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Isabella - The Lacemaker's Daughter

Patricia Stewart 22 Sep., 1988

Isabella Saywell was six months old when she arrived in Sydney with her family on the Barque "Agincourt" in 1848. The family went to East Maitland, but I have no knowledge of her childhood or youth until she married George Summerhays in Young, N.S.W. in 1865.

Three generations later, I am among her one hundred great-grandchildren (not all of whom were born in her lifetime)

As a small girl I knew my great-grandmother, Isabella Summerhays as "Big Grandma" (as opposed to my paternal grandmother in Forbes, whom I knew as "Little Grandma"). My first four and a half years were spent in Quandialla, where my father had opened the new branch of the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney Limited.

It wasn't far to Young in a T model Ford, and I remember visiting Big Grandma - the best part was seeing Dick, her Green Mexican Parrot, in his cage at the front gate, and being greeted with his croaky "hello, Pat".

The door to Grandma's parlour was to the right, just inside the front door. I recall my great-grandmother as an old lady dressed in black (and probably wearing a lace collar) sitting in her chair in the corner, always with her crochet or sewing on her lap. (Much later, my mother told me that her grandmother used to make layettes for each baby born to the tenants of her cottages)

I also remember a white cloth on a small table, which visitors were invited to autograph, and later it was embroidered by Isabella. I wonder what happened to it.

My great-grandfather, George Summerhays, had died before my parents' marriage, and has no place in my childhood memories.

I value that brief contact with my great-grandmother, who died the year following my father's transfer to Coolamon.

Another reason for visits to Young was to see our Aunt, Alice McGee, who was our mother's sister. Their mother was born Fanny Summerhays, and she married Gerald McGee from Ireland. Fanny died when Alice was eleven days old. She was reared by her Grandmother, Isabella, whom she called "Mum".

I don't know how long it was before Alice met her six brothers and sisters, but she would have been nearing her tenth Birthday when her brother, George, went to Young to say Good-bye to her. He gave Alice a small gold worn by a member of my family.

On 3rd. Feb., 1916, George embarked for the Middle East with the 14th, Reinforcements, 4th. Infantry Battalion. He disembarked at Alexandria on 7th March, and three weeks later was admitted to the No.3 A.G.H. at Heliopolis, where he died of illness on 10th. April, aged 22.

Alice worked in Gilbert's Bookshop in Young, where we sometimes called to see her. It was she who introduced my sister, Margaret and me to the delights of Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh.

Over the years we were to know our Aunty Alice well. She always spoke of her "Mum" with affection, and obviously had a happy childhood.. in which she learned to crochet, knit and embroider, all of which she carried out to perfection.

After her Grandmother's death, Alice lived for a time with Ruby and Tom Collins, and their daughter, Mary. The family of Ruby's sister, Fanny, were always welcome at Blair Athol in Young, and Alice soon felt at home with her McGee sisters and brothers, and met her father, Gerald, in Newcastle.

I became involved in Family History after the death of my mother in 1979. On my first visit to Young in search of information, I found the cottages in Main Street in a delapidated condition, which saddened me. I walked up and down for some time trying to decide which cottage had been Grandma's and finally said "this is it!". Later I was able to confirm that my vibes had been correct.

The cottages have since been restored, and the council has changed the street numbers. Grandma's cottage has a new number, but the old "No.9" is there on the front door as well.

Mrs. Summerhayes is remembered in Main Street, Young!

When I first contacted my Summerhayes first and second cousins, and those once removed, I was asked the same question: "How did Isabella meet George Summerhayes?". I had wondered too.

There was mutual agreement on the information that "Isabella had come from Maitland by Cobb & Co. Coach to marry George Summerhayes in Young, when she was sixteen."

I could only suggest that it was an arranged marriage, but how, why and by whom remained a mystery...until Mary Collins showed me the original Marriage Certificate of the Summerhays/Saywell Wedding, from St. John's Church of England, Young. The Certificate had been given to Mary for safe keeping by my Aunt Alice, who died in 1975.

We both wondered why Isabella had given the certificate to Alice, and not to a member of her own family, but my only query had been the identity of the witnesses to the marriage - George and Fanny Eastlake. I soon discovered that Fanny, wife of George Eastlake had been born Fanny Saywell. She was three years of age when she arrived on the Agincourt with her father, Jasper and his wife, Johanna, in 1848.

The mystery remained.. .how did Isabella come to marry George Summerhays? My own theory was that Fanny had acted as matchmaker. I had no proof, but time, and the release of the pre 1900 records of Births, Deaths and Marriages for N.S.W. , on microfiche, added some clues.

According to the information that had been provided by her family, Mary Jane, the first of the Summerhays daughters, was born in Maitland on 6th. July, 1865.

I checked the official record of her birth on microfiche, which read:

1865 SAYWELL Mary J. mother - Isabella Saywell

A well kept secret was now public knowledge. Whether Isabella's pregnancy was the result of a youthful dalliance, a misadventure, or her own innocence, we are not to know, or more importantly to judge, but she had her baby, and the story is a part of our pioneer heritage. I tell it with respect.

There can be no suggestion that George Summerhays was Mary Jane's natural father, but he certainly accepted her as his daughter. (Prior to her marriage he gave her a Bible with the inscription:- "Presented to Mary Jane Summerhays by her father 5th November 1886)

Who was George Summerhayes.. or Summerhays as his name was correctly spelt in early records? He was born in Somerset, England, the son of Wareham Summerhays and his wife Elizabeth (Betty) Scriven. His date of birth is not known, but he was baptised in the Parish of Curry Rivell, on 19th. March, 1837. He had an older brother, John, and a sister, Mary. Their mother died in 1842. His father re-married, and raised a large family.

George left home at the age of 21, and came to Australia. It is believed that he landed at Port Phillip, but nothing is known of his early days in the Colony. However he was among the twenty thousand miners who flocked to the Lambing Flat goldfields in NSW between 1861 and 1865. Like many of his fellow miners, George, having won his share of gold, turned to farming.. .and presumably to thoughts of marriage. The Crown Lands Occupation Act of 1861 permitted Selection before survey, and it is highly likely that George claimed squatter's right to the two acres of land where his goldmine was located.

It can't be far from the truth to speculate that George Eastlake, from Devonshire, who was the Storekeeper and buyer of gold in the district, and his young wife, Fanny, were the friends to whom George confided his thoughts and aspirations.

Picture the young Fanny Eastlake, then aged twenty, and in her fourth year of marriage. She had lost her first born child, and her daughter, Mary Jane, was to die on 2nd September, 1865. When she learned of her young cousin's baby, she would have been pregnant with her own third child... .but she invited her cousin to visit.

That I believe is how it came to pass that George Summerhays met the beautiful, young, brown eyed Isabella Saywell, and her baby daughter. (It has since been confirmed by members of the Eastlake family that Fanny claimed to have introduced her cousin to George)

The Wedding at St. John's Church, Young, took place on Sunday, 8th. October, 1865. The officiating Minister was Rev. William H. Pownall. On the same day he baptised Emma Eastlake, Fanny and George's new baby daughter.

That auspicious day was seventeen years almost to the day, after the arrival of the Agincourt in Sydney Cove, so Isabella had to be 17 and not 16, when she came to Young by Cobb & Co. The secret of the year of the marriage was the small deception that protected Mary Jane's legitimacy. It may explain why Isabella entrusted the Marriage Certificate to Alice McGee.

Mary Collins, the current custodian, and I have agreed that after more than a century, it is time for the story to be told.... it is all about love after all.

George and Isabella began their married life on the farm called t'Fourteen Mile Rush" because of the "Miles" diggings, and situated near the village of Bulla Creek.

George's first records of land purchases were for two portions, one of 2 acres where his gold mine was situated, and an adjoining 60 acres. I presume he had claimed squatter's right to these portions which he eventually purchased, paying 2.0.0 for the two acres, and 60.0.0 for the sixty acres.

In the last decade of Isabella's life, Patrick Cooney took his young daughters, Mary and Margaret, to visit their great-grandmother, after the death of their mother, Ethel (daughter of Elizabeth Montgomery). In the course of the visit, Isabella told this story to Patrick Cooney:- "We were real pioneers you know. On our Wedding Night, we stripped bark from the trees to make a bed and shelter"

I think the young Isabella would have enjoyed being a Pioneer!

George was a successful farmer, grazier and orchardist. His acres increased with the years... like his family. Born on the farm were:-

At the Calcutta International Exhibition of 1883-84 held in India, a Certificate of Merit of the third class was awarded to George Summerhays of Young for wheat (White Lammis). (A bushel of wheat had been sent by ship)

During the years 1882 and 1883, School had been conducted at Bulla in a tent; the new school building was built and opened at the newly named Monteagle in 1884.

I can't help wondering what education the older children received. Perhaps Isabella reflected on it too - it must have been around this time she made the decision to move into Young "to educate her young sons"

In 1885, Elizabeth Anne (Lizzie) married William Montgomery at St. Mark's Church, Bulla. probably prior to the move.

Mary Jane's descendants tell me that she met her future husband at the Boarding House Isabella opened in Young and where she was in charge of the stables. She married Peter Tidex at St. John's Church, Young in 1886.

On this basis I conclude that Ruby Violet Summerhays was born in Young in 1887, at the Boarding House named "Pioneer".

The twelfth Summerhays child, Lucy Emma, was born at "Pioneer" on 13th. October, 1889, and died on 20th. March, 1890.

At "Pioneer", Isabella would have had the help of Fanny... .a least until her marriage to Gerald McGee, which took place "in the house of George Summerhays, Main Street, Young on 12.2.1890". (about three years later they moved to Murrumburrah)

Kate elected to stay at Pioneer Farm to care for her father, for which he was grateful.

Rose, Alice, Thomas and Arthur were listed as prize winners at Young Superior School by The Young Chronicle, at the end of 1888.

Jasper would have been aged 4 then, and Ruby about 13 months.

Isabella Rose Summerhays married Patrick J. McManus on 18.10.1892 when she was nineteen.. I don't know when she or Alice left school. Thomas left school in 1893, aged 13, and commenced work at The Young Chronicle. Two years later, Arthur, also 13, left school to work with his father on the farm.

It is presumed that Jasper and Ruby in due course went off to school!

Sad times were to follow. George and Isabella's daughter Elizabeth Anne (Lizzie) died at Quirindi on 16th. May, 1898, leaving four children aged from 4 to 12.. .another had died from a drowning accident, when aged 3. They had been deserted by their father. Vera, aged 6, was reared by her grandmother, Isabella. The other children found loving homes with friend or relation.. and there are heart-warming stories to be told about all of them.

Lizzie had been supporting her family by dressmaking, and seems to have been helped by her brother, Wareham, who had a Bakery in nearby Walcha. He made the funeral arrangements, and initially took responsibility for the children.

Two years later, on 16th. March, 1900, Mary Jane Tidex died of Enteric Fever and Pleuro-pneumonia, at the Orange Hospital. There were four children, aged from 7 to 12, who were cared for by their father, Peter. A fifth child had died in infancy the previous year.

In my childhood I had often heard it said that "Wareham came home to his mother to die". He arrived home during the year, 1901, and his mother cared for him till he died.

The previous year, George had written a letter from Pioneer Farm to his relatives in Somerset. This was shown to me during a visit to my third cousin, James Churchill, at Curry Mallet, in 1983. It was a business letter, but I made a note of the following:- "forty-two years have gone past....I have brought up a family of eleven children. I look back on the time I left Home as the greatest event in my Life; I look back on it with pleasure; it is the bright spot on the memory, as it led to Liberty and Independance."

On 23rd. December, 1901, George sold his farm of 1462 acres to Francis Gerard of Moss Vale, Gentleman. Three years earlier George had won an award for the best cultivated farm within a radius of 15 miles from Young, N.S.W.

In 1904, Kate and Alice married brothers, Joseph and William Coddington, in a double marriage Ceremony; the next wedding was during the following year, when Arthur Summerhayes married Alice Albon.

On 21st. May, 1905, Wareham died from Hydated of Lung and Consumption. He was 34.

His sister, Fanny, died of Cerebral Thrombosis on 5th. May in 1906. She was 37. Isabella took the baby Alice Magdalen to her home and heart.

At that time there were seventeen living grandchildren -and about twenty more to come! Of George and Isabella's own family, only seven of their twelve children were living, but there were no more deaths during their parents' fact not for another 35 years.

There were more Weddings: In 1908, Thomas married Margaret Stewart, and in 1914 Ruby married Thomas Collins. In England, 1918, following the end of World War 1, Jasper married Edith Mary Major, who came to Australia. Their two daughters, Yvonne and Mary, were the last of the Summerhayes grandchildren.

I have to agree with previous generations that George was an embittered old man towards the end of his long life - when Isabella referred to him as "Ol' Summer' ays" - but I prefer to think of him in terms of a young man who crossed the seas to a strange land, married a young girl with a baby, raised a large family.. and found "Liberty and Independance".

George Summerhays died at Young on 4th. December, 1917. The inscription on his grave reads "aged 81". (I have no record of his Birth, and can only say he was Baptised in 1837. .but it is likely he was born in 1836) His Epitath says "Peace perfect peace"

Isabella lived the next ten years in her cottage at No. 9 Main Street, Young. My aunt, Alice, would have been eleven and a half, and her grandmother in her seventieth year: they could not have been easy years. However she was an indomitable old lady, and had the support of a large family. If there were any storms, she certainly weathered them! There were political and industrial storms when the Saywell family fled from Calais -perhaps even storms in the English Channel; and likely on the long four months journey to Sydney Cove, which commenced on 12th. June, 1848, when Isabella was a baby of two months.

Isabella died in Young on 12th. June, 1928....just eighty years from the day the Agincourt set sail from England!

Her Epitath reads "God be with you till we meet again." Her age is given as 81...that "one year" again!

I remember hearing of my great-grandmother's death, and I have the photograph my Aunt Alice took, of the flowers on the grave.

My story is now back where it my old friend, Dick the parrot (who lived out his life with Ruby Collins) and to my "Big Grandma" in her special corner.

She holds a special place in my memories too.

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