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30 Nov 2011

A tale of two grandmothers

I can see I will have to go to Furness, the isolated bit of Lancashire accessible only by coast, from Morecambe, and now swallowed up by Cumbria.  My grandmother worked at Bassenthwaite Hall during the War, inland, and later married at Ulverston Methodist Church, Furness.


Strangely, I do turn out to have family members in Furness, but nothing to do with this grandmother.  It was my OTHER grandmother, born at Turnpike Lane (on the Piccadilly line) in the London suburbs, who has the Lakes ancestry, although she never lived there, and rarely had the chance to visit.  She was the granddaughter of John Airey the grocer of Windermere.  Or Winandermere, to give it its full name.

It was formally known as Applethwaite, or Lower Birthwaite, but I think it had always been known locally as Windermere.  When the God-given railway arrived in the 1840s, up went the sign WINDERMERE, and in came the visitors.  Hill-walkers, Wordsworth enthusiasts, consumptives, artists laden with oils and canvas, all the wealthy from Leeds, Manchester and London, were keen to visit England's biggest inland body of water.  John had just bought a site on Victoria Street, built by an uncle, and had forty very good years in the town.  The town also became a home for Annie, whose father had been crushed to death in the North-East aged 30, John's future wife.

John Airey also had two grandmothers, and the younger of these gave me much puzzlement.  She was Betty born about 1779 in Troutbeck round the corner from Windermere, long before the tourists got in.  She had clearly married, to Joseph Barnett, and had a slew of children, and descendants, most of them in the Furness pensinsula.  There were several Bettys born about 1779 in the parish, but none of them looked very interesting.

That was until a rogue tree on Ancestry made me consider Betty might after all have been someone already on my tree!  That is: Elizabeth Airey baptised in 1780 at Troutbeck.  Timing was very very tight as a girl was supposedly born 16yrs later.  But if we ignore her, that buys us more time.  She still has to marry at 18, for the true firstborn of 1799.  The censuses scream that 1780 is just too late, but they're wrong.  Elizabeth Airey DID marry, in 25 Feb 1798 at Troutbeck, to Joseph Barnett.

We are fortunate to know so much about a 4xgreat-grandmother.  She and her sisters all survived until the time of the censuses, and various family names were passed around which may lead us yet further back.  Of course we now descend from the Aireys of Westmorland twice over, and so it's for us even more a tight-knit family, centred around the beautiful unspoilt village of Troutbeck.

28 Nov 2011

The Tuckingmill Hotel and the Return of Eliza

The Tucking Mill Hotel, March 1851

At the hotel in 1851, someone is about to arrive, my great-great-grandfather, who will be a bouncing baby boy, the only one to survive the depressing wet, cold and stony damp. Cursed from birth with the Hunter need to travel, and travel far, it's fitting that in these waiting months, a visitor should emerge bedraggled at the young publicans' door.

Eliza Hunter, the publican's sister. She is one of the great unsolved threads in our tapestry.  Even here she is casually tripped over, listed most unhelpfully as Elizabeth Richards, widow, age 25, but seemingly on hard times, and not expected to survive, I would imagine.

We see her here stopping over with her brother who had the Tuckingmill Hotel, as a widow, presumably not long for this world. She coughed and sneezed, it was a lot colder than she had been used to. This same hotel would I'm afraid kill the next 2 Hunter children, and the family would quit its ornery ways by the end of the decade for Bogota, Colombia, to let their travel genes run free and see if maybe Lady Luck would be kinder there (ha ha ha).  Eliza we must leave with her widowed weed's tramping her way to the workhouse, we imagine.
Twenty years later one of the family was finding his feet in the gold mining boom-town of Bendigo. Having lost his father in Bogota (a trip that hadn't worked out so well), he was now doing quite well thank you being on his way to management in a factory that made fuses for use in blasting away rock with explosives. A young girl caught his eye, Miss Perry, another Cornishwoman, whose mother was almost certainly our hero's fairy godmother, as we'll see. The couple have children, whose story is known quite well to us, and it all goes so very well. The year? 1870.

At some point, I put on the specs and rummaged around to find out how Eliza became a widow. It had been a sad tale. She had gone out to Adelaide as a bride of 22 and returned two years later having lost both her husband and her infant son out there in Australia. This is in sharp contrast to her two cousins, both born the same year (1825), but inseparable, they were even baptised in the font together. These two who were also destined to dally deeply with the great continent under the sea.  Eliza was first of them in Australia.  Briskly following her out were the two cousins: they moved around the southern gold fields and had over 95 grandchildren between them, which one of them lived to see (the most fertile one did not suffering cancer of the ovaries or uterus). Eliza was effectively sent home early. Play had definitely stopped and rain was definitely due.

Was Eliza really ready for the long walk along the road to the workhouse at age 25. Was she done with us and done with life? It was tough times back then with tin/copper at all time low prices, but even Thomas Hardy wouldn't send her to the chop. So, I'm not so sure she dies.

We look back at that census from 1851 with the dingy old hotel temporarily holding the family together. Her brother was ready to sail for Colombia. Eliza did not for a minute sit on her laurels and watch her brother sail before offering to keep house for her elderly father, not at all. She was a widow but she was just 25! The moment the census enumerator left the Hotel with a 'kerchief over his nose, she must make her approaches to Perry, a tin miner.  She would need to marry him immediately, give birth to several children here, get back out on the boat bound for Australia and be out of the out of the country leaving no ripples by the time the clocked ticked for the 1861 census.  And that's exactly what she did.

I say no trace of a ripple... but I was missing something. A clue had been staring at me from the page for years.  Even though Eliza was a widow, apparently barren in 1851, SHE turns out to have been the producer of the lovely Miss Perry, the bride of 1870 down in Bendigo. And so SHE would have been our hero's fairy godmother at the fuse factory. She knew he would be gladly gifted the factory to own and run, provided he had a wife, Miss Perry say?, that was (for example), niece of the currently elderly owner.

Because Miss Perry had been born in England but after the census years, rather than in Victoria itself (where parents names are publically online), I had no idea she was the child of a Hunter.


The Return of Eliza, a woman not to be written-off, was there in the records all along. But so hard to piece together, it took myself and great-great-grandson Brett Pierce to put our two halves of the story together. We worked out this incredible woman emigrated TWICE, to different states/territories of Australia to become one of its matriarches: like her two cousins Amelia and Cecilia, fellow women of 1825.

By match-making her daughter to a trusted individual, the in-law's factory would come to him (her own sons being too darn young to succeed), thus looking after her own old age. She was not getting dumped in Australia twice!

Just one example of a hardworking Cornish woman destined for Australia who would not give up until she had got the better life, and would not settle until her future and her family's, was provided for.

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Further notes: Eliza's later children were born in Australia, with her maiden name of Hunter clearly announced. But what Brett in Australia didn't know, was where Eliza came from, as of course details of her first marriage never reared their head second time around. He definitely didn't know she'd come out before.
And what I didn't know in England, was that Eliza had had this second marriage at all, as guessing the name of a new man, and then further guessing that they had gone BACK to Australia, were all beyond my powers of imagination.  I was just sure she'd passed away, in England, leaving no trace, and no family. Eliza had eleven children all told and many descendants who are just learning of her double emigration.  Her fertility is not quite in the same league as her fellow 1825 cousins, whose descendants recently tipped the 1000 mark; but still quite respectable and matriarchal.  She was now based in Victoria and it was through her brother-in-law Charles Perry that our young orphan hero got the work in Perry's Fuse Factory, Bendigo. The main mystery left is where her mother, Mary Richards of Wendron came from and grandfather Hunter. Perhaps we can solve it someday. You can read more about the Fuse Factory here. I have downloaded a copy in case the link disappears over time, like a lot of mining ghost towns.

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This article appeared in November 2011.  The following month, a few weeks before his passing, my grandfather remembered something of the Tuckingmill Hotel from his own grandfather, born there in 1852 just a beat too late to know Eliza. I found myself travelling back 160 years to the clattering streets of Tuckingmill, and my grandfather and I across the table from each other as he described the room. At least I think he did, but tea was served and we moved on.

Pearce sorrow

Lots has happened since the last blog.  Most of it in the last day.  Two bits of information came fluttering in from Australia, the land of surprises.  #2 first: browsing a highly unlikely tree on Ancestry with much of its information from the remarkable Australian Cemeteries Index, see the attached photo.  Piecing together the information, I found that Edward Pearce 1819-1860, farmer of Musquito Creek, Gwydir district left five children, when he died.  Did the mosquitoes have a hand in his death?  His widow remarried.  His only son was shot by Jack Brady in 1884, named Gwydir after the district.  One daughter died following the birth of twins, aged 26, another (the only one named in family wills) lived to be 54 a spinster.  That just leaves one of the twins plus her aunt Jessie Pearce to continue the line.  The tree online, the cemeteries index, the New South Wales vital records, helped make up for the usual problem: how do you find a child born AFTER the census, but before the emigration overseas?  It was this very child Jessie who is the matriarch, even when it appeared there were none left of this side.  I googled 'Musquito Creek' like crazy, but had I searched for Pearce and Gwydir, the story would have come out that much sooner.  For the boy cut down in his prime, is carved in stone: 'he cut me down in my strength and shortened my days'.  Whether this is a reference to God or to Brady depends on your reading of this piece of family sorrow.