SOLDIER AS SEAMSTRESS -PART 1
I promised to give you another chapter in the family quilt story.
This time we go back to Christmas Day 1830 when John Fist married Jemima Hawkins in St Mildred's Church, Canterbury, Kent, England. John is listed in records as a "cordwainer", so we assume he was fairly dexterous with his hands. They had eight children, but those involved in this story are their first born (also John), born 1832, their third son William born 1840, and their second daughter Sarah born 1842.
Father John Fist died in 1849, leaving Jemima with a large young family to support. We are told she worked as a shoe-binder to help support the family. However, things must have been tough, as by 1851, son John was awaiting transportation on a prison hulk for burglary. He was transported to Tasmania, where he was eventually freed, and became a very respectable citizen, with a number of descendants still living in Australia.
Meanwhile daughter Sarah married a James Castle, and they were my great-grandparents.(Shown in the first picture.) Their son James was my maternal grandfather, and their daughter Sarah was my great-aunt Sally, about whom I wrote in the previous posting.
William (shown in the second picture), embarked on a military career, advancing his age to receive adult pay! He achieved the dubious distinction of being promoted to Corporal and Sergeant twice, and demoted back to private twice for misdemeanors! He served two terms in India, the first during the Indian Mutiny, service which earned him a medal (in my possession). In his second term he was transferred to the forces of the British East India Company. Around 1869, William began making a quilt in his military colours - more about that later!!
On his discharge, William went to Australia, possibly to join his brother John, now a free man with a family. We know he kept in contact with his sister Sarah in England. His mother, meanwhile had remarried.
While his convict brother had become an honourable citizen, William's life was one of ups and downs. For many years he lived with a Mary Ann Kiely. They never married, but had a son William who was an epileptic and ended up in an institution. He did later marry after Mary's death.
William was something of a drifter. It would appear that he kept contact with many of the veterans with whom he had served in India, and was actually chosen to represent them and make a presentation to the visiting Prince of Wales to Melbourne in 1920.
William himself died in 1921, and was buried in the Dandenong Cemetery. There is no headstone for him.
Some of his possessions....a handpainted coffee pot and a rosewood walking stick...were handed down through his wife's family, but have been given now to descendants of his brother John, who also have a cup and saucer William gave to John's granddaughter Isabel.
However the quilt he had made, at some stage, found its way back to England to his sister Sarah. We are not sure when, but my mother remembers it being on a little round table in her grandmother's "front parlour." William's medal also went back to England, and Great-grandmother Sarah had it fashioned into a lovely silver brooch.
I will tell you more about that quilt in my next posting!
Saturday, May 20, 2006
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