When I first started researching my Mum’s side of the family tree, I literally had nothing. While my Dad’s side was well-known and readily available to me, my Mum’s side was constantly veiled in mystery. Breathing some life into those branches took a lot of time, patience, persistence and, as usual, money.
The Nicholson side was no exception. My journey into the story of Edward’s life began with absolutely nothing; not even a name. Despite everyone knowing the name of my Pop’s parents, no one seemed to know who his grandparents were. I got on with my research and ordered a certificate. I obtained his name (Edward Nicholson) and I subsequently ordered a few more certificates. From these, a few scanty birth details came to light.
According to the certificates, Edward was born around the year 1859 in Auckland, New Zealand. His father’s occupation was listed as a sailor but in one certificate the name given was stated as John while in the other he was named William. His mother on the other hand was unknown in one certificate and Alice McCarthy in the other. Despite having these tiny clues I have so far been unable to find a birth record match in New Zealand’s historical Births, Deaths and Marriages (BDM) register (https://bdmhistoricalrecords.dia.govt.nz/home/).
His marriage certificate provides some more clues. Edward married my Great Great Grandmother, Agnes Elizabeth McCarthy on 31 May 1897 in Denmark, Western Australia. Both were listed as being widowed and though I’ve easily discovered Agnes’s first husband, I have yet to discover Edward’s first wife. Given his age at the time of his second marriage (38) it’s likely that his first marriage took place in New Zealand.
I’ve searched high and low through the NZ register and there’s only one possibility that comes to light. An Edward Nicholson married Catherine Flood in 1875. This however would mean he was only 16 years old when he married her. Further adding to the mystery, the very kind people at Rootschat searched for the ‘Intention to Marry’ record where it was found that the Edward in this instance listed his age as 23. Is this my Edward? Did he simply lie about his age?
Catherine Flood it seems was a very interesting character all on her own. Not only was she Catherine Nicholson (after 1875) she was also Catherine Griffin at one point and at times was even referred to as being Catherine Fitzgerald (Fitzgerald being the surname of her employer). Of course the latter may simply be a mistake in the newspapers but the snippet below (from when she was Catherine Griffin) is making me wonder just what was going on. 1
Catherine Nicholson (nee Flood) died in 1897 – the same year that Edward married Agnes. It was reported in the inquest into her death that her husband Edward was “not in Auckland at the present time” and much to my surprise, she was buried in Waikumete Cemetery in a plot that later, would also become the burial plot of her employer. 2 Perhaps he was simply saving money with having one plot but to me it seems a little odd.
Questions, endless questions. Is this my Edward? Did he marry Catherine Flood/Griffin? Was she having an affair with her employer which Edward eventually discovered? Did he leave her because of the said affair and then travelled to Western Australia? Was it in fact Edward who abandoned Catherine for an entirely different reason?
So what about Edward’s parents? Knowing that the names on the death certificate would’ve been provided by whoever was informing the registrar of Edward’s death I decided to discount this evidence. Going off the marriage certificate however I’m left with the names William Nicholson and Alice McCarthy.
Once again New Zealand’s Historic BDM website (no matter how many different spellings I used) yielded no results. I began to question the fact that his mother’s maiden name just happened to be the same as Agnes’s maiden name.
I left the mystery of his parents alone and tried a different angle. Back in Western Australia, Edward and Agnes had four children: John Edward Nicholson in 1898, William Nicholson (my Great Grandfather) on 13 May 1902, Patrick Rees in 1904 and Thomas Edward in 1906. It was the name Rees that stood out the most.
Having never seen this spelling before, on a whim, I entered it into Ancestry’s family tree database with the birth place being New Zealand. I got one hit. Someone had a Rees Nicholson on their family tree but even more interesting, they also had an Edward Nicholson. The birth listed was 1859 in Auckland – the same year and place my Edward was born.
I turned my attention to the parents listed. Their names were William Thomas Nicholson (which matched my marriage certificate) and, much to my surprise, Ellen Te Hemopo Deacon; a Maori lady.
This, I admit, threw me. At no time have I ever heard of the Nicholsons being of Maori descent. I suppose it could’ve been something that at the time would’ve been kept hidden but still, I wondered if perhaps I was barking up the wrong tree. That was until I was contacted by a direct descendant of William and Ellen.
After many emails back and forth and reading of the posts on Rootschat she provided several bits of information that ignited my curiosity.
William Thomas Nicholson was a sailor when he arrived in New Zealand and later established a ferry business. This matches the occupation of sailor listed on my marriage certificate.
William Thomas Nicholson originally came from Wales where he worked as a sawyer. His New Zealand descendants worked in sawmills as did my Edward Nicholson and Great Grandfather, William.
A lady named Mrs Latch who was doing research into the families of Auckland (including the Nicholson family) stated amongst her research papers that Edward Nicholson, the son of William and Ellen was no longer in New Zealand. This also somewhat matches Catherine Nicholson (nee Flood’s) inquest records which stated he was not in Auckland at the time.
My contact’s Edward Nicholson was known to everyone as Ned. My Edward Nicholson’s son John Edward Nicholson was also known to everyone as Ned.
Thomas Edward Fitzgerald (the employer of Catherine Flood/Griffin/Nicholson) at one point helped out Edward Nicholson’s father, William. I further found that Thomas employed Rees (Reece) Nicholson, another one of William’s children. 3
Everything appears to match up to my Edward. It’s also reasonable to assume that if Edward had married Catherine Flood (who worked for Thomas Fitzgerald) that the families would’ve come into contact with each other and further explains why Thomas would’ve helped William and also employed Rees.
The similarity of the names and the similarity of the occupations is uncanny. The fact that the Edward who married Catherine and my contact’s Edward were both known to no longer be in Auckland/New Zealand also fits in with the fact that my Edward eventually left New Zealand. There is no hard evidence as yet but it’s incredibly hard to discount the mounting coincidences. I find myself left with one question; the one I most want the answer to:
Is my contact’s Edward Nicholson, the Edward Nicholson that married Catherine Flood and my Edward Nicholson all one and the same person?
If anyone searching for information on William Thomas Nicholson or Ellen Te Hemopo Deacon happens to come across this blog, please leave a comment. Whatever the outcome, one day, I would love this mystery to be solved.
- Much of my information on the Nicholsons was obtained courtesy of my New Zealand contact who, for now, shall remain nameless.
- Many thanks to the people of Rootschat for their help with solving the mystery of Edward’s parents.
- Western Australian Death Certificate (1945 / 424).
- Western Australian Marriage Certificate (1897 / 1413).
- Western Australian Death Certificate (1942 / 82).
- 1 Daily Southern Cross, Volume XXIII, Issue 3117, 13 July 1867, Page 7 (http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&d=DSC18670713.2.33&e=——-10–1—-0—).
- 2 Auckland Star, Volume XXVIII, Issue 13, 16 January 1897, Page 4 (http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=search&d=AS18970116.2.21&srpos=10&e=01-01-1875-31-12-1897–10–1—-2edward+nicholson—).
- 3 Auckland Star, Volume XXVII, Issue 216, 12 September 1896, Page 2 (http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=search&d=AS18960912.2.8&srpos=6&e=——-10–1—-2thomas+edward+fitzgerald—).
- The Chapman-Osbiston Family Tree on Ancestry.
- The Boy Next Door (ancestrysearch.wordpress.com)