susanah’s journal – somerset to sydney

Susanah WELLINGTON's beautifully neat copperplate writing is still readable after 180 years.

Susanah WELLINGTON’s beautifully neat copperplate writing is still readable after 180 years.

The notebook of Susanah WELLINGTON began as a diary and record of lessons kept in the early nineteenth century by a twelve-year-old girl from Yeovil, Somersetshire. The first page identifies the volume’s original owner with the name ‘Miss Susanah Wellington’ in Susanah’s neat copperplate, while the accompanying date ‘February 5th. 1832’ determines a probable beginning of the entries. The subsequent fifty-one pages are a miscellany of transcribed letters, family chronology, notes of lessons and even ‘a very nice Receipt for Rock Cakes given me by Elizabeth Neal, March 16th. 1837.’

When turned upside down and reversed, the book begins again from the back as a personal diary and family record. For reasons that will become obvious, Susanah did not write the diary’s last paragraph.

Susanah included a list of her family births, deaths and marriages in her journal.

Susanah included a list of her family’s births, deaths and marriages in her journal.

Throughout the 180 years since the notebook was first inscribed, additions in various hands have recorded family births, deaths and marriages. However, the primary interest is the extensive entries between 1832-1839. As records of middle-class life in Georgian England they are far from comprehensive but can best be described as honest, charming, and often sad fragments.

The language and tone of the diary conjures up thoughts of the novels of Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters. There are references to teachers and school days which remind us of the boarding school in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. There is a walk home from a country manor house in the cold and wet which illustrates the very real danger to a young lady’s health, as suffered by the eldest Miss Bennett in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and to a greater degree by Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility.

There are journeys in coaches to stay with aunts and uncles in London; holidays to the coast and spa towns of Weymouth, Bath and Bristol; and church sermons, charity and large parties of visitors for Christmas dinner.

Susanah WELLINGTON was the second daughter of Yeovil ‘Chymist & Druggist’ George WELLINGTON and his second wife Elizabeth SAMPSON (SAMSON). Susanah and her family were Christians. They attended the parish church each Sunday and many of her diary entries reinforce Susanah’s belief that good deeds and words in this short life would be her salvation when she met her God in heaven. Susanah died of consumption (pulmonary tuberculosis) on 6 June 1838 at Glastonbury, aged eighteen years and ten months.

The notebook was inherited by Susanah’s elder sister Jane Penelope WELLINGTON. Jane married William Henry SUTTON a schoolmaster from Devon in 1842. With their six children, they emigrated to Sydney, Australia in 1854. This is apparently the way the journal arrived in Australia and it has now survived in the family for 180 years.

Australian families who can trace their ancestry to Jane Penelope WELLINGTON and William Henry SUTTON will find the information in the journal invaluable. Descendants include people with surnames of BUCK, CUNEO, HASTINGS, PICKERING, SUTTON and TAYLOR.

Susanah Wellington's little red journal.

Susanah Wellington’s little red journal.

 A note on provenance:

The notebook is a small (15 x 9.5 cm) volume with a scratched red leather cover. It was repaired in May 1995 because part of the spine had lifted and the original stitching no longer held pages intact.

Some leaves appear to have been torn out over the years. However, this has not destroyed the continuity of the letters or diary narrative. Sections of the old handwriting are faint, particularly on the first few pages, but the text is generally easy to follow.

The notebook was first owned by Susanah, and then by her elder sister Jane Penelope WELLINGTON. Jane’s daughter Rosa SUTTON became the next owner. She in turn, passed it to her daughters Winifred, Penelope and Gertrude PICKERING. The three sisters never married and in their later years they gave the notebook to cousins from the HASTINGS branch who are custodians of the notebook today.

The HASTINGS family are happy for extracts of Susanah’s journal to be published on our family history website. We hope you enjoy this little treasure.

If you subscribe to the Branches of Our Family website you will receive email updates when we publish extracts from Susanah’s journal as well as other family history articles.

Sources: Wellingtonia, The History of the Wellington Family, by John Evelyn; Death Certificate of Susanah Wellington, Pigot’s Directories of Somerset 1830 to 1840. I am especially grateful to Terry HASTINGS for his generosity in sharing Susanah’s journal with me. Terry has done a terrific job in transcribing the entries in the notebook and has provided his knowledge and insights into the life and times of Georgian England.

the runaway apprentice

Sherborne and Yeovil Mercury, dated 14 June 1773.

Richard Wellington - runaway apprentice

Ran away last Monday, from his master, Francis Pyle, of Tallerton, in the county of Devon, Richard Wellington, his apprentice. About nineteen years of age, five feet eight or ten inches high, in his walk stoops a little forward, and bends his knees inwards; straight black hair, and is of a tawney complexion. Carried off with him a light coloured drab coat, let out by the sides, very short, with yellow metal buttons, an old scarlet waistcoat, and a dark colour’d coat and waistcoat, with yellow buttons, figur’d; had in his shoes, when he went off, a pair of double ring’d brass buckles. – Whoever harbours or employs the said apprentice after this notice, shall be prosecuted as the law directs. Or whoever shall bring him to his said master, shall receive a Guinea reward.

Well I’m intrigued, and I bet you’re wondering where the rebellious, raven-haired and pigeon-toed Richard WELLINGTON fits into the family tree.

Richard’s parents were John WELLINGTON (1727-1759) and Sarah LEY (1729-?) who lived in Talaton, Devon in England. I don’t know what John did for a living, he may have been a farmer at Talaton – a small rural town about 20 kms north-east of the port of Exeter and approximately 10 kms west of Honiton.

John and Sarah WELLINGTON had 4 boys (John 12, William 10, Richard 5 and Simon 3) and Sarah was again “with child” when her husband died in early November 1759 at the age of 32. His death must have been a devastating blow to Sarah who gave birth to another son Michael in April 1760. With a family to support she would have found life difficult even if they had freehold land and John provided for her and the children in his will.

Their eldest son John was 12 and probably still at school. As first-born he may have been received a sum of money in his father’s will to secure an apprenticeship with an apothecary in one of the larger towns in Devon or Somerset.

Craftsmen usually took on apprentices at about 13 or 14 years of age, although it was not uncommon for children as young as 10 to be indentured in some trades and the term of the apprenticeship was commonly 7 years or until the child reached the age of 21. Masters required a premium to be paid by parents for securing their child’s livelihood. A father’s early death could mean a low premium and poor trade for a child of prosperous parents if provision was not made in the man’s will.

Premiums paid in trades in the mid 18th century varied greatly depending on where the business was – boys bound to London apothecaries had premiums of between £150 and £200 while provincial masters took £50 on average.
Examples of the range of premiums paid to various trades circa 1750:

  • £10-£100 – stationer, printer, bookmaker
  • £20-£200 – apothecary, attorney, hosier, jeweller, draper
  • £30-£100 – Ironmonger
  • £50-£100 – artist, coachmaker, conveyancer, sugar baker, timber merchant.

A high premium did not ensure comfortable living conditions for the child. It compensated the master for an apprentice’s errors made as a novice; it provided a child with food, room and basic board in the master’s house or workshop, instruction in a profitable livelihood, and established him in a prosperous career with appropriate marriage and social prospects. Apprentices weren’t paid for their work, except occasionally in the last years of their apprenticeship.

The following is an extract from a parish apprenticeship indenture dated 1 October 1694, at Stockleigh English, Devon. The apprentice could well be an earlier ancestor:

Between Richard Moorish, Churchwarden, Thomasine Bradford, Widow, and William Quicke, Overseer, of the one part, and Henry Bellow, Gent, of the other – binding Susannah Wellington apprentice to Henry Bellew to the age of twenty-one years, to be brought up in housewifry & found in meat, drink, apparel, lodging, hose, shooes & all things fit and necessary & at the end of term to discharge her well apparelled.

An indenture in the early 1700s had the Churchwarden Thomas WELLINGTON binding a poor parish apprentice until the age of twenty-one:

Indenture made on 6th June, eighth year of Queen Anne, A.D. 1709, between Thomas Wellington, Churchwarden, and Henry Bellow and William Morish, Overseers for Stockleigh English Parish, and Mary Pope, Widdow, have bound Joan Drew to Mary Pope till the age of twenty-one years to be brought up in huswifry.

Another indenture two years later, had Thomas WELLINGTON taking on a parish apprentice until the age of twenty-four. Joan and Elias DREW may have been from the same family and fell on hard times due to the death of a parent:

Indenture made 4th April 1711, tenth year of Queen Anne, A.D. 1711, between John Brown, Churchwarden, and John Bradford and William Blackmore, Overseers, Stockley English, and Thomas Wellington, Yeoman, of the said Parish and County (of Devon) have bound Elias Drew, Parish Apprentice, till the age of fower and twenty years in husbandry, Thomas Wellington providing for him and to discharge him at the end of term well apparelled.

Still another contract in 1742, had a James WELLINGTON taking on an apprentice for the parsonage. This one was quite firm in its conditions that the poor lad should no longer be a financial burden on the parish:

Indenture made sixteenth day of September, sixteenth year of George II., King, etc., A.D. 1742, between William Wyat, Churchwarden of Stockley English, County Devon, and William Wyat, and Robert Avary, Overseers, etc., bound John Pomeroy, Apprentice to James Wellington, for the Parsonage, until the age of twenty four years, the Apprentice to do as Statute requires. James Wellington to instruct or cause to be instructed in Husbandry work, and find him the said Apprentice, competent and sufficient meat, drink and apparel, lodging, washing, and all other things necessary and fit for an Apprentice, he not to be any way a charge to said Parish, or Parishoners of the same, and to save the aforesaid harmless and indemnified during the said term. At the end of term to provide the said Apprentice double apparel of all sorts, good and new, one for the holy days and another for the working days.

We know that our John WELLINGTON from Talaton completed his apprenticeship and became a qualified apothecary and druggist. He set up a chemist shop in Chard in Somerset and married Molly BOWDEN in 1772 at the age of 25 years.

He appears to have over-extended himself, as I found a notice in the Sherborne and Yeovil Mercury of 10 May 1773. John WELLINGTON, druggist of Chard – bankrupt. This turn of events may have been a contributing factor in his younger brother Richard’s elopement from his master one month later.

From my research at Devon Records Office I found Francis PYLE was a gentleman freehold farmer in Talaton. He held deeds for land and estates within the Hayridge Hundred during the late 1700s. Richard WELLINGTON would have been apprenticed in a trade on the estate or farm such as blacksmithing or husbandry.

Richard was totally reliant on the good will of his master. Fellow workers or members of the master’s family may have bullied the young man. He could have been mistreated, become very unhappy or homesick and have only one means of escape which was to run away.

The Runaway Apprentice - copyright Susan Buck 2012

At the age of 19, Richard was not the only apprentice to feel the need to spread his wings and experience some of life’s temptations. The Sherborne and Yeovil Mercury was a regional newspaper published in Dorset whose readership also included the counties of Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. During 1773 there were at least 40 notices posted by masters whose apprentices had eloped or run away.

By 1773, Richard had already worked at least 5 or 6 years as a farm apprentice with still another 2 years left to serve. He would have toiled long hours and resented his lack of leisure and personal freedom. He probably read about his eldest brother’s bankruptcy and set off to walk the 30 km to Chard to visit him. Or Richard might have longed for more excitement in his life and headed to the busy port of Exeter in the hope of gaining paid employment on a ship or by joining the navy.

If Richard did run away to sea (which is the most likely scenario) he made sure he was going to be “well apparelled”. I can find no further records on Richard WELLINGTON’s life after this notice so I don’t know if he ended up a sailor or returned to farming.

There is better news on his brother John WELLINGTON, the apothecary and druggist of Chard. It appears he traded his way out of bankruptcy, as a notice in the Sherborne and Yeovil Mercury on 26 September 1774 announced payment of a dividend to his creditors.

In 1777, after 5 years as a bankrupt, John was expanding his business and advertising for journeyman coopers and cabinet makers. It appears he learned from his early mistakes and went on to become very successful. He was the founder of a family dynasty of pioneering chemists in Devon and Somerset.

John WELLINGTON died in Chard in 1827, at the age of 79. Three of his children (John, George and William) were druggists and grocers in South Petherton, Yeovil and Chard. They were also respectable civic leaders, each holding office on their town councils.

[Sources: in England, 1600-1914, Joan Lane;  Sherborne and Yeovil Mercury or Western Flying Post 1773-1778; index of adverts at this link]; Erskine-Risk, J. Apprenticeship indentures from Stockleigh English Parish Church. Trans. Devon. Assoc. vol. 33 (1901) pp.484-494. [Index].

the teachers

During the early 1800s there were few national public schools, children were either taught at home or attended a school run by the town council or parish church. Boys from upper-middle class families would be taught by governesses alongside their sisters until they reached the age of 10 or 12 and then would often be packed off to boarding school and college to complete their education, or apprenticed as a clerk to a solicitor or similar profession. Less wealthy families endeavored to secure an apprenticeship in a trade for their sons and daughters. Most girls would not have the opportunity to enter into higher education, some attended private finishing schools in order to learn the social skills and artistic graces required to attract a husband of means.

William SUTTON and Susan MAY were married in 1806 at Exeter, Devon. They were both teachers, and during the early 1800s they lived at ‘Cadhay’ an historic Tudor manor house and estate in the parish of Ottery St Mary, Devon. William was the school master and music master at Cadhay school. By 1830 they had moved to Taunton, Devon and in Pigot’s Directory 1830, Susan SUTTON is listed running a ladies boarding academy in High Street, Taunton. They also had a boarding school at their house in Cannon Street where William SUTTON was school master. Susan MAY died about 1835 in Taunton. On census night 1841 the SUTTON family is living at Cannon Street – William SUTTON, age 60, school master; his son William Henry, age 30, school master; daughter Eliza Susan, age 25; also two servants and several pupils. William SUTTON died in October 1841 of consumption.

His daughter Eliza Susan SUTTON is found in the 1851 Census as governess to the family of Mr James CULVERNELL, a farmer employing 37 labourers at Clavelshay, North Petherton, Somerset. Ten years later she is governess to the five children of Mr Charles FORTER, attorney and solicitor of Stoke Road, North Curry, Taunton. In 1871 Eliza Susan is a governess and schoolmistress to about eight or nine children of the HOLE families at Harwood House, Timberscombe, Somerset. She died in 1873 in Bridgwater, aged 60 years.

William Henry SUTTON was the eldest child of William SUTTON and Susan MAY. He married Jane Penelope WELLINGTON in December 1842, in Glastonbury, Somerset. For the first three years after their marriage they lived in Melcombe Regis, Weymouth, Dorset where William Henry is recorded on his children’s birth certificates and baptisms as a school master.

Between 1846 and 1851 William Henry’s occupation is recorded as ‘Land Surveyor’ and the family was living at ‘Bathers’ 13 East Street, Broadway, Somerset. From the late 1700s, there was a boom in developing the country’s network of transport and communications, and many surveyors were employed in making maps, plans and surveys for the new roads, canals and railways. There was regular employment and good money to be made by men who had the mathematics and cartography skills to draw an accurate tithe map.

In 1852 Slaters Directory of Somersetshire lists Mr Wm Henry SUTTON as school master of ‘Legers’ a private boarding school in Wiveliscombe, Somerset.

On 19 November 1853, William Henry SUTTON, his wife Jane and their eight children, sailed from the port of London on the ‘Graham’ bound for Port Phillip and Sydney, Australia. Their 5-year-old daughter Eliza Susan died during the five month sea voyage. In the first few years in the colony they lived in the Wollongong area where William Henry worked as a school master, they then spent about two years in the new settlement of Purfleet, Manning River. The SUTTON family moved back to Sydney in 1860 when William Henry secured a job with the Great Southern Railway as station master at Petersham on an annual salary of £150 + £25 per annum in lieu of a house.

William Henry SUTTON was dismissed as Station Master in January 1868 under controversial circumstances involving a crash of a goods train and a passenger train between Petersham and Newtown stations. There was a coronial inquiry and a Supreme Court case which exonerated William of blame. He took the job of Writing Clerk, working 7 days a week, in the parcels office at Sydney Station at a pay cut of about £65 per annum. In 1868 William Henry and his wife were supporting six unmarried daughters and most likely their 18 year old son Fred. In April of the same year his eldest son William died of tuberculosis, and burdened with mounting debts William Henry filed for insolvency in October 1869. He continued to work in the parcels office until his death from cardiac arrest, aged 71 at his home at George Street, Waterloo, Sydney in August 1879.


Henrietta and Ada SUTTON were the youngest daughters of William Henry SUTTON and Jane Penelope WELLINGTON. They were both born in Australia and were home schooled by their father, mother and elder siblings. Neither of them married and they ran a small private school from their home ‘Merton’ 106 Station Street, Newtown, from the 1890s until the 1920s. Those in the family who recall the sisters in their old age, remember Henrietta (or aunt Ettie, as she was known) was a tall, thin woman and aunt Ada was short and round. One sister was quite deaf and rarely spoke, and the other evidently spoke enough for three people.

Frances Elizabeth and Rebecca WELLINGTON were two daughters of George WELLINGTON, a chemist of Yeovil, and his second wife Elizabeth SAMPSON. They were sisters of Jane Penelope WELLINGTON and aunts to Henrietta and Ada SUTTON. The two sisters became governesses and took up positions with families who could afford a live-in tutor for their children. A governess would have to be accomplished in many subjects in order to teach her young charges. The WELLINGTON sisters were most likely well-read, had a good grasp of mathematics, spoke french, would be able to draw, play an instrument, dance and sing.

From her signature inside a book, we know that Frances Elizabeth WELLINGTON spent some time living in Heidelberg, Germany, so she most likely spoke german. In 1851 she is the 28 year old governess to Rosanna GODWIN and her family of Blandford, Dorset. Frances’ half-sister Elizabeth was married to Simon GROVES, a chemist in Blandford Forum, so she had family close by. Frances does not appear to be in England on Census nights in 1861 and 1871 so perhaps she was living abroad with a family in Heidelberg during this time. In the 1881 Census she is either visiting or living with her sister Rosa and brother-in-law, Frederick HAYDEN, a chemist of Fordingbridge, Hampshire. Frances died in Bristol, England, aged 82, while living with her youngest sister Ellen, a retired draper.

In 1851 Rebecca WELLINGTON is working as the 16 year old governess in the houshold of Henry RICHARDS, farmer and land surveyor of Winterbourne, Kingston, Dorset. 10 years later she is the governess in the Reverend Walter ALFORD, the perpetual curate of Drayton and Muchelney, Langport, Somerset. In 1871 Rebecca, aged 37, is employed as the governess to the children of Joseph and Emma SYMES, a surgeon and medical superintendent of the Dorset County Mental Asylum, at Charminster. She is still employed in this position 10 years later in 1881. Rebecca died in Fordingbridge, in 1885, aged 52, most likely while living with her sister Rosa.

As a governess was usually single (I hate the word ‘spinster’), she relied heavily on savings she banked or put in an annuity fund to sustain her in her retirement. Many single women relied on their families to accommodate and support them between assignments and in their old age.

NEXT MONTH – The Rag Trade – Tailors and Drapers