Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sydney past and present

Last weekend we went to Sydney to meet up with some of my husband's extended family. Since we had a free day on the Monday we strolled around the city looking at some of the sights.

I'd hoped to get some sense of what Sydney might have been like in the time when John Mason and Catherine Murphy were living there in the early 1840's, long before the iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House were built. However very little of the early settlement remains.

Lower George Street and Sydney Cove c.1851
 watercolour attributed to Jacob Janssen
The oldest area of Sydney, known as The Rocks because of the sandstone with which it was built, has been demolished extensively over the years to make way for more modern buildings. Even in its heyday it was something of a slum with a dark reputation. In the early 20th century plague broke out and much of it was bulldozed. It was only in the 1970's that people began to feel that some of Sydney's heritage needed to be retained.

Views of Sydney, from St. Leonards, 1842
Conrad Martens
Similarly the harbour itself is no longer what John Mason would have seen when he arrived in Sydney (probably in 1833). A marker placed to show the original shoreline near Cadman's cottage is a hundred metres from the present day wharf at Circular Quay.

An early photo of George St, the Rocks
These buildings still stand
We stopped for a coffee in a row of shops in George Street which would have existed in John and Catherine's day. Most were now boutiques and bars, and across the road was a very modern art gallery. It was hard to imagine what the area might have looked like back in 1840.

Hyde Park, St Mary's Cathedral and Belfry, 1842
John Rae
Old St Mary's Cathedral
date and artist unknown
Up the hill from the Rocks, near the Domain, we found St Mary's Cathedral, where John and Catherine were married in 1841. Unfortunately the original building burned down in 1865. The current building, although magnificent, was built long after the Masons moved to Adelaide. 

But never mind. After strolling through the beautiful botanic gardens with the glass and steel towers of the business district as backdrop, then sitting in the winter sunshine watching a lunch-hour game of soccer being played, I had to think that John and Catherine would have been both amazed and approving of what Sydney has become.

The spires and tower of St Mary's Cathedral today 
(All images except the last one are courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales)

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A romance in a grocer's shop?

I always think it would be fascinating to know how couples on the family tree met and married, but usually it's a question that can't be answered from the historical records. However, in the case of Thomas Brown Orton and Sarah Gregory, the records do provide a clue.

Midland Railway Station, Leicester
opened in 1840, the year of Sarah's birth.
Robert, her father, possibly worked here.
We know from the later census records that Sarah was born in Leicestershire in the early 1840's. In all except the 1901 census (when Husbands Bosworth is indicated by 'ditto' marks under Thomas' place of birth) her birthplace is given specifically as Leicester.

Although there are several Sarah Gregory's whose births are registered in Leicestershire between 1840 and 1843, the only birth recorded in Leicester itself about this time occurred in the first quarter of 1840.

This Sarah appears in the 1841 census as a 1 year old child. She was living with her parents, Robert and Sarah Gregory in West Leicester, along with her older siblings Mary (aged 13), Jane (12), John (10) and Robert (6) and a younger sister Ellen, who was only 3 months old.

Two years later, in 1843, Robert Gregory died at the age of 38. How he died, or how his widow Sarah survived and raised her children alone isn't clear. She seems to have been employed at the time of the next census in 1851, when only Sarah (11) and Ellen (10) remained with their mother in a household in Whetstone, near Leicester.

In the same census, young Sarah's 16 year old brother Robert was living and working with a grocer, Joseph Harvey and his wife Selena, in Loughborough, north of Leicester. This was the same grocer who employed Thomas Brown Orton a few years later. On the census Robert is described as a nephew. In fact Robert's mother was Sarah Harvey before she married the older Robert Gregory.

So it seems that Thomas Orton married his employer's niece. Their marriage certificate (viewed online) confirms that Sarah was the daughter of Robert Gregory, engine driver, deceased. Thomas was said to be living in Husbands Bosworth at the time of the marriage, so he may no longer have been employed by Joseph Harvey.

It also seems that Sarah was not completely truthful about her age when she married, since the certificate records that she was 23 year old. This would put her date of birth at 1842. Or perhaps she simply didn't know her age. In the later censuses she always underestimated her age by a year or two.