My Three Brick Walls – No. 3 Frances Fox

It has just come to my attention that all three of my near brick walls have alliterative names.  Imagine that.

Fanny Fox was born in about 1857, most likely in Middlesex, England.  Some researchers have her born in St Pancras which is quite likely but I’m not sure where they found this.  She is my direct maternal line so her haplogroup should be H2a2a1c, as mine is.

The first record I have located is the 1861 UK Census where she was an infant girl in Hanwell School for Orphan Children in Brentford, Middlesex.  She was apparently admitted at the age of three.  I don’t know whether her parents died or were unable to raise her.

Also in Hanwell Orphan School are two boys with the surname Fox – John born 1850 and William born 1853.

The census records for Hanwell take many many pages.  It was huge.  The staff take up the first few pages – Superintendent, Matron, teachers, doctor, cooks, nurses, washerwomen, dining room attendants, tailors, stableman, gardeners … pages.  Many pages.

I notice that most of the nurses (19 in number) are widows aged between 35-55 born in Ireland.  This seems like an excellent position for a widow of steady habits and no way to support herself.  Possibly some of these women had children in the school too. There is no one surnamed Fox amongst the staff.

My subscription site’s terms of service do not allow me to post census images, so I can only transcribe as I see it. No children have birth location listed.  There were about 15 pages of scholars and infants all written up in the one hand.  I’m not surprised they didn’t put the birthplace in.  It may be that the children were required to have been born within the parish but I have seen nothing about this yet.

The scholar’s names are not written in alphabetical order yet the three Fox children are listed together.  This makes a relation between them even more likely, to my mind.

Looking back at the 1851 census for John Fox, I have found one possible candidate which is found nowhere else in 1861.  This is a family of four – Barney Fox, his wife Ann and two children, James born 1845 and John born 1850 living in Finsbury, St Lukes, Middlesex in Chequer Lane.  Barney and Ann were both born in Ireland. In 1851, Barney was aged 40 and his wife was 27.  He was a labourer.  Both children were born in St Lukes Middlesex so they had lived in London for at least six years.  I have been unable to find a marriage or a death for either but I expect a death record is somewhere.  The name Barney may have been a nickname.

I have not found records about life in Hanwell, but some of Fanny Fox’s later characteristics were probably established here.  Fanny was very involved in the church and her faith was strong.   She loved music, she helped clean the church, provided morning tea for church functions and never missed a service unless ill.  I remember hearing that she played piano for the church during the services but I am not sure where I heard this now.  I believe she liked to sing and singing has definitely come down the family to the present day.  We are sopranos and we love to sing.  This might have come from Fanny.

At the age of 13, Fanny emigrated to Australia, seemingly alone.  It is quite likely that she was acting as companion or servant to another passenger, but so far we have been unable to deduce which one.  Fanny was very young to leave the orphanage, but I suspect she was quiet, well behaved and responsible.  An emigrating passenger may have taken a liking to her and felt that Australia offered her chances she would not have in England.  She was the only one surnamed Fox on the ship and nearly all other passengers were in clear family groups.

Shipping record from the Victorian archives index.
Shipping record from the Victorian archives index.

Fanny’s own story is that she came to Australia to be a servant, spent some time in Melbourne then moved north to the rural town of Bethanga where she married and raised a family.  Later, her family moved to the Snowy Mountains.

This is all true and I have not located many more details.  However, it seems to me like the blurb on the back of a book – two sentences to summarise a truly epic tale.  I would dearly love some clues about those years.

Bethanga began as a township after gold was discovered in the region in 1876.  It is quite likely that Fanny moved there after that.  Gold did incredible things for regions in colonial Australia.  It brought people from everywhere and meant instant success for any shops and services which managed to establish themselves quickly enough.  If the gold field looked big and permanent enough, houses sprang up with a need for domestic servants and the servants could basically ask the wages of their dreams – at least for a while.

Perhaps this is what brought Fanny, but gold fields were not always safe places.  In 1876 Fanny was aged 18 and probably full of confidence, but miners were rough men, heavy drinkers and had often forgotten their social etiquette – if they ever knew any.  They did not all speak English and different cultures treat women in different ways, particularly women without protection.  Unauthorized taverns were common, frequented by dancers and singers and prostitutes. Churches also came, to provide assistance and moral values.

Northern Victoria from one of the national parks.
Northern Victoria from one of the national parks. Taken many years ago with a standard lens so a bit grainy.

In what capacity did Fanny travel to Bethanga?  We don’t know.  Was she employed by a family who moved there?  Was she alone?

There at Bethanga, Fanny met William Morey, a bullock driver.  William had been born in the Black Ranges Goldfields near Albury, and his parents lived nearby.  William spent most of his time out of doors and was used to a solitary world.   Fanny was apparently working as a servant at the time.

William and Fanny were married on 27th December 1879.  The details were clearly written in the register by the minister rather than the couple since a few things are incorrect but no doubt what the minister heard.  The nature of the errors suggest a lack of attention on the part of the minister.  Perhaps he was very busy that day or very tired.  It was just after Christmas, always a busy time for an Anglican church.

Certificate of Marriage for William Morey and Frances Fox
Certificate of Marriage for William Morey and Frances Fox

William’s mother’s maiden name was Larcomb, not Larkin.  William was 27. Apart from this, the facts are correct.  I have no idea who the witnesses were. I think they are L and C Johnson but it might be C and C Johnson.

And Fanny’s mother …. is it Rice or Price?

After the wedding, William and Fanny settled in Bethunga where most of their nine children were born.  They lost the youngest, a girl, in her infant years but the rest lived to become adults.  Later, while the children were still at home, they moved to Mannus in the Snowy Mountains where William worked as a labourer on the McMeakin station.

The ruins of their cottage can still be found in the middle of a paddock there, if you know where to look.  I have sighted it from the road but was unable to track down the landowner to gain permission for a closer look.

Fanny passed away on 17 January 1931, of a stroke.  An obituary was placed in the paper at the time here:  “MRS F. MOREY.” Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga, NSW : 1911 – 1954) 21 Jan 1931: 4. Web. 15 Oct 2014 <;.

Click to enlarge

Although I have a few clues about Fanny’s parentage, there is very little to go on.  Fanny died before I was born but her children remembered both their parents with great respect and affection, and I met several of those children.  Fanny was very happy to talk about her life, but she herself did not know about her parents.  She also made no mention of brothers that anyone has reported.   I’d like to learn something via DNA testing but like the other brick walls, her surname was very common.   But nothing is impossible!  One day we will know.


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