Thursday, January 9, 2014

Bucket List 4 - Adding flesh to the bones

The motivation behind family history research is not always easy to put into words. For mine, there is nothing more moving than to discover a crumbling headstone, or a tumble of briars sans headstone, knowing that the dust of a living person now, and forever, resides beneath. Some folks leave a small pebble. Some folks leave a silk flower. I rest a hand on the headstone, or squat, and rest my hand on the bare earth and tell them they have not been forgotten.

And then I return to my research to find out how they lived, and how they died, and why they made some of their decisions. The latter is always the more difficult.

But, just this week I have made progress. Herewith, follows the story of John Dunstan Tonkin (JDT), from Penzance, Cornwall, my great-great-paternal-grandfather.

I mentioned in my previous post that while doing the listing of all my direct-line ancestors, by generation, I realised that three of them - in the same line - died in 1848:
  • Miriam Tonkin, nee Pascoe, died in 1848 (January), aged 77, in Helston, Cornwall (my 4*great-grandmother)

  • her son, Uriah Tonkin died in 1848 (Jul/Aug/Sept), aged 56, in Penzance, Cornwall (my 3*great-grandfather), and

  • his wife, Avis Tonkin, nee Dunstan, died in 1848 (Oct/Nov/Dec), aged 58, in Penzance, Cornwall (my 3*great-grandmother).

So, in 1848, JDT lost his grandmother, his father, and his mother.
JDT is my focal point because HE is the one who took the bit between his teeth and came to Australia by boat.

The 1841 census - the first national census conducted - showed Uriah and Avis living with family members Jane (a 20 yo dressmaker), John (an 18 yo apprentice), Celetia (a 12 yo scholar), and Ellen (a 7 yo scholar) in the Green Market in central Penzance. Penzance, like many coastal towns in Cornwall, tumbles down hillsides to the sea. The Green market is where Market Jew Street swings around into Alverton Street. Uriah was a chandeler, an ironmonger for fishing-folk if you will. His chandelry would have been at that intersection where Morrab Street comes up the rise from the Esplanade. So, Uriah was not poverty stricken, nor was he wealthy. He was the shop-keeper class, the backbone of the nation. The poverty stricken lived further up the hillside in St Clare Street, or Pendarves Road, Or further east in Penwith Street. Or down beside the Esplanade in Battery Road. No, Uriah and his family were safely ensconced in the middle. But, he lived on a hillside. And all things rush down to the sea.

The Green Market, 1925
In July 1848, the government of the United Kingdom passed the first Public Health Act to ensure that the very worst towns looked after the most vulnerable. Victoria had been on the throne for 11 years. John Russell (Whig/Liberal) was having his first shot as Prime Minister. Moving in September, Penzance was one of the first towns to appoint a Health Inspector, who wrote in his February 1849 report
“There are, in fact, no sewers in Penzance; no sewer rate is levied. There is no house drainage in Penzance."
During 1841, the death rate from cholera, for that it was, had been 22 per thousand; in 1848, the death rate was 20.9 on a larger population. The average age in Penzance during the period 1830-1850 was 28 years. Family trees riddled with the deaths of children.The first wave of cholera struck the UK in 1832, brought by travelers returning from the sub-continent where it was rife. But how was it transmitted? Could it be purged by slash-bleeding? By hot compresses? By sucking leaches?

Two views of The Cholera Field Churchyard
There are three Anglican cemeteries in Penzance: The Paul Parish Churchyard; The Cholera-Field Churchyard; and, The Paul Schoolroom Churchyard. In addition, there is/was the Municipal "Sheffield Road" Cemetery; a Quaker Cemetery, and a Jewish Cemetery. In the Cholera-Field, the headstones were lined around the perimeter from the beginning. I have searched the available lists, and although there are Tonkins aplenty, they are not MY Tonkins. In addition to his mother and father, and grandmother, there are 4 sisters that I am unable to account for. This does not mean they succumbed to cholera, just that their death is not easy to locate.

I have tried to show the direction of the effluent in this sloping town on a google map. I am not too good at that, but here goes: St Clare Street and Pendarves Poag are the two markers closest to the top. The Green Market is the marker smack bang in the centre. Penwith Street is on the right, and Battery Road is along the waterfront. Market Jew Street, runs right across the centre of the map.

View Market Jew St in a larger map


diane b said...

Another interesting episode in your family history.

Joan Elizabeth said...

Something seems to be wrong when viewing on my computer ... the right hand side is being chopped off.

Julie said...

I have fiddled, Joan, but not sure that I made anything better. I am trying to make the layout fancier than my poor brain can cope with.

Joan Elizabeth said...

Oh dear not much improved. The layout can be very tricky sometimes.