Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Child Bride

One of the earliest challenges with my family tree research was in finding some information about my daughters paternal 2 x great grandmother. I had purchased a copy of the birth certificate for her great grandmother, so I had the maiden name of her mother, and her father's name. Alice Hellesley and John Miller. Piece of cake, right ? Wrong. The information on the birth certificate for their 4th child Susan, told me that there were already 2 daughters and 1 son living, and that John was born in Scotland and aged 32, and Alice was born in Bulli, NSW and 23. It also gave me the exact marriage details; 13 September 1880 in Bulli. I couldn't find any marriage records with those names on the microfiche index, and I couldn't find a birth record either for Alice.

I think this was my first lesson in lateral thinking ! A helpful researcher at the Society of Genealogists research room in Adelaide suggested to me that perhaps the registrar had misinterpreted what John had said because of his accent. So I searched for John Miller's marrying anyone named Alice with a surname starting with H. At least I knew the date, so didnt need to search through multiple years. I found one eventually - and the surname Halsey which looked like it might be worth a shot. So I ordered the certificate and waited to see what I would learn next.

And there it was in the mail one day after work - John Swan Millar, 29 (note the spelling there) and Alice Halsey 17, married at the residence of Mrs Susan Halsey, Bulli. "The consent of Susan Halsey Mother of the Bride (her Father being dead) was given to the marriage of John Swan Millar with Alice Halsey the said Alice Halsey being under the age of Twenty one years." How did Alice feel about marrying someone 12 years her senior ? Where did she meet him ?

Recently on Trove I found their marriage notice in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Sydney Morning Herald 17 Sep 1880 article13468144-3-001

Using the birth index microfiche I started to piece together a family for Alice since I now had both her parents names. At the same time i looked for the other children of John and Alice. It seems (after a couple of wrong certificates were purchased) that some of their children were registered as Miller and others as Millar. But back to Alice - I found her siblings and ordered her birth certificate, as well as the death certificate for her father.

Charles Halsey had died aged 37 in August 1874, and left his young wife Susan with 6 children aged between 10 years and 4 months. Susan went on to have two more children before she remarried in 1884, which makes me wonder just how she was supporting her family. But that might be another story.

Alice's birth was registered in 1865 which would make her 14 or 15 in 1880, depending on which month her birthday was, when she married John - not 17. Could that be ? It would also mean, using the same logic that she was 8 or 9 when her father died - not 10. I opened the envelope and read the birth certificate - date and place of birth of child "December fourteenth 1864, Woonona". So, Alice was 15 when she married - still 2 months off her 16th birthday. She wasn't 17 going on 18 or even almost 17. Now I know that the age of consent has changed from time to time, but wow ! Perhaps for her mother it was a case of one less mouth to feed - or maybe it was a true romance, who knows ? They went on to have 8 children and were married for more than 40 years. It was also probably fairly commonplace to marry young. Most of the marriage certificates I have, have the consent of the bride's father give as they were under twenty one. But none of the others by quite as much as Alice.

Apart from the initial surprise about Alice's actual age (which by the way had corrected itself when her 4th child was born - 23 in June 1888) what surprised me even more, was that one of the witnesses to the marriage in 1880 was her younger sister Carrie (Caroline) who would have been 13 or 14. Was that legal ?

I have done a bit of research on the age of consent and discovered on this site that in 1880 in New South Wales it was actually TWELVE ! I still cant find if the minimum age to marry was lower then than it is now. For example, in NSW now, you can marry without consent of parents or a judge if both parties are 18 or over, but you can not be under 16. It seems that this minimum age to marry and the age of consent have not always been equal.

How times have changed. How many of us can imagine marrying off their 15 year old daughter in this day and age, and to a man who was not 12 years older than her as initially presented but actually was 14 years older - pretty much twice her age ? What about your 12 year old daughter ?

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


  1. A well-written and informative blog Claire.

    1. Thanks for that good to know it makes sense