Coals and rusty grate.
Makes me want to take you time traveling.
To 1790, a warm July, to the birth of a baby boy in Reading, England.
My Great Great Great Grandfather, but in that moment, a fresh newborn baby, James Hains Lovell, a life yet to be lived. His hearty wail heard from houses away.
In his mothers arms, filling his peripheral, his mothers face, beautiful, glowing. A healthy boy, first born.
Into what life was he born? What did the world look like? What did their village, house look like?
Did they live in a little standalone weatherboard cottage in the country? A smokey kitchen fire to cook on? A muddy footpath outside their front door that lead to a grassy road with deep muddy carriage tracks?
Or did they live in a Terrace house in town? A single story workers cottage? Stepping out the front door into a busy street, smelly and dirty, refuse and waste, lurking with disease. Wise to watch your footstep or risk treading on something not just unpleasant, but something that could make you sick.
At that time England had a few problems, a massive divide between the rich and poor, not enough food to support the increasing population of the struggling lower class, inadequate manual waste systems, disease. People were dying and starving. Some, to feed their families found their only option was to take what wasn’t there’s to take and before they knew it, they were being shipped off to Australia, Van Diemen’s Land, as convicts, their families left behind to fend for themselves.
At the same time, Napoleon seemed intent on taking over the world.
On Saturday 1st April, 1809, our ancestor, now a strong young man, enlisted. Why did he enlist? Was he patriotic and wanted to fight for his country? History tells us that it was more likely because life was bleak at home and opportunities few.
In my imagination, it was the Redcoats, the British Army, an awe inspiring spectacle as they marched through struggling towns full of hungry town folk, capturing the minds and imaginations of young boys and girls. Handsome in their uniforms, strong and fed.
James fought in the Napoleon war, was sent to many different countries, promoted several times, reached Sergeant-Major at 30 years old, and may have fought under the command of Arthur Wellesley (later named Duke of Wellington after defeating Napoleon in 1815). Tales for another day.
In 1824, to support the expanding Australian colony, his regiment was sent to Van Diemen’s Land to escort a shipment of convicts and provide civil administration (keep them in line)…
As children we learnt about Australia’s convict heritage, we learnt both of the cruelty imposed on convicts, as well as their amazing feats, the city they built, amazing buildings, some of stone, others of beautiful native hardwood timber and paved roads, still there, beautifully withstanding the test of time in old Sydney. Our pyramids.
The cruelty though…the imposers of this cruelty? The guards, the Redcoats?
Records portray Sergeant-Major Lovell as a religious man who ran bible study groups with a large following. Could that mean he had compassion for the convicts and treated them so? I hope so.
James arrived in Sydney in April 1825 and met 18 year old Caroline Amelia Gosney, a free settler, who had arrived days earlier with her sister. They were married on Monday 27 February 1826.
His regiment was sent to India in 1831 (his wife and two children traveled with him). But still suffering from injuries from one of his earlier expeditions, he requested permission in 1832 to return to England with the intention of resigning.
His discharge was granted on Wednesday 12 December 1832, 24 years and 144 days after enlisting.
Just a week after he was discharged, he petitioned the Master General of the Ordnance, seeking support for a position as a Barrack Sergeant.
Lucky for our ancestor, the Master General at the time was his former commanding officer, Sir James Kemp.
The Board of Ordnance was an independent organization responsible for supplying and maintaining military stores, guns, cannons, artillery etc for both the Army and Navy.
The Master of the Ordnance was traditionally a knight, and the most senior positions in the Ordnance held by former army officers. A prestigious and sought after position only considered with impeccable character references from high ranking, well respected, officers.
As Barrack Sergeant, James was sent to Zakynthos (Greece), Kent, London, Sydney, Port Macquarie…
…and here, to Wellington, which is where I’ve been wanting to bring you.
They arrived in Wellington in December 1847.
Wellington had been founded just 8 short years before by English settlers.
I imagine dirt roads, small wooden houses dotted around, close but not too close to the harbour, some complete, some in mid construction, temporary huts, canvas tents with single hessian beds, clothes lines, single lines of rope between two posts, fires in the open with heavy cast iron pots hanging over them, smoking out the laundry, fat well used chopping blocks, piles of fire wood. Elegant heavy English attire and muddy shoes.
Also some larger buildings partly made of wood, brick & clay; the chapel, the merchant stores and army barracks.
A peaceful happy settlement? Smoke spiraling friendly from chimneys?
Of course, there is a lot more to this story, the land the English used to settle Wellington had Maori occupants and no sale agreement had been made. It has been written that, at this moment in time, the Maori & English worked together in Wellington and the Maori helped the English build huts and they traded goods, labour and fresh food…that would be an interesting story to research but it’s not the story I’m telling today.
But we have arrived at our destination.
On Monday 16 October, 1848 at 1.40am there was a terrible earthquake.
In the light of the chilly morning the damage was revealed. Most wood constructed buildings were still standing but their brick chimneys rubble. The brick and clay buildings, some visibly damaged, some now withholding secrets of internal weakness.
Through after shocks, life continued on, shops opened, people continued about their daily business, glancing up at every shake, looking for reassurance in fellow eyes.
James went to work and took two of his young children, William and Amelia. I imagine Amelia skipping ahead and William kicking a stone, excited to be with their father and excited about going to the store with him, just like my daughter is when I take her to work with me.
Was the Barracks intact? Did guns tumble from shelves? Cannon balls roll around? Ammunition spill? Was there still four strong walls?
Were their feet light when they were walking home? Was the sun shining and the afternoon air cool? Was it smokey from the evening fires already preparing the evening meal? Were they holding hands?
It was 3.30pm when they were walking down Farish Street (now known as Victoria Street) toward Manners Street. Just as they were passing Mr Fitzherbert’s store there was a slight shock following by a severe one, in that instant, with a terrible sound, the brick wall of Mr Fitzherbert’s store collapsed onto them.
I imagine him trying to protect his little children with his body as he saw the wall falling toward them, pulling them into his arms and turning his back to the wall. Or were they separated? Was the short sharp command, “run”? Did the try to escape the falling bricks?
They were immediately dug out by the soldiers but Amelia was already dead and William followed at 10.50pm that night.
James’ primary injury was a broken thigh, with flesh torn off his left leg but it was thought that he would live.
But on Friday 20 October, with his wife Caroline at his bedside, 58 years old, James died.
He was buried, with military honours in the Thorndon cemetery.
There is a small plaque inside the little chapel at the cemetery that mentions their sad deaths, the only recorded casualties of the 1848 Wellington earthquake.
But like the warmth and hope that comes with fresh morning rays that effortlessly dismiss darkness, new life, eight months later in Wellington, Caroline gave birth to our Great Great Grandfather, James Hains Lovell Jnr.
Yesterday’s harvest, another two apples (just one left on the tree now) 🌱
Have a wonderful day!
(all the research was done by Peter John Lovell’s and published in his genealogical book ‘A SERGEANT-MAJOR’S LEGACY, James Hains Lovell and His Australian Descendants’)