Friday 3 May 2013

Nancy Ann Gamble

Nancy Ann Gamble

On one of the Islands of the Archipelago of Recherche, maybe Middle Island probably Doubtful Island an Aboriginal Woman laboured.  Assisted only by her “sisters” Eliza gave birth to a little girl child.  Her father was a White man and her “sisters” were his other wives.  The girl would be known as Nancy Gamble and the event was recorded as 5 Nov 1844. 

Her father was Robert Gamble a Sealer from Bass Strait, a man with a dubious character, but like so many of the other old sealers would gain a respectable social standing later on in life.  Her mother was Eliza (Nowen), an aboriginal woman from Pt. Phillip Bay who had been kidnapped by the sealers some years previous.  Nancy was number five but only one older sister and maybe one older brother had survived.  So here on the little Island off the coast of Southern Western Australia, Nancy began her life.  It was a rigorous life, where isolation and segregation was part and parcel for the young extended family.  Her family unit would have consisted of, her mother Eliza, and at least 2 other women, one girl Martha, Nancy’s older sister and maybe a boy, Robert.  It could also have consisted of the children from the other women.  Eliza, it seems was the only one that remained separated on the islands her entire life. Passing ships and boats that came into the islands to trade was their only contact with the outside world.

Nancy’s early life could have been centered entirely on the Doubtful Island Area which is near Bremer Bay today.  There is little known of her life before she married but presumably she would have been on the island until she would have been employable and able to earn her own wage. 

Captain John Hassell had taken up enormous pieces of land around the area, up to and including the Jeramongup Area.   Robert Gamble and Captain Hassell were both seaman and so it can be surmised that they knew each other well.  John Hassell built a Station House at Qualup which is very close to Bremer Bay and so it maybe that at about 10 or 12 years of age Nancy came to be a servant at the “Big House”.   It was at this House that she may have met William Searl a Convict that had come to work as a shepherd at the Station. Robert Gamble would later be employed by Hassell as an Overseer of the large lands from the Jeramongup area.

William Searl may have fallen in love with Nancy as she was said to have been a quite a beauty when young, or it may have been that Robert Gamble saw William Searl as being a good suitor for Nancy.  Being a convict, William would have had a low social standing in the community.  These men rarely found marriageable white women to marry. William was 27 when in a Registry Office in Albany he and Nancy Ann Gamble were married.  The recorded date was 23 Dec 1858.  Nancy had just turned 14 years old. 

They would go on to live in a small cottage in Jeramongup and it was here less than a year later that an incident happened that may well have been a family tragedy.  Terdum a local native came into the hut where Nancy and Doubtful Island Bobby, an aboriginal man were sitting and speared Doubtful Island Bob, apparently he died instantly or very soon afterward.  Terdum had been nominated by a native by the name of “Jim Crowe” to spear D.I. Bobby for trying to steal his woman from him.  It cannot be verified at this stage if Doubtful Island Bobby was Robert Gamble’s son Robert born in 1838.  All that can be said was that he was known very well to Nancy as they were in the hut together.  Nancy could speak the local language of the Aboriginal People so it would seem that Nancy and D.I. Bobby were close, especially since they were sitting together at a table when the spearing occurred. 

After the spearing of Doubtful Island Bobby Nancy continued to live on the farm and although we have no evidence that she grieved any for him there was another incident that occurred to Nancy in November of 1860 that may show that the waring between Nancy Searl and Jim Crowe continued.  “Jim Crowe” tried to spear Nancy but she was able to dodge the spear and ran into her hut to avoid further conflict.  “Jim Crowe” certainly had a vendetta towards Nancy and the Hassells.  Nancy said that she had no idea why he tried to spear her but I feel there may have been something that was none of the white fella’s business.  If Nancy was morning the loss of D.I. Bob then this attempted spearing may have been a result of her retaliation.

 The same year that D.I. Bobby was killed Nancy gave birth to her first child, a daughter Emily Mary the event was recorded as 30 Nov 1859.  Nancy was to spend quite a lot of her youth pregnant and with small children.  Emily Mary, also known as Mary would be closely followed by Sarah b. 1862, William b. 1863, Emma Jane b. 1865, Ann Elizabeth b. 1867, Susanna b. 1868, Robert Charles John b. 1869, John Thomas b. 1873, Harriet Eliza b. 1877, and Henry James b. 1880.

Over this period of pregnancy and childbirth Nancy was traveling all over the South West from Esperance to Albany up to Broomehill and across to Jeramongup.  William, her husband was shepherding most of the time but towards the end of the 19th century when fences were being used more and shepherding was required less, William started sandalwood cutting with a man that would become his son in law, Richard Burridge. 

When gold was discovered in Coolgardie, William Searl and Richard Burridge started hauling fresh water into the area as there was no water to be found in the there at all.  It was during this period that the population soared and living conditions plummeted, everyone all looking for that elusive dream of riches.  Unfortunately of course so many would never realize that dream.  There was an outbreak of Cholera and Nancy took to nursing those afflicted with this dreadful and sometimes fatal disease at Southern Cross, an outpost of the goldfields. 

Cholera is a disease that in those days was often fatal to certain parts of the population, the young children and the aboriginal population.  Nancy ultimately succumbed to this disease.  Nancy’s life was one of variety, she was able to adapt to all the situation of her life readily, and she seemed to do it well.  Her early life out on the islands had given her all the skills she needed to apply in her lifetime except an immunity to a disease that an adult white person could combat with a certain amount of immunity.  Her death was record as 12 Jun 1895.

(c) Theresa (Terrie) Lo Presti
      May, 2013

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