Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Great Great Grandma Cooper

This is the story of my Great Great Grandma Mary Cooper. She was born in Camberwell Surrey about 1833. Her father was William Barratt a painter & glazier and her mother Mary Ann Moore. William and Mary were married 15 March 1830 in Westminster, and Mary Ann was their 2nd child, baptised 17 April 1833 at St Giles Camberwell.

In 1842 with their family of six young children William and Mary left England for a new life in the colonies. Much of their story is published in a book "Beginning in God's Own" by Peggy Crawford. They are also mentioned in "No Simple Passage" by Jenny Robin Jones which builds a story of the voyage of the London from diaries kept on the journey. Admittedly, there is not much information about the family except that baby Ellen was seen by the surgeon during the voyage and is so documented in his diary.

The family arrived in Wellington and set about making a home. A year after their arrival a 2nd son was born. Not a lot is known of their early life in Wellington, apart from events documented in church and registration records.

Mary aged 17 married 28 year old John Cooper on 23 April 1850 at St Paul's Wellington. This was a predecessor of the church known now as "Old St Paul's" and stood on the site now occupied by the Beehive. Mary's sisters Sarah, Caroline & Sophia all followed and were married by 1856. At some point around 1856 several members of the family took up positions on large sheep stations in Marlborough - Kekerengu and Flaxbourne - and so the story moves to Kaikoura a former whaling station on the east coast of South Island. Mary and John had thirteen children, and he continued to work in his trade as a Tailor both in Kaikoura township and at Kekerengu Station until his death in 1895.

My great grandfather William was their 9th child born in 1867. He became a builder apprenticed to his uncle Tom Cooke who will appear in another story.  This story is about Mary Ann and her three youngest children. Great Grandad told the story that his mother had left when he was very young (maybe 10 or 12) and had taken his baby brother with her and gone to Australia. As late as the early 1990's we realised that the two youngest daughters may also have gone with her as no further information was found for them in New Zealand. My Dad remembers that in the late 1940's or early 1950's his grandfather was visited by a man from Melbourne who he said was his nephew. In 1952 my uncle visited Australia before his marriage, like an OE I guess. Before he went their grandfather gave him the contact details for the "nephew" who had visited earlier. My uncle met these people somehow in Melbourne. He recalled an elderly gentleman propped up in bed as though unwell, who resembled his grandfather and so must have been his brother. There were at least two other males present, one possibly named Clarrie. On his return to New Zealand my uncle recounted this visit to his grandfather who denied ever having given him any such address, and of even having a brother in Melbourne. This puzzled both my Dad and his brother for years afterward. Sadly, when my Dad asked his brother about it again later in life he too denied the whole event had taken place.

We searched passenger records, electoral rolls, bdms for both Cooper and Barratt to no avail. Dad placed ads in The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and Adelaide Advertiser with no result.

And then ! Early this year someone on Ancestry saved a record I had previously saved - the baptism record for Mary Ann Barratt in 1833. I looked at their tree and thought they had everything mixed up, when suddenley the penny dropped. Here on their tree was Mary Ann Barratt with a husband named Charles Nicholls and two children with the same names as two of my missing children. Their birth dates were identical but one was a half sibling to the other - and where was the 3rd ? I studied their tree, could see where it could be untangled, even found a grandson named Clarrie and so I emailed with my story. The answer was very non committal, they would enquire from family and let me know. Grr. I spent some more time searching on Ancestry and found other trees related, but all seemed separate. Then I searched the bdms with the "new" name and ordered certificates which blew me away - and my Dad. The death certificates all gave the birth places as Kai Koras (an early name for Kaikoura), Wellington or New Zealand. The details were mixed up on Mary Ann's death certificate but as I said easily untied. The marriage certificates for the three children all gave their fathers name as Charles Nicholls. Who was he ? Did they meet in Melbourne ? Frustrated that I had no further response from my initial enquiry I set to hunting on Trove to see if I could work through subsequent generations using the family notices, using some of the dates from the ancestry trees.

The Argus: Melbourne, January 18, 1943. Viewed on trove.nla.gov.au October 22, 2012

The Argus: Melbourne, July 25, 1932. Viewed on trove.nla.gov.au October 22, 2012

The Argus: Melbourne, October 1, 1956. Viewed on trove.nla,gov.au October 22, 2012
Armed with some of these new names I returned to ancestry and looked for trees with the next generations. I found a couple, emailed and got one amazed reply. In a glory box inherited from her mother were some certificates, some of which made no sense and an Australian Centenary plate from 1888. Sadly this person did not know a lot about her family - cousins or otherwise, and was overwhelmed with the new family I had connected her with. The certificates in her possession included the original 1850 marriage certificate of Mary Ann Barratt and John Cooper and the original birth certificate of her great grandmother Mary Ann born in Kaikoura in 1873. She also sent a copy of her grandparents marriage certificate (which we had ordered a copy of earlier) and her own parents marriage certificate. The most intriguing thing was on Mary Ann's birth certificate (why does everyone have the same name ?) She was registered as Mary Ann Cooper, but the informant was not her father or her mother, it was Charles Nicholls of Kaikoura ! Since we had not had any luck with the other branches, who I now believe may have the originals of their respective great grandparents birth certificates, we ordered copies ourselves. No surprises there though, for Sarah Elizabeth and Walter Ernest the informants were John Cooper himself and Henry Barratt (Mary's youngest brother).

So who was Charles Nicholls ? Were he and Mary having an affair ? Was he the biological father of any of her children ? Was he just a kindly neighbour who felt sorry for the wife of the Tailor. Rumour has it that John liked his drink and Mary was still relatively young; in her early 40's at the birth of her youngest child Walter in 1876. Of her other children 2 daughters were married by 1876 and the others, except for my great grandad William and two brothers each side of him Frederick and Herbert, were married by 1883. So maybe if you were going to get out of a marriage, the mid 1870's - early 1880's was the time to go. Charles Nicholls only appears on one electoral roll in Kaikoura, and that fits in with the time we know he was there to be the informant on Mary Ann's birth certificate. I've not been able to find a record of them marrying in Australia, nor of Charles' death. Did anyone know their plans ? How did they organise it all back then with no internet or daily flights ? Did they just keep a big secret, then leave a note for those left behind ?

Mary died in Melbourne in 1903 her death certificate gave her maiden name as Barratt and her mother's maiden name as Foote. Quite different to Moore but easily explained - Mary Moore was remarried in 1861 after the death of her first husband William Barratt to William Foote. The fact that these names were known by the informants to events in Australia and that "Clarrie" visited New Zealand 50 years later would suggest that there must have been some correspondence through the years. But sadly the link was broken over time, and is proving very difficult to remake.

I can imagine how confronting it must be to realise that the family you thought was your family, is not - and that you are part of a wider larger family in a different country. But I do wish these new cousins would welcome us into their families as we would love to welcome them all into ours.

Sarah Elizabeth Cooper/Nicholls married John Poole Smith in Melbourne 1893 (7 chn)
Mary Ann Cooper/Nicholls married Alfred Joseph Schneider in Melbourne in 1904 (2 chn)
Walter Ernest Cooper/Nicholls married Annie Sloan in Melbourne 1903 (1 child)

I am glad for my Dad, that I have almost solved the mystery for him after all this time. We have photos of all Mary's siblings who came to New Zealand or were born here - it would be great to one day be able to add one of her to complete the family group.

This post forms part of Trove Tuesday as suggested by Amy, from Branches, Leaves & Pollen.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting investigation, these are also my gtgrandparents, on my fathers side. I knew Mary had left NZ and died in Melbourne, but no more. Piece by piece the connections are being made and family histories rediscovered, well done.