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January 10, 2014

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: A Death and Abandonment in Australia

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: A Death and Abandonment in Australia
Amy Johnson Crow has a new challenge for geneabloggers called Challenge: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. Amy challenges genealogists to write about one ancestor once a week. 

This is my 2nd great-grandmother Sarah (Elvery) Stead. She is 30 years old in this photo taken in 1866 just one year before she set sail from England for Australia. Sarah was 7 months pregnant at the time, and was with her deaf husband, my 2nd great grandfather William Stephen Stead, and their 4 children ages 1 to 7. They were leaving Ramsgate England to settle in Australia near William's brother Edward Crunden Stead.

Poor Sarah's fate was sealed from the moment she stepped on board the ship Light Brigade. Luckily she did not know what was in store for her. The journey to Australia was not an easy one. The Light Brigade ran into foul weather which increased their travel time. Due to the long voyage Sarah went into labour and a son Ebenzer was born while they were still at sea. Poor Sarah died shortly after his birth, bitten by a flea from a rat and developing typhus. The ship lay in Quarantine in Sydney Harbour at the time of her death. 

Her husband continued his trip with his 4 children and a newborn babe and made it to Sunny Corners where his brother lived. I'm sure he had no idea what he was going to do with 5 young children, no wife and no job. Sadly after 6 months little Ebenezer died and was buried beside his mother in Haslem's Creek Cemetery (now Rookwod Cemetery) in Sydney. 

My mother at the grave where Sarah and Ebenezer are buried
In a bizarre twist of fate, Edward Stead (William's brother) was the official gravedigger there so he dug their graves and saw to their burial. The gravesite was never officially purchased or owned by the Stead family and in fact a few months later it was bought by a rather important family and the head of the family was buried there. 

The gravestone marker only records Thomas Newland and his children. There is no stone for Sarah and Ebenezer but they are found in the cemetery records as being buried in the Newland family plot. 

Now came William's dilemma. His wife was dead. His baby son was dead. He was a deaf man with 4 young children in a strange country and now way to support them. The decision was made - he would return to England where he had a job and family to help him out. But he could not manage with 4 young children. So he took his 7 year old son and his 4 year daughter (my great grandmother) back to England and left his other two sons ages 1 and 8 behind with his brother.

His brother had recently lost a child of his own and one of William's sons was not only the same age, he had the same name! So Edward and his wife adopted the two sons left behind by his brother and raised them as their own. 

William left a copy of the photo I own of Sarah with the two sons his brother adopted. His hope was obviously that they would never forget their real parents. One of the boys left behind died young but the other survived and married and had children. Sadly their descendants had no clue who the lady was in the photo passed down in the family. But one of the descendants managed to uncover the truth and connect with my family in Canada in the 1980s. 

But I often think about poor Sarah dying so young and her children being separated and raised by different parents in countries so far apart. I wish she could have lived and seen her baby and other children grow and have children of their own. 


ScotSue said...

What a sad story and beautifully told. It must mean so much to have that early photograph of Sarah.

Patti said...

What a fascinating, yet heartbreaking, story. Thanks so much for sharing.

Thanks also for the heads-up about a great new challenge. I don't have a genealogy blog, but I'll be doing this in my Word files.

Anonymous said...

that's a great story

Celia Lewis said...

The amazing lives our ancestors lived! So sad. And what a lovely photo of Sarah to have.

Susie said...

What a beautiful lady. It's wonderful that her story and sacrifice will never be forgotten.

Yvonne Demoskoff said...

That's such a sad story, Lorine, but you've made sure your ancestor Sarah lives on by sharing part of her life.

Diane Gould Hall said...

Lorine - what a sad story. Very interesting though and well written. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Lynda said...

Thanks for sharing this fascinating story. So much drama and tragedy in the life of this poor woman.

Cassmob (Pauleen) said...

What a tragic tale for all concerned. Which child in Australia lived to marry...the 1yo or the 8yo? How tragic for that 8 year old to lose is mother, father and closest siblings...he must have felt abandoned. Great detective work by the discoverer of this story.