This post was written for the 2013 Australia Day Blog Challenge organised by genealogist Helen V. Smith. The brief for the challenge was “Tell the story of your first Australian ancestor”.
Easy – Ellen Barry arrived in 1840 on the Orient. But you have heard enough about Ellen and her husband Thomas Gamble, another early arrival (and possible convict). Most of my other ancestors were 1850s Assisted Immigrants. Maybe I could go with a hunch.
My ggg grandparents James Bishop and Sarah Hughes have been difficult to research. I eventually discovered they married in Adelaide in 1852. A few years ago, on the passenger list of the Lysander an 1840 arrival to Adelaide, I found Robert Hughes, his wife and four daughters.
As Sarah’s father was Robert, I’ve kept the Lysander filed away in my mind (yes, there are probably better places), occasionally having a search around the records hoping for something new.
For this post, I decided to try to find, the arrival date of either Sarah or James, but I had to choose. Firstly, I would need to pay for a digital image of a Death Certificate simply because I was short of clues. This was still cheaper and faster than ordering a hard copy of their South Australian Marriage Certificate.
I’ve posted about James before and I know something of him but nothing of Sarah except she gave birth to eleven children, but I did want to know more. Also, as Sarah passed away before her husband, the informant would most likely have been James and, if he was still of sane mind, information would be more accurate than that on his own certificate. He died ten years later in 1895 and his informant may not have known the detail I was after.
Based on that reasoning, Sarah it would be. So I ordered the certificate and waited, with fingers crossed for the digital image to appear. More often than not when I order a certificate, I end up disappointed. I was, on this occasion, pleasantly surprised. The column I was most interested in was “How long in the Australian colony”. It read, “fourteen years in South Australia”, in Victoria…almost illegible but it looks like thirty-four years. What do you think?
It does not prove that Sarah came on the Lysander but it does qualify her as an early arrival, so let the story begin.
I have told much of the Bishop family story in the post “Jim’s Gone A-droving” but what of Sarah’s story? I know so little about her but with help from Henry Lawson’s “The Drover’s Wife” one can wonder and imagine what life was like for her. While I don’t believe that she felt the isolation experienced by Lawson’s “wife” she must have felt the same loneliness.
Sarah Hughes was born in Brighton, East Sussex, England in 1834 to Robert Hughes and Mary Godfer. Robert was a sailor according to Sarah’s Death Certificate. As a child, Sarah arrived in Adelaide. By 1852, aged eighteen, she had met and married James Bishop from Dorset, nine years her senior. They lived at Thebarton, just north-west of the Adelaide city centre. Eight days short of their nine month anniversary, Sarah and Jim welcomed a daughter, Mary Elizabeth, named after her two grandmothers.
For most of his working life, Jim was a drover. The following article describes a James Bishop, working as a shepherd near Gawler, South Australia in 1853.
This could well be my Jim, off working early in the marriage. I have often wondered why only one child was born during the Adelaide days from 1852-1855/6, considering the speed of conception of the first child and frequency of the later children. Maybe Jim was away working? Could the gaps between the eleven children be a measure of Jim’s absences?
Baby Mary passed away in 1855 and this may have been a catalyst for a move.
Or was it gold? Jim and Sarah next turned up in Ararat where a new lead was found in early 1856.
Would life as a miner’s wife be any different to a shepherd’s wife? The goldfields were harsh for women, in the minority and left alone while their husband’s sought to change their fortunes. There was the cold (and Ararat can get very cold), the mud, the heat and dust. Their home was either a tent or hut. Settled in Ararat, Sarah gave birth to three children in four years, including my gg grandmother Elizabeth, if lucky a midwife at best assisted or another miner’s wife. Disease lurked on the goldfields, a constant worry for a mother with young children.
Seemingly luckless, the Bishops moved to Mount Gambier. Jim would have turned to droving by this time. While they were in Mount Gambier, Harriet was born in 1860 and Ellen in 1862.
By 1865, the family had moved to the Macarthur/Byaduk area and in the same year, after a break of three years, Sarah gave birth to a daughter. She called her Mary after the child she lost 10 years before.
During Jim’s absences, he often took cattle to the Adelaide markets, Sarah would have faced the harshness of the land on her own. By 1870, she had eight children from a newborn to fourteen. That year, Jim selected sixteen acres at Warrabkook, out of Macarthur. At least the older boys could have helped her with daily farm tasks and Elizabeth, thirteen and Harriett, ten, with the babies.
Sarah’s relationship with James is something I wonder about. Nine years younger than him and only a girl when they married. Drovers were stereotypically hard-drinking men adapted to long periods alone. Margaret Kiddle in her book, Men of Yesterday, A Social History of the Western District of Victoria described drovers as “…hardbitten, sunburnt and blasphemous.”(page 411) How did Jim adjust back at home? The peace of life on the road with a mob of cattle would be very different to a home full of children. Did Sarah do as Lawsons’ drover’s wife and not make a fuss?
In 1878, one of Sarah’s boys committed an act that would break any mother’s heart. Second son George and two other young men were charged with the rape of Mary Ann McDonald, an incident that rocked the district. That charge was later dropped, however, George was sentenced to twelve months imprisonment on a charge of indecent assault.
As Lawson’s “Drover’s Wife” killed a snake that terrorised the family in their home, her eldest son, with some sense of her emptiness, declared “Mother, I won’t go drovin’, blast me if I do”.
Third son Robert worked as a drover.
The droving blood ran deep. The 1913 Electoral Roll lists Sarah’s grandson Hubert Nathaniel Gurney Bishop, with the unmistakable name and son of Charles, as living in Longreach, Queensland. I believe this his him.
Sarah died on 15 May 1885 at Byaduk from pulmonary tuberculosis. Buried at only fifty-one at the Macarthur cemetery. The Wesleyan minister presided. On Sarah’s death certificate her profession was not home duties, or wife or even mother. It was a role that was all of those and more…drover’s wife.
After I wrote this post I watched Australian country singer Luke O’Shea ‘s take on The Drover’s Wife. Pass the tissues, please.
Excerpts of Henry Lawson’s short story “The Drover’s Wife” from Queensland Country Life – EPICS OF THE BUSH. (1936, June 11). Queensland Country Life (Qld. : 1900 – 1954), p. 7. Retrieved January 26, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article97158517 and Henry Lawson’s Stories of the Bush. (1936, June 18). Queensland Country Life (Qld. : 1900 – 1954), p. 7. Retrieved January 26, 2013, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article97158597
A full version of “The Drover’s Wife” is available at this link – http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/l/lawson/henry/while_the_billy_boils/book2.1.html