Tag: Brooklyn NY

White Collar Criminal

When London accountant Henry Keene Smithers started to steal from his employer, he didn’t hold back. In 1858, he pleaded guilty of embezzling 1,450 pounds (about $62,500 pounds, or $113,000 Canadian, in today’s money) from the Commercial Dock Company. He was sentenced to six years in prison.

Henry was born in 1812 at Canterbury Place, Walford, Surrey, south of London.1 His father, also named Henry Keene Smithers, was a coal merchant and accountant; his mother, Charlotte Letitia Pittman, had roots in Antigua. Henry Keene junior was the second of the couple’s seven surviving children and older brother to my great-great grandfather, Charles Francis Smithers. 

The Smithers family had been “non-conformists” for several generations, meaning they were members of the Congregational church. Henry and his father were both members of the Fishmongers Guild and had been admitted to the Freedom of the City of London, which gave them some traditional privileges. 

It is unlikely that any of these factors led Henry into a life of crime and, although he pleaded guilty, he did not reveal his motives during the trial. On June 18, 1854 The Times described him as a “gentlemanly-looking man,” adding that the prisoner “had himself given information which led to the discovery of what had been going on, and he urged that this was a circumstance favourable to him.”

The company’s lawyer told the court that Henry had been stealing over a four-year period and that the actual sum he had embezzled was between 8,000 and 9,000 pounds. Henry’s lawyer tried to create some sympathy for his client by arguing that he had not been paid a salary commensurate with his responsibilities as the company’s secretary. He added there had been a great deal of illness in the accused’s family, and his daughter had died shortly before the trial.

Records show that Henry married Alice Lance in 1836, and the couple had six children, two of whom died young. In 1854, Alice died, aged 40. A year later, Henry married Louisa Lance (who may or may not have been related to Alice) and they had a daughter. Henry’s 12-year-old daughter Emma did die shortly before his court date.

Henry was likely imprisoned in London’s Millbank Prison. When Louisa and five children appeared in the 1861 census of England, she described herself as “wife” rather than head of the household, although Henry was not present, and gave her occupation as annuitant, indicating she had some income. 

When Henry was released from prison, the family must have decided to start afresh. By 1870, Henry and Louisa and three children, two of whom were now grown up, were living in Brooklyn, NY, a city that was also home to brother Charles and his family. Henry told the census taker his occupation was professor.

Henry died in Brooklyn in 1874, age 62. His youngest daughter had died the previous year. Louisa returned to England, where she remained until her death in 1901, and Henry’s four surviving children from his first marriage also lived most of their lives in England.

Research Remarks  My great-great grandfather Charles Francis Smithers, who immigrated to North America around 1847, grew up in Surrey, across the Thames River from central London. I had done a little research on his family, but since I was going to visit London this fall, I wanted to know more.

In the 1980s, a distant cousin wrote a privately published book about the Smithers, focusing mainly on family members in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I started my research where she left off, but my real breakthrough came when I contacted Michael Smither in England.

Janice and Michael in Chelmsford

Michael has been doing a one-name study (with three different spellings: Smither, Smythers and Smithers) for some 25 years, and he has posted information on more than 7,600 individuals on the Public Member Tree section of Ancestry. Only a few of those people are actually related to me, but Charles Francis Smithers’ grandparents, aunts and uncles, and even his great-great-grandfather are there.   

I often ignore those public trees, but Michael posted the sources of his information, so that gave me confidence in his research. I contacted him by e-mail, we corresponded for several weeks, then agreed to meet near London. I gave him the information I had on the North American side of the family and he has gone out of his way to share his knowledge. In fact, this story is primarily based on his research, so thank you, Michael. The Henry Keene Smithers page is at http://trees.ancestry.com/tree/49405444/person/12982390169.

I love collaborative genealogy: it is fun to share your interests, and it can be very productive as each person brings his or her knowledge and perspectives to the task. I’ll be writing more stories about the Smithers this year.

When we met in Chelmsford, Essex, Michael Smither gave me my branch of the Smithers family tree.


  1. Ancestry.com. London, England, Freedom of the City Admission Papers, 1681-1925[database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Freedom admissions papers, 1681 – 1925. London, England: London Metropolitan Archives. COL/CHD/FR/02.

Mrs. Robert Stanley Bagg

Clara with daughters Gwen and Evelyn, grandaughter Clare.

I have heard two stories about my great-grandmother, Clara Smithers, otherwise known as Mrs. R. Stanley Bagg. One story described her as shocking her friends by pushing a baby carriage down the street herself, rather than having the nanny do it.

My mother told me the other story: when my mother was a little girl, Grandmother Bagg was very strict about making her clean all the dirt off her shoes before she got into her grandmother’s car.

A 1930 collection of short biographies of prominent Canadian women said Mrs. Bagg occupied “a leading place in local hospital and charitable work.” She was a governor of the Montreal General Hospital and the Children’s Memorial Hospital, and she volunteered for the Ladies’ Benevolent Society and the Day Nursery. According to her obituary, she was also active in St. James the Apostle Church, an Anglican church located near her downtown Montreal home.

In addition, she was a member the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire (IODE), a federation of women founded in 1900 to promote patriotism, loyalty and service to others, and of the Art Association, Themis Club, Royal Montreal Golf Club and Montreal Hunt Club.

Clara was born in Montreal in 1860 to Charles Francis Smithers, an English-born banker, and Martha Bagnall Shearman, his Irish-born wife. The family lived in Brooklyn for many years while Clara was growing up, and returned to Montreal in 1879. Two years later, her father became president of the Bank of Montreal.

Clara married lawyer and businessman Robert Stanley Bagg in 1882, when she was 22 and Stanley was 34, and they had two daughters and a son: Evelyn, Gwen and Harold.

Clara Bagg and baby Harold Fortescue Stanley Bagg, 1895.

The Baggs were members of an elite group of English-speaking Protestant Montrealers whose values were those of the British Empire: good manners, duty, family, love of God, hard work. Their unquestioned role was to lead, and to preserve the status quo.

Clara would have been expected to respect her husband’s authority, to oversee the household servants, and to follow the rules of etiquette. She joined the previously mentioned organizations in order to meet her obligations of noblesse oblige, to socialize with the right people, and probably to keep from being bored.

There were some difficult times. Surviving family letters suggest that Stanley found his work very stressful, and that he was in poor health for some years. He died of cancer in 1912, while the family was on holiday in Kennebunkport, Maine. Presumably they had hoped the sea air would be good for him. A few months later, 17-year-old Harold was driving his mother’s car when he accidentally hit a child, killing him. In 1939, Harold’s 34-year-old wife, the former Katherine Louise Morse, of New York, died. Harold died in 1944, age 49.

Clara lived in the Bagg family home at the corner of Sherbrooke Street and Côte des Neiges Road for more than 50 years. She did not remarry. Both her grown daughters, each of whom had one daughter, lived a few blocks away, but I do not know whether they were close emotionally.

She died in 1946, at age 85, after a long illness. My mother said her grandmother was “completely batty” by the end of her life. I assume that meant she had dementia.

Photo credit: Courtesy McCord Museum; Bagg family collection

Research remarks:The Social and Personal Column of The Gazette is amazingly informative about this generation of the Bagg family and their friends. The column often noted when they had house guests or went on trips, and the newspaper printed long lists of the guests at weddings and debutante balls. Clara’s obituary is at http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=QX4tAAAAIBAJ&sjid=85gFAAAAIBAJ&pg=4254,4063099&dq=bagg+montreal&hl=en. As of 2022, numerous articles about the family from The Gazette and The Montreal Star can also be found through Newspapers.com.

Westley, Margaret W. Remembrance of Grandeur: the Anglo-Protestant Elite of Montreal, 1900-1950. Montreal: Éditions Libre Expression, 1990. Based on interviews with people who grew up in this milieu, this book paints a fascinating picture of the world in which Clara lived.

Several turn-of-the-century family letters and legal documents, including a reference to Harold’s accident, can be found in the Bagg, Abner and Stanley fonds (P070) at the McCord Museum in Montreal.

The biography of Mrs. R. Stanley Bagg is in a vanity publication, Women of Canada. Montreal, QC: Women of Canada, 1930. I have only the one page.