Monday, 23 June 2014

52 Ancestors - It's never too late

Ada Womersley 1856-1943

I can't help but admire the pioneering spirit of my 3 x great aunt Ada Womersley.  At the age of 50, after living in pretty much the same place in Yorkshire, she took the courageous step of emigrating to Canada.

Just the start of her adventure must have been a hardship.  Saving for three tickets (for herself, her husband Richard and her son Alfred) from a meagre income.  Trying to decide what to take with them and what to leave behind, bearing in mind the tiny amount of baggage they would have been allowed.  Travelling on a noisy steam train, presumably for the first time, to Liverpool.  And worst of all, saying goodbye to the rest of her family, thinking she may never see them again.

Then there was the journey itself, aboard the SS Tunisian (pictured). Nine days stuck in dreadful conditions below decks.  An unimaginable smell of hundreds of unwashed people, many of whom were suffering from sea sickness.  The over-crowding, the enforced medical examinations and vaccinations, and almost certainly some questionable behaviour from travellers.  

"To me the most noticeable thing about the life was the ease with which the yoke of civilization was thrown off,"  says a first-hand report from a similar journey eight years earlier.   "If conditions be favorable, I opine that a large proportion of the steerage passengers throw back to their Darwinian ancestry about the third day out. Away from home, country, and religious influences, unrestrained by custom and conventionality, bound by no laws of action, and separated from all that force of opinion so strong in the world ashore, they let themselves go, and allow their baser natures to run riot. 

"No sooner has the seasickness left them than they growl and snarl over their food like dogs, scrambling for the choice pieces, and running off to their bunks with them; they grow quarrelsome; their talk is lewd and insulting; brute strength is in the ascendant; and, without shame, both sexes show the animal side of their natures. But most apparent and obnoxious are the filthy habits into which many of them fall."  *

It is worth pointing out that this account came from a single man who would have been staying in the single men's quarters; and that my 3 x great aunt would have been in the married quarters and hopefully older and wiser than a good many of the passengers! Even so, you can imagine people getting irritable and quarrelsome, and doing their utmost to get the best bits of food.

On her arrival at Quebec, there would have been more medical inspections, and potentially quarantine, before Ada, Richard and Alfred were able to travel to Winnipeg, where they then had to start another hard process - building new lives for themselves.

At least this was made a little easier by one thing.  I found out, after wondering what on earth would make Ada choose to emigrate to Canada at her age, that her eldest son John and his family had emigrated there two years earlier.  I'm guessing they must have written home to say just how much they loved it there!

Sadly, Ada's husband Richard didn't get long to enjoy his new life, he died just two years later.  Ada, however, was joined in Canada by all her children, and when she died in 1943, aged 86, had 14 grandchildren and eight great grandchildren. There is no doubt she took a gamble when she left her home in Huddersfield, but it seems that it definitely paid off.

NB - for anyone trying to to keep track of which ancestor is related to which, Ada Womersley is the sister of Sarah Womersley, who was featured in last week's post.

* Steerage Conditions in 1898 - A First-Hand Account:

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