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28 Nov 2011

The Tuckingmill Hotel and the Return of Eliza

The Tucking Mill Hotel, March 1851

At the hotel in 1851, someone is about to arrive, my great-great-grandfather, who will be a bouncing baby boy, the only one to survive the depressing wet, cold and stony damp. Cursed from birth with the Hunter need to travel, and travel far, it's fitting that in these waiting months, a visitor should emerge bedraggled at the young publicans' door.

Eliza Hunter, the publican's sister. She is one of the great unsolved threads in our tapestry.  Even here she is casually tripped over, listed most unhelpfully as Elizabeth Richards, widow, age 25, but seemingly on hard times, and not expected to survive, I would imagine.

We see her here stopping over with her brother who had the Tuckingmill Hotel, as a widow, presumably not long for this world. She coughed and sneezed, it was a lot colder than she had been used to. This same hotel would I'm afraid kill the next 2 Hunter children, and the family would quit its ornery ways by the end of the decade for Bogota, Colombia, to let their travel genes run free and see if maybe Lady Luck would be kinder there (ha ha ha).  Eliza we must leave with her widowed weed's tramping her way to the workhouse, we imagine.
Twenty years later one of the family was finding his feet in the gold mining boom-town of Bendigo. Having lost his father in Bogota (a trip that hadn't worked out so well), he was now doing quite well thank you being on his way to management in a factory that made fuses for use in blasting away rock with explosives. A young girl caught his eye, Miss Perry, another Cornishwoman, whose mother was almost certainly our hero's fairy godmother, as we'll see. The couple have children, whose story is known quite well to us, and it all goes so very well. The year? 1870.

At some point, I put on the specs and rummaged around to find out how Eliza became a widow. It had been a sad tale. She had gone out to Adelaide as a bride of 22 and returned two years later having lost both her husband and her infant son out there in Australia. This is in sharp contrast to her two cousins, both born the same year (1825), but inseparable, they were even baptised in the font together. These two who were also destined to dally deeply with the great continent under the sea.  Eliza was first of them in Australia.  Briskly following her out were the two cousins: they moved around the southern gold fields and had over 95 grandchildren between them, which one of them lived to see (the most fertile one did not suffering cancer of the ovaries or uterus). Eliza was effectively sent home early. Play had definitely stopped and rain was definitely due.

Was Eliza really ready for the long walk along the road to the workhouse at age 25. Was she done with us and done with life? It was tough times back then with tin/copper at all time low prices, but even Thomas Hardy wouldn't send her to the chop. So, I'm not so sure she dies.

We look back at that census from 1851 with the dingy old hotel temporarily holding the family together. Her brother was ready to sail for Colombia. Eliza did not for a minute sit on her laurels and watch her brother sail before offering to keep house for her elderly father, not at all. She was a widow but she was just 25! The moment the census enumerator left the Hotel with a 'kerchief over his nose, she must make her approaches to Perry, a tin miner.  She would need to marry him immediately, give birth to several children here, get back out on the boat bound for Australia and be out of the out of the country leaving no ripples by the time the clocked ticked for the 1861 census.  And that's exactly what she did.

I say no trace of a ripple... but I was missing something. A clue had been staring at me from the page for years.  Even though Eliza was a widow, apparently barren in 1851, SHE turns out to have been the producer of the lovely Miss Perry, the bride of 1870 down in Bendigo. And so SHE would have been our hero's fairy godmother at the fuse factory. She knew he would be gladly gifted the factory to own and run, provided he had a wife, Miss Perry say?, that was (for example), niece of the currently elderly owner.

Because Miss Perry had been born in England but after the census years, rather than in Victoria itself (where parents names are publically online), I had no idea she was the child of a Hunter.


The Return of Eliza, a woman not to be written-off, was there in the records all along. But so hard to piece together, it took myself and great-great-grandson Brett Pierce to put our two halves of the story together. We worked out this incredible woman emigrated TWICE, to different states/territories of Australia to become one of its matriarches: like her two cousins Amelia and Cecilia, fellow women of 1825.

By match-making her daughter to a trusted individual, the in-law's factory would come to him (her own sons being too darn young to succeed), thus looking after her own old age. She was not getting dumped in Australia twice!

Just one example of a hardworking Cornish woman destined for Australia who would not give up until she had got the better life, and would not settle until her future and her family's, was provided for.

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Further notes: Eliza's later children were born in Australia, with her maiden name of Hunter clearly announced. But what Brett in Australia didn't know, was where Eliza came from, as of course details of her first marriage never reared their head second time around. He definitely didn't know she'd come out before.
And what I didn't know in England, was that Eliza had had this second marriage at all, as guessing the name of a new man, and then further guessing that they had gone BACK to Australia, were all beyond my powers of imagination.  I was just sure she'd passed away, in England, leaving no trace, and no family. Eliza had eleven children all told and many descendants who are just learning of her double emigration.  Her fertility is not quite in the same league as her fellow 1825 cousins, whose descendants recently tipped the 1000 mark; but still quite respectable and matriarchal.  She was now based in Victoria and it was through her brother-in-law Charles Perry that our young orphan hero got the work in Perry's Fuse Factory, Bendigo. The main mystery left is where her mother, Mary Richards of Wendron came from and grandfather Hunter. Perhaps we can solve it someday. You can read more about the Fuse Factory here. I have downloaded a copy in case the link disappears over time, like a lot of mining ghost towns.

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This article appeared in November 2011.  The following month, a few weeks before his passing, my grandfather remembered something of the Tuckingmill Hotel from his own grandfather, born there in 1852 just a beat too late to know Eliza. I found myself travelling back 160 years to the clattering streets of Tuckingmill, and my grandfather and I across the table from each other as he described the room. At least I think he did, but tea was served and we moved on.

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