Hannah was born Hannah Bates in 1856. Her father was James Bates, a general labourer, and her mother was most likely, Ann Tilbury, a millhand. Little is known so far about her childhood, but it seems her father died when she was around 2 years of age. In 1872, she became Hannah ROLLETT when when she, an 18 year old Silk mill hand married Alexander ROLLETT, a 19 year old ‘Labourer at [the] Colour Works’. [Edit: If the date on her birth certificate is correct, then Hannah was actually not yet 16.] This seemed to begin a lifelong association for Hannah with the West End area of Derby, also known as the slums.
Searching the newspapers for Alexander brought up an assault on a police constable he had been involved in 1876, as well as an assault on his wife (Hannah) the previous year, and a charge of drunkenness. “Poor Hannah,” I thought. “Another woeful tale of an abusive alcoholic husband – this must be what made her leave Rollett and take up with William”. But I thought too soon; my next search for ‘Hannah Rollett’ brought up many more mentions than there had been for Alexander and she certainly seemed to be quite the character! With the help of the newspaper articles and some maps, I started piecing Hannah’s story together.
After a couple years of marriage, Hannah and Alexander had their first child, William in 1874. [Evidence suggests they actually had a daughter in 1872 – Sarah Jane Rollett – but I’m uncertain she was Alexander’s] The very next year, Alexander was charged with assaulting Hannah, but because it happened ‘at Rose Hill’, she was directed to ‘apply’ to the County Bench. This was recorded in Friday’s edition of the Derby Mercury, 25 August, 1875.
A few days later, Hannah was convicted of assaulting Alexander’s sister, Sarah Ann. The article notes this occurred at about 3 o’clock on the Saturday; the same day Hannah appeared in the Derby Borough Police Court.
ASSAULT CASE.-Hannah Rollett was summoned for assaulting her sister-in-law, Sarah Ann Rollett, at about three o’clock on the Saturday afternoon previous. -The evidence was of a disgraceful character, and defendant was fined 5s, and costs; in default, seven days’ imprisonment. -On leaving the dock defendant threatened what she would do to the complainant when she came out of gaol; whereupon the Bench ordered her back into the dock and called upon her to find sureties for her good behaviour for three months – herself in the sum of 20l., and two sureties in 5l. each, or one at 10l. – Prisoner said that she might as well be in gaol as anywhere else, and they would have to keep her there.
There was clearly no love lost between the two and although it is not stated what the argument was about, I presume Hannah’s recent charges against Alexander must have had something to do with it.
Their second son, John William was born the next year in September 1876, which means Hannah was heavily pregnant when Alexander assaulted a police constable on the night of August 13, 1876.
MURDEROUS ASSAULT ON A POLICEMAN. -Three men, named Alexander Rollett, William Gell, and William Murphy, were charged with violently assaulting Police-constable Simeon Webster when in the execution of his duty. -The policeman was unable to attend the Court in consequence of the injuries he had sustained. -It appeared that at midnight on Sunday he went to a disturbance in Willow-row, and had no sooner arrived on the scene than he was hit on the back with a brick. He took hold of the man he believed to have thrown it, and was then felled to the ground bleeding and senseless by a brick which was thrown from another quarter, and which struck him on the temple. While on the ground a mob gathered round him and pelted him with bricks and stones, besides kicking him brutally on the body, and they left him apparently dead. He was shortly afterwards taken home, and medical assistance obtained, but he now lies in a precarious state. The three prisoners, when arrested on the charge, emphatically denied it, but a hat found near the scene of the assault is supposed to belong to Gill [sic]. -The men were remanded for a week.
Despite Alexander’s claim he was home by half past 10 that night, he was sentenced (on 29th August) to six months imprisonment for his role in the attack . Less than two weeks later, on the 9th September, Hannah gave birth to their second son and life was certainly not going to get any easier…
Continued in ‘The Hannah Chronicles’