This is a story I read on Baby Names from Yesteryear, and with Zeffy’s blessing, I have investigated some of the history behind it.
On March 21 1857, a baby was born on board a convict ship, two days after leaving England for Western Australia. He was named Alfred John Claris Wells – Alfred and John were family names, but Claris was in honour of the ship he was born on, the Clara. It seems that he went by the name Claris in everyday life.
Claris’ parents weren’t convicts. His father, Alexander Wells, was a pensioner guard employed to watch over the convicts on board ship. These guards tended to be recruited from the rural working class, and offered farmland in Australia as an inducement. The Wells family had been in villages around Sevenoaks in Kent since at least the 17th century, and Alexander’s branch of it had lived in the village of Leigh for several generations.
Claris’ mother was named Caroline Emily Minnor Goulding, and she married Alexander when she was in her early twenties, while he was in his early thirties.
The Clara arrived in Fremantle, Western Australia on July 3 1857 with its one very small extra passenger. The Wells family was offered farmland in Newcastle (now called Toodyay), one of the first inland towns to be established in Western Australia. It’s in the Avon Valley about 85 km from Perth, and today at least, Toodyay is a very pleasant country town, an easy drive from the city and popular for weekends away. Back then, it would been just a village, and farming difficult, even with free convict labour offered as part of the deal.
Claris wasn’t the only child of Alexander and Emily. His siblings were:
Martha (1852-1936) She was born in Kent, and was five years old when she arrived in Australia. She was living in Fremantle when she died at a ripe old age.
Alexander Thomas (b. 1855) He was born in Kent, and seems to have died before the family came to Australia.
Amelia Ann (b.1858-?) Amelia is missing from some family records, which makes me suspect she died during early childhood.
Ellen – known as Eliza (1859-1937) Eliza married a local man named Alfred Hutchings when she was 20, and had twelve children. The Hutchings moved to Northam, a town very close to Toodyay.
Emily (b. 1862-?)
Alexander Wells died in 1863 aged 45, leaving his widow Caroline in a fairly desperate situation. She was 34 years old, had at least three children still living, and must have been pregnant.
In 1864 she married a convict called Esau Wetherall, a name that wouldn’t look out of place in a novel by Thomas Hardy. Esau was born in London, and had lived in Somerset. At the age of 35, he was transported to Fremantle on the Scindian, sentenced to fifteen years for horse-stealing. He was in the first group of convicts to arrive in Western Australia, and because they weren’t really prepared for convicts at the time, they only sent those who had a record of good behaviour. While in Toodyay, he was accused of stealing a sheep and brought to trial, but was acquitted. At the time of his marriage to Caroline, he was 49.
Caroline and Esau had only one child together, a baby girl who was stillborn in 1865. This was Claris’ half-sister.
Esau had been married before – his first wife was Mary Mallaby, and they were married in Toodyay the same year that the Wells family had arrived, in 1857, just after Esau was granted his ticket of leave. Mary died in 1864, so like Caroline, Esau had been left widowed and no doubt in equally desperate circumstances.
Esau and Mary had five children together, and these were Claris’ step-siblings.
Sarah (1858-1874) Sarah died when she was only 16 years old.
Mary Ann (b. 1859-1941) Mary married a man named Donald Lee when she was 18, and had fourteen children. She lived her whole life in Toodyay.
Ellen – known as Elizabeth (1861-1941) Elizabeth married a man named Thomas McKnoe when she was 17 and had eleven children. She was living in Perth when she died.
Twins Edwin and Frederick (1864-1864) Mary left behind her newborn twins when she died, and it’s not surprising they only lived for a few months. It’s very possible that Mary died giving birth to the twins, or shortly after the birth.
So Claris Wells had six siblings, one half-sister and five step-siblings.
Esau Wetherall died in 1889, at the age of 73. Although he has numerous descendants living today, for many years the family was deeply ashamed of having convict ancestry, and he wasn’t talked about or even mentioned.
Caroline Wetherall died in 1905 at the age of 75. However, the Wells family continued through her son Claris, and next time I will follow his family line through all the generations.
NOTE: Passenger list for the Clara is here.
(Picture is of a painting of Fremantle Harbour in the 19th century, close to where the Clara would have docked when she arrived)