In terms of having the best start in life, it’s fair to say that William Harwood’s was far from idyllic. My Great Great Grandfather was born on 16 November 1858 in the small village of Cove and was still only a baby when his father (who was a railway porter) passed away during the first quarter of the next year.
On 25 January 1859, his father (also named William) may have been lucky enough to see and hold his son when he was baptised in St John’s Church but sadly, would never get the chance to see him grow up. Fatherless, young William was now left to the care of his sole parent and mother, Mary Harwood (nee White).
By the age of two, he was living in a house on Bunnian Place in Basingstoke with his mother; his elder sister, Alice; his Grandmother, Barbara White and a lodger (who was a nurse) by the name of Letty Hazell. William’s mother was listed as a widow and was now completely responsible for the family’s income. She worked as a waitress and it’s reasonable to assume that most of the patrons she served were travellers who had embarked from the nearby railway station. Working to support her family meant that she was not able to take care of her children and thus they were probably cared for by both Barbara and Letty.
Two years later, at the beginning of 1863, William’s mother passed away. He was four years of age and an orphan. It’s possible that his sister may have still been alive at this time but as I have found no further records belonging to her, it’s likely that she may have also passed away leaving William as the only remaining member of his immediate family. Though some members of his late father’s and mother’s family were still alive, most only worked as labourers and also had their own families to care for. Living an almost Oliver Twist-like childhood, William may have been considered a financial burden that his family could not afford and by 1871 (at age 12) he was recorded as being an inmate and a scholar of the Wimble Hill District School. The year he was first admitted and how long he remained there is currently unknown.
Despite its rather charming name, the school was essentially a school for paupers and the children that attended the school were either the children of parents who worked in the workhouse or in cases such as William’s, were orphans. They were often looked upon by the general public with disdain and it was the school’s purpose to educate them in order to make them more “useful members of society”. The specifics of education were stated in the Poor Laws Commissioners’ orders, advising that:
The boys and girls who are inmates of the Workhouse shall, for three of the working hours, at least, every day, be instructed in reading, writing, arithmetic, and the principles of the Christian religion, and such other instruction shall be imparted to them as may fit them for service, and train them to habits of usefulness, industry, and virtue.
For William, life at Wimble Hill would generally not have been a pleasant experience. Upon admission he may have had his hair cut short and would’ve received a uniform which he had to wear instead of his own clothes which were taken away. Children who misbehaved (including those who committed minor offences) would be punished accordingly and this usually involved receiving several strokes of the cane upon their back. Confined as they were, it was also not uncommon for sickness to spread and many contracted ringworm.
The records indicate that he was an inmate at the school up until at least 1872. He may have stayed longer or, seeing as though he eventually worked for the Royal Navy, it’s likely that he could have joined a Training Ship. On the Training Ship children received training in naval life, skills and discipline with the hope that they would one day enlist in the Royal Navy. This is of course only speculation on my account.
For more information on Workhouses, please visit: www.workhouses.org.uk
For the next 15 years however William effectively disappears. Despite an exhaustive search I have been unable to find him in the 1881 census and as I have no access to any records concerning his time in the Royal Navy, I am left with a rather large gap as to what he was up to during this time period. Whether he was still in England or perhaps in another country remains to be seen. The lack of the census record however suggests that the latter may in fact be feasible.
He does not reappear until 2 June 1887. On this date at the age of 28 he married Catherine Fowler (the daughter of a baker) in the Parish Church in Hartley Wintney. The union was witnessed by Catherine’s sister Alice and William’s uncle Frederick Street. Frederick married his mother’s younger sister, Caroline White.
St John’s – The Parish Church in Hartley Wintney where William and Catherine were married. Permission to use the photo was kindly given by Revd Canon Robin Ewbank.
Despite ending up in the paupers’ school it seems as though he still kept in regular contact with his relatives. As mentioned above, Frederick witnessed the wedding and the actual parish record lists information about William’s father. Even though he was only a baby when his father died this record indicates that he still knew of him and the only way he could’ve known of him, was through members of his family.
William and Catherine began their life together and it wasn’t long before a child was born. On 16 January 1889 at 17 Marlborough Row in Portsmouth, Catherine gave birth to a baby girl who they named Myra Catherine Alice Harwood.
Two years later the small family were living at 100 Nelson Road in Portsea and William was working as an Armourer for the Royal Navy. As an Armourer, he was responsible for maintaining and repairing small arms and weapons. At the time Catherine was pregnant and not long after the Census, on 12 April 1891 (just missing out on appearing on the 1891 Census), William George Harwood was born.
Over the next nine years, they went on to have many more children: Albert Harwood born on 13 November 1895 at 93 Simpson Road in Portsmouth; Maurice Harwood born on 26 August 1896 at 13 George Street, Harwich; Arthur Harold Harwood (my Great Grandfather) born on 9 November 1897 in Dovercourt and Maude Harwood born on 1 October 1900 in New Brompton.
It seems the family were often moving around. At the start of the new century, in 1901, William was 43 years old and was living with his family in yet another house: 77 Copenhagen Road in Gillingham. Since the last Census however he had retired from the Royal Navy and was now working as a Skilled Labourer – Tool Smith. Despite no longer working for the Navy he still remained employed in his trade. Three years later on 21 August 1904 in Edmonton, their youngest son, Robert Henry Harwood was born.
Perhaps it was not long after the birth of their last child that William and Catherine started to think about the possibility of immigration. England in the early 1900s was extremely tough for the working class and William may have been ‘feeling the pinch’. Most people were only just surviving on their income and adding a reasonably large family to the mix would have made it that much more difficult. On the other side of the world however, in Western Australia, news may have been slowly filtering back to England that the State was booming from the earlier years’ discovery of gold and that the prospects of success in this relatively new country were great.
It was no easy decision to make and I’m sure William considered all the possibilities before making a commitment to immigrate to a country so vastly different to his own. Weighing on his mind may have also been the knowledge of his difficult childhood and his time at Wimble Hill. Not wanting to subject his children to such an upbringing and wishing to give them a better start in life, William made the decision to move. On 10 August 1906, Catherine and six of the children left London on the SS Ormuz bound for Fremantle.
The SS Ormuz at Victoria Quay, Fremantle in 1905.
William and his eldest son, William George were not part of this passenger list but may of in fact left earlier in order to make preparations for the rest of the family’s arrival.
Together once again, William and Catherine started their life in Western Australia and by 1910 were living on The Avenue in Midland Junction. He was working as a Railway Examiner for the Midland Railways and as the years rolled by he watched his children grow up and flourish in their new country.
Five years later the family’s security would be shattered with the outbreak of war. William’s three sons, Albert, Maurice and Arthur as well as the husband of his eldest daughter, Myra all enlisted to fight. The risks were great and I’m sure as William and Catherine waved goodbye to each son at their respective departures they would’ve done so with a very heavy heart.
Unlike many other families, William and Catherine were extremely lucky. All three sons and their son-in-law survived and returned home from war. All four were later featured in the book ‘Australia’s Fighting Sons of The Empire’.
Left to right: William Henry Hackfath, Albert Harwood, Maurice Harwood and Arthur Harold Harwood.
By 1925 most of William (who was now 67) and Catherine’s children were of legal age and for many years had already been living their own lives. Quite a few were married and had children of their own. Now with only a couple of children living at home and perhaps needing a smaller house, they moved to 69 Colin Street in West Perth where William (who had retired from working at the Midland Railways) worked as a caretaker.
As the last of their children moved out and were married, William eventually retired from full time work and spent his days dedicated to leisurely pursuits and the occasional contracting work. By 1931, one more move was on the cards and this time William and Catherine settled in an apartment on Mounts Bay Road in Perth which was part of a block of apartments called ‘The Mansions’.
Drawing of The Mansions (with additional stories) printed in 1937.
Sadly, for Catherine, the move did not last long. On 21 May 1932, at the age of 64, she passed away. After his beloved wife’s death William found himself on his own. Whether or not he stayed at The Mansions for several more years is unknown. By 1936 however he had moved in with his youngest son Robert and his daughter-in-law Adelaide (known as Lou) at 26 Rutland Avenue in Lathlain. Robert and Lou were unable to have children and while Robert was out working, Lou was probably more than happy to care for her elderly father-in-law.
William continued living with his son until his death on 15 February 1938 at the age of 79. A much loved father, he was laid to rest with his wife Catherine in the Christadelphian section of Karrakatta Cemetery.
As time passes, memories fade and stories may be forgotten or neglected to be passed along. I may never know the actual reason behind William’s decision to move to Western Australia but that doesn’t mean I admire him or his choice any less. His resolve to completely uproot his family and to start a new life in an different country takes guts and determination. Given his difficult childhood and the way he overcame it, I am sure that William had ample amounts of these two qualities.
In conclusion, my most sincere thanks and gratitude go out to Christopher Gray who very kindly visited the Parish Registers and emailed me transcripts of those records which concerned William Harwood and his parents. Without his help I would never have been able to ‘polish up’ William’s story and I greatly appreciate all that you’ve done.
- Many parish record transcripts and specific dates obtained courtesy of Christopher Gray and his website ‘History of the Gray Family’ (http://www.gray-ons.org/secondsite/index.htm).
- The direct quote, information on Wimble Hill District School, the Workhouse Schools and Training Ships were obtained courtesy of ‘The Workhouse’ website created by Peter Higginbotham (http://www.workhouses.org.uk/).
- FreeBMD. England & Wales, FreeBMD Birth Index, 1837-1915 [database on-line].
- FreeBMD. England & Wales, FreeBMD Death Index: 1837-1915 [database on-line].
- Baptism information courtesy of Family Search (https://familysearch.org/).
- Ancestry.com. 1861 England Census [database on-line]. Class: RG 9; Piece: 708; Folio: 86; Page: 18; GSU roll: 542688.
- Ancestry.com. 1871 England Census [database on-line]. Class: RG10; Piece: 1230; Folio: 8; Page: 7; GSU roll: 827830.
- Confirmation that William stayed in the school up until 1872 and additional information on Wimble Hill obtained courtesy of the Hampshire Archives.
- The photo of the Hartney Wintney Parish Church (St John’s) was used with permission from Revd Canon Robin Ewbank. For more information on St John’s, please visit: http://www.stjohnshw.org.uk/
- Ancestry.com. 1891 England Census [database on-line]. Class: RG12; Piece: 856; Folio: 67; Page: 8; GSU roll: 6095966.
- Ancestry.com. 1901 England Census [database on-line]. Class: RG13; Piece: 736; Folio: 66; Page: 16.
- Passenger list details were obtained courtesy of the website ‘Ancestors On Board’ (http://www.ancestorsonboard.com/).
- Photo of the SS Ormuz courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (Call #: 5323B/1342).
- Ancestry.com. Australian Electoral Rolls, 1903-1980 [database on-line].
- Ancestry.com. Australia’s Fighting Sons of The Empire. Portraits and Biographies of Australians in the Great War [database on-line].
- 1937 ‘No Title.’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 28 August, p. 4, viewed 16 March, 2012, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article41424755
- 1938 ‘Family Notices.’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 18 February, p. 12, viewed 15 March, 2012, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article41660574