The elusive Lizzie Ritchie

In a recent blog post here I discussed some of the accomplices who helped Charles Wells in his bank-breaking and other activities.  One of these was named by him as Lizzie Ritchie.  When he was held in jail for fraud her name appears on a grovelling letter to Queen Victoria, begging for his release.  She is listed as his co-applicant on an 1887 patent for a musical skipping rope.  He also named her as his backer of his gambling at Monte Carlo (though he changed his story on this point several times).

Although I was rather doubtful whether she really existed, I noted that in New York State, USA, a Lizzie Ritchie had applied a few years later for a patent on a new type of washboard she had invented.  On trying to follow up this lead previously, I could not be sure whether this was the same Lizzie Ritchie, and could not locate her in census records.

Recently I looked once again at the sparse evidence that I had, and noticed the name of Jacob Ritchie, who had signed as a witness to the US patent application.  I guessed that Jacob must be a relative – a husband, perhaps, or a brother.  This narrowed things down considerably, and I was finally able to locate the couple in the United States 1900 census.  (I had not traced them before because their surname was spelt “Richie” on the census return).

So was this the Lizzie Ritchie who allegedly helped Charles Wells?  It now seems unlikely.  The woman living in the USA in 1900 was born in Ireland in 1868 and had emigrated to America in 1886.  She had married her spouse in 1889.  On this evidence it seems most unlikely that she would have returned to Europe on several occasions over the years in order to assist Charles Wells.  Lizzie, it seems, was a laundress, and her husband, Jacob, was a “general mechanic”.  This sounds like an ideal combination for inventing a new-fangled washboard; but there is no evidence that either of them ever registered any other US patents.

Based on this new evidence, the Lizzie Ritchie mentioned by Charles Wells was probably a product of his imagination; the woman in the United States was almost certainly not connected with him.

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