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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.

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