The Strange Tale of Albert Compton
Thanks to everyone who took part in my competition last week to identify the real story of the man in the photo. You gave me some terrific suggestions including: he was a prince, a teacher with gout, an archeologist, died in the war, lost all his money in a divorce and faked his own death, injured on army service, had a double life pretending he was a woman!
This is the real story (remember truth is often stranger than fiction)…
Albert Compton was born in London and married fairly young to Sarah. At this stage he was working as a plumber (but by the time of his marriage was a draper! Maybe that seemed a more respectable profession).
However, Sarah died within a few years. The inquest declared it to be natural …. Why then did Albert scarper off to Newcastle (several hundred miles away) and within 9 months elope with Polly (real name Mary Ann)? And why did he pretend he was a bachelor if there was nothing untoward? Hmmm.
Life with Polly seemed to be good – in the 1901 census he is listed as working as an insurance clerk (bit of a change from his other jobs) and they had two daughters, living in a nice house.
But when I looked at the 1911 census there was Polly and her daughters crammed into a two roomed house (that is two rooms, not two bedrooms! Probably one bedroom and one sitting room/kitchen) with her mother and brother… and no sign of Albert. Where was he? In London with a woman called Florence claiming to be his wife. In fact, I tracked down their marriage certificate on which he finally claimed to be a widower – except he conveniently seemed to have forgotten about Polly!) I had a bigamy on my hands! (Oh, and he also lied about his father’s profession).
He had two more children with Florence and for a few years led a double life (not sure if he went back to Newcastle during this time or if he had just abandoned Polly). It appears Florence found out about six years into their bigamous marriage and threw him out.
This was about the start of WW1 and Albert joined a Northumberland regiment?! Why – well, possibly to try to get back into Polly’s good books as he had this photo taken and sent to her. It clearly didn’t work as family stories tell of Polly divorcing Albert (she didn’t as there is no record of a divorce, but this could just be another way of saying they had separated).
As for life during the War – well he didn’t serve overseas so he probably had a nice desk job in the UK.
What then happened after the War? Did Albert get back with either wife – or marry another? Indeed, no. He became a dentist (!!!!) – this actually fitted with the family story I had been told. There is usually a grain of truth in family stories, but some are grainier than others!
Did this new profession give him peace? Also no, he was so depressed that he tried to commit suicide three times. By gassing himself, there was also an incident with a razor when Florence came to visit him (possibly some attention seeking going on here!!) and he finally succeeded…. by swallowing carbolic acid while sitting in his dentist’s chair!
And so that ends the sorry tale of Albert Compton – suicidal bigamist, who might have had a hand in the death of his first wife, liar, cheat, who flittered from one diverse job to another. It certainly makes a great story… except it seems rather far fetched! As I said before, truth is often stranger than fiction.