03 May 2012

Kissing Cousins

William Rich (c1832-1927) was my great great grandfather. I am descended from his daughter Christina (1889-1971), who was born to his second wife Lavinia Huxley (1847-1929). Previously, William was married to his first cousin Mary Jane Bindon (1838-1872). In Australia it is legal to marry your first cousin, though whether it is a good idea to have children is another thing, considering the limited gene pool. However, the genetic implications of having children with your first cousin were unknown in those days and so William and Mary Jane had a number of children. I'm not sure of the exact number as the records do not really agree with each other on the names. The one thing I do know is that none of the children survived childhood.

William H Rich was their firstborn, and was born on July 22 1861 in Peel River, NSW. He died sometime in 1862 - I haven't gotten around to getting a transcript of his death certificate. Until the other day I had not found any concrete evidence of William and Mary Jane having any more children and assumed that they had not. I have wondered whether William H's short life span was just related to the type of illness which took many people's lives in those days before the advent of antibiotics, or whether there had been a congenital condition which had led to his death.

The other day a distant relative contacted me and pointed me in the direction of some children born to William and Mary Jane in Victoria, and further research revealed more, born in (surprisingly) New Zealand. I was completely unaware the family had spent time in New Zealand.

Other children believed to have been born to William and Mary Jane Rich:
Emma (born ?, died 1868 in New Zealand)
Sampson (born ? and died pre-1872)
Henry Bindon (born 1865, New Zealand - died 1865, New Zealand)
Sydney (born 1865, New Zealand - died 1866, New Zealand)
Alfred (born 1868, New Zealand - died 7 Dec 1872, Melbourne)
Cornelia (born 1870, New Zealand - died 21 Nov 1872, Melbourne)
Avice (1872, Melbourne - 2 Jul 1872, Melbourne)

Avice's death certificate says she was born in Hokitika, New Zealand. This is actually incorrect - there is a record of her birth in Victoria, however, as both her parents were not with her when she died it's not surprising that there was a mistake. However, it does suggest where the family were in New Zealand. William Rich was working on the gold fields at Peel River, NSW, before they went to NZ. Hokitika was settled in the 1860s after gold was found there. A huge number of Australians went there for the ensuing gold rush, apparently William Rich and his family included. Exactly when they arrived in NZ is unknown, but they returned to Australia, to Melbourne, in 1872. Had William made his fortune? Who knows.

The story of the children who died in Melbourne is terribly sad. Their mother Mary Jane died in Melbourne on 8 April 1872. William was left with three children, Alfred, aged 4, Cornelia, 1 3/4 and Avice, aged only 21 days old. William apparently was unable to care for the three of them, presumably because he needed to work, and fathers didn't do that sort of thing in those days anyway, so they were put into care. All three of them were sent to Industrial Schools, which were for the care of neglected children. Albert died in the industrial school on December 7, 1872 of bronchitis and whooping cough. Cornelia died November 21, 1872 of debility and marasmus (extreme malnutrition), and Avice on July 2, 1872 of marasmus and apoplexy. The industrial schools cannot have been happy places to live, especially considering the two girls died of extreme malnutrition. Were these children destined to die young anyway because of congenital conditions? We'll never know, because there was no knowledge of those things then, but it is a possibility, particularly in the case of Cornelia, who died of debility and marasmus.

It is interesting to note that from William's second marriage, to Lavinia Huxley (who was not a blood relation of his), of their eight children, none of them died in childhood.


  1. This is such a sad story Prue..those poor little babies. Perhaps congenital issues were a problem but did they deserve to die of malnutrition. I know the answer from both of us is "NO". Whether the second group of children survived is due to genetics or family care is a complex question.

  2. Yes, the answer is a no. I've been trying to work out exactly which industrial schools they were at, but its not very clear. There doesn't seem to be much information around on them. They must have been awful though.