This week’s Sepia Saturday theme is inspired by the theories of the Danish author Herman Bang (1857 – 1912), one of the leaders of the “quiet existences” literary movement, which sought to give more attention to “ignored people living boring and apparently unimportant lives”. One of my forebears, known in the family as the remittance man – the term meaning an emigrant, banished to a distant British possession to live on money sent from home – seems a suitable candidate.
Our ‘remittance man’ was my 3rd great grandfather Gordon Mainwaring (1817 – 1872) who arrived in the colony of South Australia in 1840.
As the third son of Rowland Mainwaring (1783 – 1862), Gordon Mainwaring was not expected to inherit the family estate, ‘Whitmore’ in Staffordshire.
But it appears that he was thought to need a career, and from 1832 to 1834 Mainwaring was enrolled as cadet at Addiscombe in Surrey, a military seminary for the British East India Company. In 1835 he joined the 53rd Bengal Native Infantry Company of the Honourable East India Company Service.
Mainwaring resigned his commission in 1839 after less than five years. In 1840 he left Calcutta and sailed for Adelaide, arriving in South Australia as a passenger on the Eamont on 9 April 1840, less than four years after the proclamation of the new colony.
Three years later, in 1843, Mainwaring married Mary Hickey (1819-1890), who in 1840 had emigrated to South Australia on the Birman from Cork in Ireland with her sister and brother and her brother’s wife and small child. (Her brother died on the voyage out and her sister-in-law seems to have returned to Ireland.)
Gordon and Mary had seven children:
- Ellen (1845 – 1920)
- Emily (1848 – 1863)
- Charles Henry (1850 – 1889)
- Alice (1852 – 1878)
- Walter Coyney (1855 – 1888)
- Julia (1857 – 1935)
- Frederick Rowland (1859 – 1891)
In 1925 the Adelaide Register published extracts from a diary that Mainwaring kept in 1851. By that time he had become a farmer, with a small property at Gilles Plains, 15 kilometers north of Adelaide.
The 1851 diary records the Mainwaring family’s visit to Mary’s sister. A.T. Saunders, a South Australian historian, who annotated the diary in 1925 explains that Mary’s sister Julia (1817-1884) was married to William Morris, the head keeper of the lunatic asylum.
Mainwaring’s diary gives us a glimpse of Gordon’s quiet life in 1851. He chopped wood for sale, grew vegetables and fruit, helped his wife with the housework and socialised locally. I find Gordon’s record of his quiet life interesting and no less important than any other life.
Wendy Mathias said:
When I was a teenager, everyone kept a “secret diary.” Not me. I didn’t think I did anything interesting. Now I have read two journals or diaries like Gordon’s and have been swept away in the quiet lives of ordinary people. That line “and drank tea” is definitely something I would not have thought to record unless I had been drinking tea with the queen. Yet aren’t we glad he did?
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Anne Young said:
Gordon was sent to Australia it is alleged because he had a problem with alcohol. A cousin has noted that the days when he was sick, he was possibly the worse for alcohol. Unfortunately it wasn’t only tea he drank. But yes I found the drinking tea, planting cabbages, chopping wood and selling it, all fascinating.
Perhaps in the future people will find it fascinating we went to a supermarket or filled our car with petrol (gas). Deliveries to the house of milk, bread, newspapers and groceries are now unusual but are within living memory and grocery delivery is coming back.
I think it helps that Gordon didn’t go into great detail, it makes it more readable.
Thanks for visiting.
The children used it as a scribbling book!!! Very interesting. I like the diaries of “unimportant people”. I never knew that is what a ‘remittance man’ was. And I didn’t know the correct pronouncing of Mainwaring!
Anne Young said:
Thanks for visiting Kristin.
There is a British television show, comedy, called Dad’s Army, which features a character called Mainwaring and pronounced the same way.
These days a migrant is more likely to send money home.
Barbara Rogers said:
How very interesting! Journal keeping has long been part of my life, and I’m afraid I do it just for myself, with many wandering thoughts expressed, and little sense that anyone else would ever read it. When I go through some of the older ones, I am bored myself!
tony zimnoch said:
It’s often the small detail of a person that is the most accurate & interesting .Certainly less contentious and subjective
a smaller the fact about a life:the more likely it is to be true & objective.
La Nightingail said:
I have kept a personal diary/journal for many years. I kept one as a teenager, but stopped when I was out of school & didn’t begin again until my children were older. However, my mother – bless her heart – saved all the letters I wrote to her during the time I wasn’t keeping a diary & gave them back to me after my children were grown, so it was like I actually had kept a diary. How grateful I am that she did that! Nice post. The quiet men & women of the world should be recognized! I do believe we’d all be much better off if they were!
How lucky to have such a wonderful record of your ancestor’s daily life from as early as 1851. Fascinating!
Tattered and Lost said:
Wow, he makes actual mention of the total eclipse of the sun in 1851. That was the first time an eclipse was photographed – https://www.cnet.com/news/photo-total-solar-eclipse-1851-berkowski-daguerreotype/ .
Anne Young said:
The eclipse that was photographed was in the northern hemisphere in July https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_eclipse_of_July_28,_1851. Gordon saw an eclipse on February 1. I have just learned there were 242 eclipses in the nineteenth century, the February 1851 eclipse was an annular eclipse and doesn’t get its own Wikipedia page. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_solar_eclipses_in_the_19th_century
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Terry Benjamin 0419 311 500 said:
GR (Geoffrey) Mainwaring was a WW2 War artist and Portrait painter who resided in Ballarat Victoria and who completed a pastel portrait of me in 1991.
I wonder if he was from this same family?
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Anne Young said:
I know Geoffrey Mainwaring’s work ( I live in Ballarat and am a volunteer guide at the Gallery). There may well be a relationship but it is distant. Gordon Mainwaring doesn’t have any male Mainwaring descendants, I am descended from his daughter.
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