READER STORY

How one Vic­to­rian woman’s life was trans­formed by her move to Aus­tralia

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS -

hile it’s al­ways re­ward­ing to see your fam­ily tree spread­ing out on the page, there are usu­ally some branches that carry more in­ter­est­ing fruit than the rest. There­fore, it’s in­evitable that most of us end up fo­cus­ing our ef­forts on the lives of our more re­mark­able an­ces­tors.

For WDYTYA? Mag­a­zine reader Sheila Bligh, it was her 3x great aunt Ann Loomes that stole the show with her fas­ci­nat­ing jour­ney from grind­ing ru­ral poverty in Eng­land to suc­cess on the other side of the world in Aus­tralia.

“She was such a strong, pos­i­tive woman,” says Sheila. “I was very taken with her. Ev­ery­body else in my fam­ily is rather or­di­nary – you’d get bored talk­ing about them! Ann isn’t, though, and as I found out more about her, I kept think­ing ‘wow’, this is some per­son.

“It must have been dread­ful for her at times – she had so much to deal with – but she kept go­ing de­spite it all.”

Sheila be­gan to un­cover Ann’s story when a rel­a­tive in Aus­tralia, who knew of her in­ter­est in ge­neal­ogy, wrote to her ask­ing for in­for­ma­tion about the English fam­ily of a man who em­i­grated in the 1850s.

“I wrote back straight­away say­ing that I knew ex­actly who this was, and I sent her what in­for­ma­tion I had,” says Sheila. “She then told me that she was hav­ing a party to re­unite all of the man’s de­scen­dants, and in­vited me to join them. I was plan­ning to go to Aus­tralia any­way, so I went along.”

It was at that party that Sheila’s ‘eureka mo­ment’ hap­pened. “A woman called Maree Loomes came up to me and asked whether I knew any­thing about her fam­ily.

“At first, all I could think was that maybe they came from the same vil­lage as me. But al­though we left it at that, I was in­trigued and later started dig­ging around again. It seems that un­til then I had missed my an­ces­tor Ann Loomes be­cause of a mis­take by a vicar in the 18th cen­tury!” It turned out that Maree was a dis­tant rel­a­tive.

“I be­lieve the vicar wrote the wrong name in the book,” says Sheila. “He wrote ‘Ann’ when he should have writ­ten ‘Mary’ – one of the cou­ple’s other chil­dren. He got the wrong child. This had been a real brick wall to me. But it was when I saw that John and Ann later had an­other child – also called Mary – that I worked it out.

“No one gives two liv­ing chil­dren the same first name, do they? That told me that it must have been Mary that died. Ann was still alive. Dis­cov­er­ing this fact meant that I was able to un­cover the rest of her story.”

It emerged that when Ann was just 15, her mother died leav­ing her father a wid­ower with one daugh­ter and five sons. For the next seven years, Ann took over the man­age­ment of the house­hold and cared for her father and brothers, un­til on 28 Au­gust 1816 she left to start her own fam­ily and mar­ried John Loomes, a lo­cal labourer.

How­ever, their wed­ding took place in dark times – quite lit­er­ally. Ash from the erup­tion of Mount Tamb­ora, on an is­land in the In­dian Ocean, had spread over Europe, block­ing out the sun, mean­ing that 1816 be­came known as ‘the year with­out a sum­mer’.

That gloomy, wet Au­gust was an omen of things to come. The next two decades were marked by poverty and eco­nomic hard­ship, with work hard to come by – and badly paid when it was avail­able. Al­though the cou­ple had six sons, two died as ba­bies, and John strug­gled to find em­ploy­ment. By 1834, the fam­ily was re­ly­ing on parish re­lief to sur­vive.

“How­ever, it seems lo­cal mag­is­trate Charles Smith be­came aware of the fam­ily’s plight and ar­ranged for them to have a pas­sage to Aus­tralia aboard a ship tak­ing sin­gle women to the coun­try at the re­quest of the Aus­tralian Govern­ment,” says Sheila.

On 10 July 1834, Ann, John and their four sur­viv­ing sons set sail from Gravesend aboard the David Scott. They ar­rived in Syd­ney on 30 Oc­to­ber.

So far, Ann was just one of many poor Bri­tons who made the trip; their lives marked only by names and dates. But, by a re­mark­able stroke of luck, a let­ter she wrote home soon af­ter she set­tled sur­vived. In 1835 it was used as ev­i­dence by John Mar­shall, an agent to the Em­i­gra­tion Com­mit­tee, as part of his fight to re­fute ac­cu­sa­tions made in The Colonist news­pa­per, by Dr Dun­more Lang, that sin­gle women who had come to New South Wales aboard the David Scott were of “du­bi­ous char­ac­ter”.

Mar­shall’s de­fence sur­vives as a pam­phlet en­ti­tled A Refu­ta­tion of the Slan­ders and

Sheila’s 3x great aunt Ann went on a jour­ney from grind­ing ru­ral poverty to suc­cess in Aus­tralia

Will­ful Mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tions Pub­lished at Syd­ney, by Dr Lang, in the Colonist News­pa­per.

“In his re­ply to Dr Lang’s ac­cu­sa­tions, Mar­shall men­tions some of the fam­i­lies who had sailed in the David Scott, in­clud­ing John and Ann Loomes,” says Sheila.

Mar­shall quotes Ann’s let­ter stat­ing: “It is from the wife of a poor man of in­dus­tri­ous char­ac­ter who was with his fam­ily de­pen­dent on parish re­lief at Whit­tle­sey in Cam­bridgeshire, and who, through the ac­tive benev­o­lence of Charles Smith esq, a mag­is­trate of that county, ob­tained the means to em­i­grate with his fam­ily by the David Scott.”

Sheila says: “The let­ter was amaz­ing. The spell­ing is def­i­nitely er­ratic, and I think some­one else must have put the punc­tu­a­tion in. How­ever, it tells us so much about the life they made in Aus­tralia.”

A land of plenty

The let­ter re­flects the con­cerns of a woman whose life had thus far been dom­i­nated by hunger and poverty, and much of the con­tent is given over to de­scrip­tions of the abun­dant, af­ford­able food sud­denly avail­able to them. There was also plen­ti­ful work. Within days, John was em­ployed, and the fam­ily were liv­ing as the ten­ants of Charles Cow­per, 40 miles out­side Syd­ney.

“Our mas­ter is a very nice man,” Ann writes. “Our wages are £ 35 a year. He sent us 10 stone of flour, 28lbs of sugar, 4lbs of tea, 5lbs of can­dles, 6lbs of soap, 1lbs of to­bacco and we have two cows.

“He also gave us many use­ful things for our house and, bless God, we are in a land of plenty. It is a veryv fifine coun­try and I should like it very much if I had but one friend to speak to. We sit down ev­ery day to a good joint of beef. You may buy good beef at one penny a pound if you take a quan­tity at once; sugar is tup­pence a pound and good tea is a shilling a pound; good beer is 1/ 6 a bot­tle and rum 10 shillings a gal­lon.

“I should like to go higher up the coun­try for the cli­mate is like ours at home. The weather is very hot where we are now but very health­ful [sic]. Our wooden hut stands on a hill and is very pleas­ant. We have about 20 acres of In­dian Corn be­fore our door and it grows up to seven feet high with cobs as long as your arm.”

While Ann talks about home­sick­ness, she seems to take some com­fort from the fact that there is “a church about half a mile off ”.

The first time Ge­orge [her son] and his father went there, the child fainted in the heat. Later, Ann re­marks that the same af­ter­noon the par­son went “10 miles to preach but comes one mile out of his way to see how Ge­orge is”.

Of Syd­ney, she wrote: “You never saw such a beau­ti­ful place in your lives for

Lon­don is noth­ing to it. Clothes are nearly as cheap as at home and shoes are cheap, too.”

Miss­ing the home coun­try

Sheila says: “Their mas­ter also wanted a gar­dener and ob­vi­ously asked Ann to write to her brother, James, with a view to em­ploy­ing him. James worked as a gar­dener back home in Eng­land and Ann was ea­ger for her youngest brother and his wife to join them. If he comes, she ad­vises James to bring brandy with him “in case of sick­ness in the ship”.

“Ann is de­lighted with her new coun­try. But it’s clear she misses her friends and fam­ily, wants her let­ter passed round for them all to read and sends her love and ‘God’s Bless­ing’ with a kiss for all her lit­tle nieces and neph­ews. An Aus­tralian ad­dress where they can write to her is in­cluded in her let­ter with a re­quest that they send her all their news ‘as soon as they can’.”

Sadly for Ann, James and his wife didn’t go to Aus­tralia. He and his brother Ge­orge sailed for New York with their wives in 1836 and even­tu­ally set­tled in Michi­gan.

But none­the­less, Ann and John seem to have done well in the new coun­try. “Early in the 1840s, the fam­ily moved to the Bown­ing district, a set­tle­ment north-west of Syd­ney with an abo­rig­i­nal name mean­ing ‘ high hill’,” says Sheila.

“A doc­u­ment dated 20 April 1857 records the pur­chase of land at Two Mile Creek by John Loomes. The 1865 Elec­toral Roll shows John Snr, John Jnr, James and Ed­ward Loomes liv­ing at Two Mile Creek, also known as Sheep­sta­tion Creek.

“The sheep re­turns for Yass, the district that in­cluded Bown­ing, show John Loomes liv­ing at Sheep­sta­tion Creek and hav­ing 500 sheep.

“Clearly, the fam­ily had pros­pered and John’s in­dus­try had been re­warded.”

John died in 1873, aged 82, while Ann died on 13 Novem­ber 1881, aged 87.

“The Yass Courier of 19 Novem­ber 1881 re­ports Ann’s death, not­ing that un­til the last weeks of her life she reg­u­larly walked into the town, a dis­tance of more than two miles,” says Sheila. “It also says that she was one of the town’s old­est res­i­dents hav­ing lived in Bown­ing for nearly 40 years and ‘was well known and re­spected by ev­ery­one’.”

Dis­cov­er­ing the de­tails of Ann’s life has been the high­light of Sheila’s many years of in­volve­ment in fam­ily his­tory. “The de­tec­tive work is so re­ward­ing,” she says.

“There were so many won­der­ful dis­cov­er­ies as I went along. But once you’ve made them, you can’t un­make them; that’s it. I’ve got a friend who is just start­ing out and I feel quite green with envy at the won­der­ful time that she’s got ahead of her!”

The record of the mar­riage of John Loomes and Ann Speechly, which took place on 28 Au­gust 1816

Sheila searches for the grave­stones of her an­ces­tors at St Mary’s Church, Whit­tle­s­eye

Sheila’s an­ces­tors have links to St Mary’s Church, Whit­tle­sey but there are no graves to be foundy

The mar­riage en­try for Ann’s par­ents – her father was wid­owed when Ann died in 1809

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