Mark Adamthwaite (sometimes known as William Adams) is one of the most colourful characters I have come across to date in my one-name study. He was definitely a bad lad, but must have been quite a charmer to get away with all his lies. The photo of Mark in uniform was taken in London (probably in 1915) and shows him with his sister-in-law Alice Adamthwaite and possibly her daughter Alice and daughter-in law Helena.
Mark was born in London’s East End in 1859 to what had been a very respectable family. His great grandfather Thomas Adamthwaite (1748-1816) was a Notary Public in Cornhill in the City of London, as was his grandfather John Allen Adamthwaite (1795-1850) who was also a senior member of the Company of Scriveners, a Gentleman Pensioner of the Royal Household and Grand Officer of the Royal Arch Masons. But Mark’s father (John Allen Adamthwaite junior) turned out to be a fraudster and a bigamist, and both Mark and his elder brother Thomas had convictions from Surrey Quarter Sessions for felony in their youth.
Mark was a great traveller – criss-crossing the Atlantic numerous times – and virtually every entry in the passenger lists recorded a different age and occupation (and sometimes name!) though his occupation according to most US censuses was as a male nurse. I know of three marriages: two in the USA and one in Canada, with the second two being bigamous, and as the first marriage was in the name of William Joseph Adamthwaite (he had been baptised as an adult in that name at St Bernard’s RC Church in New York three weeks earlier), perhaps that was illegal too?
In the 1905 New York census, he was serving time in the notorious Sing Sing prison. Though I have not yet located details of his conviction, it could have been connected to the newspaper report about his 15 year old daughter suing him for assault after he cut off all her hair to prevent her going out.
But in my view his greatest achievement was managing to enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1915 by claiming to have been aged 42 when in fact he was 55. His first application was turned down due to ‘insufficiency of height’ (he was 5’2” tall), but somehow he managed to overturn that decision as there are TWO versions of his attestation form in his Canadian Service records: one where he failed and one where he was accepted. Both carry the same date and all other details are identical. If I had a suspicious mind I might wonder if there was some fraud involved?
However he managed it, Mark sailed to Europe on the SS Hesperian in June 1915, transferring to Boulogne in October where he served in the 1st Quebec regiment in the 42nd Battalion as a cook and later a stretcher bearer. He managed to complete two years’ service on the battlefronts in France at Ypres, the Somme, Thiepval and Arras, which is very impressive for a man of his age. But in October 1917 he finally admitted his true age and was assessed as unfit for service and sent back to Montreal.
He soon recovered from his wartime experiences and married his third ‘wife’ in Canada in 1918, making several more trips with his new family back and forth to Europe (as a banker, a doctor’s assistant and a printer as well as ‘retired’). Mark finally died in 1948 when he would have been 89 – but I’d like to get hold of his death certificate to see how old he claimed to be in his final record.
you can read more about this whole line of Adamthwaites at