Benjamin Shotter Challen

Part of the Crime & Punishment in Cocking in the Nineteenth Century” series

A rather unusual case involving the son of a well-known Cocking farmer, was reported in the Chichester Express on 15 October 1867, under the title “One to be Pitied”.

On Thursday 10 October 1867, a “well-built man, with disordered flaxen hair and sandy whiskers” was brought up before W. Parsons, the Mayor of Godalming, some 20 miles (at least a 7 hour walk) north of Cocking, on a charge of wandering about that town, with no visible means of subsistence.

PC Franks testified that earlier that morning, at about 1 o’clock, he had found the defendant leaning against a window sill of a shop in the High Street. The defendant could not give a satisfactory account of himself and was taken into custody.

The former Angel Hotel, Godalming

At the Police Station, he had given his name as Benjamin Shotter Challen, and said that he was 40-years old and a farmer from Cocking. He had walked from Cocking on the day before and had tried to find a room at The Angel Hotel in the High Street, but had been refused as he had no money on him.

The former Angel Hotel, Godalming

When asked by the mayor how he expected to pay for his bed if he had no money, Challen replied “it would be the Royalty, I suppose.”

The report in the Chichester Express suggests that Challen’s behaviour “excited the impression that he was an imbecile [who] had wandered from the custody of his friends” despite appearing “to belong to a superior class of society”. At the police station, Challen had declined the offer of breakfast. According to Constable Burt, “the man had such delicate hands and spoke so well, that he [gave the impression] that he had been a policeman.”

The mayor sentenced Challen to be remanded in police custody until the Saturday.



Benjamin Shotter Challen was the son of Benjamin Challen who farmed at Brook House Farm in Cocking. He fell out with his parents and was disinherited when he “married” a servant, and moved to Canada and then to the United States, where many of his ancestors still live.


Family background

Benjamin Shotter Challen was born in Cocking, Sussex, probably at Brook House Farm, in late 1826/early 1827, the second child (of 11) and eldest son of Benjamin Challen (1793–1874), a yeoman farmer, and his wife Charlotte née Chorley (1801–1870), who was the sister of Robert Chorley, the owner of Cocking Foundry. He  was baptised at Cocking church on 21 January 1827.

Brook House Farm in 1910, shortly before demolition

At the 1841 census, he was living at Brook House Farm with his parents and seven siblings.

On 11 October 1849, aged 22, Benjamin Shotter Challen appeared before the Midhurst magistrates and was found guilty of trespassing on land belonging to the Earl of Egmont, occupied by John Hackman, in search of  game. He was fined 20 shillings plus costs.

In April 1851, he was living at Manor Farm, Didling, three miles west of Cocking. Living with him were two servants: 49-year old Lucy Elliott, a widow, and her 21-year old son, William. Living nearby were Lucy’s 16-year old daughter, Sarah Ann, and two sons, Absolon and Eli.

Lucy Chase was born in Didling in about 1801, and married John Elliott in Up Marden church in May 1820; the couple had nine children over the next 21 years before John died in 1843.

Ten years later, 34-year old Benjamin was still at Manor Farm, Didling and was now described as married and as a farmer, with 1200 acres, employing 45 men, 16 boys and 4 female servants. Living with him were his two younger sisters, Eliza Mary, aged 25, and Emma Mary, aged 21. Also living at Manor Farm was nine-year old Emily Rosa Edith Challen, described as his daughter, born at South Bersted, near Bognor. (No further information has yet been found about Emily and there is no record of her birth or baptism.) Lucy Elliott was now employed as a dairy woman, living with four of her children at Didling Common.

At the April 1861 census, Sarah Ann Elliott, now aged 26 and recorded as “married” but still under her maiden name, was lodging at Tenison Street, near Waterloo Station with her nine-month old daughter, Alice Mary, born  in Lambeth. Her occupation was shown as “farmer’s wife”. Alice Mary had been baptised at St John’s Church, Waterloo on 30 December 1860. Her parents were shown as Benjamin Shotter and Sarah Ann Challen. The family records show her date of birth as 15 June 1860.

In her deposition to the State of New York in connection with the affairs of “Mary Hopkins deceased”, Benjamin and Sarah’s youngest daughter, Charlotte Sarah [Brown], stated that “as a matter of family repute, [she] believes that [Benjamin Shotter Challen] and [Sarah Ann Elliott]  were married on or about the 17th day of March, 1859 in Sussex or Surrey County, England”. No  record of this marriage has been found.

It would appear that the relationship between Benjamin (the son of a wealthy yeoman farmer) and Sarah (the daughter of a servant/dairymaid) caused a rift in the Challen family, following which he was cut off financially and “disinherited”.

By 1865, he had left Didling and was living at Tillington, near Petworth where his first son, Walter Shotter, was born on 7 January, followed by Kate Annie, born on 21 September 1866.

On 12 June 1867, Benjamin Shotter Challen, described as “formerly of Tillington, near Petworth in the county of Sussex, farmer, and, then and now, of Preston, near Brighton … cattle dealer and butcher” was declared bankrupt. The bankruptcy order was discharged on 10 August 1867.

In October 1867, Benjamin appeared before the magistrates at Godalming after being found in a state of distress. He was briefly remanded in custody before being released. [See above]

A second son, Benjamin Henry was born at Fareham, Hampshire on 5 September 1869.

At the 1871 census, Benjamin and Sarah, with their four children, were living at 22 Daniel Street (long since demolished), near Portsmouth Dockyard; his occupation was given as “Butcher and dealer (master)”.

Later that year, the family emigrated to Canada, travelling from Liverpool on board SS Moravian of the Allan Line, arriving at Quebec on 4 August 1871.

Two further children were born at Buffalo in New York State: Stephen John, born 18 June 1872 but died the following year, and Charlotte Sarah, born 25 December 1874.

Benjamin Shotter Challen’s gravestone in Cocking churchyard

On 26 February 1880, Benjamin, described as a “laborer”, and Jane, both of Barton Township (now in the city of Hamilton), Wellington County, Ontario, were married at Clifton (now Niagara Falls), Ontario.

Little more is known about Benjamin’s life in Canada/USA or where and when Jane died.

Near the end of his life, Benjamin returned to England, and died at Cocking on 19 January 1894, aged 67, from bronchitis and heart disease. He was buried in Cocking churchyard, close to his parents’ grave, on 24 January. On probate, his address was given as Buffalo, New York state. His estate in England was valued at £86.



Alice Mary Challen is reported to have died (place unknown) in June 1895. She appears not to have married.

Walter Shotter Challen married Martha Hull in December 1895 and died in Erie County, NY in 1937.

Kate Anne Challen married Warren Biddlecome in January 1896. She died in Erie County in December 1960.

Benjamin Henry Challen married Iva Biddlecome in 1900 and died in Buffalo, NY in December 1928.

Charlotte Sarah Challen married Thomas Brown in 1895. She died in Buffalo in May 1942.




1841 England Census

1851 England Census

1861 England Census

1871 England Census

Charlotte Sarah Brown 1934 Deposition regarding Benjamin Shotter Challen

England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966, 1973-1995

Ontario, Canada, Marriages, 1826-1939

UK, City and County Directories, 1766 – 1946

West Sussex, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1920

West Sussex, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1995

West Sussex, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1963

Brighton Gazette: 18 October 1849. Midhurst Petty Sessions

Chichester Express & West Sussex Journal: 15 October 1867. One to be Pitied

Find-a-grave: Benjamin Shotter Challen

Cocking parish register:

21 January 1827. Baptism of Benjamin Shotter Challen

28 January 1894. Burial of Benjamin Shotter Challen

HomePages (Rootsweb): Wellington County marriages: 1880

London Gazette:

14 June 1867               Issue: 23263 Page: 3401

27 September 1867    Issue: 3305 Page: 5295


Photo Credits

The Angel Hotel: Closed

Brook House Farm: Cocking History Group (2005). A Short History of Cocking. p.85

Gravestone:    David Earley