Today there is a sixteenth birthday in my family, which inevitably led me to think about all the other sixteenth birthdays amongst the ancestors near and far. The stories are many.
My daughter lives in a region of extreme heat at the edge of the Australian outback where the summer landscape resembles the surface of Mars. She undertakes school by distance education and whenever it rains, she and her brothers run out to stand in it because it happens quite rarely. She rides horses and talks to her friends via internet.
At her age, I lived at the edge of temperate rainforest in far southern Tasmania where it never stopped raining, in a forestry community. I could see my school out my loungeroom window. I was an experienced hiker and met with my friends at regular local football games, where many of the players were my close and distant cousins and classmates.
My mother at this age grew up in the Snowy Mountains, she walked for miles, also rode horses but spent many hours in household chores, working through the spring and summer with her family to stave off tough times through the harsh winters. She remembers isolation and only saw her friends at school which was a long bus ride. She, also, had close and distant cousins nearby who she met at church.
Even at these three very close generations, our experiences are very different. But they all consisted of common elements – family, friends, recreation and commitments. I went on a search to find the most varied experiences of sixteen that I could from our tree.
Isabella Stevenson was born in Warwickshire in 1814, but her family moved to Hennor House in Herefordshire when she was very young. This photograph comes from her collection and although it does not show the house, it still conveys the impression of a very secure world full of stability. The grounds were expansive, the manor house was grand.
Isabella was the eldest of four children. Her father was a military man and he travelled with his regiment. Isabella and her sisters Caroline and Constance were educated by a governess. Some of Isabella’s journals and papers have survived and her handwriting and vocabulary were excellent. She was undoubtedly a good student and was definitely a fluid communicator.
Isabella’s brother Charles was educated at Eton but the four children were very close. In her later journal, Isabella recalls times she spent in the great hall at Hennor House looking at various relics which she unfortunately does not describe. Through her childhood she took holidays to her aunt’s houses, and remembers fondly the time spent with her aunt’s family in Dublin, and time with another aunt in London. At the age of sixteen she was still at home and still undertaking some schoolwork but would have been looking ahead to an approaching London season.
Isabella’s sixteenth year was undoubtedly a happy one.
Ann Livingstone was born in about 1809 or possibly a year later in Paisley, Renfrewshire. Very little is known about her early life, but it might be deduced that it was tough and lonely. She lived on the offensive, was belligerent and perhaps uncontrollable. If she had family, they were struggling too much in their own lives to pay any attention to hers or to keep her out of trouble with the law.
Her first recorded gaol sentence according to her own statement was a fortnight in Paisley Gaol, possibly at about the age of twelve. Her next was eight months in the same place for housebreaking. By the time of her final Glasgow arrest at the age of about 14, she was quite experienced in the ways of the justice system.
Glasgow was a heavily populated and dangerous place, filled with the homeless but without the charitable institutions which existed in England to alleviate the people’s misery. It was only 10 miles from her birthplace to the city, so no surprise that she went there.
By the age of fourteen, Ann had already spent some time as a prostitute. At the time of her third recorded arrest she was in company with 18 year old Alexander Stevenson, whose record describes him as a ‘habitual thief since birth’.
In the Caledonian Mercury of 17 April 1824 we find the following brief description.
Tuesday April 13
The court met this day at nine o’clock …Alexander Stevenson, and Ann Livingstone, accused of theft by opening lock-fast places, were found Guilty, and sentenced to transportation for fourteen years. On receiving sentence, Livingstone exclaimed “I hope your Lordship will be in hell before that period.”
Ann the Untamed, showing her spirit even at that early age.
Ann was transported to Van Diemen’s Land in the Henry in a season of heavy rain and storms which brought at least a hundred vessels onto the shore. It was a good thing she was a fighter. She met with spirit-breaking obstacles every step of the way.
In the late gale ….the Ann, of Whitby; Dwarf, of Hull; Rigby, of Ipswich; Vie Erndte, Kraft, from Stralsund for Newcastle; Henry, of Portsmouth; and Mary, of Yarmouth, were driven ashore near Blyth on the 11th instant … The sea broke with frightful violence on the pier at Newhaven, and the light-house at its extremity was battered down by the waves.
Luckily, Ann’s ship made it through. They got it off the sandbank it had landed on and it made its beleaguered way to the colony of Van Diemen’s Land.
Ann’s gaol report on arrival states ‘A prostitute and thief. Connexions of the worst kind.’ No doubt she did not endear herself to the transport guards.
A book could be written of Ann’s exploits but the current focus is the year of her sixteenth birthday. Here it is, in the prison records.
April 1825: Absconding from her Master’s service on the 29th March and remaining absent till apprehended – Factory C Class – to wear an Iron Collar 14 days and Bread and Water 7 days.
October 1825: Disobedient conduct in the Factory yesterday and abusing and being insolent to the Reverend W Bedford. At the same time was also charged with breaking away from the Factory by means of a Hole in the Wall and remaining absent till apprehended – cell on Bread and Water one week and C Class Factory and Iron Collars 14 days.
November 1825: Factory/Disobedient of orders in getting on the Roof of the Factory twice on Saturday last – Confinement and fed on bread and water a week.
February 1826: Absconding from the Factory – to be placed in a cell one calendar month – one fortnight of which period to be kept on Bread and Water only.
The year was probably a tough one for Ann. It is doubtful that she even knew the date of her birth. However, despite her constant fight against authority it was possibly the beginning of a healing process for her. After a childhood on the roughest streets in the roughest weather, here she was clothed and fed and could work through her traumas. Although it is not easy to see without looking at her entire life, she was able to mature a little in this time, emotionally and spiritually.
Jane Kelly was born in 1813. She was an Irish girl and really we don’t know much about her early life. Honest, capable but not wealthy is all I am sure of. She lived in the county of Clare and may have had a family member in the military.
She never did learn to read or write so perhaps never attended school, but she probably helped to care for a large brood of younger siblings. Certainly, she handled a large brood of her own under trying circumstances with apparent ease not so many years later.
Jane grew up in Ireland at a time when Catholics had no rights, and when absentee landlords were placing irrational demands on their Irish tenants. The country simmered on the brink of uprising. Groups of renegades formed themselves into secret societies and clubs and roamed the landscape exacting vengeance. This was the land of the White Boys and the Terry Alts, and the papers printed stories of men having their tongues cut out and their hands chopped off, and elderly women stripped and assaulted in their homes. Jane could not read the papers and probably had no access to them, but undoubtedly she heard the rumours. The British Military maintained a constant presence and the regiments rotated regularly, marching in their hundreds from town to town and camping in village fields.
Many of the soldiers were fellow Irishmen and their presence was welcome, despite the increasingly malevolent duties they were required to perform. In this decade – the 1820s – they were a protection and patronised local businesses.
This was a time when women worked the fields as well as men and where every girl could drive a cart and ride a horse. Ruins and relics from the Viking days dotted the landscape and the Irish people lived easily with their history. They were often superstitious, good at story telling and fond of evening gatherings, probably with much drink.
Soldiers added a great deal to a town’s social scene in that era, and there were walks and talks after church, dances and card games in the evenings. It was an exciting time to be a teenage girl. Jane may have known her future husband all her life, but if not, she undoubtedly met him at about the time she was sixteen. He was a soldier in the 99th Regiment, newly enlisted. He was blue eyed and brown haired, and reasonably tall for the time. He probably looked very good in his uniform. His name was Patrick O’Keefe and he was also born in Clare.
Jane’s sixteenth year shows her as a young woman in a society which we now know was teetering on tragedy. Her own life choices show great sense and some foresight.
Isabella, Ann and Jane were born within a decade of each other. They lived very different lives but their life choices eventually resulted in the existence of my daughter, whose picture appears first at the start of this post. The variety of experience is one reason why so many researchers cannot put down their hobby. It’s a fascinating study.