Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A song of the sea

One Wednesday evening late in October 1855, the Court Perseverance of the Ancient Order of Foresters met in the Prince of Wales hotel in Adelaide for their anniversary dinner. After a meal which "for abundance and variety of delicacies, for exquisite cookery and choice wines, would bear favourable comparison with some of the crack hotels of the mother country", they got down to the important business of proposing the loyal toasts. 

After singing the national anthem, they toasted Her Majesty's health and then the health of Prince Albert and the rest of the Royal Family. Next they drank a toast to the Governor, and then to the Army and Navy, each toast being accompanied by a song from one of the Brothers. Someone proposed a toast to the High Court and Executive Council of the Ancient Order of Foresters. This was drunk "with the Forester's fire" (which I assume means enthusiastically.)

Then, perhaps made bolder than usual by alcohol, Brother Mason sang a song, The White Squall. After this the meeting settled to hear an account of how the Foresters had fared over the previous twelve months.

Brother Mason, I was surprised to discover, was none other than John Mason (my great great great grandfather). It's quite likely that this was the last meeting of the Court he would ever attend. Early the next year he became bed-bound and unable to work. In January 1857 he died, leaving his widow Catherine and eight children to fend for themselves.

The day after John's death, this announcement appeared in the Adelaide Times:

John's wisdom in joining the Foresters soon became apparent. The Ancient Order of Foresters was a mutual aid or Friendly Society, rather like the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes (RAOB) that my grandfather Albert Orton belonged to in Manchester. Members each contributed a levy, a small amount of money regularly, which was invested. If they died, the Order paid for their funeral and provided a sum of money for their widow and children.

They were not a masonic order, although they had some of their own rituals (including the making and drinking of many toasts, accompanied by song, it seems). Members came from all denominations, all social classes and levels of education. Local groups were known as Courts, each with their own fanciful name, and these belonged to larger Districts.

The Foresters would likely have paid for John's funeral from their funds and then provided Catherine with some financial support. This explains why she was able to avoid going back to the Destitute Board until several months after John's death. 

This fascinating and previously unknown detail of John's life was discovered through a 'hint' from the software I use (Roots Magic) which pointed to the funeral notice. It provoked my curiosity. What was the Ancient Order of Foresters, and what was the song that John sang at that anniversary dinner, when he and his fellow Foresters were well fed and probably already a little inebriated?

It was probably this one by George A Barker, sung here by Phillip Ritte:

The White Squall

The sea was bright and the bark rode well,
The breeze bore the tone of the vesper bell:
'Twas a gallant bark, with crew as brave,
As ever launch'd on the heaving wave.
She shone in the light of declining day,
And each sail was set and each heart was gay.

They near'd the land where in beauty smiles
The sunny shores of the Grecian isles:
All thought of home, of that welcome dear,
Which soon should greet each wand'rer's ear.
And in fancy join'd the social throng,
In the festive dance and the joyous song.

A white cloud glides thro' the azure sky,
What means that wild despairing cry?
Farewell, the vision'd scenes of home!
That cry is Help! where no help can come.
For the White Squall rides on the surging wave,
And the bark is gulph'd in an ocean grave.

A white squall is a violent windstorm that arrives without warning. The words are sadly prophetic for a man who was just beginning to get ahead in life when disaster struck him and his family.


To read more about John Mason and his family, see my book Susan: convict's daughter, soldier's wife, nobody's fool. It's available on Amazon and other online books stores. To read a preview of the first chapters, click on the cover image.

Fix this textcomparison with ecme of the crack hotels of the mothercountry

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