Monday, June 9, 2014

Joseph George Defriez: East End Surgeon

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By the mid-1870s, most of the Defriez children had left home. The boys had gone to sea and were sailing around the world and the girls had married. Their father Joseph George Defriez continued his work as a medical doctor in the East End of London and their mother Mary Ann Godfrey Defriez helped run a branch of the post office.

1871 England Census.

Their home at 173 Bethnal Green Road in Bethnal Green would have been a busy one, centered as it was in a crowded and poverty-stricken area of London. The Defriezes were busy people and usually had a servant or two to help run their home.

Some of you may have seen the magnificent BBC production Call the Midwife. (If you haven't, you may want to remedy that, but do realize that due to its medical content it is not suitable for children.) The show is set in Poplar, London, somewhat closer to the Thames than Bethnal Green, but although the show is set seventy years later, many of the people and situations would give you a sense of the lives the DeFriezes would have lived.

Joseph was the oldest child of Joseph Defriez, a funeral feather merchant, and Sarah Harrington Defriez. (See: Joseph Defriez and the Freedom of the City of London.) He had been well educated and he had a busy practice involving all areas of medicine. He married active and intelligent Mary Ann Godfrey in 1842 and they had ten children.

In 1863 and 1864 the Poor Law Board of the House of Commons held hearings looking into the practices of Dr. Moore, who, like Joseph was a medical officer of the Parish of St. Matthew in Bethnal Green. The hearings and testimony provide a glimpse into Joseph's medical practice.

Here is a chart showing the number of childbirths Joseph attended over a ten-year period. He attended between 7 and 52 normal cases in a year, and between 3 and 7 complicated or "extra" cases.

Here is his deposition in the Moore case.

What a treasure! This is the first time we've ever heard Joseph George Defriez in his own words.

Note the insight into the Dickensian conditions: he is saying that he attended a child living in a filthy attic in a home just 40 feet from his house. It was a crowded, poverty-stricken area in ways that we can scarcely imagine in modern America. (For more insight into the poverty in England at that time, read Dickens' Oliver Twist or David Copperfield.)

And don't miss the genealogical content: "I live opposite Hollybush-place...I have lived there 14 years. I have eight children living—10 in family."

At the time his wife Mary Anne had given birth to nine children. Their son Arthur died in 1849, and curiously, if Joseph had given the deposition a few days later, he would have had to report nine living children since his son Herbert was born two days after the February 13, 1864 deposition.

Tragically, their youngest sons, Herbert and Alexander died about two years later. They died in the winter, so it may have been from diphtheria or another infectious illness, rather than cholera, which showed up in the summer, including the huge June 1866 epidemic in the East End, which would have kept Joseph busy all that summer after the deaths of his son, attending and quarantining patients and filing medical reports for some of the 5,600 deaths.

About a year after the deaths of their two sons, the Defriezes were saddened to hear of the death of their son Josiah in an accident on board the ship Mary Warren. He was buried at sea somewhere near Indonesia.

* * *

A few years later Joseph found himself in legal trouble after a patient, Sarah Parker, died during the birth of her twins.

Something about the death suggested the physician may have been at fault and he was called into court. [1] The court record shows that Joseph George Defriez, surgeon, age 50, surrendered himself at court, the famous Old Bailey, on April 6, 1871. This means that he probably would not have spent time in the adjacent and infamous Newgate Prison.

Joseph was charged with "feloniously Killing and Slaying Sarah Parker."

The other prisoners on trial that day were William Hill, a cabdriver also accused of manslaughter, and Louisa Salter, accused of perjury.

All three were found not guilty.

Here is the summary of his trial.
JOSEPH GEORGE DEFRIEZ, Killing & manslaughter, 3rd April 1871. 
326. JOSEPH GEORGE DEFRIEZ (50), Feloniously killing and slaying Sarah Parker. He was also charged on the Coroner's Inquisition with the like offence. 
MESSRS. HARRIS and HUMPHERY conducted the Prosecution; and MR. METCALFE the Defence. 
It appeared, from the medical evidence, that the cause of death was rupture of the womb, caused, probably, by the presence of twins, and not by any neglect of the prisoner, who was the surgeon attending the deceased. 

* * *

In the mid-1870s, Mary Anne Defriez was searching for spiritual meaning. She became affiliated with a small offshoot group of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but was quickly disappointed by its practices. Then her son Ebenezer returned home to England. He had joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Australia and migrated to Utah where he was called as a missionary to England.

His parents welcomed him with open arms. Joseph outfitted his son as befitted a minister and Mary Anne and her son William and daughter Frances joined the Church. (Their son Charles, my 3rd great grandfather, was also a sailor and left Australia and the Orient and joined his brother Ebenezer in Utah and subsequently joined the church there. Their shipboard training came in handy in St. George when they were called upon to help lift the heavy baptismal font into place in the St. George Temple under the direction of another old British sailor, George Jarvis, later Charles's and his sister Frances's father-in-law.)

Unfortunately, this was a difficult era for the Church in England. The actions of Apostle Albert Carrington left Joseph George Defriez with little sympathy toward the Church. (Story here, but do be aware that the content is disturbing.) Somehow Mary Anne and a few of her children retained their testimonies through this trying time and they left for America in the summer of 1877.

A granddaughter summarized the events as follows:
This was a terrible blow—[Joseph's] authority defied, his dignity wounded, his social standing shattered, his home broken, his loved ones gone. He never seems to have regained his former prestige, but his life became lonely and morose. He refused to associate with the friends of his wife or children, or his wife’s kindred. He must have suffered greatly, and finally concluded he was not entirely right in the course he had taken, ‘tho’ he still considered himself wronged. 
Several years after his wife’s departure, she received a book from her husband, entitled, “A Wife’s Duty.” On the fly-leaf he had written, “I will forgive you for all, if you will only bring my baby back to me,” and signed. But it was too late, his “baby” [Frances "Fanny" Godfrey Defriez Jarvis] was married and had a home and children.
Joseph continued to work as a doctor but left his home on Bethnal Green Road and moved into the home of his brother-in-law, William Clarke.

* * *

Not much is known about his last years. He died on August 29, 1887, shortly after attending a Masonic dinner.

His wife Mary Anne remarried in St. George, Utah, where she was a central figure in the early music scene, including teaching many children to play piano and organ, even after she went totally blind, and at some point (probably) divorced and moved with her daughter's family to Mexico, where she died in 1902.

Joseph George Defriez's will was proved not long after he died. He probably left his comfortable middle-class estate to his children who remained in England, Joseph and Mary Anne, and perhaps other relatives as well. 

If someone cared, they could order his will. In the United Kingdom, wills were formerly ordered from Somerset House. It is now more complicated, but still possible with the information shown in the record above.

I see that Joseph's grandfather's will can be ordered more easily online since he died before 1858 (Will of Richard Defriez, Gentleman of Saint Georges East, Middlesex).

[1] A History of the Criminal Law of England, Vol. 1, mentions a case where a doctor was tried and convicted of manslaughter "for causing the death of a woman in delivering her of a child. The judge...summed up strongly for an acquittal, remarking on the slightness of the evidence that the man was drunk at the time; but the jury convicted him, well knowing that he was a notorious and habitual drunkard" (573-574). Since Joseph George was acquitted, there was probably no malpractice involved.

1851-1881 England and Wales Census.

"Bethnal Green: Building and Social Conditions from 1837 to 1875," November 2013, British History Online.

England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966 [database on-line]. Provo, Utah:, 2010.

London, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1965 [database on-line]. Provo, Utah:, 2010.

London, England, Marriages and Banns, 1754-1921 [database on-line]. Provo, Utah:, 2010.

Overson, Margaret Jarvis. George Jarvis and Joseph George DeFriez Genealogy. Mesa, Arizona: 1957.

The House of Commons, "Poor Law (Sarah Dove). Parish of Bethnal Green—Charges Against Dr. Moore, &c." Accounts and Papers: Thirty-Six Volumes. Vol. 52, Poor (United Kingdom), Session 4 February–29 July 1864. 28 April 1864, 19, 24–25, 43, 55–57, 66, 76. (Source.)

The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, London's Criminal Court, 1674 to 1913. [Website.]

1 comment:

  1. My g/grandfather was deputy to Dr.Defriez after Dr. Moore resigned, in May 1887. After you ancestor died, he took on the Poor Law district until Dr. Plews replaced him on 13.10.1887.
    Vince Quinlivan