Sunday 21 September 2014

Martha Gamble Albany 1835 - 1867

Martha Gamble
Albany 1835 - 1867

Martha Gamble entered this life on 5 November, 1835 and was born on one of the islands of the Archipelego of Rechèchè .  Robert Gamble, her father, traversed the seas readily between Kangaroo Island and Albany and so she may have been born on the island he normally stayed and that was Middle Island.  Her birth was the first recorded for Robert and “Eliza”.  Robert was a sealer and sometimes a whaler and lived on many of the Islands off the South Coast of Western Australia with Eliza and their children.  Eliza Nowen was a woman of the Bunurong People of Pt. Phillip Bay and had been captured by raiders in 1832/34.   Robert may have bought her from another sealer on one of the islands of Bass Strait, but early records state that she was from originally from Pt. Phillip Bay.

Martha was born into an extremely harsh life and living conditions for the family was very scant and labour intensive.  Her mother was a virtual slave.  Robert Gamble must have been an extremely hardened man.  Sealers and whalers were known for their lack of empathy for anything, human or animal.  The act of killing seals was said to be and still is considered a very dehumanizing occupation.  It would not be unfair to say that Robert was such a man.

Martha’s day would have begun with helping her mum with the duties required of her.  Depending on the season this would have been tending the vegetables near the “cottage” or helping the sealing gangs rounding up the small seal pups and killing the seals.  Bunurong women were highly rated for their ability to tan hides and weave baskets and fish traps and these talents would have been passed to Martha.  Seal skins were worth a small fortune and Robert Gamble was said to have had quite a sizable amount of money at different times.

Martha had 3 brothers and 3 sisters, however only two sisters lived on to marry and have children.  Martha’s siblings, Robert born in 1836, Isabella in 1837, and John in 1838, when these children died or if they went on to have families has never been recorded.  Only their births were recorded in a family Bible.   “The Breaksea Island Bible” as it was to become known as is now in the possession of the Albany Historical Society.  Isobella, John and Robert were never found to have been baptised, and it is probably fair to say that Isobella and John died in infancy.  The birth of another John was recorded in the Bible in 1863 but because it occurred when Eliza was a much older woman, there is some doubt as to whether he was Eliza’s natural child.

Despite Martha’s early years being hard or maybe because of it, she became quiet involved in the early life of the Anglican Church.  She had moved into Albany, possibly to find employment.  What this may have been we don’t know, however her involvement in forming and fund raising for the Anglican Church is recorded.  She was confirmed into the Church on Trinity Sunday by the Bishop Hale the day after it was consecrated.  She was the first in her family to be confirmed and the youngest.  She was 14.  No one at this stage knows where she lived or with whom.  Henry Camfield became fundamental to the establishment of the Anglican Church and a champion of Emma, Martha’s sister and would go on with his wife to rear Martha’s two children.  Ann Camfield was to set up an aboriginal school, so it could be said they had become a firm friends of the Gamble’s much earlier.

Martha married in 1860 to Mathew Smith, a teacher.  It seems that they were truly in love as this does not appear to have been an arranged marriage as Nancy’s appears to have been 2 years before.  Martha was 21 and Mathew was 44 years old.  They seem to be a happy couple, both committed to church work.  Mathew had been a teacher and may have continued in a teaching role so as to be able to feed the family.Martha had 2 children to Mathew, Eliza Jane, 1862 and Martha Grace 1865.  In July of that year Mathew died leaving Martha, a young widow with 2 small children.

Life for a young widow with children was a poor one unless your husband left an estate to live off, unfortunately this was not the case with Martha.  No husband meant no income and we don’t believe that Mathew had been a wealthy man.  She had no alternative but to find employment or a husband.  Two years later she did just that and found John Foran.  He had been born here in Western Australia and his parents had come out on one of the first ships out to Western Australia.

They were married in the church in 1867 and on 14th September of that year John Foran Jnr. was born.  His birth must have been a traumatic one as Martha died in child birth and little John weakened by the birth died 3 months later.  The little girls were left orphaned and it appears that they went into the care of the Camfields who would had already set up an educational institution for orphaned aboriginal children.  The children at this institution were loved and cared for and Martha and Eliza eventually grew and were placed into the employment of Bishop Hale and his wife.

Martha’s life although short must have been a life of such contrasts.  She was born into a life of hard work and the things she may have witnessed as a child could have been very dehumanising, however she grew to a woman of courage and determination and gentleness and love.  She found comfort in doing work for the church community, and so had found respect in that from her peers.  Martha left a legacy of conviction and faith for her descendents, one which lingers in varying forms today.

©Theresa Lo Presti

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