Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Passage to Australia

George Garner 1858 - 1926

George Garner had more than a touch of wanderlust in his blood.  While his relatives stayed put in his home county of Nottingham, George was clearly determined to see more of the world, and ended up about as far away from England as it is possible to be, in New Zealand.

George, my great great grandfather, was born in Hucknall in 1858 to Eber (featured in last week's blog) and Mary Ann Garner. The census of 1871 shows that at 13 he was still at home, and working as a winder, winding hanks of thread onto bobbins for his father and elder brothers to use for their framework knitting.

By the age of 23 the desire to travel had clearly kicked in, and he was working as a bricklayer in London, where he met his wife Mary Goodwin.  They married at St James' parish church in Clerkenwell on December 5 1880. George and Mary’s first child, George Alfred Eber, was born within the year, in Islington, London.  The family evidently moved back to Hucknall at some point over the following year, where John Edward (my great grandfather) was born in 1882.  George and Mary’s story goes a little hazy now, as nothing is known of George until he emigrated to Australia and re-married, leaving both of his children behind with relatives.  His re-marriage, and the fact that his two sons had to go to other members of the family, convinces me that Mary Ann must have died, even though I've not yet been able to find a record of it.  

The S S Dacca

 Records show that George and his wife-to-be Ellen Kirby Tomlin left London on 5 June 1886 on the SS Dacca, a steam ship, and arrived at Brisbane  in Queensland, Australia on 24 July 1886.  They both travelled under the name Garner, although they weren't yet married.  I suspect that this, together with leaving his children behind, were probably due to Queensland’s immigration rules.  Although they did change over the years, there are rules from 1856 which say that single men and widowers could not be accepted, nor could families with two children or more under seven  years of age, or in which the sons outnumbered the daughters.  Clearly as a widower with two young sons George fell into all of these banned categories.

The journey over must have been pretty grim.  George was lucky enough to get a free passage from the Australian Government, but of course this still meant he and Ellen were in steerage.  A partitioned space of about 6' by 3' was allowed for a couple, and they were asked to keep to that space.  They rarely went on deck, being largely confined to their cramped quarters.  Portholes, if there were many, tended to be kept closed.  So George and Ellen would have spent about seven weeks in poor light in extremely cramped conditions, shared with goodness knows how many other people.  Many of whom would have been seasick, and no doubt personal hygiene wasn't great either.  Food was basic, and there were daily rules to abide by including when to get up and when it was time for lights out.  You can read more about the type of travelling conditions on this blog.

Despite the inevitable difficulties that must have arisen from being in such close quarters and awful conditions for weeks on end, George and Ellen made their partnership official a month after arriving in Australia, when they married at Oxley in Queensland on August 21.  They settled in Queensland, and George worked as a builder/contractor. 
They had five children here, Alice, Arthur, Rose, Arella and James.  Sadly Arthur died in 1899, and Alice died in 1905.  George's elder son George Eber joined him in Queensland, probably around 1897, but James Edward stayed behind in Leicester, where he lived for the rest of his life. 

Interestingly, George's Australian-born descendants never knew of John Edward and didn't realise they had relatives in England.  Until a month or so ago, when my cousin Sam made contact with Wendy, the granddaughter of John Edward's half brother James.  We have all been exchanging emails since then, and it is largely due to these emails that we have been able to put together a much more comprehensive picture of George's life.

To get back to George, he and his family moved to New Zealand in 1905, with George working in Wellington and Westport.  Seven years later, they moved again, to Auckland, where George continued working as a builder/contractor.  He was also a freemason.  George died on July 18 1926 in Grey Lynn, New Zealand, and was buried two days later at Purewa Cemetary, Auckland.

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