Monday, July 30, 2018

Kirkham Family: Natal and Australia


Strong links existed between South Africa and Australia in the 19th century, and there was considerable movement between the colonies: in the early 1850s a number of Natal colonists were lured away to the goldfields of Australia. 

William Cable Kirkham, his wife Sarah Anne (nee FAIRHEAD) and family were passengers on the Unicorn, which left Liverpool 14 July 1850, arriving at Port Natal 19 September 1850. The Unicorn, at 946 tons one of the largest of the Byrne ships, carried 257 passengers. The Kirkhams had an allotment of 100 acres of land.

According to the passenger list, the children travelling with the Kirkham parents were John, William, Sarah, James and 'Tiney' (possibly Emma b 1845).
Descendant Pamela Kirkham had found the Unicorn passenger list and wrote to ask for further information on the Byrne scheme. She also particularly requested more on a ship called 'Surry' thought to have called at Cape Town or Durban in 1852 en route to Australia. It was believed that it was on this ship that the John Kirkham who was listed on the Unicorn in 1850, had travelled to Melbourne in 1852.

This was an intriguing suggestion. Firstly, a ship named Surry didn't ring any bells. Secondly, if John Kirkham was one of the children arriving with his parents at Natal in 1850 on the Unicorn, it was somewhat unexpected that he might have left shortly afterwards for Australia in 1852.
I heard from Pamela again almost immediately: she had found on our maritime pages the passenger list for the Sarah Bell which left for Australia in December 1852 - among those on board was J Kirkham. So, 'Sarah Bell' had undergone a transformation somewhere along the line, and become 'Surry'. There was no doubt in Pamela's mind that she had found the missing jigsaw piece for which she'd been searching for some time. Shipping records in Victoria show no other John Kirkham arriving in 1852. Regrettably the passenger list at the Australian end of the voyage of the Sarah Bell has not survived.

John Kirkham was the eldest of the Kirkham children, born in Braintree Essex circa 1824 and would have been about 26 when the family arrived on the Unicorn in 1850; the next brother William John was 22. As John was an adult he was well able to leave his family behind in Natal and seek his fortune in Australia in 1852.
In August 1851, Edwin James Challinor leased some property in West St. Durban to John Kirkham, son of William Cable Kirkham - further evidence of John's adulthood at that date.
Pamela reported that she had found John Kirkham's marriage in Melbourne in December 1853. There had always been a question as to how he had arrived in Australia, since it was known that he had been with his family when they had emigrated from England to Natal.

The next avenue of research will be the UK baptisms of the Kirkham children - those who travelled on the Unicorn. There was another daughter, Susanna Simpson,, presumably born in Natal, and mentioned in South African Genealogies (SAG) Vol K p283.
Pamela currently bases the age of John Kirkham on his reputedly having been 3 weeks short of his 100th birthday when he died in Port Augusta, South Australia, 24 April 1924.
At the time of the second son William John Kirkham's baptism in the parish church of Great Coggeshall, 25 May 1828, William Cable Kirkham was a saddler and the family lived in Braintree. In 1848 William Cable Kirkham was an auctioneer in Braintree (White's Trade Directory) and by 1850 he had emigrated with his family to Natal.

In December 1852 John Kirkham left Natal for Australia, where he at first lived in Lonsdale Street, Melbourne. In 1853 he met Maria PRONGER and they married on 26 December 1853 at St James Church, Melbourne. Their first child, William Cable KIRKHAM (II) was born on 29 November 1854. This was at the time of the gold rushes in Northern Victoria and John and Maria moved to Bendigo (formerly Sandhurst) before the birth of their next child. It was there that the rest of John and Maria's children were born:

Sarah Anne 1857
John Edward 1858
Ellen Maria 1859
Susannah 1861
Fanny 1862
Emily 1864
Thomas 1866
Albert Ernest 1869
James Richard 1873

John became a slaughterman (butcher) and lived in Barrell Street, Eaglehawk, Victoria. After the death of his wife 24 July 1904 he moved to Waverley, near Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, with his sons John, Albert, James and Thomas, and daughters Susannah, with her husband John MESSER, and Emily, with her husband Charles WRIGHT. While the sons prospected and ran a hotel, John continued as a butcher from 1906-1911. About 1917, John and sons Albert and James and his family went to Port Augusta, moving along the Transcontinental Railway line, assisting with it as it was built, linking Adelaide to Kalgoorlie and Perth. John remained in Port Augusta for the rest of his life, living with son James, and died on 24 April 1924. He is buried in the Port Augusta General Cemetery. William Cable Kirkham II, eldest son of John Kirkham, died at the age of 35 by falling off a train in Sydney in 1889, 11 April.

This Kirkham story is a reminder that if an ancestor disappears unaccountably from SA records, the researcher should try another colony. The Sarah Bell wasn't the only ship to take settlers to Australia - the Hannah, the Golden Age and the Wee Tottie were others. Also, though this wasn't the case with John Kirkham, many migrants returned disenchanted from Australia to reappear in South Africa at a later date. All of which goes to show that family historians need to think 'outside the box'.


With kind permission of Pamela Kirkham.



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