James & Elizabeth SHELDON (nee STAFFORD) - missing for 40 years

3 replies [Last post]
Last seen: 35 weeks 5 hours ago
Joined: Monday, 20-04-2015

Hello everyone.  This is my first post so please forgive me if I've made any glaring errors.  My query is about Elizabeth STAFFORD & her husband James SHELDON, Elizabeth being the sister of my great, great grandfather Joseph Stafford.

James Sheldon who was born in 1811 in Bonsall, Derbyshire was the son of Job Sheldon Esq who died in Aberystwyth in 1844.  In Job’s very lengthy and wordy Will written circa 1837, it mentioned that James was living in Old Hall St Liverpool where he worked as a druggist. This address is also found on the record of his marriage to Elizabeth Stafford at Liverpool St Bride in 1842. Their first two sons were born in Lancashire but the third son, John Sheldon, was born in 1850 at Llwyntidman, Shropshire.  In the 1851 census, Elizabeth (married, head of household) and her three sons are living in Llwyntidman but there’s no sign of James.  However, there is a James Sheldon, (aged 41, visitor, landed proprietor) recorded in this same 1851 census at Pier St, Aberystwyth.  This may just be a coincidence, however property in Pier St is mentioned in Job’s Will.

Elizabeth disappears for 40 years but in the 1891 census she’s recorded as being a widow, living in Alvanley, Cheshire.

As their two older sons, James Stafford Sheldon & Job Sheldon emigrated to New Zealand & Australia respectively, I’ve searched countless records to see whether the whole family emigrated, with the possibility of James dying and Elizabeth returning to England. However both James Stafford Sheldon (the eldest son) and Job Sheldon (the middle son) emigrated at different times so the above theory is unlikely.

James Stafford Sheldon married Bridget SULLIVAN in Dublin in 1868 where they were both working as servants.  On the marriage record it states that James Sheldon, chemist was his father. It doesn’t say that he was deceased but of course there’s nothing to say he was living either.  After  Bridget died in 1874 James Stafford Sheldon emigrated to New Zealand and it was there in 1877 that he married for a second time, but I’ve been unable to find any immigration records for him.  He & Bridget had a daughter, Mary Anne, who was born in Ireland in 1869 but apart from her appearance in the 1871 England census, I can find no other records for her.

In 1869, his brother Job Sheldon married Eliza Sophia BOUCHARD in London where he was working as a schoolmaster with the Grenadier Guards at the time.  James Sheldon, surgeon, is named as his father on his marriage record.  Eliza died in 1881 and by the end of 1884, Job and his three children had all emigrated to Australia.  On Job’s death certificate in 1914, James Sheldon, medical practitioner, is named as his father.  Job was the local Member of Parliament for Narrabri, NSW between 1891-1894.  In the archives of the NSW Legislative Assembly it names his father as James Sheldon, medical practitioner and his mother as Elizabeth Stafford.  Elizabeth died in 1911 in Penketh, Lancashire.

So, just where did James Sheldon spend his life between the birth of his third son in 1850 and his death, presumably before the England census of 1891 when Elizabeth said she was a widow?  And where was Elizabeth for those 40 years?

I’d be most appreciative if anyone out there who knows anything at all about this family can give me a few clues to help solve the mystery.

With kind regards,

Jenny Grant

Burradoo, NSW, Australia

Peter John
Last seen: 14 weeks 1 day ago
Joined: Saturday, 2-07-2011


It seems unlikely that James was born in Bonsall, given that the Aberystwyth Observer issue of 18 November 1909 shows that his father Job was Mayor of Aberystwyth in 1804, 1810, 1812 & 1814 (and also in 1815, 1821, 1823, 1825, 1827, 1829, 1832 & 1834) [see this link: http://welshnewspapers.llgc.org.uk/en/page/view/3051072/ART33/job-sheldon]

However what is intriguing is that a fellow Mayor (in 1813 & 1822) was a George Bonsall.

That said Job himself did hail from Derbyshire, so perhaps his wife returned there to give birth to James?


Last seen: 35 weeks 5 hours ago
Joined: Monday, 20-04-2015

I'm so sorry to have taken so long to thank you for that link Peter, but I wasn't aware that you'd replied to my post.

I agree with you that it's unlikely that James was born in Bonsall, but in Aberystwyth and this fact is stated on his record in the 1851 Wales census.  James's & Elizabeth's children were born in Childwell, Lancashire (James Stafford Sheldon - 1843); Birkenhead, Cheshire (Job - 1847); & Llwyntidman, Shropshire (John - 1850) so with each new birth the family were making their way back closer to Wales.  These three boys were given the names of their father, paternal grandfather & maternal grandfather in that order.

At the time James was recorded as visiting Pier St, Aberystwyth in the 1851 census, Elizabeth & family were living in Llwyntidman, Shropshire but between then & the 1891 census I can find no records at all for James or Elizabeth.  It is sooooo frustrating.  I've been able to trace the movements of James Stafford & Job but not John.  While these people are not on my direct line, Elizabeth was my gx2 grandfather's sister, I'm just very very curious to know what happened to James as he seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth.  

With kind regards,

Jenny Grant

Mittagong, NSW, Australia

Last seen: 35 weeks 5 hours ago
Joined: Monday, 20-04-2015

James & Elizabeth Sheldon …. From Riches to Rags

With amazing assistance from Peter John, who I must say has done the lion’s share of the work, those missing 40 years have been found and following is a possible/probable scenario.

James was made a Burgess of Aberystwyth in 1833, and was quite possibly then being groomed by his father to take over his considerable business interests, however Job may have soon realised that his son had not inherited his own business acumen. James may have been sent away to Liverpool to acquire a professional trade that would enable him to provide for himself after his father’s death.

However, upon his father’s death in 1844, and the Will being proved on the 4th of August 1844 by the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, James inevitably inherited (what has been described as) his father’s immense wealth and he & Elizabeth may initially have enjoyed all of the associated trappings of such wealth - as seemingly evidenced by their respective 1851 census entries.

Although James is named as a principal beneficiary in his father’s Will, it is telling that it was Job’s brother Solomon in London (and not James himself) who was named as his Executor.  It’s most likely that James would have been completely out of his depth when it came to dealing with the “vultures” that may have been circling him in Aberystwith & beyond - sensing any weaknesses that his father had already perceived. Additionally, the death of his celebrated uncle Solomon Sheldon in London in 1848 may have left him unsupported at a critical time.

Between the time he was recorded in the 1851 Wales census as being a Landed Proprietor and a visitor at Llanbadarn Fawr, Cardiganshire, and when he was recorded as being a chemist/druggist residing in New Portland Place, London in 1856, his fortunes must have already been dwindling.  At that time his 1st cousin, James Sheldon Esq, (son of Solomon his father’s brother) was living 5 miles away with his family in Sheldon Villas in Clapton Rd and while this James was then a man of means, by the time he died in 1861 his Estate was valued at £100.

It should also be noted that at the time of their marriage, James’s wife Elizabeth Stafford, also had money & property which had been left to her by her father John Stafford, builder of Chester, when he died in 1837.

So, in 1856 James was in London, perhaps sussing out the possibility of the whole family moving there which they obviously did as Elizabeth gave birth to their 4th son, Joseph Solomon Sheldon, on the 4th of May 1861 ….. in the Greenwich Union Workhouse.

Joseph’s birth record shows his father’s address as 5 North Pole Place, Norman Road, Greenwich.  However, and almost true to form, a check on the 1861 census record for that address does not have James or Elizabeth living there.  To date, their residence in 1861 is yet to be found.

James had regular admissions to & discharges from the Greenwich Union Workhouse between 1868 and when he died there in 1890, and on most of those occasions he continued to be described as a chemist.

As for his wife, Elizabeth, she only makes one appearance in that time and that was when their son Joseph Solomon Sheldon was born.  There are no census records showing where she was living until 1891 when she was back in the arms of her family, living with her cousin William Stafford, his wife Betsy & other assorted relations in Alvanley, Cheshire.

From around the time James, Elizabeth & family arrived in London their lives had begun a downward spiral.  It’s heartening to know that two of their sons eventually made good, James Stafford Sheldon in New Zealand, and Job Sheldon in Australia.

In 1861, the year his youngest brother Joseph Solomon Sheldon was born in the Workhouse, James Stafford Sheldon, at the age of 18, joined the Army.  His unit was deployed to Ireland and it was here that he met & then (in 1868) married Bridget Sullivan.  His marriage record shows that his father was James Sheldon, chemist. James & Bridget’s first daughter, Mary Ann, was born in Belturbet, Cavan, Ireland in 1869 and within a couple years the family had moved to Aldershot in Kent.  By the end of his Army service another two children had been born, James Stafford Sheldon Jnr in 1871 in Farnham, Surrey, and an unnamed daughter born in 1873 who only lived for 3 months.  Sadly Mary Ann died in the Norwood Workhouse, Lambeth in 1873 at the age of 4, and James Jnr died in the same place in May 1874.  Evidence of Bridget’s demise hasn’t been found to date but one can only assume that by 1875 when James emigrated to New Zealand with absolutely nothing to lose, she had already died.

 James Stafford Sheldon, obituary:


“The death is announced of Mr James Sheldon, of Stoke, which occurred early yesterday morning.  Although the deceased has been ailing for some considerable time past, his end was unexpected.  He went to bed as usual on Sunday evening, but during the night he had a seizure which terminated fatally about three o’clock yesterday morning.  Deceased had been licensee of the Turn Hotel, at Stoke, for the past twenty years and before that was in the Police Force, being stationed at Richmond.  He was of a quiet disposition, and was very popular with the travelling public.  He leaves a widow and several daughters.”

(www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz – Colonist, Volume XLVII, Issue 11439, 19 September 1905.)

Job Sheldon emigrated to Australia in 1882 and by 1891 he’d become a Member of the NSW Legislative Assembly & the Member for Namoi, a post he held from the 26th of June 1891 until the 25th of June 1894 3yr(s).   

Qualifications, Occupations & Interests:

He enlisted in the army at age 18 and was appointed schoolmaster to the regiment. He arrived in New South Wales in 1882.  He lived with his uncle, Joseph Stafford, for a year. He was employed by Barry & Stafford in Narrabri, as a clerk. After leaving the Legislative Assembly he went into business as a land agent and acted for a time as an officer of the Parliament.


Son of James Sheldon, medical practitioner, and Elizabeth Stafford. Married (1) Elizabeth Sophie Bouchard c.1870 and had issue, 2 daughters. Married (2) Harriett Emily Halls on 5 August 1890 at Granville, New South Wales and had issue. Church of England.


Job Sheldon, obituary:

We have to announce with deep regret that Mr Job Sheldon, who has been ill for some weeks with double pneumonia in Sydney, died early this morning (says the North-Western Courier of Monday).  Job Sheldon was one of the best known and oldest identities of the Narrabri district.  His tall and upright military figure had been known here for the past thirty years.  In his early life he was in the Grenadier Guards and he carried the hall mark of that great corps throughout his life.  In 1884 he came to Narrabri and was associated with Mr A R Stafford, as confidential clerk, for several years.  In 1894 he went into Parliament for this district in the Labour interest, but he was a rebel against Caucus domination from the start.  Later he contested Gunnedah unsuccessfully.  When Mr G S E Dale owned the “Age” newspaper here, Mr Sheldon was appointed editor, and later he became a partner in the concern.  He was also for some years carrying on business as a land agent in Narrabri.  The deceased was a first cousin of Mr A R Stafford, and was twice married.  By his first marriage he had issue one son, John Stafford Sheldon, and three daughters and later to the present Mrs Sheldon, one son, Cecil, who is a member of the Light Horse Expeditionary Force about to sail for Europe.

(www.trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper - Maitland Mercury, 20th September 1914.)

When they emigrated, both sons must’ve been aware of their parents’ predicament.  Perhaps they both had plans to make good themselves and send financial support from across the globe, or perhaps they’d already written them off as a lost cause.  At all times however, records show that they still wanted the world to know that their father was a chemist/surgeon and they didn’t appear to acknowledge his fall from grace.