And his wife, Frances Louisa, nee SOUTH
Richard Lawrence is perhaps my ancestor about whom I know the least. A little is known of his background in England, but rather less of his years in Australia. But of Frances Louisa South, much information has been uncovered.
What is known about Richard Lawrence is that he was born in 1817 to John Lawrence and Elizabeth Rampton, in the Hampshire parish of Rotherwick, and that he was the youngest of their eight children. His parents had been married in the Rotherwick church – its dedication unknown – in 1794; and it was in this same 13th century church that Richard was baptised on 9th February 1817.
Rotherwick is not far from Heckfield, Mattingley and Hartley Wintney, and it was in this last-named parish, that "Richard LARANCE" was recorded in the 1841 Census Returns. He was listed as a male servant, living in the household of John South, a farmer, who lived at Purdies Farm in Hazeley Heath, to the north-east of the village of Hartley Wintney. A wealthy man, and a member of a family that had farmed and lived in the area for many generations, Farmer South was at this time a widower, and lived on his 150 acre farm with his two sons, and two of his daughters, his widowed sister-in-law (who would eventually become his second wife), plus two further farm workers as well as Richard.
In 1841, the two South daughters then at home, Sabina and Frances Louisa, were aged 15 and 13 years respectively. Frances Louisa had been born at Hazeley Heath 31st July 1828, and baptised in the church of Hartley Wintney 24th August the same year. In July 1843, the children’s aunt Frances married their father John South, and thus became their stepmother. A few years later came the family "scandal", and for this we must rely to a certain extent on oral tradition.
Frances Louisa South wished to marry Richard Lawrence, the farm worker or groom, but her father would not give permission, Frances Louisa being under twenty-one. And like all good family traditions, the story was that they eloped, and emigrated to Australia. They were actually married by Banns in London, that much is certain – both declaring that they were of full age - on 30th October 1848, at the church of St John the Evangelist in Westminster. Whether any members of the immediate family were present is not known; nor is it known where the newly married couple lived for almost five months after their marriage.
Their next appearance is aboard the ship "Brankenmoor" which left London 22nd March 1849 for Port Adelaide, Australia, where they arrived 3rd July 1849. It seems that for at least four years, Richard & his wife lived at Portwakefield, near Adelaide in South Australia. Three daughters were born to them there, Anna on 22nd August 1850, Mary 3rd November 1851, and Sabina 29th December 1853. Both Mary and Sabina died in infancy, leaving Anna (eventually my great-grandmother), the only surviving child of Richard & Frances Louisa Lawrence.
We must again enter the realms of family tradition! Richard Lawrence deserted his wife and child – or so it was believed. But the next "sighting" of Frances Louisa is - not in South Australia, - but in Victoria, where she was living with one George Swanson at Winter’s Flat, Castlemaine, a gold-mining town. There, on 3rd December 1858, she gave birth to a daughter, named Rose Swanson Lawrence: then came George Swanson Lawrence, born at the same address on 23rd July 1861. The Victorian birth registrations of both Rose and little George state the name of their father as "Richard Lawrence, " described in the first case as a miner, and the second as a gold digger. This indicates that Frances Louisa must at this time have believed that Richard Lawrence, her husband, was still alive, and was therefore to be regarded as the legal father of these two children.
But time was to pass, and in July 1863, old John South died on his farm at Hazeley Heath in Hampshire. His will, dated 1862, made provision for his wife Frances, and all of his living children, including his daughter in Australia, who he named as "Louisa". The executors of the will were given extraordinary powers, and exploited these to the utmost, there being delay after delay in the settling of affairs. Perhaps to strengthen the claim of herself and her children to her share in her father’s estate, and legalise her union with George Swanson, Frances Louisa was married at Castlemaine on the 1st March 1864. But it was necessary of course for her to prove that she was free to marry. She declared that her first husband had died in July 1856. No appropriate death registration has been found, suggesting that she re-married not as a widow, but as a deserted wife, under the legal provision that her former husband had not been heard of for seven years.
Whatever the case, more children were born to George & Frances Louisa Swanson - a son James South Swanson on 26th May 1865 at Forest Street, Castlemaine, and twin boys, William and John Swanson 14th March 1867. The last-named, John, lived only three days and lies buried in the Campbells Creek Cemetery at Castlemaine. Just over a year later, on 6th June 1868, he was joined by his mother when Frances Louisa herself died of scarletina.
And still there had been no satisfactory settlement of the late John South’s affairs, and Frances Louisa died never knowing of the prolonged but unsuccessful legal battle that her eldest daughter Anna underwent, in trying to prove the right of herself and her half-siblings, as Frances Louisa’s children, to a portion of their grandfather South’s estate.
After some years, one of the trustees died, and it was then disclosed that he had actually "mis-appropriated" Anna’s share, a sum of over £500. However, this trustee’s brother, out of respect for his memory, agreed to make up the amount. But the years dragged on; solicitors’ letters went back and forth, between Australia and England, yet there was no settlement. Eventually, to quote Anna’s solicitor, the trustees "emboldened by the delay", declared that Anna was illegitimate, and that Frances Louisa’s second marriage was illegal, on the grounds that Richard Lawrence was still alive at the time. On Anna’s side, her lawyers were unable to find all the proofs demanded, the necessary certificates of birth and marriage, - all items that today have been found with relative ease. But for Anna, it was too late, and she and her husband simply hadn’t the financial means to fight for Frances Louisa’s inheritance.
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