Saturday, September 8, 2018

Women of early Canterbury: number one

Yes, it’s always dangerous to announce a series. They have a way of fizzling out after a few episodes. But this idea appealed to me, so I’ll at least start …

SAXTON, Lucy Harriet (b Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire 21 January 1843; d Harewood Road, Papanui, Christchurch 8 October 1926).

Lucy photographed in Matlock circa 1860
Lucy Saxton was not a notable. She was merely a woman who, like so many others, came from Britain, to the colonies, in the 1870s, and there made a life for herself, of a rather different kind than that to which she had been accustomed. She came, it seems, alone. But she came to join her elder brother, in the unlikely purlieus of Robinson’s Bay, Akaroa, where he had settled a decade earlier and established himself as a farmer, sawmiller, landowner and one of those worthies who seem to be on every local board and committee. In his case, from the Duvauchelles School Committee, as chairman of the local library and the Ratepayers’ Association, to the Akaroa and Wainui Road Board, as Licensing officer for Okain’s Bay and Akaroa, a Justice of the Peace, e tutti quanti. Lucy would become one of the schoolteachers in Duvauchelles (adjoining Robinson’s Bay), and otherwise seems to have occupied herself with charity works. She’d had practice.

Lucy, brother George Henry (b Darley 14 Sept 1836; d Karori, Wellington 18 September 1914), and sisters Ann Elizabeth (b Darley 29 December 1837; d 10 April 1869) and Mary (b Darley 19 May 1839; d Matlock 29 July 1876) were the children of the Reverend Solomon Cadman Saxton, formerly curate of Darley north and south, and then perpetual curate of St James’s, Hill, Sutton Coldfield (b Matlock 17 April 1796; d Hill Parsonage 28 August 1859). Yes, a minor provincial clergyman of the type so dear to Mrs Gaskell. Solomon, educated at Cambridge, doesn’t seem to have been of any noteable lineage. His brother, George, was the Matlock pub keeper, his four sisters, three, at least, eternal virgins, lived long lives as ‘fundholders’ until, latterly, obliged to take in the odd paying guest. Solomon, of course, being a clergyman, married (Elizabeth Cardwell) and bred, though rather less exaggeratedly than most Victorian clergymen: just four surviving children, before Elizabeth died (24 December 1874 aged 36), when Lucy was only months old.

Matlock Baths
Solomon, as his position demanded, remarried. His bride (13 December 1848) was one Mary Knott, daughter of Richard of Northamptonshire, and apparently still on the shelf at rising 50. I suspect she fulfilled most of the duties of a curate’s wife, principally the housekeeping ones, without producing any more children.

And then, in 1859, Solomon died. In 1861, Ann is working as a governess and Mary can be seen with her two younger stepdaughters, living in Leamington Priors. Or rather, not seen: ‘mother absent’ noted the census. Yes. I imagine so. Before long, Mary would remarry and disappear from her ‘family’s’ life.

Four ‘orphans’. George moved first. From his education at Christ’s Hospital, and whatever he had done since, he emigrated. When? I first see him in Akaroa in 1865. Nearly 30 years of age. And a sheep farmer! Do they teach drenching and dagging at Christ’s Hospital?

Ann moved next. She got married. The gentleman was by name Henry Crawford, and of him I know nothing. Alas it was a fatal marriage. She died within two years, I am guessing in childbirth.

So, by the time of the 1871 census, we have just Mary (30) and Lucy (27), helping the elderly aunts with their genteel lodging house in Matlock. But then, all that fell apart. Sister Mary died at 35, auntie Alice had died in 1869, now auntie Mary Ann died at 84, and auntie Harriet in 1877 …

I imagine that, some time around now, as the last Saxton standing in Matlock, Lucy decided to join brother George. As maiden sisters did. I hope, after the parsonage at Hill, she was prepared for Akaroa. ‘Miss Saxton and the Misses Williams have thirty pupils at Robinson’s Bay’ wrote the local paper in 1881 …

I see, in 1896, Miss Saxton still in Robinson’s Bay ..

Well, in 1902, George got into the usual farmer troubles, a host of dead and stolen sheep, and he ended up filing for bankruptcy. His main debt was to … his sister, who had obviously been filling his monetary gaps for some years. I wonder where her money came from. Anyway, he may have been looking after her, but she had also been looking after him. So, now, after nearly four decades, the Saxtons left Akaroa …

In 1911, Lucy is recorded as living at Geraldine ‘Waihi Terrace, spinster’, by 1914 she is back in the city, at 299 Tuam Street, where she stayed for a number of years, seemingly sometime in the company of Miss ?Mary Kiver, who took ‘decorative classes’ for the Horticultural Society … I see the two of them donating regularly a pound or a guinea to various war and patriotic charities (Sailor’s Day, Navy War Fund Appeal, British and Foreign Sailors Society, Soldier’s Christmas Fund, Prisoners of War Appeal, Jubilee Memorial and Queen’s Statue Fund ..).

So, I don’t imagine Lucy was entirely alone. Or was she? George, who died in 1914 (18 September, The Terrace, Karori) had had a number of a not very durable wives, and a number of children therefrom, but oddly, when she herself died, in 1926, Lucy named as her executor Mr Harry Anderson, engineer, Christchurch agent for the firm of Reid & Gray, of Dunedin, manufacturers of farm implements …

Lucy’s ashes lie in the graveyard of St Paul’s Church, Papanui. In the same road as her last home.

It’s a long way from St James’s, Hill, Sutton Coldfield. But papa’s 1835 church, described in its time as a brick building of no particular architectural interest,  has been rebuilt a couple of times since her day. And this one looks more appealing, anyway … oh! It’s Grade 2 listed …! And nestled in the shadows of a mega-Mitre and the Northlands Shopping centre .. well, I shall visit her when I get back to town. Your tombstone, as seen on the billiongraves website, looks as if it could do with a bit of tlc …

Post scriptum. I rarely go into Christchurch, but this week I needed to, 'on official business'. My friend, Dawn, drove me home, and as we tootled down the Papanui Road, I told her the tale of Lucy. And so Dawn took me to the church, just metres off that self-same road. Beautifully kept. Now, how to find her? No one here. Man mowing grass. They usually know everything. Ah! the office is in the adjoining building ... well, here goes! Lou, the church secretary, scanned the records. Yes! The index told us that Lucy was indeed here. Over to the map ... funny, she's not between the two numbers where one expected to find her. Outside, the three of us scoured the relevant area. We scoured for a good half hour. No Lucy. How disappointing. Surely they wouldn't destroy a relatively OK [listed] stele where even fragments are kept. Earthquake? Sadly, we left...

I've just had an email from Lou. Found! This is the church, so no 311 doesn't necessarily come next to no 310. Yes, she is there all right. Plumb on the end of a row, right on the perimeter, next to the tennis court! And she looks, if anything, better than in the billiongraves photo!

I have rung Decra-Art (who are apparently the reference in such matters in this area) to ask what it would cost to re-do the lettering ...   THAT much? Ah, well, my pension is coming. I think Lucy will have to have a bit of a brush up.

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