Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Sydney in New South Wales

On 2 March 1834, the Parmelia sailed through the sandstone heads of Port Jackson in New South Wales. Author Thomas Keneally describes the Parmelia's voyage and arrival in his book, The Great Shame: A Story of the Irish in the Old World and the New. Hugh Larkin, one of Keneally's wife's ancestors, was one of the 200 or so Irish prisoners on board. John Mason, my great great great grandfather, was another.

They had been cooped up in the crowded, creaking ship since they left Cork the previous October, so everyone was eager to catch a glimpse of land and the penal colony which was to be their home and prison for the next 7 years, 14 years or even a lifetime. From the decks they could see the coastal hills, with their strange (to their eyes) drab vegetation, the sandy beaches and the lighthouse, signal station and shacks around South Head. Sydney Town itself was hidden from view.

But the ship didn't immediately head for the docks in Sydney. According to Keneally, the soldiers of the 50th regiment, who had been the guards aboard the Parmelia, were landed four days after they reached Port Jackson. The convicts were given health checks and assessed for their fitness for work. It was not until 18 March that they were disembarked upstream at Sydney Cove.

Map from Museums Victoria

Sydney's history

People had been living in the area that would become Sydney for 30,000, perhaps even 50,000 years. It's estimated that the Aboriginal population was between 4000 and 8000 before the First Fleet arrived in 1788. Their descendants remain to this day, but initially their numbers declined as their traditional food-gathering areas were taken over by settlers, and they succumbed to previously-unknown diseases such as smallpox and measles. Violent confrontations also occurred.

John Mason had come from Limerick, a port city of elegant buildings but dire poverty. Food riots had broken out among the destitute there in 1830. In some ways, Sydney, with its bustling port, might have seemed familiar to him, though it was much smaller than Limerick. In the 1820s, Governor Lachlan Macquarie had set about constructing many grand public buildings and laid out the future city with a botanic garden and public open spaces.

Vue de George's Street a Sydney 1833
By Alexis Nicolas Noel 
Contributed By National Library of Australia  [nla.pic-an8148364]

Macquarie had also insisted that those who had served their term ('emancipists') should be treated as free citizens and be allowed to buy land, establish businesses, and be appointed to government posts. Many had done well for themselves. The port had become a busy trading centre. Those with money or power kept up a social life as similar to their English counterparts as they could, in the heat and dust.
Advertisement in the Sydney Gazette, 9 March 1833

But Sydney was still a town built by, and for, convicts. Although many women had arrived, either as convicts or free settlers, men still heavily outnumbered them. Crime, drunkenness and prostitution were rife. Convicts were provided with food, clothing and shelter, but their lives could be very harsh, depending on where they were allocated to work. Public floggings and hangings took place regularly. In 1833, there were 1,149 floggings in NSW, with 247 convicts receiving 9,909 lashes between them.

John Mason, convict labourer

Nineteen-year-old John Mason was initially assigned to work for Alexander Fotheringham, a prominent local business man and shipwright. By 1837 he had been re-assigned to Wright and Long, a shipping company with a wharf at Millers Point on Darling Harbour. He may have helped to build the store building on the wharf at the Point, eventually sold to Captain Joseph Moore, using sandstone quarried on-site. Working alongside John was another convict, William Doody, who would later migrate with John to South Australia.

By the time twenty-year old Catherine Murphy arrived in Sydney aboard the Mary Annin August 1840, the town had a population of 35,000, and had its own City Council. New South Wales was in an economic depression, and transportation of convicts to NSW had been suspended, but settlers continued to arrive. Decent accommodation was in short supply. Perhaps Catherine was met on the wharf by Mrs Caroline Chisholm, who endeavoured to make sure that newly-arrived single women had accommodation and found employment, rather than drifting into prostitution.

Caroline Chisholm

John and Catherine's marriage

Catherine came from a farming family in Monaghan, Ireland, and was hoping to find work as a farm servant. It seems, though, that she probably stayed in Sydney. On 2 February 1841, her twenty-first birthday, she married John Mason in St Mary's Roman Catholic church. John had received his Certificate of Freedom on 18 July 1840.

Hyde Park and St Mary's Cathedral, c1842
by John Rae. Image from State Library NSW

John and Catherine made their home in Elizabeth St, near the harbour, and their first child, Rosanna, was born there 10 months later in December 1841. Andrew and Mary Goodwin, an Irish couple who had been the witnesses at their wedding, became Rosanna’s baptism sponsors (similar to god-parents). One of John’s former mates from his days at Wright and Long’s shipping company, Timothy Rourke, along with his wife Mary, were the sponsors at the baptism of the Mason’s second child, Mary Ann, in October 1842. John’s friend William Doody and his wife Bridget (nee Murnane) were sponsors at the baptism of the Mason’s third daughter Catherine in 1844.

In 1843 John and Catherine were rocked by the death of little Rosanna. Such deaths were tragic but common in the colony as childhood diseases such as measles, whooping cough and scarlet fever arrived with the children of free settlers and spread in the overcrowded conditions in the city. Infants made up thirty percent of deaths in the colony in the 1840s.

Millers Point Sydney c1845 by Joseph Fowles.
Image from State Library NSW
Leaving for Adelaide

The Mason family remained in Sydney until December 1844. Then they sailed for Adelaide aboard the Dorset, along with several other Irish Catholic families. Did they feel any sadness at leaving the former penal colony? Somehow I doubt that they did. It wasn't a place of happy memories. Today, much of what they left behind has disappeared and the city would be unrecognisable to them.

General sources:
Wikipedia, History of Sydney
Webster World Encyclopedia of Australia
Convicts and the Colonisation of Australia
NSW State Records and Archives

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Adelaide in South Australia

We now leave the villages and towns of Essex so familiar to my great grandfather William Beales, and travel to Adelaide, the birthplace of his wife, Eliza Whybrew.

Rundle Street, Adelaide in 1845, by S. T. Gill.
 (Image from the State Library of Victoria.)
Eliza's grandparents, John and Catherine Mason, arrived in South Australia in December 1844, when the colony was less than a decade old. The main streets of Adelaide already contained some impressive civic buildings, churches, shops and hotels, along with a smattering of houses built of brick or the local stone. But most of the settlement's European population of around 10,000 people lived in single-story structures built of wood, tin or pise (a form of wattle and daub).

Adelaide and its surrounding farmland was the brain-child of Edward Gibbon Wakefield. While in prison in Newgate (for abducting a young heiress) he put forward the idea of populating a new Australian colony by selling land to the wealthy, then using the proceeds to pay the fares of labourers and artisans, who would provide a labour force for the land owners. The labourers' incentive to work hard would be that they could eventually save enough money to buy their own land. This would, he believed, avoid the social problems experienced in most of the other colonies, where land was granted freely to settlers while transported convicts provided the labour force. The "taint" of convict life would be absent.

The British Government passed the South Australia Colonisation Act in 1834, and in  February 1836 a convoy of ships full of eager settlers left England for the new colony. The first task of the Surveyor General, Colonel Light, was to work out where to actually put the new settlement. Light favoured one site on the Torrens River, while the Governor, Hindmarsh, favoured another, closer to the coast. It took a public meeting and a show of hands by the frustrated settlers, on 10 February 1837, to agree on the site favoured by Colonel Light.

William Light's map of Adelaide, 1837.
Image from Adelaidia website

By March 1837, the future city, with its grid of streets, open squares and surrounding parklands had been surveyed. It didn't take long for land prices to soar as new settlers continued to arrive. The Kaurna people, who had lived on the land for tens of thousands of years, and whose fire-stick farming practices were responsible for the park-like landscape so admired by the settlers, were gradually displaced.

What brought the Masons to Adelaide?

As an Irish ex-convict, John Mason (my great great great grandfather) was not exactly the sort of settler that Edward Gibbon Wakefield had envisaged for his new colony. In 1834 the 19-year-old John had been transported from Limerick in Ireland to New South Wales for stealing several yards of cotton material from a shop. 

After serving his seven-year sentence in Sydney, John married a newly-arrived Irish girl, Catherine Murphy. In December 1844 they and their two surviving daughters, Mary Ann and Catherine, left Sydney on the brig Dorset. They seem to have been travelling as part of a group with John's friend and fellow ex-convict William Doody, William's wife, Bridget (nee Murnane) and her sister and brother-in-law, the McCormacks. 

Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Dec 1844

For John Mason and William Doody, Adelaide offered the opportunity to leave behind the taint of being a convict, although they would have to keep that motivation to themselves. Bridget Doody's parents had settled in South Australia a few years earlier. William Doody, a country man, may have been attracted by the chance to buy land. News about the riches to be made at the recently-opened copper mines in South Australia might have been an attraction. Or, as good Irish Catholics, the group may have been following the Sydney priest, Father Francis Murphy, who had just been appointed the Bishop of Adelaide.

The Bedford Hotel, Currie St, c1891
Formerly named the Ship Inn, and now demolished,
it stood almost opposite the Mason's house.
John and Catherine rented an assortment of small cottages around Adelaide as their family grew to include eight daughters. They eventually settled in Currie Street, to the west of the city centre. Their sixth daughter, Eliza's mother Susan, was born in May 1848. It's clear from the girls' baptism records that the family were part of the community of Irish Catholics in Adelaide, a small and sometimes unpopular minority in the largely English and Scottish protestant colony.

John found work as a labourer. As immigrants continued to arrive, there was plenty of work for builders' labourers and the like. So much so, that land owners often had difficulty attracting labourers for their farms. In time John established himself as a member of the wider community, becoming a member of the Ancient Order of Forresters, a mutual aid organisation.

But in 1856 he became bed-bound and was unable to work. In January 1857 he died, leaving Catherine and her daughters destitute. She was able to get some support from the Destitute Board, a body which, like the police force and the prison, had not been envisaged by Wakefield in his original plans for Adelaide. The older girls also brought in a small amount of money.

Currie Street, looking west, 1872.
Image from the State Library of South Australia
By the time Susan Mason was in her teens, Adelaide had grown to a sizeable place. In 1866 the non-Aboriginal population numbered 163,452. This included over 5,000 Germans who had established a wine growing industry in the hills around Adelaide. It also included thousand of single women from Ireland who arrived during and after the great famine. Many of these found work as servants or farm labourers, but some joined the growing number of prostitutes around the city. Susan included several of them among her friends.

The Whybrews leave South Australia

By the mid 1850s, South Australia had been granted its own parliament, though initially only land-owning men could vote. By 1861 property-owning women had been given the right to vote in municipal elections. Despite some ups and downs, the colony was faring well. Much of its wealth came from exports of wheat and wool, and from copper mining.

Yet it was also very isolated, leading to a sense of vulnerability among the population. Most residents were happy that the British government continued to station troops in Adelaide to protect them from real or imagined threats.

Members of the 50th regiment in 1850
Image from the National Army Museum
In 1868 it was the turn of the 50th (Queen's Own) regiment to be stationed in the barracks near the Torrens River. The red-coated soldiers of the 50th would provide husbands for both Susan and her sister Eliza. Ironically, the same regiment had acted as guards on board the ship that had transported their father to Sydney. Susan Mason and David Whybrew were married in Adelaide in May 1869, after some interesting escapades and the birth of their first daughter, Harriet, in 1868. Their daughter Eliza was born in December 1869.

When David's regiment was called back to England in 1870, Susan went too, taking baby Eliza with her, but leaving Harriet behind in the care of another family. As far as I know Eliza never went back to Australia, so had no memory of her birth place. Harriet, on the other hand, remained in Adelaide until her teens, when she suddenly reconnected with her family in England.

Several of Susan's sisters married in Adelaide and some of their descendants no doubt still live there. I've yet to discover where John and Catherine Mason are buried, although it is probably somewhere in West Terrace cemetery.

St Luke's church, Adelaide, where Susan
and her sister Eliza both married 
My own family arrived in Western Australia from the UK in 1969 and I visited Adelaide several times over the following decades. One of my daughters studied at university there. I always liked its leafy, old-but-trendy atmosphere. But until I began researching my family history I had no idea that three generations of my father's family had lived there. Now, when I have chance to visit, I see it in a different way, with various landmarks around the city having associations with "my" Adelaide family.

You can find out more about the Mason and Whybrew families in Adelaide in my book Susan: convict's daughter, soldier's wife, nobody's fool.
It's available on Amazon and other online books stores

Sunday, May 26, 2019

St Osyth in Essex

The strangely-named village of St Osyth lies about twelve miles (19 km) from Colchester, heading south-east towards the coast of Essex in southern Englad. It's named after a legendary seventh-century chieftan's daughter, Osyth or Osgyth (pictured here in an illuminated manuscript about her life).

She apparently left her arranged marriage to become a nun and set up a convent in the village of Chich or Chicc. She was beheaded by raiding Viking pirates in about 700 AD. Later Chich became known as St Osyth, though the earlier name continued to be used. Osyth's ghost, carrying her head in her hands, is said to haunt the Priory built in her honour in the 12th century.

No such drama was involved when Robert Beales moved to St Osyth around the time of his marriage to Hannah May in 1809. He was a carpenter, from Combs in Suffolk, and perhaps came to St Osyth looking for work. His family would remain in the village for several generations.
Gatehouse and walls of St Osyth Priory
 (image by Stephen Dawson)

Robert Beales might have found work as a carpenter on the grounds of St Osyth's Priory or in the house itself. The walls and gatehouse of the Priory were a dominant feature of the village, taking up one quadrant of the cross formed by the two main streets. At the time of the dissolution in 1539, under King Henry VIII, it was one of the richest monasteries in Essex. After its closure, it became a private home.

Robert and Hannah had seven children before Hannah's death in 1830, including James (b 1814) from whom my family line came. Most of them were baptised in the ancient church of St Peter and St Paul in St Osyth. The widowed Robert married Mary Ann (surname unknown, but possibly Farthing). She had no children as far as I know. Robert died in St Osyth in 1854.

19th century Ordnance Survey map (from Vision of Britain)
Click to see larger version

The land around the village, which is mostly flat, was used for grazing animals, and growing wheat, barley and oats. Instead of following his father into carpentry, Robert's son James became an agricultural labourer. He may have worked on the farm belonging to his father-in-law, John Potter. In the 1851 census the Potters were said to own a farm of 5 acres, employing one man. They lived next door to James and his wife Hannah.

St Osyth marsh
(image by Paul Franks)

Ten years later, in 1861, James and his family were living in a cottage on Wigboro Wick, a farm and hamlet located between the village of St Osyth and the salt marshes that separated it from the mouth of the Colne River. ('Wick' means a farm or settlement and there are several farms in the area with the same suffix).

They were still there in 1871. Their son James, also an agricultural labourer, lived, and probably worked, on the same farm, with his wife Rosanna (or Rosina, nee Bines) and their children.

Farmland around St Osyth. Wigboro Wick farm
 is near the top of the picture. (Image by Terry Joyce)

By the time of the 1881 census, Beales was the third most common surname in St Osyth. The older James was by now a stockman at Wigboro Wick. He died in 1887 at the age of 73. The younger James and Rosanna had moved to a house closer to the village, in Mill Street. This ran past the Mill Dam lake, formed by a dam across St Osyth Creek. Next door to James lived his brother George and his family. Both James and George were employed as agricultural labourers. Like their father, the two brothers became stockmen, looking after the farm's horses, as they grew older.

St Osyth seems to have been a quiet place in the 19th century. When it was mentioned in the Essex newspapers, it was mostly just a two-line report about the local flower show, an outbreak of disease on a farm or a fund-raising tea at the vicarage. Occasionally there would be something more out of the ordinary - a drowning off the coast, or an archeological find. The Post Office directory of 1874 shows all the usual occupations found in a village of this era - bakers, shoemakers, drapers, hairdressers, carpenters etc, along with services needed by farmers such as blacksmiths, wheelwrights and seedsmen. There were five beer retailers listed.

The agricultural depression of the late nineteenth century had a dampening effect on this rural community. According to speech to Parliament given by the Member for Colchester and reported in Hansard in June 1894, the state of things in Essex was "serious and urgent".

"The time was when Essex was one of the most prosperous agricultural counties in the whole Kingdom; it was one admirably adapted for corn growing; but the years since 1875 had been a period of accumulated decline, 19 years in which not one year had been a good one, with the exception of 1887. Even in that year the farmers did no more than pay their way, and then on the top of all came the worst season agriculture had ever known, to wit, the year 1893."

The depression, combined with industrialisation, led to villagers, particularly the young, moving to larger centres such as Clacton, Ipswich and London, to find work and St Osyth went into decline.

My great grandfather, William James Beales, left St Osyth and moved to Colchester when he married in 1891. But his parents, James and Rosanna, and several of his siblings and cousins, remained in the village all their lives. The last of the Beales family descended from Robert Beales left St Osyth in the 1970s.

William Beales' wife Eliza Whybrew was born in Adelaide in South Australia, and that is where we'll go next in this journey through places where my ancestors once lived.

General Sources:

St Osyth Conservation Appraisal and Management Plan

History of St Osyth (History House series)

Vision of Britain - St Osyth

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Colchester, Essex

In this series of posts on places where my ancestors once lived, we now travel across many counties, from Lancashire in the north-west of England to Colchester, in the south-east.

Colchester is one of the oldest towns in Britain. It has had a military presence since the Twentieth Victorious Valeria Legion established a garrison there in 43 AD, during the Roman conquest of Britain under Emperor Claudius. For a while it was the capital of Roman-occupied England, despite the best efforts of Queen Boudica to see them off. Over the centuries other armies followed in making Colchester their base. One end of the main street is still dominated by the great Norman keep, and the later castle, built on the mound of a Roman temple.

By the end of the 18th century, several barracks had been built in Colchester to house troops and cavalry regiments coming and going from wars on the continent. Wounded men were also brought to the military hospital in Colchester to recover. The townspeople were used to seeing the population of infantry and officers in the barracks swell in times of war, followed by an emptying out in peace time.

But they had probably never experienced anything like the influx of soldiers that occurred with the outbreak of World War 1. Volunteers flooded in. Two hundred men arrived in Colchester each day, to be trained as part of "Kitchener's Army" before being sent to the battlefields of Europe and the Middle East. At times there were as many soldiers in the town as local residents. The barracks couldn't house them all, so they were put in huts and tents, or even billeted with families.

Thomas Henry Ward goes to Colchester

Thomas Henry Ward
(Photo courtesy of M. Lucas)
As the war dragged on, the number of volunteers dwindled and in 1916 conscription was introduced. It's not clear whether my grandfather, Thomas Henry Ward, joined up as a volunteer in 1914 or found himself conscripted later on. But whatever the case, he would have been in his early thirties when he travelled by train to Colchester, to join the Army Ordnance Corp.

He would no doubt have found the flat Essex countryside, with its broad fields of wheat and other crops, quite unfamiliar after living in the hilly moorlands of eastern Lancashire all his life, among the mills and factories. Colchester itself was a pleasant, prosperous-looking town, with hardly a mill or a smoke stack in sight.

Before the war, engineering works such as Paxman's, which made steam engines and boilers, were among the main employers in Colchester. They turned to making armaments during the war. The presence of the army also helped keep a brewery and bottling works in business. But Thomas, by all accounts, was not a great drinker. A rather quiet, perhaps even shy man, he was also older than many of the recruits around him.

The Beales family in Colchester

One Sunday afternoon (according to my father) Thomas was invited to have tea with a local family. The Beales were members of the Salvation Army, which had a strong presence in Colchester from the late 1880s, although it was not always well received. The family made it their ministry to look out for lonely-looking soldiers who were far from home

William and Eliza Beales had lived in Colchester all their adult lives. Except for Eliza's mother, Susan, who was from Australia, all their forebears came from villages around Colchester. Eliza's parents, David and Susan Whybrew, came to live near the Beales in Colchester after David retired from active service in the army.

Rosina Beales
The Beales' daughter Rosina, still in her late teens, may well have been dressed in her Salvation Army uniform when Thomas Henry, in his army uniform, met her for the first time over Sunday afternoon tea. Or perhaps not - family lore says nothing about what they were wearing. They would have had little time to get to know each other before Thomas went off with his battalion to serve overseas, but they evidently managed to keep their friendship going during the war.

In 1921, after Thomas was discharged from the army, they married at St Botolph's Anglican church in Colchester. It was then Rosina's turn to find herself in a strange environment when she and Thomas went back to his home village of Milnrow in Lancashire. She was leaving behind her Salvation Army roots as well as her childhood home in Essex.

Thomas Henry died several years before I was born, but my grandmother Rosina still lived in Milnrow when I was growing up. As a child I knew that she was born "down south" somewhere, and used to belong to the Salvation Army, but she seemed a natural part of what I called "home". It wasn't until I began researching my family's history that it occurred to me that Grandma Rosina must have undergone quite a cultural change when she married. How long did it take her to adjust? How did it affect her? Unfortunately I never had chance to ask her such questions.

Rosina's parents, William and Eliza Beales, continued living in Colchester for the rest of their lives, surrounded by children, grandchildren, and members of their wider family. Their role as officers in the Salvation Army and members of the Salvation Army band shaped their daily lives as much as their location.

In the next few posts I'll look at some of the Essex villages where the Beales and Whybrew families came from.

This series of 13 slides by Xav Marseilles shows what Colchester looked like 100 years ago, overlaid with more recent images. It appeared in the Daily Mail, 2 January 2017. (Click on the photo or the link above to see all the slides).

You can find out more about Susan and David Whybrew and their family, in my book Susan: convict's daughter, soldier's wife, nobody's fool, available on Amazon and other online books stores