Sunday, August 23, 2009

William MORTIMER where art thou?


In what is best considered technical genealogy terminology, William MORTIMER and family are a royal pain in the backside!!

Most of us have a brick wall or three, but I’d imagine that in many cases there is a brick wall in particular which stands out as a greater challenge than the rest, or at least one that has become a primary obsession, deftly out-manoeuvring the other elusive characters we’re attempting to trace. The MORTIMER family is mine, and I’m approaching the end of my tether!

William MORTIMER (c1803-1852?) came to Australia in 1842 aboard the barque “Palestine”, arriving in Botany Bay on 6 March 1842 as an assisted immigrant, having left Plymouth in England 26 October 1841. Along with William came his wife Johannah and their four daughters: Matilda, Harriet, Johanna and Mary and a young girl by the name of Agnes HALLETT, whom William had known for several years in England. According to the immigration records William had ventured to Sydney in order to work “at the new church in Sydney.” I’m not certain as to which new church the documents refer, but one would easily assume from such wording that it was a reasonably well known, relatively new, and large church in the city and not one in an outlying town.

Amongst the MORTIMER immigration records, William’s parents are named as Elias and Mary MORTIMER. His mother is listed as being alive, and I take this tentatively to mean that his father is deceased. Johannah’s parents’ names are given as William and Elizabeth BLACK. However, this is written to the edge of the form, and it appears that the lettering continues, only that is has been obscured. This fits in with detail from Johannah’s death certificate, on which her second husband Henry LARKIN has given her maiden name as BLACKALL. With this information I’ve had a lot to work with. In addition, I’ve also got listings for William and Johannah’s place of origin, with those respectively being what appear to be “North Allerton, Devonshire” and “Winchester”. Now, I know that there isn’t a North Allerton in Devonshire, so this first part of the information I’ve taken with a grain of salt. I had until recently only been in possession of hand copied transcript of this record, in turn these had been viewed as part of a microfiche reel at the New South Wales State Library. Revisiting the record via Ancestry.com however, I have viewed the original file, and have seen that “North Allerton” isn’t so cut and dried as I had previously thought.

Could I be looking at SOUTH Allerton?

A lot of options: North Allerton, South Allerton, South Allington, Alvington, Aller, Northallerton in Yorkshire.. and none of these increasingly unlikely options can be definitively ruled out.

So, to William’s father Elias; could he be the keystone in this mystery? Well, I had hoped he might, for quite some time. Now I only find Elias to be a nuisance as great as his son.

Will the real Elias MORTIMER please stand up?

In the 1841 Census of England and Wales, William, Johannah and their four daughters all appear. This little ray of hope I was very thankful for, given that many of my family branches had left England and Ireland long before this important opportunity for tracking had materialised. In the Census return however William and co are shown to be living not in Devon or Winchester, but St. Leonards, Sussex. Why were they there?

According to the Census, Johannah and her daughters were all born in Sussex. ARGHH!!

Given that civil registrations had begun in 1837, there was a chance that Willy and family were among those who did the right thing and had their children registered where born in 1837 and beyond. BZZT, wrong. Or at least, I haven’t found the right record yet. It was probably too much to ask for, especially since only one daughter (Mary Jemima) could possibly have fit into the required time frame. Bugger! (yes, this is yet another one of those important technical terms used in genealogical research).

So far, Parish records have turned up little, although that might have something to do with being limited by distance and to Familysearch.org and the few other scraps of viable sources that venture forth onto the Weird Wild Web.

Having done a search for the name Elias MORTIMER in as many sources as I could find, I’ve come across several individuals who I thought might potentially be a brother to William and son to Elias and only one early enough to qualify as the man himself (c1761 North Bovey, Devon). It’s going out on a limb to draw links between Elias and his namesakes, but Elias isn’t exactly the most common name, and it never did appear to have been a common one, so what could it hurt to check? Interestingly, the candidates live only in: Devon, Sussex and further a field in Wales. They do occasionally appear listed as MORTIMOR or MORTIMORE, but then so does William in both his daughters marriage certificates and in Sydney Morning Herald marriage notices.

Searching for MORTIMER and BLACKALL candidates has so far proved fruitless in English results. In Australia, it’s been slightly better record-wise, but not by much. I know that William and family were living in Dixon Street, Sydney, not long after establishing themselves in their new country. I am familiar enough with Dixon Street today. It’s the heart of Sydney’s Chinatown, and somehow I don’t think trees dripping in gold and guardant dragons clutching spheres are what the MORTIMER family had come to know in their day.

Australia had been both cruel and kind to the MORTIMER family. Late in life, William was described as a gentleman of Independent means, whilst on the other hand, Johannah had fallen pregnant a further three times, in 1843, 1846 and 1848, with none of those children surviving their first year.

Starting in 1850 and on through onto 1854, all four of the surviving MORTIMER children grew into womanhood and married. Matilda, the eldest daughter married James MARSHALL, a mystery man from Manchester in 1850. Johanna married in 1851 and then again, moving to Queensland with her husband William LANGFORD. Harriet married in 1852 and remarried in 1861, finding herself with her husband Austin ABBOTT in the thick of the California gold rush, settling in Tuolumne County. Finally, in 1854 Mary married Simon ONSLOW, and the pair lived variously in Sydney and other parts of New South Wales.

This wild and unkempt early branch of my family had an adventurous spirit and a grand touch of wanderlust. They ventured from one side of the Earth to its antipodes and explored many points on the Australian map in the ensuing generations. It annoys me that I cannot as yet dig further back into their and my history, but as is the case with any good genealogist – I love a good challenge.


4 comments:

Diana Allen said...

My sympathies in trying to locate elusive Mortimers.. perhaps Wm was a younger son sent to find his own way... there might be Land Tax records to help, in general covering 1780-1832, for most Devon Hundreds at the Devon Record Office. Microfilms of these records are available at LDS Family History Centres.

Indexes to Heads of Households, taken from Devon Land Tax Records,
might be available at my local Genealogy Library (AIGS) - can check when next there, chasing up my own Mortimers in Devon/Sussex.

Diana Allen said...

Further comment - a John and Mary Mortimer had a son Wm. 1803 in Gidley Devon (IGI)- they also had a son Elias, 1796 (1881 Census) so could not John have been a Puritan who changed his name? Or, your Wm was 'hiding'
his actual father's name for some reason.
(Results in FamilySearch.com for Elias b 1800 +/- 20 yrs. then using same batch no. for a Wm)

John Patten said...

Diana, thank you for your thoughts and suggestions, I feel that they are very helpful, giving me a new perspective on this stubborn branch of my family.

The suggestion that Wm might have been a puritan is not one that I had previously considered, although perhaps that was due to lack of real understanding of what being puritan entailed. In their immigration records Wm and wife are listed as C.o.E, but Johannah was later buried as a Wesleyan Methodist.

I had previously come across the Elias Mortimer of Gidley, and my suspicion was that he was potentially my William's brother, but I had no real means of making the dots connect, if they can at all.

Time and responsibility (work and my first child on the way) has so far precluded my joining or getting value for money from one of the local genealogy groups since moving from interstate (I'm in Melbourne as well), so thanks for your very kind offer.

Alix said...

Hi John, I've just sent you a message on Ancestry asking for more info on your William Mortimer. Then with the very next google I found your blog!

I'm interested in the name Elias Mortimore/er because my own Devon Mortimers seem to be intermarrying with and socialising with another set of Mortimers who use the name Elias a lot. I've not yet found the point where they link to a common ancestor, but I live in hope! (I don't think you're going out on too much of a limb by assuming the name indicates a link, by the way. I've collected a lot of scraps of Devon Mortimer info over the years and it's a *very* rare name.)

Couple of quick points which you may or may not have:

1. Do you have the Elias & Jane Mortimer family living in Hastings in 1841? He was a police constable, they had three children, George, Elias and Richard, and Jane was born in Ireland. Elias was born "in another county" in about 1811. I've managed to pick up a couple of the children's christenings on Ancestry, one for Elias William Mortimer in 1837 and one for Thomas Mortimer in 1844, both sons of Elias and Jane. I can't find a trace of a single one of them in 1851, and wonder if they may have immigrated - I notice there's an Elias William Mortimer on the IGI getting married in Minnesota in 1863.

If (if!) this policeman Elias is a brother to your William b 1803, that might (only might!) rule out the Gidleigh possibility. I've looked at the Gidleigh Mortimer family in some detail, and the Elias Mortimer born in 1796 there lived to a ripe old age. I've seen siblings being given the same name before (especially when they're born a long way apart) but it's not massively common.

2. One more bit of info I suspect you don't have, because it's not on the IGI. On 13th Feb 1791, two Mortimore baptisms took place in North Tawton, Devon. One was Samuel Mortimore, a son of my GGGG-grandparents William and Frances Mortimore. The other was Elizabeth Mortimore, who was the daughter of Elias and Elizabeth. I must stress this was a look-up someone in Devon did for me and I've not seen the register, but if it was a double baptism (and one social event), then it's reasonable to assume the two fathers, Elias & William, were cousins. There's no other trace of this Elias and Elizabeth couple anywhere in the North Tawton register, or on any relevant website.

It is, of course, always possible that "North Allerton" is "North Tawton" copied wrongly from the 19th C equivalent of a luggage label... But another possibility in addition to those you mention is that North Allerton is William's local name for Allerton, which is a village within the parish of Dartington.

Hope some of this is of help, and it would be great to know if you've got any further?