Friday 19 February 2016

Writing Family History with the University of Tasmania

For the past few months I've been studying another subject towards the Diploma of Family History with UTAS. The subject comprised 6 short e-tivities of maximum 250 words each, and a longer assessment task of around 1000 words.

For this task I chose to write a portion of Ada's story. Ada Morrant was my great, great, grandmother. Her life sounded really desperate. She had a journey on a ship from London to Sydney at age three, a number of siblings dying when she was a child, then her mother died. She spent some time in the Sydney Benevolent Asylum while her mother was admitted there, possibly for a breakdown after losing a baby. She married a violent man to whom she was pregnant, and while he was in gaol she fell pregnant to another man and had to give that baby away (my great grandfather). The older child (the reason she had to get married) was boarded out to 12 different families over 12 years, all over NSW. He was returned to her when he was 14. She was reported by the police as missing for a while. She lost another child as an infant. When she was an adult her alcoholic father suicided and she found him. He had already been in and out of asylums for years. She later died of kidney disease. Poor thing. I wish I could give her a really big hug.

I was pleased to get a Distinction for this task, and I'm really looking forward to the next subject which is all about Convicts.

Assessment Task 2: Not Long Enough

Ada reflected on the drama and heartbreak she had endured over her life and wondered how she managed to bear it all. Arriving in Sydney with her mother and older brother at age three (1), she was happy to be reunited with her Pa, who she barely remembered from their old home in Surrey, England (2). In the years after they arrived another three sisters were born (3,4,5) but only one lived longer than six weeks, her darling sister Annie. Thinking back to the children she herself had lost (6,7), she found herself feeling some of the grief her mother must have experienced at losing two children in England (8,9), and then another two in Australia. It was no wonder that Ma spent some time in the Infirmary (10).  While the six weeks Ada had spent waiting for her at the Sydney Benevolent Asylum at age five had felt like a lifetime back then, it was merely a speck of time from the distance of 35 years later. She still missed her Ma deeply, even though she had died when Ada was only ten (11) .

From her hospital bed Ada’s mind drifted to when she met William. What a mistake that was, she thought with the hindsight of 32 years. Although, if she hadn’t met William she wouldn’t have had her own boy. He was also named William, and he was such a blessing to her, so her thoughts softened a little. Of course she’d had to get married to his father, being in the family way and all, but she didn’t know about his violent temper at that stage. He was a butcher, so he had a trade, and they lived together above the butcher shop on Botany Street at Waterloo (12). Looking back, she did feel a bit sheepish about telling so many fibs to the minister when they were married. If she had told the truth they wouldn’t have been able to marry at all. Saying they were both 21 when she was only 18 meant that she didn’t have to find where her father had disappeared to yet again to obtain his permission. Why William also lied was a mystery, thought Ada, when he was actually 25 and old enough to not need anyone’s permission, but then again he could lie and cheat like a master.

Poor little William was a sorry sight when he was born. His father said he was ruptured (13) but what did he know, or care? A hernia was not a big problem, and those doctors were able to fix it when he was ten (14). He was so lucky to survive the beating his father gave him at only eight months of age (13). The judge described it “as one of the most shocking it has ever been my painful duty to listen to the recital of”(13). Thankfully there was no permanent damage to young William, after the extensive bruising and both black eyes healed. She hoped his father got what he deserved while he was in Goulburn Gaol (15). She was glad that she never saw him again once he was released after five years so she never had the opportunity to ask. Ada was just glad to see the back of him. Two years with that man was more than enough.

Part of her did squirm a little when she reflected that he chose the same church they were married in to marry again five years later (16). St Silas at Waterloo. The hide of him! Did he really think the minister wouldn’t realise that he was still married to Ada? She thought that the three extra years he spent in Goulburn Gaol for that deed  was his just desserts. Silly man. She fleetingly wondered if he had the same cell as last time. Good riddance to bad rubbish, she thought, when she had heard that he had died only last month (18). She felt a bit smug to have outlasted him. Just.

She thought about Henry again. How she wished their lives had turned out better. He was a little bit younger than her, just one year, but he lavished such attention on her. He sure was a good cure for the loneliness she felt with William being in gaol. She supposed it was inevitable that she would end up pregnant to him. He scarpered off back to Newcastle (19) to some coal mine or other, leaving her pregnant and with baby William to look after with no support at all. The tragedy of his death (20) overshadowed her feelings of resentment for leaving her like that. The newspaper reported that he had cut his own throat with a knife (21). She couldn’t imagine anyone doing that to themselves, but her own father had done exactly the same thing only two years later (22). How very strange it was that both her father and the father of one of her children had died at their own hand using the same method. She shuddered at the gruesome thought.

She let her mind wander to a life that could have been, if Henry had stayed with her. Maybe his parents advised him not to get involved with her, seeing as she was already married with a child and with a husband in gaol. Surely Ada wasn’t their first choice for a daughter-in-law. They were the ones who insisted on the baby being handed over to foster parents in Wallsend, far enough away from their own lives in Paddington (23). Ada could almost smell the Benevolent Asylum again, as she conjured up memories of walking into the imposing entrance after being judged sufficiently needy by the Ladies’ Committee to be admitted (19). She thought they must have taken pity on her situation,
but she also felt like a tramp to have fallen pregnant to a man who wasn’t her husband. They didn’t know that what she had with Henry was so special and that only their circumstances kept them apart.

Ada sighed and closed her eyes for the last time. 49 years (24) just wasn’t long enough.



1 New South Wales Government. Inward passenger lists. Series 13278, Reels 399-560, 2001-2122, 2751. State Records Authority of New South Wales. Kingswood, New South Wales

2 Census Returns of England and Wales, 1841. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1841.

3 NSW Birth Certificate 1869/3966 District of Redfern Emily Morrant

4 NSW Birth Certificate 1872/1640 District of Sydney Annie Margaret Morrant

5 NSW Birth Certificate 1874/5472 District of Waterloo Minnie Morrant

6 NSW Death Certificate 1888/125 District of Sydney Emily M Barrett

7 NSW Death Certificate 1908/2684 District of Paddington Reginald Barrett

8  Surrey, England, Burials, 1813-1987

9 Surrey, England, Burials, 1813-1987

10 Sydney Benevolent Asylum, Journal entry CY 1220 02 July 1869

11 NSW Death Certificate 1875/3998 District of Waterloo Emily Morrant

12 NSW Marriage Certificate 1883/3088 District of Waterloo William Barrett and Ada Morrant

13 The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), Wednesday 3 September 1884, page 6

14 State Records NSW series #13358 Dependent children registers 1883-1923 (11/22094-130; microfiche copy SR Fiche 7003-7317)

15 New South Wales, Australia, Gaol Description and Entrance Books, 1818-1930

16 NSW Marriage Certificate 1888/3367 District of Waterloo William Barrett and Margaret Hossack

17 New South Wales, Australia, Gaol Description and Entrance Books, 1818-1930

18 NSW Death Certificate 1913/15448 District of Newtown William Barrett

19 Sydney Benevolent Asylum, Inmates Journals, October 1883 – December 1886, Journal 2, Z A 7236 CY 1968 (compiled about 21 September 1885)

20 NSW Death Certificate 1901/15733 District of Wallsend Henry B Gibb

21 The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), Wednesday 27 November 1901, page 10

22 The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), Saturday 18 July 1903

23 NSW Birth Certificate 1883/9644 District of Waterloo William J Barrett

24 NSW Death Certificate 1913/15190 District of Sydney Ada Barrett


  1. Janelle, the shorter version intrigued me, but this had me rereading to take it all in. What a life she had.. You'd wonder how so much could happen to one person.
    Congratulations on the Distinction!

    1. Thanks :)
      It was fun to write, but the poor woman did go through a lot, and more that wouldn't fit into the 1000 word limit.