Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (57): Another orphan history…herstory

Most readers will know of the recent death of Tom Power a man who played such a crucial role in the creation of the monument to the Great Irish Famine at Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney http://www.irishfaminememorial.org/ This wonderfully evocative artwork was a commemoration and a memorial to all the Irish people who fled the Famine and came to Australia. Its symbolism gave it universal significance. It became a tribute to everyone fleeing famine and catastrophe anywhere in the world. Tom knew that public monuments die by neglect. His hope was that this one, ‘his’ one, would be a living monument, life breathed into it by the descendants of orphan girls memorialized on the glass panels in Hossein and Angela Valamanesh’s beautiful sculpture.

This can happen in a myriad of ways,

on an Irish Language television channel, TG4, with Barrie Dowdall and Siobhán Lynam’s TG4 series, “Mná Díbeartha/ Banished Women” http://www.convictwomenandorphangirls.com/Convict_Women/Home.html

in the creative imagination of an artist.  Jaki McCarrick’s “Belfast Girls” will be shown for the first time to an Australian audience, later this year 2018, in the middle of May. http://htg.org.au/htg-presents-belfast-girls-an-australian-premiere/

in cyberspace with the Keeper of the Orphan database, the inimitable Perry McIntyre, http://irishfaminememorial.org/orphans/database/

There’s a host of other ways. Maybe readers would mention them in a comment to this blogpost?

In homage to Tom Power I’d like to present another brief ‘herstory’. It is based on information provided by a descendant, Alan Buttenshaw. Alan provided me with a file of information relating to Winifred Tiernan and her husband, David Masters when I met him in 2003.

My starting point for up-to-date information on the Earl Grey orphans is always www.irishfaminememorial.org/orphans/database

So for

WINIFRED TIERNAN/TIERNEY FROM ROSCOMMON per TIPPOO SAIB

there is the following,

  • Surname : Tiernan (Tierney)
  • First Name : Winifred
  • Age on arrival : 16
  • Native Place : Ardcarney [Ardcarn], Roscommon
  • Parents : James & Margaret (both dead)
  • Religion : Roman Catholic
  • Ship name : Tippoo Saib (Sydney Jul 1850)
  • Workhouse : Roscommon, Boyle
  • Other : Shipping: house servant, reads, no relatives in colony. 1858-9 Report, appendix J No.150, 29 Nov 1850 indentures cancelled with Mr J Caruthers, South Head Rd, for insolence & neglect of duty, sent up the country, WPO; Im Cor 50/917, 16 Dec 1850 Maitland; mar David Masters 7 Jun 1853, St James, Morpeth; then to Mitchell’s Island nr Taree, farming husband’s property; 15 ch; she died 12 May 1909. Photo p.289 Barefoot & Pregnant, vol.2. Heather Peterson: cadie[at]ace-net.com.au; Alan Buttenshaw: abuttens[at]bigpond.com.au; Darlene McGrath, email bounced, please contact us

Further down this post you will see the family reconstitution form I constructed after meeting with Alan. Alas, I never developed her history as either of us had hoped. Here is a brief version of ‘herstory’ anyway. It may assist other family historians writing her story if they haven’t done so already. It appears there were fourteen, not fifteen children born to the couple. Both were residing in Bolwarra Parish at the time of their wedding in St James Anglican church in Morpeth in 1853. I can’t help noting how long a child-bearing life Winifred had.

Some of the information in Alan’s file had been passed to him by other family members, including the transcript of a tape by Winifred’s granddaughter. It was a tape recording what Winifred had told her granddaughter about the Famine and the death of her parents. According to this, Winifred’s mum, Margaret Conlon died in 1846, followed by her dad and brother James the year after, in 1847.

Let me quote from the transcript,

At the end of 1846 Great Grandmother Margaret, took ill. Her husband tookCatherine [Winifred’s younger sister who came to Australia in 1856] and James with him and slept in the hayloft above the cowshed. Each morning he took the milk and whatever else could be found in the way of food and left it on the kitchen doorstep. But he never went inside the house. The mother died, the two girls laid her out. … At the end of 1847, this time the father and the son James were stricken. A cart came to pick up any dead, and a neighbour told the men to call on the way back. The father was already dead, and by the time they returned the son would be also. There weren’t any records kept of who had died they were all buried in a large hole. This left the three girls orphans, Mary 15 yrs, Winifred, 12 and Catherine 9″.

One of the fascinating things about the transcript is the way we humans construct our memories to suit ourselves. In the transcript there is no mention of Winifred ever having been a workhouse and no mention of her indentures being cancelled or being sent up the country to Maitland.

See entry number 150 of the table relating to cancelled indentures in  blog post 22.

https://wp.me/p4SlVj-vf

blogapp1859v

On the contrary, the tape gives a sanitized version of Winifred’s coming to Australia.

…Grandma wanted to emigrate-the fare was only £1, but she had to wait until early 1850 when she would be 15, in the May of that year. She even had her birthday while on the ship. Her uncle (Owen Conlon) allowed her to leave then because of Bridgett Quigley her cousin.

Bridgett Quigley came with her, Grandma was a pretty girl, and Bridgett was charged with the the responsibility of looking after her. They sailed in the Tippoo Saib…Winifred went into Catherine Chisholm’s Camp and a position was found for her as a nursemaid for the children of a Mr and Mrs Morcom, school teachers at Bolwarra, Morpeth”.

There was no Caroline Chisholm ‘camp’ for Winifred to go to in 1850. And to be eligible for the Earl Grey scheme she had to be in a workhouse, for however short a period of time. Uncle Owen Conlon may well have had influence with Boyle Workhouse Guardians and officers, enough to get Winifred into the workhouse and on to the list of those chosen to go. People in Ireland were aware the scheme was coming to an end which added to their sense of urgency. But all that is merely hypothesis. We have no independent verification of any of it.

Nonetheless it does seem Winifred was related to Bridget Quigley.

On Bridget Quigley see http://irishfaminememorial.org/media/Bridget_Quigleys_life_in_NSW_24_Nov_2012.pdf

The account of Winifred’s emigration to Australia in the transcript was more personally acceptable than the reality of her having spent time in a workhouse or being sent up country after cancellation of her indenture for ‘insolence’. People often hid the fact they had spent time in a workhouse. It was a badge of undeserved shame. I’d suggest we may need help separating what the grandmother said, and what the granddaughter added to that transcript.

All this raises a question about the reliability of oral evidence, and how we go about appreciating its value. It is worth exploring. Simply type ‘Oral HistoryAssociation of Australia‘ into your search engine and you will find some helpful links. For the enthusiast who would like to take this further, there are some brilliant essays in The Oral History Reader edited by Robert Perks and Alistair Thomson, Routledge, 1998.

fowinifredtierneytipsaib

fowintierneydavidmasters

blogfowtiernantipsaib

Winifred Tierney/Tiernan and David Masters

Winifred married Sussex born David Masters in an Anglican church in Morpeth in 1853. David had come to Australia with his parents and siblings in 1838 on board the Maitland, a voyage which saw 35 deaths, 29 of them children, mostly from scarlet fever. None of David’s family died.

The Masters family settled in the Hunter Valley, and it was in the same area that Winifred and David’s first two children were born. Sadly, their first child, Mary, died in infancy. According to ‘our’ transcript and the barely legible notes of my conversation with Alan, the family, sick of being flooded out so frequently, moved north to the Lower Manning Valley. There, too, their first farm on Jones’s Island was subject to flooding, forcing a move to higher ground on Mitchell’s Island. It was here the rest of their children were born. Winifred was surrounded by, and absorbed into families from Sussex. David inherited a farm of thirty acres to which he added a purchase of another forty-four acres.

Here’s is Alan’s map showing where they lived. Their children were born, lived, married and buried in the same area, in Ghinni Ghinni, Wingham and Taree, most of them returning to Mitchell’s Island to be buried.

blogmanningriver

Alan and I talked about the importance of putting Winifred and her family into context, into a ‘place’. And finding local histories and local historians who might help with that. Luckily the area is well served for anyone wanting to develop the story further. I managed to note down the following, W. G. Birrell, The Manning Valley, Landscape and settlement 1824-1900, Jacaranda Press, 1907(?); Helen Hannah, Voices a Folk History of the Manning Valley, Newcastle, 1988, and importantly, the excellent local history, John Ramsland, The Struggle against Isolation A History of the Manning Valley, Library of Australian History in association with Greater Taree City Council, 1987. In the early days of white settlement, the Manning was a cedar getting area and later one of dairy-farming. Most of those who settled here, says John Ramsland, were not people of capital.

John Ramsland’s work tells us how in the period Winifred and her family settled in the Manning Valley, the main urban centres were beginning  to take shape. ‘The first shelters in Taree (where many of Winifred’s children were to live) were temporary huts made of locally collected bark or tents made of calico. These were soon replaced by split slab huts with bark roofs and dirt floors. And soon after sawn slab huts made their appearance with shingle roofs, and wooden floors and glazed windows‘ (p.49).

It wasn’t till the twentieth century that Winifred and David’s family went further afield. Alan’s own impression was of nutritionally good stews, kitchen and pantry built together, refrigeration coming late, of spartan and relatively ‘isolated’ living.

According to John Ramsland the lower Manning Valley was  a very Protestant area. The Masters had a strong Methodist connection but by way of ‘compromise’, our transcript tells us, David and Winifred’s children were baptised in an Anglican Church. Winifred,  a young Irish Catholic lass, was absorbed into mainly Protestant Sussex families who had migrated together on the Maitland and the Argyle. Nonetheless she kept a link with Ireland through her younger sister Catherine. Catherine arrived by the Cressy in 1856.

“Catherine often visited the farm on the Manning River. If one of the girls was being married, she would arrive with all the materials and know-how to help with the trousseau. If it was one of the boys then her present was £50 towards his own farm. In 1894 Catherine and her husband (William Hillas) went for a trip to England and Ireland. While she was there she visited the site of the old home. She went by cab, and took a cut lunch. Only the fireplace, front and back doorsteps and the stone grating in the kitchen floor remained. She could remember which flag had to be lifted so her father could get into the cellar where he made his corn liquor…”.

Not a third-class or fourth class dwelling then, to use the terminology of Ireland’s census takers. I wonder in what ways this trip of Catherine’s may have influenced Winifred’s own memory of things, and what appears in the transcript.

Unfortunately I have been unable to make contact with Alan again. He has rich pickings for a good extended family history, one that that would do Alison Light proud. [Type Alison Light into the search box that appears after the comments to this blogpost to see what I’m on about ].

For me, Winifred’s story is another little life breath demonstrating how adaptable and resilient an orphan ‘girl’ could be. Our orphan histories are as diverse as the human condition itself. Maybe we should think of adding some more. That Hyde Park Barracks  monument should be kept alive.

——————————————————————————————

Post Script.

I’m currently reading a powerful, poetic, tragic, brilliant work of fiction about a young girl during the Famine, which I heartily recommend, Paul Lynch’s Grace, Otherworld, 2017.

She looks around the table, sees the way the youngers stare at her, sees what is in …the whites of all their eyes and the who they are behind that white and what lies dangerous to the who of them, this danger she has feared, how it has finally been spoken, how it has been allowed to enter the room and sit grinning among them” (p.14).

Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (33):Mary in Australia 

UNFINISHED STORIES (2)

Mary McConnell (cont.)

Using her family history detective skills, Mary’s descendant, Tricia Evans, has discovered what became of Mary in Australia. She writes,

“For no apparent reason William and Mary never married but they did raise eleven children. Finding all these children and following them through was no easy task…Their first four children were all born pre-1856 which is when civil registration began in New South Wales, therefore births were not registered but luckily they did have them all baptised. I started with the microfilm of the Church of England, Newcastle Diocese registers. I thought I had struck the jackpot as I found them all one after the other right down to the last child, George Silvester Ashton being baptised on 20 June 1872. In fact, nine children were baptised in the Anglican Christ Church, Mount Vincent, and two in the Wesleyan Church in Mulbring.

I then thought it would be an easy task to look for any deaths and or their marriages. As their 7th child is my great grandmother, Margaret Ashton who married James Warby on 15 December 1883 at Maitland, NSW, I made this my starting point. Again I learnt that nothing is as it appears to be.

As I have already mentioned, the first four children were baptisms only, therefore they are listed as Ashton, naming both mother and father. Then when it became law in 1856 to register a birth, death or marriage, Mary registered the next seven children as illegitimate with no father’s name, and gave them the surname of McConnell. So we have a family, on paper, where some are under the name of Ashton and the rest are under the name of McConnell, then not to make it any easier, they all got married under the name of Ashton.

Mary McConnell (Ashton) was to leave a very large legacy in her new homeland by having eleven children who gave her 58 grandchildren”.

There must be quite a number of present-day Australians descended from this one Irish orphan.

Tricia’s good work has allowed us to revise Mary’s family reconstitution form, for yet a third time. Whoever said family history was a ‘finished’ history? Since we’re uncertain where some of Mary’s early children were born, we’ve left that blank to be filled in at a later date.

Mary McConnell family reconstitution upgrade
Mary McConnell family reconstitution upgrade

As is often the case, documented evidence of Mary’s life amounts merely to snippets of information. Shortly after her arrival, Mary was employed as a servant to Mr Wilson of East Maitland, for three months, at the rate of £8 per annum (we do not know where or when she met William). She described herself as washerwoman (registering Margaret’s birth in January 1863). Sometime during her life she learned to read and write. She was recorded as being unable to do either when she left Belfast workhouse but could do both, according to her gaol description of 1882. She was only c. 150 cms. tall (1880). She had lost the third finger on her left hand (1882) and was described as ‘stout’ when she fell down the stairs and broke her neck in 1892. As Tricia puts it, “we can only piece together what we believe could be the truth.” And yet, with a dash of curiosity, an enquiring mind, and a snifter of historical understanding, our appreciation of Mary’s life will increase. We may not have the same resources as Alison Light, census records, for example, that throw light on their neighbours but there are some things we could, and should explore. These examples are not the end of it.

May I urge family historians to try setting their Irish Famine orphan in a particular historical context. Even if you do not have a direct link to a particular thing, your curiosity will carry you along.  What was the difference in weather like for young Mary McConnell Ashton? Was she aware of Aboriginal people? Was her life experience very different from ours? How did she travel? What were conditions like on a tenant farm in the Hunter Valley? What work did a sawyer do? Mary was a washerwoman and sometimes acted as a midwife. What did that entail in the second half of the nineteenth century? And then of course there’s Trove. These are a few of the things I try to do here. Each case will be slightly different. But you appreciate what I’m after, don’t you? Put some historical flesh on your wee girl’s bare bones.

How did this young woman from Belfast feel about the weather in her first summer in Australia? She probably loved the warm sun on her back as she went about her household chores. She may also have looked up, and longed for a wet Belfast sky. Other Irish migrants recorded how they felt. A young Dubliner, Isabella Wyly, wrote from Adelaide in March 1857, “You say I told you nothing about the Climate, but what with dust, & Heat & hot winds & Flys & and an Insect that the call Moskitoes we do not know what to do with ourselfs just now. We ar suffering very much from the hot weather”. (David Fitzpatrick, Oceans of Consolation, p.117) Adelaide heat is not the same as Hunter Valley heat in the summer. But it was still shocking to young Michael Normile from County Clare who wrote from Lochinvar in 1855,

“The Climate of this Country is far differant to home. The winter is coming on with us now it is beautiful weather the same as home summer. The summer we past was dreadful hot…I heard that some people got sun struck, in fact I was a day and I would give a mouthfull of money for a mouthfull of fresh air…I Seen this last Summer 4 months without a drop of rain and all that time hot scorching weather. You would See cattle strewed dead in water holes, or along the roads fine working Bullocks all for the want of water”. (Fitzpatrick, Oceans, pp.70-1)

Remember Mary had three young children in tow by this time, all under three years of age.

May I suggest, too, that instead of writing Aboriginal people out of our history, we make every effort to write them in? Aboriginal history is flourishing. Libby Connors’ Warrior is testimony to that. With just a brief untutored internet search, here’s what we found relating to Aboriginal people in the Hunter in mid-nineteenth century,

http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/heritagebranch/heritage/media/13235huntesvol1.pdf  See 4.2 by Alan Atkinson

Click to access brayshaw1987.pdf

http://www.historyofaboriginalsydney.edu.au/north-west/1850s

Alan Atkinson tells us the land of the Pambalang or Big Swamp tribe extended from Newcastle West to the foothills of Mount Vincent, whereas Helen Brayshaw refers to the Wonaruah or Gringai people of this general area. The number of Aboriginal people had fallen drastically since the beginning of the century: none was reported as coming to Maitland for blankets in 1850, for example. Some may have been employed on Knox Child’s estate at Mount Vincent which is where Mary and William settled in the 1850s. Or on neighbouring estates. Others ‘came in’ to live on the fringes of towns like Maitland.

Mary and William probably did not know of the Bulga Bora Ground used for initiation ceremonies near Wollombi but they were aware of the trials of Aboriginal people in West Maitland; of Murphy, Tommy Potts, Martin and King John of the Maitland tribe and Jemmy and Richard Wiseman of the Sugarloaf tribe in December 1851, and of Wickety Wee and Morris in 1853. (See the link to the history of Aboriginal Sydney above).

There were other ways Mary and William’s life experience was different from ours. Mary was about 150 centimetres tall, William 155. Our ancestors were smaller than we are. Their life expectancy was shorter, their families were larger, they had fewer material possessions, fewer labour-saving devices and most of them had a lifetime of hard physical work. By 1882 Mary was missing the third finger on her left hand. How did she cope with pain, and childbirth, and disease? There were no epidurals, no antibiotics, no analgesics, and no gum-numbing injection when she had a tooth extracted.

Janet McCalman in her history of the Melbourne Women’s Hospital, Sex and Suffering (1998) tells of the difficulties Irish Famine women had in giving birth to their children. Malnutrition and poverty in some cases led to underdeveloped and deformed pelvises. Once the women had a better diet, rest and sunshine, in Australia, their babies grew larger in the womb. Mothers had great difficulty giving birth to them. I remember seeing an exhibition of obstetric instruments, in Adelaide I think it was. Someone had commented that they wanted more focus on women themselves. But for me, those instruments were horrific instruments. They made me appreciate what women had to go through. In the cases Janet McCalman describes in the early pages of her book, craniotomy forceps were used. “If there was no room, [for the baby to pass through the pelvis] then the baby had to be removed by a destructive operation, most often a craniotomy where the baby’s skull was perforated and collapsed, or the child was taken apart in the uterus and extracted in pieces”. (p.22) Fortunately, our Mary McConnell did not suffer such horrors.

Their means of transport was also different from ours. We are uncertain when or where Mary and William met. William’s tickets-of-Leave were for the Paterson and Raymond Terrace Districts, granted with the usual conditions; he could live and work for himself in the district, must carry his ticket with him at all times, and must attend church. The couple’s first child, William Henry, was born in Miller’s Forest, about four miles from Raymond Terrace. In January 1853, with another child and Mary three months pregnant, we know they were in West Maitland. They were before a Police court charged with indecent language in a public place. See http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/page/127645 page 2 col 5. Mary and William had probably travelled by water, horse, cart or on foot. The tributaries of the Hunter river interconnect Paterson, Raymond Terrace, Morpeth and West Maitland and between there and Mount Vincent where the pair were to settle sometime after, it was a walk of 15 or 16 miles. We hope they at least had a cart for their young children. Here’s a map of the area courtesy of Brian Andrews.

Sugarloaf District, Hunter Valley, with thanks to Brian Andrews
Sugarloaf District, Hunter Valley

As Tricia discovered, all Mary and William’s children were baptised in church. For twenty or more years, Mary and William lived at Mount Vincent, on the Mulbring Creek, with other tenant farmers on the estate of William Knox Child. Knox Child had sold his estate in Kent and come to Mount Vincent in the 1840s. He divided his new estate into tenant farms letting them to free migrants and ticket-of-leave convicts.

William Ashton leased a tenant farm from Knox Child sometime in the early to mid 1850s, although exactly what kind of lease is uncertain. His lease may simply have entailed a dwelling, and a small plot of land of 10 acres. William presumably helped with the ploughing, sowing and harvesting of the wheat crop on the Estate at certain times of the year, and at others, worked as a timber-getter and sawyer. In 1862 and 1871, his name appears on official gazette lists of those licensed to cut hardwood on the slopes and ridges of Sugarloaf valley. (At different times, William’s occupation was recorded as brickmaker, sawyer, bushman and labourer).

The slab hut where Mary and William lived probably had a shingle roof made from local forest oak, and a well-watered, beaten and swept, dirt flour. Their furniture and utensils were sparse and simple, with Mary cooking porridge, stew and soup in cast iron pots. William may have added a lean-to, as his family grew larger. The split slabs of hardwood that formed their house were cut by sawyers like William.

The saw pits where William worked were usually in the bush, near where the trees were felled. A large square hole was dug deep enough in the ground to allow another sawyer to stand completely below ground level. Once the tree, now cut into carefully measured logs, was rolled into place above the pit, one man below and one above used a large hand-saw to cut the logs to the dimensions they wanted. It was hard work. One can imagine William with a big bushy beard coming home dirty, covered in sawdust. Our thanks to Brian Andrews for this information about sawyers and their work. Here are a couple of illustrations from Brian’s Sugarloaf magazine,

Slab Hut
Slab Hut
ashtonsawpit (2)
Saw Pit. Thanks to Brian Andrews.

 Mary herself had an ever-growing family to attend to, a child being born almost every two years from 1850 until 1872. She had her own daily domestic chores, maybe a kitchen-garden where she grew vegetables, even though the soil was not particularly fertile. When Tricia’s great-grandmother Margaret was born in January 1863, Mary described herself as ‘washerwoman’. Tricia writes “I have always felt (nothing to back it up except my gut feeling) that Mary was one of the washerwomen in the Knox Child household. If so, she may have worked in a building separate from the main household”. Or she may have boiled water for the laundry on a wood fire outdoors taking washing in from other tenants on the estate. At any rate, I doubt her job was as clean or ‘idyllic’ as in this image from the New South Wales State Library picture collection.

Washerwomen c. 1871 courtesy State Library New South Wales
Washerwomen c. 1871 courtesy State Library New South Wales

I wonder did Mary retain her ‘attitude’, and like Mrs Molony on the goldfields in Victoria, answer back those who questioned the quality of her work, or what she charged for her washing. William Kelly, in his Life in Victoria in 1853 recorded his meeting with Mrs Molony,

“…or about four shillings above the usual price, I remarked, in an audible soliloquy; upon which, putting her hands in the jacket pockets, approaching the attitude to which all voluble women incline in energetic declamation, she apostrophised us in the following vernacular terms; ‘Sweet bad luck to the pair of yes, ye lousy lime-juicers. It’s dirty linen that’s too good for the likes of yes. I wouldn’t give you a squeeze o’ me blue-bag for the money. Maybe yes think I wash for divarshun, and that me wood is laid down for me thankee, or that I git me wathur for the whistlin‘”. (Kelly, Life, pp.53-4). From what we know of her, I’m sure Mary gave a tongue-lashing if she was crossed.

Most of us, family historians especially(?), like to believe our ancestors lived the lives we would want for them. “If the creation of a nation rests on its ‘foundation myths’, family legends too, handed down the generations, are also the stuff, like dreams, of which we make ourselves” (Alison Light, Common People, p.130). It’s the natural thing to do. ‘Mary and William fell in love, they worked hard and raised a large family and were respected by their community’. you know the kind of thing I mean. Mary and William’s life at Mount Vincent may well have been their best years. William even wrote a letter to the press protesting against road works and signed a petition, both against and for, locating a post office on the Mount Vincent estate (1858 and 1859). Tricia says, “after they moved into Maitland in the 1870s, Mary gained a reputation as a midwife. Being a midwife in these times was not an official job. It was just a well-experienced person who was prepared to attend whenever she was needed. I know she was in attendance for many of her own grandchildren and this is where she gained her skill”.

But as Tricia was to find out, “nothing is as it appears to be”. In the Maitland Gaol Description Books in State Records of New South Wales April 1880, Tricia found not only both Mary and William linked together, convicted of obscene and profane language; that the Magistrate remarked at the trial ‘women appeared worse than the men in using bad language‘; that William was a convict not a Bounty migrant as she previously thought; and that he had 11 previous convictions recorded against his name. As she put it, “boy oh boy, the hunt was on”.

We’ve had a look through gaol records and reports in the Maitland Mercury and Hunter River Advertiser. Here’s some of what we found. Most of the cases were heard in the Police Court, West Maitland. Mary appears only a few times, William very often for ‘drunkenness and obscene language’, in effect for criminal misdemeanours, rather than major crimes. We began by searching for the ’11 previous’. http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/660805?searchTerm=%22William%20Ashton%22%201853&searchLimits=l-state=New+South+Wales

See page 2, col.5

1 January 1853 Both Mary and William were found guilty of using indecent language ‘at the end of Ashton’s house’ in West Maitland ’12 yards from a public thoroughfare’. [This may be a useful way of tracing where they lived. We also should search for the legal definition of ‘indecent language‘. I suspect the ‘crime’ was a means of controlling convict society and preventing civil disturbance.  No doubt there is more to it than that. Maybe a lawyer or legal historian could put us on the right path].

4 January 1863 William, obscene language

10 January 1867 William, assault. Both parties fail to appear

And then something that may be the key to all the rest, 10 April 1867, a JP commits William, on suspicion of insanity. 11 April he is found to be suffering from delerium tremens and a week later, he is remanded in gaol ‘for his own protection’. I wonder was William an alcoholic. He certainly had a problem with alcohol.

But in early 1878 he fell off the wagon. 12 March Drunk in the High Street, West Maitland; 8 August obscene language; 10 August Guilty of obscene language in Sparks Street. ‘He had been annoyed by his wife’; 8 October indecent language and drunkenness; 31 October 1879 Obscene language, gaol for a month; 20 December Maitland obscene language. 

Between 1878 and 1887, when he was about 58 to 68 years old, William appeared in court almost twenty times. He had had enough of a lifetime of ‘hard yakka’ and turned to his old friend, a bottle of rum? He is in and out of gaol, sometimes for only 48 hours, sometimes for a month. Mostly, he is found guilty of obscene language and being drunk. He just doesn’t have the money to pay the fine so he goes to gaol instead. These were not exactly fun times for Mary.

Let me finish William’s sorry tale with a few other court reports that help us understand what was happening to him. On the 23 rd January 1884 he was ‘drunk and disorderly’ again, and a month or two later, 13 March he’s charged with neglecting to send a child to school. [I wonder what that’s all about]. Shortly later, on the 19th April, a Mrs Griffiths sues him to quit tenancy of her dwelling in Devonshire Street, West Maitland.

In 1887 (30 July) there is a meeting of William’s creditors declaring his estate insolvent.  The next we hear from the Maitland Mercury 24 September 1887 ‘William Ashton of Mount Vincent was fined £10 plus costs by the Newcastle Bench for having on August 20th shifted certain points on the Homebush-Waratah Railway at Awaba by reason of which a train engine got off the line’.  There is a report of the case in the Newcastle Herald, 23 September 1887 page 3, col.5. see http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/135979909?searchTerm=%22William%20Ashton%22&searchLimits=l-state=New+South+Wales|||l-decade=188|||l-title=356

An aged man is but a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick, unless…

(Yeats, Sailing to Byzantium)

We can but hope that Mary’s last few years were a bit more peaceful. She was visiting her married daughter in King Street, Newcastle when she fell down the stairs and broke her neck in 1892. In 1894 William died. Both of them are buried in Sandgate Cemetery. Their large family spread across the Hunter and beyond, working as rough carpenters, small farmers, labourers, sawyers and coal-miners, in areas such as Newcastle, Toronto, Moontown in East Maitland, and Mount Vincent. Their youngest child, George Silvester, joined up to fight in the First World War at the ripe young age of forty-three!

Tricia tells me, once her health issues are resolved, she hopes to return to her family history in earnest. She will look into William’s history further, do more on her great grandparents, Margaret Ashton and James Warby, have a look at George’s war record, and research the other two tragedies in her family history; the poisoning of Mary McConnell’s great-great-grandchild 9 month old Cyril Albert Ashton in 1899, and the murder of Cecil Boyne Lambert in 1917. Maybe another family member is willing to help?

Tricia has in her library, John Turner’s, The Rise of High Street, Maitland–A Pictorial History, Council of the City of Maitland, 1989 which reproduces some of F.C Terry’s beautiful prints of West Maitland. You may like to view them in a WordPress site.

Click to access charlton1961.pdf

George Ashton's war medal
George Ashton’s war medal
James Warby
James Warby