Sunday 21 September 2014

Emma Gamble 1853-1926

The Story of Emma Gamble  
Albany 1853 - Melbourne 1926

Emma Gamble’s life was a life of so many beginnings and endings, and although some of her descendants might find it difficult to read I personally am very proud to have her as an Aunt of mine.  To me she represented all the things that so many women of her era tried to achieve.

Equality, Independence, and Survival Skills were her legacy to her children.  These skills taught to her, and also to her children show us her determination to succeed and instill a sense of self being in her children and try to show them how best to cope with situations, and given her circumstance, these lessons where not easily taught or learned.  As well as raising her own children, (which numbered 11 in all) she took in the children of other women and families when they were unable to cope, even though this caused hardship to herself and her family.

Emma’s story begins 9th August, 1853 in Albany, where is unknown at this stage.  This little baby girl born to Robert and Eliza Gamble was one of Eliza’s last children.  How many pregnancies Eliza endured we have no idea but 7 children where recorded in her name and Emma was number 6.

Emma spent the best part of her life away from people and other children.  Her older surviving sisters where grown and married, Martha the eldest was married in 1860 and Nancy was married by 1858 by the time Emma was old enough to know and play with any children there was no one left.  Her younger brother Robert was born in 1860 and by then she was 7.  Her independency skills would have started at this stage.  Being 7 and having to share the care of her little brother would have been a good starting place.  Eliza and Robert’s health must have started to decline by this stage and she was most probably washing and cleaning, as were most girls of her age and position in society of the time.

In 1864 Robert accepted a position as Lighthouse Keeper at Breaksea Island.  This was an extremely lonely and deprived existence.  The only contact with the main land was via the pilot boat that called twice per month if the whether permitted.  Robert stated in a letter to his daughter Nancy that it was not labourious work at the light house but he had a great deal of writing to do each month so at £5.13.4 per month having to pay for his own provisions he considered it a small wage.

Emma spent 3 years isolated in this way and it was only when her father left the employ of Light House Keeper that she then went to live in Albany.  She was in her 13th year when her parents died.  Her eldest sister was in the last months of a pregnancy to her second husband John Foran whom she had married in about 1865.  It was in childbirth delivering the little boy John Foran jnr. that she died.   The little boy was only to live about 4 months longer than his mother when he too died.  Emma was to go and live with, and be employed, at the Albany Barracks by a Doctor of the name of John Crampere Rossoloty.  This was the end of her childhood and the beginning of her adulthood.

In December of 1868 Emma gave birth to a little girl.  It was thought that the father was one of the troopers from the barracks however documentation through the Colonial State Records Office confirms that the baby’s father was Dr. John Crampere Rossilotty.  He was confirmed to be the father and was sued for support of the little girl.

Emma’s brave defiance of what must have been a very difficult and stressful time for any young woman of any era must have been made ten times worse, by the constraints of the day.  She was considered a “half caste” and her innocent daughter a “bastard”.  What courage it must have taken to stand up to all those influential white men and say that she had been seduced by a man who was married and who had other children and declare that he was the father.  I can only admire her at such a young age, she was learning fast.

The saga of this young woman and her baby was to continue and become worse.  Some comfort was afforded to young Emma when she met and married Ben Davis on 1st December 1869.

Emma was again pregnant, this time to Ben Davis, when her little girl Emma suddenly died.  The baby was sick over a short period of time and her attempts to get a doctor to see her child were fruitless and little baby Emma died of an unknown ailment, possibly a problem with feeding.  One can only imagine her isolation at this time.

Emma’s second child Mary Jane Davis was born 8th April 1870 in Albany.  Emma’s life appears to settle and become stable and on 29th April 1872 Daniel Benjamin Davis was born to Emma and Ben Davis.  It can be assumed that the marriage of Ben and Emma was not a convivial one.  Ben was approximately 18 years older than Emma and she was so young when first pregnant and married that she must have found the responsibilities of raising a family and being a wife extremely daunting.

Sometime between 1872 and 1875 when her third child was born Emma and Ben separated and in this year Emma’s fourth child Lewis John Snyder was born.  This child was born to Emma and Lewis Snyder whom she was most probably living with.

Ben Davis died in January 1876 and in the same year only 3 months later she married Lewis Snyder and settled again to have 4 more children to Lewis, George Robert in 1877, Charles Henry Shakespeare in 1880, William John Nelson in 1883 and James Ralph in 1886.

In 1886 Emma’s married life again was to take a nasty turn.  Lewis Snyder was out in a small boat in Princess Royal Harbour with his step son Daniel Davis, the weather turned bad and the small vessel with he and Daniel overturned and both where presumed drowned.  Daniel’s body was eventually found, however Lewis’ body was never found and he was presumed dead.

Emma must have found herself absolutely destitute after this time.  As she would have had no income for her young family ranging in age from Mary 16 years old and James only new born, other means must be employed.  The years between 1886 and 1890 must have been the most difficult for her.

All but the two eldest of her children to Lewis die of Tuberculosis.  Charles died in 1883 aged about 3 years, William in 1887 aged 5 years and James in 1887 aged about 2 years old.  Her living conditions must have been basic and not much is known of her life at this stage other than that in 1888 she gives birth to a little girl Eliza Mullen (Snyder).  The father of this innocent little one would have to be in doubt as she was living in a tent and existing only from handouts and maybe prostitution.  Emma could hardly be blamed for her circumstances but society must have seemed terribly cruel to her.  

In 1888 Mary Jane Davis has her first child a little girl as well.  She was named Ellen Fitzgerald being the daughter of Michael Fitzgerald.  Mary and he married some years later in 1894.

In 1889 Emma was found guilty of assault on a Charles deLore and was sentence to 6 months hard labour in the Albany goal.  It was at this time that she would have discovered that she was pregnant with another baby and would have been released from prison in time to give birth to this little girl Martha Emery.  Her father was to be Emma’s third husband John Embrey  whom she would marry in 1894 and have her last known child to, John Embery jnr.  He was born the year before in 1893 but died 13 days later.

Emma’s married life was not to last long again and by 1901 Emma was living with another man by the name of Albert Edward Martin.  John Embrey died in 1903 and no mention of his wife Emma or his children Martha and John was made on his death certificate.

Albert and Emma lived in Highgate, Perth for sometime supplementing their income with petty crime finding, themselves in strife in Fremantle from time to time.  Emma became a very matriarchal figure and would take into her care children of her immediate family and also her associates and friends when the need arose.  She was recorded in the Aboriginal Protectorate Records as having cared for young Charles Penny after his mother had died in Perth.

In 1904 Martha Snyder (Emery) at just the age of 14 had her first child a little boy, William Snyder, his father was not recorded, however Mary married Thomas Tuckwell in 1906 and Emma signed the marriage certificate in the name of Emma Frances Martin.  Martha’s marriage to Thomas was to be a turbulent one and Thomas appears to leave Martha for long periods to go to the Eastern States, presumably for family reasons.  These absences must have caused Martha great hard ship as she had no means of support for herself and her family.

Thomas was to come home from one of these trips and find Martha living with another man.  Thomas was incensed and apparently physically assaulted Martha.  The year was 1910 and it must be remembered that women had no real standing in the community, they were their husband’s property and community attitudes of the day realized that the husband could deal with his wife in the way he felt was correct.

Martha must have had other ideas on this as she filed charges of assault against him.  The charges were preferred to the divorce courts and I have no idea how this marriage ended . This amazing situation could only have been made possible by some pretty forceful talk to the authorities.

Martha was underage and her legal guardian WAS her husband, how she even had the charges preferred against him is simply a credit to her and I think to a very strong mother.  I should imagine that Emma would have protected her family vehemently against all she considered wrong.  Including all those deemed to be in authority over her.

These qualities, I believe, Emma gave to all her children and it has been very difficult to find all her descendants.  Through the years they have become splintered and fragmented within the families and this is not surprising considering that right up until 1975 the policy of succeeding governments was to separate mixed race families and those families deemed Aboriginal that they believed were morally at risk.

Emma was at the marriage of her daughter Eliza Snyder (Mullen) to Walter Johnson.  She married in 1910 and Emma signed the certificate with the name of Emma Frances Lewis.  At this stage we do not know who her partner of this time was.  Eliza died only a short time later in 1913.  Walter Johnson fought and died in the Battle for the Somme and is memorialised in France.

Where Emma died remained a mystery for a long time until the oldest known living descendant of Emma’s gave us a clue.  Emma had gone on a trip to the Eastern States in about the early 1920’s.  A search in records of Victoria found that Emma had died on 9th September 1926 in Richmond, Victoria.  Her eldest surviving son Lewis had joined her and died a year later leaving no known living descendants.  Emma is memorialized in the New Melbourne Cemetery at Fawkner, Victoria.  On her death certificate it stated that she had 4 children still living, Lewis, Mary, George and Martha. 

The fate of Emma’s other children remained a mystery but as research goes it does continue.  George Snyder appears to have gone to China as a boy of about 17 his whereabouts is unknown at this time.  Mary stayed in Western Australia with her husband, Micheal Fizgerald and her 13 odd children, Martha settled in Victoria with her mother and older brother, Lewis.  She eventually married Alfred Charles Ferris in 1948 when she was 56 years old after living with him for 20 years.

What prompted this move to Victoria is unknown; maybe she had listened to the stories that her mother might have told her when Emma was a little girl, her mother’s tales of the lands of Port Phillip and the people and the dreaming and longing to be home.  Maybe in the restless nature of all those who wish to be home Emma thought she could find it there in her ancestral home.

Emma’s story continues still.

PS:  Emma's grave stayed bear with no marking for over 90 years but in 2014 a stone monument and brass plaque was donated by a nephew of Emma's.  He was so impressed by her story he donated this on Lewis and Emma's grave.

We sincerely thank Mr. R. Fowler of N.S.W.

©Theresa Lo Presti

No comments:

Post a Comment