Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Masons and their neighbours in Currie Street, Adelaide.

Currie Street ca 1861
State Library South Australia B4545
We know from the newspaper report on Susan Mason's first court appearance in August 1865 that she lived in Currie Street in Adelaide, and was familiar with the Ship Inn. The death notices for Margaret Atkin and Rose Morris (both sisters of Susan) also mention Currie Street.

I thought it would be interesting to see if there were any other reports mentioning members of the Mason family in Currie Street, so I've done a bit of hunting on Trove. ( Here's what I found. Note that I'm not claiming that any of these people called Mason are definitely related to Susan - they might be, but they might not.

The first report comes from the South Australian Register, 20th June 1849. (I've edited it slightly to make it easier to read)
An inquest was held yesterday, by William Wyatt, Esq., Coroner, at the 'Ship Inn,' Currie-street, on the body of Joseph Penfold, baker, in that street, who met his death on the preceding night. A post mortem examination had been made by Dr Nash, at the house of deceased, and after the jury had been to view the body, the examination of witnesses commenced.  
Dr. Knott sworn— Said he was sent for on Monday night to attend deceased. A little fluctuation about the heart was the only remaining sign of life. Had at tended him before in apoplexy. Was not surprised to find him so near death upon the recent occasion, for he had noticed in the course of the day that he was not only paralytic and imbecile, but evidently in a dying state. Witness had expressed that opinion to a Mr Mason [my emphasis]. 
He was found the previous night in a hole into which he had fallen. It was three or four feet deep, and made near a house which was building on his (Dr. Knott's) account. Deceased had for years been a remarkably sober man, but had become paralytic, and at length given way under the pressure of old age and disease. Dr. Nash, Colonial Surgeon, had made a. post mortem examination on the body of Joseph Penfold. [A detailed description of the post-mortem follows which I'll spare you from reading] 
 Fanny Moyle, spinster, heard quarelling at about 6 o'clock the night before, between deceased and his daughter. Saw his face bleeding, and that he wanted to go away. She would not let him, but said she would fetch a shoemaker to put a stitch in his wound. A short time elapsed, when all at once witness heard a scream from Dr. Knott's building. Presently she met Matilda Penfold, who said her father would insist upon following her, and in doing so he had fallen into a pit and killed himself. When witness approached, several persons were removing deceased from the cellar into which he had fallen. It was a cellar near Dr. Knott's house. Matilda had had too much to drink. The father and daughter were always quarrelling. In her hearing, Mrs Edwards, a neighbour, said she (the daughter) had killed her father with a jug. The mother seemed to take no notice of what was said. She was in the same state as her daughter [More descriptions of the wounds etc snipped for the sake of brevity].
From a member of the Total Abstinence Society who was on the jury, we learned that deceased, who was in his 67th year, had been a water drinker during 47 years of his life, and although he had latterly indulged to a certain extent in strong drinks, he had done so under the sanction of medical prescription, and certainly not to any injurious extent. The unfortunate deceased appears to have had a most unhappy home ; and if the fatal termination were attributed to mental excitement alone, there seems to have been reason enough for the assumption; but when we state that the unguarded excavation into which he fell, in the dark, was not less than five feet deep, and deceased a heavy man, there can be no doubt his death was at least accelerated by the fall. This want of caution, and the serious accidents thereby occasioned, of which we have so many instances, cannot be too much deprecated, and ought no longer to be without legislative interference.
Whether or not the Mr Mason mentioned here was John Mason (Susan's father), the article still reveals some interesting things about the type of people and activities that were to be found in Currie Street. I was fascinated to see that a shoemaker was to be sent for to put a stitch in Mr Penfold's wound.
Currie Street ca 1871
State Library South Australia B1871
The next article, from the South Australian Register, on 28 November 1853, also mentions the Ship Inn* as the place where inquests took place. I found several other references to it being used for this purpose. This article doesn't have any reference to the Mason family, but does give more insights into life in Currie Street. Again I've edited it to make it shorter and easier to read 

Mr. Stevenson held an inquest on Friday, and, by adjournment, on Saturday, at the Ship Inn, Currie- street, on the body of John Grayson, an infant six weeks old, who died on Thursday last, as mentioned in the Register of the following day.    
The Jury having been sworn, The Coroner told them there were some circumstances of suspicion attending the death of the child, inasmuch as it had happened rather suddenly, and no medical aid had been called in. It would be their duty to enquire into the particulars, and it was quite possible they might find it had arisen from natural or accidental causes. The Coroner and Jury then proceeded to a house of disgraceful repute, next door to Mr. Wadey's, butcher, Currie-street. The body of the child was lying on a table in the front room. It had the appearance of having been tolerably healthy; but there were very visible marks of pressure: its nostrils were distended, its mouth open, and the tongue slightly protruding.  
On the return of the Jury, Eliza Quinlan, the mother of the child, was called into the room. She was crying bitterly, and seemed much distressed. The Coroner, kindly, had one of her female companions brought in to sit beside her. She was then sworn, and duly cautioned to answer no questions which she thought might criminate herself. She is a young woman of about twenty five, and, for one of her class, tolerably decent in appearance, though her gaudy tawdry dress harmonized as little with the occasion as with her own uncontrollable emotion. [There follows a long description of the trial, detailing who was in the house at the time and so on, which you can read at the link provided.]
 The Jury, after some consultation, returned a verdict of "Accidental death," believing, apparently, that the child had been suffocated by overlaying, and not, as alleged by the mother, that it died from the effect of illness in her arms. Dr. Baruh then asked the Coroner if there were no means of closing the house kept by Corbis and Ward, as it was an intolerable annoyance to the neighbourhood. The Coroner said that any respectable neighbours might lay an information at the Police-office, and there was no doubt the Magistrate would take the necessary steps for abating the nuisance.
This, and many other articles from the time, suggests that "houses of ill repute" were common in and around Currie Street. Note the condescending tone of the newspaper towards the poor mother in her "gaudy tawdry dress".
The next article describes another tragedy, and includes mention of a Mr and Mrs Mason. It appeared in the South Australian Register, 2 August 1852.
 — A poor woman named Wyburn, who has for some time resided with her daughter (aged 16), in Currie-street, was, during the early part of this week, nearly driven to distraction by the disappearance and continued absence of the girl from her home. After many enquiries, the anxious mother obtained a clue to the girl's retreat, and on Wednesday last, discovered her in a house of 'ill-fame', which the misguided creature refused to leave. The poor woman returned to her now cheerless home in a state of dejection, that no doubt hastened an epileptic attack, to which she was occasionally subject. A kind neighbour, named Mason, [my emphasis] observing that the poor woman was, on her return home, quite incapable of ministering to her own wants, supplied her with some tea and other matters, and left her in some degree composed and apparently preparing to retire to rest.  
In the course of the night, Mrs. Mason heard screams in the residence of Mrs. Wyburn, and induced her husband to get up and enquire into the cause of the outcry. On entering Mrs. Wyburn's house, Mr. Mason found the poor creature lying on the floor near the fireplace enveloped in a sheet of flame. The loose portion of her attire was entirely consumed. before the fire was extinguished, and even her stays were in part consumed. Dr. Baruh, who was called in immediately, applied the usual remedies; but, as the case was one of great danger, he took prompt measures to have the sufferer removed to the Hospital, where she now lies in a most precarious state. It is supposed that the poor creature sat by the fire absorbed in grief, until she fell down in a fit, and that she lay helpless while the fire raged around her, until she was rescued from instant death by the active humanity of Mr. Mason.
I'd like to think that the kind-hearted Mr and Mrs Mason were Susan's parents.

*The History Girl blog has an interesting article about the Ship Inn, which apparently changed it's name to the Bedford later on. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Two more small clues about John Mason

In a previous post (John Mason - where did he come from?) I explained my reasons for thinking that the John Mason who married Catherine Murphy in Sydney in 1841 was probably the convict named John Mason who was tried and sentenced to transportation for stealing cotton in Limerick, Ireland, in 1833. He arrived in Sydney on the Parmelia in 1834.

However, there were still several other convicts who could potentially have fitted the bill. The next most likely after 'John from Limerick' was a John Mason, born in 1813, who was tried in York in 1835 and transported on the Royal Sovereign. I've now discovered from the New South Wales Convict Indents 1788-1842 (on that this John Mason was Protestant, and could read and write. Which means that he is very unlikely to have been the John Mason who married Catherine in a Catholic church, and who signed his name with an X.

Another small piece of information I gleaned from the New South Wales Settler and Convicts list, 1787-1834, was that the John Mason who arrived on the Parmelia was assigned to an Alexander Fotheringham in Sydney. As yet I haven't been able to find out much about Alexander Fotheringham except that he seems to have been a shipwright who owned several properties around Sydney.

If you would like a copy of a spreadsheet listing all the details I could find about 19 of the convicts named John Mason who arrived in NSW before 1841, please contact me and I'll email it to you.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Follow-on weddings

In a previous post I mentioned that Esther Lambert and Matthew Cragg seem to have been together at a wedding some time before their own marriage. Their names appear as the witnesses at the wedding of Grace Lambert and John Singleton in Preston in 1831. Esther and Matthew married two and a half years later in 1833.

This wasn't the only occasion when the witnesses at a family wedding were to marry each other. In October 1890 when Matthew and Esther's grandson Matthew Ward married Elizabeth Anne Brown in Rastrick, Yorkshire, the witnesses were Matthew's father John Ward, his brother John Willie, and John Willie's future wife Mary Hannah Butterworth.

John Willie and Mary Hannah married in Smallbridge, Lancashire, in March 1893. The witnesses at this wedding were John Willie's sister Esther, and Travis Kershaw. Five years later, in March 1898, Esther and Travis were married in Milnrow.

If nothing else, the timing of these 'follow on' weddings suggest that the couples knew each other for quite a while before they married. But that's not so surprising given that many people in the past married someone from the same village as themselves. It would be interesting to know if the same thing happened in any of the marriages on the Beales side of the family, but I don't have enough details about these marriages to know who the witnesses were.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Is it worth subscribing to commercial family history sites?

For the first couple of years of my research into family history, I didn't subscribe to any of the commercial family history sites. Most of the time I went as far as I could by using non-commercial sites such as (provided by the LDS),,, and the Lancashire OnLine Parish Clerk project. The data in the last three are all provided by an army of incredibly generous volunteers who have spent hours transcribing records so that others can have access to them.

It was perhaps fortunate for me that most of family lived in Lancashire - the Parish Clerk projects in many other counties are not nearly so comprehensive as the one for Lancs. I also found the New South Wales Government State Records online service and the Genealogy SA online database very helpful in researching my Australian ancestors. Sometimes I discovered useful information simply by Googling a person's names and dates.

Over time I became quite adept at squeezing as much information as I could out of the commercial sites' free indexes. But often I found that I just couldn't confirm the leads I had without purchasing some pay-as-you-go credits to access the full database. Eventually I decided that life would be a whole lot simpler if I forked out the money for a subscription. Most sites cost around $20-30 per month for a basic subscription, which is the cost of a couple of magazines or a weekly coffee. It's certainly much easier to do the research if you can click on links to your heart's content without thinking "there go another 5 credits" if some turn out to produce irrelevant information.

One of the reasons for not subscribing earlier, apart from a (familial?) miserly streak, was that the sites all have different sets of data, and none of the sites offered everything I wanted. In the end I went with because it seemed to be the most comprehensive, and didn't ask for separate subscriptions to access the Australian site. But I still sometimes find information on other sites and use pay-as-you-go to purchase it. (David Whybrew's army records, for instance, could only be found on

Most of the commercial sites also offer other benefits, such as  being able to upload your family tree so that you have access to it online (and make it available to others if you choose to), the chance to connect to other people doing research on the same ancestors, and 'hints' about possible links to your tree (though sometimes these seem to be quite ridiculous and clearly churned out by a computer programme without being checked to see if they are reasonable.) Many offer these options even with a free account. Some also provide the ability to create all sorts of charts and booklets ( is one example of a site that does this.)

Overall, I could probably have reduced the amount of time I spent researching quite a bit if I'd taken out a subscription earlier. Having said that, the amount of genealogical information available online is growing all the time, and I could also have shortened my research time if I'd started five years later. I'm full of admiration for those who researched their family history on foot and by mail before the internet made it so much easier.