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Joseph Ball  (1849 –1920)


We have heard about the troubled life of  William Weekley Ball and also, through the life of Edidah Abington, of his brother, John Ball. Both men were described as “Gentlemen” after their deaths so had gained a certain amount of property and prestige. The two Ball brothers had married two sisters from Thorpe Achurch, Rebecca and Hannah Wilson. The unions were not to prove fruitful by Victorian standards, for, as far as we can tell, William and Hannah had no children and John and Rebecca had two. Their names were Joseph and Hannah..

One might think that although by the judgement of the day they were not blessed with children they could have had happy lives together. We cannot be sure but this seems unlikely. William, we know, had a pregnant mistress who disappeared under mysterious and damning circumstances. We also know that he quickly married a younger woman after his wife’s death. With John we only know that within months of his wife being in the ground he had remarried, also to a younger woman. Even allowing for the nephews and nieces that lived with the brothers it does not give the impression of connubial bliss.

But what of Joseph? He was born in about 1849 although he does not seem to have been baptised, at least in Ringstead. When John Ball, his father was buried many years later in 1894 the service was conducted by the Baptist Minister, the Reverend J Bates. Perhaps this is the clue, for Baptists do not believe in infant baptism. From 1837 every birth marriage and death had had to be registered so the infant christening in the parish church became a less important part of village life.

Although not directly relevant to Joseph’s story the state of affairs between the Parish Church and the Baptist Chapel at this time can be illustrated by an article taken from an English newspaper that was quoted in the 5th May 1843 edition of the New Zealand Colonist and Port Nicholson Advertiser. Under the headline “Intolerance”, it tells the story well, so I will quote it in full:

A worthy young couple named Thomas Stains and Mary Roberts residing at Ringstead, near Thrapston, in Northamptonshire, intending marriage, the banns were duly published in the parish church of Ringstead. The wedding day was fixed for the 12thOctober, on the very morning of which, the vicar of the parish, the Rev. Dr. Watson sent for the intended husband, and finding that he had not been “christened” in the parish church, his parents being of the Baptist denomination, he refused to marry him, although his intended wife and her parents both belonged to the establishment. The disappointment was great; yet, as the wedding dinner was prepared, and the invited guests assembled, they kept the day as pleasantly as they could under the circumstances. The young man went to Dr. Watson to have his money returned; for it seems in that parish they demand the whole of the fees when the banns are put in. “Well,” says the Doctor, “if Thomas Messer (the clerk) will give you up his share (half-a-crown) then I will return you my part of the fees.” The honest clerk instantly refunded his portion. Stains returns to the poor parson, saying, “I am come for my money, sir” “What!” says he,” did Messer give you up his?” Reply:-:- “Yes sir, he behaved like a gentleman.” The poor clerical doctor, on examining his treasury found it reduced to a solitary halfcrown. This sum he gave to Stains and with a note written by him, to the clerk, begging him to pay the remaining 3s 6d for him. But what was now to be done? The parties must be married somehow, and that legally too. Their characters were irreproachable. The whole parish cried shame on the vicar. The dissenters in the village, with several staunch church people, immediately raised the 3/- requisite for licensing the Baptist meeting at Ringstead as a place of marriage, which was instantly applied for, and obtained; and on the expiration of the twenty-one days’ notice required by law, Thomas Stains and Mary Roberts will be the first couple married there. In the interim, the bride elect returned to reside under the parental roof

After four years of marriage Hannah is born and Joseph arrives some four years later. There is not going to be another child. A little over a year later the world of the Ball family explodes. William’s pregnant mistress Lydia Atlee is allegedly heard accusing William of wanting to kill her and promptly disappears. John and Rebecca must have been caught up in all the accusations and hate directed against his brother who is forced to leave the village. Nevertheless life seems to carry on and in 1851 and 1861 the family are there in the butchery business with various nephews and nieces staying with them.

By 1871 the lives of the family have taken a new turn. John seems to be prospering being described as a butcher and farmer of 43 acres employing one man. There is however no sign of Joseph and we finally locate him living with his Uncle William and Aunt Hannah and two Wilson nieces in Ramsey in Huntingdonshire, some twenty five miles away. William has been acquitted of the murder of Lydia, the case collapsing some seven years earlier. Joseph is described as a butcher’s assistant. One would have expected him to have worked with his father ready to take over the business when the time came. Perhaps, with William and Hannah being childless, it was intended that Joseph should inherit the business. It is a strange fact that Hannah never appears in a Census with her parents, and at six and sixteen she is with William and Hannah. Joseph is only there once as a young child.


 Great Whyte, Ramsey, Huntingdonshire in about 1895.

The wide road, which I heard from a much later incomer led his wife to say that he had brought her to the wild west, is due to the culverting of the river under the road.

By kind permission of Keith Sisman ( )

By the 1881 Census the plan, if such it is appears to be working because now Joseph is running the butcher’s business in the Great Whyte, Ramsey and William has moved to the High Street and is a farmer of 17 acres. William is now 65 years old and living with his new wife Catherine, some13 years his junior. Shortly after the census Joseph’s mother Rebecca dies and by the end of the years John has married Edidah Louisa Abington (some sixteen years his junior).

Joseph is now married with five children. His wife is some twelve years younger than he is and when we look at the children we see that Harry Arthur Ball is eight years old which means that Joseph’s wife, Annie Judith, would have been twelve at his birth. It is possible but seems unlikely. On searching the Marriage Register we find that Joseph married Mary Elizabeth Housden in 1872 but she died on the 30th December 1878 aged just twenty five years having given birth to four children in five years. He remarried to Judith Ann Sewell a local publican’s daughter in 1880. She was already pregnant with Joseph’s fifth child Sidney.

It had been a frantic few years and as the local paper, the Peterborough Advertiser for the 15thNovember 1879 reported, he had also been knocked off his horse on the road between Bury and Warboys in Huntingdonshire. Poor Joseph returning slowly home along the roadside from Warboys, “his horse having got some wheat” a Mr Edward Samworth rode straight into him. Mr Samworth had to be pulled by Joseph from under his horse which shortly “expired”. The paper reported that Joseph was shaken and “is suffering a good deal from the culpable and rash conduct of the other horseman”.

So after the domestic turmoil of his father and uncle, as well as his own problems, he seems settled. He has a business with an assistant. There is also a general servant to help his young wife. There is perhaps one small hint of what is to come in the name of his youngest son Sidney, probably the only child of Annie Judith. His middle name is transcribed in Ancestry as “Feninure” but it looks rather like “Fenimore”. An unusual name, perhaps a family name from somewhere? There is another possibility, as we shall see.

We never see Joseph or his family on an English Census again. The next time we find him he has come off the SS Samaria in Boston Massachusetts having travelled from Liverpool via Queenstown in Ireland. The Samaria was made of iron with one funnel but also had two masts rigged for sail. There was a capacity for 130 first passengers and 800 third class passengers. Her last sailing to Boston was on 30th January 1896 and she was scrapped some six years later. The passenger list states that Joseph is in transit to Canada. Surprisingly he describes himself as a “spinner” but there can be no mistaking the family even though the ages are somewhat astray. With Joseph there is his wife Annie, aged 25 and children, Henry aged 9, William 7, Gertrude 4, Fred 3 and Sidney 2. They have six pieces of baggage and are in “Intermediate” class. This was “quite separate from steerage and with superior accommodation and dietary scale”, although “very inferior to saloon.”


 S.S. Samaria

                The Samaria was in the Cunard Line and was built in 1868 and was an intermediate ship with an iron hull and steam engine but still with two masts for sail


 This was a time when many were leaving Britain especially to Canada and the United States or Australia and New Zealand. The population of Great Britain has been estimated at about 30 million by 1881 and of England and Wales at 26 million. The emigration figures for Great Britain for 1882 was about 29,000 so a little under one percent of the population was leaving these shores every ten years. Emigrants' Guides were produced by Pitt and Scott who were passenger agents. These contained letters extolling the new land for those willing to work and gave practical advice on what to bring to their new lives. They were also given cautionary advice. John Hale writes from Manitoba, “A man who drinks heavily is worse off there than at home” and, “working men and their families must expect a little rough life for a few months until they get properly settled down”.

So looking back at that 1881 Census was “Fennimore” as Sidney’s middle name, a homage to James Fenimore Cooper in his leatherstocking books and especially “The Last of the Mohicans” had brought the pioneer glamour of America to England. Or was it not so much a sense of adventure but a realisation that with John and William marrying younger wives it might be many years before he would come into any inheritance. At this distance we cannot be sure but we do know that by 21st May1891 he is established in the St George’s ward of Toronto in Ontario, Canada. He is now forty-two years old and a “piano tuner and musician”. His son Harry aged 18 is a confectioner and John, 16 is a fur cutter. They are all put down as Church of England. Their neighbours are tradesmen and railwaymen servants and machinists and immediately next door is an Irish hotel keeper and his family.

Toronto has a mix of faiths and backgrounds with Evangelical Baptists and Irish Roman Catholics. There were some 22 riots or near riots between Catholics and Protestants of Irish origin between 1867 and 1892. Toronto was on Lake Ontario and raw materials and people came by ship to the waterfront but the coming of the railway in1855 and its development over the next half century turned it into a railway centre and by 1891 into a rapidly developing large industrial city. In 1861 Horse-drawn street cars first appeared and were electrified in the 1890s. Telephone and electric lights in homes and businesses as well as on the streets arrived in the 1880s. Modern flush toilets came at the end of the century and the first skyscrapers, at first a modest seven storey Board of Trade building in 1889, were built.

This is the noisy bustling city that Joseph and his family came to. It is therefore even more of a surprise to find he was neither butcher nor spinner or in one of the new industries. When did Joseph Ball Butcher change into Joseph Ball musician and piano tuner? What type of music did he play? Was he a classical musician in a local concert hall or did he earn a living in the Music Hall or even street corner? Of course we must not forget that pianos had their heyday in the Victorian era and most homes aspired to have an upright piano in the parlour. In a sense piano-tuning was part of a new industry.

By 1901 he was living in the centre of Toronto and, aged 52, he is just described as "musician". Annie, his wife is 40 and is not working. All the children except Sidney have gone and he is 20 and also described as a musician. Over the next years the children marry in Toronto and have children of their own. Harry marries in 1895 and is shown with his family in 1901. His job is given as an Auto Inspector Maker although I suspect this may be a mistranscription. His mother is given as Elizabeth. Frederick Gilbert marries in 1897. Sydney, the youngest marries in 1906 (and his mother is Judith Annie Jewell -should be Sewell). His middle name is given as Venimore so the idea that he was given the name in honour of the New World pioneers is probably wrong. Looking back at Ramsey we find that the local MP is a certain Venimore Sewell. It may be just coincidence but Judith Annie’s maiden name was Sewell. I looks as if, after all, it was an allusion to a family name. Perhaps Joseph had always been a reluctant butcher



Spadina Avenue from Queen Street

from 100 Views of Toronto published 1900 -1910 with the kind permission of Benjamin Nagy

Joseph and Annie had appeared in the 1911 Toronto Census giving their address as 258 Augusta. He is now 62 and still a musician. Joseph dies in July 1920 and Annie J Ball dies some three years later ion 9 April 1923. All around their deaths you can see marriages of grandchildren. It is in the New World that the descendants of John Ball and vicariously of William Weekley Ball now live. The notoriety and tragedy of the Ringstead butchers is now long forgotten. Perhaps that was what Joseph and Annie Judith wanted when they took they brave step of making a new life for themselves




England& Wales FreeBMD Birth Index 1837 – 1915 (

England& Wales FreeBMD Marriage Index 1837 – 1915 (

Ontario, CanadaDeaths 1869 – 1934 ( (Toronto marriages).

English Censuses for 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881 (

Canadian Censuses 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911 (

BostonPassenger Lists 1820 -1943 (

( ) Papers Past – New Zealand Colonist and Port Nicholson Advertiser – 5 May 1843

Peterborough Advertiser 15th November 1879

The Emigrants Guide for 1883 Pitt and Scott ( ) a site run by Benjamin Nagy

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