Wednesday, 13 March 2013

It all starts with a woman

I wasn't sure where to start, but then I read Lisa Alzo's blog on Fearless Females and I thought, "Why not?" We all start from our mothers (fathers too, but they are not as involved in our gestation and birth), so I'll start with the women in my family.

I'm going back a bit further than Mum for this first post - back to my great great grandmother, Anne Groves Leonard. She is a favourite female ancestor of mine because I am always struck by how much she endured in her life and how much her family loved her. But there are still questions unanswered.

Anne was born in Kingsland, Middlesex in 1832 (calculated from marriage certificates). I want to find a birth or baptismal date, so I need to find out what churches were in the area and where parish records might be held.

On 4 June 1848, Anne married Matthew Gambell Anthony, a grocer who went to sea and didn't return (he died of Java Fever off Indonesia on 8 January 1852). Anne and Matthew had a son, Matthew Joseph, known as Joseph.

Anne and her parents and siblings lived bang opposite the London Docks, on Upper East Smithfield, so it was no surprise that her second husband was a mariner by trade. Anne married Laurence O'Toole, from Wexford, on 25 July 1853 at St Mary Parish Church, Whitechapel and in less than a year, Anne, Laurence and little Joseph walked down the gang plank onto Circular Quay in the colony of New South Wales. It was very different from England, not so cold in winter but perishingly hot in summer. The family lived in a little house in Kent Street, which they soon were sharing with Anne's sister Lucy, her husband George Puzey and their son. The houses in their area were tiny, two small rooms with a lean-to kitchen out the back. Things must have been cramped with four adults and two young children. Lucy and George moved into their own home after about six months. More can be read about them in Keeping Up With The MacNamaras

Anne, Laurence and their growing brood moved about every few years, a common pattern for struggling renters in the colony. After Joseph, their first child together was Isabella, who was tragically killed in an accident at the age of two, run over by a fully laden dray that was not being properly supervised.

Then there followed William, Laurence and Archer who lived into their sixties and seventies. Frederick came along, named for Anne's deceased brother. Sadly, young Frederick was struck down during a measles epidemic. He was one of the last children to die before the epidemic came to an end. He was two years old, and Anne was seven months pregnant with John. It must have been a very frightening time for Anne. She had just lost one child, would her unborn baby survive as well? John did survive and lived into his seventies. Then there was Thomas and Benjamin and lastly James.

Joseph died in April 1880, after a severe illness, leaving a wife and child (their first baby had died as an infant). It is clear from the funeral notices how much his family loved and missed him. How it must have hurt Anne to lose Matthew's child.

In 1880 the probate of the will of Anne's first husband, Matthew, was finally settled in her favour. I have to get the papers for that. I have the application, I just need to sort an International Bank Draft. Why did it take 28 years to get sorted out? I suspect the answer is linked to Why are Anne and Joseph not mentioned on Matthew's headstone in Norfolk? (yes, his family paid to have his body shipped back). The money had an immediate effect on the O'Toole family. They were able to move out of The Rocks and into Balmain. Did they own their first home there? I need to check with the Land Titles Office to find out.

Things were looking up, but there was more to come - within two years of the move Anne Groves Anthony Leonard O'Toole was a widow once more. Laurence had come down with a bad case of diarrhoea and been admitted to Callan Park Hospital (it was a general hospital at the time, with a psychiatric wing). He died six days later and was buried in Rookwood Cemetery. His headstone does not survive.

The family pulled together, Anne's sons supporting her through this time. It looks like she moved in with Laurence Jnr, although I need to do some more checking through Sands Directory to verify this. But in 1889 Anne married again, to a widowed neighbour named James Leake. They lived first in College Street, Balmain, and then moved to 5 Hampton Street. Just when it seemed that happiness was assured, Anne's family again struck rough times. Benjamin developed Laryngeal Tuberculosis, a terrible illness for which there was no cure. It kills you slowly in one of two ways - either you starve to death because you are unable to swallow, or you suffocate. Anne nursed Benjamin over four months, unable to do little more than make her son as comfortable as possible while he slowly died. Anne was the informant on the death certificate.

In 1897 John O'Toole and his new bride, Mary Marcella Hall, moved in next door to Anne and James Leake, into 7 Hampton Street. They shared a common wall, and hopefully the grandchildren who followed brought her some joy. Little John McKay O'Toole died aged two days and I know Anne would have been a help to her son and daughter-in-law at that time and in other years. When Anne herself finally died in 1905, John had a nervous breakdown. You don't react like that to someone who refused to help in time of need. My mother's cousin, who remembers John, says he was very close to his mother and loved her dearly.

Anne died on 18 April 1905 and was buried in Rookwood Cemetery, although not with Laurence. James Leake was the informant on her death certificate, and he made a right mess of it, and I can't help thinking it was deliberate. Anne's correct age is given for her marriage to Matthew, although he has O'Toole tacked on the end of his name. Laurence is not mentioned on the certificate at all (although Laurence and James attended the same church, so they would have known each other). James gives Anne's age at her marriage to him as her age when she married Laurence and claims all her children bar Isabella as his own. Isabella is attributed to Matthew. Had Anne's life with Laurence been so hard that James felt he had to do this? Was he jealous of the love Anne had for her dead husband that he wanted to wipe him out? Was he just confused, or addled by grief? I don't know if I can ever find the answer to this.

A long post, but Anne Groves Leonard had an eventful life. My goal is to one day find a photo of Anne. A number of her sons led lives of active public service and were very prominent in the Balmain Community particularly, so I am hoping that a photo will crop up sometime. I need to go to Leichhardt Library SOON to look at their photographic archive.

Well, that's a mouthful for a start, but we are underway. History is always in the making.

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