Monthly Archives: September 2008

Hugh Chalmers Rose (1835-1885)

My nanna Emily was always rather defensive about her mother’s family. Her father was terribly proud of his Newth and Hungerford ancestors, who stretched back through centuries of English history, and sometimes appeared to hold that up against his much younger wife. Indeed, my grandmother’s grandmother Jessie Hungerford was rumoured to have looked down on her daughter-in-law Katie Goodwin because she was a mere chemist’s daughter – notwithstanding the fact that her son Adrian Newth was himself a chemist.

It turns out that Katie Goodwin’s family was actually just as well-connected and long-descended as Adrian Newth’s. The key connection was through her maternal grandfather, Hugh Chalmers Rose, who, like virtually everyone else in that branch of the family, was a chemist and was the son, brother, husband and father of women called Emily. His life story begins and ends in tragedy, and speaks again of the possibilities and hopes that led hundreds of thousands of Europeans to try their luck in the British colonies down under.

Hugh Chalmers Rose was born in Penrose, Monmouthshire, in 1835, one of eight children of George Tower Rose and his wife Emily Cooper. Grandfather John Cooper was a prominent surgeon in the Cotswold town of Wotton-under-Edge, while grandfather John Chalmers Rose was a successful merchant in Bristol, trading in the West Indies. The Rose family lived on independent means and were well-to-do. All this changed, perhaps due to some financial disaster. In 1845 the eldest son John, an apprentice on the barque ‘Theresa’, died in Calcutta, then in 1846 Emily died at Trowbridge, Wiltshire, shortly after bearing her last child; her death certificate gave her husband’s occupation as ‘labourer’. In 1849 George died, leaving seven orphaned children ranging in age from 3 to 17. The 1851 census shows that the children were divided between friends, relatives and employers: Henry was a surgeon’s apprentice in Marylebone; Emily was a governess in Somersetshire; Hugh was a chemist’s apprentice in Canterbury; Caroline was at school in Cheltenham; Alexander was living with his cousin Tattersall in Greenwich; Frederick was at a boarding school in Lewisham; and Robert was with foster parents in Clifton, Gloucestershire.

Soon many of the children would seek lives in the colonies. Henry would become a successful GP in Hampstead, and the girls remained unmarried, but Alexander, Frederick and Robert Rose emigrated to New Zealand as soon as they were old enough to go, while my ancestor made his way to Australia. Hugh arrived in Melbourne aboard the ‘Glenmarra’ in August 1856 and began practising as a chemist. Two years later he married another emigrant, Emily Lees, and had nine children. Their married life was peripatetic: they lived briefly in Collingwood, then moved to Kyneton, and in 1863 went to Wagga Wagga in New South Wales. In 1874 the family relocated to Sydney and Hugh opened a very successful pharmacy at 531 George Street. In 1882 Hugh handed over his business to his eldest son Henry, and with his wife and their younger children returned to Fitzroy in Melbourne where Hugh took up the post of pharmacist to the Governor of Victoria.

This pinnacle of success was unpicked in a swift succession of events. First Hugh’s wife Emily died in September 1883 from jaundice and cirrhosis of the liver, aged only 45 years. Hugh moved to Eaglehawk, and in July 1884 remarried a young woman named Sarah Horn, at St Paul’s church, Bendigo. Then on 10 February 1885 Hugh took an overdose of eight grains of morphia, using the trade he had practised for over thirty-five years to attempt to end his own life. He recovered briefly after a medical attendant was summoned to pump his stomach, but succumbed to gastritis on 22 February. An inquest pronounced suicide as the cause of death, noting his general ill-health over the previous months. A will made on 2 February 1885 left his chemist’s shop to his second son Frederick, £100 and his household goods to his widow, and the proceeds of a Life Insurance policy to his five younger children.

Here was a man whose family met all the criteria of respectability, who travelled the world, achieved professional success, married well, and raised several children. So what went wrong? Death and ill-health took their toll, it seems, though the inquest was, in typical Victorian style, rather restrained in its language. We cannot know the workings of this man’s mind who at the age of 49 took his own life, leaving a 29-year old widow and a 14-year old daughter. Nor can we assess the impact on his family, although his children did well enough in making their own ways in life, becoming dispersed across Australia from Brisbane to Adelaide to Narrandera to Wilcannia. Certainly, family memory makes no mention either of the manner of Hugh’s death or the peripatetic course of his life.

Family history is not a simple story of success and pioneer sacrifice, but a complex tale of humanity, that does not change so much as it stays the same.


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That important amelioration

>When I first became interested in my family history, I was fortunate enough to be able to learn much about my relations from my maternal grandmother. Joyce was a good storyteller, with an eye for detail and an excellent memory. Moreover, when she was a small child her grandmother Sarah came to live with her family in their Kogarah residence. And so Joyce absorbed a great deal of information that might otherwise have been lost, and inherited a portfolio of photographs and documents together with a photographic portrait of her great-grandfather William Jenkins.

Yet even Joyce knew little about her grandfather’s origins. Thomas William Billett, as she knew him, lived almost his entire life in the Camden district, from his birth at The Oaks in 1844, until his retirement from dairy farming in 1916. Joyce dimly remembered his death in 1919 in the Moore Park Hospital in Sydney, one of thousands of victims of the flu epidemic. But she didn’t know his parents’ names, only a vague recollection that his mother was Roman Catholic, and that he might have been adopted or raised by a different family.

Thomas Billett’s birth was easy to trace: he was baptised at Narellan church on 8 December 1844, and his parents were recorded there as George Billet, sawyer, and Julia Williams. A brother Daniel Billet was born two years later – but this time his mother’s name was given as Julia Hogan. Herein lay a clue to one of my most ‘ordinary’ ancestors, whose life and personality is almost entirely unknown, beyond a handful of references in official documents. Yet even based on such slim information, it is possible to get a glimpse into how big-picture historical processes impacted on individuals and communities – and therefore how these processes shaped whole families.

My great-great-great-grandmother Julia was born in about 1815 in Cork, Ireland, the daughter of Michael Hogan, a harness maker. She first appears in 1832 as one of a group of 202 girls and young women who were removed from the Cork House of Industry and Foundling Hospital and sent to Australia on board the ‘Red Rover’. The idea was to solve two problems: the care of orphaned girls in an impoverished Ireland, and the lack of white women of a marriageable age in the British colony of New South Wales. The ‘Red Rover’ was celebrated on arrival in Sydney on 10 August 1832 as the first emigrant ship carrying solely free women – though given the origins of its passengers in an orphanage it seems unlikely they chose to come to Australia ‘freely’ in modern terms.

The Sydney Gazette reported on Tuesday 14 August that ‘The Female Emigrants from Ireland, per Red Rover, were landed yesterday, and conducted to the Lumber-yard, which has been fitted up for their temporary accommodation. Several of them have been delivered to respectable inhabitants who had made application for them, according to orders previously issued. It is to be hoped, that these young women, who presented as they passed along the street a neat and respectable appearance, will be so treated by the families who apply for them, as to effect that important amelioration in the moral condition of our working population, which the measure is intended to accomplish.’

On arrival, Julia was assigned as a servant to William Hovell, famed for his part in the Hume and Hovell overland expedition to Port Phillip in 1824, and went to live at his property at Minto on an annual wage of £10. She next appears on 9 December 1834 when she applied to the clergyman at Narellan, Thomas Hassall, for permission to marry a 45-year old convict, Charles Wood. The permission was denied: Wood was already married. In 1836, however, a daughter Eliza Wood was baptised (raised as Eliza Williams). Then on 19 November 1835 Julia was married at St Peter’s Campbelltown to John Williams. Three children followed: John, born 1837 at Liverpool, Mary Ann, born 1840 at Campbelltown, and George, born 1842 at Camden (died 1843), with their father described variously as servant, labourer, and brickmaker.

Something happened in the mid-1840s. John Williams disappears from view. Perhaps he is the man of that name who died at ‘Vermont’ on 2 April 1847 aged 39 and was buried at Narellan. Julia suddenly appears in the Narellan baptismal registers bearing Thomas and Daniel to George Billet, an emancipated convict and a sawyer. George disappears just as suddenly as John. Julia then turns up on 1 May 1850 in the baptismal register of St James’ Roman Catholic church as the mother by one John Scott of a son Charles Scott, born on 28 May 1849 at Camperdown. To confuse matters still further, Julia’s fifth recorded relationship is registered as a marriage in the Presbyterian church in Elizabeth Street, Sydney, on 6 January 1866. Her husband was Thomas Knight, a fellow resident of The Oaks, near Camden, and a widower with three children. One of his sons, George Knight, was married to Julia’s daughter Mary Ann Williams at St John’s Camden in 1857, a wedding to which Julia gave her consent given the bride was barely 17 years old.

Julia’s life came to an end at her home in The Oaks on 9 April 1866. Her death certificate records the cause as consumption, of three months’ duration – almost precisely the time of her second marriage. She was buried in the Roman Catholic cemetery at The Oaks, survived by Eliza, John, Mary Ann, Thomas, Daniel, and Charles.

Julia, with her five relationships and seven children by four men, was hardly an exemplar of the kind of working class respectable morality that the British government wished to instil in New South Wales. Yet she had come a long way from the Cork House of Industry in her life of 51 years. We do not know what happened to all of her children, but she left dozens of grandchildren. Her daughter Mary Ann Knight died in Corryong in 1928, a well-respected senior citizen and matriarch of the district, while her son Thomas Billett’s family was widely respected in the Camden dairy-farming community. Her great-grandchildren made the move into small business and the cities, and while they forgot Julia’s name and life (if ever anyone really knew much about it), they owed her their lives.

Julia HOGAN (c.1815-1866)


Filed under Family History, George Billet, Julia Hogan, Red Rover, women