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28 Nov 2011

The Tuckingmill Hotel and the Return of Eliza

The Tucking Mill Hotel, March 1851
A new arrival
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.

Enter Eliza
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.

A dangerous hotel
We see her here as a widow, stopping over with her brother who had the Tuckingmill Hotel, 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, Columbia, to let their travel genes run free. Maybe Lady Luck will be kinder there (ha ha ha).  Eliza we must leave with her widowed weed's tramping her way to the workhouse. Perhaps.

Many years later, in a mining town far away
Twenty years later one of the family was finding his feet in the gold mining boom-town of Bendigo. A young lad called John Hunter. Having lost his father in Columbia (a trip that hadn't worked out so good), John was now doing quite well thank you very much, being on his way to management in a factory. The factory made fuses to help blast rock away in the mines. A young girl caught his eye, Miss P, a Cornishwoman. Wise move, as it was the mysterious Mrs P who got John up the ladder in the factory. It is now 1870, twenty years after the stranger arrives in the Hotel.

What's the story?
Wanting to lay Eliza to rest, I rummaged around to find how Eliza had became a widow in the first place. She had gone out to Adelaide at 22 and returned two years later. She had lost both husband and son out there in Oz. This was not fair. Her cousins Amelia and Cecilia, born the same year, had followed Eliza out to the the great continent under the sea.  These girls had over 95 grandchildren between them, scattered around the gold fields. Eliza did not. She was sent home early. Back to the Hotel. Rain had stopped play.

The End of Eliza?
Was Eliza really ready for the long walk to the workhouse age 25? Was life finished with her? Tin and copper were at rock-bottom prices. But even Thomas Hardy wouldn't send her to the chop. I'm not so sure she dies, does she?

Eliza's Decision
We look back at that census from 1851 with the dingy old hotel holding the family together. The brother was ready for Colombia. Eliza could watch her brother sail and then offer to house-keep for their grumpy father. She did not. She did not sit on her laurels and mope! She married again.

The moment the 1851 enumerator left the Hotel with a 'kerchief over his nose, Eliza made her approaches to the tin miner Perry. She needs to marry him immediately. Timing is very tight. Two girls are born here, Eliza (now Mrs Perry) gets back on the boat for Australia and is out of the country leaving no ripples by the time the 1861 census rolls around. Vanished! No trace!

Clues lying dormant for decades
I say no trace... but I was missing a clue. Someone had been watching me. It was in fact Eliza who turns out to be the mysterious Mrs P, John Hunter's benefactor in Bendigo. As Mrs Perry, she had produced Catherine Perry barely a year after the census. They sailed together to Australia in Eliza's second trip out there. When her nephew John Hunter came out, it was ELIZA who proved his fairy godmother. She knew he would be gladly gifted the factory to own and run, provided he had a wife, Kate Perry say?, a niece of the currently elderly owner.

Because Kate 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.

What we missed
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.

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.

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.

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