Thursday, 1 May 2014

A Man of Mystery

Robert David Stapleton, who were you? You are an enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in incomplete and/ or inaccurate documentation.

The births of Marianne (Annie), Henrietta (Ettie or Hettie), William, Frederick (Freddie), and Melinda (Linda, or Linnie) Smith were all registered in Tasmania, and all recorded as the children of William Henry Smith and Harlettee Louisa Groombridge. When Harlettee married William Turner in 1883, she was using the surname Smith and she had recorded on the marriage certificate that she had been widowed in July 1882.

Yet somehow, in adulthood, the children of William Smith began leaving his name out and instead listing their father as Robert David Stapleton.

It hadn't started yet when Henrietta died in 1889. On the death certificate for Hettie Gavin, nee Henrietta Smith, her father's name is given as William Smith, and his profession as tailor.

It hadn't started in 1891 when Linda Smith married her first husband, William Henry Gavin. That marriage certificate records that her father was William Henry Smith.

Yet later certificates, including her death certificate, say Robert David Stapleton.

This is her second marriage certificate:

This is the certificate from Linda's third marriage, to Hugh Simmons. Father: Robert David Stapleton, Gentleman (deceased).

Two of Linda's children appear to have been named in memory of Robert Stapleton - her son's middle name was Robert, and her daughter's was Roberta.

When Marianne married Thomas Talbot in 1913, it was as Marianne Stapleton Smith. Her death certificate is another document where the elusive Mr Stapleton is named as father, after she died in Victoria in 1917.

Frederick married Jane Magner and they had a son in 1890 named Frederick Stapleton Smith, yet Fred Snr's death certificate in 1919 says his father was William Smith.

Stapleton didn't entirely appear out of the blue when his children were adults. William Smith is recorded as William Henry Smith's son, but his name in the birth records is William G. Stapleton Smith. There is also a record of the death of a 5 year old boy in Tasmania in 1877 named Robert Stapleton Smith, but no information is given about his parents and I can't find a corresponding birth record.

I was given a box of old documents, and it contains this:
It is a completed application for a birth certificate for Robert David Stapleton, dated 1950, and it has been stamped Paid. The corresponding certificate was not in the box, and I don't know if it was found or not. I can't find a birth record that matches those details in the records that available to me. The really curious thing about this is that the applicant is M. Rush. That is Myrtle Rush, daughter of Harlettee Groombridge... and William Turner. She was born in 1889, long after Harlettee's previous husband died.

Myrtle and I clearly weren't the only ones wanting to find Mr Stapleton. This was also in the box:
It's dated 1973 so it is a response to an application made after Myrtle had passed away. I think perhaps the lady who gave me the documents, Linda Grumont, had been trying to track him down. She was the granddaughter of Melinda Smith, or Linda Stapleton, or Gavin, or Walsh, or Simmons. No record of his death between 1881 and 1885 was found in the Victorian Registry Office as a result of this enquiry. I haven't found it either.

So... was Robert Stapleton a real person? Was it an alias? Was he the real father of Harlettee's children with William Smith? Was he also the father of Myrtle Rush (nee Turner), and is that why she was trying to find his birth record? Was he an invention of someone to serve some purpose? Was he the real father of all the children from Harlettee's relationship with William Turner? After all, William was a man aged in his 70s at the time of their marriage, and around 76 years of age when the youngest child, Myrtle, was born. WHO WAS ROBERT DAVID STAPLETON?

I don't think I'll ever have the answers to these questions. The people who knew have all gone on ahead, and those who are left just have these odd, elusive clues that don't add up to a whole story.


  1. The red GRO search document for RDS is not an application for a certificate, it merely gives the enquirer permission to search the registers for a 5 year period (for a fee of 1/-). If the right entry was found, then an application would then have to be made and a further fee ensued.

  2. Thanks, Sandra. If a certificate had been obtained, I don't know where it ended up.

  3. You know, I think Myrtle went to Europe to visit her son's grave. He was a pilot during the war, and was lost over Amsterdam, I think. Perhaps she was looking up the certificate for her half sister as she passed through England on her journey?