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15 Jan 2018

Longevity: the changing lifespans of my ancestors

The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”[1]

Bob and Freda Tucker in their very late 80s, 2001
So many of my ancestors flew away long before their allotted 70 years, let alone lived past 80.  It’s really only in the past 40 years that my ancestors have done so.  My parents, born before World War 1 and brought up on plentiful fresh food, lived until their 90s, and their mothers lived into their late 80s.

They were fortunate to live in adulthood amongst clean water, major scientific discoveries (such as penicillin) and robust surgical procedures.

Two ancestors who do stand out surprised their contemporaries by living into their eighties. They also confound me!  Both had major disadvantages – one was an agricultural labourer who ended his days in the workhouse, the other was a prolific sire living in poor housing in a growing port town.

I’ve described my 3xgreat grandfather George Tucker’s life in a post on another blog.  He lived until he was 85 but I considered him a very unlucky soul.  You can read all about him at https://tuckersinsouthampton.blogspot.com.au/2011/11/george-tucker-1802-1886-man-with-no.html

The other was also my 3xgreat grandfather, one John Rose (1804-1884).  He's my very favourite ancestor due to his rebellious nature.  John was the son of a wool-comber, Simon Rose who settled in Southampton before 1795 having arrived from Misterton, Somerset.

John didn’t follow his father into the business.  He must have been schooled because in his twenties he established a printing business and news agency in College Street, Southampton.  Due to falling out spectacularly with the town establishment by selling unstamped newspapers and publishing dissenting posters and pamphlets, he was gaoled for libel in 1840.  Thereafter he gave up his “calling” and settled into the life of a porter and barrowman on the Southampton Pier.  He continued to express his radical views, even though it didn’t do his career any good.  He sympathised greatly with the Chartists.

John was also renown for siring 19 children from two wives and raising a step-son as well.  It was no wonder he outlived both wives.  His first, Isabella (c1802-1850) died of tuberculosis and the final three of the 15 children she bore died in infancy.  The second wife, Hannah (1831-1871) died after giving birth to five children.  Three of the 20 died tragically before the age of 18, and four others (including those mentioned) died in infancy.

John Rose 1804-1884
A robust and very tall man, and always very active, John enjoyed his “home life” as well. By 1839, aged only 35 he already had ten sons. 

At this time the form of the annual tithe was a prominent political issue and he decided to play a practical joke on the aristocratic absentee rector of St Mary’s Church, Frederic North, 5th Earl of Guilford.  Parliament had recently changed the form of the tithe from agricultural products to cash, and the working classes were unimpressed.

He presented his tenth son, named Guilford North Rose, to Lord Frederick North.  The aristocrat was highly unamused when he realised what was happening.  John Rose published this doggeral verse and made quite a profit on it.

I’m certain your Lordship would hardly suppose
You’d receive an Epistle in verse from JOHN ROSE
Well-known in Southampton, whiled courting the muse,
As Father of Children and Vendor of News.

Ah, hinc illoe Lachrymoe! One thing is sure.
Though in young ones I’m rich, in the pocket I’m poor.

Sad drawback it is on connubial joys
Ten bantlings to rear – and the whole of them boys,
Everyone of them hearty, my Lord, and no question
With appetites keen and unfailing digestion;
And who, as to eating, though not over-nice,
Would make a sirloin disappear in a trice.
Your feelings, my Lord, I had no wish to shock
When I offered you lately a TITHE OF MY FLOCK –
A fine chubby lad which, as flower of the crew.
Guildford North I have christened him, in honour of you.

And I fervently hope, though the last of the race,
That – much honoured name he will never disgrace.
Now, My Lord, it would make my paternal heart glad
If you’d kindly consent to provide for the lad,
And to the rich bower, where your lordship reposes,
Would transplant this fair sample, the Flower of the ROSES.

But your Lordship may say: “Now my feelings you touch,
And truly John Rose, you are asking too much.
Were I to provide for each brat that is born,
Every ROSE in the lot would be turned to a thorn,
And the whole of the wealth of the County of Hants,
Would be quite insufficient to cover their wants.[2]

John’s eldest son remaining in Southampton, my 2xgreat grandfather George Henry Rose (1827-1901) was also a tall, robust man but proportionally he had more children dying in infancy or early childhood.  Of his seven children, three died of cholera or failure to thrive, one grew to manhood but was intellectually disabled (an “imbecile”) and only three daughters survived to marry and have children.

I imagine that conditions in the thriving city where my ancestors lived in the Old Town were similar to those described in an Australian news article about Wapping in Hobart in the 1820s published just this morning.

As George Henry Rose’s daughters and George Tucker’s grandson made good marriages, they were able to leave the Old Town behind and move to new housing beyond the Bargate on the London Road and other places north.  By the time their children were born in the 1880s they had a much better chance of living long lives and many of them did.



[1] Bible. King James version. Psalm 90, verse 10
[2] John Rose. A verse to Lord Frederick North, later 5th Earl of Guilford.  John Rose named his 10th son (1839-1900), his potential tithe to the rector, Guildord North Rose.

7 Jan 2018

A treasured family photographic postcard

A much-loved postcard
 Just old enough to remain still enough for a studio photo, the little boy in the centre of this photo is my father aged nearly three.  He is pictured here with his family in a photographic postcard from a professional studio in Southampton during World War 1.

In my Tucker family shoebox, I had three copies of this photo, all of them well-preserved and treasured by their original owners.  And to my irritation, the photo had no date inscribed.
One of the reproduced and precious copies.

However, it was not until 12 months ago that I first saw this copy.  My cousin Philip Davis's widow had sent it to me in a bundle of his ancestral photos.  This copy was different: much crumpled and formatted in the popular postcard format.

Photographic postcards like this can tell us a great deal about our ancestors and the times in which they lived.  This photo was taken at Applin's Photographic Studio, 8B Commercial Road, Southampton in England's south-east.  In 1917, there were 28 photographers in the town.  Applin's studio was one of a handful of High Street studio photographers.  George Augustus Applin (1873-1944( was Southampton born and bred like the subjects in this photograph so was likely to be trusted.

His studio was well situated in Commercial Road, then as now one of the major retail and commercial sections of Southampton.  He had commenced work from home in the 1890s, established a studio in Victoria Terrace in 1904 and moved to Commercial Road, ideally located next to tearooms in 1916.

This was a time when the middle class could take their own photos using a box brownie.  The Eastman Company's Box Brownie cost only $1 in America, affordable by this family.

However, this photo was too important to trust to amateurs.  They wanted a studio photo.  It was not the first time the family had used a professional studio, usually Edwarde Photo Studios in St Marys Road, Southampton.

Photographic postcards were very popular during World War 1 when this photo was taken.  This one is a sepia photograph with no other markings on the front, produced from a negative and printed straight onto photographic cardboard, probably stock produced.  The back is identified as a Post Card with a square to place the stamp and the left half for correspondence and the right side for the address - no different from today - exactly 100 years later.  The identified studio appears to be ink stamped on the side.  The typeface is lighter than the other wording.

The photo is 13.5cm height by 8.5cm width with rounded corners.  It is far more creased and worn than other copies of the photo.  It is a family photo of a soldier in British Army dress uniform and the other family members in their best clothes.

The family comprises Sydney George Tucker (1882-1919), his wife Edith Annie Tucker nee Reed (1884-1973) and their children Jessie Agnes (1908-1927) on the left, Cecily Mary (1910-1999) on the right and Robert Sydney George Tucker (1914-2011), my father, standing on the chair leaning against his mother.  Sydney has his hand on Jessie's arm.  It is a very formal pose, as befitted the solemnity of the occasion.  A plant stand appears in the background; otherwise, the background is plain.

The photo is dated 22 April 1917 and all birthdates are listed so we know exactly how old each member of the family is. The postcard section also notes the date the couple became sweethearts (Edith's 14th birthday), their engagement date (the night before her 21st birthday) and their marriage date in 1907.  The scribe, mother Edith, writes with ink and probably through tears: only she, and possibly elder daughter Jessie knew something of Syd's imminent departure.

It was a record of the family at a momentous occasion: for the first time, the head of the family was going away for a long time to a place of great danger.  They all wanted a record of this moment and an item to remind him of the family and them of him.

A former dedicated member of the Volunteer Rifle Service, Hampshire Regiment and the Territorials, Syd Tucker had joined up in November 1915 but had been based at home until late 1916.  As a 33-year-old family man, he was mature enough to not rush into war, despite his love of his military activities - much competitive cycling and shooting and comradery.

The crumpled nature of this postcard and its wording suggest that this was the very copy of the photograph that Syd carried with him throughout 1917 at Passchendaele and other significant battles until he was badly wounded and repatriated in December that year.

Subsequently, he was an in-patient at the Southampton War Hospital and later at Pankhurst on the Isle of Wight where the postcard probably accompanied him. It was later returned to Edith after his far-too-early and tragic death in April 1919.

NOTE: The substance of this post was first researched and written for an assignment in the unit Photos, Images and Objects in the Diploma of Family History at the University of Tasmania, 2017.



[1] Kelly’s Directory (Southampton) Classified Trades Directory Nursing Institutions to Yeast Merchants http://www.plimsoll.org/images/30078c_tcm4-145793.pdf pp783-4, Accessed 9 May 2017
[2] S.K May, ‘Southampton Victorian Photographers: George Augustus Applin‘ http://www.southamptonvictorianphotographers.org/applin-augustus-george.html Accessed 9 May 2017
[3] Kelly’s (Southampton) Directory 1916-17 Street Listing Clarendon Road to Holt Road http://www.plimsoll.org/images/30074b_tcm4-144053.pdf  p 116, Accessed 9 May 2017
[5] Tony Allen ‘Real photographic postcards from the Great War 1914-1918 ‘https://www.worldwar1postcards.com/real-photographic-ww1-postcards.php Accessed 10 May 2017





1 Jan 2018

No silver spoon for Freda

My mother had a poor start to life.  Born in June 1912 at the Crown Street Women’s Hospital in Sydney, she was promised at birth to a country woman who had just delivered a still-born son. 

Kate Elizabeth Palmer (1881-1970)
She’d been conceived in England in about September 1911, where her birth mother, Kate Elizabeth (Kitty) Palmer was a parlour-maid in a wealthy stockbroker's household in a hamlet known as Godden Green near Seal, Kent.  She'd been born nearby in the village of Ightham in 1881.

Four months later, the father of her child took Kitty to Antwerp in Belgium where he’d purchased her a steerage passage to Sydney on the Friedrich Der Grosse steamship, leaving on Christmas Eve.  She’d been given a travel chest with her initials inscribed, and a promise that he’d join her just as soon as he’d tidied up his business affairs.

Sadly, but unsurprisingly, this never happened.  Later my half aunt, Kitty’s second daughter told me that the father was the ‘young gentleman of the house’, a man who had been easily identified in the household in the 1911 census.  Not so fast, I later discovered.  This is another story… or two.

George and Alice Smith with Freda 1913, Dunedoo
So six weeks later, my mother was taken by train to Dunedoo in the Central West of New South Wales.  Her new parents had a small-holding farm there and a brand-new house.  She loved her father George Smith but her mother was a flighty woman and it is likely the two clashed, since Freda Smith, as my mother was known, was a serious child and found her mother’s behaviour embarrassing.
Freda aged 7, c1919


The family moved around a great deal, including back and forwards to Victoria, and Freda had to leave school at 14, even though she was doing well.  Then a bomb-shell: rejected twice.

At Bowral, NSW with foster parents
Within the space of a few weeks in 1930, Alice told her she was adopted and it was time she left home; she then spent a weekend with her birth-mother Kitty, by then married with an eight year old daughter, and living just 30 miles down the road from her then home of Bowral.  At the end of the weekend, Kitty said: “Well, it was nice to meet you dear, but I don’t think we should do it again.”

Freda loved her horses - in Bowral, 1920s
But not everything went badly for Freda.  She did leave home, residing locally at the Bowral Young Woman’s Christian Association (YWCA) premises where she worked as a domestic.  She made some wonderful friends there, and was taken into the lives of the local Anglican Minister’s family, the Stubbins.  They were to become lifelong friends and gave her life skills and a set of values her mother couldn’t.

Marrying Bob Tucker in 1946 
Although her mother did not value education, and Freda was not encouraged to stay at school, she had a thirst for knowledge and an enquiring mind.  When she married, my father encouraged her to join the Worker’s Education Association (WEA) and the Parramatta and Hills Historical Societies.  She started helping out an interstate cousin with shipping and convict records and thereupon discovered her passion for Australian history.  Unlike in my time, there were no free university education or mature-aged entry opportunities, so she grasped what she could, and took up many self-education opportunities.  It helped that she was a voracious reader.

On her memorial plaque, my father inscribed "Australian Historian".

And it probably doesn’t surprise you, dear reader, that it was due to my mother’s passion that I discovered my interest in family history.  Sadly, it was not until after her passing in 2004 that I really had the time to become really involved – eventually, ten years later, resulting in my little business Grevillea Genealogy.

This is my first post for the #52ancestors challenge.  I have joined my fellow graduates from the Diploma of Family History at the University of Tasmania in this challenge.