Saturday, December 10, 2011



   I've become so involved writing and researching our relations from the past I’ve felt at times I was actually there with them, wherever they were... in Fiji, Sussex, Indiana or Scotland.  None were boring, all presented a fascinating, lively aspect of their times.
   Why did so many make the long journey to Australia?  Some were younger brothers in a large family where only the first born inherited the family farm.  Others were caught up in the famine and hardship of Europe in the early 1800's.

   One such group from my Reluctant Travellers side of the family were the offspring of his Somerset born great-Great Grandmother, Jane Williams.  You may remember a previous story about our surprise at finding her final resting place on Straddie, the same island we moved to more than 30 years ago without the slightest idea of a long ago family connection.

Powell family's voyage on the Irene
    Two of great Great-Grandmother Jane’s daughters married brothers from the Powell family.  The Powell’s were a close knit farming family from Manningford Bohun in Wiltshire.

Hoping for a better life they immigrated to Australia in 1858 on the Irene.  Stephen and Lucy Powell brought with them their seven children aged from 3 years to 24.  One son, 12 year old Cornelius would eventually marry Mary Jane Williams, while his then 3 year old brother George Powell, will later marry her younger sister Matilda.

   Mary Jane and Cornelius settled close to her parent’s home in Nanango, an early mining and logging district near the Bunya Mountains.  Her mother Jane Williams will act as midwife to her daughter’s first two pregnancies, Margaret and Louisa Jane Powell.  Those two girls will be followed by Matilda, Sarah, Emily, Jane Constance, Lucy Mary and Stephen Charles.

   Sadly, their only son, Stephen will die within two years of his birth.

   The younger Powell’s, Cornelius and Mary Jane’s children, provided a wealth of detail for future family to cherish.  The girls in particular were obviously infatuated with the photographer and his camera.

   In a photographer’s studio, possibly in Roma or Nanango, the Powell sisters, Matilda, Lucy Mary and Emily pose for the camera, revealing a stylish but individual choice of apparel.


Matilda has really gone overboard, dressed in an outfit more suited to a garden party than a photo shoot in outback Queensland. 


    Both Lucy and Emily wore their everyday clothes.  In the black and white shots they appear to be dressed in black and I wonder if at the time they were in mourning.

 Cornelius’s brother Thomas, only 9 years old when the Powell’s arrived on the Irene in 1858, posed in separate studio portraits with his attractive young wife, the former Mary Ann Dawson.

   The Powell girls show a marked likeness to their mother Mary Jane, the same fine features and dark hair.  In the photo below, with her husband, Cornelius, Mary looks a bit tired and frankly, worn out.  And no wonder. Twenty four years of her life was spent bearing eight children.

    No walk in the park back in those days.

Cornelius and Mary Jane Powell
    The photo of Cornelius and Mary Jane was most likely taken not long before his death in 1907.  Just two years later in 1909 Mary Jane’s mother, Jane Williams, the Nanango midwife from Somerset will die at the Benevolent Society Asylum on Stradbroke Island, far distant from her family.

   Blind and not wishing to be a burden on her daughters, it was Jane’s wish to spend her last days on Straddie.

    My Reluctant Traveller strolling in the historic and beautiful cemetery at Straddie where Jane Williams, nee Wall, is buried in an unmarked grave.

Marius and Louisa Jane Sorensen
    Another Powell daughter, Louisa Jane, brought into the world by her midwife grandmother in 1875, will marry the Danish farmer, Marius Sorensen in 1897 in Roma, and become the Reluctant Travellers grandmother when their daughter Connie marries Jack Mortimer. 

   Despite the hardships of life in Queensland’s outback, the two women, my husband's Grandmother and his Great Grandmother...Louisa Sorensen and her mother Mary Jane Powell, will live exceptionally long lives as these copies of  Queensland newspaper clippings show...

   The Sorensen’s 1947 golden wedding anniversary coincided with the death of Denmark’s King.  The family party however carried on regardless.  Not at the family home in suburban Paddington as my Reluctant Traveller remembered, but at a local hall.  Grandfather Sorensen played his accordion as he had done at all family gatherings.

  And Louisa Sorensen’s mother, Mary Jane Powell who attended the party in Brisbane at the age of 91, lived on for another eight years when another daughter placed the following birthday notice in the local Roma newspaper.

I have read a lot about big families, but I think my Grandmother, Mrs M.J.Powell of Roma can beat them all.  She has 211 living descendants. They include five daughters, 42 grandchildren, 120 great grandchildren and 44 great- great grand children.  Mrs Powell was born in Nanango in 1855 married in 1872 and widowed in 1907.  She celebrated her 99th birthday last month.
Until finally the Matriarch's death in 1909 is recorded in a tiny paragraph of a government report. 

   Mary Jane Powell’s mother, the indomitable Jane Williams may have died on Straddie in relative obscurity but her memory, and that of her daughters and grand daughters, lives on  in the history of the adopted country she helped to pioneer.


Robyn Mortimer ©2011