2 November 2012

Robert Hughes Reports:

A 'Hell's Granny' in our family.
Marie Antoinette Goffin is sentenced in Brussels.

It seems my great-great-grandmother Marie-Antoinette Thomas (née Goffin) [and the maternal grandmother of the writer Lionel Britton] had a bit of a criminal past.

She had driven an automobile with an 'allure dangereuse', i.e. she was speeding. Furthermore, she had 'neglégé de produire le numéro matricule' on the front of her vehicle! Could she escape imprisonment, deportation or worse? Read on.

There is as yet no information as to whether the old thing paid up the 15 francs, or decided to brave the three days in whatever comfort a Belgian prison could offer in those times. The popular imagination would have bull dykes prowling the corridors, but I fancy the 79-year-old Marie-Antoinette gave them short shrift if she declined the fine and chose the time.
One question must be addressed: why should she be treated as an alien in Belgium at all, as our family legend was clear that she was a Belgian lady?

Her father was Jan Hubert Carel Goffin (in some records Jean Hubert Carl, but it only depends what language is used), and his family seems rooted in the Limburg district of the Netherlands for some generations. Belgium separated from Holland in 1830 and pursued a proud independent existence, so if Marie had been seen as Dutch she would probably have been an alien. It was even simpler than that as she elected (rather touchingly) to call herself British to the end of her life. Her death record describes her not only as British by nationality, but also domiciled in Redditch; a town where she almost certainly never lived any later than 1910. A tax dodge of some sort? Who knows, but it should be noted that she lived in a country at war with Germany throughout the occupation, while being in official records a British citizen.

The dossier of her nefarious deeds at the wheel gives us an insight into the bureaucratic mindset of the Belgian state. There are 21 sections on the form, of which some require her parents' places and dates of birth, and if she is married, her husband's parents' names and dates and places of birth! Remember this is a speeding fine. Anyway, poor Samuel Thomas had been dead for eight years and Marie sensibly declined to give complete answers.

No comments: