in Family history

The Search for Mary Morgan Part One – Assessing the Facts

Near Constitution Hill north west of Hobart Tas

Near Constitution Hill north west of Hobart Tas

I’ve written about Mary Morgan before. She is one of the family’s great mysteries. Born sometime around 1840 in Tasmania -by her own admission – she married Robert Brown in about 1855 and they lived in the Bothwell and Brighton region. They had ten children and every record we have about Mary comes through a record involving one of her children.

My earlier post can be found here at Brick Wall No #1.

I’ve found no marriage record for Robert and Mary. Robert was born in 1818 but given the birth date of their youngest child, Mary must have been some years younger.  In her application to the Orphan School in Hobart Town she states that she was born in Tasmania.  It’s the only clue we have. I have communicated with many distant cousins who have also failed to locate her origins.

Nothing concrete has come through DNA testing.  We do match a fellow Australian with Morgan in his tree and he does boast one Mary Morgan born 1840 in the correct region, but that Mary has apparently been located and is not ours.

That family research might be wrong. Maybe their Mary is ours and they’ve got a ring-in in the tree. But they are pretty confident of their work so I’ll leave that possibility and explore the other avenues.

I found one tree which gave her the parents John Morgan and Eliza Watts, but it turned out that they were married in Hamilton in 1850.  Right location, wrong decade.  I reluctantly decided that tree was incorrect.  I’ve bolded those names. They will appear again and again in this post and the next one.

Here is the area of research from my grandfather’s school map. Oatlands, Bothwell, Hamilton and Kempton are the ‘big’ towns and the villages are dotted around them.  A range of high hills/small mountains separate them from New Norfolk, Glenorchy and Hobart, so although geographically close there was not much travel between them.  Region 12 on the map is all mountain and valleys, tiers and crags and chasms. Region 13 is more hospitable.

Bothwell District Tas Dept of Education Atlas c1910

Bothwell District Tas Dept of Education Atlas c1910

Given its rain, deep forests and many hills, Tasmania in the 1800s was harder to get round.  Today it’s no big deal to drive from Hobart to Launceston.  Even in my own childhood that was a major journey involving an overnight stay.  In my grandmother’s childhood it was a journey of two days and travellers commonly stayed somewhere near Campbell Town for that night.

Back in the 1800s it often took three or more days of travel, although a single man on horseback could achieve faster times. Especially if he knew the shortcuts.

This was farming country in the lowlands, and grazing country at the higher altitudes. Towns nestled in the valleys, accessed via winding roads and completely invisible to the traveller until reached.  The region was settled by convicts in the 1830s and their descendants are still the principle families.  Infrastructure was minimal if it existed at all.  Churches were few and far between. Commerce was conducted more by barter than using currency. Literacy levels were low and reduced further with each new generation.

By Federation in 1901 these people were often living in isolation and had not moved with the times.  The new state government had their work cut out identifying who was there, what schools were needed and what the living conditions were.  In some cases they were satisfied and even impressed, in some instances they were absolutely appalled and immediately intervened.  Today, the region presents quite a genealogical challenge.

Road between Apsley and Jericho 2015

Road between Apsley and Jericho (near Parattah on the above map) in January 2015

It’s a pleasant area with a timeless feel. The people are very friendly.  Many of them are my third or fourth cousins and once we find the shared ancestor they can tell me a great deal about them.  The region is full of vanished towns such as Apsley where my grandmother was born and raised. If the families themselves did not remember, I’d have gotten nowhere with that side of the family.

My family bible has helped too, since it was passed down from mother to daughter or granddaughter.  It takes me back from myself to my grandmother who was born a Reading, to her mother Esther who was born a Brown and to Esther’s mother Sarah who was born a Cox. It takes us further back, but this blog is about Mary Morgan so Sarah Cox is as far as we need.  Sarah Cox married John Brown in 1882 and their eldest daughter was Esther (Hester) Brown born 1883.

John was born in 1860 in Broadmarsh, 14km west of Pontville on the above map. He was the third son of Robert Brown and Mary Morgan.  John Brown and Sarah Cox were married in Broadmarsh in 1882.

How did Sarah Cox born in Osterley even meet John Brown of Broadmarsh?  The answer to questions such as this can break through a brick wall.  Was she employed by the Brown family as a domestic servant?  Were the Brown family doing well enough to employ anyone?

I suspect the answer lies in Sarah’s own history.  While in Osterley at the age of seventeen she became pregnant. The father was Charles Harrex.  She was not the only single girl of the time to have a baby sired by a Harrex, the young Harrex men were quite sociable.

Sarah’s daughter Ada was born at her parents’ place at Lane’s Tier in 1878. I noticed something interesting when looking at this record.

Civil registrations at Ouse in May 1877

Civil birth registrations at Ouse in May 1877

There’s our Ada, born to Charles Harrex (probably Charles Proctor Harrex 1842-1895) and Sarah Cox. The informant was the sub-superintendent, not a family member at all.  What I noticed then was the record immediately below.  Charlotte Elizabeth Morgan born to Thomas Morgan and Margaret Egerton at Sugar-loaf Tier.

Lane’s Tier and Sugar-Loaf Tier are not far apart. Snowed in through the winter, bogged in through spring and autumn, they are still hard to access today.  The people who lived there were hardy folk, good walkers, excellent horsemen and women and very self sufficient. They were shepherds and farmers, on the whole, and they helped each other whenever needed.  The Cox family of Lane’s Tier quite probably knew the Morgan family of Sugar-Loaf Tier.

“Quite probably” doesn’t cut it in family history as a fact but means it cannot be dismissed either.  Further investigation is warranted.  As it turns out, Thomas Morgan was born in 1851 in Hamilton, the son of John Morgan and Eliza Watts.

That pair again!  This was the second time they’d popped up.

So back to Sarah Cox. At the age of eighteen she was a single parent with a daughter Ada.  But years later no one in our family knew of Ada.  My grandmother was quite certain her mother Esther was eldest in the family. Ada is not in the family bible either. Twenty years later when Ada married George Cannan, she was still living at Osterley and she had the surname Cox.  She was married in 1898 and her parents were given as Edward Cox and Sarah Brown.

Ada's family details from her marriage registration 1898

Ada’s family details from her marriage registration 1898

It’s most irregular. That’s her grandfather and his daughter her mother.  Edward Cox died in 1876 two years before Ada’s birth.  The witnesses were the groom’s brother and one Minnie Harrex, daughter of George Harrex and Margaret Marshall. Minnie was Ada’s first cousin on the Harrex side but maybe they didn’t know that.  Minnie was also George Cannan’s cousin on her mother’s side.

Sadly, Ada Cannon nee Cox died in 1899 of pneumonia, the year before her mother died in 1900. In the end, Ada had no descendants to research and remember her.

Sarah for whatever reason left her parents’ home and found herself in Broadmarsh with the Brown family – parents Robert and Mary and their nine surviving children.  She found John agreeable and they married.  Sarah was already four months pregnant at the time of marriage.

Now that’s a DNA red flag, but luckily we have two Brown DNA confirmations from an earlier period.  No need to panic.

Here’s their marriage record.

Marriage of John Brown and Sarah Cox in Broadmarsh 1882

Marriage of John Brown and Sarah Cox in Broadmarsh 1882

The witnesses were John’s brother William and his sister Amelia.  None of the Browns could read or write but Sarah signed her own name. I knew she could write since she maintained the family bible records for the next eighteen years, till her untimely death due to postpartum haemorrhage on Valentine’s Day 1900. She’d had some education, her family had enough money for photographs and to travel into Hobart occasionally.

John Brown was a reliable working lad who carried on through thick and thin.  He was very good with horses and although called a labourer in all records, we know he was a somewhat skilled labourer and farmer.  But by all accounts a quiet and very unassuming man.  When I say ‘all accounts’ I mean three accounts.  John passed away in 1945 and I found few who remembered him well.

With this ground re-examined, I was ready to focus on the Brown family themselves.

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  1. I enjoyed your writing in this post. Including the map and describing the region was particularly helpful to someone like me who doesn’t know Tasmania well.
    Curiously and coincidentally last weekend I learned something of the Cox family’s history on Norfolk Island and then VDL, from two Cox descendants living in Beaufort, Victoria. I’ve forwarded your blog on to them, as there may be a connection.

  2. Thank you! It’s hard to explain local knowledge in a blog post. On my next visit to Tasmania I hope to photograph this region very thoroughly.

    I don’t think my Cox ancestors were ever on Norfolk Island but that family will probably connect to someone in my extensive family tree, and I’m always interested in finding the connections.