Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Taphophile Tragics - The sanctity of childhood

This brass plate is inside the entry porch. Mary is buried under her married name. She is the oldest person buried there, but by no means the earliest.

Childhood changed dramatically during the 19th century. And it would want to! Take these two singular experiences of childhood.

John Hudson was the youngest male on the First Fleet of 1788. Indeed, when he was found guilty at the Old Bailey of breaking, entering, and stealing in October 1793, he was 9 years of age. initially destined for America on the 'Mercury' he was caught up in the mutiny on that transport in the first half of 1784, recaptured and sent to the Dunkirk hulk later the same year. In 1787 (three years later! three years in a hulk) his name was listed on the 'Friendship', one of the ships of the First Fleet. Friendship! Oh, death where is thy sting! The first few years of the new settlement were touch and go, with failed crops and non-arrival of supply ships. So in March 1790, John Hudson was one of the misfortunate ones to be transported further - to Norfolk Island. Would that it were the gallows. A year later Hudson, aged 17, endured 50 lashes for being outside his hut after hours. He is then lost to history.

The industrialisation of the English midlands, the enclosures, the evangelicals, Victoria's reign, the various Factory Acts, and, yes, even Charles Dickens,led to the period of life from birth to about 14, being regarded as sacred. At least in the Western 'developed' countries.

I am not convinced by either of these supposed portraits of Mary Wade Brooker, but who am I to know. I unearthed them on Ancestry.com without having found a reliable source for her life story. Mary led a tough life. She would be more battered around than either of these portraits reveal.

The youngest female convict, Mary Wade, was transported on the 'Lady Juliana' in 1790. She was tried in January 1789 at the Old Bailey on charges of 'feloniously assaulting an 8 year old girl and taking a cotton frock, a linen tippet, and a linen cap. Value 3/4d. Wade was 10 years old. Her death sentence was commuted to transportation for life. The 'Lady Juliana' left for the colony with 244 female convicts on board. According to the journals of the steward, John, Nicol, 'When we were fairly out to sea, every man on board took a wife from among the convicts; they nothing loath'. There were 51 girls under the age of 19 on board.

The unpreposessing entry to 'Pioneer Park, Wollongong. The Civic Fathers must not know the gems buried within.

Mary spent a number of years on Norfolk Island, returning to the mainland in 1806 with an indeterminate number of children. She married a John Brooker not long after her return, and bore 21 children in total. She died in Fairy Meadow in 1865, and was interred in the St Michael's churchyard on the corner of Kembla and Banks Street in Wollongong. At the time of her death, it was estimated that her descendents numbered in excess of 300 persons. Her descendents now number in the thousands, one of whom is our previous Prime Minister.

The Lady Juliana

St Michael's churchyard went to rack and ruin during the first half of the 20th century, the final interment having occurred in 1919; the first in 1838. The state government of the day, went through the process of converting the graveyard to a public park. None of the deceased nor headstones was removed. The headstones were lain down flat above the remains, and tonnes of rubble and soil moulded the surface into a neat and tidy public park, with roses, salvia, primula, and English Box hedges.

So what value a childhood?

The park is scattered with an inordinate number of bright yellow taps, a sure clue that it was a graveyard in a previous incarnation.


This is my contribution to the Taphophile Tragics community.

19 comments:

Stefan Jansson said...

Horrible stories. But well told.

Gemma Wiseman said...

O what stories unfold here! And I like the mention of the Howard convict connection on the way! Amazed about Wollongong memorial park! I have never wandered Wollongong except on the sea side! I've been to North Wollongong beach many many times!

Julie said...

Not John Howard, Gemma, but Kevin Rudd.

VioletSky said...

and to think that way back in my innocent days, I used to romanticize these immigrants to Australia.

diane b said...

It must have been a wretched time for children then and now in some countries. Great stories . 21 children???. I guess this is a type of Claytons cemetery.

Jim said...

Fascinating but terrible history. I have a child themed post today too but I couldn't find any info on my monument.

Joan Elizabeth said...

Today the boundaries of childhood seem to be getting pushed further and further out. In my lifetime it was quite normal to be working at 14. Now kids seem to be living off their parents through at least two degrees.

Julie said...

Mmm ... I agree, but that is FAMILY, not childhood, in itself. John Hudson (in my post) went to work as a chimney sweep at the age of 4. As soon as he could bring in an income, he did, or had to. Adults nowadays, live with their parents because as a family they had decided that is the best way for them all to share and advance. Through the last 150 years, families have often done this: shared for the benefit of them all.

freefalling said...

Phwor - 21 kids.

biebkriebels said...

You can hardly imagine the hard lives people had in the old times.
Circumstances are improved in the following centuries, but people are still complaining about everything.

Nicola Carpenter said...

Childhood was tough in those times. Probably one reason for the many early deaths

I'm not sure whether I like the idea of them turning the graveyard into a park. I hate it when gravestones are distroyed. But a park is far better then a building complex.

Herding Cats & Beneath Thy Feet

Julie said...

Nicola, I don't like the idea of turning graveyards into parks at all. Whilst I was at this park, a couple came along obviously wanting to see headstones, and grumbled to each other. The only other occupant was a bloke sitting on a bench drinking from a brown paper bag at 11am.

The council took over the park, and do a good job of maintainance. I reckon they should just maintain AROUND the headstones! That is history down here, lost forever. That is respect that we are not showing. As a community, we need to use cemeteries as places for celebrations. I think it all comes down to our fear and avoidance of death.

Deb said...

These two children did have the hardest of times, I should think they were stealing in the first place because they were starving.

Thanks for sorting the link Julie.

Julie said...

I think they both grew up on the street from a very early age, Deb. Like about 3 or 4 years old.

Stealing was a way of life. I gather from the trial reports I have read, that Mary Wade in particular was a bit of a 'hard egg' by the time she was 10.

There were no role-models, and no 'growing up'. You went from toddler to adult overnight. Not a promising start ...

Jo said...

I am still shaking my head at the 21 kids...
Can't believe they just covered up a cemetery, like you said so much history gone.
Wonderful story you have shared with us, thanks.

hamilton said...

I had to look up hulk - that was interesting! And now children can get away with so much - and know it - just because they are children.

What a hard life.

Dina said...

Everything you tell here is distressing. What a world.

CaT said...

starting to work at the age of 4...?
how sad that all is!
and 21 children. she must have been pregnant most of her life.. beehh

Kay L. Davies said...

When I think of the youngsters in my family, when I think of your granddaughter Alannah, I want to cry at the cruel fate of these child "criminals"!
K