Monday, 29 June 2015

A Man of Mystery

Like many family historians, I am particularly interested in tracing my paternal line, the line of my surname.  In spite of over twenty years of research, I have only been able to trace my Blake ancestors back to a James Blake who lived in the early nineteenth century.

My earliest record of James Blake is from London land tax records. These show that in 1807 he was living in Prospect Court, St George in the East, London.  My guess is that James was of age, 21, in 1807, so he was probably born before 1786.  James lived in Prospect Court until around 1810 and then moved to nearby Prospect Place, where he lived until around 1818.  There are no land tax records that I can associate with him after this date.

Prospect Place was near St George’s Town Hall, off Cable Street. Like much of the East End, the area was bombed in World War II and the street no longer exists. 

I have found a James Blake, son of Richard and Sarah, born and baptised in St George in the East, in August 1788. He might be a little young.  There were several other James Blakes baptised in the East End of London in the 1780s.

Around the same time that he moved from Prospect Court to Prospect Place, James Blake married Elizabeth, a young woman from Somerset.  She was probably Elizabeth Flower, born 1791 in Widcombe near Bath.  I have not yet been able to find any record of their wedding.  Their first child, Eliza Blake, died in February 1814 aged about 2 ½ years old which gives a rough idea of when they might have married.  Eliza was buried at St George in the East church.  She may have been baptised in St Pancras old church, although it seems a long way from the East End.

James and Elizabeth had four more children:
  • Mary, born 1814 and died 1818
  •  Elizabeth, born 17 Nov 1815, married a Scot, William Muirhead
  • James, my ancestor, born 27 Dec 1817
  • Isaac, born 1 May 1820,
According to the baptism records of James and Isaac, the family were living in Spencer Street, which was the other side of Cable Street to Prospect place.  The baptism of Isaac is the last record I have of James Blake senior. So, I only have definite information covering a bit less than fifteen years of his life.

Grandson James Jesse Blake, born 1848, mentioned in his “Diary” that he never knew his grandfather.  Elizabeth remarried, to John Gilbert, probably in 1836.  James must have died before then; there are a number of possible burial records.  A James Blake who was buried in St George in the East in 1832 was probably a different person, as he had several children baptised in the parish in the 1820’s.  Another James Blake was buried at St Luke’s, Chelsea in 1820, age 34.  The age and date fit, but what would James have been doing on the other side of London?  Was he a former soldier and Chelsea pensioner who was hospitalised before he died?

So where else might I be able to track James Blake down?  According to his children’s baptism record, he was a labourer, so looking for apprenticeship records is unlikely to be helpful.  He is said to have been a mariner on his son James’ marriage certificate.  Son James was a mariner and so possibly following in his father’s footsteps.  I recently discovered that there is a Trinity House Petition for a James Blake aged 22 of Manchester dated 1807.  The Corporation of Trinity House distributed charitable funds to sailors and their families.  The age and timing of the petition fit with what I know about James Blake and is a lead worth pursuing.

I checked baptism indexes for Manchester and Lancashire.  I discovered two things, one is that Blake is not a Lancashire name; the other is one James Blake, who was baptised in Overton, Lancaster in 1782, the son of Thomas and Betty.  Again, the age roughly fits but there is nothing to link this James to mine.

If James Blake was a mariner, it is possible he died at sea or in port somewhere, or even went missing.  I have checked for a will, as sailors often had them, but haven’t found a likely candidate.

One of my hopes in sharing this bit of family history is that maybe someone will read it and be able to help me with my research.

Notes on lineage: Me > Dad > John Edward Blake > James William Blake > James Jesse Blake > James Blake > James Blake

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Sisters in Crime

Following a recent trip to Belfast, I thought it was a good time to write the story of my Belfast ancestor, Eliza Tully, and her sister, Sarah.

Eliza Tully was born around 1818.  Her death certificate lists her parents as William Tully, a boatman, and Annie McGregor.  Her sister’s death certificate just lists a father, John.  As you can see, there is some uncertainty here.  To further confuse matters, an Eliza Tully, daughter of William Tully and Eliza Kerr (a variant of Carr), was baptised in St Anne’s church in the parish of Shankill, 31 January 1821.  Sarah was about a year older that Eliza.

The first definite record I have of Eliza Tully is from the 28 Jan 1834 edition of the Belfast Newsletter.  In report of the quarter sessions, there is mention of two little children, Elizabeth Tully and John Clarke being found not guilty of stealing boiled beef from the property of Hugh Hogan in Belfast on 20 December.  Elizabeth and sister, Sarah, are mentioned in various Irish newspaper articles between 1829 and 1835, accused of theft.  In spite of this, they both were able to gain employment as house maids.

On 14 Sept 1835, Eliza stole a cotton gown and a silk gown from a James McCullough.  She pleaded guilty and because she was “an old offender”, she was sentenced to 7 years transportation.  A short time later, on 24 November 1835, Sarah Tully and John Clarke were found guilty of steeling two pieces of calico from a James McConkey in Belfast.  Sarah was sentences to 7 years transportation, again as “an old offender”, and John was sentenced to 6 months hard labour.  Whether by luck or with some sympathy from the authorities, Eliza and Sarah were sent to Australia on the same convict ship, the Pyramus, leaving in August 1836, two teenagers setting off together on the adventure of their lives.  They arrived in Australia in December 1836.  

It is worth mentioning that a William Tully, possibly the girls’ father, is frequently mentioned in the Belfast quarter session reports in the 1830s and 1840s.  Given the sisters’ early criminal careers, I think it is reasonable to assume that their parents may also have been criminals.  In various convict records, Eliza is referred to and “Eliza Tully alias Carr”.  This link to the name Carr or Kerr, may be an indication that she was indeed the daughter of Eliza Kerr of Shankill.  As for John Clarke, I have not yet discovered his fate or what his connect to the Tully family was.  

Within two years of arriving in Australia, both girls had applied for and been given permission to marry, as convicts were required to.  Eliza Tully married William Jenkins, a convict from Warwickshire, 2 October 1838. Sarah married William Murray, a free settler, also in 1838.  So rather than spending a life split between petty crime and stints in prison in Belfast, the girls found respectable lives as wives and mothers in New South Wales, Australia.

Eliza Tully and William Jenkins had 14 children between 1839 and 1862.  Their first two children were born in Sydney, including my ancestor, their son William Jenkins.  Around 1840, the small family moved to an area called “The Oaks” near Camden, where they and many of their descendants stayed. 

Eliza lost her husband William Jenkins in 1875 to a carriage accident.  She survived him by nearly 30 years, dying in 1902. Her sister Sarah died a few years later in 1906.

Given that both women died almost within living memory - I met my great grandmother who would have known Eliza, I find it easy to understand why it is only in relatively recent times that having convict ancestors has become a matter of pride for Australians, instead of something to hide.

Notes on lineage: Me > Mum > Daphne Madge Smith > John Henry Smith > Louisa Jane Jenkins > William Jenkins > Eliza Tully