I have exchanged a number of emails recently with Michelle Field regarding her great grandmother Amelia Warburton. Amelia died on September 22nd 1921 at the residence of her daughter at Magill, which is a suburb of Adelaide, South Australia. She was said to be 90 years old, born in England, but in Australia for 81 years. She was the widow of Charles Warburton. The official record states she had 2 sons and 9 daughters living, and one son and 7 daughters deceased, a total of 19 children. However her obituary in The Chronicle only refers to 5 sons and 11 daughters, of whom one son (named as Charles) and nine daughters survive, along with 44 grandchildren, and 27 great grand children.
Understanding the truth of this story is complicated because Amelia’s early years in South Australia coincided with the early years of the colony, a time of erratic and incomplete record keeping. This meant the births of a number of her children were not registered.
To complicate things further Amelia had 2 husbands,George Lee and Charles Warburton though there is no official record of either marriage, or the death of George. The fact that the large family was sometimes called the Warburton-Lee family even led to speculation that it was one husband who changed his name. However this seems improbable and isn’t borne out by the facts.
Amelia is sometimes referred to as Emily in the family. Also a couple of her daughters are referred to by names that differ from their registered name. Michelle has uncovered evidence of 16 (possibly 17) of the children, although only 10 of these births were actually registered. In addition one of the unregistered girls was said in the family to be a triplet although her sisters died young, so this could account for another two.
The obituary and the official record agree there were nine daughters living when Amelia died. The daughter, at whose home in Magill Amelia died, is Harriet who was born on November 10th 1862 at Skillogalee, daughter of George Lee, a labourer. She married John Muirhead in Adelaide and died in her 79th year (1941). She had 11 children and her maiden name was recorded as Lee on the first 7, and Warburton on the last 4.
The other eight daughters were listed in the obituary by their married names. They are, in order of age:
- Mrs Tobin of Exeter, South Australia. This is Isabella whose birth was not registered but the record of her death on April 13th 1936 gives her place of birth as Watervale, and her age as 74 giving a date of birth of 1861/2. She married William Henry Tobin in 1885 and there is a story in the Tobin family that she was an orphan and her maiden name was Warburton Lee. She was indeed raised by James Flett and his wife Marion, and and she received a bequest in James’s will where she was referred to as an adopted daughter. DNA tests have shown that she is related to Amelia’s descendants.
- Mrs Dolan of Fullarton, South Australia. This is Mary whose birth is unregistered. Her father is Charles Warburton on her marriage to William Dolan in March 1892. Her age of 23 would give a date of birth of 1868/9. This is close to the date for Annie so she was most likely born in 1868.
- Mrs Harding of Silverton, New South Wales. This is Annie whose birth is unregistered. Her obituary stated she was born at Penwortham but moved to Silverton aged 14. She was 74 when she died on December 24th 1943 giving her date of birth as 1869. She married John Harding.
- Mrs Webb. This is Sarah whose birth isn’t registered. Sarah’s age is recorded on several occasions, but on her marriage, and her children’s birth registrations she is 3 years younger than her age at death of 87 in 1958. Crucially the latter age matches that in an old will of her mother’s and is probably the correct one, meaning she was born in 1871. She married George Webb and moved to Western Australia, dying in Fremantle. She is Michelle Field’s grandmother.
- Mrs Lane. This is Kathleen, registered as Catharine, born on August 15th 1874 at Penwortham, South Australia, father Charles Warburton. The informant was Emily Warburton, probably her 19 year old half-sister Emily Lee. She married David Lane and moved to Western Australia.
- Mrs Pinnock. This is Bessie who is believed to be the daughter registered as Emily born on May 27th 1876 at Clare, South Australia, father Charles Warburton. Her age at death (64 in June 1940 at Fremantle) matches the registration of Emily. However it is strange she is called Emily when she had an older half-sister of the same name. It would certainly explain why she was called Bessie, but maybe there is an error on the registration. Bessie married James Pinnock and moved to Western Australia.
- Mrs Harding of Croydon, South Australia. This is Ruth born October 1st 1877 at Seven Hills, father Charles Warburton. She married Albert Harding (brother of Annie’s husband John) and died in 1962 at West Croydon, South Australia.
- Mrs Nelson of Glenelg, South Australia. This is June, the youngest of the family, who was born on June 23rd 1880 in Clare district, father Charles Warburton. Known by her family as Janie, she married as Rosetta June to William Henry Nelson, and died in Adelaide in 1962.
Two sons are known to be alive at the time of Amelia’s death, and two others deceased. All were sons of George Lee. These are:
- Charles who was born on August 31st 1854 in Campbelltown, South Australia. Father George Lee is a shoemaker, and the informant is his married sister Hannah Wyman. Charles married Jane Johns in Adelaide in 1897 but his first known child was born in Fremantle, Western Australia in 1898. He died in West Subiaco, Western Australia in 1928.
- George who was born on March 14th 1857 at Mardon. Father George is again a shoemaker. George, as George Warburton, was the informant on the registration of his half-sister Susan’s birth in 1880, but nothing more is known of him.
- Thomas whose birth was unregistered but who died on March 6th 1889 at Silverton, New South Wales of typhoid. His place of birth was listed as Watervale, father Charles Warburton, shoemaker. There is also a hymn book that gives his name as Warburton, but his age of 28 gives a date of birth of 1860/1 so he would have been born Thomas Lee, and it seems his father was recorded incorrectly on his death registration.
- John (Jack) who died on November 29th 1949 in Magill aged about 86. His death registration states he was John Lee, sometimes known as John Warburton, or John Warburton-Lee. His birth was unregistered but was probably at Skillogalee about 1863. As he lived in Magill he will be the son known in Amelia’s obituary.
Amelia’s death record and obituary indicate that between 2 and 7 daughters were deceased. In fact 3 are known but it is highly probable that those who were born and died young after the family moved to Clare district had neither their births or deaths registered. It is reported that Sarah was a triplet but her sisters died young.
Those known are:
Sarah Jane Lee who was born on June 12th 1853 at Marden, South Australia, and died on July 7th 1853. Her father was George Lee, a shoemaker.
Emily who was born on October 25th 1855. In fact her birth was registered as Emma Lee from Marden, father George, a shoemaker. However the only subsequent evidence is for Emily, also known as Emily Mary or Emily May. Emily died on May 12th 1919, two years before her mother, aged 62, giving a date of birth of 1856/7. Emily’s place of birth was described as Paradise, South Australia. Her age on marriage to Joseph Doyle in 1891 is consistent with this, though she names Charles Warburton as her father. Marden and Paradise are distinct, separate suburbs of Adelaide.
However there isn’t sufficient time between Emma’s birth in October 1855, and George’s birth in March 1857 for a second daughter to carried to term. It is easy to see how Emma Lee and Emily could be confused, and it isn’t unusual for a couple of years to be shaved off a lady’s age, especially if her husband is a couple of years younger, as John Doyle was. As well as on her marriage, Emily used the name Warburton when informing of her half-sister Catherine’s birth.
Susan Warburton was born on October 1st 1877 at Seven Hills, which is in Clare district. Her father was recorded as Charles Warburton. She died on March 22nd 1880 at Penwortham, South Australia.
Together with other information from other sources such as Directories and censuses we can piece together the story of Amelia and her 2 husbands.
The first certain record for Amelia is a Register of Emigrant Labourers (No 4395) dated March 22nd 1839, just 3 years after the founding of South Australia. Richard Stokes, his wife Harriet nee Cowell, a son and six daughters had arrived from Bethesden in Kent, reportedly on the Somersetshire, though this cannot be confirmed from records. Only the ages of the daughters is given and Amelia is probably the 6 year old as none exactly match her age at death. Two years later she appears in the census as Emily, aged under 14.
George Lee was born at Oundle, Northamptonshire on April 27th 1825 and received a Wesleyan baptism on December 14th of the same year, along with his sisters Hannah and Catherine. He arrived in Australia in 1849 on the Macedon and his occupation was recorded as shoemaker.
George and Amelia were presumably married before the birth of their first child in June 1853 when they were living at Marden which is now a suburb of Adelaide, but was then part of a ribbon development along the Payneham Road that linked Adelaide to Athelstone, 7 miles to the North East. Their third and fourth children were also born at Marden, but the second, Charles was born at Campbelltown, and Emily’s death registration says she was born at Paradise. These are also places along the Payneham Road so the different names may not represent a change of abode.
It is likely that George, as a shoemaker, served the various communities along the Payneham Road, and this would it could be expected that this was the basis of a prosperous business. However sometime after 1857 George moved his family some 85 miles north to the Clare Valley. The reason for this move is unclear. Did George move away from problems in his life or business, or toward a better opportunity, perhaps the lure of the Gold Rush, though Clare was a farming area not near the gold mines.
Information from the children’s later lives or deaths shows the family lived initially in Watervale, about 7 miles down the main road which ran south from Clare ultimately to Adelaide.
Although births could be registered in Clare, for several years Amelia was unable, or unwilling to travel there to register the births of her children. Apart from Harriet, whose birth was registered in 1862 by a Henry Lowes, presumably a friend or neighbour, none of Amelia’s children’s births were registered until Catherine in 1874, followed by all subsequent children. This could be a reflection of the state of the road, the family’s lack of transport, or simply an instinct to steer clear of officialdom. The resumption of registrations coincided with the State government beginning to crack down on births being registered.
George and Amelia had three living children, Charles, Emily, and George, when they made the move, and had four more in the Clare Valley. Based on available information, following a four year gap after the birth of George, they were all born between 1861 and 1863, an impossibly short timespan unless there was a multiple birth. It is also possible the gap since 1857 was filled by a child whose birth and death were not registered.
There are no stories within the family that Thomas and Isabella were twins, though this might explain why it was necessary for Isabella to be adopted by the Flett family. Also it is unlikely that all ages quoted in later life are accurate so Thomas and/or Isabella were probably born a little earlier than calculations from their later ages imply.
When Harriet, and then John were born the family’s abode was given as Skillogalee. This is next to Watervale and may simply be a more specific rendering of their previous abode. However abut this time George Lee disappears from the scene. There is no record of his death but no more children are born until 1868, a gap of five years, and from then on their father is named as Charles Warburton.
What is clear from the need to have Isabella adopted is that the family fell on less prosperous times. As a shoemaker on a major route into Adelaide George Lee should have made a reasonable living. However he chose to move his family away. Was he already having problems? When Harriet’s birth was registered in 1862 he was recorded as a labourer, though this could have been an error by Henry Lowes, the informant. Had he continued as a shoemaker when he reached the Clare Valley, or did he move because he was forced to give it up. Or maybe there simply wasn’t the business in a more remote area.
The first record of Charles Warburton is in the Sands & Macdougall directory of 1864 where he is listed as a farmer near Watervale. His death record in October 1892 gives his age as 66. However in 1896 his daughter Ruth placed a memorial notice in the Adelaide Observer which gave his age as 75. Such a notice would be carefully considered and so would seem most likely to be correct. It gives a date of birth of 1816/7. However it hasn’t been possible to tie him to any earlier records of a Charles Warburton.
Charles continued to be listed in the local directories until 1888 as but subsequently left the area and resurfaced in the 1891 directory for the Adelaide suburb of Magill. From 1867 to 1872 he added a listing as bootmaker.
Local land records show that in 1868 he was on Section 19 at Skillogalee Creek, near Watervale. Between 1861 and 1870 he land was being held as part of a bankrupt estate so Charles was probably leasing it from the administrator. This is the same place where George Lee was last recorded, but the name of the bankrupt has not been found and there is no evidence it was George.
The 1868/69 Clare Council assessments also have Charles both owning and occupying Sections 29 and 359 at Penwortham, In 1870 Charles bought Section 2 in Sevenhills, which was listed as having a fenced stone house, shed, yard and garden. In 1875 he also bought Sections 80 and 89 in Sevenhills which are listed as enclosed grass and arable land. Although these sections are listed under different communities they connect together in a continuous holding.
Charles was clearly a person of some standing, He built up a considerable land, holding and was also prepared to but also engaging in a trade boost his wealth, at least until his lands grew large enough to occupy all his time.
Charles and Amelia had 8 children, all girls. The first to be registered was Catherine in 1874, but three earlier births had already occurred but not been registered. The first was Mary circa 1868, followed by Annie circa 1869 and Sarah circa 1871. These births were all at Penwortham, a settlement a couple of miles north of Watervale. Catherine was followed by Bessie (1876), Ruth (1877), Susan (1879) and Ruth (1880). Susan died at he age of one but the others all lived to be mentioned in their mother’s obituary.
Ruth and Susan were said to be be born at Seven Hills. Modern maps show Sevenhill just north of Penwortham. Susan died at Penwortham in 1880 so the change in name is probably just a change in naming rather than a change in abode. Probably the family lived in the stone hose on Section 2 in Sevenhills from the time it was purchased in 1870.
In 1880 when June was born, Amelia would be 49 years old based on her age at death. However the closest matches in the 1839 Register of Emigrant Labourers are a 10 year old and a 6 year old, the second and third daughters of Richard and Harriet Stokes. As the 10 year old would be 51 in 1880 it is likely Amelia was the 6 year old, and therefore a couple of years younger than reported on her death, and only 47 when her last child was born. Her position in the 1841 census list also suggests she is the third daughter.
There has been speculation that George Lee and Charles Warburton are the same person, fuelled by their similar age, if you take Charles’s age on his official death record, their similar occupations, the lack of death and marriage records, the references to the Warburton-Lee family, and the fact that several of George Lee’s children often used Warburton as a surname. However the 5 year gap between George’s children and Charles’s points to a second marriage and this is made more certain if Ruth is correct about her father’s true age. Interestingly Charles would have been about 50, and Amelia 34 when they got married, and he probably provided her with considerable security after a difficult few years before and after George’s death. I am reminded of my own 4x great grandfather who remarried aged 54 and had 8 more children (including 7 boys and only the last a girl).
It is also not unusual for the children of an earlier marriage to use their step-father’s name, particularly if they were very young when their own father died, and they grew up in a growing family of Warburton half sisters. It would also suggest they had a good relationship with Charles though they never forgot that they were Lees.
Charles Warburton died suddenly on October 3rd 1892, shortly after moving his family back to the Adelaide suburbs. He was listed in the 1891 directory at Magill, and called a shoemaker on his death notice. Given his age it is probable that the move back to Adelaide was a case of semi-retirement. He died suddenly at the kitchen table. Ruth’s memorial notice mentions her leaving him only to be called back within the hour to find him dead. His death notice records ‘morbis cardis’ or heart disease. He presumably suffered a heart attack.
Amelia lived on another 20 years, at some point moving in with her daughter Harriet. Despite a hard life, and giving birth to at least 16, and maybe 19 children, she reached a good age.It would seem that she achieved a level of security and comfort in her marriage to Charles, and later in the care of her daughters.