey, which is a French speaking island.
She was single.
She had to make her own way in life, as her father left her nothing in his will.

Ideas anyone?

Stop Press: this is the actual article from "Le Temps" (Paris) from 17 August 1897. Apart from telling us that Miss FitzHenry threw herself into the sea fully clothed (I bet those Victorian dresses weighed a ton when wet!), there is no more to identify her.
The clipping is from the excellent French newspaper site Gallica from the National Library of France.

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