Sunday, 30 March 2014

52 Ancestors #14 Sarah Guest

Sarah Guest was born on Norfolk Ireland on 1 May 1792. Her parents were convicts, George Guest and Mary Bateman. Norfolk Island was settled shortly after the British arrived in Port Jackson in 1788 in order to grow food, flax, timber for masts and other supplies urgently required in the new settlement in Sydney. Mary Bateman arrived on Norfolk Island on 7 August 1790 while George Guest had arrived on the island the previous month. They married in November 1791 when the Rev. Richard Johnson visited Norfolk Island. The convicts had been encouraged to farm their own land in order not to be dependent on government supplies and over time George acquired additional land, eventually building his holdings to 250 acres, and was successfully farming on Norfolk Island. Records show that he grew maize and raised pigs and sheep - by 1805 the flock of sheep was reported to number close to 950. This was the world in which Sarah spent her childhood. She had three younger brothers born between 1794 and 1804. Her sister, Mary, died in 1804, aged one, and was buried in what is now the Old Cemetery on Norfolk Island. Sarah, being the eldest daughter, would have been expected to help with the younger siblings and also would probably have had chores to do on the farm.

In September 1805 Sarah and her family left Norfolk Island to settle in Tasmania. She was thirteen when the family travelled by ship to what was to be their new home. They were to be given land in Tasmania equivalent to what they owned on Norfolk Island. Initially the family was granted 24 acres at Macquarie Point and her father spent the rest of his life arguing with authorities in order to build up his property interests in the state.

When she was 16 Sarah married Thomas William Birch, a surgeon who had recently arrived in the colony. They were married at St David's Church in Hobart on 12 September 1808. There is some uncertainty about the actual age of Thomas Birch but he was considerably older than his wife and possibly only a few years younger than her father. Thomas would have been in his forties, or close to 40, when he married Sarah. Between 1809 and 1820 Sarah and Thomas had seven children - Samuel (born 1809), Ann Riley Birch (born 6 October 1810 died 24 April 1811), William (born 1812), Sarah (born 1814), Eliza (born 1816), Henry (born 1818) and George (born 1820).

Hobart had only been established as a settlement in 1804, the year before Sarah and her family arrived. The initial buildings would have been wattle and daub huts. Thomas did not practise as a doctor but instead became involved in the lucrative whaling and sealing industries, timber-getting, ship building and selling ships' cargoes as they arrived in the colony. Thomas also acquired large holdings of land in Hobart and other parts of Tasmania. In 1815 Thomas had built the three storey brick house at 151 Macquarie Street, Hobart where his family lived and from where he could conduct his business.
Macquarie House - 151 Macquarie Street, Hobart
The family had  now established a comfortable life-style in the new colony. In December 1815 Thomas paid for James Kelly to explore part of the Tasmanian coast and during the expedition Sarah had an island, Sarah Island, named after her. When Governor Macquarie visited Van Diemen's land in April 1820, the Birch family moved out of the house in Macquarie Street for the three months of the Governor's visit so that their home temporarily became the residence of the Governor. No doubt they spent the time in one of their other properties.

But Sarah's life was about to change. On 1 December 1821 Thomas William Birch died and was buried on 7 December in the cemetery at St David's Church, Hobart. Sarah was a widow at 29 with six children to look after, the youngest only 1 year old. Thomas had left a will prepared shortly before he died that 'devised his real Estates to Trustees for sale'. There were complications and nothing happened until 1838 when Thomas' son-in-law, Simeon Lord jnr, questioned the validity of the will. The properties were believed to have been worth more than £40,000 - a huge sum of money. In November 1838 the properties were advertised for sale with the 100 acres in Hobart divided into 74 lots. There continued to be discussions as to how the properties were to be sold complicated by the Court declaring that proceeds from the sale should be paid to the Colonial Treasury which would keep any interest accrued and then distribute proceeds of the sale to those entitled. The sale of the lots making up the 100 acres owned by Thomas Birch in Hobart were eventually sold in March 1839, more than 18 years after his death. 

On 29 November 1823 Sarah married Edmund Irton Hodgson who had arrived in Hobart from England aboard the Castle Forbes in March the previous year. Sarah and Edmund had six children: Charles Alfred (1825-1885), Fanny (1826-1880), Ann Jane (1828-1880), Edmund Irton (1830-1874), Frederick Lampla (1831-1878) and Walter (1834-1890).

The Hobart newspapers contain many references to Sarah and especially Edmund. Edmund set himself up initially selling goods that had arrived via ship in the colony. Sarah had continued operating many of Thomas' business interests including selling merchandise and soon advertisements appeared in the paper advising that Edmund Hodgson was selling items on behalf of Mrs Birch. Once they were married he became more involved in the family business as well as operating his own business interests. These included the operation of the Cascade Tannery in the 1820s and early 1830s. Sarah and Edmund converted the house at 151 Macquarie Street into a hotel which, although they owned the buildings, other people were the licensee including Robert Stodhart and James Cox. In the 1830s Edmund became licensee. The building was sold in August 1840. Edmund had over-stretched himself financially and in order to pay his debts, in 1841, he convinced his wife to surrender part of her claim to her former husband's property. Sarah, with the assistance of her family, later took the matter to court arguing that she had been coerced into signing the legal documents. Eight years later the judge agreed with her family which halted any further payments of Edmund's debts. The Hobart Courier provides detailed descriptions of the case including descriptions provided by Clara Birch and George Birch of the conditions of their mother's marriage and how she had been distraught before signing the papers in 1841. The court proceedings made it clear that the claimants to the money were unaware of the coercion applied by Edmund Hodgson.

In 1847 Sarah and Edmund built a large house, Islington, on land he had purchased when the Birch property had been sold. They never lived in the house but used the rent as a source of income.
Islington is now a boutique hotel in Hobart
They also built Glen House near the intersection of Macquarie Street and Glen Street and this house became the family home.
Glen House, Macquarie Street, Hobart
In July 1849 Edmund and three of his sons departed Hobart aboard the William Melville for California. A paragraph in the paper the previous month noted that Edmund was planning to take nine prefabricated buildings to sell when they got there. One suspects they planned to make their fortune on the Californian goldfields but only stayed a short time before returning to Tasmania.

Sarah died on 31 March 1868 at her home, Glen House, in Hobart. Sarah, who was seventy-five when she died, had led an eventful life and seen many changes in the development of Hobart during her lifetime.

Sarah was my great (x3) grandmother.

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