The Heart of the Matter *

When Noah Palmer, son of Robert, wed the ill-fated Britannia Cooper, daughter of Nelson, on Jersey, in the Channel Islands, on 1st March 1852, Noah, perhaps oddly, used the surname Hart. The couple were to go on to baptise their first known child, Nathaniel, in Wraxall, Somerset, on 6th February 1854, with this surname too; however, the remainder of their family appear to have been baptised using Palmer. Noah and his family emigrated to the United States, of course, where he always used the name of Palmer and where, in 1890, the tragic murder and suicide involving Noah and Britannia was to occur.

But to return to Robert Palmer; when he wed Lydia Smith, the daughter of Elijah Smith and Sophia Lee, he, too, used the surname Hart. The marriage took place at Norwich St. Giles, in Norfolk, was witnessed by Benjamin Smith and Isabella Smith, and all made their marks. Isabella was a sister of Lydia’s, and her union with Nelson Cooper meant that the marriage between Noah Hart/Palmer and Britannia Cooper was that of cousins (Nelson and Isabella has baptised Britannia in Putney, Surrey, on 13th January 1833).

Robert and Lydia, interestingly, used the surname Hart when they baptised several of their known children. At Wimbledon, in Surrey, the couple baptised a daughter, Caroline Hart, on 19th February 1837; their son, Amberline Hart, was baptised on 21st October 1838, Robert being described as a ‘travelling huckster.’ Subsequently, two baptisms were recorded in Berkshire, Sampson Hart, at Binfield, on 22nd November 1840, son of Robert and Lydia, and Abednego Hart at Reading, on 17th March 1843, son of Robert and Elizabeth (sic).

Additionally, a daughter born early in Robert and Lydia’s marriage, on 2nd August 1824, was baptised as an adult at St.Luke’s, Chelsea, Middlesex, on 22nd February 1850, giving her name as Mary Ann Hart, her parents as Robert and Lydia, and her father’s occupation as that of ‘horse dealer.’ We know there are other children, probably a Genti, certainly a Charles and, of course, Noah.

Genti was probably born around 1823, and formed a union with Oliver Cooper, son of John and Charlotte; Noah was born about 1825; Charles born c1827, forming a union with Georgina/Georgiana Lee, daughter of Arthur and Yumi; Amberline/Hamelin, who united with Odessa Boswell; Abednego/Bendigo, who formed a partnership with Eppie Cooper; Sampson, and his partner, Ada Smith.

Charles and Georgina appear in the 1861 and 1871 census records in London, using the surname of Palmer, and, in 1861, in Chelsea, Charles is a horse dealer, with children Edward, Remembrance, Lydia, Hamelin, Elizabeth and Missouri, confirming that some of the children had been born during a trip to America.

Fascinatingly, the baptisms or civil births I have been able to trace use both Hart and Palmer. Remembrance, for example, is registered as a Hart, born in Camberwell in 1850; Lydia is also baptised with the surname Hart, at Milverton, Somerset, on 12th July 1852, the daughter of a brazier; in Bedminster both Amalane (Amberline/Hamelin) and Elizabeth are baptised as Palmers on 26th February 1860, with helpful notes from the cleric: Amalane was 3 years, 5 months, and had been born in America, in Georgia, and his sister, Elizabeth, aged 18 months, had been born in South Carolina, their father recorded as a horse dealer. On 1st July that same year, at St. James’s, Milton, Hampshire, Missouri Palmer is baptised, the daughter of a dealer, presumably named in memory of their American sojourn.

By the 1871 census, when the family are in Gray’s Inn Road, Missouri does not appear, surely this is because it is her death that is registered in the September quarter of 1864 in Pancras, recorded as Mazora Palmer. That same year Charles and Georgina had baptised a son on New Year’s day at St. Bartholomew’s, Camden, with the name Noah Palmer, son of a horse dealer. The 1871 census appears to show this Noah as Ernest Palmer, and the couple have also added Susan, born in 1866, and Emma, born in 1868, to their brood.

Presumably Robert Palmer, and sons Noah and Charles, are using the name Hart because it may well be their legal name, derived perhaps from Robert’s mother, or his grandmother, or because it is historically referenced by a family that have long forgotten how it was derived.

  • Our thanks go to John Caple, whose research has led to this story. He is an artist whose book, Somerset, the paintings of John Caple, is a splendid example of art and creativity in the West Country.