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?
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”.
For Sarah, this was not the case. Eldest son Charles worked as a drover.
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
14 thoughts on “The Drover’s Wife”
It’s hard to even imagine what life would be like for women back then. But you’ve done a good job of putting all of those reference together to paint a great picture. The killing the snake reminded me of my grandma, who was a farmer’s wife, and it was just second nature for her to do whatever needed doing, which meant fixing things, and killing snakes etc, all while still keeping the house clean and plenty of food on the table.
Thanks Alona. They were hardy women.
Fantastic story, Merron, with so much detail. As Alona says, it’s hard to imagine their life, but you’ve painted a vivid picture.
And how intriguing, more questions to answer.
It does look like 34 years, but why a superscript 3? Maybe the rest of the certificate will provide a clue.
Thank you Frances and thanks for the confirmation on the 34 years.
You have woven a wonderfully evocative story here Merron!! What a strong woman Sarah, and her contemporaries had to be. It seems that for many of them they had to fend for long periods on their own while husbands went off to earn cash. I thought it was very interesting that he’d written Drover’s Wife (was he the informant?). I agree it’s 34 years even though it’s written a bit oddly. I reckon you got your $20 worth 😉
Thank you Pauline. Jim was the informant and yes I do think I got my $20 worth this time. I’m itching to get Jim’s certificate now.
Forgot to say I have Bishops marrying into my family. They lived at Wallumbilla near Roma, Qld.
Great story, Merron. I just wonder how we women of today would cope with the conditions of a Drover’s Wife?
Thanks Jill. Personally I don’t think very well, but then again we do what we have to do.
Sarah was my GG grandmother and it was fantastic to read her story, you have filled me in on some of my missing family.
Hi Sharon, it’s great to hear from you. I haven’t come across any Bishop descendants yet. Which of James and Sarah’s children are you descended from?
Hi Meron,Our family is descended through Charles Bishop who married Sara Dancer and one of their daughters Frances Bishop ( I notice you have a photo of her memorial in Byaduk cemetery) was my grandmother,she lived to the age of 94.
Hi Sharon, I have a thing for the Dancers particularly Annie Dancer & I have researched her far more than I should considering she is not related to me (lol). I’ve always wondered how she came to marry Ellis Piercy and I started researching Piercy’s first wife too because she was very interesting. I tend to get sidetracked a fair bit.
I have done a lot of research on James and Sarah Bishop and their children so let me know if there is anything you are looking for. I might be able to help.
I’m not sure if you saw this post about Jim Bishop https://mywdfamilies.wordpress.com/2012/03/03/to-catch-a-thief/
Hi Merron,this is a wonderful post. I really enjoyed it. I cannot imagine the hardship that those women had. Can you imagine any of our teenagers now having the fortitude or courage to face a fraction of what our ancestors did!
I always seem to find some commonality in your posts. I also have family who were at Gawler and mining at Ararat.