Star-crossed Lovers? The Story of ‘Lambkin’ and ‘Nilloc’


George Conway no doubt squirmed in his seat when the court learned of his role as one of two star-crossed lovers. The elderly defendant in a breach of promise case had found himself an object of criticism not only from the plaintiff’s family but also his own. The court found it amusing, as did the judge. It all made for good newspaper copy. Conway, a successful Poole coal merchant and widower, had invested early into Bournemouth’s developing resort. The sexagenarian’s eye had fallen on a willing young lady, but matters had gone beyond his control. The press accounts of 1841 served as a morality tale to other elderly, wealthy widowers.

The main characters in the drama.

One of the sisters

In 1840 Jane Rooke, a draper’s daughter from Salisbury, married a widower about the same age as her parents and moved with him to Wyke Regis. The 1851 Census listed him as a soap manufacturer, but thereafter he recorded his occupation as ‘annuitant’. His probate record listed his estate at less than £800 in 1871. A Jane Williams of Wyke Regis, his likely widow, however, died almost twenty years later, leaving an estate worth over £4,000. Jane had gone to the altar around thirty years old. Whether or not Jane and her husband qualified as star-crossed lovers, her family perhaps felt she had made a good match. Around the same time another improvement opportunity occurred: George Conway, the first cousin of Jane’s mother Ann.

George Conway: a successful man  

Born in Parkstone during the late 1770s, George had experienced business success in coal merchanting and brick making at Poole. His businesses surpluses had gone into property investments in the Poole area and also in early Bournemouth. An advertisement for the settlement’s Marine Villas 5, 9, and 10 appeared in 1840, his name at the bottom, based in Poole, that of his apparent partner, David Tuck, based in Bournemouth. Tragedy at home had balanced his business success. In the 1820s he lost two daughters as well as his wife, then only 43, perhaps around fifteen years younger than her husband. They had had several surviving children in addition to the two lost daughters. His namesake son, born around 1811, followed him into the coal business, perhaps taking over a Poole company in 1828. In addition to the coaling business and the properties, George also had a brick factory.

Amelia Rook: music teacher

The court heard that she ‘had passed the flighty time of youth, and had attained the thoughtful and sedate age of 28. She no longer, therefore, had an ear for the soft nothings and idle prattle of green young men, whose heads were teeming with dreams of romantic love and idle stuff of that sort.’ She desired the ‘gravity and wisdom of age’. George Conway, then around 68, met that profile. A musical person, Amelia had pupils. Her brother perhaps also taught this subject. At this time a man of the same name moved his teaching business from Lytchett to Poole in order to attract better Bournemouth business. It seems that at this time, George Conway had a house in Lytchett also. ‘ … the best intimacy had always existed between the families.’ ‘Reciprocal visits’ took place, during one of which Amelia stayed at the Conway house for eleven months.

The entanglement of George Conway.

He looked 40 years younger

The old man had become besotted. They went for walks together at the crack of dawn. In the parlour he enjoyed Amelia’s ‘luxuriant tresses, dropped upon his manly shoulder’. Witnesses observed the ‘wicked old lover’s’ arm around her ‘yielding waist’. The liaison did George good, only just recovered from a broken blood vessel. ‘They had a little private room … called courting-corner. When he was in courting-corner he used to look 40 years younger.’ The musical Amelia played the harp for him. The time came when the lovers had to part. Business matters beckoned George, but he maintained the relationship through letters.

Letters of love

In order to escape prying eyes, they coded their letters. Amelia signed hers using his favourite name for her, ‘lambkin’. George, for no clear reason, ending his notes with ‘Nilloc’, being, he explained, ‘Collin’ in reverse. As star-crossed lovers do, the romantic George enclosed a lock of his grey hair in one letter to Lambkin. After gout raised its head, Amelia took action. She urged George to speak to her mother about their ‘delicate engagement’.

Matters come to a head.

The Rookes step in

Ann Rooke, George’s cousin, Amelia’s mother, came, asking to know his intentions. Perhaps her approach had unsettled him, because he seemed to drift away. A Rooke sister became involved, reminding him of the ‘impropriety of his conduct’, which George met by a promise of marriage before six months would pass. Amelia became poorly. A brother helped. The Rookes knew that George ‘was proved to have considerable property’. The family talked terms. At his age, life insurance offered no solution. Discussion turned to the possibility of Amelia receiving £150 a year. A division of the Conway property would have to occur, so George would have to involve his son. George Conway’s will (1852) showed that his son George would take over all his businesses, making allowances for grandchildren and a friend. It seems implausible that the younger George, aiming towards this eventuality, would relish losing £150 a year to Amelia Rooke.

And, so to court

The Rookes decided to see George Conway in court, the full and salacious details occupying many column inches. The defence took a simple view: ‘there could be no doubt the whole affair had been contrived by way of making a market of the defendant’. The press appeared to agree, as did the judge and the jury, who came to the decision within fifteen minutes: George Conway, guilty as charged. The jury, however, dashed any Rooke hopes – Amelia’s chance to become a ‘lady of the property in Poole and at Bournemouth, and of the ships at sea’ – for they awarded her damages of a farthing, questioning the process as a case of star-crossed lovers.


George lived another dozen years or so, leaving his son comfortable, running two businesses, no doubt the brick factory benefitting from Bournemouth’s boom. The family, however, did not avoid later trouble. John Wise, who had married one of George Conway’s daughters, opened a coal business in Bournemouth but he went bankrupt, his brother-in-law, George Conway junior, having to help. Amelia perhaps led a quiet life thereafter, living in the family hometown of Salisbury. Each census reported her as a seller of music, unmarried, living alone after her mother’s death, until she passed away in 1886, leaving an estate worth almost £1,000. The last census featuring her mother, listed her, then 80, as having land and property, the tryst of her daughter, ‘lambkin’, and her cousin, ‘Nilloc’, one-time star-crossed lovers, by then long in the past.


Many of Bournemouth’s contemporary vacation visitors, affluent people, reading accounts of the case, perhaps decoded the morality tale. Wealth provides strength, but it also weakens, for, as the jury’s damages suggest, star-crossed lovers might include a fortune-hunter.


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  • Examples of Westover Villas, see this in Alwyn Ladell’s collection


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