A Family History by Chris Watson
On the left is the old Customs House where the Watsons lived for some time. I recently learned of my great-great-great grandmother Bridget Watson, and believe her moving and unusual story is worth tracing and sharing as far as possible. Having an academic background, I have learned to rely on well-documented sources. but for Bridget, like so many women of her time, I can find few records, and must rely too on stories passed down without other documentation.
Bridget’s family background.
Bridget’s father was said to be William Linnoir. I understand that no other traces of the name Linnoir have been found in Irish records, so his (and her) name may have been recorded with a different spelling. The baptismal record for her daughter Mary in May 1820 gives her former name as Linnen, but I had no success in following this lead. It seems that William, born in Ireland around 1758, was conscripted into the British army and sent to fight in the American War of Independence (1775-1783) where he deserted to join General Greene’s Patriots, but later returned to Ireland. I wonder if, as a deserter, he was re-conscripted, for his daughter Bridget was born at the English Barracks in Limerick around 1884. William is said to have died at the battle of Vinegar Hill during the 1798 rebellion. So Bridget would have been about fourteen at the time. I know nothing of her mother or other family members.
Bridget in England
Bridget appears 16 years later at Burnley, Lancashire where baptismal records for 1814 mention her daughter Elizabeth, the father being her husband John Barker. Whether she met John Barker in Ireland or Lancashire is unknown. Why was she at Burnley? Although the main Irish migrations to Lancashire came later, there was already a demand for labour. For Burnley, big industries were coal mines, cotton mills and a steel foundry. The town’s industrial importance was boosted with the connection to the Leeds-Liverpool canal in 1801. A few years later, John Barker had died, but I have no details. The widowed Bridget married Charles Watson in St Peter’s Church of England at Burnley on 18 February 1817. Like it or not, those wishing to be legally married in England in 1817 had no choice of location unless they were Jews or Quakers. She was more than ten years older than Charles. His parents were established in the area, and the apparent circumstances of their presence there suggest an ongoing Catholic allegiance in the Watson family, one which Charles apparently maintained after his arrival in Van Diemen’s Land, as the name appears in a couple of Catholic-related items from early Hobart newspapers. Until 1817 the small Catholic community with which Bridget was associated in Burnley used the Towneley family chapel as its place of worship.
Bridget seems to be an accepted member of the Watson family and of this Catholic community during the 1820s. Bernard Ennis, the husband of Charles’s sister Mary, appears several times in baptismal records connected with Bridget. The first child for Bridget and Charles was Joseph (c.1818-1891). He was followed by Mary Ann (1820-1827), Margaret (1822-1900), and John (1824-1862). Presumably Bridget’s first child Elizabeth (known as Eliza) was also part of her household. Charles’s father Joseph prospered and, at his death in May 1831, he left a considerable amount of property to his descendants. Being a “plasterer and painter” must have been a good trade during the building activities that would have accompanied the industrial developments around Burnley. Charles himself had sufficient training to be described as a draftsman, with good employment. According to one of the documents presented on his behalf in 1827, he had worked in a steel mill. In 1824, after an economic crisis hit Burnley following the collapse of a bank and a bad season, Charles went to Gloucestershire for work. There, in April 1827, after very dubious court procedures, Charles was found guilty of receiving a stolen roll of cloth, and sentenced to 14 years in Van Diemen’s Land. He was immediately sent to the hulks to await transportation. Among the documents presented in his favour and ignored by authorities was a plea from his wife Bridget, the only document coming from her that I know of.
Burnley July 23rd, 1829 To the Right Honble R. Peel Secretary of State for the Home Department etc, etc, Etc. This petition of Bridget Watson of Burnley in the County of Lancaster most humbly Sheweth That your petitioner’s Husband Charles Watson now a convict serving in his Majesty’s colony Vandiemaen’s Land and who was tried and convicted under a rash prosecution at Gloucester on Good Friday 1827. The charge brought against the husband of your unfortunate petitioner was having brought some cloth of the person whom he lodged and which afterwards proved to be stolen by the vendor. That your petitioner is sensible of your humanity and your anxiety is to render assistance to your fellow creatures in a just cause induces your petitioner to submit the circumstances to your humane consideration when your petitioner begs leave to observe that on her Husbands being taken into custody he underwent a trying examination before the Magistrates and was finally acquitted of the charge, but after the lapse of three weeks and immediately after the assembling of the Association for the prosecution of fellons he was retaken and committed. His prosecutor being R. S. Davis Esquire of Stone House Stroudwater Gloucestershire, your petitioner’s husband not having any witnesses in court to testify his innocence his sentence being fourteen years transportation. That your petitioner begs to refer your Honour to the records of the said trial when your petitioner is induced you will find sufficient and just reason to believe the innocence of your petitioner’s Husband under such impression your petitioner approaches you and humbly prays that you may find a just cause to intitle his unhappy case at the Governor’s consideration of our most blessed and beloved Sovereign and in duty bound your petitioner will ever pray. Honoured Sir, Your most humble and obedient servant Bridget Watson, Burnley, Lancashire
His cause was also supported by Peregrine Towneley, head of the Towneley family at the time. None of this helped. Charles was sent to Van Diemen’s Land on the Asia, arriving in Hobart on 30 November 1827. A further family misfortune in 1827 was the death of Mary Ann, aged about 6, the older daughter of Charles and Bridget. Within two years, Bridget, still at Burnley with her young family, would also be supporting her pregnant daughter, Eliza. Bernard Ennis was godfather for the baptism of Eliza’s child Lancelot in March 1830. Bridget was godmother. The register records Lancelot’s father as Lancelot Bailly, and their marital status as ‘illeg.’, but I know nothing else about Lancelot Bailly. He was not part of the group that travelled to Hobart for the next stage of Bridget’s life.
Bridget in Australia
On 18th October 1831 Bridget arrived in Hobart on the Mary III with her three surviving children from the marriage with Charles as well as Eliza and the baby Lancelot. How they afforded the journey is unknown. Perhaps Charles was able to send her money from his earnings in Van Diemen’s Land. Charles’s father Joseph died earlier that year and left a portion of his estate to Charles, so this might have helped to pay for the voyage. Also on the ship was a military officer, Paymaster Henry Carew. He and Eliza subsequently married in Sydney. They had 2 children born in NSW before they left for India, where another child was born. Margaret Watson, daughter of Charles and Bridget, was in their household until they left, then returned to the family living with Bridget in Hobart. Eliza died in Bengal in 1836, as did Henry, possibly during an epidemic. Eliza’s son Lancelot (my great-grandfather) did not go to India, but was absorbed into the Watson household. In later life, on the Victorian goldfields, Lancelot acknowledged his mother by using ‘Barker Carew’ to replace ‘Bernard’, the second name that appears on his marriage certificate. In his death notice and a published obituary he was described as a son of Charles. However, Bridget would have had the main burden of supporting the children while Charles, who never received an unconditional pardon, was employed by the government, and away for long periods on building projects, some of them involving lighthouses on Bass Strait islands. Unfortunately, it is hard to say more about Bridget’s life in Hobart. Everything we know is filtered through her relationship with Charles, for whom there is more documentation. We can assume that life for a woman with a young family was hard. Records tell of Charles requesting more payment and better housing for his family. Probably the household stayed Catholic, as their son Joseph was married in 1847 at St. Joseph’s Church in Hobart. Charles died at George Town near Launceston on 11 November 1849. As well as the short notices for his death, a longer item appeared in a Hobart newspaper, expressing concern for the welfare of his widow, and the hope (ironical?) of Government support for her.
Extract from the Hobarton Guardian, Sat 24 Nov 1849, p.2 DIED. On Sunday evening, 11th instant, at his residence, George Town, after an illness of about 3 months duration, Mr CHARLES WATSON, Superintendent of the erection of Beacons. The deceased has been for the last twenty years in the Government employ, superintending the various mechanical erections throughout the Colony, and, as his pay was small, in consideration of the services performed, we have no doubt the Government will see that his widow is amply provided for in her declining years.
I doubt whether any such help was forthcoming. She survived Charles by nearly 14 years, dying of influenza at Old Wharf, Hobart Town on 25 June 1863. I know of no documents or statements originating from her during the last thirty-six years of her life. Her identity at time of her death is recorded as ‘Engineer’s widow’ and her burial place is unknown.
Chris Watson is a descendant of Lancelot Watson and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org He wishes to acknowledge his debt to work by other descendants of Bridget, especially Leigh Pearson, Wayne Watson, Pamela Hallett and Ray Coffey.