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Ethel's Nana:

Mary Morse Brogden


Mary Morse Brogden was born in 1858 in South Leigh, Oxfordshire and died in 1942 in Brisbane, Australia. This memory of Mary Brogden was written by Ethel Lawley, Mary's grand-daughter. Mary was one of the daughters of Isaac Brogden whose gravestone is in South Leigh churchyard. She worked with her husband Ernest Morse in her half-brother Thomas's bakery in Islington, London, until they emigrated to Australia. Ernest sailed in 1886 and Mary followed two years later.

Ethel refers to her Nana's fount of farming wisdom. This wisdom is not surprising; Mary's father was the fifth generation of Oxfordshire Brogdens to be mostly employed in agriculture. Her half-brother Thomas's move into baking was an unusual step for the Brogdens but Mary and Ernest's emigration was not so unique: amongst other Brogdens, a cousin, Stephen and his wife Louisa also emigrated, first to Australia and then to the United States and another relative, William Brogden, along with his wife Elizabeth started a Brogden dynasty in New Zealand. Many thanks to Ethel Lawley for allowing her memories to be included in this website.


My mother's mother (my Nana), was Mary Morse née Brogden, and was the only one of my grandparents I really knew. Her husband, Ernest Morse, had died before I was born and the Logan grandparents were far away in Western Queensland at Charleville where that grandfather had settled when he came out to Australia as an Indentured Emigrant in 1886. In my memory Nana never appeared to change in appearance as she grew older. She was a tiny lady, very precise, with her long silver grey hair worn in a bun on top of her head all the years I knew her. She was then living with my Aunt Win and her family in their house at Fulcher's Road, Red Hill (one of the older suburbs of Brisbane) and was very active and busy there until she grew quite elderly. She had given herself various duties, including hand making butter every few days from cream supplied by Paul, my Uncle Leo's brother, who operated quite a large dairy around the corner on property which is now the huge Ithaca Technical and Further Education College. There were other little tasks that she made particularly her own, setting the table for meals and making certain that the family's clothing was aired and warmed in front of the fire on frosty mornings.

She used to visit our home regularly and busied herself with sewing and mending that my mother detested, preferring rather to be working in her vegetable garden, building new egg boxes for her poultry or engaged in some other outdoor activity. In my family, when a dress got torn, or a shirt lost a button, it was routinely put on the old treadle sewing machine. When Nana arrived on Tuesday morning, after walking at least one mile to our house she would attend to whatever mending was there after she and my mother shared a pot of tea. One of my cousins, part of the family where Nana lived, remembers going on trips with Nan to visit another one of her daughters who lived some fair distance away. The visit necessitated travelling into Brisbane city on one tram and changing to another which rattled over the Victoria Bridge across the Brisbane River which divides Brisbane out to its terminus. One of Nan's special treats on these occasions, Joyce told me, was to visit one of the VERY respectable wine saloons in Brisbane where she would slowly sip a glass of sherry and nibble a biscuit whilst Joyce had a lemonade. It seemed to us a very adventurous activity for an old lady to engage in, and we wondered if it was quite the thing for her to do and whether her adult children (our parents) knew that she did this.

When these activities got beyond her, she seemed then to take up residence at the window of her bedroom in the front of the house, where she could watch the traffic, keep an eye out for visitors and busy herself with her current item of crochet or knitting. I did not always appreciate her efforts. She used to make woollen petticoats to keep her granddaughters warm, utilizing whatever colours of wool she might be able to find, something along the lines of Joseph's coat of many colours, I always thought. Furthermore, she would check to see that you were wearing her creation once the winter months set in.

Farming wisdom

She had a great font of what I would call farming wisdom, could always tell the weather was going to change when the swallows "flew low" and would forecast the next day's weather according to the sunset, or if ants were in the house. She was very superstitious, and there were all kinds of proscriptions on us all. You must not open an umbrella in a house was one of her dictums; you must never bring wattle flowers inside, another. She was not forthcoming with information about her family, and had instructed her twin sons, when they were preparing to leave with the Australian Imperial Force during the 1st World War, that they were not to go looking for any relatives if they should happen to find themselves in England on leave. She, and all her children, referred to England as "Home", I think there was always an ache for loss of family and English surroundings that never left her. Certainly, her life here was difficult, in many ways real pioneering in a totally different and challenging environment from the home, kinfolk and friends she left behind in England.

There are very few photographs of any of the English relatives to be found. One we do have is of a couple outside a three storied building, the gentleman sporting a great set of white whiskers. On the back, written by my Aunt Eva, were the words Isaac and Mary Brogden, Salutation Farm, and there is another photo, undoubtedly of the same gentleman complete with whiskers, labelled Isaac Brogden which made him, of course, my Nana's father. Isaac was employed as a Farm Bailiff or Supervisor, and we find him and his family at Gilletts Farm in Southleigh in the 1881 Census Return and later at Salutation Farm, near Eynsham, Oxfordshire. We have always accepted that my Aunt's inscriptions were correct, and I based my original searches on this premise, which we know now is just about as incorrect as it's possible to be and still have any facts right. It almost certainly is my great- grandfather, Isaac Brogden in the photograph, but the building is Windmill House at North Leigh, not Salutation Farm in South Leigh, and it appears unlikely that the lady with Isaac is his second wife, Mary Honeybourne as she had died whilst they were living at Salutation Farm. For this knowledge two English 'cousins' have been responsible and I am very grateful to have the story right at last.

Finding the ancestors

To start off with, I had a great deal of difficulty in locating the correct particulars of Isaac's wedding. Aunt Eva had his wife as Mary Brooks. I was able to inspect the copy of the St. Catherine's Registers of Births, Deaths and Marriages at the local Family History Centre conducted by the Church of Latter Day Saints. Fairly quickly I found the name Isaac Brogden registered as being married in the first quarter of the year 1858. No amount of diligent searching could locate a female with the surname of Brooks marrying in the same quarter, and showing the same Registration Number as Isaac, which was essential. I went back again soon, determined that I would spend all day if necessary to find Isaac's bride and went through the tape of Jan-Mar. 1858 from A to W before I found a corresponding Registration Number. The bride was an Elizabeth Weller, not a hint of Brooks anywhere, but I was quite sure I had always heard Isaac's wife called by that surname. I went back another day, and armed with the surnames Brooks and Weller found that Elizabeth Brooks had married Thomas Weller in Sussex in 1853, bore him a child also named Thomas in February 1854 and saw her young husband die in 1856.

Obviously, when Isaac married the young widow he took the child Thomas Weller as his own, and he became the eldest of a family of nine children, four of whom died in infancy. Elizabeth died in 1890 and was buried in the same grave as her babies in the churchyard of St. James the Great at South Leigh. When Isaac died in 1923 at the age of 91, he was buried in the grave with Elizabeth and the four children. My helpful English 'cousins', Sue and Mike, have each sent me a photograph of the tombstone erected over the grave outside the St. James the Great Church at South Leigh, with the engraving still legible.

In the 1881 census Isaac and Elizabeth are shown resident at Gillett's Farm in South Leigh with their children Jane (17 yrs) and Mark (12yrs), Isaac in the capacity of Farm Bailiff. There is an interesting note in the Victoria County History regarding the state of the agricultural industry at that time:

'By the 1790s there were four or five farms. By 1848, there were six farms of 100 acres or more but by 1878 all but two of these farms were vacant because of the agricultural depression'.

Another section deals with the population of the village of South Leigh:

'……the number of households remained at about 40 at the time of the first census in 1801. The 1851 peak of 359 people was soon depleted by emigration (particularly to New Zealand) in the period of the agricultural depression in the 1860s and 1870s.'

There are records of 500 labourers and their families leaving Plymouth for New Zealand in the Steamship 'Mongol' arriving on 13 February 1874. An organization, John Brogden and Sons, (see articles in this website) had a scheme to supply workers to construct a railway system, also in New Zealand, which destination appeared to be more attractive than Australia at that time. As a matter of interest, no less than three of our 'cousins' are living in New Zealand.

By the time of the census in 1881 Thomas Weller Brogden had married and was listed as a Baker and Confectioner at 110 Petherton St., Islington in London with his wife Annie and daughter Jessie. Also in the household was his sister Mary (my Nana), several baker's assistants including Ernest Morse(who became my grandfather) and other household staff. Mary and Ernest were married in February 1882. On her marriage certificate Mary is then recorded as living at 190 Seven Sisters Road, Islington at the home of her Aunt Jane (nee Brogden) and Uncle Thomas Trowbridge, who was a Master Baker, also with a staff living at this address.

The birth place of the three children born in England, Ernest Frederick, (1882), Eva Maud (1884) and Ethel Tilley (1885) is described variously as Highworth in Wiltshire and Highbury in London. Nana herself always maintained she was born in Witney, although her birth certificate clearly states South Leigh. (Witney was in fact the registration district so it was nearly right.) There is so much open to conjecture, but certainly Ernest Tilley Morse came alone to Queensland in 1886, and Nana followed him with these three children, arriving in Brisbane 27th June, 1888. Grandfather Morse had become established as a Pastrycook at South Brisbane and, in the first instance, the family appears to have lived above the business premises there where Nana assisted in the preparation of stock. Stanley Street, in which their business was situated, ran parallel and in close proximity to the Brisbane River for some distance. Both in 1891 and again in 1893 the river flooded (the second time much more dangerously) breaking its banks and causing severe damage. The family had purchased land at Paradise Plains, south of Brisbane in December 1890, where they cleared land and established a dairy farm. After the first flood the family moved from Stanley Street to the farm. There were eight more children born, including male twins, and there the family lived until the farm was sold in 1916 and they moved to Fairfield. As a matter of interest, the next major flood occurred in 1974 when we had nearly a week of cyclonic rain and all low lying areas of south-east Queensland, including the major cities of Brisbane and Ipswich, were devastated as the river broke its banks. It was a particularly harrowing time to me, as my three sons had gone off on a motor bike excursion and I had no way of knowing where they were, or if they were safe.

From my mother's stories it is quite obvious that Nana and the children, as they grew, did most of the work at the farm. The children had very little formal education, having to ride to school a distance of some miles after they had completed the milking for the morning and return early in the afternoon to repeat the performance. Grandfather spent most of his time in breeding, training, racing and gambling on trotting horses, at the various race tracks which soon were developed in and around Brisbane. His older daughters, including my mother, used to ride track work for him, side-saddle only, with care to be taken that their skirts were discreetly arranged so that no sight of an ankle could be seen. I can remember my mother talking particulalrly of two horses which apparently were very good trotters and completed successfully for many years. These were called 'Bloomer' and 'Wetsail.' Some time prior to his death in 1922 the family left the farm and moved into Brisbane to a home at Fairfield.

Nana and those of her family either not married or working at a distance, lived at Fairfield for some time. During the first World War Nana's twin sons Vernon and Oswald had enlisted, as did their brother in law Alfred Ansell (husband of my 2nd eldest Aunt, Ethel, known as Tilley or Etty). During the battle for Passchendale in October 1917, Vernon and Alfred were killed together. Their remains were never found and their deaths are commemorated at the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres. (Right up to the period just prior to the 2nd War Nana was still writing to the Red Cross in Switzerland, determined that her son could be alive somewhere, perhaps with lost memory, and begging them to find him). Some time after the war Nana and the two girls finally remaining at home (my mother Lillian and the youngest girl of the family, Winifred) left the Fairfield property and moved a short distance to live with the widowed Aunt Etty in her very large home. Both girls were married from this house and Nana remained there until the only child of the marriage, Ernie, was married. Then she moved to live with her youngest daughter Win at Red Hill and there she remained in the midst of her loving family until she died.

Nana died on 29th September, 1942 and, as was the custom in the family at that time, the service was held in the lounge of the Gramenz home at Red Hill. Nana's coffin was open and during the service each of her children and grandchildren present kissed her in farewell. She was 84 years of age when she died and my mother missed her 'Little Mother' desperately. Nana was buried at Dutton Park where her husband and children Ida and Daisy were interred as were my siblings Ellen and Jack. By the time the 2nd World War had drawn to a close in 1945 there were many social and cultural changes, and I do not recall attending another funeral held in a house ever again. The fashion of leaving the coffin open, to be closed during the service, seems also to have disappeared and most families now elect to arrange a cremation service or a burial service from a funeral parlour.

The missing link: who is Lily?

Nana left her grandchildren a problem that we have not yet been able to solve, try as we may. Of course, finding the solution would have been much easier if we had applied ourselves to the task while some of the older generation were alive. However, like many other amateur genealogists, we prepared our questions when there was no one left to give us the answers. On her bedroom wall, Nana had quite a large photograph of a very attractive young woman, dressed, it would appear to me, in the style of the late Victorian or more probably early Edwardian era. This was, according to Nana, a kinswoman named Lily Brogden, who was "on the stage", I think as a singer. Cousins Joyce and Dulcie can remember a lady named May Brogden, we believe to be the mother of Lily, visiting Nana at their home at Red Hill, but we still have not been able to find where they fit into the family history. Naturally, I wrote to each of my e-mail 'cousins' asking if they had any information that might help us. However, although a number could remember hearing of a Brogden 'on the stage' nobody was able to offer us any definite report. When the 1901 census of England is released, we may yet solve the problem by checking to see if both ladies are listed, where and when they were born, and where they lived at the census time. The 1881 Census of the British Isles has been published on CDs, and has provided much information of value, and I have been also able to search the 1851 and 1861 returns with some success except in this particular instance. Unlike in the United Kingdom where the information is copied from the original transcripts and retained for posterity, the Census Returns in Australia have been destroyed as soon as the statistical information has been derived from them. In the census taken last year (2001) we have been able, for the first time, to mark our Return to indicate that we wish the information to be retained and to be available for family research so that there will be some records retained for future generations. Even though I have wished all my life that I could visit England and Scotland to see those places where my family originated, I have to say that I'm pleased that my progenitors decided, for whatever reason, to come to Australia. I love my home, my family and friends and the many very special places in this country of ours, and would not want to live anywhere else but right here. I have always been interested in all aspects of history from my early school days, and my genealogical studies have led me down some very interesting paths. There is still a lot more to learn and to do!!

Ethel Lawley

Queensland, Australia

September 2002

Updated 18/11/2002


Home Page | Brogden Ancestry | Brogdens: some branches | Places and Maps |
Brogden Artists, Performers, Businesses & Products
Brogdens: Some Characters | FAQ | Photos & Documents | Reference Sources | Latest News