Emma’s Story

Emma Reader – A Pioneer and Colonist

Compiled by Maureen Reader

Listed on the 1841 English Census, Emma Andrew was ten years old and the seventh of shoemaker, Richard and his wife, Mary Andrew’s nine children.

At the time of her marriage in the beautiful Anglican Manchester Cathedral to Samuel Baugh in 1853, Emma was twenty one years of age and she was living in Hulme which was then a small village close to Manchester, now it’s a suburb of Greater Manchester. Samuel lived in Hulme as well and he was a “Smith” presumably that meant a “Blacksmith” and on their marriage certificate, Samuel’s father, also named Samuel, was an “Engineer”. At the end of that year, 1853, their son John Baugh was born.

We can only imagine her sadness, distress and her anxiety the next year when Emma received the news that her husband had died and she faced the daunting prospects of a young widow with a baby boy and no “bread winner” to support them. We have to wonder how she would provide for herself and her baby. Would her parents be able to help her? Or maybe one of her older sisters or brothers, we don’t know.

A couple of years later, when Emma was about twenty five, she met and married James Reader, a good man who became father to her young son John. James came from nearby and his occupation was a “flatman”, which meant he would ferry foot passengers as well as people with carts, stock and produce across one of the many canals and rivers in the Lancashire district. The flat bottom boats were usually pulled across by a winch.

They were married in St Mary’s Church Manchester on the 30th June 1856. That small church was demolished in about 1900 and now there’s a beautiful park where it once stood.

By the time their baby daughter Margaret Ellen was born in 1858, the promise of the wonderful opportunities in the new Colony was well publicized in the British newspapers; as well word was spreading like wildfire with friends and acquaintances leaving for new lives abroad.

So imagine the little family of four leaving their home in Manchester, the wrench of parting from their parents and siblings and not knowing if they would ever see each other on this earth again. With the few possessions they were permitted to bring with them, they made their way to Liverpool to embark on the sailing ship “The Grand Trianon” bound for South Australia.

The sea journey for emigrants was far from comfortable and generally the women and children were separated from the men and boys so it’s not surprising to see James’ sister Ellen and her husband Joseph Bryce on the passenger list as well. It also tells us that they were a caring family, Ellen travelling with Emma in amongst the women to help her with the two little children.

They disembarked at the Port of Adelaide Town on 23rd April 1860.

Nine months after they arrived, Emma gave birth to her third child James Henry on 21st January 1861 at Magill, in the Adelaide foothills, where James’ sister Elizabeth and her family were living.

For whatever reason, in the autumn of 1863, the little family made their way to Mundarra Station which was between Edenhope and the bustling town of Apsley, which at that time was far bigger and busier than Edenhope.

Emma was then seven months pregnant with her fourth baby Mary Agnes who was born in June 1863. What a trip it would have been in a horse and dray loaded with their possessions and three small children. It’s hard to estimate how many weeks it would take to travel the 250 miles.

The track they followed was probably the then popular route, where they knew water could be found along the way, down the South Australian Coorong coastline and crossing inland on the tracks made by the Chinese gold seekers about ten years before and into Victoria near Apsley. We wonder if it was a lonely track or perhaps it was quite a busy route.

Mundarra Station then called Murrandarra Station, would have been like a small town so at least Emma would have had the companionship of other women.

February 1866 Emma’s fifth baby Annie was born and her last baby Joseph was born in June 1869. Both these baby’s births were recorded at Edenhope. By this time Emma was 38 years old.

It appears that, although James was listed as an Agricultural Labourer on the passenger lists (to be eligible for the Assisted Passage), he and Emma seem to have been relatively comfortably off, and to buy a large selection of 1000 acres in 1869 after only 9 years in the new colony is surprising.

The Government’s conditions of sale were that they had 30 years to pay for it. We note that 320 acres (the amount of land which one person could select) was taken in James’ name, 320 acres in James Henry’s name who then was 8 years old and living in England and the other selection was bought in Mary Agnes’ name and she was 6 years old.

James also selected land near Harrow for their oldest daughter Margaret (Maggie), Emma’s son, John Baugh is known to have paid cash for his selection near Casterton when he was in his early twenties  and Annie owned land at Nelson at the time of her first husband’s death in 1898 when she was thirty two.

Emma’s grandson, the late Dick Kealy, told us that two of Emma’s sisters came from England to visit at one time and they took little James Henry back with them to be educated.  Kay Lennerth was able to add that it was Aunty Mary (Emma’s sister who was ten years older than her) who took James Henry at about two or three years of age back to England and he returned at about twelve. Dick Kealy also visited his Aunts (Emma’s sisters) when he was on leave in England during World War One.

We can only imagine the sadness and the emptiness Emma felt when her toddler son left and facing the prospects of not seeing him for ten years or so. Possibly one of the reasons they allowed him to go was the promise of a better future for their son if he had an education. Or perhaps Emma may have had health issues, again we don’t know.

While little James Henry lived in Manchester, James decided to make a couple of trips back to their homeland. The late Dick Kealy told us that he went to see his wool sold but perhaps the main reason was to visit their son and relatives.

So Emma was left home to look after the farm and her little family whilst her husband was away for several months. Once again imagine what it was like living here then. Emma’s closest neighbour was John Burge who lived across the highway. He was a bachelor and there was only a dirt track amongst the density of the trees between Ardwick and his hut. Also at this time they shared the country with aborigines, kangaroos and other strange animals and birds, and maybe even the Bush Stone Curlew with their eerie call! James said often, according to his grandson Dick Kealy, that when they first lived at Ardwick they couldn’t see the road (Wimmera Highway) for the trees.

Sometime in the early 1870’s James built a small four room wattle and daub house and the latest state of the art woolshed on their selection, the woolshed being somewhat of a status symbol. Both Dick and Ethel Kealy told us they loved to come and stay with their grandparents but they were only allowed to come one at a time! They said the flooring in the house was dirt but so compacted and exceptionally clean.

At the beginning of 1875 Emma experienced the joy of James Henry coming home after twelve years living so far away, but no idea that at the end of that year, December 1875, her heart would ache forever with the loss of her youngest child, Joseph, aged six years and six months after becoming seriously ill and then dying with the infectious disease, Scarlet Fever.  On his remembrance card it reads “Weep not for me my mother dear; I am not dead, but sleeping here. I was not yours, but God’s alone, and now He has come to take me home.”

During the 1870’s, after about ten years in Australia, one by one, Emma’s children started to leave home to find work. Firstly John Baugh left when he was about seventeen and he made his way to the Casterton district to take up work. He married Eliza Galpin from near Mt Gambier.

Next to leave was, Margaret Ellen who left about three years later to work at Spring Vale Station near Coleraine where she met and married William Campbell.

Mary worked locally and she married Patrick Kealy the son of Paddy and Ann Kealy, one of the earliest pioneers to arrive at Bringalbert Station.

Annie went to work for the Pick family near Nelson not far from Mt Gambier and she met and married John Batton who also worked there. After being widowed at about thirty two she moved to the Ararat district with her four small children to work during the gold rush days and later married Mr Millman.

A testament to Emma’s Christian values is written in ‘The History of Bringalbert South – Recollections of an old Pioneer’, a precious history book written in 1932 by Charlie Kealy’s grandmother, Emily J Kealy.  She starts the story talking about a “swagman”…….

“I may as well recall a memory of another ‘old hand,’ who always travelled about carrying his swag; without a fixed place of abode, and who, in his wanderings took in Bringalbert South, where he had many friends, and would rest among them for a few days, or sometimes weeks. One day, changing his shirt, it was noticed that his back was thickly covered with deep weals, and on being questioned as to the cause of these marks, said “That’s where Her Majesty’s cat scratched me.” Seeing young lads wearing watch chains, he would say, “I used to wear chains, too, when I was young – but they were on my legs.” The poor old chap had been a convict, and when he was too weak to carry his swag any longer, Mrs Reader, senior, paid his fare to Hamilton, where he was taken care of until his death, in the early eighties.

Mrs Reader, who predeceased her husband some years ago, and who, although she did not live in Bringalbert South, was always regarded as belonging to it, took a great interest in the place. Her grandchildren always attended the school there, although they lived some distance away. Her son kept the old place, and he too, has now gone to his long rest, leaving his sons, all men and good citizens, to inherit the property. Therefore, the third generation is on the land, and there is every promise of a succeeding generation to follow.

Kindness and thoughtfulness were shown on another occasion by Mrs Reader, senior, when she sent to Hamilton for fruit for a poor little child who was badly burned – that was fifty years ago, when fruit was unobtainable and known in the bush. The apples were a boon to the little sufferer, and the kindly thought and deed were never forgotten by the child’s parents. Mrs Reader was just another of the best and the kind that that this world can ill spare.”

About three years after Joseph’s death, little Joseph Charles Dagger came to live with James and Emma in about 1880. Neither his grand-daughter Nellie Grigg, nor Dick and Ethel Kealy knew why he came to live with them. Perhaps his mother was a close friend of Emma’s, we’ll probably never know, but it was certainly a generous act to rear this toddler by this forty nine year old lady.

Joe Dagger’s family lived in or near Harrow and his mother Ellen had died about 1880 with bronchitis which she had for a week, six months after the birth of her ninth child. Just prior to her death she made her Will and a Mr William Burgess – presumably from around Harrow was the Executor.

In 1881 Mrs Reader is listed amongst the petitioners asking for a school to be established in Bringalbert South for her foster son Joseph Dagger then aged five,

In some records he called himself Joseph Reader Dagger and in James Reader’s account book he was working for him for six months in 1903, by this time Joe Dagger was twenty six and it was this year, 1903 that he married Ellen O’Callaghan.

The late Ethel Kealy said that ‘Joe Dagger was very fond of the old couple and returned often to see them’.

Emma wasn’t known to drive a horse drawn conveyance although the Reader’s had several gigs, traps and buggys. Dick Kealy said Emma walked to many of the neighbours she visited and when she would visit his family she walked as far as Ruth’s and would stop for lunch and a rest and continue on along the dirt tracks to her daughter Mary Kealy’s house, somehow they knew she was coming because he said they, the Kealy kids, would meet her on the track and walk with her to their home. She would stay a day or two and James would come for her in the horse and buggy. On the other hand, Patrick Kealy provided his wife Mary with a smart little pony and gig to do her visiting!

So after many years living in the little four roomed wattle and daub house, when she was sixty three years old in 1893, Emma moved into her “spanking” new home consisting of four rooms – a kitchen, two bedrooms and a parlour as well as a passageway and front verandah, these rooms are still part of Ardwick Homestead as it is now known.

Sadly during her last few years, Emma suffered dementia and was cared for, as was the custom of the time, by her daughter-in-law Agnes Reader and her daughter Mary Kealy who was living at Kybybolite in South Australia.

Emma died in 1915 aged 84 years. Her husband of 59 years, James, died about a year later.

Emma was known to be a Christian woman who had heaps of courage; she was also known to be a dignified lady.

As a testament to their strong Church of England faith, their children donated a pew to All Saints Memorial Church of England in Edenhope. The brass plate is still there and the inscription reads ‘To the Glory of God and in loving memory of our dear parents, Emma Reader, died 18th June, 1915, aged 84 years. James Reader died 12th August 1916, aged 86 years, the gift of their children”.

After living for 55 years in Australia, all of them spent here apart from the three years when they first arrived in South Australia, without a doubt Emma Reader made a difference in this place she called home, ‘Ardwick’ at Bringalbert South.





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