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May 17, 2016

Abandoned in Australia

I am revisiting this blog post I wrote in 2009. It's a great story and I think it bears repeating. It's in 4 parts. This is part 1 (with photos added)

Abandoned in Australia Part 1: The mystery

Many years ago I decided to try to find evidence of a rather poignant and mysterious family story, one told to me by my Grandmother. The story was about my Grandmother's mother's family.

Family lore told the tale of how my great-great grandfather William Stephen Stead's wife, Sarah, (no surname known) died in childbirth on her way from England to Australia, and how William then turned around and came back to England with 2 of his 4 children, leaving two behind in Australia. The time period was given as around 1868.

Over time the family in England lost touch with the family in Australia. Grandma always said that it was two little boys left behind, and that one died while the other lived, married and raised a family in Australia.

I wanted to know more. But how would I research this?
Sarah Elvery Stead 1836-1867

My Grandmother had a CDV (Carte de Visite) taken circa mid 1860s of a young woman. Grandma said her mother had given it to her and told her it was the only picture she had of her mother who died in Australia. On the back was written "Your mother Sarah Stead"

The only other item that Grandma had was a letter written by her sister Lily which gave some details. This letter from Lillian Simpson, granddaughter of William Stephen Stead, written in 1964, stated

"Since then they found out that Grandfather had married twice - would I let them know of any children of that marriage. I told them there were two sons and one daughter, all deceased, and I never knew the second wife. Grandma [Sarah Elvery] died four days after they arrived in Australia. When my mother [Sarah Jane Stead] was only four years old, Grandfather came back to England, leaving Uncles William and Edward out there, and brought back mother and Uncle Charles with him."

Grandma had one other item of interest - a letter from her niece, the step-daughter of her sister Lillian. Pansy, the step-daughter said in her letter:

"Great-grandma's name, was, I think, Stead. I don't know if you know that in 1867 Great-Grandfather Stead [William Stephen] sailed to Australia. His wife died soon after. He left two sons out there - Edward was one. I don't know the other one's name. He brought Grandma Simpson [Sarah Jane Stead] and Uncle Charlie Stead back. Daisy and Ethel were from the two sons left in Australia so I know they were cousins, and they visited mum in Enfield."

And so I began my hunt for poor Sarah. Remember this was many years ago - back in 1995 before Internet Genealogy was in full swing, long before ships passenger lists or vital records or other genealogy databases were online.

So I began my search with a posting to an Australian newsgroup, titled "Stead in Australia". No responses. I tried again, this time calling my post "Looking for Stead" Still zero replies.

It was then I decided that I needed to grab readers' attention with my post title. I re-sent the original post but this time I called it "Abandoned in Australia". This brought a tremendous response. Over a dozen helpful Australians writing to say they would go on a hunt for my missing great-great-grandmother Sarah Stead and her children.

  See all 4 parts in the series Abandoned in Australia


GeniAus said...

You've whet my appetite. Love a good Aussie mystery.

Carol said...

Sad but interesting story. Looking forward to the rest of the series!

Kiwigirl said...

What an interesting story. I grew up with my Dad telling me that his grandfather one day left his wife at home and took the 4 boys and went to his butchers shop (in Wales) and picked up his girlfriend who worked there and they all got on a ship and went to Australia - leaving his wife behind! Then in Australia he married his girlfriend (yes he was a bigamist) and that one of his sons was Dad's father, Solomon. Well, we had to investigate that one! Mother and Dad went from New Zealand to Sydney and Bega NSW for a holiday and visited a cousin whom my Father had met up with in Canada when they were there training in WWI - my Dad was in the Royal New Zealand Air Force and Garth was in the Royal Australian Air Force and they had met while posted at the same place in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. They then met up with some of the other sons (brothers of my grandfather) and the story was confirmed. However, when I looked at the Australian shipping records I found that Solomon had in fact left for Australia in 1886 and the girlfriend and the sons followed about 6 months later. It took me a long time to track down what happened to his first wife but I did find that she left Wales and returned to live with her brother in Somerset, England where she and Solomon were originally from.

I look forward to reading more on this story!