Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Women's work

It's been many years now since I began, albeit in fits and starts, to be interested in genealogy, but over the years I have amassed a collection of ancestors going back, in one case, to the late 17th century, including a full set of 16 great-great-grandparents.

There was a breakthrough a couple of years ago when I discovered that New South Wales had put its births, deaths and marriages records online, thereby opening up research into my mother's side of the family. Using that and several other sources, cross-checking and back-tracking and triple-cross-checking, I traced my maternal grandfather's line back to one Sophia Chipp, born in Sydney in 1803.

Hello, I thought. If she was born in Sydney as early as that, when did her parents arrive? Sure enough, there they were: Marine Private Thomas Chipp and convict Jane Langley, arrived on different ships in the First Fleet, married on Norfolk Island in 1791. There is some doubt about Jane's guilt; the witnesses at her trial seem to be largely on her side.

Thomas Chipp had been a baker, and may have been press-ganged like the Irish marine in Thomas Keneally's Bring Larks and Heroes, possibly in the first instance as cannon-fodder for the American War of Independence; records show he was in the Marines by 1775. Jane had been an embroiderer. (My mother was a really exceptional craftswoman, an imaginative perfectionist, particularly in cooking and sewing.)

In the course of this research I'd found the Jane Langley Descendants Association, which I joined, and today I got their latest newsletter in the mail. In it a member of the Association reports that she has been in London researching apprenticeship records hoping to find some indenture papers for Jane Langley but has been unable to do so. 'However,' she says,

a story I was told by a lace maker may be of interest. As candlelight was almost impossible to sew by in the evening, what needleworkers would do was to place a large bowl of water on the table and surround it with candles -- the reflection of the candlelight thrown from the water created a brighter light by which to sew. The lady who told me the story said she had tried it and was very surprised at the amount and quality of the light.


Anonymous said...

That's such a nice antidote to the article on appropriate work for women I read today in the Argus (1862).

Bernice said...


Yulan, or Magnolia denudata, has a pearly white flower, cupped and up to 4" long. Prized by Chinese writers & poets, they would plant them so that by the light of a full moon, they could read using the luminous flowers.

cristy said...

The imagery created by that story is just beautiful. I love the light of candles reflected in the water, but I would have never thought it bright enough to sew by.

Ann O'Dyne said...

Congratulations on your convict.
Get the case re-opened, an aquittal, and reparation.
I want to do that for mine who was transported for "being in possession of a quantity of pigfat for which he had no logical explanation".
Female convicts embarking for Arstralia were given by the London Ladies Benevolent Society, a bag containing everything needed for sewing a patchwork quilt for themselves. Apparently many had finished said quilt and sold it for a Pound en route. I read this in 'A history of Australian patchwork' (author forgotten).

Pavlov's Cat said...

'Get the case re-opened, an acquittal, and reparation.'

Wouldn't that be something!

The only problem with it as ideas go is that by all accounts she had a better, longer life in Australia than she ever would have in London. If she was innocent, then obviously as a young single working woman in London she was prey to exactly the kind of frame-up her trial transcript suggests. And if she was guilty, then she was better off in Australia than she would have been in jail or afterwards. She married her Marine, got land grants, had a bunch of kids and lived to be 65.

Pavlov's Cat said...

I also meant to say to Bernice that her flower story is amazing and beautiful. And to Ann that the pig fat story is amazing -- fancy that one could be tried and found guilty merely for the possession of a non-illegal substance!

Lorinda said...

I am also a descendent of Thomas Chipp and Jane Langley. I knew that Jane was an embroiderer, but didn't know that Thomas had been a baker.
I am descended from their first daughter together, Ann, who was born on Norfolk Island.

Jan Quigley said...

Hi, I'm also a descendant of Jane & Thomas, via Sophia (Chipp) Thompson through my mother's side. cheers, Jan